my heart can move mountains

choose joy, worthiness By December 6, 2016 18 Comments

my-heart-can-move-mountains-01

My heart is the truest part of me.

My heart resides in the center of my being

and extends into every part of who I am.

Through my eyes my heart can see the beauty surrounding me.

Through my ears my heart can hear whispers of truth.

Through my mouth my heart can speak words of love.

Through my shoulders my heart can carry unwavering hope.

Through my arms my heart can embrace indescribable peace.

choose-joy-lisa-leonard

Through my hands my heart can hold limitless amounts of joy.

Through my feet my heart can journey into the beautiful unknown.

My body is an extension of my heart.

With this body my heart can move mountains.

Share:

one open heart

choose joy, finding love By November 29, 2016 100 Comments

I am learning one open heart can change the world.

On a sunny Sunday morning last year, we arrived at church a few minutes early. David slowly climbed the steps, one at a time, while holding my hand. Once inside he pulled away from me, wanting to explore the sanctuary before the service began. I set down my bag and followed closely behind him. I had no idea what was about to happen.

19210196-e75d-4469-8dda-afd269e7c3fa

David lives life inside a body that doesn’t cooperate. Because of his disability, he is very small, has only two fingers on his left hand and is non-verbal. David can’t speak with words but he has much to say. He communicates through gestures, physical touch and heart connection. As he moved around the room he ran his hand over the smooth wood of the church pew, weaving in and out of the narrow space. Then he crossed the aisle and made his way over to a woman sitting by herself. She was in her late thirties, had a kind face and a gentle presence.

We’d never met but that didn’t stop David from approaching her. As he got closer, the woman looked up and smiled at him. Once beside her, David turned around and backed up to her—it’s his way of asking to be held.

“He wants to sit on your lap.” I explained. “He can sit next to you if you prefer.”

“No,” she said, “I’d love to hold him.” She carefully lifted him onto her lap.

He tenderly wrapped his arms around her neck and laid his head against her shoulder.

“Is this okay?” I asked, anxious to be considerate of her space “Would you like me to move him?”

She looked up at me with tears in her eyes.

“My mom was diagnosed with cancer a couple days ago.” she said in a quiet voice. “I just needed a hug so badly. He knew exactly what I needed.”

I bent down beside them and touched her knee softly as she and David embraced. It was a holy moment of connection that soothed a hurting heart.

In that moment he gave her love, changing her world.

So often I rush around, trying to take care of people, trying to serve, trying to be good enough, trying to prove myself.

David doesn’t worry about these things. He is present in the moment. He is fully himself, unconcerned with what others think.

David’s simple act of love brought hope and beauty to this woman’s day.

He saw her and without pause met her exactly where she was.

It wasn’t accidental.

It wasn’t complicated.

It was David’s open heart that created a beautiful connection.

Maybe it’s not only grand, heroic actions that change the world.

Maybe it’s the quiet moments, when, in humility and brokenness we meet each other right where we are.

We offer hope and love.

We are present to witness another person’s pain and offer soothing grace.

one-open-heart-lisa-leonard

When we stop rushing, stop trying, stop proving, we can be fully present in the moment.

We can be fully ourselves and open our hearts to each other.

David is showing me one open heart can change the world.

Share:

listen to your heart

choose joy, worthiness By November 22, 2016 7 Comments

listen-to-your-heart-lisa-leonard-5-01

I’ve been making changes in my life over the last few months. Before these changes I wasn’t taking care of me—although I didn’t know that was the problem. I simply knew I felt exhausted and desperate. Once I realized I wasn’t taking care of myself I began rethinking my schedule, my needs, my wants and my life in general. I’d so busy taking care of everybody else, my needs were at the bottom of the list. Sure, I’d get a pedicure every now and then or have lunch with a friend—and I considered these activities to be good self care. And they are good self care, but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t taking time to listen to my heart.

My schedule was overwhelming with almost no time to slow down or be still. My family and friends’ needs came before my own. To be honest, I wasn’t aware I had needs. Or wants. I thought making everyone else happy was a selfless and beautiful thing. If they’re happy, I’m happy, right? I found out, no, it doesn’t work like that at all. I am a person with needs and wants—just like my husband and my kids and my friends. Those needs and wants matter. After years of not caring for myself I was exhausted. Something had to change. But how? I couldn’t begin to imagine what self-care looked like, let alone how I would fit it into my busy days.

