Just Keep Swimming

I grew up as the oldest of three girls. While there were certain perks and privileges to being the eldest, it also came with the territory of what I like to call, “The Great Experiment.” Let’s face it, do we really have a clue of what’s going on with the first baby? I don’t blame my parents. As a parent of three, I understand completely the need to do your best, praying that you won’t destroy your child if you opt to give her baby food from a jar rather than homemade food from your organic garden.

When I had reached the ripe old age of 9 months, my parents thought it important to sign me up for baby swim lessons. There was a trend at the time that urged parents to get their babies acclimated to water in the unfortunate circumstance that if said baby happened to army crawl themselves into a swimming pool, he would be equipped to know how to bring himself to the surface of the pool and swim to the sides for safety. How the infant would be able to pull himself out of the pool, I have no idea, but as a member of the Great Experiment Club, I get the logic. Of course I should teach my baby how to swim. I should also probably teach them how to drive the car safely to the side of the road if the brakes go out. Only the best for my baby.

In theory infant swim lessons are a good idea. In theory, communism works.

The biggest problem with these infant swim lessons was that while they may have been fashioned with good intentions, they were executed with . . .

Duh, duh, daaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh . . . (cue scary movie soundtrack)

Ms. Jones.

I still break into a cold sweat at the sound of her name.

Ms. Jones was an ex-Marine drill instructor. Teaching babies. Marine instructors do a lot of things incredibly well. Teaching babies is not one of them.

My parents actually have rudimentary video footage of my swim lessons. You see Ms. Jones taking the screaming baby out of the parents’ arms and throwing the child into the pool, demanding that the other parent not catch the baby, but rather, let the child figure out how to come up in the water on her own. And the parents did it. Because they were equally afraid of Ms. Jones.

At the end of one session of swim lessons, I was officially an aquaphobic 10-month-old. I screamed while taking baths for six months. For two years, I lived in fear of fountains at malls, certain that Ms. Jones would jump out from behind the artificial tree at any moment and throw me in again.

My mom and dad lovingly tried to correct this chapter of the Great Experiment, teaching me to swim during family vacations and ensuring that none of their other children would be exposed to water boarding swim techniques. To this day, however, I still am not comfortable swimming in an ocean, lake, or deep pool. (I managed to get over bathtubs.)

That’s why it’s only reasonable that when I had three kids of my own, that I, too, would want to sign them up for swim lessons. Great Experiment Club, remember?

Fortunately, for them, they did not inherit a swim instructor like Ms. Jones. Mr. Santos was kind, patient, and encouraging. Unfortunately, for them, they did seem to inherit their mother’s affection for getting in water where they cannot stand.

By the second lesson, the girls spent the entire time hanging onto the side of the pool for dear life and screaming in terror at any suggestion to let go.

Watching this as their mother was heartbreaking. On one hand, I wanted them to push through, learn how to swim to have fun this summer, build their character. On the other hand, I’m having flashbacks to my own torture sessions and I wanted to scoop them up from their “Starfish exercises,” and run out of there, never to return.

Time and again, being a parent has helped me understand God as my Father more than I ever did before. I can think of my own moments, big and small, when I was screaming at the edges of something new, desperately begging for Him to get me out:

Starting a new high school where I didn’t know anyone.

Checking myself in for surgery to remove skin cancer.

Working my first day at a new job where I knew I was way over my head.

Moving away from family to live in the middle of the city with a one-year-old and my husband.

Watching my kindergartener start school the first time.

I had some monumental internal (and sometimes external) tantrums each time that would make even my two-year-old proud. I would call out to my Father with a look in my eyes that begged, “Why are you doing this to me?!?”

In each circumstance, however, He never “took me out of the pool” and gave me what I wished. As every good parent knows, a child in the middle of a need-to-grow moment really doesn’t know what she truly wants. He did something far better. He got in the pool with me. He held me close, calmed me down, reminded me of what we’d already learned, and tangibly provided assurance that I was not alone.

And as I made it through each lesson, I found myself becoming a stronger swimmer, better equipped to handle deeper waters of trust, and even enjoying the recreation that the growth provides.

