Thursday, March 3, 2011

Independence, Missouri

In which our Heroine recounts her first Weekend of Travel. 

We only spent 2 days in Lawrence Kansas visiting Jon’s sister Cindy, and her family.  It was definitely too short.  Prior to flying there, I entertained a small fantasy of somehow finding the time to go visit some of the LDS church sites located within a few hours driving distance in Missouri.  I have never visited any of the church history sites near there, and have always been interested.  Given the extreme lack of time in our schedule, I eventually dismissed the idea. 
Thus, it was with great surprise that I found myself visiting the LDS visitor center in Independence, Missouri and then Liberty Jail nearby on Sunday evening the 6th of February.  Both places turned out to have incredible personal significance to me, and I will always be grateful to my sister-in-law for using up her tight schedule to get me to those landmarks.  I will have to devote two, maybe three days worth of blog entries—one at least for each location.  Today, I will start with the Independence Visitor Center. 
First, you must understand that there is a great feeling of calm and peacefulness in that place.  It whispers in the air like some sort of celestial ventilation system.  Seriously, it is a palpable rush of comfortable quietude as soon as you enter through the front doors.  It speaks of holy spaces, which is fitting because I will always view this experience as a sacred moment in my life.  We shook hands with a venerable old couple, clearly in charge, who then ushered us over to our tour guide.  Her name is Sister Cleveland and she is a full-time missionary who spends her days in Independence.  She immediately struck me as a person who felt deeply about the things she daily discussed about religion. 
We went through an excellent tour filled with many good messages and I learned a lot about LDS church history that I hadn’t understood before—despite my considerable background in religion classes at BYU-Idaho and BYU in Provo, not to mention growing up in the church.  Some of the things I learned I will discuss at a later date.  For now, let me just say that it wasn’t until we were about to depart for Liberty Jail—literally on the verge of leaving—that I learned that Sister Cleveland has cancer. 
What a shock.  We had been talking about something else entirely when Cindy interrupted the conversation and asked Sister Cleveland if she thought she would ever get to go to do another assignment on her mission or if the visitor center was what she would do for the remainder of her time (or something like that…).  Sister Cleveland answered by explaining her condition and how that kept her where she was for some very good reasons.  Cindy looked around at us in surprise.  “Wait—were you guys just talking about that?”  No, we weren’t.
Remember when I wrote about meeting Patrick at the hippie store?  I posited in that blog post that some meetings are not by chance.  Obviously the same applies here.  I was amazed to learn that Sister Cleveland has had cancer for the past 10 years and even now receives a monthly dose of chemotherapy.  This is why she is serving a mission not in some far away land, but in a visitor center near an American city with good medical services.  I can hardly imagine the horrors that her body has seen in the last ten years of fighting lymphoma (not a nice cancer at all).  The thing about chemo is that if you are winning the cancer battle, then you stop doing it.  If you continue chemotherapy, then… well. 
What ensued?  Girly hugs and some crying, basically.  And suddenly within a few short moments I had a chance to put everything Sister Cleveland said about the importance of families and about believing in God and life after death into some real context.  No wonder she seemed to speak so forcefully about it all. 
I am so impressed with this Sister missionary and her testimony and feel very privileged to have met her, even briefly.  She strikes me as a very special person—one who maybe through her suffering will affect hundreds of lives for the better.  I don’t mean to seem brash about her affliction on the one hand or story-book simplistic on the other when I say this.  I have a belief that suffering is for a purpose, no matter how obscure or difficult to understand from an outside point of view.  From my limited perspective (and limited suffering), I will simply say that I have changed a great deal in the past months.  Refining and purifying metal takes a lot of heat and ultimately some serious beating on the anvil.  But beyond just ME, I will tell you plainly that if I could somehow help my most beloved ones back to Heavenly Father by suffering more, then I would do it. 
(Geesh—it sounds so cheesy when it’s written down in a blog—but I am sincere).
Incidentally, I plan to write Sister Cleveland a letter soon and hopefully make her a pen pal.  I’ll let you know how that goes, along with my future MRI on the 15th of March and a meeting with the doctor on the 16th.  Oh—and a report on my favorite kind of dark chocolate candy bar will be coming soon as well.  This because I continue to eat chocolate with the lame excuse that it will make me healthier.

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