Storm Stories: Charlie’s Victory, Part 1
About the Guest
When Charlie and Lucy vowed "'til death do us part," neither one imagined what God had in store for them. Today on the broadcast, Charlie Wedemeyer, with the help of his wife Lucy, tells how they’ve remained committed to each other despite the ravages of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
When Charlie and Lucy vowed “’til death do us part,” neither one imagined what God had in store for them.
Storm Stories: Charlie’s Victory, Part 1
Lucy: I mean, it was very obvious to me something was really wrong, and when he said that the doctor told him he had this terminal disease, I couldn't say anything. I couldn't even respond. We just stood there kind of clinging to each other.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, August 7th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. How does a marriage survive and stand strong in the midst of storms? Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. When we began this week, when you told our listeners that the story they were going to hear was one of the top five all-time FamilyLife Today stories, and I think you're right. I think what we've heard already this week has been powerful and profound. But we thought we ought to revisit another one of those top-five moments before the week is over. And so our listeners are going to get to hear another remarkable couple on today's program.
Dennis: A great story of unsurpassing love between a football star and his adoring wife, Charlie and Lucy Wedemeyer tell a story that I think our listeners will never forget. Charlie was a standout high school football star in Hawaii. He ended up getting a scholarship to Michigan State University, where he had never seen a snowflake before being from Hawaii, and there he met Lucy. They were married and not long after that he had become head coach of Los Gatos High School in Northern California in the Bay Area, and it was during that time he was diagnosed with a terminal illness, at least he was told by his doctor that he had months to live.
Bob: And when we sat down and talked to them, it had been years since he had received that diagnosis, and Charlie was in a wheelchair, the only parts of his body that he could move were his lips and his eyes, and that's how he communicated with his wife, Lucy. In fact, our listeners may be able to hear the ventilator that he's on. They won't hear Charlie's voice, but Lucy will be able to share some of his thoughts and some of his words as she reads his lips and as she walks us through this incredible story.
Lucy: Charlie was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The doctors told him at the time of the diagnosis he had maybe a year to live, and Charlie's adding here, "The doctors didn't realize that Dr. Jesus had other plans for me."
Dennis: Well, I want to take you all back to how you met because you met in Hawaii, isn't that correct, where you grew up?
Lucy: Charlie and I met in high school at Punahau Academy on the beautiful island of Oahu under just a gorgeous blue sky and waving palm trees. I mean, just the most romantic place. He had just finished football practice, and I was standing in line at the bookstore – uh-oh, "No, no, no. I was standing in line when I saw this gorgeous blond" – oh I like this – "walking up the steps, and I immediately fell in love." Is that why you ran over to get in line? I see.
Dennis: Well, you, at that time, were a cheerleader, and he was a star football player – the player of the decade in high school?
Lucy: Yes, he was, he was, in the '60s, yes, yes.
Dennis: Well, it was in 1977, after you had been married for 11 years. You'd had a daughter and a son that you were at the chalkboard, and you were having difficulty holding onto a piece of chalk, and at first it didn't seem that it was out of the ordinary that you were having to squeeze the chalk extra hard, but in the weeks that followed instead of two or three fingers you found yourselves really gripping the chalk, and some bad news came your way. Lucy, can you bring us into those first conversations around that?
Lucy: Charlie is saying, "At first I thought it was old football injuries, since I'd had so many." He played not only high school and college but semi-pro there with the Lansing All-Stars for several years. So it wasn't uncommon to think that maybe it was arthritis setting in or – he'd had a multitude of injuries all his career, and it was disconcerting, but Charlie just kind of said, "Oh, well, it's probably, you know, just those old injuries," and we really didn't concern ourselves with it that much at that point in time. And Charlie's saying, "Until it became more difficult for me to button my shirts, to shave, and tie my shoes."
And, actually, what happened was the team doctor noticed some problems and started to ask Charlie and said, "Why don't we go up and have some tests done," and he took us up to Stanford University and ran us through some tests. He said they were basically inconclusive, and we really didn't think a lot about it. It's kind of funny, we, I think, preferred to bury our head in the sand at the time and just assume that it was part of his – part of the old injuries.
Bob: Charlie, did you bring Lucy in? Did you let her know you were having trouble with the chalk and buttoning your shirt?
Lucy: "Oh, yes, in fact, she always had to correct all his math papers for his math students" and do all those things – the fine dexterity things. But, again, we weren't – I don't think we were extremely alarmed, and our family has always been very close. Any of Charlie's football games or basketball games when he was coaching basketball or playing softball. We'd all be together. The children were always there, a part of the scene.
