Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly!
October 19, 1976 - July 15, 2012

The photos reveal the beauty, the splendor, the perfection, the glory of God’s creation known to us as Jennifer Wynn Albright Vancil. A smile that melts your heart, a laugh that was contagious, eyes that were sure to electrify, simply radiant. Those and so many other things are revelation of her glory…but do you know her story?
Jennifer Vancil's Story

Born to two of the most humble servants of God in Peoria Illinois she was mentored by the best. Clint and Bev taught Jennifer what it meant to not just love God but to be a lover of God and His most precious, priceless love…people. She watched her parents serve the body of Christ in children, student and adult ministry.

Her father modeled commitment by working hard to support his family, to ensure they were well provided for. But Clint is more than a hard working man. Works hard, plays hard, is a great way to describe him. Jennifer may have been a woman of quite strength but certainly loved to laugh and smile as you can see in her pictures and she has her dad to thank.

Her precious mom showed her how to be a woman; a real, God loving, people serving, faith filled fighter! Proverbs 31 gives a beautiful outline of the attributes of a real woman, and served as the outline for Bev. Here are just a few of them:

Jennifer Vancil Story cont.

Jennifer modeled all of these things because they were modeled to her by her mom.

In 1986 Clint and Bev felt prompted to move their family from the life, family and friends that they and their children loved in Peoria to Alton to serve in a new church, Liberty Christian Center. It was quickly evident that they had been divinely directed. While there were challenges that any family that relocates faces, Clint and Bev quickly became leaders and eventually pillars of the church. Tim and Jennifer flourished as well. They grew through children’s ministry and the student ministry named the Rock. They both became student leaders and involved in every aspect of the ministry.

After Jennifer graduated Alton High School in 1994 she went on to Hickey School of Business. It was during this season of her life, while serving at the Rock that Jennifer and I met. After a lengthy courtship Jen and I were married November 29, 1997 at Pierre Marquette Lodge in Grafton Illinois and the miracle of two becoming one began. We enjoyed a beautiful and playful honeymoon. Jennifer wanted to enjoy a relaxing beach getaway, as did I, but I also wanted to experience the fun of some big theme parks. We were able to have the best of both worlds by spending a few days to enjoy the beauty and splendor of Sanibel Island in Florida. We fell in love with this destination and vowed to return one day. After a few days of bike riding, shell hunting, swimming and snuggling in southern Florida we headed out to enjoy Universal Studios and Sea World in Orlando Florida. We had the time of our life.

Jennifer worked for Knights Limited in St. Louis Missouri as a creative assistant. She loved her job and the people that she worked with. She was responsible for coordinating photo shoots for models and products featured in the magazine that Knights Limited produced. In addition she helped to proof the copy that was in the magazine as well. It was during this stage in Jennifer’s life that she recognized some of her creative, God given, talents that she would later use in ministry.

In August of 1998 Jennifer and I found out that we were expecting our first child. While we were both very excited the reality hit me especially hard. It was a season in my life of deep reflection, soul searching and wondering if I was providing the absolute best for my young family.

Jennifer had a flawless pregnancy. No morning sickness, no complications. She was so truly blessed, she loved being pregnant and she was stunningly beautiful. She was already beautiful but became even more so during her pregnancy. There was just something special, a glow, a sparkle. On April 2, 1999 Jennifer gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy, Richard Isaac Vancil. She loved Isaac so much, a proud first time mom. She became convicted about being with Isaac through his childhood years. She wanted to see his first smile, the first time he would roll over, the first time he would crawl, his first steps, to hear his first words.

