Storm Stories: Charlie’s Victory, Part 2
About the Guest
All marriages have their struggles, but when a spouse becomes seriously ill, it can take a toll on the marriage. On the broadcast today, Charlie Wedemeyer, who battles with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his wife Lucy, talk about their love for one another and the faith that keeps them strong.
All marriages have their struggles, but when a spouse becomes seriously ill, it can take a toll on the marriage.
Storm Stories: Charlie’s Victory, Part 2
Lucy: I think it goes back to the marriage vows, "for better, for worse." I don't think anyone ever dreams that the "for worse" part will ever be a part of your life. As he began to deteriorate and was struggling with just staying alive, how can you abandon someone when you made that commitment?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 8th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We will get a close-up look today at what genuine love, commitment, and self-sacrifice really look like in a marriage. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. I'm not sure exactly how to describe this week. It's kind of like true heroes week, you know, great love stories week. We started off hearing about John and Donna Bishop and the remarkable story of how their marriage has gone through the incredible trial of him having lost his memory completely, and they had to start their marriage and their family over again from scratch.
Dennis: Yes, and Donna was really the key to that because she loved him in the midst of his illness, and the story we're going to hear on today's broadcast is a continuation of another love story, Charlie and Lucy Wedemeyer, where she also loved and is still loving her man in the midst of great suffering and great trial.
Bob: Yes, Charlie and Lucy were married in 1966, and 11 years later, Charlie was working as a football coach in Los Gatos, California. They had two children and, all of a sudden, Charlie noticed that there were things he used to be able to do that he couldn't do any longer – things like buttoning his buttons. And so they went to the doctor, and the doctor said, "You may have a year to live, maybe a year and a half," and as it turns out, Charlie has beaten those odds.
Dennis: Slightly – 31 years he's been alive.
Bob: Yes. When we interviewed him, this was more than a decade ago, he had already survived for a decade and half. He is in a wheelchair, he's on a respirator full time, and all he is able to move are his lips and his eyes, and that's how he and Lucy communicate. She reads his lips and, as our listeners will hear, she interprets what he is saying. And as we've already said this week, this goes down as one of the top stories we've heard on FamilyLife Today in the years that we've been doing this program. And here is part 2 of our conversation with Charlie and Lucy Wedemeyer.
Dennis: Bob, when Charlie and Lucy speak to audiences, they warn them. In fact, in their book, "Charlie's Victory," they wrote down the warning they give people when they speak to them in large audiences. They say "Sometimes in our lives, we'll all be faced with some circumstance that will seem too difficult to cope with. When that time comes, we have to make the choice, because God gives each one of us the power of choice. We can choose to be miserable, feel sorry for ourselves, throw our own private pity party and cause everyone around us to be miserable, too. Or we can choose to face our trials with God's help knowing that we'll come out on the other side as stronger people for the experience. We all have that choice."
And, you know, you all have really come out on that other side, although, Lucy, as I think back to the struggle that you've been through in facing Charlie's illness and caring for him – in fact, the nine years that you picked him up out of bed and without nursing help for all those years, Lucy, there had to be days when your strength, physical strength waned, and your emotional strength ebbed. It had to seem like it was unbearable.
Lucy: Well, it was, and I sort of made a pact with myself that I wouldn't cry in front of Charlie. I didn't want to let down, you know, I always wanted to be up. I'm always kind of an up person, and one particular afternoon, Cully (ph) had helped me get Charlie in a borrowed van to go to the doctor. It was the first time we were putting Charlie in the wheelchair and trying to transfer him. And as we got to the place, and we were attempting to put him into the wheelchair, we couldn’t. It was a struggle. It was so difficult that I began to have this lump welling up in my throat, and I thought, "No, no, I am not going to cry." And so I said to him and to Cully, "Excuse me, I'll be right back," and they kind of looked at me with these faces like "Where are you going? We have an appointment."
And I jumped out of the van, and it was a busy parking lot, and I went to the back of the van, and I sort of knelt down behind it, and I cried out to God, I said, "I cannot do this anymore. I cannot." It was really miraculous because right then and there, without truly understanding what it was to have a personal relationship with Jesus, the Lord absolutely enveloped me with this wonderful blanket of warmth, of comfort, of this peace that it was going to be okay. It was like this little void in me, in the center of me, was filled. And I got up, wiped my eyes and marched back to the van and opened the door, and Cully looked at me, he says, "Mom, are you okay?" And I said, "Yes, I am fine."
And really from that day forward the Lord gave me a new resolve that allowed me to go through everything and be calm. It was as if God had said, "This is your mission," you know, "to help Charlie, to keep him going, and I have bigger plans." Little did we know. And Charlie's saying, "I thank God every day for Lucy because He, God knew beforehand, that Lucy would be the one that would stand by my side throughout our difficult circumstances, and I must say that whenever someone is diagnosed with a terminal disease, 72 percent of their marriages fall apart."
