The Rest of the Storywebdev
I am so blessed.
Julia and I reached our 30-year wedding anniversary this year…and we are still very much in love.
We have 6 beautiful children (ages 24-13) and we adore where we live.
I am the first person ever in my family to receive a university education.
And I have had the privilege of founding two colleges and to have spent the last 23 years living my mission.
I have shared the podium and rubbed shoulders with some awesome people.
I enjoy perfect health and have thousands of friends, students,
Truly I have an abundance for which to be grateful.
But it didn’t start out that way, in fact my early life was a living nightmare.
For you to really understand how grateful I am and how important my mission of Leadership Education is to me, I have decided to be vulnerable and provide you with a contrast–To provide you with the rest of the story….
As I ran I could literally feel the blood coursing through my veins. My lungs were on fire, but there was so much adrenaline in my system that while I was terrified, I felt weirdly empowered, as if I could run for hours.
I knew if he caught me, he would kill me. That morning, I had stood up to his abuse—again. But this time his anger and violence were at a level I had never seen before. I had bruised his ego and challenged his authority for the last time. He had that “blood” look in his eyes, and my intuition told me that this was different –I was in mortal danger.
I had lived with shame—my whole childhood. None of my friends came to school with the bruises and cuts that I had, and while I knew it was wrong for a man to do that to his own child, somehow—I felt guilty—so I hid the evidence of my abuse. But with that hiding, came a sense of invisibility. I longed for someone to notice, to rescue me, to take me from this hell…but no one came.
I had never told anyone of the years of torture— of the frequent and brutal whippings as a very young child, of being rolled up in carpets, immoveable, suffocating, claustrophobic—dreading my involuntary cries that would only feed his cruel lust for my fear and pain. Having heavy bags of grain placed on my chest until I could not move or breath, and listening to him laugh and laugh as if it was great fun.
By my teen years it escalated to beatings with axe handles and knotted ropes, of being knocked through sheet rock walls, of the blood running down the inside of my pants on the way to school, of being shot with a pellet gun for not doing chores fast enough. For years I endured this treatment in silent, invisible shame.
Now here I was, 16 and running for my life. He had dragged me out of the house that morning and threatening to end my rebellious behavior for good. I broke away, and ran for the woods down our long country driveway, and I remember thinking—the woods, if I can just make to the woods.
In moments he was behind me racing the car down the drive intent on running me down, and just before the bumper crushed my legs, I jumped over the edge of the ravine to safety.
The area of the woods I had run to was crisscrossed with logging roads and for the next hour, I huddled in the heavy foliage, soaking wet, feverish, and weak from hunger, listening to the ranting of a mad-man bent on ending my life.
The next 6 months were a blur of counseling, living in different homes of friends, getting a full time job, and then losing that job due to an emotional meltdown after breaking up with a girlfriend. Feeling completely unloved and despised, I finally moving to Arizona to live with my mom.
My parents had divorced when I was ten, and I was forced to live with my father, so from the age of ten, I lived with an overwhelming sense of abandonment coupled with a never-ending flow of sadistic abuse.
So I moved to Arizona emotionally unstable.
I lived in constant fear that my abusive father would show up and drag me back to the darkness. After a few months, I was able to relax and regain some emotional stability. But I was still invisible, I was still hiding, broken, and ashamed.
Church was the only place where I felt any relief. I had grown up my whole life with the expectation that I would serve in the mission field, so when my time came, I reluctantly followed the dictates of my religion and went to serve in the country of Chile.
I hated it.
I couldn’t speak the language the food was weird, and the people and culture were alien to me. I almost went home several times. I spent my whole first year, fighting the system and never doing anything of value.
Then my life changed in a way that I could not have imagined. While in the mission field we worked in pairs. Every few months we would be reassigned a new 24/7 companion. My new companion was Adam Lloyd.
By the time Adam became my companion, it was well known in the missionary system that I was a troublemaker. Adam knew it before we were assigned to work together.
But instead of just tolerating me as my other companions had, he showed extreme compassion and sensitivity, he truly loved me as a brother and a friend and it changed my life.
From that time on, I saw the world with new eyes. I began to feel different and started to enjoy our work of loving and serving the Chilean people in a way I had never understood before. I became very fluent in Spanish and I learned to love the food and the culture.
I was only with Adam for 3 months, but after he showed me the way thru his loving example, I found that I was actually very good at serving and loving others. In fact, I became so addicted to serving others that I extended my stay in Chile and was deeply saddened when it was time to leave.
When I returned to my father’s home, after being gone four years, I found that nothing had changed. I didn’t stay long, within a few weeks I had secured an apartment that I shared with my brother, and within 6 months I had joined the US Navy just to get away from my family and my hometown.
After four years in the Navy, marriage to my angel wife Julia, and 2 more years in corporate America, we finally moved from Georgia back to Arizona.
At the age of 28, I enrolled in school and quickly moved through several different majors; Business, Psychology, and Law—never finding anything that filled the void of invisibility.
Then suddenly through a study group I discovered a thing called American history and freedom and I was hooked. And as I developed my knowledge base and started teaching in cottage meetings, I rediscovered the same feeling I had in Chile, the joy of helping others and feeling loved and appreciated. I was no longer invisible.