My counselor encouraged me to have quiet time. There was no agenda, just time set aside to be quiet and still. This idea was so completely foreign to me, when she mentioned it, I laughed out loud. Sit and be still? But I pride myself on productivity! If I sit around doing nothing, I’m worthless. Plus, I can give you a list of reasons I don’t have time for quiet–beginning with having a child with a severe disability, owning my own business and on and on. But, I have to admit, there was part of me that was curious. What would happen if I took time to do nothing?

Everywhere I turned the idea was popping up–a friend mentioned taking time for quiet, I read about it in a book, I came across an article on Facebook. So the following day I set my phone to airplane mode, set the timer for 10 minutes and awkwardly sat on the couch doing nothing. I didn’t try to think about anything or not think about anything. I had no agenda—except to sit and simply be. And nothing extraordinary happened. The timer went off, I got up and continued with my day.

The next day I did it again. It felt slightly less awkward the second day. Again I set my phone to airplane mode and set the timer for 10 minutes. Again, I had no agenda. I sat on the couch and let thoughts come or go. I didn’t try to do anything. I just sat still. And nothing extraordinary happened.

On day three I could feel myself craving the quiet time. My heart wanted it. My heart needed it. I set the timer and sat still. When the timer went off, I got up and began to move through my day. Nothing special happened during my ten minutes of quiet, but something unexpected was happening outside of the quiet. I could feel my feelings with greater clarity. My heart was speaking to me and I was making time to listen. I could make sense of my thoughts. I was noticeably less overwhelmed. I was more present. I could make decisions easier. I could say ‘no’ to things I didn’t want to do and ‘yes’ to things I wanted to do. It was like somehow the quiet was helping me work things out. The quiet was helping me to know myself and what I needed. The quiet was making me, more me.

I’ve started working more quiet into my days. I still love listening to podcasts, audiobooks and music, but sometimes when I’m driving or walking I turn everything off and let myself think. I set aside time four or five days a week to sit and be quiet. In a crazy twist, the quiet time away from productivity is actually helping me to be more productive—although that wasn’t and still isn’t my goal.

Productivity is important, but it doesn’t define my value. I am precious and worthy even if I accomplish nothing. I’m valuable simply because I am me.

Instead of keeping busy to avoid the quiet, avoid my thoughts and feelings, I am meeting myself in those moments of quiet. The story of my life is told in small moments that make up a beautiful journey. Some of those moments include quiet reflection.

listen-to-your-heart-lisa-leonard-4
I’m listening to my heart.
My heart knows what it wants and needs.
My heart will lead me in the right direction.
My heart will always lead me toward joy.

My heart needs quiet.
The quiet allows me to know myself.
Knowing myself allows me to care for myself.
Caring for myself allows me to be my truest self.
My truest self is who I am created to be.

Do you take time for quiet? Would you be willing to try it?

Share:

pain is not a gift

choose joy, hope By November 14, 2016 7 Comments
Pain is not a gift from God.
It’s what God does through the pain,
the way He molds us,
the way He enlarges our hearts to love more deeply
and opens our eyes to see more clearly,
this is the gift.
pain-is-not-a-gift-lisa-leonard-01
Pain is clarifying.
When we’re grieving, everything else melts away.
Things that usually worry us seem trivial.
Pain shows us the truth; we are fragile creatures.
We come before God empty-handed.
In that humble, needy place, He meets us with love and grace.
We are changed in a way that can’t be undone.
We are torn apart and lovingly sewn back together.
Each stitch piercing our tender hearts.
It’s a deep, indescribable ache.
We will carry this ache with us always.
Slowly, the ache becomes part of who we are.
We would never wish for pain, but once on the other side, wouldn’t change it.
We’ve walked through fire and we are not the same as we were before.
We’ve been through the darkest night and we’ve glimpsed hope.
pain-is-not-a-gift-lisa-leonard-3
As we heal we see with new eyes.
As we heal our hearts beat with new strength.
As we heal we hold more joy.
Most amazingly, in His unknowable way, God uses the brokenness of pain to make us whole.
Share:

I Held My Heart

choose joy, hope By November 12, 2016 20 Comments

i-am-enough-lisa-leonard-01
I took care of my body.
I ate healthy foods, I walked every day.
I found the right lipstick, I bought the perfect jeans.
“This is good.” I thought. But it wasn’t enough.
I held my heart and it was empty.

