Category Archives: God’s gits

Where does a dream come from?

Where does a dream come from?

When a dream becomes a reality it is a humbling experience. Today I feel as if I am floating on a cloud of gratitude. For a year and a half we have built a pyramid stone by stone beginning with a meeting of minds to discuss an idea. We lured them to our home with a promise of pizzas from the wood burning oven, craft beer on draft and plenty of cabernet to get the conversations going. What resulted was far more than we could have ever imagined.

Tommy had always wanted to throw a golf tournament on the golf course that we have viewed every morning for over twenty four years and one of the most famous in professional golf, the TPC Stadium course at Sawgrass. With each think tank meeting a team was forged. Ideas came from everyone, contacts were contacted and the event began to take form. We set up a meeting with the appropriate TPC staff and received their blessing. We asked our long time friend if he would want to join us once again. He gave a positive response with no hesitation. Our legal expert and a JTTF board member set out to form the Funk-Zitiello Foundation a new non profit, our JTTF marketing team began to work on the creative for the event. A web site was developed and social media began to promulgate. A team of over 80 volunteers was assembled. We were on our way to organizing a first class event at a first class venue.

However, before I go any further there is an element of the process that must be revealed.

Where does a dream begin? How is it born and how does it grow like ripples on the water? This dream came from a place deep within Tommy and I. We believe that God tugged gently at our hearts. We know He is the reason for our team, for our creative and crazy plans and for success beyond our wildest imagination. But, then it became not just our dream, it became the quest for others who heard about it. We believe it was all God’s plan.

When we look back over time we can see His work behind the scenes. Not just the past few years, but for our entire lives. Why did we move to this place we call heaven on earth all those many years ago? Why was it the next home being built belonged to a striving pro golfer? Was all of this by chance? How about that hard working golfer pulling off a win at potentially the fifth major golf tournament on the PGA Tour calendar and it happened just months after a young high school senior suffered a near fatal spinal cord injury on the football field. How did he meet JT Townsend? How did Fred and Sharon Funk and his band of golf fans, the Funk’s Punks join together to rally a community to build that young man a home so his family could live under one roof? How did I survive a cancer that is statistically a death sentence within one year? You just can’t make this stuff up. God was and is always in control. And, His plans are perfect.

It was not an easy task putting this event together. It took a team and it took a lot of work and worry and so many conversations I can’t begin to count them. But, in another way it was simple really. All we had to do was tell our story. Those who have been touched by something so raw and devastating were caught hook, line and sinker, many had been touched by pancreas cancer or had seen the work of JT Townsend and his foundation helping others who found themselves in the same position as he was, disabled and with no hope of getting the things they needed.

When we began we had a budget that I felt was aggressive and maybe unattainable. But, I knew we had to make everyone on our team understand what we wanted to achieve. Just a few weeks before the event we were not even close to our number and I heard discouragement in Tommy’s voice. I assured him, this was not OUR event, the perfect people would be there and the perfect number would be achieved. We just needed to have faith and keep putting one foot in front of another. And we did by achieving not only that lofty budget, but going over it by almost twenty percent.

We were also concerned about holding the event during the rainy season in North Florida. The showers had appeared each day for a month, a nice drenching rain to water the flowers and keep the hot days humid and sustain our natural beauty. But, rain could potentially shut down an outdoor event. Again, I turned to my faith and declared the day would be perfect because this is His event not ours. And, it was a perfect morning with not a cloud in the sky as the JT Townsend Gospel Choir sang praises on the hill overlooking the golfers as they warmed up on the driving range.

The JT Townsend Memorial Gospel Choir

But, there was one more God wink that probably came from our beloved JT at near conclusion of the golf tournament. Fred Funk, who had never hit a hole-in-one on TPC Stadium Course’s most photographed and feared hole #17 did just that. Not only did he do it that day, he did it right when Tommy, his son and his father and his best friend were on the tee, a group of diehard golf fans who as Funk’s Punks had followed Fred for twenty five years of his career. Everyone could hear the cheers throughout the course and knew something wonderful had happened. And it did.

What has been confirmed to me is that when God is involved we just need to listen for his next instruction. We need to place our complete faith in Him and allow each piece to fall into place. He will never disappoint.

What is your dream waiting to come true? Do you possess the faith you need to make it a reality?

The crowd erupts as Fred hits a hole in one

“With God all things are possible” Mark 10:27

Judi Zitiello, Sunshine, Carmen Townsend, Tommy Zitiello, Precious Townsend

The sponsors who made this event possible. Thank you all

The olive branch

The olive branch

My sweet Joseph and I feel as if God showers us with His blessings with these amazing little gifts He sends called babies. Two of our boys had blessed us with five special angels. We loved watching them grow and develop into little humans with individual traits that distinguished them from one another. Slowly time slipped past us and they were no longer infants or toddlers. We missed that innocent stage where each new discovery was met with awe and increased curiosity. While we watch with amazement at their accomplishments in sports and academics and social skills and see their faith life growing we are thankful and proud. He continued to gift us as we watched them grow.

