Shannon’s Words

 Born with cerebral palsy, Shannon struggled her entire life with writing and speaking…until she decided to go on a mission for the Mormon Church. Listen to her remarkable story!

Shannon’s story is a deeply personal one for me and I’ve wanted to make a video of it for a very long time.

Why is this story so personal to me?

Because Shannon is my sister.

When Shannon was born she was small enough to fit entirely in my father’s open hands. When she was three and her younger sister, Stephanie, was about two, my mother started to notice big differences between the learning capabilities of the two. Stephanie was beginning to count, talk and identify many colors and shapes, yet Shannon earnestly struggled to remember and say things that she had been taught repeatedly.

When Shannon started the first grade in elementary school, many students and teachers were beginning to believe that Shannon was physically unable to talk because she had been so quiet.

In preparation for a particular spelling test, my mother worked with Shannon, for three consecutive weeks and through various teaching methods, to help her learn how to spell certain words. They would study for a few hours until bedtime and then, after Shannon had insisted to do so, they would wake up around six in the morning to practice the words again before she would go to school.

With emotion, my mother remembers the time when she then went to pick up Shannon after the spelling test. She stepped out of the car to greet Shannon but seeing her moving slowly, with her head down, my mother stooped down to see what was wrong. When their eyes met, Shannon burst into tears and said: “Mommy, I forgot the words. How come I can’t remember like the other kids?”

In the many years and many doctors which followed, Shannon was eventually diagnosed cerebral palsy. This disability has proved to be challenging for both her and the family as she has struggled with remembering and communicating. These limitations have restricted her from being able to drive or attend college as well as pursue what some would call a “normal life.”

However, to Shannon, these have not been limitations, but rather obstacles to be overcome. She graduated from high school with honors and gained a firm understanding of sign language. Shannon has used this skill in several jobs and has taught others with disabilities.

When Shannon was 25 years old she began to feel a yearning to do something more with her life. She said: “I [had] always wanted to go on a mission ever since I was very young,” but she didn’t think it was possible. “I had prayed and told the Lord exactly what I wanted to do in my prayer…of course, the Lord had other plans for me and said: “No, you’re going on a mission.”

Shannon, being amazed at such a call, can easily be likened to the prophet Enoch, who, in response to the Lord’s calling: “bowed himself to the earth, before the Lord, and spake before the Lord, saying: Why is it that I have found favor in they sight…for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant? And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee…Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled…” (Moses 6:31-32)

So Shannon, always being obedient with a “nothing wavering” attitude (James 1:6), made the arrangements and walked to her appointment with the Bishop to obtain her papers and begin her mission preparation.

Several months later, our family gathered around Shannon as she opened her mission call. We had all assumed that Shannon would be called to a quiet, country community—so when she read “New York, New York, North Mission” we couldn’t believe it.

Later Shannon laughed: “…when I read my mission call Mom said to read it again because I must have said it wrong. But I told her: Mom, the Lord needs me here. I’ll be fine. I’ll be watched over. “I just gotta go and do what the Lord says” (1 Nephi 3:7).

But as the reality of her call settled in, Shannon said: “When I got to the MTC, I thought Lord, what am I doing? And then when I got out on my mission…I thought: Lord, really, what am I doing? …Am I really ready for this? Am I really knowledgeable about going out and preaching the gospel and sharing the gospel. I mean, I’ve read the scriptures but I’m not good in understanding all that goes into the scriptures. Some missionaries say big words and know just what to say and here I was a very shy missionary. It was a bit scary going into a big city. It was like going on a foreign mission.” But Shannon continued to move forward and serve in New York City.

Then something incredible happened.

In her own words: “We had gone to a zone meeting and our mission president had asked us to pray specifically for someone that we could teach the gospel to and to really pray hard and think about someone we could teach. And so I took on the challenge and I prayed…I said “Lord, I am a very shy missionary, I am not fluent. I don’t say big words, I’m just really shy and I want to be able to be guided by the Spirit to whomever you will send to me that I can teach the gospel and that he will understand me and be receptive of the Spirit. And so I prayed that day for someone I could reach and teach the gospel to.

