Narrator: In today’s unsettling times, it’s good to know that Jesus is walking with us in the present and that there’s hope for our future. Jesus Today is a devotional from Sarah Young that will inspire and encourage you—with assurances from Scripture that God is still in control. You can get Jesus Today at JesusCalling.com or your favorite bookseller.
Andrew: If you have a goal in mind, keep showing up, keep taking opportunities, and whether you ultimately reach that goal or not, I think there’s gonna be really invaluable lessons that you learn along the way.
God Can Handle Our Brokenness: Andrew & Shawn Johnson East and Lisa Leonard – Episode #199
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Our guests this week share a desire to be the best that they can be, but also have learned that God always accepts us—even in our most broken states: elite athletes-turned-YouTubers Andrew and Shawn Johnson East, and jewelry designer Lisa Leonard.
First up, when Olympic gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson met NFL player Andrew East, it was—as Andrew puts it—an almost-instant love connection. The two had so much in common, from their strong faith to understanding the demands of an elite athlete’s schedule and needs. Today Shawn and Andrew talk about lessons learned from their athletic careers, how their online community supported them through one of their darkest moments, and how they’re preparing for a new addition to their family.
Shawn: I am Shawn Johnson—Shawn East—and I used to be a professional gymnast. Now I am a YouTuber and work in the digital world.
Andrew: My name is Andrew East. I enjoy being on YouTube and I have a wonderful wife.
Shawn: I was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. It was just me, my mom, my dad, [I was an] only child. I was put in gymnastics when I was three years old, because I was a little kid. I had way too much energy. My parents didn’t know what to do with me, and gymnastics was kind of one of those things that you just put kids in recreationally to learn the basic fundamentals of coordination and discipline.
And I always fell in love with it. I never reached a point, even at the Olympics, where it was like, “Now I need to lock in and be serious.” It was always the after-school activity I did that led me to the Olympics.
Andrew: I grew up as the middle of five kids in Indianapolis, Indiana. My parents were high school sweethearts. My mom was a cheerleader. My dad was a football player. And I have two older brothers: one who was a professional cyclist, who is now a missionary, another was a football player. And that’s really how I got into the sport of football. It was trying to beat him out, which I don’t think I did. But I also have a younger sister and younger brother.
Jesus Calling Forges Connections
Shawn: So I was at the London Olympics working for The Today Show. I went to the USA Cycling final, where I met this cyclist named Guy East. We got to talking for almost two hours during the entire race time. And he just kept saying, “You need to meet my younger brother, I think you’d be perfect for him.” I flew back to United States—I was on Dancing with the Stars at the time. Him and his brother, his younger brother Andrew, flew out to Los Angeles to meet me. And you kind of worked it out from there.
Andrew: Not quite. You made me wait nine months in between.
Shawn: It still worked out.
Andrew: Okay. [laughs]
Shawn: Jesus Calling has been in our relationship since day one. I think it was like one of the very first things we did together as a couple that was religious. Like, I remember dating, and we would share the Jesus Calling book and we would read it together every single day.
I think it’s a great way for the average person to be overwhelmed by faith. It’s like you open it up, you read this one page that connects you and brings you closer to God and reminds you of what greater purpose is, and then you go on your day with this reminder in the back of your head. And I love that, because I feel like sometimes within the faith world or the religion world, people can get very intimidated by it, which is always unfortunate and that’s understandable. But with Jesus Calling, it’s just great to be able to open it up, get reconnected, and move on.
Andrew: Yeah, I love Jesus Calling because it’s so approachable. As Shawn was saying, it’s not overwhelming, but it’s kind of a good way to start my daily devotion quiet time, where I start with that and then it leads into other things. And I mean, having a little time in the morning to just sit and reflect is so valuable. I think in our lives, in whatever phase of life you’re in, whether you’re in high school or college, having that time to really think about how much you’ve been blessed, how much you have to be thankful for, and what you want out of life and who God made you [to be] is so important.
Shawn: So we chose August 26th. I think this is really great for us at the moment, because our lives are super chaotic and crazy with a new baby and football and work. It says:
TRUST ME in the midst of a messy day. You inner calm—your Peace in My Presence—need not be shaken by what is going on around you. Though you live in this temporal world, your innermost being is rooted and grounded in eternity. When you start to feel stressed, detach yourself from the disturbances around you. Instead of desperately striving to maintain order and control in your little world, relax and remember that circumstances cannot touch My Peace. Seek My Face, and I will share My mind with you, opening your eyes to see things from My perspective. Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not be afraid. The Peace I give is sufficient for you.
Which I love.
