Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Come Help Us Celebrate!

“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving.”

You are invited to a “Wang dang doodle” of a funeral in celebration of the life of Johnny Williams. Johnny was always a person who “did things his way.” He had a way of
“redefining” the norm and living outside the box. He hated funerals. He loved parties and food and music and good friends to share it with. So this Saturday – we are doing a funeral Johnny’s way – Southern Style.

Please join us as we honor Johnny with smiles instead of sadness. The service will begin at 12noon at Ponte Vedra Valley Cemetery and Funeral Home and include a musical video tribute and biography of Johnny’s life, reflections by Pastor Bill Yeldell, a eulogy by Rene Williams, memory moments from friends and a personal poem written by old time friend, Ricky Ebner. Music for the event will be provided by the Rebel Grass band.

Confederate troops will lead the procession of the horse drawn carriage bearing Johnny’s coffin draped with a confederate flag. The funeral dirge will wind its way through the cemetery in a solemn march towards Johnny’s final home. Family and friends are invited to join the procession and walk with him in the final steps of his journey.

At the destination the pallbearers will lift Johnny into his eternal home and the crowd will sing Amazing Grace and Dixie as a last goodbye as the final ceremony of honor is performed with sword and hat.

Down the lane back at the reception area there will be an old fashioned southern barbecue with grills fired up, fish a frying, ham a smoking, ribs a sizzling, chicken frying, turkeys frying and a low country boil bubbling away in a big cauldron. Bags of oysters will be waiting to be shucked and sucked with some good oyster sauce and crackers. Mouth watering “fixins” like peas, potato salad, squash casserole and greens. Dessert will be cobblers and homemade cakes.

We look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new friends who followed Johnny on his Journey to Victory. All are welcome to the party. Please come comfortable and casual and colorful. No black necessary! Seminoles can wear team garb!

Best accommodations for those coming from out of town is THE HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS hotel located at I-295 and Old St Augustine Road. Their phone is (904)899-9000 to book rooms direct. The procession of cars from the hotel will be lead by Chip Bowdren on Saturday morning at 10:30am to the cemetery. It is a 20 mile drive and best to go as a group.

Directions to the hotel from 95 heading South:

Take 95 South and bear right at I-295 following signs towards Orange Park. Once on 295 it is the first exit.

Directions heading North on 95: follow signs to I-295 heading towards orange park. It is the first exit (Old St. Augustine Rd exit) once you are on 295

Directions coming from 1-10: take 1-10 until l-295 hading for Orange Park/Daytona. Continue until you cross the long bridge. Then it is the 2nd exit after the bridge (Old St. Augustine Rd.)

If you are driving in on Saturday morning from out of town your best bet is to meet Chip at the Holiday Inn Express and join the procession to the cemetery so you don’t get lost. Otherwise call the funeral home for specific directions (904)285-1130.

When you arrive there is a name tag table. Please get a tag and proceed inside to sign our guest book.

We hope to see you and meet you and enjoy celebrating Johnny’s life with you!

Beautiful Blessings!

Rene and Scarlett

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Good bye Daddy.

Johnny Ray Williams
December 21, 1946-February 21, 2009

"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith"

2 Tim 4:7

A picture I took of my dad in 2006 giving tribute to his love of the confederacy in Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium.

I don't even know where to begin.


The past 2 weeks have been a blurry whirlwind.

What day is it?

Let me rewind to two days before I left for Vegas. I honestly didn't want to book the trip, but in the weeks leading up to it, I had a talk with my dad, and he told I needed to continue moving on with my life, and that this trip signified everything he had worked so hard for to set me up for success, and that I needed to go on the trip. So I booked the trip, planned the photoshoot workshop and my After Party.

Dad had been pretty level and was in comfort receiving home Hospice care. But then, he no longer was able to keep his medicine down due to a continued nauseous problem he was having after not eating since the beginning of the year. So two days before my trip, they moved him into the Hospice facility to try to get the nausea under control to be able to return home. I of course was about to cancel my trip to Vegas, but after a long talk with my mom, she encouraged me to go through with it and reminded me that daddy would want me to go.

The night before I left was Valentine's Day, so I brought my dad some chocolate covered strawberries. He couldn't eat any, but I ate some for him. He was the first man I ever loved, and I couldn't think of a more perfect person to be my Valentine this year. At this point, he was still conscious, but really could only mutter a few words here and there. When my mom got back from errands, we both held his hands and said the most beautiful long heartfelt prayer recalling all our wonderful memories of the life the three of us shared and how thankful we were for all my dad sacrificed to provide my mother and I such a blessed life of abundance. The tears poured down my face as the three of us poured our hearts out to God. We could truly feel His presence in the room, and it was the closure I needed to get on the plane the next day. As I said goodbye, I told him not to go anywhere until I got back from Vegas, and was praying hard that the Lord would allow that to happen.