I got married, we had two amazing children.
I was a loving mother; firm and fun.
We made pancakes every morning and read stories before bed.
“This is good.” I thought. But it wasn’t enough.
I held my heart and it was empty.

I made a cozy, beautiful home.
I saved for a couch and throw pillows, I kept it tidy.
I invited friends over for dinner and we talked late into the night.
“This is good.” I thought. But it wasn’t enough.
I held my heart and it was empty.

I started a handmade business.
I created jewelry, people wore it.
I wrote words, people read them.
“This is good.” I thought. But it wasn’t enough.
I held my heart and it was empty.

I went to church every Sunday.
I read my bible and prayed consistently.
I tried to love others. I tried to be spiritual.
“This is good.” I thought. But it wasn’t enough.
I held my heart and it was empty.

I broke down.
I sat alone in a quiet corner while tears fell.
In my desperation I called out to the God of the Universe.
“I’ve done all these things but my heart is empty. I need you.”
“You are good. “He said, “You are enough.”
Then he whispered, “All you need, I have given to you. Come to me empty-handed and open-hearted.”
He held my heart and it was full.

i-held-my-heart

Share:

choose joy

choose joy By November 8, 2016 17 Comments

The phrase ‘choose joy’ used to turn my stomach.
So trite.
So fake.
Just choose joy—it’s easy, right?
No, it’s not easy, but I believe it’s possible.

A few years ago Steve and I traveled to Thailand to visit friends and meet artisans. We joined our friends, and some of their friends for dinner one evening. One of the girls in the group had just celebrated her 15th birthday.

“Wow, fifteen” I thought. “She’s only been in a Thailand for a couple years. What’s it like to be an American girl at fifteen, living in Thailand?”

So I asked her.

“It’s been really hard,” She answered honestly. “I didn’t want to move. I miss my friends back in the United States. I don’t know the language and I’ve felt lonely and sad. But last week was my birthday. So I decided to be happy and not worry about all the hard things. I decided to enjoy the day. It was great! I felt so free. I laughed and had fun. It was the first time I felt happy since we moved here. The next morning, I woke up and asked myself, ‘Why not be happy again today?’ So I did. Since then, I’ve been enjoying Thailand. It’s beautiful here. I’m making friends. I like it.”

Whoa. Her story stopped me in my tracks. So much insight. So much real life experience—real pain, real joy. She was learning to choose joy. Was it easy? No. But sadness and loneliness aren’t easy either.

The day David was born was one of the hardest days of my life. Everything I expected for my life, our new baby and our family was gone. There I was, a brand new mom with a tiny baby who had two fingers on his left hand, and lots of questions. I remember Steve and I sitting on the edge of my hospital bed in my sterile post-partum room, sobbing. I can’t remember another time I’ve been so overcome with grief. I could feel the pain coursing through every part of my body. My chest felt heavy like lead and burned hot with hopelessness. It was over. Life as we knew it was over. Grief was appropriate. We were experiencing tremendous loss. We were also worried for our new baby—what would his life look like? And oh my gosh, what would my life look like? I was terrified.

Slowly over the next weeks and months we got to know our sweet David. We learned how to change his tiny diapers and feed him through the tube that went directly to his stomach. We learned how hook him up to a machine to monitor his heart while he slept. We adjusted his car seat to the smallest setting to keep him safe. Slowly but surely I was falling in love with him, but I was still trapped in shame. Was there something I’d done that caused his disability? Did I use a cleanser or chemical during my pregnancy that affect normal growth? Did I eat something that hurt my baby? Wasn’t a mother supposed to keep her baby safe? I failed. David’s doctors assured us we hadn’t caused David’s syndrome. And yet, as his mother I blamed myself.

I remember walking through Trader Joe’s market with David tucked inside his baby carrier close to my chest. An older gentleman looked at us and noticed David’s small hand with only two fingers.