Finding Purpose Beyond Olympic Gold Medals or The NFL
Shawn: I feel like I struggled with purpose and identity for so many years. But I think it had to do with my career as an elite athlete. I feel like as a kid in elite athletics, it was so easy for me to identify myself as an athlete and strive for perfection and purpose as an athlete. So based on my scores and my placement, that was the purpose that I had.
And I remember going to the Olympics, winning an Olympic gold medal, standing on the medal podium with a gold medal around my neck and feeling almost empty, thinking like, I had given up my whole life for this moment. But I still felt empty and I felt like I should have felt fulfilled, and I didn’t. And I was raised in a very faith-based family that always pushed a greater purpose, but I got kind of lost in my career of gymnastics.
“I remember going to the Olympics, winning an Olympic gold medal, standing on the medal podium with a gold medal around my neck and feeling almost empty.” – Shawn Johnson East
So after gymnastics, I went on this journey of trying to strengthen my faith and strengthen where my purpose in life was laid. I found my purpose of serving a greater purpose, and now I feel like my purpose is probably being a mom.
Andrew: Shawn’s career was just kind of ending when we met, and my career was about to begin in the NFL. It’s such a unique position, and I’m so thankful that Shawn is very uniquely qualified to be a part of the ups and downs of the NFL. I’ve been on seven different professional teams over a five-year period, and her being so flexible and understanding of that world is a huge blessing.
“Shawn’s career was just kind of ending when we met, and my career was about to begin in the NFL. It’s such a unique position, and I’m so thankful that Shawn is very uniquely qualified to be a part of the ups and downs of the NFL.” – Andrew East
So my NFL journey was not what I was expecting. I don’t think it was what Shawn was expecting, or really what anybody was expecting. I was projected to get drafted as a long snapper, which is really rare. It’s not really a position that teams draft for. I ended up not getting drafted, but I still got signed by the Chiefs. I only made it three months with the Chiefs before getting cut, and then it set in motion this whole crazy, long, four-year journey of bouncing from team to team to team. So I went from the Seahawks to the Raiders to—I mean, you name the team and I’ve pretty much been on it.
But it was really awful at times, right? Like, it was tough, and I wanted to quit. And Shawn was super patient and was such a good listener, just letting me vent about, “I don’t know why I’m still playing football, because I’m not really enjoying not having a team to be on.” So ultimately, me getting cut so often is what got us into the YouTube and the social media world. And that’s been so fulfilling for us.
Community Helps Us Heal
Shawn: So when we found out we were pregnant for the first time two years ago, it was the greatest moment ever, the scariest moment ever. But then we ended up miscarrying almost a week later, and we did document it. And at the time, we were documenting it because we had talked about potentially starting a family and doing all of this, but documenting it for ourselves just to have a record.
And so when we had documented it and then we lost the pregnancy, I was the one who was the first to say, “I want to post this.” And if you were to know our dynamic and to know kind of our digital presence, I’m always very hesitant. I’m always the one that’s like, “I don’t want to post it. I don’t want to film this. I don’t want to share this with the world.”
I had heard about a lot of my friends, my mom, had miscarried. I knew about miscarriage, but I’d never been that closely tied to it. And I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t know how to process it. I don’t know what it meant. I didn’t know how to move forward.
For me, the only thing that made sense was sharing it with people so I could hear their stories. I didn’t know if it was going to get backlash. I didn’t know what type of feedback we would get, if people would take it in the wrong manner. But I almost extended it to the world as an olive branch, kind of like, “I’m telling you this and I’m putting my heart online, hoping you can help me.” And it did. [Sharing about my miscarriage with my online community] helped me heal so much, just seeing how many thousands of stories came back of people who had gone through the same thing. And it was just kind of a way for us to ask everyone to help us go through it.
“[Sharing about my miscarriage with my online community] helped me heal so much, just seeing how many thousands of stories came back of people who had gone through the same thing.” – Shawn Johnson East
I would say before that moment, before getting the feedback that we had with such a vulnerable time in our lives, I was one of those that saw social media and saw all the followers as not necessarily a good thing. I saw it as always needing to keep yourself guarded and protect yourself from the world and what you share.
And it was the first time I actually saw our community as almost family, and I saw so, so much good in people. Like, I know everyone’s opinion. I know everyone has a bad day. I know people will always have those negative comments, I guess. But when you truly need help, the world is good.
Andrew: I think the natural inclination when you go through something traumatic, for a lot of people, is just to isolate yourself, bury it and think, “Hopefully you’ll make it through.” But Shawn was brave enough to share that.