So that’s what we tried to do with the girls. It was Brad’s idea. I can’t take credit for this one. In between swim lessons, we had family swim lessons. We got in the pool together and we worked on the basics. And as we made it through each new week, their confidence grew. They were laughing in the pool, and they were proud of their accomplishments. Claire even declared at the last lesson that her favorite part of the day was “Pwobabwee, doin da stahfish.”

I guess even members of the Great Experiment Club can enjoy an experiment gone right every once in a while. I thank God for that.



A Crack Cookie Kind-Of Day


I love to bake. I think it’s my sweet-tooth-creative outlet that I inherited from growing up in the chocolate business. It makes me happy to not only eat, but share the yummy goodness with others. I have a chocolate chip cookie recipe that we affectionately call “crack cookies” in my home. (The first batch is free . . . you’ll come back for more.)

My kids have started to pick up a passion for baking, too, and I enjoy teaching them . . . most of the time. Sometimes, adding in the extra “joy” of kids takes away some of my relaxation and let’s say, focus, as I bake. One time I used cookie baking as a distraction for Gabby, Claire, and my nephew as we were getting ready for Thanksgiving, and instead, they successfully distracted me. I doubled the recipe for more people to enjoy, but miscalculated the flour amount, and only added enough for a single batch. We enjoyed crack pancakes that day.

I came across a verse yesterday in my morning Bible reading that jumped out at me. I couldn’t shake it all day. It’s found in Ps. 33.22 (AMP).

“Let your mercy and loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, in proportion to our waiting and hoping for you.”

Uh oh. Did that say “in proportion to our waiting and hoping . . .?” Uh oh.

When it comes down to it, I’m not a very good waiter. We’ve been discussing the art of “prayerful listening” in my LifeGroup as we read Discerning the Voice of God: How to Recognize When He Speaks, by Priscilla Shirer. We were sharing challenges to prayerful listening and waiting last week, such as my big obstacle to get out of a prostrate position under my warm covers to “pray.” (You’re never going to believe this, but I usually fall back asleep.) I hoped that by sharing some of my challenges with the rest of the group, maybe it would help me be accountable to change.


So, I guess God wanted to get my attention another way, and He chose baking to do it. (He really gets me.) Just like proportions in baking are essential to creating an exquisite dessert, proportions are essential to thriving, not just surviving, the day.   When I want more cookies to share, I double the recipe. I double ALL the recipe or it won’t work.

When I take time each day to wait and listen and place my hope on my Father, it’s like He gives me a bigger bowl for the day. He increases my capacity to take a greater proportion of His mercy, kindness and His love, which many people, most-especially my kids and husband, would greatly appreciate, maybe even more than crack cookies.

So, I made it out of bed this morning. I actually walked downstairs before anyone woke up and got to spend some time listening and writing.  It was sweet.  Delicious.  And the perfect set-up to a crack cookie kind of day.

Masochist Mama


Masochist, noun: a person who is gratified by pain, degradation, etc., that is self-imposed or imposed by others.

That’s how the dictionary defines the word. Going off that definition, I’m going to self-diagnose myself as a masochist. It’s not me alone, however. There were at least ten others in the spinning class I attended. I’m diagnosing them too. Masochists. All of us.

At the start of this year, I determined that I really wanted to try and pursue health in many areas of my life (very original, I know), so part of that included this novel idea called exercise. Plus, I discovered when I exercise, My Fitness Pal gives me more calories to eat during the day.  It’s a beautiful system.

When I signed up my kids for swim lessons at the Y, it was only another $5 for me to join, so why not? Besides, by definition, my workout clothes should probably be used for exercising as opposed to the alternative to wearing pajamas all day.

My first class at the Y was a yoga class taught by this wonderfully amazing instructor, Silvera. Just hearing her name makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, mainly because she has this beautiful, thick, Italian accent which makes every word sound like it’s straight out of an inspiring aria.

Silvera was calm. Peaceful. The lilting musicality of her instructions coupled with her John Legend soundtrack took me to a happy place. I imagined traveling to Tuscany and sitting down with Silvera over homemade biscotti and rich espresso. (Nevermind that I don’t like coffee . . . it’s my daydream. I can imagine that I love it.)

So, when I saw that Silvera also taught a “cycle” class the following week, I determined that I would give it a try. When it comes to exercising, I’m pretty lazy. So with cycling, you get to sit down most of the time, right?

