Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

“Make a joyful shout to the Lord all you lands!
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before His presence with singing.
Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him and bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.”
- Psalm 100

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone from Johnny, Me, and Scarlett. This has been a happy holiday for us indeed. We have so much to be thankful for. These holidays have been filled with all the usual trimmings –

1. A table adorned with turkey and ham, dressing and giblet gravy, fresh snapped green beans and potatoes, fresh shelled white acre peas, homemade macaroni and cheese (Scarlett’s personal request), rolls, southern style sweet and unsweet tea, fresh Vidalia green onions, pumpkin pie, pecan pie etc. Of course there were snacks to tide us over until dinner was done – fresh boiled peanuts and old fashioned party mix made from Chex cereal, pretzels and mixed nuts. Heaven forbid we should go hungry at any minute!

2. Family gathered together. Scarlett and Rhett spent the night and it was like old times hearing her knock around the house upstairs, with her music and TV and stuff strung all over the bathroom (which used to be hers but now is mine.) It was so joyful having her “hang out” and sitting in her Daddy’s chair with him as we watched television together and talked about life and old memories and her ever growing successful career. She’s on her way to Savannah and Hawaii next week for work and conference and pleasure. So it was good to see her before her jet setting life zooms into the fast lane again.

3. Time with the parents! Mom and Dad drove in from Orlando for Thanksgiving Day to share our glorious meal and bring desert. Mom and I had a chance for long overdue “girltalk” as we prepared dinner together and Dad spent a lot of time with Johnny solving the world’s global crises, predicting our country’s economic and political future and armchair coaching the various football games on TV.

4. Shopping! Scarlett ventured out to the new outlet stores with the fabulous new shops with Rachel and together they set a new family record for an 8 hour shopping spree. It’s a rough life but someone has to do it.! The grand prize in her treasure hunt was nabbing a pair of first time ever Jimmy Choo shoes.

5. Rummaging through the Christmas decorations and wishing I had a band of elves handy to put it all up. I used to go to such extremes with decorating the house and yard all by myself. These last few years the decorations get smaller and smaller. Last year it was pretty much just a wreath on the door and lights around our wrap around porch. Ah for the days of the big sled and reindeer in the front yard with lighted fences and holly draping everything in sight and poinsettas everywhere, and the nativity scene on our corner.

6. Neighbor visits. Our next door neighbor Brenda brought her latest bundle of joy , 9 week old grand-daughter Bria, to light up our day. She was so pretty in pink and holding her in my arms brought dreams of my own grand-child to come one day. She just cooed and gurgled at Johnny in her own baby language. When they left they left us with smiles all day long.

7. The annual FSU/UF football rivalry game which takes place every Thanksgiving holiday weekend. It was an action-packed soggy game in the rain for the boys and spectators. The end result is one I hate to mention. The Gators got us again! That Teebo is a force to be reckoned with, but I can’t complain cause he is a godly guy! I love that we have role-models like him out there for young kids to emulate. As for our Seminoles – at least we had our wire to wire year back a decade ago! Every dog has his day and just for the record – Bobby Bowden can stay as long as he wants to as far as I’m concerned! No matter what! Another godly guy there I might add.

There you have it in a nutshell. All the blessings and more than a family could ever pray for. And that’s just touching the tip of the iceberg. Just ask Johnny. Folks ask me everywhere how he is doing. My best response is this – spiritually he is doing fine as he continues to place his total trust in God. But as he said at the end of today’s holy healing prayer session – “and thank You Lord for creating pain pills as your will is done!”

Johnny does not complain. He is stoic as he battles for the healing. The avalanche of blessings that have landslided into our life from this journey is hard to fathom. It is indescribable. It boggles our minds and fills us with such joy that I think it is like it has taken on a life of its own. A community of love has been formed that is the best medicine that could possibly exist. There could be no better healing. A family of old and new friends join in a circle with our own family to form a hedge around us.

It keeps us in a place called hope. No matter what the circumstances we are able to deal with fear and anxiety in a unique way. We lift it up to God and praise His name. We praise Him as we lift up the pain or hear the Doctor tell us that the tumor has grown. We praise Him in the moments when Johnny finds a comfort spot as he lays and feels temporary relief. We continue to give thanks every night for every day we have together.

I encourage you to give thanks in your own life no matter what struggles you face. Look for the good. It is always there. Appreciation is a fruit of the spirit that boomerangs back at you in multiplied blessings. It’s like stoking a fire. The more kindling you add the bigger the flame. Appreciation is a very magnetic force attracting all God’s best your way.

Tomorrow is another chemo day for Johnny. We give thanks that they continue to tell us we have weapons to fight with. But we know the best weapon is prayer so we thank each of you who continue to provide us with ammunition daily as we storm the gates of hell and claim the victory in the name of Jesus.