“God bless you.” He said with kind eyes.

“God bless me?” I thought. “I’m a failure. I don’t deserve a blessing.”

Still, his blessing was a soothing balm to my hurting heart.

Days later we went to lunch. While we waited for our burritos, we munched on chips and salsa and sipped our sodas. I found I was accidentally enjoying myself.

“Oops!” I thought, scolding myself. “I’m not allowed to be happy. I have a baby with a severe disability.”

The moment was a breath of fresh air but I was still stuck in shame and sadness. I remember regretting I didn’t worry more about David’s health while I was pregnant–as if worrying would have changed something.

The first months and year of David’s life were tumultuous. Being a brand new mom is a massive transition, but the health issues, doctor visits and multiple surgeries his first year meant we mostly functioned in a haze. Falling in love with David was the sunshine that began clearing the haze. His adorable giggle was music to my ears. His smile was like a magic glue that healed the cracks in my broken heart. I began to see his life was not a tragedy but something precious and beautiful.

choose-joy-lisa-leonard-2016

I realized I had a choice. I could continue to be sad, or I could decide to choose joy. For months upon months I’d wished things were different. I cried many tears. I carried the heavy weight of grief with me everywhere I went. Our situation wasn’t going to change. My sadness didn’t make David healthier. My misery, although completely appropriate for the situation, didn’t ease my pain.

I could feel it. My mourning was coming to an end. I was ready to find joy.

One day, I made a conscious decision to accept David’s disability. I made the decision in my head, hoping my heart would follow along–and it did. I would no longer be ashamed of my son or myself. I was honored to be his mother. From the moment of his birth, David was adorable, determined and ready to love with his whole heart. And I had the priviledge of being his mommy. I had nothing to be ashamed of—and so much to be joyful about.

I began to look people in the eye when we were out and about. I made eye contact hoping somehow my eyes would say, “I am grateful to be the mother of this incredible person. I am a proud mama.”

And people smiled back.

One young mom asked, “How old is he?” and told me about her nephew who had a rare syndrome.

I wasn’t alone.

Kids would ask, “Why does he only have two fingers on that hand?”

And I would answer, “That’s how God made him. Some people have curly hair. Some people have no hair. Most people have five fingers on each hand, but every once in a while God makes someone with only two fingers on one hand.”

This answer made perfect sense to them.

“Yes.” They would nod in solidarity. “Each of us is different and that’s okay.”

I was learning it’s both our similarities and our differences that bond us together.

choose-joy-lisa-leonard-2016-2

I used to think ‘choose joy’ meant slapping on a fake, plastic smile and pretending everything was fine, when inside I felt sad and alone.

But that’s a lie.

Choosing joy means letting go of the things I can’t control–which is most things.

Choosing joy means having compassion for others, with all their strengths and weaknesses, and having compassion for myself.

Choosing joy means forgiving others and forgiving myself. There is so much forgiveness, so much grace.

Choosing joy means not worrying about what someone else thinks of me.

Choosing joy means speaking my truth, even if it means disagreeing with my husband or a dear friend.

Choosing joy means taking time for me—time for quiet, time for a massage, time for an evening with girlfriends, because my heart requires these things in order to find joy.

Choosing joy means accepting my disabled son just the way he is, from his small hand with only two fingers to his contagious smile. It’s all him and I love him.

Choosing joy means accepting myself the way I am—from my blue eyes to my soft tummy to my tendency to procrastinate. It’s all me and I love me.

Choosing joy means working with a therapist to learn more about myself and heal my heart.

Choosing joy means I am responsible for my own happiness, and you’re responsible for yours.

Choosing joy means letting go of perfection and waking up to see the beauty surrounding me.

Choosing joy means knowing deep in my soul the God of the universe loves me. Love surrounds me.

Choosing joy means letting go of fear and resting in that love. It isn’t easy. Finding this place was like stepping off the ground and onto a shaky ladder. I could only see one rung of the ladder at a time. With each step the ladder became more stable and I became braver. As I climbed higher I saw something truly beautiful.

I glimpsed joy.

It is truly worth the tears, pain and vulnerability. It’s filled with hope and freedom. I will keep fighting for honest heart connection knowing that anything less is a shadow of the life we are meant to live.

