I didn't trust God, didn't know Him, didn't like the people who tried to jam Him down my throat -- and I sure didn't want to be like them! My passion was filmmaking, racing motorcycles, SCUBA diving and women. I had also come to the realization that no one ever taught me how to be a man, a husband or a father, and I was scared to death that somebody would find out. After two failed marriages (one terminated at the wrong end of a loaded, high-powered rifle), a daughter whom I never met and a son who was exactly what I hoped for, I was done with "committed relationships" and ready to live in Europe aboard a yacht to make documentary films.
That was my plan -- until a film distributor invited me to go to church. He was funding my films, so of course I went. As I entered The Church On The Way, I sensed a Voice speaking to me -- as if no one else were around. "Welcome home, Lee. We have a lot of things to do together." I gave my life to Christ -- with the condition that if He was not exactly Who He said He was, I would drop Him like a bad habit. The one thing I did not expect was that the Lord would reveal exactly who I was, and in order for me to fulfill my purpose on earth, I would have to change -- a change that only God Almighty himself could bring about.
Ten days later I met Linda, a beautiful woman with two children, and married her. Nothing prepared us for the bare-knuckled challenges of a blended family. After all, she expected me to treat her children the same way I treated mine. Film work dried up like an autumn leaf and I found myself in a maximum-security juvenile prison -- as a volunteer Chaplain. I quickly discovered those killer kids had no idea how to make their lives work, and I wanted the world to decide, through film, if there was a kid worth saving inside the criminal -- a promise from God months earlier that I would make a film about juvenile delinquents that would impact the world as nothing ever before it. What He did not tell me was everything I wanted to do was against the law.
Linda and I formed Wings Foundation to help kids once they got out of jail. I spent the next four years fighting the presiding judge for a first-time-ever court order releasing seven juvenile inmates into my custody to film a 10-day at-sea expedition aboard my sailboat with no guards, no counselors and no cops. Every network, outlet and sponsor rejected the completed documentary titled Desperate Passage and two years passed before a television station made the decicion to air it. I never lost faith in God's promise and once Desperate Passage finally aired it was number one in the Neilson Ratings and received four Emmy nominations, winning two.
A dozen more television specials (funded independently to retain creative control) garnered 33 individual Emmy nominations and 13 gold statues. Every studio in Hollywood wanted the rights to one of our most successful documentaries, Gridiron Gang. I bowed to a major studio's promises and signed on the dotted line. Four years later the project was put into "turnaround," which means, "We have no further interest in your project and if anyone else does they need to pay off $1.75 million in studio expenses".
Our financial partners were, at best, disappointed and elected not to fund future projects. To keep my name in the hat, I rewrote old scripts and modernized concepts for television series I had created years earlier. Nothing sold.
Wings Foundation evaporated because Linda and I no longer had the resources to support the work. Over the next many months I grew annoyed with God and showed little consideration for my wife's feelings or fears. Too often I was rude and spoke harshly to Linda as if she had no idea of what "the artist" was going through. To save our marriage, Linda stopped working with me and became a real estate agent.
Through our youngest son Shane's encouragement, I called friend and successful film producer Neal Moritz, who agreed to produce Gridiron Gang at Sony Pictures -- if we could get Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to star in it.
"Mr. Stanley, what an honor to meet you!" the six-foot-four Dwayne said as he stood and extended his muscular, tribal-tattooed arm, hand wide open. "I loved your documentary. I cheered and cried through the whole thing. I agree to make your film."
I had the privilege of walking the red carpet with Linda by my side for the world premier of Gridiron Gang at Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theater. I was living the dream that took shape out of a desperate need to capture the heart cry of today's youth and my own heart cry to learn how to become a man, a husband and a father. Opening weekend, Gridiron Gang was the number one movie at the box office.
I've had no formal training in dealing with troubled kids or troubled anybodies, except for my personal experiences with trouble, hopelessness and pain in my own life. What healed me was the fervent prayer of caring people, my surrendering to the Lord and God's unconditional love and faithfulness. Over the past three decades, and in the most alarming and miraculous ways imaginable, I have learned that our Lord is exactly who the Bible claims He is -- and that His purpose for my life far exceeds any plans I had.
Save yourself significant grief. Trust God and allow Him to shape you, so you can fulfill your purpose.