You know, the people in our immediate lives that we see everyday physically might not have gone through this, but there’s millions of people out there who have experienced something like this, and sharing it with them kind of gave them that license to also share their story. And it was amazing, the feedback we got. And there’s so much power in the community, to help Shawn get through it, I think it helped a lot of other people go through it. And there’s people that approach Shawn and have tears when they see her. And they’re like, “Thank you for sharing that. I like it. It meant so much to me, and it gave me freedom.”
“There’s so much power in the community.” – Andrew East
The Next Chapter: Parenthood
Andrew: We just had our twenty week ultrasound, and we’re at the point where it’s like, “You know what, really all we want is like a healthy baby, no matter what that means.”
I’m really excited to be doing this parenting thing with Shawn, because I feel like we’re going to find out so much about each other and learn a lot. So I’m excited about the marriage aspect of parenting, but I’m also excited like about the responsibility of what it means to be a thoughtful parent and how you do that well. My parents always told me growing up, when I was like eight years old, they’re like, “We’re already praying for your spouse.” And I was embarrassed about that. I was like, “Don’t! I don’t like girls!”
“I’m excited about the marriage aspect of parenting, but I’m also excited like about the responsibility of what it means to be a thoughtful parent and how you do that well.” – Shawn Johnson East
But now, Shawn and I, this child hasn’t even been born yet. And I’m like, “You know, I have been on the receiving end of amazing parents who were so thoughtful and cared so much to pray about me, and really allowed me to live this life.” And so we’re praying for our child, their spouse, or praying about their college decision. It’s like, “Wow, that’s a big responsibility. How [do we] do this well? We’ve got to start from day one, really.”
Shawn: I feel like the normal couple would be already saying like, “Oh, we want to put them in this sport and that sport and that sport.” But I think with us, there’s already so much outside pressure for our kid to be athletic and our kid to be a football player or a gymnast. So we’ve almost taken the anti-sport stance, and we’re just like, “We’ll put our kid in everything. Well, let them try everything, and whatever they love, they can do.” If they hate athletics, I would be very shocked. But we’ll still support them and help them go into art or music or become a mathematician or whatever it is they want to do.
We have had the opportunity and blessing of going through so many crazy life experiences at such young ages that I think with a kid, it’ll be fun to teach them and see them make mistakes and learn things the hard way and the easy way and guide them through what we went through in a different way.
Narrator: You can keep up with Shawn and Andrew on their YouTube channel, The East Family—and meet their healthy baby girl named Drew Hazel.
Stay tuned to Lisa Leonard’s story after a brief message about some exciting new editions of Jesus Calling available exclusively at Barnes & Noble.
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Narrator: Lisa Leonard is the founder and designer for Lisa Leonard Designs, whose popular jewelry has captured the hearts of women everywhere. Lisa walks us through how she started making jewelry—initially inspired by her son David, who was born with a severe disability. She also shares how her climb to success brought stress and anxiety to her life—and had a major impact on her marriage. She takes us through her process of restoration and shares when she finally realized that God didn’t expect her to be perfect, and how she found healing for herself and her marriage as it became clear that God could handle her brokenness.
Lisa: I’m Lisa Leonard, and I’m a jewelry designer. I’m a mom of two boys, who are fifteen and sixteen years old. I wrote a book called Brave Love that came out about a year ago, and then also a children’s book called Your Spark that just came out in October.
Creating Beauty and Light During a Dark Time
I started making jewelry really just as a hobby, I was actually teaching special education and felt like I was going to school and working with all my students. I was doing a lot of helping them with their needs and then coming home, and I had a baby who had so many needs. And I felt like I wanted to do something different and bring beauty into the world.
“I felt like I wanted to do something different and bring beauty into the world.” – Lisa Leonard
At the back of my mind, I thought, I wonder if I could start a little business. I brought a basket of my designs to the teachers lounge, and said, “Here’s a little envelope. If anybody wants to buy something, you can put money and checks in the envelope.” And the teachers were so supportive, they all bought my designs. It was very, very encouraging. And that was kind of the start of just a little hobby business that ended up growing into something that I never expected.
When my first son was born, he was born with a severe disability, and we weren’t anticipating that. He has two fingers on his left hand, and he’s really tiny, nonverbal. He needs a lot of extra help. I mean, he is so precious and loved and joyful and silly, but it really was a dark time, and I was grieving. I felt desperately sad. And one of the ways that I wanted to combat that darkness was to try to bring beauty into the world.
So my husband got a job as a pastor in San Luis Obispo, California, which is where we live now. We picked up and moved, had an almost two year old, and we had an almost three year old and an eighteen month old. We bought a little house, and I moved the jewelry business, which was really still just a hobby business at that point.
