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)