Suddenly our younger children began to marry and we knew it wouldn’t be long before they would experience what true love really is all about. Since 2014 God has sent us three love gifts, and our hearts are exploding as we watch with eager anticipation each small development, a grin, a smile, a belly laugh or the moment when their eyes connect with ours. It is all so surreal. We count these days as some of the happiest of our lives. Days that transform our lives. Days that will bring us through the difficult days.

These tiny infants, completely dependent upon their Mother and Father for food, warmth and love have stolen our hearts and teach us once again that life is precious and fleeting and so very special a true gift.

January 1st we were blessed again with Olive Adelle Zitiello, weighing just 6 lbs. 9 oz. and 20 inches long. Finally a pink bundle to dress in soft pink and bows. We are thrilled beyond belief, every one of us.

She came quickly and naturally and perfectly formed..thank you Jesus.

Her name held great significance. Adelle is Tommy’s Mothers legal name and beautiful. She was the greatest Mother, Grandmother. We are so pleased Olive’s parents decided to honor her in this way.

We realized shortly after we heard it, her first name Olive evolved from early planning of Louis and Emily’s wedding. The theme was chosen by Emily – Olive branches, simple and full of meaning. The leaf signifies the truth of faith and it’s fruit, the olive is the good of charity. From Emily’s shower to Louis and Emily’s wedding the olive branch was used to decorate the wedding cake, the tables and even the crown on our brides head. It was a single 5 letter word that held great significance for these two parents. Emily’s push present from her husband, a delicate Tiffany olive branch necklace. But, the true gift was this little pink soft being…Olive Adelle Zitiello.

A Mother’s love

The family began to pour into the maternity ward to meet the newest member. We gathered to share our thanks and wonder at the miracle of birth.

Little Jude was amazed when he saw Olive for the first time.

We had told Jude for many months that baby Olive was in Emily’s belly. Now he could see her.

Joseph and I have realized how fleeting life truly is. This is what age does for us. We know that God sends us these miraculous gifts to perpetuate our existence here on earth. We are blessed beyond our belief and truly thankful.

And we all lived happily ever after…

And we all lived happily ever after…

It is wonderful to feel healthy and happy and ever-so-busy. Trips, weddings, baby AND bridal showers, parties, dinners have all kept me running and focused on “life” rather than Pancreatic Cancer. To date Tom and I have weathered four CT scans.(All cancer free by the way!) With each passing month after chemo and radiation I am feeling stronger and back to normal. Well, the “normal” one feels after Whipple surgery. I truly feel like one of God’s miracles. And I thank Him for each new day.

In July Tom blessed me with my dream of taking our family to Italy. We packed up 13 together and headed to Milan and on to Lake Como. What a fun filled and action packed week we had. When I was at my weakest point, Tom asked me what I wanted to do in my life. I told him I wanted to take our family to Italy. He responded…”DONE”. In January we began to plan our trip. We decided Lake Como would be our home base. We rented a villa on the lake in a small village called Vassena.

Lake Como

During the holidays of 2014, our son Louis asked his love to be his wife. We were all thrilled that Louis had finally found the person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Emily is a wonderful girl with an amazing work ethic. She is constantly taking classes to better herself. She had a great job at Mayo Clinic in the research department, but that was not enough. She enrolled in nursing classes and graduated in record time. We were so happy with his choice and the wedding plans began. they could not decide on when or where. I said,”We are traveling to the most romantic place in the whole wide world…why not get married there.” They thought the idea was great and we contacted a wedding planner in Milan to help us with the process.

Passports needed to be applied for, special dresses, train tickets, tickets to the Vatican, tour guides, hotel in Rome….it all had to be planned for 13 Zitiello’s. (Well, 3 Garrity’s, Lindsay’s little family.) Plus, papers needed to be completed and submitted to our church and the church in Italy to make the marriage officially accepted by our Church and legal in the US. But, we had plenty of help. Everyone was so excited. It made Tom and I feel so good to be able to include everyone on this trip of a lifetime. Oh,and we would throw a wedding in on top of it!

13 Zitiellos  at the Airport - Check

13 Zitiellos
at the Airport – Check

On July 10th we all met at JAX airport and headed off on our family adventure. Emily’s parents had left a month before the wedding to visit Europe with plans to end up at Lake Como for the wedding. We flew to JFK in NYC and had a few hours to kill before our flight to Milan. We spent our time in lounges in the airport in excited anticipation.