I was making beaded jewelry and doing a little home gatherings. My friends were so supportive. My husband was a pastor, and he was incredibly supportive because we had two babies, one with special needs and one typical. And it was really starting to get some traction. Like, I would do a home gathering, and then all of my designs would sell. And then the next night, I’d have another home gathering. So I’d be up till two a.m. trying to make necklaces and earrings. And then I started blogging, which was, you know, ten, twelve years ago when blogs were really new.
And so I posted some pictures of my designs, and then people were interested in buying. So I would send them a PayPal link, and then they would pay through the PayPal link and I would ship their jewelry. It was super low tech.
My husband is brilliant, he’s like, “You know what, sweetheart? We could build you a website, and you could process all these orders without having to actually send PayPal links.”
And I’m like, “Whoa, it could all happen automatically?”
So he and a friend built the website, which was a total game changer. And then right after that, or what seems like in my mind immediately, Parenting Magazine, which is no longer published, did a full page article on my jewelry. And I was just a tiny little mom business, you know, working from home. I had one friend helping me and our babies were crawling around on the ground and it kind of just exploded. I can’t remember exactly, but I think I was maybe doing like fifteen, twenty necklaces a week shipping out, and it felt like 500 or something that that first week. It was way more than I was used to, and we were really excited about it and also really tired.
I got really burnt out after a few weeks, but my husband was so supportive and really jumped in to help streamline the process and train people and figure out systems. And we got people up to speed and helping us pretty quickly, and that was really him, because I’m like, “I just have to work harder. I’ve got to work later, I’ve got to do more.” And he could really see a better way.
So once that kind of mellowed out a little, he ended up getting more involved with our business. And to this day, he actually runs our business. He ended up stepping out of traditional ministry. We really see the business as a way to love and serve people. He is our CEO and he’s incredible.
Working with my husband is amazing. He and I have a high level of trust, of course, and he’s brilliant. Our strengths really complement each other well, but it also has put a lot of stress on our marriage.
Healing from Grief and Exhaustion
You know, life is complicated no matter what our circumstances. There’s so much going on and there’s people and dynamics and feelings. And I felt like as a mom with two boys, one with special needs, and my husband and my friends and my extended family, the easiest way to simplify things was to take my needs and wants and put them way up high on a shelf. And that was just one less dynamic.
“I felt like as a mom with two boys, one with special needs, and my husband and my friends and my extended family, the easiest way to simplify things was to take my needs and wants and put them way up high on a shelf.” – Lisa Leonard
So my goal was to make sure everybody was happy and kind of do what people needed, and whatever I needed could come either second or third or last. And I really felt like that was loving. I thought, This is loving and serving my family. I just don’t have needs and wants. And I just give, give, give. And eventually, I felt like I was disappearing. I felt empty and desperate.
And this was a huge part of what led to our marriage crisis. I was just exhausted, caring for a son with special needs. Exhausted, trying to be everything to everyone and feeling completely miserable. I’m like, “I’m working so hard. Nobody’s happy anyway. It’s not working, especially not me.” And I just needed some time to kind of regroup and get perspective and figure out, Something isn’t working and I can’t tell what it is. I need some time to figure out what I need, because I’ve got to get back on my feet again.
That process of kind of finding myself again was really messy. Some of the messiest, darkest days. I told my husband that I wanted to separate, and he was completely blindsided. He did not see it coming. Even though I felt I tried to communicate it, clearly communication of my needs and wants wasn’t one of my strengths. And he was just so hurt, and one of the things that I wanted most was to not hurt him. But I felt so desperately sad and tired that I just needed some time. So I ended up taking some time, a couple of weeks, and I went down south and I stayed at my sister’s house. And I just journaled and walked and I grieved.
I should say we had been in marriage counseling for at least a year before our marriage crisis, and at least a year after. And we’d been doing personal counseling. But I just couldn’t see through the fog until I got some time to just get some clarity. I really needed space to just think and pray and journal and be alone.
During those dark days, especially the day that I told Steve I wanted to separate, I really felt at my lowest, like I felt so broken and needy. I had nothing to give. And I felt like I wanted to be good, and I wanted to be strong, and I wanted to serve, and I wanted to love others. And I was doing the opposite. I was hurting my husband. I was hurting our family. And at that low, low point, I really felt God say, “Now we’re getting somewhere, Lisa. Now you’re really showing up and being honest.”
God can handle our brokenness. He is not surprised by it. He’s not scared of it. He’s enough to fill that space. And I really started understanding, like, This is the gospel. Not that I need to come to God with my gifts and prove that God is good enough, that I can be good, but to come to God broken. He’s the one that does the work.