As a side note, I have taken one spinning class before in my life, about six years ago. I have faint memories. It couldn’t have been that bad, right? It’s this kind of thinking that makes women choose to go through childbirth again.

I showed up for spinning, told Silvera that I was a novice, and she assured me that it was no problem. “Joo vill be fahne. Just fahne. Brava.” Cycling with Silvera was going to take me to the Old Country, cycling on a sunny day as if I were Lisel VonTrapp learning to sing with Maria.


I start pedaling and think, “Wow, Leah. You are good. You haven’t worked out in 18 months and look how fast you can go on this bike. Joo vill be fahne.” At which point Silvera instructs us to turn up the gear to 10. Wait, there are gears on this thing? Oh great. I was on 2.

I make it through one song and discover that was the warm up. “Vee ahre buildink. Vee ahre buildink up now. Joo go vith me. 15! NOW!”

What the what?!? Aren’t we cycling on a scale of 1-10? Fifteen??? And Silvera . . . where did you go? Where is my calm yoga teacher? Where is my biscotti? Have you even seen the Sound of Music? And why are we standing up on our bikes now? What kind of bait and switch operation is this?!?

The lady three bikes down from me sounds like she is in labor. At least I’m not the only one.

I make it through another song and Silvera encourages me to go to the little water cooler and get a drink. “Joo get vahter. Joo need hydrate. Drink! Drink!” I realize everyone else has brought water with them. I forgot mine. I remembered my kids, though. And they were wearing shoes when I dropped them off in the childcare room. Do I get points for that?

“Counting Stars” comes on. Oh good. I like this song. Let me rephrase that. I used to like this song. Now this song simply reminds me of the agony that will forever be associated with it, like when you can’t eat a food anymore because you threw it up once. Why are you still awake, One Republic. Just go to sleep. Quit counting those stars and go to sleep! End this song and put me out of my misery.

The lady three bikes down from me has just gotten off her bike and walked out of the room. Wait, is that an option?

At least this class is almost over. I’m almost done, right? Because surely that clock on the wall is wrong and we’ve been in here longer than twenty minutes. Someone tell me that clock is wrong. Someone tell me that somehow, God has intervened in the workings of the universe and has stopped the sun once again.

“Now ve really go! Less go! Joo need to go to tventy!!!”

Silvera has clearly lost her mind. Someone needs to do an intervention.

Why are we pedaling like we are Jack Bauer chasing down a terrorist? You know that these bikes don’t go anywhere, right Silvera? You can slow down.

The next 30 minutes are a blur. Somehow, Silvera instructs us to get off the bike and leads us in some stretching. I look at her and she is smiling. “Joo did it! Brava!” I must’ve not been reciprocating her smile, because she switched to a concerned face and asked, “Joo feel strong now or joo feel blah?

Strong, Silvera? Strong? My legs feel like hyperextended rubber bands. There aren’t enough paper, cone-shaped cups at this water cooler to begin to quench my thirst. I feel like I’m going to throw up, and the only thing I want to do is go take a three hour nap but somehow I don’t think my two and three-year-old are down with that option. So no, Silvera. I do not feel strong.

I do not tell Silvera this, however. I smile back at her and say, “I’ll see you next week.” Masochist, I know. But you already knew that.

Bran Flakes Legacy


This past week has had me doing a lot of reflection on my dad. Between his birthday on Monday and a family funeral today, it has me recognizing his absence more intensely, and longing to even just hear his voice on the phone. At the same time, however, my thoughts have been drawn towards his legacy, the heart of which has only begun to emerge over the course of the past two years.

The morning of my father’s accident, we ate bran flakes for breakfast, talking about how extraordinarily large the individual flakes were. It may seem silly, but talking about these meaningless topics is one of the things I miss most. He brought fun to bran flakes. That’s who he was: Dad was the epitome of fun in the ordinary, which somehow made even the most mundane of things extraordinary. And while he would never consider himself to be anything special, maybe it was just bringing the “extra” to the ordinary that made life with him so incredible: extra life, extra love, extra laughter, extra goofy, extra Jesus. With so much extra going on, nothing could be quite ordinary again.