Fast forward to dinner one night in Vegas. I spoke to my dad one last time on the phone, and though he could only respond with one word at a time, I will cherish that last conversation.

On Thursday night, my mom picked me up from the airport to inform me that earlier that day, daddy became unconscious. We went straight to Hospice, luggage and all, and spent two nights there sleeping on cots beside his bed. It was such a joy that they also allowed us to bring our dogs, my dog Rhett, his "grandpup" and my mom's dog Lucky, my "sister," so that the whole family could be there. Friday morning, the doctor came in to check his vitals and told us that with all the signs he was showing, she didn't expect him to last more than a few hours. Hearing the news, it was the first time I truly cried since I got back. I couldn't believe how close the end was approaching, but at the same time, I was sooooo thankful that he waited until I got back from Vegas. All day Friday, I stayed by his side. I just couldn't leave. As torturous as it was waiting for his last breath, I wanted to be there, as hard as it was to watch him suffer. Though he had been unconscious the past 24 hours and couldn't respond, my mom and I had heard that hearing was the last thing to go, so we continued to talk to him as we always did.

The most beautiful moment we shared was when my mom was having a breakdown moment crying because she wanted to simply lay next to him one more time. In the past few months, my mom had been sleeping in the guest room as to not disturb my dad's sleep at night in their bed, and my mom truly missed laying next to her husband. But since she couldn't lay next to him in the Hospice bed, she stood in front of him and said "Johnny, open your eyes one more time, I need you to open your eyes and look at me one more time before you leave. Honey, will you look at me?" And he did, he opened his eyes for her!!! I jumped up from my cot and was like "Wait, daddy, I want you to see me one more time too, can you open your eyes for me too?" He wasn't able to open his eyes, but he did move his eyebrows up and down as if he was trying. It just meant so much and I'll never forget that moment of seeing his eyes one last time looking at my mom.

(Ok, sorry, have to wipe the tears before I continue.... They still come and go....)

He continued to last through Friday night, the nurses were saying he had the strongest heart holding on that they had ever seen! I would agree. Yesterday morning, I awoke to my mom getting ready to head out to do errands. Before she left, we stood over him and prayed again. Then she headed out and I went back to sleep. Around 11am, his best friend Ed stopped by one more time to check in on him and say goodbye, and I took Rhett out on a walk. I came back in, and Ed headed out. After Ed left, daddy's breathing started to change, almost as if he was gasping for air in those last few breaths. Then mom walked back in, and rushed to his side. The gasps of air became stronger, almost like coughs and he started to make noise that sounded almost like his voice trying to say goodbye. My mom and I stood by his side and simply started to worship the Lord by singing Amazing Grace and other hymns as we stroked him and told him that it was ok to let go. As we continued to sing, he took his last breath and we slowly started to see his pulse come to a stop. It truly was the perfect moment and what an honor it was to send him off to Jesus in the midst of our worship.

Needless to say, it has been an emotional roller coaster. Tears on and off, and in between moments of numbness, like, did this really happen? Is he really gone? The past 8 months since we heard the news of his cancer definitely went by way too fast, but yet, it was the most incredible memorable 8 months of my life. I have never felt God's presence so strong through the last memories my mom and I shared with my dad, and all the wonderful prayers from each and one of you.

I won't be able to thank each one of you personally, but for all who have reached out through Facebook, Twitter, text messages, phone calls and emails, please know from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for being a friend and being my brother and sister in Christ lifting my family up during this difficult time. Though I can't respond to them all, I have read each of your beautiful words and hold them tight in my heart!!!

Also, my mom and I will not be mourning his death, but instead throwing him a huge party for his funeral as a celebration of his life. For those who have shared in our journey, we are opening it up to all to attend. The funeral will be next Saturday, Feb 28th at noon at Ponte Vedra Valley Cemetery. As you can imagine, my inbox is slammed right now, so if you have questions about the funeral arrangements, please email Mark at mark_sweeney@me.com who can help answer your questions. Also, my mom and I request that you not send flowers, but instead make donations to either:

*The American Cancer Society in honor of my dad's name.
*Northeast Florida Community Hospice in honor of my dad's name.