“… [My companion and I] got on the subway later that day. I felt that I should just sit down and open my scriptures. I didn’t know why but I felt that I should just sit down and open my scriptures and just read and not just a few minutes after I had opened my scriptures a young man sat down beside me. He turned to me and asked me what I was reading and I just told him I was reading the scriptures and didn’t realize at the time I was sharing my testimony of the gospel and telling him what the gospel meant to me by just talking to him.”

As they continued to talk the man told her: “I have been searching for this gospel and this is something that I want to hear and my girlfriend would love to hear also.” At this point the young man grew quiet and then told Shannon that they probably could not teach his girlfriend because she was deaf and only knew sign language.

Feeling the Spirit strongly she told the man that she knew sign language very well and had been taught it in high school many years ago. Now nearly ecstatic, the man said to her: “then I’m sure my friends would also love to hear about [the] gospel!”

Shannon reported: “So I got his name and number and made appointments to teach not only him but his girlfriend and his two friends that were [also] deaf and they followed through with all that we had asked them to do, they had been going to church and you name it. I am certain that that guy and his girlfriend got married and that all four of them were baptized.”

Because Shannon did not use words—but rather signed to those she taught—she was able fulfill a prophecy given by Nephi: “And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.” (2 Nephi 27:29)

Shannon was honorably released from her mission in January of 2002. She went on to get her CDA (Child Development Associate) and currently has a job working with children. She continues to serve and is a blessing to everyone with whom she associates. Her mission and her life’s mission have been beautifully adorned with many hundreds of miracles as she has continued to “serve the Lord, God” (Moses 6:33) as Enoch of old, who (just like Shannon) was made strong in his weakness.

“And…powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.” (Moses 7:13)

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The Step to a New Life

This is a selection from the book “The Seven Paths of the Anasazi Way” published by The ANASAZI Foundation. This is one of the most beautiful stories that I have ever read.

"A Lone Man" - A sketch by Jon McNaughton.

When the heavens stopped beating down on me and the sky finally cleared, I collapsed to the earth in exhaustion. How long I slept I do not know. It might have been hours or it might have been days. But I did not rest in my sleep. I walked far.

"Climbed" - A sketch by Jon McNaughton.

And I awoke desiring to step anew.

For in my sleep I met a legend among my people–a man long revered, with a name so sacred it is spoken only in praise or song. In my dream, I climbed the slope of a mountain. My father climbed with me. I did not know the purpose of our journey, but it seemed as if he did. I say “seemed” because we didn’t speak. We walked in silence, although not the warring kind I had known in my youth. It was rather the silence of reverence. After what seemed like both a long time and barely a moment, we reached the summit. My father stopped, and with an outstretched arm invited me to proceed beyond the next bend.

I did as I was bidden.

As I turned the corner, I was overcome by the presence of an incredible being–a being that I instinctively knew to be the holy one from our legends. I recall that he was in some sort of conversation with another person. But as I turned the corner he turned towards me, and I was given to know that ht was waiting specifically for me. He radiated an incredible light, yet the light was neither blinding nor harsh. It was inviting, soft and loving. Nevertheless, it was bright beyond description.

"Embraced by the Creator" a sketch by Jon McNaughton.

I felt in that moment love as I had never known it. It drew me to him. I rushed to him and we embraced. I think that I fell at his feet, but I can no longer remember for sure. I shall never forget that embrace, however, nor his eyes, for they were pure love. But amid the glory of the experience, there was an element that left me trouble. For while I knew by instinct that I was in the arms of the holy one, I remember wondering while we were embracing whether it really was him. In that moment of uncertainty, I knew that something in the way I had been living my life held me back from experiencing his fullness, and my heart shuddered in anguish.

Then I awoke.

"Anasazi" by Jon McNaughton

My young friend, I wish you were hear me so that you could see the conviction in my eyes and hear the feeling in my voice. I truly saw what I have described to you. It was a dream yes, but so much more of a dream than any other dream I have known. I had never before experienced such joy, and have never before felt such pain. When I had collected my thoughts, I lifted my voice to the sky, thanking the Creator that I had been given another day to leave behind what had held me back. For you see, I was carrying in the pockets of my heart mementos of a life lived in backward walking.

