“Never Ever Give Up”: The Jessie Rees Story

“Never Ever Give Up”: The Jessie Rees Story

“Never Ever Give Up”

How would you react to the news you have an inoperable brain tumor? Let me pose the question again. What if you were eleven years old and were told you had an inoperable brain tumor? How would you cope with such devastating news?

Jessica Joy Rees received this heartbreaking diagnosis in March of 2011. I met Jessie’s “daddy”, Erik Rees, through my service in the Memorial Ministry at Saddleback Church where he is a pastor. I listened to Pastor Rees speak and comfort families during the most difficult times of their lives. Never did I imagine such a reversal of roles.

News of Jessie’s condition took a long time to adversely affect me. Our church has prayed through cancer and brain tumors before. This would be another opportunity to praise God’s healing or so I thought. I followed Jessie’s journal on Facebook. I thanked God on the days she reported the MRI’s had shown some improvement. My heart ached for her and her family when her reports did not sound encouraging. Even when Jessie was having bad days her bright spirit leaped off the pages of her journal. Jessie lost her battle with this dreadful disease on January 5, 2012.

Jessie did not let what was going on inside of her body affect her outlook on life. She proved that she was given the middle name of Joy for a reason. Even while she was being poked and prodded she was thinking of others. Her main concern was finding a way to spread hope, joy and love to other children battling pediatric cancer.

And so, Joy Jars were born. Jessie wanted to fill jars with toys and activities that would bring children battling cancer joy. While she was well enough to do so, Jessie stuffed and delivered Joy Jars to children in the hospital.


Jessie’s innocent gesture has grown into the Jessie Rees Foundation – Team NEGU. NEGU is Jessie’s motto of “Never Ever Give Up”. Due to the generous support of sponsors such as Build-A-Bear, Chick-fil-A, UPS, Marriott and Veggie Tales, Joy Jars have reached 115 Children’s hospitals and 175 Ronald McDonald Houses.

Although I never met Jessie personally, I can’t help but feel that I knew her through her journal. Her “daddy” Erik has continued this journal.  Jessie’s family  invited us into their lives to pray for their daughter and now allow us to grieve the loss of Jessie along with them.

Jessie continues to inspire me on a daily basis. I was fortunate to be in attendance for her Celebration of Life Service. The Worship Center of Saddleback Church was filled to capacity and there was overflow into multiple other venues.

I consider Jessie to be an inspiration for the following reasons;

Her trust in God – This is a time when even the strongest of faiths may be tested. She loved God and trusted him with her illness. I find this amazing for an eleven-year old child.

Her concern for others – I can’t think of a better time for a child to be justified in being selfish. This was not the way God made Jessie. She wanted other children to experience hope, love and joy.

Her continuing legacy – The Jessie Rees Foundation continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Jessie’s dream was for every child battling cancer to have a Joy Jar. Through continuing sponsorships and donations her dream is rapidly coming to fruition.

Jessie’s much too short life was not in vain. God had a plan for her. Without her, children around our nation would not be receiving a dose of joy in the hospital.  I believe this helps them to feel less alone during a scary time.


How has cancer affected your life?

Have you known someone like Jessie who focused on others during their health battle?

If you would like to Donate to the NEGU Foundation click here.

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Molly grew up in and around funeral homes her entire life. In 2009 she began working for O'Connor Mortuary and found a bridge between her passion for writing and her interest in grief and bereavement. In 2016 she earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. She is honored to be able to write about these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.


  1. Ashley Smith says:

    Thank you for sharing this story Neil. I am praying for peace and joy to this family, but it sounds lke their faith in the Lord is an outstanding testimony of “The Peace that goes beyond understanding”. That peace is something that everyone needs. We face days ahead of great uncertainty ahead and I know and trust our Lord takes the good ones home to be with him all the time. Each of us has a 100% fatal disease and we are all terminal. The day the our the year we do not know, but our gracious God knows just when our chosen time will be. This family has show that trust in their testimony, knowing and understanding and demonstrating that to all of us still here on this journey is what keeps us turning to God every step of the way. Blessings Neil and praying for peace for the Rees Family when our hearts are broken again and we MUST TURN OUR HEARTS TO HIM, who is able to do all things and work every little piece of our fractured lives to His ultimate Glory. God Bless you and your family

    • Lori Bristol says:


      Thank you for reading and for your prayers for The Rees family. I am certain they are grateful to people like you who keep them in your heart.

      Blessings to you,

    • Hi Ashely –

      Thank you for your reply. You are so kind to share your prayers, thoughts and life with us. You have a great understanding of God’s love for us. There are so many questions that we will never truly understand in this life. Life is and always will be a mystery to us, we can only place our trust in God and ask for peace in our lives. Your support & love is awesome, even though you are on the other side of the world I feel like you are here with us. May God continue to bless you and your family. Take care my brother. XOXO

  2. Molly says:

    I hate cancer. It has scarred my dad physically and emotionally and it took my grandpa from me 5 years ago. It has been an ever present monster in our family, either lurking in the background or staring at us in the face.

    I cannot image being a young girl, a young set of parents and watching cancer overcome her. But what Hope & what Joy! I would never associate those words with my experiences of cancer and certainly Jessie’s family have others to add, but WOW. I love this post, her spirit comes through & her story is so worthy of being told.

    Thank you for telling a different kind of cancer story – it’s such a good reminder of how life touches us all differently and how even our small lives can touch so many others.

    • Lori Bristol says:

      Sweet Molly,

      It breaks my heart that you had to learn about this ugly disease at such an early age.
      Praise God your Dad lived through his battle, but I am so sorry you had to lose your grandpa to it. I didn’t even think about it when writing Jessie’s story what a big part of your life has been defined by cancer.

      The fact that The Rees family would put their grief aside to carry on Jessie’s dream makes them inspirations to me as well. What complete devotion to put her wishes ahead of their feelings.

      It was my pleasure to share her story. Thank you to Pastor Erik Rees for giving me permission to write and publish this post.

      You touch my life just by knowing you. You are a gift to me as an editor and a friend.

  3. Anne Collins says:

    What a wonderful, inspirational post. Most of us didn’t know any of this until we heard about it at the time of her passing.
    I realize, being in a minister’s family doesn’t save us from the pains of life, but gives greater opportunity to reach so many, even through tragedy. Jessica is the hero in their house even though she said goodbye and sounds like out of suffering will come great joy and victories in the name of Jesus. Thank you for helping us remember and for continuing to spread the word of her ongoing work.
    Love you

    • Lori Bristol says:


      As I mentioned above, you should watch her Celebration of Life Service. I know the word is often overused, but in this case applies, “Amazing”. She was an amazing little girl.
      Her family is working so hard. They have found something to put their energy into that continues to honor their daughter, sister, niece, granddaughter, friend…..
      I suggest that you “Like” the Jessie Rees Foundation-Never Ever Give Up on Facebook. You will see the faces of the children who are receiving Joy Jars. They will melt your heart.
      Love you,

  4. Lori Bristol says:

    Hey Lady!
    If you ever have the opportunity, go to the Saddleback Church archives and watch her Celebration of Life service. It is one of the most moving tributes you will ever see.
    Not having children of my own, I have become very attached to the children of family and friends. I could not imagine this difficult time the Rees family is walking through. I am thankful that their faith remains strong.
    Yes, we all need to keep our joy and let is shine for others to see.


  5. Karilyn Leslie says:

    Lovely tribute to a brave and beautiful young girl. Being a mom, I can’t imagine having to face a time such as this. What an amazing gift she was to her family and the world around her. Never let anyone or anything steal your JOY!!


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