Beautiful Blessings,

Rene and Johnny and Scarlett

Friday, November 21, 2008

How Great Thou Art!

“Every day I will praise You and extol Your name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom.” - Psalm 145:2-3

Recently, I’ve been having a lot of wee in morning conversations with God. Johnny isn’t sleeping as well lately. He has to find a certain position and not move to keep the pain at bay. The slightest stirring by me rouses him and brings him back awake. And then there is my snoring that disrupts his peace. I wake up to him pounding my back in frustration. May I tell you how embarrassing it is to have such an atrocious habit you have no control over?

So, consequently, I spend a lot of nights in the guest room for his sake. Also, I have started staying up later, after he retires to bed, to have my own quiet time, in the still of the night. This is the only time of day when nobody needs me – not Johnny, not the dog, not Scarlett, not my friends, not anybody. These are my times I can get a clear line to God. These are the moments I draw my strength from God to get me through the next day.

Often I lay there in the guest bed gazing at the stars alone. The room used to be a children’s room with the last owners, and they put up those fluorescent stars that glow in the dark. So I look up and think “How great Thou art!” and I remind myself not to worry because God is watching over me. It is a new reality to lay in the bed alone. Sometimes I wonder if God is preparing me for the possibility of really being alone one day in this gradual way.

It is a precarious position I find myself in. I do not want to let go of Johnny. I do not want him to leave me. There are so many undone things we had planned to do in these golden years of our life. We have been through so much since our first kiss at my dorm’s doorstep. We’ve had good years. We’ve had bad years.. We both have “grown up” together in so many ways as we found our own paths in life.

Now that we have matured, our tempestuous life has subsided into a calm and peaceful journey, as we have settled into the house of our dreams, on the corner of Rebels Hill Drive and Greenland Oaks the last 10 years. We look at each other through the eyes of a love that has endured through many trials, and now has come around full circle to everything it was meant to be from the beginning.

Yet I stand at a crossroads of believing he will be healed, while at the same time having to muster the strength of possibly having to take care of myself for the first time in my life. Johnny has always taken care of me. He has been my knight in shining armor.

Have I mentioned how ecstatic it is to pray together? This simple act of love was too long coming. It is a joy that is unexplainable to grow in this new way together. There is a power there, that knits our hearts in new ways into a fabric of a tapestry that only God could create. God is the thread that binds us. Oh Lord! Please don’t take Johnny now when we have just found this new dimension of love as part of a trinity with You!

These thoughts creep in as I struggle to understand the will of God through all this. I believe with all my heart that Johnny is healed through the stripes of Jesus. I fight daily to keep my faith alive and to stand in the gap for Johnny as he battles the pain and not knowing what the future holds. We continue to hang on to hope, as we bow to His will in all things. As long as the doctors tell us they have new weapons to throw at the deadly pestilence we fight even when we cannot see.

Faith comes down to simply this. We praise the Lord no matter what. We learn that we are more than conquerors because the battle is already won – our souls are His. We live forever under His wing of protection in spirit. Johnny has reunited with and surrendered his spirit to the greatness of the Lord. This is to know heaven on earth. This is to believe all is well all the time.

Embracing that simple truth opens up the heavens to new levels of blessings. Suddenly you BELIEVE that He has given His angels charge over you in all your ways. You understand that no matter what is swirling around you – you are protected by He whose greatness is so vast that no one can measure it. Now that’s protection!

His wonderful redeeming love for each of us is something that makes my soul sing – even as I stand – not knowing what tomorrow brings – but knowing that, as I bow in humble adoration – He is there with me.

I wish for each of you – that same trust in God – to believe that the greatness of the Lord surrounds you – the love of the Lord enfolds you – the power of the Lord protects you – the presence of the Lord watches over you – wherever you are – God is – and all is well.

I cannot thank all of you enough for the cards and letters and phone calls and visits that continue to come on a daily basis, to lift us up and remind us that love surrounds us in so many beautiful ways. Most of all thank you for your prayers and thoughts – that is the greatest gift of all. Johnny appreciates each and everyone of you and sends his love back.

Beautiful blessings,


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

His Eye Is On The Sparrow And I Know He Watches Me

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father in heaven. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than the sparrows” - Matthew 10:29-31

I confess – sometimes I wish I was a sparrow. Life seems so easy for the birds. They don’t think. They don’t struggle emotionally. They don’t fret over loved ones. They don’t sweat the stock market falling. They don’t worry about paying the bills or having health insurance. They don’t count the calories in everything they eat or worry about getting fat. They simply fly.

And yet, Jesus tells us we are worth more than sparrows. And when I stop and think about it – I think we do fly at times. Our bodies may be bound by gravity but our spirits know no boundaries when we are in “the secret place” where peace is found. So where is it? I have found it in the heart of God. How do you find God’s heart? Two words……be still.