And with my dad's great passion for Southern history, we also ask donations be made in his name to:
*The Jacksonville Museum of Southern History. You can email curator@museumsouthernhistory.com for more info.
*The Sons of the Confederate Veterans. You can email CJ Hart at calvinhart@bellsouth.net for more info.

Lastly. For those who follow me on Twitter, I know a lot of you have been wondering who this @mark_sweeney guy is that I was chatting a lot about while in Vegas. I'm going to keep it on the downlow for now, but I do want to share that he is an amazing source of joy that has come into my life during this difficult time. We shared a romantic first kiss on the Eiffel Tower in Vegas, and things have continued to unfold so much more beautiful than I could ever imagine. We are both excited to see what God has in store for us, but I'm going to keep this part of my life private for the time being. But Mark is definitely a comforting angel that is helping me to smile and laugh a lot right now, and I'm so thankful for his presence in my life. Also, too, I want to share that his mom is also battling cancer right now, so please lift her up in prayer as well. Our parents were diagnosed around the same time, and she is doing remarkably well at the moment. God is good. You can read about her journey through the blog he started for her at lorrainesfight.blogspot.com.

Again, THANK YOU for all your support. Your prayers have kept me strong. I cherish each one of you and your friendship. May God bless you in return with His sweet love.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Johnny is In Heaven

"I press towards the goal of the prize for the upward call of God in Jesus Christ" Phillipians 3:14

Johnny climbed the the stairway to heaven today at 12:20pm. Scarlett and I were there to love him and cheer him on until the last moment. He went in peace. He knew where he was going. He waited for me to get back from letting Lucky out so Scarlett would not be alone. We praise God from whom all blessings flow, that he is now out of constant pain and in the arms of his mother and loved ones.

Stay tuned for the last chapter of Johnny's Journey to Victory. It is a glorious look at a man who never gave up hope and a review of all the lessons we learned on the journey.

His funeral will be next Saturday at 12pm at Ponte Vedra Valley - 4750 Palm Valley Road in Ponte Vedra Beach. Everyone who followed Johnny's journey is invited to this "wang dang doodle" of a party celebrating Johnny's life.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Angels Lifting Us Up

"The angel of the Lord encamps around all around those who fear Him and delivers them." - Psalm 34:7

Angels wings are lifting us up right now - "lest our foot dashes the rock." I have no words to write now except to update you that we have crossed over into the valley of the unknown. I had to admit Johnny into the hospice center on Sunbeam road the day before Valentines Day. He took a dramatic turn for the worse. I don't know what will be happening from here. We brought him there to stabilize him. But as I write I honestly don't know if he will be coming home.

My heart is breaking. But I know the Lord is near to the broken hearted. So no matter what the circumstances, His praise shall continually be in my mouth and my soul shall make its boast in the Lord.

We covet your continued prayers. I will continue to update you as I can - but right now winds are swirling around us as we wait for the Lord to lift His hands and calm the stormy seas. We know that good things are always ahead - according to His will - for those who love theLord.

In His love,


Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Love Letter To Your Sweetheart

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” - Proverbs 3:3

This Valentine’s Day will be a bittersweet one for us this year. Our love is walking through unknown places as Johnny’s health gets worse. We are walking hand in hand, but there is an unseen wall that divides us. I can see Johnny. I can touch Johnny. But it is as if he is straddling two worlds. He is with me but at the same time he is not with me.

His pain and nausea wrap him in a cocoon that takes up all his focus. He finds it hard to concentrate on much else. When his eyes are closed he is not necessarily sleeping. He says these are his moments of peace when he is able to tune out the rest to a certain degree.

And so we continue to walk together – step by step – day by day – living moment by moment. I am holding on to his hand as tight as I can. I want to pour out my heart to him. But we are beyond words now. That is why I am so glad that a few years ago I wrote him a love letter telling him all the things I appreciated about him. It took him by surprise when I read it out loud to him. Actually, it is a “love list.”

I made a list of everything good about Johnny that I recognized, to read to myself each morning. It was my way of thanking God for our incredible love. I wracked my brain thinking of every single little thing I could – big or small – that I appreciated about him. Then it occurred to me that maybe I took for granted that he knew all this. I realized that too often, we DO NOT say things to each other, because we assume they know what we are thinking. So one day I sat him down and read my list to him.

I honestly think this was the best gift I ever gave him. I saw his face light up and his smile get bigger as I continued reading. He blushed. It was as if he could see himself through my eyes of love, and look at himself through a different lense. But he also saw our love in a different light. Things that needed healing in our relationship began to mend. The love letter was like a prescription from God.