If I was to move forward, I needed to leave all that was backward behind.

I did that that very day, and have had to repeat the offering many times since. Perhaps in this regard, as well, you and I are alike. Perhaps there are aspects of your life that need to be started anew. Make an offering of all that is old within you. Whatever you carry that invites a backward walking, leave behind.

The embrace that awaits is too sweet to miss.

ANASAZI and Me

My first day at ANASAZI Training. What did I tell you? Chubby nerd.

In September of 2007, after being led on a horrendous, five-mile hike through everything that I could possibly be allergic to, I laid underneath my simple shelter on the ANASAZI trail in Arizona and wrote, “I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m not cut out to be a TrailWalker.”

So began my first week as an ANASAZI TrailWalker!

For those of you that don’t know, ANASAZI Foundation is a wilderness therapy program for troubled youth and struggling young adults. ANASAZI offers a 42-day, wilderness-based, residential treatment program and outpatient services rooted in the belief that all people—regardless of their struggles or at-risk choices—possess an inherent “seed of greatness.”

Because of my father’s line of work, I had known about ANASAZI Foundation for years but never really understood what they did. After significantly painful and difficult experiences in my own life, my parents suggested that I enroll in ANASAZI and participate in the program. After learning that it was a wilderness therapy program, I believe I said something like: “Ah heck no!”

Attempting to “bust a coal” (build a fire) during my frist week at ANASAZI.

But for whatever reason, the idea participating at ANASAZI worked on me….little by little….until, a year after my parents had suggested that I enroll in ANASAZI, I printed off an application to work there.

Okay, first of all, you need to understand a few things about me: I hated being a boy scout. Is there a way to emphasize that…without using expletives? I HATED being a boy scout. Camp outs, tying knots, being “outdoorsey”….? No. Not for me. No. No. No. I was a chubby computer nerd fully satisfied with his lot in life.

So again, for whatever reason in 2007, I printed off an application to work at ANASAZI Foundation, a wilderness therapy program. I honestly do not remember my thought process at the time. I cannot remember filling out the application. And I barely remember the drive down to Arizona to start work. (I vaguely remember a phone interview from a member of the office staff: “You do realize that you won’t be walking on marked trails, right? You’ll be climbing in canyons and bushwhacking.” “Oh yeah, sure,” I lied. Truth be told, I literally did not know what the term “bushwhacking” meant. Literally.)

Getting the hang of it at ANASAZI in 2010. :)

Suddenly, I found myself in the ANASAZI office going through training. I was learning how to build a fire with sticks and pack my trail pack using a tarp and something they called a “burrito.” I thought to myself: Why am I here?

Soon after that, I was out on the trail, curled up in the fetal position under my tarp, sweaty, sore, tired and bruised. I couldn’t control my allergies and I couldn’t sleep. I was physically and mentally miserable. Again, I thought to myself: Why am I here?

But I kept working at ANASAZI. And as I did so, a change came over me. ANASAZI became a major turning point in my life: working with amazing individuals (the staff and the participants), learning about the ANASAZI way, having personal awakenings and strengthening my relationship with the Creator were experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything. ANASAZI rejuvenated my soul and taught me to “walk forward” with a “heart at peace.” I often describe this period of my life as if I were “seeing color for the first time” because there’s really no other way to describe it.

In October of 2010, while working with a Sinagua band (participants over the age of 18) I found the answer for which I had been searching since 2007. After telling them my background of coming to work at ANASAZI, I said “I can’t remember why I applied to work here….but I now know why I came.”

Ronnie, Myself and Noell on my last day on the trail in 2010.

The simple principles taught at ANASAZI (the fundamental belief in a Creator, Forwards and Backwards Walking, having a new beginning, a Heart at War and a Heart at Peace) can, and have changed the lives of thousands of participants. I am constantly amazed by the caliber of the staff and the miracles which take place in that blessed program on a daily basis.

More than that, I marvel at the healing which takes place in the families that participate in ANASAZI.

For these reasons and more, I have quietly pledged in my heart to consistently support ANASAZI. I hope and pray that you too will discover the peace and joy that comes from living the ANASAZI way.