At my Dad’s Memorial Service, thousands of people waited in line for several hours just to share what he meant to them. Person after person said things like, “He believed in me,” or “He prayed for me,” or my personal favorite (from numerous men, believe it or not), “He was the only man I ever let kiss me.”

The simplicity of it is what is perhaps the most shocking. My dad never held a political office. He never wrote a book. He never composed songs or had his eloquent speeches recorded as brilliant, oratorical genius. His legacy consists of the uncomplicated beauty of the ordinary: a smile, a word, a prayer, a hug.

I guess when you consistently live that in every arena of your life . . . at work, at the grocery store, in villages in Africa, or around your family’s dinner table . . . it all adds up to a tangible representation of Jesus in people’s lives. It’s something that the world hungers for so much, that thousands of people will wait hours in line just to tell you about it.

And that’s maybe the most encouraging part to me of all. During a season in life when so much of my day-to-day is wrapped up in the mundane . . .

When my performance reviews are communicated with hugs or tantrums . . .

When I have shifted from planning major outreaches to hundreds of kids to planning dinner for three kids who probably won’t like it anyway . . .

When I’ve put away business suits and realize that I’m still wearing my pajamas. Again . . .

When I fall onto the couch at the end of the day exhausted to the core and I recognize that maybe the most significant part of my day was finally figuring out how to assemble the entire Ikea train set (which honestly was incredibly satisfying) . . .

It’s easy to step back and look at the cumulative duties and components of my day and wonder, “Where has my life gone?” or “Am I really making any kind of difference?” I think of my dad, however, and recognize that no one would be more surprised than he about the impact that his life had on those around him. And while I would never dare to equate my life and legacy with either of my parents, I am so grateful to each of them for their diligence, excellence, and “extra” in the ordinary, something that changed my life forever, and the lives of thousands more around the world.

So when I’m in the throes of wiping noses and bottoms, cutting up hot dogs, taking trips to Target, and playing Princess, I’m trying hard to remember that every hug, every smile at a cashier, every prayer, every word of correction, every conversation waiting with a fellow parent at the end of the school day . . . when combined with the grace of God, they can be miraculously transformed into something meaningful, extraordinary even. And that’s one legacy of which I’m proud to be a part.

Baggage Claim

little girl carrying very heavy backpack or schoolbag full

On September 11, 2006, I listened to a sermon that messed me up.

I know this because I wrote about it in my journal immediately afterwards.   The message talked about dreams that we have and carry around that actually end up weighing us down; they may not actually be God’s dreams for us. Much as I hated to admit it, the Holy Spirit was bringing to mind one big dream that I had in my heart, one that definitely needed some refining.

My biggest dream at the time, and really for the previous twenty-seven years of my life, was to be married: to meet my Someone, have my happily ever after. And while I would never admit that I was holding God to a dream of my choosing, He showed me that day so clearly the demands I was placing on His dream.

I share with you a portion of my journal entry that day: (in all its unedited glory)

“Oh yeah. I’ve got dreams. I’m not even sure that ‘dreams’ is the right word. Maybe ‘plans’ is a better one. I say I don’t really have any preconceived notions about a future husband, but when it gets right down to it, I find myself wrestling to let go of some things.”

And I did what I vowed I would never do. I made I list: a list of my future husband.

What do you think was at the very top of it? The most pressing characteristic on my mind for my Someone? Here it is. Straight out of the journal.

  • “I don’t want someone with a last name that starts with “L.” Their name has to sound great with my first name.”

Now that’s the stuff dreams are made of, right there.

The list gets better.

  • “I don’t want someone a lot older or younger than me.”
  • “I don’t want someone that will take me away from Pittsburgh.”
  • “I want to live close to my family and have my kids live close to their grandparents.”
  • “I don’t want to be worrying about money the rest of my life.”
  • “I don’t want to fully give up this sense of singleness, adventure, flirtiness, the unknown.”
  • “I don’t want to give up the ideal that I’ve created for a husband.”
  • “I don’t want to be with someone that I don’t find to be attractive, that others don’t find to be attractive.”

I didn’t say this was pretty.

As I dug a little deeper, though, some of the other facets of my dream began to take shape.