After a lot of discussion, budget revisions and commitments Jen came to the conclusion that she would become a mom that would stay home with our kids. In June of 1999 Jennifer stepped out in faith and love and resigned from the position that she loved with the people she cared so much for to pour her life into Isaac and our home. It was also during this time that I felt a conviction to seek employment in Atlanta Georgia. While Jennifer was not passionate about moving to Atlanta she agreed to allow me to send resumes and eventually interview. We received three job offers after sending my resume to four companies and the decisions were on. Should we really go? What position should we accept? And it was truly a “we” decision. I so valued the input and opinion of Jennifer and would ask her input in everything. In October of 1999 with a six month baby boy, a couple of dollars, a U-haul full of our stuff and a lot of love we moved to Snellville Georgia.

A new town, a new church, a new job, no friends, living in the basement of my parents home – we were not living the dream, but we were passionately in love, following our hearts and dreams for our family. I had become restless shortly after the move. We missed our ministry in Illinois, missed our friends and the students we loved. And as I became restless Jennifer spoke a word to me that pierced my heart. She lovingly said, “our ministry is to our family and to raising our children to love God”. Those loving, simple, yet powerful words helped me to stay focused, as she only she could do. And because I could focus on the path that God wanted us to walk down, God abundantly blessed us. We volunteered in the nursery at church, I was promoted on my job and along came baby number two, but number one in the house, Lauren Elizabeth, our Georgia peach.

Lauren was born in Snellville, where everybody is somebody, Georgia on August 18, 2001. While Jennifer’s pregnancy with Lauren was very similar to Isaac’s the birthing process was anything but similar and revealed to me what a rock Jennifer was. Lauren was born just 45 minutes after arriving at the hospital and thusly Jennifer was not able to receive any drugs to minimize the pain of delivery.

Shortly after Lauren was born Jennifer and I purchased our first home in Jefferson Georgia. We absolutely loved our home. It was everything Jennifer had hoped for. In a cul-de-sac, an acre and a quarter of land, and our property was nestled in the woods. During this time of her life Jennifer came even more alive, more vivacious, more outgoing than ever before. She insisted upon moving into the neighborhood creating a culture of “togetherness”, a true “neighborly” bond in our new community and she did just that. She didn’t wait for people to come to us – she went to them. She would bake cookies and take them to our neighbors, generated some great new friendships and started a neighborhood block party in front of our home. In addition to her sense of community in the neighborhood, we started going to a new church, became the Preschool Worship Directors and Jennifer joined the staff of CrossPointe in Duluth Georgia. Jennifer became close friends with the Preschool Director, Carol Tant. She considered Carol a mentor and gleaned much insight to life and ministry from her precious friendship.

Life couldn’t get any better. We were loving our life in ministry, were incredibly blessed by my continued success in my career, loved watching our kids grow up in our new home. We started new stages of life with school, home décor and landscaping when Jennifer began to notice some things were not right with her body. She once told me that she had been experiencing symptoms that we would later recognize as signs of colorectal cancer for about 3 years prior to getting the courage to see a doctor to investigate. She finally gathered the strength to see a doctor in the spring of 2005. Based on the initial tests her doctor ordered that she have her first colonoscopy. In May of 2005 Jen and I sat on the other side of the desk, in Lawrenceville Georgia, of a colorectal specialist who delivered the news that Jennifer had a mass that was located in her colon that they had biopsied and determined that parts of the mass contained cancer. From there an amazing journey began.

Jennifer was diagnosed with stage 2 colorectal cancer. After meeting with a surgeon in Atlanta the owner of the organization that I worked for counseled with his next door neighbor who happened to be a surgeon from NYU and was a colorectal specialist. Under the favored direction of the surgeon from NYU we met with Dr. Stephen Cohen at Emory in Atlanta Georgia. Jennifer said that he was confident, a breath of fresh air and so sure that he could and would eradicate this disease from Jennifer’s body. In June of 2005 Dr. Cohen performed a very successful surgery removing lymph nodes that showed no signs of cancer, getting successful margin while removing the cancer allowing Jennifer to keep her rectum and enough of her colon to be able to return to a “normal” life. She only had to deal with an ostomy for just a short time to allow herself time to heal. By the fall of 2005 Jennifer was back and better than ever and a whole new journey would ensue.