I suggest to each of you that you write a “love letter list” this Valentines Day to the one you love. There is nothing complicated about it. Simply make a list of everything you are thankful for about the person. The first items will be obvious ones. Then stop and go deeper. Nothing is too small to list. No matter how long the list (mine has 46 items) make it fit on one page and then he can fold it up and carry it in his wallet.

I would like to share my “love letter” with you so you can get ideas to make your own list with. Remember – men love lists that spell things out rather than flowery poetry.

The Things I Appreciate About Johnny

1. His love for me.

2. He works hard to give us a good life.

3. His brilliant mind.

4. His handsome good looks.

5. His love of family.

6. He “gets” me.

7. His thoughtfulness of my needs.

8. Standing by me during my experience with cancer.

9. The way he tries hard to please me.

10. His love for our animals.

11. He copes with my snoring and loves me despite that.

12. His problem solving abilities.

13. His love for his Southern heritage.

14. He is a good father.

15. He supports Scarlett’s dreams.

16. He always supported my wild ideas and crazy dreams.

17. He forgives my mistakes.

18. His trust in me.

19. His integrity and honesty.

20. The “little boy” in him that needs nurturing and understanding.

21. His love of life and passion he brought to everything he did.

22. His hatred of boredom.

23. His delight in good food which fostered my love of cooking.

24. His consideration of my parents and brothers.

25. The “macho man” inside him and his “macho needs.”

26. The “sports hero” inside him and his love of sports.

27. His financial and business genius.

28. His kindness.

29. His goodness.

30. His class as a Southern Gentleman.

31. His ability to meet anyone and find something in common with them no matter what level in life.

32. His appreciation of my creativity.

33. His ability to see through to the bottom line of anything.

34. His sense of humor.

35. His integrity.

36. His diverse interests in life.

37. He loves me despite me not being perfect.

38. His TLC when I am sick.

39. His sense of honor.

40. His humility in loving God.

41. His stories about his childhood.

42. His values and beliefs about not owing anyone.

43. His word and his promises count.

44. His insight into the world and ability to prognosticate.

45. His detailed knowledge of history.

46. He makes me feel safe.

I hope that this Valentine’s Day you will remember to include the greatest love in the universe from which all else flows. The love of our Lord in the midst of any relationship will help it bloom and grow into a legacy that is truly eternal for generations to come. Think back to words recited on your wedding day. You wanted your love to last forever. What better day to renew your vows than Valentine’s Day. This year make it about more than diamonds and flowers and chocolate. Make it about true love. Make a "love list" for your sweetheart.

Beautiful Blessings from Our Hearts to Yours,

Rene and Johnny Williams

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Seeking God's Face

“My heart said to You, Your face, Lord, will I seek” - Psalm 27:8

Our lives have become very quiet lately. We simply live to get through another day. We manage from hour to hour. In the stillness that has descended upon our days, we listen and can hear the sound of a new “melody of life” that fills the air in our home. It is the sweet strains of love uninterrupted.

It makes me realize how fast we were racing through life before all this. I have discovered, that in slow motion – love is the most beautiful. It all comes down to the simple things. Johnny and I make love in new and beautiful ways now.

It begins each morning as I reach down with my hands outstretched to give him something to hold on to and pull himself up from the pillow. He has to steady himself on the edge of the bed for a minute and I sit beside him. I gently put my arm around him and stroke his hair while he gets oriented. I give him a Dixie cup of water to wet his dry mouth.

He shuffles to the bathroom and back then splashes water on his face at the sink. He runs the brush over the wispy strands of hair left after the chemo. I take some lotion and rub his lower back to ease the ache of laying so long.

We travel down the stairs together with me leading the way and watching so he won’t fall. He drinks some water at the counter and waits for me to gather up his morning regimen of pills to start the day. I perk a pot of coffee and go get the newspaper. I bring it in and spread it out for him. He grabs the same two sections he has grabbed for 33 years – the front page and the sports section and heads for the bathroom.

I walk the dog and come back in to smooth out his couch bed. I’ve laid an egg crate over the couch pillows with a sheet on top. Then there are two pillows to prop his legs and one pillow under each arm. Then he reclines back on more pillows. He is truly floating in clouds of pillows. He needs all the softness he can get to cushion his bony structure.

The rest of the day is spent going back and forth between the couch and recliner. Mostly on the couch these last few days. He leaves the TV on but doesn’t really watch it. It gives him something to stare at when he’s not staring into space and clicking his fingers. It provides company as he naps. I “piddle” around the house giving him peace in the living room for long periods.