“God can handle our brokenness. He is not surprised by it. He’s not scared of it. He’s enough to fill that space.” – Lisa Leonard
We both have worked so hard, and I think we just were both trying so hard in our marriage with our kids and our business and felt like we were missing each other somehow, kind of through that breaking down and rebuilding. I feel like we’ve become so much stronger. The process is so messy, but the result is really beautiful.
God Still Sees Us in the Dark Places
When David, our oldest son, was born, I really felt the verse deeply that “We are knit together in our mother’s womb” and loved by God and known by God. And there’s no surprises. You know, God knows who we are, and He’s not overwhelmed by us. He’s not afraid to go to those dark places with us, and there is such acceptance and peace and love in our relationship with God.
I really thought God wanted me to be good. And through this experience, I realized God already knows my heart. He already knows that I’m not good all the time. You know, the good in me is because of God. But I have all this range of emotion and thoughts and I hurt people and I need things and I’m broken. And God is not surprised by that.
I think for a person like me, raised in the church, who’s been exposed to the Bible so much, Jesus Calling is such a beautiful perspective. It was really helpful for me. I downloaded the app on my phone because, you know, I’m on the go. And I thought, If I have a minute or two, I can just do the daily Jesus Calling reading on my phone. And it really worked with my schedule.
Jesus Calling is such an easy, beautiful way to infuse some of that biblical perspective and peace. There’s so much grace, there’s so much room. And I really believe that’s what Jesus wants for us.
I’m reading Jesus Calling November 13th, and it says:
I AM CHRIST IN YOU, the hope of Glory. The One who walks beside you, holding you by your hand, is the same One who lives within you. This is a deep, unfathomable mystery. You and I are intertwined in an intimacy involving every fiber of your being. The Light of My Presence shines within you, as well as upon you. I am in you, and you are in Me; therefore nothing in heaven or on earth can separate you from Me!
My favorite part of this passage is, “The Light of My Presence shines within you as well as upon you.” And I love that it says, “You and I are intertwined in an intimacy involving every fiber of your being.” And I love that, “Every fiber of your being.” And I love that God’s light is inside us.
Telling the Real and Hard Stories
It’s been an interesting journey of realizing I wanted to write a book, and getting an agent, and then a contract. And then writing the book is a whole other thing that was terrifying and overwhelming. I had times where I was like, “Why did I ever agree to this?” I would just get so stalled out, because I’m like, “I can’t. This is too dark. I can’t tell this story.”
This is a journey, and it’s messy and real. It’s not bad, but it is really hard. And that’s really my hope, that someone who maybe feels alone can read my story realize they are not alone and they’re not crazy.
My oldest son David is seventeen now, and he’s small. He’s about the size of an eight-year-old, and he is developmentally delayed. But he loves being read to, and one of the things we love doing with him is reading with him. So I really wanted to write an illustrated book that would reflect David’s love for reading that I could read with him, and also my other son, Mathias, who’s older now. But I wanted him to get that message as well.
So the children’s book is called Your Spark, and it’s really about how each of us has a light inside of us that is given to us from God. It’s one of a kind, and it’s our light in the world, and we can shine our light. And I really believe that David, who has a disability, has such a unique, beautiful light.
My deep hope is that kids will be encouraged by this book, and also moms and dads and grandparents, that each of us has our own light and we bring that to the world. And it’s truly one of a kind.
I think whatever it is we all have, those nagging fears of, Am I enough the way that I am? Am I loved for who I am? Am I just taking up space and inconveniencing people? Or whatever the fear is that we face, I wanted to be honest about that. I wanted to talk about it. Let’s just be real. Like, being a mom is hard, but we love our children passionately. And I wanted to create jewelry that could capture your kids’ names, next to your heart all day long.
You don’t have to be perfect. This is a journey. We don’t have it all figured out. And there’s grace, so this is love, right? We don’t do everything perfectly, but we’re in it together. We love each other and we forgive each other and we’re honest with each other, and that is so much the heart behind why I create and what I hope that other women can see in the jewelry.
“This is a journey. We don’t have it all figured out. And there’s grace, so this is love, right? We don’t do everything perfectly, but we’re in it together.” – Lisa Leonard
Narrator: To learn more about Lisa’s jewelry and her new book Be You, please visit LisaLeonard.com
If you’d like to hear more stories about how God’s grace brings wholeness and healing to our lives, check out our interview with the women of The Next Door Treatment Facility.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with country-music artist and Grand Ole Opry member Craig Morgan, who shares how his faith, family, and a dedication to public service have shaped his life in incredible ways.