In November of 2005 Jennifer, Isaac, Lauren and I watched a moving company pack up a 53’ trailer while they jammed two vehicles with the immediate necessities and headed to the Midwest to accept the position as Executive Pastors at River of Life in Alton Illinois. Loving God, loving people, loving each other, loving their family – that was our life, and we were living our dream. Raising our children, deeply in love and serving in the community that we believed in. We were seeing growth in all areas of our lives. Our children were growing in stature and the things of God, our relationship with one another continued to grow as the years passed and we better learned to communicate and the church was seeing growth. Then, just like the script of a Lifetime movie gone bad, while on a routine follow- up visit to an oncologist in St. Louis in late 2007 Jennifer’s blood counts were irregular again. Further tests would reveal that she had recurrent colorectal cancer. So now what? The following are Jennifer’s words found in a personal blog she was keeping during this time:

April 24, 2008
Life…I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining… in love when I am alone… and in God even when He is silent. What a profound quote… and when I heard it, it struck me in my heart. We never think of God as being silent. That seems so… distant… un-loving… not like God. At least that’s what I think. So forgive me for being honest. I’ve been asked to blog about recent life… life with cancer… life with chemo. I don’t know how this will work out or what I should say… so this may not even get posted. And if you are reading this right now then I guess I found that I had more to say than I thought. The past 6 months has been quite a journey. Most everyone knows that I found out last fall that I was diagnosed again with colorectal cancer. I went through 5 weeks of daily radiation and chemo 24/7. It was grueling! I had a couple months to recover from that, then it was off to surgery. My surgery was at the end of February and it took quite a bit of time to recover… a lot longer than I expected. Then, when I finally got myself off the couch and back to the real world… we started chemo up again. I’ve had one round so far, getting ready to go back tomorrow for round 2, and they want to do 8. Sounds like a lot, right? It does to me! It’s not fun! And I am not looking forward to it. This has been a roller coaster ride for me spiritually. At first, I was a fighter. Then I think I just got tired of fighting… battle fatigue. I didn’t give up but I think I almost felt like… God was silent… so I felt alone. Like no one up there cared. I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know why all of this has happened to me. But one thing I do know is that God is in control. It took me awhile to get my battle gear back on. I never stopped believing. Right now, I really can’t explain my feelings… what I felt or what I was going through. I will never blame God for anything bad that happens in my life… even cancer. And I will never doubt that God will take care of me. I think the best way to describe what I was going through is “battle fatigue”. And I went through it for too long. Now, I feel a renewed sense of strength… not so much physically because I’m still going through so much…but definitely spiritually. I may not always “feel” God doing something in me but I know He is. I just have to believe that. And never stop. And continue to confess that He is working in me. The difference between life and death is in the mind and the tongue. I’m learning a lot about healing and Jesus’ healing miracles in the Bible. I’m learning a lot about myself. And I’m learning a lot about God. I wish I didn’t have to go through this. But this is creating in me something that I could not create on my own. I don’t know what God is going to do with all of this… but I know I am a willing vessel. I have had some amazing people pulling me through this and encouraging me with e-mails, cards, words, prayers, quotes, scriptures. I couldn’t have done this on my own and I am grateful to God for everything in my life. I went through this in 2005 and when I look back, I wouldn’t change a thing. In the midst of this, I’m not exactly enjoying it, but when I look back I will see where God has brought me.

Jennifer VancilApril 24, 2008
Jennifer Vancil's Story Cont.

And she did see where and what God brought her through, regardless of the circumstances that she faced. Jen went on to finish up the chemo treatments in mid 2008 and was under close observation to ensure that the cancer would not recur a third time. Jennifer was a lover of the Rocky movies. Probably her favorite was the final movie, Rocky Balboa because of a quote that she not only embraced, but lived. The quote was: Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!

And that was what she did…she kept moving forward regardless of the circumstance, regardless of the report, regardless of how she felt she smiled and kept going for it. And so it was when she found out, just before Christmas of 2008, that the cancer returned for a third time. The plethora of specialist and oncologist on her case said there was nothing more they could do than just put Jennifer on chemotherapy to hope to contain the cancer – there was no cure. She wasn’t fazed. We decided to get a second opinion from MD Anderson in Houston Texas.

While in Houston we had an opportunity to not only meet some of the nations, if not the worlds, leading medical professionals we were able to meet and sit with Dodie Osteen at a Wednesday night service at Lakewood Church. Dodie was a hero of Jennifer’s. Jennifer kept Dodie’s book with her at all times and we often gave it to people that we met who too were plagued with the deplorable disease we call cancer. When Dodie prayed for Jennifer she looked at her and said, “Sweetie, you are so beautiful and unless you told me that you were sick, I would have had no idea”

The doctors at MD Anderson were willing to take a very aggressive position with Jennifer and offered to do surgery to attempt to eradicate the cancer. However, they wanted it to be abundantly clear that to achieve the margins that they needed to give her the best chance of survival and no recurrence they would have to cut into her hip thusly changing her quality of life. It would be probable that she would be bound to a wheel chair and at best there was only a 50/50 chance that it would not recur.

After a time to reflect on the comments of the doctors, a chance to pray and find peace, Jennifer decided that she would not move forward with such a radical treatment plan. It was so far from home, with such low odds, she decided she would continue on in her journey of faith and medical advice with her team of doctors at home.

After returning in the spring of 2009 from Houston Texas until December of 2011 Jennifer was on chemotherapy every other week. She would go into the Siteman Cancer Center and sit in a pod of chairs with dozens of other cancer patients. While a cocktail of drugs flowed through the port surgically implanted in her chest, she would counsel me on ministry, our children, things related to my job and would continue to serve in her duties and roles for the church. During this entire season of her life she was not only dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy but also dealing with the negative side effects of her surgery in 2007 that left her with a permanent ostomy, the loss of sensation in much of her right leg, an increase in bladder leak, as time went on, requiring her to wear absorbent pads and an inability to relieve her bladder without having to self catheterize. Never once, that I ever heard, that I ever saw in her face, complained about her condition(s). She loved God, she loved me, she loved her children, she loved her family, she loved her friends, and she loved life.

In December of 2011 Jennifer’s oncologist told her that the tumor that had been contained, and not spreading beyond her pelvic region, was growing in size and that they would need to stop her chemotherapy regiment. Her oncologist then recommended that we should consider, and begin looking for medical trials. Her oncologist went on to explain that, aside from our faith, this was our only hope. And yet again, with no emotion, no tears, no breakdown, Jennifer simply said, “ok, where do we start”.

We were sent to Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville Tennessee. It is there that we met a wonderful oncologist full of hope and plans to help Jennifer. And so it began; a battery of tests, scans, consultations and plans that would require us to be in Nashville Tennessee every week for months. And we did just that, and loved every minute of it. While there were scheduling challenges, attempting to keep up with work, ministry and most importantly, what should we do with our children during this time, it gave me so much time with Jennifer. We grew to love our “retreat” to Nashville. Jennifer’s war waged on yet she battled with such dignity, with incredible grace, with outstanding beauty.

By the time Jennifer was about half way through her trial I’ll never forget a time that I dropped her off at the front door to the Research Institute. Jennifer’s leg had become completely numb and paralyzed. She literally had to drag it behind her and hobbled significantly when she walked – but she insisted on walking. No wheel chair for her. As I dropped her off at the front door to the building I would ask her “Babe, is there anything that I can do to help you?” she simply looked at me with her smile and would say, “No, I’m fine”. And there she would go. Laboring, step after step, dragging her foot behind her, with very little balance, to get to the first of her many appointments of the day – insistent that she could, and she would do it on her own, with no preferential treatment.

In the spring of 2012 Jennifer wrapped up her first trial at Sarah Cannon Research Institute. She underwent a battery of tests to see how successful the trial drug had been. After review the oncologist revealed that not only had the drug been unsuccessful but the tumor in Jennifer’s pelvic region and the spot on her lung and liver had tripled in size. As the oncologist delivered the news, and I looked out the window of the room with tears in my eyes, Jennifer, yet again, simply said “ok, what do we do next?”

While there were additional trials that were available, and the oncologist remained optimistic and hopeful, we would never make it to Nashville again. In May, Jennifer was at home alone while I was at church and this time her leg got the best of her. While she was up to make herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich she fell and broke her hip. While in the hospital for evaluation her colorectal specialist revealed that she probably only had 3-6 months to live. He went on to suggest that Jennifer strongly consider starting hospice. Again, Jennifer was unfazed and was determined to have hip surgery and get back to Nashville to start another trial. There was no hospice in her future. To Jennifer, hospice was an acknowledgement that she had given up, that she wasn’t fighting anymore and she was ready for a fight!

She went on to have hip surgery and spent the next two weeks in the hospital. Although she was released to go home, due to a variety of complications post surgery Jennifer struggled to regain her strength. She encountered a variety of infections that she was challenged to overcome and nausea like she nor I have ever experienced thusly impacting her nutritional level.

Whether you go all the way back to 2005 when Jennifer was first diagnosed to her last days in 2012 Jennifer’s strength, her center, her peace was found in Christ alone. One may think why would one continue to believe, continue to have faith in a God who appears to have done nothing for you? I think it can be summed up in one of Jen’s favorite scriptures found in Matthew 7:25, And the rain fell and the floods came and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

You see, Jennifer knew that regardless of the storm that may rage, that the flood waters of life may rise and that the winds may blow like a hurricane that her foundation was deeply embedded in her Rock, Jesus Christ. She knew that there is the power of death and life in your tongue. She knew that the only way to win, the only way to triumph was to believe. She was convinced that if you knew and understood everything about God it wouldn’t be faith. She filled her mind daily with messages of healing by Jentzen Franklin, a powerful message by Willie George, Turning the Tables on the Devil, worship music and reading Healed of Cancer, by Dodie Osteen and quoted, out loud, countless healing scriptures in a book by Charles Capps.

On July 15, 2012, around 9am I could tell that something wasn’t the same. Jennifer had just an hour before told me that she loved me and I told her, looking into her beautiful blue eyes, that I loved her. Then she began to stare off, was sick and not able to take care of herself and was no longer communicating. By 9:30am I contacted the nurse on call because I decided it was in Jennifer’s best interest to be placed on hospice, despite her desire to fight on. At 10:25am my wife, my kids mom, my brother-in-laws sister, my father-in-laws daughter, my nieces and nephews aunt, my very best friend didn’t go on hospice, she decided to win her fight by releasing herself to be with God… and she lives on in all of us who heard her precious words and her loud voice in the quietness of her strength and life’s lesson to love God and to love one another as she loved.

I believe, as I attempt to close out this piece demonstrating a snapshot of Jen’s life, these words that I found in her blog, will reveal her heart.

“Worth It All”, by Rita Springer
I don’t understand Your ways
Oh but I will give You my song
Give You all of my praise
You hold on to all my pain
With it You are pulling me closer
And pulling me into Your ways
Now around every corner
And up every mountain
I’m not looking for crowns
Or the water from fountains
I’m desperate in seeking, frantic believing
That the sight of Your face
Is all that I need
I will say to You
It’s gonna be worth it
It’s gonna be worth it
It’s gonna be worth it all
I believe this
It’s gonna be worth it
It’s gonna be worth it
It’s gonna be worth it all
I believe this
You’re gonna be worth it
You’re gonna be worth it
You’re gonna be worth it all
I believe this
You’re gonna be worth it
You’re gonna be worth it
You’re gonna be worth it all
I believe this

Jennifer VancilWorth It ALL