Dennis: Well, that Christmas season, the team doctor, who was a good friend of yours, paid your way back to the islands for all four of you to go back and see your family. You were suspicious that he knew something that he wasn't sharing with you.
Lucy: "Oh, yes," Charlie is saying. "In fact, you are absolutely right about that. When he made that generous offer, I thought something was distinctly wrong with me, and after watching that movie on Lou Gehrig's disease, I was convinced that that was what it was."
Dennis: Did you ever ask the doctor why he didn't tell you earlier?
Lucy: Yes, we did, Charlie did ask him, and really it came down to he didn't know how. He did not know how to tell Charlie he was going to die, and it was very, very hard for him. In fact, I was mad at him for a while because I had told him that when he did come upon a diagnosis, that I wanted to be there, that we wanted to be there together. And the day that I called him about – or he happened to call us, and I mentioned about seeing that movie, and a lot of similarities, he said, "Oh, well, have Charlie stop by," and he'd talk to him.
Dennis: Wasn't this February?
Dennis: So he'd kept it a secret …
Lucy: Yes, for many months, many months.
Dennis: What did Charlie do then?
Lucy: Well, he stopped by the doctor's office, and I had told the doctor, I said, "Please, I want to be there." And Charlie's saying, "Actually, one day when I was planning to go to the coaching clinic, I walked out of the gym, and he happened to be there and he told me that he wanted to see me in his office, and at that point I knew that something was wrong. But when he told me what it was I really didn't believe him because I felt fine, and I looked fine. And I didn't see how he could possibly be telling me this."
Bob: Lucy, when a doctor comes to you and says, "Your husband's got a year to live." I'm sure there's a numbness, there's a sense of denial. It's hard – you go through a process of thinking, "This can't be true. I'm going to wake up, it will be all over," but at some point the reality of that diagnosis sets in, and you begin to think, "What do we do?" Tell us what you guys talked about at that point.
Lucy: Charlie's saying – oh, Charlie wanted to say that when he left the doctor's office that day, "I was driving home, and the more I thought about it, the inevitable, I thought that someday I wouldn't be able to see my children grow up and not be with my wife and I started to cry and, in fact, I actually drove right through a red light, and I had to pull over, and I was overcome with emotion." It's very hard to go back. Charlie is saying that when he got home and came in the door, I mean, it was very obvious to me something was really wrong, and when he said that the doctor told him that he had this terminal disease, I couldn't say anything, I couldn't even respond. We just stood there kind of clinging to each other in bewilderment and from that point I remember kind of being in a state of denial, definitely a state of uncertainty and then he went off to the football clinic.
I was so mad! But I realized if that helped him keep focused, that helped him so he didn't have to dwell on it, and I got to sit home and worry about it.
Bob: Yeah, I'm thinking that left you at home alone, didn't it?
Lucy: Yes, yes. And I remember the next morning when I opened the draperies, and I looked outside, and it was a gorgeous day. I wanted to know why – why were the birds singing, why were people smiling and happy? It's, like, wait a minute, something is very wrong here. How can life just go on when we've just been hit with a ton of bricks?
Bob: In that timeframe of those first few months after the diagnosis, did you wonder where is God in all of this?
Lucy: Actually, we remember talking about the fact that the coach of the rival high school was also going through some extreme physical problems with his back and not really being able to diagnosis his problem, and so we kind of – I remember sitting up one night, and we kind of laughed, and we said, "Well, God must need some coaches," you know, "this is obvious."
You know, I don't think we ever sat there and said "God, why me?" Mostly because even at that moment, Charlie still looked fine. There was no discerning sign of disease or, you know, the word "terminal." It just wasn't there, and I remember at that point saying, "Charlie, you know, this is not just your disease. This is our disease, and we're going to fight it together."
The only sad thing is, although, I don't know, it worked out quite well, but a lot of people said to us, "Well, you're going to tell the children, right? You're going to tell the children. You have to tell the children." And I said "Why? Why?" What do you do? Sit down with your six-year-old and say, "Hey, guess what? Dad's going to die in a year."
We couldn't do that because we honestly believed we could fight it, and what I had to do in my own mind was believe that we were going to fight it one day at a time. I couldn't think about the fact that one day he'd not be able to use his arms at all, or he'd not be able to walk, or he'd be confined to a wheelchair, he couldn't go to the bathroom by himself. I didn't want to dwell on that, and so I just kind of erased it, and I can see now how the Lord helped us deal in those early days, and it was a very slow, methodical process – when Charlie could no longer use his right hand, he'd use his left. When he could no longer walk, we had the wheelchair. It was tough, but he was never willing to give up, and I think that's what strengthened me and buoyed me in trying to keep Charlie going.
