This post is not about missionary work. And yet, it’s entirely about missionary work. I hope you take what you need from this snapshot of my life as we all seek to follow Christ more perfectly.
This post is for the Hansen family.
I became a journalist because of love. Love of storytelling, love of humanity, love of writing, love of truth.
For the past six months, I have been a reporter for Mormon Times. While there, my life was touched a hundred times over.
There was the story of the incredible woman who found the gospel after seeing the Book of Mormon musical. The woman who refused to let terrorism take any more from her after the Boston Marathon bombings. There was the former mayor of a California town, whose conversion was so strong and so lasting, it strengthened my own faith. The woman, who at 98-years-old still serves faithfully as a missionary for the Family History Library.
The list could go on and on.
Their stories moved me deeply. Because each is about a child of God. A precious brother or sister of mine who has influenced their small corner of the world for good. Each story kept a small portion of my heart.
But none more than the last.
Her name is Kennedy Hansen, and she is my hero.
I didn’t know it then, but Kennedy first entered my life while I was sitting in the sun-filled room of my editor. Want to write a story about Imagine Dragons? he asked. Of course, I said.
But there was so much more to it than that.
One slow August afternoon, I began reading a press release from Weber State, who would be hosting the concert this October. That’s when I first heard Kennedy’s story.
I learned that this concert was special. A 15-year-old girl named Kennedy was going to attend.
As I read on, tears filled my eyes.
Kennedy was diagnosed with juvenille Batten disease this June, a terminal illness that attacks the nervous system. Kennedy is mostly blind, is loosing the ability to speak and as the disease becomes more aggressive, will lose the ability to walk.
Thanks to the help of her extended family, Weber State provided Kennedy’s family with tickets to the Imagine Dragons concert. They are her favorite band.
Yesterday, I got the chance to meet this incredible girl.
Eric and I got to the concert just as the Fictionist was wrapping up. We located the handicap section, and found the Hansen family.
Kennedy’s dad, Jason greeted me with a hug, as did his wife Heather. I met Kennedy’s aunt Britney and uncle Chris, her sister Anna, and her cousins Shantz and Chase. I don’t have words to say how much I admire these good people. The light of Christ radiates from each of them, but none more than Kennedy.
Now, the Hansen’s don’t know this, but while writing Kennedy’s story, I dissolved into tears more than once and I had to clean myself up in the bathroom.
Yes, it’s a sad story, but it was more than that. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more touched by the Christlike example this family has set for me.
You see, after learning of Kennedy’s fate, the Hansen family started a Facebook page called Kennedy’s Hugs. Each day, they share another piece of her story, a snapshot of her life, a love letter to this precious girl.
I read post after post of this family’s faith filled testimony. They understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. And they know they will see their daughter again. So for now, they are living in the footsteps of the Savior, striving to make the close of this chapter of their lives beautiful.
And they are changing lives. Mine included.
I was humbled to meet this girl last night as she held me in a gentle hug. I don’t think she stopped smiling all night. Because isn’t it the dream of every 15-year-old girl to go to a rock concert? It was for Kennedy.
The lights were lowered, the music started and the screaming of the crowd welcomed the band I had only ever heard on my radio.
But I couldn’t tell you what song they sang first, or second.
Instead, my eyes were filled with tears, and a giant lump and found its way into the back of my throat.
I was watching the Hansen family, who were standing near us at the back of the pit.
There they were, a line of faith, love and hope, swaying and clapping with the music. Pure, unfiltered joy surged through my entire body to see them there together. Unbroken. Undefeated.
And then this lesson, taught in the most unlikely of venues: Families are eternal.
And it’s because of Jesus Christ. And because of the restoration of his glorious gospel. And the priesthood. And temples. And the unending love of people like the Hansen family who support each other until far after the end is over.
As the concert went on, I tried to sneak a peek at Kennedy. I don’t think she stopped dancing the entire night.
The last song was “Radioactive,” Kennedy’s favorite. It was dedicated to her. Her family cheered, some cried other just beamed. Tears found their way slowly down my face as well. I was grateful to witness an indescribable scene of love.
With the stage to my back I stood there half crying, half laughing and thanked my Heavenly Father for bringing stories like this into my life.
I turned around to watch the rest of the song, my dear husband standing next to me.
Eternity. That’s what we have.
I was grateful for my lesson in love, the path that gets us there.
Thank you, Kennedy. Thank you for bringing light to countless lives.
It’s because of people like her that I do what I do. It’s because of families like the Hansens that my faith is bolstered in the most unlikely places.
I love you, Kennedy. I will see you again. Maybe this life, maybe the next. Either way, I hope I get another hug.