In 1992 my best friend and I—with a small group of others—started a leadership college. With them, I saw a need and went after it. I was going to change the world. I was finally where I belonged.
I gave my blood, sweat, and tears to start this college. I willingly sacrificed security and safety. I sacrificed years away from my family. I missed birthdays, recitals, competitions, anniversaries—and so many “firsts” I can’t even count. My wife went without many things she should have had, without complaint or argument.
In those early years, I traveled and spoke from one end of this nation to the other, mostly for free—or for gas money. I often went without a paycheck and without most of the things that Americans take for granted, but I did it happily because I was building my dream, a place where I could contribute, a place where I could finally be seen—I was no longer invisible.
And over time the college became a reality. It took 17 years, it went from an idea in a rented basement to hundreds of graduates and thousands of students. My college impacted tens of thousands of families in several countries and spawned hundreds of other schools.
With my partner, I had become an educational maverick and I was starting to get noticed by other institutions and the media. Donors were starting to contribute big money and my graduates were beginning to make names for themselves in society.
And then—in an instant—it was gone.
People who had claimed to support my dream, people who I had loved and trusted, used power I had given them for their own selfish purposes and hijacked my dream.
One minute I was living my dream, the next minute my dream had morphed into a nightmare. I was left instantly without income, no database, no options. The emptiness was deafening. My partner became seriously ill and we stopped working together and I was on my own.
I fought to maintain control of the college for nearly a year, but with my partner out of the picture, I finally stepped away and let it go.
With my dream gone, my life vision in ruins, almost 2 decades of effort for nothing— I was at a loss of what to do. I was right back where I had started—running down that driveway—unloved, hated, broken, and invisible.
But a life mission is not that easy to kill. No matter how hard I tried to put it behind me, my dream of an entrepreneurship/leadership college had a life of its own and I could not stop thinking about it. It haunted me.
So with the help of a few close friends and another period of great sacrifice we started again to build our dream college.
And while the core of our original idea is still there, I have created the blueprint for an even better school than what we had originally dreamed of in those early days. And I am still building my dream today.
Now, the reason I tell you this story—is because we all face challenges.
We all struggle. Many of you are just trying to make it to the edge of the woods.
Just trying to dive into that ravine to save your lives—to keep from getting run down.
We all have a story. But our stories … do not define us.
My story does not define me. Does it look like my story defines me? No it doesn’t.
I could have taken a very different path. I could have gone to drugs or crime or resorted to abusing others myself, but by the grace of God—my story does not define me. By the very fabric and construct of the universe, my story does not define me.
Even if you share my story and have taken the other path, it still does not define you.
We have been given the most precious gift in the universe—Choice.
Wherever you are in this process, you can choose. It is never to late.
You can choose to be who you want to be. You can choose to be who you know you are.
Our trials and grief and abuse and trauma and devastation and bad choices and self-condemning sins—they are not us.
These are things that happen TO US. These are things we have done.
But They DO NOT DEFINE US!
You can choose to not be a composite of your trials and challenges.
Regardless your circumstances, regardless your journey, regardless your wounds, your offenses, injuries, broken bones and broken hearts—you can still choose who you are and who you will become.
And when that choice is put to the service of blessing others, instead of becoming invisible, you will become INVINCIBLE.
My challenge to you is to go on the offense. My challenge to you is to live a life of choice.
And in the words of Emerson:
We are now men and women, not children and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.
Choose to be your most brilliant and confident self. Choose to be your most compassionate and courageous self. Choose to find your unique mission and contribution in life. THE WORLD NEEDS YOU TO CHOOSE.
Something I learned from a wise man I respect:
You will never lead others unless you first learn to lead yourself.
The rest of your story touched me Shanon. Thank you for being so vulnerable. I do not have as tragic a story as yours, but I can relate to most of it to a smaller degree. I never had my life threatened by my father, but I did (infrequently) go to school with bruises and/or bleeding from abuse. My father has since learned to control his temper and he actually showed and continues to show me signs of love. He has been an example of many good things, but the only thing that can erase the feeling I felt as I went to school on those days is the atonement. I’m still learning to let go of the anger that hasn’t quite disappeared yet, and give it to the Lord, but I know I will as I continue to learn to trust in Him.
Thank you for the encouragement from this article. You inspire me. Thank you for choosing to come out of invisibility and setting that example. Your light is truly great and I’m grateful you are not hiding it.
Thanks Ammon. When we get to the point where we have nothing left to prove, nothing left to hide, to defend or to protect is when we
finally see who we really are and how strong we can be.
Concept from Lisa Nichols
Thank you for relating some of your history. You and I share a few crosses. I have found, through my observation, that a fair amount of people with strength of character and devotion to serving their fellow man, have passed through a similar crucible. I have always respected your apparent commitment to furthering right reasoning. What is there more valuable than the light of truth and intelligence to the human mind? It is truly the key to open all of the prisons of abuse, servitude and ignorance. You have really come full circle in that sense. I think you are a magnificent individual!
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