I choose joy.

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
-Henri Nouwen

Share:

the perfect berry crumble

choose joy, finding love, worthiness By November 1, 2016 65 Comments

Every marriage goes through difficult times, and we were in a difficult time. We were both trying but we weren’t connecting. We were both hurting but didn’t know how to help each other. We were both making mistakes but we didn’t know what they were.

During this time, we had plans to gather with friends for a celebration. I decided to make Steve’s favorite dessert, berry crumble. This wasn’t going to be just any berry crumble—I was going to make the perfect berry crumble. I wanted to show Steve how much I loved him. I wanted to show him he was precious to me. This berry crumble was going to knock his socks off.

the-perfect-berry-cobbler-lisa-leonard-01

I spent time researching the best recipe online. I gathered all the ingredients and spent a good chunk of the day making the amazing dessert. As the celebration approached, I slowly pulled the hot crumble out of the oven, wrapped it a heavy towel and we all loaded into the car. We parked in front of our friends’ home and I carefully got out, maneuvering the hot berry crumble to avoid a spill. I took a few steps and suddenly I lost hold of the wrapped glass dish. I watched in slow motion as my perfect crumble splattered all over the sidewalk. I felt the sting of hot tears behind my eyes.

“Hold it together.” I told myself.

But I couldn’t. The tears overflowed and once they started they wouldn’t stop. I could barely catch my breath between sobs. This was no ordinary berry crumble, this was the perfect berry crumble. This crumble was going to show Steve how much I cared for him. This dessert was going to save our marriage. It was going to make Steve fall in love with me again. I looked down at the berry crumble splattered all over the sidewalk and sobbed.

I tried so hard to be good enough. I tried to be the perfect wife. I tried to become less so he could be more. But it wasn’t working. Instead I was becoming less than whole–and a relationship can’t thrive without two whole people. I thought being perfect would bring me joy. But I was so focused on being perfect, I was missing all the joy.

I’ve clung to the belief that perfection held joy. I’ve spent most of my life believing if I could be perfect, or at least almost perfect, I would be lovable. So I worked hard to create the ‘perfect’ life for us. I tried to create a beautiful, tidy home. I tried to be the perfect mother—patient and fun and consistent. I tried to be happy even when I felt sad. I tried to be needless and wantless and take care of everybody else. My good intentions to ‘take care’ of everybody were really a desire to control. If I could control everything I would be good enough. I was terrified I wasn’t lovable, so I tried to control. The more I tried to control Steve, our marriage and our family, the more out of control I felt. I’d worked tirelessly to try to hold it all together, but we were a mess. It was falling apart—not just the berry crumble, but our marriage too.

I was finding out, there is no berry crumble so perfect it can hold a marriage together.

Perfection is a lie. It demands more and more, never offering a moment’s rest. Perfect is never satisfied. I kept reaching further and further, thinking I was almost there, but perfection was always just out of reach. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t be perfect.

But honesty. Honesty looks like me showing up and being my truest self, and Steve showing up and being his truest self. Two people showing up and being honest is imperfect and messy. Sometimes it’s more than messy; it’s super ugly and dark and scary. I don’t like messy. I wish relationships could be nice and tidy–but I’m learning that’s not how relationships work. Life is messy, marriage is messy, kids are messy, friendships are messy.

When we show up in the mess and we’re open, we are taking a step towards each other.

When we share our honest thoughts and desires, we begin to truly know each other.

When we’re brave and real our hearts connect.

When our hearts connect we begin to discover joy.

I can’t control my husband or my kids. I can’t keep my house perfectly clean.

I’m not perfect, I’m just me.

choose-joy-lisa-leonard

I want to be loved for who I am, my truest self. I want to be in an honest marriage where we step into the mess together and together we work to make something beautiful. I want to let my kids be kids—in all their moods and messes and silliness. I want to order pizza instead of stressing about making the perfect holiday meal. I want to see toys and shoes and wrapping paper all over the family room and know we are living life together in this space. I want to let go of perfect and embrace truth. I want to be present in the crazy ups and downs of every day.
I’m learning I have to let go of perfection to have joy.
Today I choose joy.

How about together we let go of perfection and choose joy?

Share: