GERMANTOWN HILLS — Two weeks ago, Kennedie Vote gushed to her mom about her future.
Not anything soon, but forever.
"I am so excited to see Jesus, whenever he is ready," the 19-year-old said with her perpetual smile. "He knows when we're ready."
Her mother and fellow Christian, Jeannine Vote, blanched at the notion, replying, "Yeah, but I'm not ready."
Jeannine Vote and her husband, Rex Vote, recalled that conversation Wednesday morning as they prepared for that afternoon's visitation and Thursday's funeral for their daughter, who died Saturday afternoon in a wreck not far from home.
Fighting back tears but allowing a smile, Rex Vote said of Kennedie's recent "ready" comments, "We see it as God having prepared us."
About 3:45 p.m. Saturday, a 17-year-old girl lost control while traveling eastbound on Illinois Route 116, struck the median, crossed into the westbound lane and hit Kennedie Vote’s vehicle, according to authorities. The 17-year-old driver was taken to a hospital. Kennedie, who had been headed to church to work on a mission project, died on impact.
Her mom said, "We know where she is. There is no doubt. ... All Kennedie wanted to do is serve her God and make him happy. We feel he was so pleased in her work, He took her home early to celebrate with her. If you're not a Christian, you won't understand that. But this is not our home. We have another home. And God rewarded her at age 19."
Despite aching grief, the Votes have taken comfort in an outpouring of phone calls and social-media posts regarding Kennedie's uplifting impact on others.
"We had no idea how many people she had touched," her father said. "We had no idea how many people she loved."
The second youngest of four siblings, Kennedie grew up in Germantown Hills and attended Metamora Township High School. Though baptized as a Christian in grade school, she began to wander spiritually in high school, where she was a cheerleader her freshman and sophomore years.
"Not that there's anything wrong with cheerleading," her father said. "But for her, it was a struggle."
Added her mother, "She was walking away from the Lord, and she realized that."
A church retreat helped Kennedie refocus, afterward telling her parents, "I don't want to live for popularity. It doesn't matter to God if I'm popular. It matters to God if I go on mission trips and serve Him."
With that, Kennedie quit extracurricular activities and dove headlong into a wide range of service.
A member of Northwoods Community Church (where her mother is on staff), she sang with the worship team and helped the children's ministry. She especially had a soft spot for kids, as recalled this week by the father of a little girl who not long ago was kicking and screaming against attending the church's youth program. But embraced by Kennedie's warm greeting and smile, the girl rushed into the teen's arms, not bothering to look back at her parents.
That's the kind of effect Kennedie had on people, as her parents are learning more and more. One teen told them this week, "I met her one time at an event for 10 or 15 minutes. But for those 10 or 15 minutes, she treated me like I was her best friend."
Kennedie seemed perpetually ready to lend a hand. She rehabbed homes through the Mission Peoria program by Dream Center Peoria. She started a book group in high school to encourage others to put their faith ahead of dating. She traveled with her church on gospel missions to Brazil and the Dominican Republic.
Her father, who works for a contractor, said, "She was teaching me what it means to spend time with God."
Not that she was drearily serious.
"She could light up a room," her mother said. "She was goofy. She didn't mind being silly and goofy."
This past academic year, Kennedie attended her first two semesters of Illinois Central College, aiming for an associate degree before going to a Bible college to study the ministry, likely focusing on children. Meanwhile, she worked at the daycare of The Wonder Playschool in Peoria, while also preparing for an upcoming mission trip to Brazil. Through it all, as she explained that week to her mother, she had one underlying goal: "All I want is when people walk away from me, they feel loved."
Saturday afternoon, she was driving to her church to join others to make videos for children on the Brazil mission. She never made it to the church.
The other driver has been charged with improper lane usage. Kennedie's parents have been praying for her and plan to contact the family after Kennedie's funeral.
"Kennedie would want that girl to have complete freedom from any burden," her father said. "It was an accident. If Kennedie were still here, she'd be hugging and loving on her."
To defray funeral costs, a family friend set up a GoFundMe page. Despite an intended goal of $15,000, supporters asked that the cap be lifted, to honor Kennedie. As the donor "Metamora Varsity Cheerleading" posted, "Kennedie was a bright spot in so many lives and an amazing example for many to follow."
As of Wednesday morning, more than $16,000 had been raised. After funeral expenses, her parents pledge to donate extra funds toward causes favored by Kennedie. In that way, just as with the teen's lingering inspiration, Kennedie's passion won't die, her parents said.
Her father said, "We have testimonies of friends who have pledged to carry on her work to love others and love God."
To the solace of Kennedie's family, many of those friends keep recalling her senior quote in the high school yearbook: "Philippians 1:21: 'For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.'"
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil