The Wholehearted Hero: Michelle Leatherwood

Michelle and I became friends on a short term trip to Germany and have shared long morning walks ever since. Michelle is always moving - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. She's one of the those people who isn't going to stay in the same spot and is always looking for something fresh, inspiring, new. And yet she's incredibly grounded, stable, secure. It's a beautiful balance. 

I feel many people my age are swept into what's trending or so-and-so's new podcast or someone else's pain. Michelle isn't easily swayed yet she enjoys life to the fullest and is relatable to all kinds of people. Today we're talking marriage, independence, renovation, and settling down deep. I hope you are inspired!

1. Hi Michelle! Your friendship was such a surprise little gift to me on our trip to Germany last Spring and into our time in Waco! Can you tell us about where you are now and what this season of life looks like for you? 

Thanks so much for having me on here on your blog space! Truly a place of inspiration and beauty!  

I currently am living in Waco and loving it. Hubby, Jonathan, and I just bought our first home and are in the process of renovating it! Life is full right now with house projects, creative ideas for home decor, helping Wacoans get into new homes at work, and enjoying the end of summer with friends! Honestly, it is a really sweet season we are in and feel super thankful. You gotta enjoy the spacious seasons and embrace the more narrow challenging ones when those come, ya know.  

2. I remember you talking so many times about settling in your spirit with God and with your husband and learning to put down roots. How did you and your husband choose to stay in Waco and build your life together there? 

Yes! Roots are essential for a healthy sustainable life for plants and for us. Deciding to stay in Waco was honestly more of a discovery than a big "sign in the sky" kind of process. Coming out of our time in Morocco, we had to choose whether to stay in the USA, go back overseas, stay in ministry or begin new careers. We considered and prayed through which community to invest in and where to essentially begin our new life together once we got married. We asked God to lead us in the next best for us and for peace to lead. As humans, we are so limited in our perspective to see the potential of every season. Making big decisions sometimes can feel overwhelming, but we found that as we knocked on many doors, the right ones opened up. There was always a peace that followed, and that's how we knew. Favor and peace. We decided to simply ask God to make a way for us in way of careers/jobs and people we could build family with. Thankfully, Waco was it.  

We just kept saying YES to the next thing in front of us. And every step, God met us and made a way for us. 

3. How have you balanced both compromise and independence in your marriage? 

This is a great question and can be applied to every area of life! There is a choice to be made between compromising or choosing to be independent in certain decisions and areas of relationship. I am not sure we are ever truly "independent" from each other as we will always influence each other. However, I would say there is something wise and right about preserving each person's preferences and "independence" per se. I think the balance is found in seeking to understand the other person and their value system.

How have you journeyed to find the ways you both complement each other? 

It's definitely an on-going journey/discovery. Seeing our marriage as a team and partnership really helps. Finding our sweet spots and leading out in our natural strengths instead of simply putting expectations on one another because that is our "conditioned gender" role or "i always imagined you would do this" roles has been key. I naturally am more of an initiator and he naturally is more of a supporter. Instead of being mad because one of us is stronger than the other in certain areas, we are consistently trying to look for opportunities where both of our strengths can build together.

I used to get frustrated because "the man" is supposed to initiate, everything. Right?! And I, "the woman", am supposed to support what the man initiates. Now, there is so much truth and good in that, but my point is, we all have different strengths and what good are they if we hold back and don't use them to strengthen the relationships we are in? They are God-given strengths and gifts given to us to serve and nurture those around us. Own who you are, give what you have to give, and grow with those around you. 

Have you had to give up things you didn't expect? 

Yes. Haven't we all? Mostly I would say my expectation of timing. I want things to go faster and I think I see what could be great, so why won't it happen or why won't they change. Essentially, I have had to give up more control of how I thought I wanted life to turn out. Every season of life changes, hence the word season. And each one requires something different from us holistically. Our heart, mind, soul, body. In each one, there is usually something we have to give up, but in each, we always gain something we didn't expect either. I am learning how to live more open-handed and with the attitude of a child's hope. Anticipating Good. 