  • “I want someone who has a heart for ministry and that will bring out the best in me.”
  • “I want someone with a great family, a Godly family, a family that I truly love and respect and enjoy and that my family loves and respects and enjoys.”
  • “I want someone who loves football.”
  • “I want someone who makes me laugh, really laugh, and who thinks I’m funny, too.”
  • “I want someone who will lead me, that I want to follow, that I trust and who trusts and respects me, too.”
  • “I want someone who is instilled with a sense of adventure, who inspires and leads me in that adventure, too.”
  • “I want someone who is smart.”
  • “I want someone who loves children and children love him.”

What I realized that day, what that sermon helped me realize, is that I really did have a dream. I’d been carrying it around in my “backpack” my whole life. I wanted to be married and have a family.

Along the way, however, maybe with every romantic comedy that I’d watch, or Jane Austen book that I’d read, I began adding a lot of other “dream rocks” to that backpack. They were different sizes, and I weighed them accordingly, with the most pressing matters right on top (i.e. last name, geographic location, being in control).

It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit so graciously sat down and opened up that backpack with me, that I could get to the bottom and find some real gems that had been hiding all along.

I had heard people my entire life talk about being honest, making a list to God of what they wanted their future mate to look like, and then God giving them every single item on their list. Well, maybe their lists were a lot more noble than mine. I realized I didn’t want everything on my list. With an empty backpack and a dream full of possibilities, I asked Jesus to replace whatever rocks He chose, and to fulfill, or not fulfill that dream however He saw best fit.

I listened to that message, “Baggage Claim: 301, Dreams,” several more times after that. God continued to purify and clarify that dream to me, morphing my ideal “Someone” into an actual someone.

I looked inside my backpack and realized I had a crush . . . on the preacher of the message. Yep, I was that girl. I’m so ashamed.

What fun God must’ve had over the next year when I actually met my crush, and we fell in love. Really. Eat that, Jane Austen.  The next year on September 11, I was engaged and celebrating his birthday, and on January 19, 2008, we were married.

Brad, you are so much better than any list I could create. I love your heart for ministry, your humor, your hotness, and even your last name. The last seven years of marriage to you have been beautiful in the truest sense of the word. Through the moves across the country, joys and messiness of three children, challenges of starting a church, and greatest tragedy we’ve ever known, you have loved me unconditionally. Jesus truly gave me more than I could have asked or imagined. Thank you for loving Jesus more than me, and me more than yourself. You are a dream come true. I love you. Happy anniversary, Baby!



Fight Back With Joy


It was my third child in three years.

You’d figure I’d have a pretty good idea of what’s going on at this point, right? No more excuses of not knowing what a contraction feels like or not knowing when to go to the hospital. There’s a learning curve established. I should know what I’m doing by now.

Which is why it’s so surprising, looking back on the day of November 1, 2012, that I honestly didn’t know I was in labor all day. I really didn’t. I swear.

If you put the day in the context of the previous thirty-nine days, however, maybe it’s not that surprising after all.

On September 23, 2012, my dad was in a bizarre and tragic swimming accident on the first day of our family vacation. The following ten days were spent sitting around his bed in an ICU while he remained in a coma, until he passed away on October 3, 2012.

I traveled to Pittsburgh, 36 weeks pregnant, with the rest of my family for several days of viewings and a memorial service. When I returned to Philly, I found myself in a house full of unpacked boxes (we moved a week before my dad’s accident), two darling, but needy toddler girls (ages 3 and 1.5), and a wound in my heart that went deeper than any pain I had ever known.

So, maybe it wasn’t quite so strange that I really just didn’t realize that I was in labor. Or, perhaps it’s more appropriately said that I really just didn’t want to be in labor.

Could I really go through one more painful experience? Really? One that is literally compared to every other painful experience that someone can go through? And at the end of it, I was going to have a baby boy. Without my dad. I couldn’t imagine the joy of bringing a baby into the world without him knowing his grandfather.

When it came down to it, I just didn’t want to have that baby right then. Maybe I could just ignore those weird cramps that seem to come every ten minutes? Maybe I could bake a lasagna? Or cookies? Or several dozen cookies? Maybe if I can distract myself with enough busy things, I could avoid the reality of having to birth this child.

Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

By the time Brad got home, he watched me wince, breathe, and try and relax for all of ten minutes before insisting that we leave for the hospital. Despite my weak excuses, we were dropping the girls off at a neighbor’s house and on our way to the hospital in five minutes.