Finally we were off. Tom had purchased first class tickets for he and I and the kids had upgraded to bulk-head seats for more room. We were off.

I must admit I was a bit nervous about traveling so far from my Mayo docs and wondered how my body would react to the hours on the plane, new food and just everything. Could I keep up with the walking? But, I seemed to have supernatural strength.

We were all wondering how little 14 month old Jude would handle the long flight. We had plenty of hands to help. At one point, Lindsay brought Jude up to first class and attempted to get him to sleep. He wasn’t having it. So back to coach he went.He did eventually sleep and so did Mom and Dad.

We arrived in Milan in the morning on Saturday and a 16 passenger air conditioned bus complete with toddler seat awaited us. Our driver whisked us off and in less than two hours we arrived at our Villa. The twisting narrow roads were daunting and we were happy we had cancelled two mini-vans and hired a driver. We could never had navigated the mountain roads.

When we arrived at the address of our villa, two iron gates began to open and we turned into a stone courtyard with two stone buildings. From out of two wooden doors came the owner of the villa…Guiseppe’, greeting us with a huge smile and big hugs. (That’s what I love about Italians, there are no simple handshakes. You are always greeted with a kiss on both sides of your face and a big hug.)

The grounds were spectacular. 28,000 square feet of garden and two beautiful villas right on Lake Como, the main house and a cottage that had recently been added. The family spent the next hour exploring the villa and the lake and choosing where they would be sleeping. Scott, Blake and two of the kids decided they wanted the cottage. The rest of us found our rooms in the main villa. The floors were all stone and the walls were plaster with lots of dark wooden trim. Both places could accommodate 18 comfortably. The kitchen was fully stocked with our prearranged list of groceries. Fresh local fruit and vegetables, cheeses, salami, pastries, beer, wine, water and the coupe de gras’ crusty artesian breads.

We changed our clothes quickly and piled back into the bus that would take us on a ten minute ride to Bellagio where we would lunch on authentic Italian cuisine…antipasti, pizza, beer (Peroni) and wine (local vineyards). We ate in an outdoor cafe right on Lake Como at the Bellagio marina. It was spectacular. There were lovely shops along the main road. Smart little shops lined the grass and cobblestone steps that climbed the mountain. I was sure I had died and gone to heaven. (This would not be the only time I had that thought during the trip.)

Dinner at Ristorante Silvio

Dinner at Ristorante Silvio

We walked Bellagio for the rest of the afternoon and returned to our villa to change for dinner. Tonight we would eat at Ristorante Silvio with spectacular seafood and breathtaking views of the Alps and the lake.

Cooling down in Lake Como

Cooling down in Lake Como

Sunday was a day of rest. We awoke to the sound of the church bells ringing just steps from our villa. The gentle sound resonated over the water. The bells sounded every hour and were a beautiful reminder that our Lord and Savior was with us.

We had arranged to have a chef prepare dinner for us in our garden on Sunday night. We needed to be in bed early as we had our bus picking us up at 4AM for our drive to Milan train station where we would embark on our train ride to Rome.

We spent the day swimming, sunning and canoeing Lake Como from our own beach and boat house.
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It was refreshing to swim in the cold water. The temperatures at Lake Como in July were unseasonably warm. We averaged 85 every day but 70′ at night. The villas were not equipped with AC except for two small window units. We agreed Lindsay, Matt and the baby should take advantage of that so Jude would sleep. While in the lake and sitting on our deck we gazed upon the Swiss Alps across the lake. What looked like miniature trains noodled their way thru tunnels along the mountainside. It was amazing. While it appeared close, the boys attempted to boat to the other side. They made it half way and returned. It was much farther than it appeared.
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We ended our day with a wonderful dinner served al fresco in our peaceful garden by an amazing chef and his helpers. The food was traditional, veal and pasta, wine great bread and a fabulous dessert. The cool evening air was refreshing and we were in bed early anticipating our trip to Rome in the morning.

Meet Jack Fisher Genre

Meet Jack Fisher Genre
Looking into his Mommy's eyes for the very first time.

Looking into his Mommy’s eyes for the very first time.

You have no idea how much we have prayed and waited for you to be here with us little Jack. We are amazed by God’s grace and His greatest gift of life showered on Stephanie and John. You will be loved and cared for by two parents who will put you above all else except their God.

As for your Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins and Great Grandparents, Great Aunts and Uncles, you will be loved beyond words. We promise to encourage you, to watch over you, to share in your life experiences like your first word, your first steps and your ball games.

We continue to pray for you through all of these things and beyond.

You are loved.

Great- Aunt Judi introduces Jack to his doggie sister Ellie

Great- Aunt Judi introduces Jack to his doggie sister Ellie

"It was a rough couple of days....I think I'll take a little snooze."

“It was a rough couple of days….I think I’ll take a little snooze.”