I do remember wondering, though, "How do you encourage someone that's just been told they're going to die? What do you say?" And so we sort of began what we now call "handicap humor." And we began to say – Charlie was very fastidious, and still is, about every hair on his head. And I said, "Well, dear, you know, if you had cancer, hey, you'd be bald, and wouldn't that be horrifying?"
And so it lent some humor there, and we began to bring back the humor, because for a lot of times, a lot of days, they were pretty dark. The uncertainty just can be a real killer. And even today whenever Charlie hears the name Dr. Kevorkian, oh, he really would like to have a chat with him, because there were times when Charlie felt that it was so hard on him and the family, and we had to rely on so many people to help us that he would – Charlie is saying, "I will always remember when I saw the physical and emotional strain I was causing my wife and my children that I told you" Charlie said to me, "maybe it would be better if I just died."
And I can remember sitting next to Charlie when he voiced those words in a voice that was barely even then – oh, and Charlie's saying, "I will never forget your response when you said" – well, I'm going to tell you before I responded to what Charlie said, I had to take a deep breath and I remember sitting there saying, "God, please tell me what to say. Give me the words," and I told Charlie that we'd rather have him like this than not at all.
Bob: Well, we have heard today part 1 of a conversation that took place now more than a decade ago with Charlie and Lucy Wedemeyer and, by the way, Charlie is still alive and the miracle continues.
But, again, this is a profound real-life story, Dennis.
Dennis: And, Bob, I remember, as we were talking to Charlie and Lucy that I turned to them and quoted 2 Corinthians, Chapter 4, verse 16, because it's a passage of Scripture that really brings perspective to circumstances like only Scripture can and like they were facing. I just want to read this to our listeners because it's a great reminder. "Therefore, we do not lose heart but though the outer man is decaying, yet the inner man is being renewed day-by-day. For a momentary light affliction" – boy – "for a momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal way to glory far beyond all comparison.
While we look not at all the things, which are seen but at the things which are not seen, for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal.
And if – I just remember looking at them and thinking about the love story that we had heard that they've given us a great gift. It was a gift of a reminder of what is eternal and of real value, and that's character. That's our choice in the midst of circumstances when they're standing against us in the most fierce storm we've ever faced, and even though Charlie slowly lost his speech, his muscles weakened, and his outer man was helpless, yet because of his trust in God and Lucy's tenacious love, his inner man, her inner man, gained strength, and they found a source of strength in God and in the person of Jesus Christ.
And you know what? That's the message for you, as a listener today. Whatever you're facing, whatever you're up against, will you place your faith, your trust, your hope, in Jesus Christ? I don't know where else you're going to turn. I think the Wedemeyers have demonstrated there really is hope in no one else.
Bob: Yeah, I think a lot of couples come to a point where they ask themselves, "Would our marriage stand up against something like this? Is the commitment strong? Is it bedrock to who we are?" And I think they provide a personal example of what real love looks like in a marriage relationship – commitment, self-sacrifice, genuine caring about another person. I know their story has been told in a book called "Charlie's Victory," and we have a limited supply of those books in our FamilyLife Resource Center. If our listeners are interested, they may want to contact us to see how they can secure a copy of that book.
But I also want to encourage our listeners to attend one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences this fall so that you can strengthen and pour into your marriage relationship because you don't know what the path ahead may bring for you, and it's building today that helps your marriage stand strong against whatever comes.
You can find out more about the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference on our website at FamilyLife.com. When you go to the website, on the right side of the home page, you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast." Click where it says "Learn More." That will take you to an area of the site where you can review a transcript of today's program, you can stream the audio online, if you'd like. You can find out more about the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference and about other books and resources we have available to help couples pour this kind of a biblical foundation in their marriage.
Again, our website is FamilyLife.com, or you can contact us by phone at 1-800-FLTODAY. We've got folks who can answer any questions you have about upcoming conferences or resources available, and they can make arrangements to get you registered or to send the resources you need to you.
Again, our toll-free number, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. We have said many times here that one of the ways you continue to build a strong marriage relationship is by spending time together each day with God – spending time praying together, spending time looking at His Word, talking about what's going on in your marriage, in your family, and about God's priorities in those important arenas.
And one way that couples can continue to grow closer to one another and grow in their relationship with God is by spending time in the daily devotional book that Dennis and Barbara Rainey have written called "Moments With You." This month we are making copies of this book available for listeners when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We want you to feel free to request a copy of this book. We're a listener-supported program so we depend on your financial support to be able to continue the ministry of FamilyLife Today on this station and on other stations all around the country.
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Now, tomorrow we'll hear more from Charlie and Lucy Wedemeyer about how a couple perseveres in the midst of incredible circumstances. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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