Johnny doesn’t talk much anymore. Its getting to be more and more of a strain to talk. Phone conversations wear him out. Visits tire him quickly. I miss the great debates we used to have about solving world problems and listening to his many monologues on Southern history or life back in Jackson County where he grew up.

I offer him food and water and medicine all day. He is not interested in eating. He hates pill time. He never did like to take pills. I bandage his boo boos. I file his nails. I read him his cards and letters. I help him take a shower. I help him get dressed. I pull on his socks and slippers for him. We pray together at bed time.

This is our new love language. It’s back to the basics of love. Its back to where it all started in the beginning. It is a beautiful friendship of two people who started with nothing and now have come back to nothing – NOTHING BUT LOVE. Love for each other. Love for our family. Love for our God.

Though we’ve had many ups and downs over the years we always bounced back to the love which kept us going. I think what bound us together for so long is our intense passion we shared for living life to the fullest. It lead to occasional clashes of egos, but in the end we were back to back, facing the world and always taking on new challenges together.

This is by far the greatest challenge we have faced but not the hardest. The hardest ones were those we tried to do without God being in the center. The most painful challenges were those that tested our hearts for each other. But by the grace of God we have always triumphed. Love trumps all.

So here is my advice for those who seek love that endures. Seek God first. I look back and realize we could have avoided a lot of unnecessary pain in life, if we had had the courage to get our priorities right early. If only I could have known that God and his instructions did not RESTRICT my life – it UNLEASHED my life, to realize the joy of maximized potential for everything.

Seek God’s face and you will discover a world filled with so much love that it absolutely spills over into every nook and cranny in your life and brightens every room you enter. Real love is contagious. It blesses all who encounter it. I hope you find it. It is that which we all seek but can only be found when we search the right place – the heart of God.

Beautiful Blessings,


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Giving Praise for God's Lovingkindness

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joful lips.” - Psalm 63:3

I knew it was going to be a good day this morning when I walked outside and saw the clear blue beautiful sky. I smiled and belted out my morning ritual song that I always sing as I walk down the long driveway to fetch the newspaper. I’m sure the neighbors wonder about me now and then! But I figure, it couldn’t hurt for them to hear the words:

“Oh, what a beautiful morning,

Oh, what a beautiful day.

I’ve got a beautiful feeling,

Good things are coming my way.”

I sing that every morning no matter what is happening in my life. I feel like it summons the angels in the universe to listen and head my way. I am hoping that a heart that sings out praise will attract blessings to flow out from everywhere. Sure enough – we had 2 extra special blessings appear out of the blue this week. Their names are Randy and Patsy.

We haven’t seen Johnny’s brother and sister for many years but this week Patsy called and the beautiful circle of family love was once again whole. Randy called and the light in Johnny’s face, beaming while he talked to him, brought tears to my eyes. Johnny is the older brother, and during the years growing up the three of them were inseparable.

Time had taken a toll on that closeness over the years as everyone went down separate paths. Their parents died a long time ago. Johnny moved away after graduation. But something that remained in all three, was the beautiful legacy Arthur and Bernice Skipper left their children. They left them the traditions and values and knowledge of a life well lived, in a simple and beautiful and loving way.

More blessings also came from others dear to us. Ralph and Sheri Collins surprised us with my favorite flowers….ROSES and LILLIES in a magnificent arrangement amongst baby’s breath and ferns in an exquisite vase. Ralph worked with Johnny for many years, running field operations for our company. He is now serving in the military and stationed in Iraq “running field operations” on a much higher level. Sheri is running local “field operations” holding the fort down at home. Please keep them both in prayer – as well as their darling daughter Anita.

Old friends and new friends are reaching out to Johnny with calls and visits. I am glad to see him embraced so warmly with so much love. It is good for one’s soul to see the other lives you have touched now and then. I think Johnny is blessed to see how he has made a difference in some lives. My greatest definition of success is to know that “one life breathed easier because you lived.” Johnny brought a passion for living to many lives.

Johnny is sleeping away on the couch downstairs as I write. I sprayed his fresh sheets on the couch/bed with roses fragrance so he could lay down in a field of flowers! I am hoping he can rest up and enjoy the Superbowl Game on TV. I told him if he was taking Arizona I would take Pittsburgh so he would get his rivalry spirit on. Sports was something that always excited him. He was the ultimate recliner coach!

I give thanks for a peaceful heart today. My energy is returned and vitality restored. My spirit is back and I am ready for the steps in front of me with confidence and trust. I know that spring is on the way and we will endure this winter in our lives, with hearts that continue to sing His praise and glory forever.

Beautiful Blessings,