This is something I learned about cancer. You have no choice but to be still. Sometimes I wonder if God doesn’t use illnesses such as this to get our undivided attention. It forces us to stop life as we know it and contemplate the very purpose of our existence. It compels us to look at life through different eyes. We go from living on auto-pilot to holding the wheel in our hands, understanding that every decision we make has consequences.

Even the decision to be still or not be still can change the course of our lives. It is a matter of filling up our spiritual gas tanks on a regular basis or running on empty through life. We all know the stress of driving our car on fumes and praying for a gas station before we give out of gas on the side of the road as opposed to the peace of always driving with a gas tank at least half full. Just ask my Mother! One of her cardinal rules in life is to NEVER get below half a tank!

Johnny is learning all about being still through this journey. He is now on his third line of defense chemo and has just had his second dose this past Monday. It has knocked him down a lot more than the last ones he has done since June. He plows through the side effects of high temps and cold chills and no appetite and continuous pain courageously. The oncologist increased his pain meds to Oxycontin – the big boy – along with Percoset as needed. So far it has been two days and the pain has not subsided much. He calls it “tolerable.”

I was reminded of my own painful period when I had a pinched nerve for several months and the pain never subsided. I could not even lay flat on my back without excruciating pain. So I walked the floor many nights like a zombie – sometimes just sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter and resting my head on it. Sometimes I could doze off in the recliner if I propped 7 or eight pillows just right. It was a living hell of misery until one day it all magically subsided.

But here’s the thing about pain I learned as I reflect back on my life. There is no physical pain – no matter how massive – or how long – that can match the spiritual pain of living my life without God as the center of my being.

When I look back on the times of my life that I did not have the close relationship with the Lord that I do now, I wonder how I ever made it through. I realize how very alone I always felt. I was living a life of unnecessary misery and wondering why I was so unhappy. I tried to do everything myself and wondered why I never found success. On the surface I might have appeared to be optimistic and happy. But it was just a shell that was empty on the inside. There was no God inspired foundation from which all my decisions flowed.

It was not that I didn’t try to be a good person. I did try. But I always gave up when the going got tough. I made choices then that I would never make now that I have allowed God to fill up every cell in my body with His light. I made a lot of mistakes that I could have avoided if I had been thinking the way God teaches me to think now. I operated out of fear. Now I know there is nothing to fear – no matter what – because I allow God to work through me and I am never alone. God always has my back. The “secret place” is always there for me to run to.

So how did I get from where I was to where I am now? I decided to surrender because I had reached my wits end doing things my way. Then I went to work with a vengeance to understand God. I wanted to “know His name” and find that peace He kept promising. But there is a key that unlocks that door to “the secret place.” You must “speak the language.” The only way to learn “Godspeak” is to bury yourself in His word every single day until you find the “word” flowing off your tongue effortlessly. It is actually the same as being fluent in any other language. When you reach the point where you “think” in that language you have arrived.

At this point you find for every door you open to “the secret place” there is another door in front of you that takes you deeper and deeper. I think this is what God means in Psalm 91 when He tells us “because you have loved me I will deliver you and set you securely on high because YOU HAVE KNOWN MY NAME.” I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt something that is true for Johnny, me, and Scarlett. WE KNOW HIS NAME. It is a never-ending journey of discovery. You must continue walking the path everyday.

I should clarify though that knowing God is not a free pass from tragedy or unexpected sorrow. The world continues to surround you with all its reality of living. The DIFFERENCE we have found, is that circumstances do not touch you in the same way. We may feel human suffering and frustration but when you have that PEACE that Jesus bequeathed to us, its like – it’s ok. Because peace brings a hope that all will work out for good for those who love God. And the will of God is all that really matters – we are nothing apart from it.

So here’s to peace finding each of you in beautiful ways! Let God in and find out for yourselves what that peace that surpasses all understanding means. It’s all about living like a sparrow – being free to fly despite all circumstances – and finding that nest in our Father’s mighty arms to protect us from all harm – free from fear!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Great Is Thy Faithfulness!

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” - Lamentations 3:22-23

Lately I feel like we are living in “the twilight zone.” Actually we are living in “the secret place of the most high.” It is a surreal place I have never been. It is one of those places you can only get to when you realize the only thing you have left to hang on to is faith. You do not know from one moment to the next what is about to happen. But when all you have left is faith, you come to realize, that is all you ever really needed.

The “secret place of the most high” is not easily found. It requires a depth of believing akin to being pushed off a cliff and told to fly and then actually believing that you will fly. It reminds me of when I took my green belt test in karate and had to break a cement block with a swift chop of my hand (accompanied by a blood curdling yell.) The real test was not whether or not I could break the block. It was BELIEVING I could break the block. I did it!