Being so different from one another helps to strengthen our weaknesses and learn from the other. You either grow and learn, or fight and stay stuck. This is true for all relationships. God, parents, siblings, friends, roomies, spouses.

There's also a covenant relationship you're now in that fosters a safe place to explore who you are, to change, to question, and discover. I am more peaceful, quiet internally, way less stressed, I care less about expectations or ambition. I've experienced the joy of partnership and that trumps all of the previous self centered quests. I am more generous, gracious, and happy being married. I know Jonathan cares about me, stands by me, but most importantly, I can see how God is expanding my heart to love deeper through our marriage. (and sometimes expansion hurts as it pushes past your threshold) But I can honestly say it has been worth it, every time.

4. In your experience, how do you stay content and settled while still staying on edge, pushing limits, and running hard in this season of your life? 

The thought of being content used to scare me. I so closely associated it with "settling". I would say that now I love the idea of being content and settling! They mean thankfulness, being present, and investment. However, becoming "stagnant" is what we want to stay away from. 

Being content is a mindset and a perspective you choose to take on. There are a few things I tell myself daily. They're super simple and almost childish, in a basic kind of way, but they've changed my life. "God is Good" "There is grace for this moment" "I love me" <I take breathes throughout the day. I pause and breathe. In my car, at my desk, in the shower, before a meeting, anytime!> "I am thankful for..." I keep a close watch on my thoughts daily. What am i thinking about, am I choosing negativity or can I see xyz differently? If I can't shake something, I try and talk it out. To myself out loud, it actually does help! To someone I trust, a text, journal, whatever I can to get it out in the open. I've found that if I do this, I never stay "stuck" for long. We need others and honestly Jonathan is one of the most content people I know, so he keeps me grounded with all of his positivity and hope. 

I want to always have movement in my life. To discover, to create, to live in the "why not's"! Bill Johnson once said people who love God and believe in a higher power should be the most powerful and hope-filled humans in the world. I couldn't agree more. I am not saying this is where I am at, but I keep thinking about that and how motivating it is to believe these words deeply. HOW if I got deep hope (anticipation for Good) within me, I would risk more, love deeper, and enjoy every step of the ride. Thoughts like these keep me on the edge of my seat. What would God want to breathe through me into existence? For today.  

How do you balance self-care and giving your life away? 

Such a great question! I think everyone needs to know their own capacity and current life season. What is it that you need in this season and how can you get those needs met. For me, I consistently asses my capacity and where my heart is. Sometimes I need to make adjustments and cut back when I am trying to do too much. Other times, I realize I actually feel great and have more in me than I thought. It's like my running coach used to tell me, "if you feel like you can go, go! if you feel like you're spent, take it easy!" I live by these words. 

As we have different experiences in life we also come to realize more of what we need in different times. I would say I am a pretty aware person, I consistently evaluate how I am doing holistically (spirit, mind, heart, body) and make adjustments as needed. I don't feel guilty about putting less on my schedule and keeping certain routines, like an early bed time. I am all about good sleep! Find what you need in this season, and make adjustments. You'll have more energy, be more present, and definitely gracious and patient (with self and others!) You won't regret it! 

5. Can you let us into the freedom you've found in your own personal health and wellness journey? What does living free mean to you? 

I love learning! I think this is probably what I consider living free looks like. A life of openness and not being boxed in by self or others opinions.

Being given the opportunity to learn about ME. What works for me, what I love to do, what kinds of workouts I like, which foods are most nutritious + enjoyable to me, what makes me happy, asking who I am learning from and what I am learning about myself and wellness. I love to try new things and am kind of a nerd when it comes to research in this field. I literally listen 5-10 podcast episodes a week on health + wellness. I just love it all and there is so much to learn!  

Truthfully, there is only one me and only one me who will live and experience my life. So, I might as well try to enjoy it as best I can. I am passionate about health in the mind, heart, soul, and spirit. So, I pursue knowledge and experiences that give me a sense of wonder and enjoyment in those areas. If people find what they love and do that, I think that leads to a free life. Not living bound by "should" but living by "discovery". 

6. How would you go about counseling someone in practicing healthy rhythms in their life? I always ask my guests about the rhythms in their own life and I'm curious how you would suggest others make healthy habits. What are some daily, weekly or even monthly rhythms you put in place to help facilitate the process and journey you've been on so far? 

Oh yes I love this topic! If I could talk to someone about their healthy life rhythms I would sit down with them and first ask a few questions. What does your daily life currently look like? How do you feel in it? What makes you happy? What makes you feel purposeful? When and how do you rest? Simple questions that help bring awareness to self.

I would want them to write down their current season, described any way they want. A picture, a list, a story. Then, write down what you feel you need this month, this week, today. What kinds of rhythms do you like? What is one thing you can start doing daily in a category that feels important this week/month? 

Then, evaluate. What worked, what didn't, what did you love, what did you learn. It's very simple really. Just evaluate where you are at, what your needs are, and choose simple life-giving actions that are practical into your daily/weekly/monthly/yearly life. If you want, ask someone to join you for 1 or more of them! 

Personally, I have a few things I have come to learn are best for me through experience. My "miche routines" as Jonathan calls them.  

Weekdays, early bed and early morning. I wake up at 5:35 am, because yes the extra 5mins actually takes away any anxiety from an early morning alarm for me! It's all in the mind.

I make sure to have at least 2 free evenings during the week as to not overbook them and feel so drained. I try to not make set plans for Saturday mornings because those are my special days where I plan what I want to do. I have foodie routines that are fun for me too! Things like "Thursday smoothie" and "Friday Happy Harvest (local health spot) treat" and "Monday green tea latte" - I kind of have one for every day :) My focus is to nourish my body, keep it simple, and love doing it! These are some of my favorite daily and weekly routines. Monthly/Yearly: Getting involved and serving our local community in some way is important to us. It changes every year on how involved we are and what we are doing, but it has kept our love and action growing together. J and i try to make sure we get travel time and little getaways here and there. SO good for the soul, heart, spirit, mind, body, relationship, economy, perspective, discovery, all the reasons! ;) Girl trips for me and dude trips for him are also top priority! 

7. What does living wholeheartedly mean to you? 

Whole hearted - I think that if we are doing our best to be present, to love, and to be loved, that is being whole hearted. We contribute to the world uniquely and that is what we have to offer. When we walk in faith and take on challenges and risks even though we feel unprepared. To live with your whole heart is quite the quest, but as we seek to do so in our daily lives, I think we find a rich discovery in the most simple. 

9. Is there anyone or anything that's been inspiring you to live wholeheartedly recently?

My dad and mom are. They won't read this most likely so it's not for them that I say this, but as I am getting older, I have a new found respect and admiration for them. They live so present, yet with an eternal perspective. They give generously and don't hold back. They forgive and don't allow pain to turn into bitterness. They love us as their kids as best they can, and consistently ask for forgiveness and humble themselves before us. I mean wow. I can't even do most of that in my marriage, let alone 4 kids! I am inspired by their steadfastness to Truth, unwavering faith, and humility. It's like they just don't let fear hold them back. I want to be like that.

As everyone knows, Houston and South Texas has been devastated by the rains and floods. It has been beautiful to see so many give, donate, go, pray, and unite in all of this. My family and friends live in Houston as well as Jonathan's family. Thankfully all are safe but there will be much work in the restoration of these cities and lives. I have been moved to tears not because of the pain and destruction, though sad, but by the urge of fellow friends and strangers to rescue, restore, and give sacrificially. It's what our world needs, wholehearted people who are already on the move. 

And so many podcasts! For wellness I listen mostly to "balanced bites podcast" (one of my faves!) and "trim healthy mama" (sounds tacky but they're two Christian Aussie women who are moms, sisters, and talk about health from a Biblical perspective! + cool Australian accents!) and for spiritual, just the good ole Bethel Sermon of the Week and Kris Vallotton's podcasts! I listen to some marketing ones and mortgage related pod's too. 

Authors, I honestly wish I read more! I am currently reading Tim Keller's book on marriage, the purpose of marriage, and really liking it. It's a great read for anyone honestly ;)