I finally lost it on the drive there.

“Brad, I just don’t want to do this. It’s too much. Too painful. Too bittersweet. There can’t be any joy in this season, not even from a baby. I can’t do it.”

We’ve all had those “drive to the hospital” moments, haven’t we?

The agony of months of piercing back pain finally breaks your will to even get out of bed in the morning. The grief of losing a spouse convinces you that you can’t be happy again. A year of unemployment crushes your confidence to contribute anything meaningful to life. Another New Year’s Eve spent alone, makes it impossible for you to ever hope again for your own happily ever after. You just can’t do it.

One of my favorite authors, Margaret Feinberg, vulnerably and candidly shares of her own struggles during one of her “drive to the hospital” moments in her latest book, Fight Back With Joy. She was diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of forty, and was forced to undergo 18 months of excruciating treatments to save her life. I love how she recognizes Truth in those moments:

“Everyone who wakes to confrontation and crisis—whether you picked the fight or the fight picked you—has an important choice: which weaponry will you choose? Cynicism and spite? Complaint and control? Or perhaps you are prone to deny and withdraw . . . From the day of the diagnosis, I felt compelled to choose a different type of weapon: joy . . . Joy would not deny the hardship, but would choose to acknowledge and face it no matter what the outcome” (Fight Back With Joy, 18).

Whether you’re facing chronic pain, life without a loved one, the loss of a career dream, or another year alone, as a child of God, you always have a choice: a choice for joy. As Margaret so beautifully captures, “More than whimsy, joy is a weapon we use to fight life’s battles” (7). And it was a choice I had to make in that car in the midst of the biggest crisis I had ever known.

God reached me in the middle of that, “I can’t do it” moment with comforting words of Truth, spoken through the voice of my husband.

“Leah, Caleb will not be bittersweet. Everything that we have been experiencing this last month has been bitter. Caleb is going to be nothing but sweet. You can do this.”

By the grace of God, that word rang true in my spirit. Nothing changed externally. The contractions were still there. The childbirth was still happening. My dad was still gone. By choosing to grasp on to the joy and Truth in that moment, however, everything changed. There was a peace and quiet confidence that was inexplicable. And about 90 minutes after we arrived, they handed me my first son: Caleb Bruce Leach (middle name after his grandfather).

Hospital regulations forced Brad to go home until the following morning, which gave me a rare opportunity to spend time alone with my four-hour old son. And there, at 2:30 AM, I gazed at my son’s beautiful face. It literally took my breath away. I stared in awe at the first tangible picture of redemption that I’d been given in five weeks of living hell.

I whispered words of love to my son, and told him of his Granddad that he would never meet this side of Heaven. I sat in silence and soaked in the healing that can only come from Someone who has also been impossibly separated from His Father. And I realized, maybe for the first time, while weeping may endure for a night, joy truly can come with the morning. (Ps. 30.5)

This post is part of Margaret Feinberg’s Partymob for her brand-new book and Bible study, Fight Back With Joy. To join the celebration (and learn more), click here. To grab a copy of this book, click here or here.

Back to the Blogosphere


I first ventured into the Blogosphere eight years ago, as an experiment in one of my grad school classes.  I started Leewards as a single woman, working a full-time job, and found it to be an outlet to process some of the many musings and dreams of a twenty something.

My life situation has transformed in just about every way possible over the past six years.  New name.  New address.  New family.  New job.  And while it seemed, for a while, that the pace of the season was just too much to keep up with a blog (and besides, who wants to hear from one more Mom anyway), I’ve decided to try and make the space to once again reflect, relate, and rejoice with all that God has done and is doing around me.

So here is leahleach.com.  And maybe I am just one more Mom, but I desire to fulfill that mission with intentionality and purpose.  Writing a blog will force me to step out of the sometimes mundane and monotonous world of a mom and recognize God’s Goodness and grace in even the simplest of moments.  Thanks for joining me , and I’d love to hear about your journey, too.

And special thanks to my husband and best friend, for literally making this dream a reality. If it weren’t for him, I’d still be sucked into the vortex of WordPress PlugIns and something called Widgets that together nearly caused me to throw my computer against the wall in frustration.  Thank you, Superman.  You’re my hero.