But that was for fun. The blocks in front of me today are life and death matters. The blocks I believe I can conquer, have consequences much more painful than breaking my hand if I do not believe to the fullest capacity I can. And so, I have no choice but to believe that God is in control no matter what, and that whatever happens – it will be alright – it will all lead towards good.

I now understand what praying without ceasing means. I find myself praying even in my dreams. I pray when I wake up. I pray during my morning walks. I pray as I drive. I pray as I wait on appointments. I pray during commercials on TV. I pray as I listen to music. I pray as I cook. I pray as I wash dishes. I pray as I clean the laundry. I pray as I counsel. I pray at parties. I pray at funerals. I pray at football games. I pray as I bathe. I pray as I massage Johnny’s aches and pains. I pray as he falls asleep. I pray as I fall asleep.

Yesterday Johnny started on new chemo – this is the third line defense. The tumor continues to grow. However we continue to keep the faith. As long as they keep telling us they have more weapons to throw at the deadly pestilence that stalks Johnny’s body, we trudge forward with resilience of spirit. Our God is a mighty God and if David could fell the giant Goliath with a simple slingshot in the face of overwhelming odds – then we too can say that this battle is the Lord’s and we will simply rest under His pinion.

Two weeks ago we were blessed to take Johnny to one more Florida State football game. We haven’t used our season tickets all year. We have missed the vantage point from 45 yard line – 2nd row up seats, as we watch now only from our living room recliners. But it was good timing for the Virginia Tech game at home because Johnny had been off the chemo for several weeks and feeling frisky and determined to attend at least one more game.

So we gathered up our team garb and decked ourselves out ready for a battle in FSU shirts, hats, glasses and even jewelry! We put the Seminole magnet signs on each side of the car and packed the Seminole seats in the trunk. We prepared for any medical emergency with Mayo Clinic’s phone number, a thermometer, blankets for possible chills and Levaquin antibiotics in case his temperature soared away from home.

Scarlett joined us for this trip and for a moment in time it was like the good ole days when she would drive from college to meet us at the game and whoop it up with her Daddy as they hooted and hollered our team to victory again and again. We rolled through our ritual stop at Shell’s Oyster Bar in Tallahassee. Johnny couldn’t have the oysters raw on this day. Nor could he eat his usual quota of about 5 dozen. But all the staff embraced him with affection (they are like family) and shucked up a few dozen raw for me and Scarlett while Johnny enjoyed his steamed and fried.

Our next challenge was finding a parking spot anywhere close to the stadium so Johnny wouldn’t have to walk far. I decided if God declares we are to pray for all things great and small that included parking spaces in time of need so I decreed it in the name of Jesus that we would miraculously have just the right spot for Johnny appear.

Believe it or not we found the closest parking spot in our 10 year history of attending home games. The greater blessing was it was the last spot in the lot so we were the first spot next to the exit, which was crucial for us to be able to get out at halftime. The lot was right across the street from the stadium. This just DOES NOT HAPPEN on game day folks. Especially finding it minutes before gametime. But God has a heart!

We got to meet up at halftime with my brother Chip and friends for halftime hugs. But it was time to go after that because Johnny’s stamina was almost gone. On the ride back he gloried at the thrill of being able to go to the game. But he said that would be his last for the season. It was pushing his limits to the max.

And so we continue our journey here one day at a time. The new chemo brought in the flu like symptoms last night. Johnny went to bed early. I had to bundle him up in blankets to get rid of the chills. But he woke up this morning feeling better and now we brace for the unknown again. He will be getting two weeks of chemo on then one week off so we now plan our lives around a new schedule.

The mail continues to bring new cards and letters from old faithful senders and new people also. Some we know, some we don’t know. Either is thrilling to Johnny. He has so many cards and letters by now that I finally had to start putting some in baskets and consolidate them. I have run out of room on our walls. But every card and letter is precious to us. It is another reminder of God’s love. And packages continue to come with special surprises that make it feel like Christmas. I know this Christmas will be the best ever. The meaning will be so much more than the rest.

Of all the gifts I have come to appreciate the greatest gift is faith. Faith is a two way street. God’s faithfulness to us fuels our own faithfulness to Him in return. Faith quenches fear. Faith fires up our power from within to arrive at that special “knowing” that all is well all the time – even in the midst of chaos. But faith is a fire that must be stoked every single day. It is like a water pump from which we draw “living water” to nourish our souls.

Stop and think when things seem to be falling apart and you are at your wits end with things – have you been giving as much of your time and your heart to God as you have everything else? It is at these moments that I find I have been slacking. But every moment brings the opportunity to change course and get back on track to that peace that surpasses all understanding and to open the door to all the blessings that flow from being one with, the same as, and in tune with God’s thought.

Keep the dust off your bibles and fire up your faith by reading God’s word to us each day. It just makes sense to keep the guns of grace loaded and ready for whatever comes next.

Beautiful Blessings,

Rene Williams