Last month I had the opportunity to read and review Never Ever Give Up, the inspirational story of a child, Jessie Rees, battling a rare form of cancer and choosing to focus on ways to encourage others in the midst of her own suffering. Today I’m pleased to share with you a Q&A session with Erik Rees, the book’s author and Jessie’s father, for some background info on Jessie’s story and how his faith has been challenged and changed through it.
Never Ever Give Up is immensely personal. Why is it important to share your daughter’s story?
I had three goals for sharing Jessie’s story: increase awareness of childhood cancer, give people facing personal hurdles in life hope and to create a wave of compassion through personal acts of kindness.
Where did Jessie come up with the idea of creating JoyJars? Why did she do this, instead of focusing on herself?
Jessie came up with the idea after she started treatment and learned there were lots of children that couldn’t leave the hospital. She just had a burden for them and wanted to help them. The name actually came from taking her middle name “joy” and adding it to “jars”. She choose to spread joy because she knew life was about giving not getting.
How did your kids handle their grief? What advice do you have for parents who are dealing with a tragedy?
Grief is a powerful emotion that everyone processes differently. Some get quiet and some get loud. Our job as parents were to simply walk with them through their grief and let them know we were there for them no matter what. My only tip for parents is don’t hide your pain from your kids. Let them know you are hurting too and together with God’s help you will all heal.
Jessie had a strong faith in God. How did she draw strength from her relationship with God during her treatment?
Jessie did have an amazing faith in God which inspires me daily. She would pray for herself, listen to worship music during treatments and do her nightly devotions with her mommy. She drew her strength from Phil. 4:13 and asked God daily for support.
Do you have advice for other Christians who may be questioning God’s plan?
I don’t know if I would call it “advice” but I would let them know they are not alone in their feelings. I questioned God many times and still do. I don’t question His love for me or Jessie. I questioned His choice in using Heaven as a healing agent. But now that time has past, I see His plan. Jessie was an Angel sent to Earth with a message (Never Ever Give Up) and a mission (childhood cancer). How else can you explain how one twelve year old girl, fighting cancer, choose to give to other kids and started a global movement of compassion that has raised millions of dollars to “care” for children/families fighting cancer around the world. My only answer is, God had a plan!
In addition, I would encourage them to realize God’s plans don’t always match up to our own plans but He is still a loving and caring God. Faith in God is all about “believing” in our hearts and heads that God loves us no matter what and when we fully depend on Him, He will show us the way.
Erik Rees is the Chairman of the Jessie Rees Foundation, better known as “Jessie’s daddy” to the 310,000 Facebook fans he talks to weekly. Through Erik’s leadership, Jessie’s mission to encourage every kid fighting cancer to “Never Ever Give Up” is becoming a reality. He is the author of S.H.A.P.E.: Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life and of Only You Can Be You. He and his wife, Stacey, live in Orange County, California, with their children, Shaya and JT, and their four dogs.
You can learn more about the Jessie Rees Foundation and the Jessie’s Joy Jars project here.