Dennis: You know, Bob, as I prepared for the interview, I watched a PBS special about this couple and this, of course, was something that was created back in the mid-1980s, and I sat there with my three daughters and wife and watched Lucy's commitment to Charlie, and Charlie's commitment to his family and to life, I just sat there with emotion welling up in me at the enormous commitment that was before me.
In an era, in an age, when commitment is so cheap, and I've been looking forward to asking both of you this question, and I want you to address it as honestly as you can, because we have a lot of listeners at forks in the road over all kinds of issues in their lives, and it is not this often that they run into someone who has the stuff of commitment that you have. Speak to that person facing that issue.
Lucy: I think it goes back to the marriage vows, "for better, for worse." I don't think anyone ever dreams that the "for worse" part will ever be a part of your life. I think, for Charlie and I, we were so blessed so early in our lives, I will never forget all those years being able to watch him as an athlete tear up the football field, basketball, and baseball, and be a part of his life when he was so active. As he began to deteriorate and was struggling with just staying alive, how can you abandon someone when you made that commitment?
I think I was the most impressed, though, with the fact that Charlie was committed to continue at any cost. In a marriage, communication is the maker or breaker of so many lives, and with Charlie, he was losing that ability. He was struggling to not only live and breathe, but he was not able to speak very well. His sound was becoming less audible every day, and yet I know in the early years, I felt if I could just love Charlie enough that it was okay. But as I struggled physically with caring for Charlie, it just went back to that commitment of for better or for worse, and when finally a nurse expressed to us the difference that Jesus could make in our lives, finally, I had that super strength that really was there waiting for me all along, and that enabled me to know that it's God's love for us. His unconditional love for us that is reflected then in our marriage, in our relationship with our children, and with our families.
And He has given us more joy today than I know we could have had with Charlie being healthy, because we wouldn't have recognized it. It's amazing what it takes the Lord to get your attention, and, boy, he had to whack us on the side of the head. And Charlie is saying, "In fact, I must say that our marriage is a reflection of our relationship with God, and to think of what He was willing to sacrifice for us, we should be at least willing to sacrifice for our spouses and our families."
Well, our time here is short, so short, and what we have realized now is that actually Charlie's ALS is a blessing, because he's allowed – I mean God has allowed him to be a voice to share his message of hope and encouragement whereas if he'd been a healthy person, he wouldn't have the impact. And so we go out now sharing that message, and it is exciting to see, because the Lord is not only blessing us with opportunities. but we receive cards and letters, we receive calls from people who are going through the most difficult, hurtful times, not necessarily just an illness, not necessarily a marriage situation but they can see a light at the end of the tunnel knowing that we can get through our "tragedy," what most people would consider a tragedy, that we're triumphing through it; that you can do it; that there is hope, and that's through the Lord.
Dennis: Where is the disease now, Charlie? How has it progressed now?
Lucy: Well, the doctors have literally thrown up their hands, but Charlie is saying, "I am very fortunate because my disease has stabilized, and it is only by the grace of God that I am able to move my facial muscles even though I can't breathe or speak, because most ALS patients lose the ability, after a few years, to move their lips, their eyes, and I know that God has given me that gift to do His work."
Dennis: Well, your face is very much alive, and there is a countenance there that I wish, Bob, all of our listeners could see. And I want to turn to his kids, who happen to be in the studio with us – Carrie and Cully – and one of the things we have done from time to time is we have turned to sons or daughters and asked them to give a verbal tribute to their father and mother, and that's what I'm going to ask you two to do right now – make a statement of your appreciation, affirmation, and love and as you do it, don't just generalize it. Say some specific things about what this couple right here across the table mean to you two.
Cully: Well, Mom and Dad, both of you have displayed so much love not only for each other and for Carrie and I, but also to so many different people. You've been willing to share your story with everyone openly, freely, and honestly about the pain and the struggles and the things that you've gone through but, more importantly, about what Christ has done in your life and how, without Him, both of you wouldn't be here, Carrie and I wouldn't be here. He saved us all, and He's brought us together as a family. ALS tried to destroy first you, Dad, and then our family, but God saved us, and through Christ we are a family. And that's the most important unit, that's the most important body that the Lord has put together, and I just thank you both for being stewards of His Word and being His humble servants and expressing His love through your lives.
Dennis: Okay, Carrie?
Carrie: Out of our family of four, I was the last to come to know Jesus Christ as Lord, and a lot of parents ask me how my parents conveyed Christianity to me; that, you know, "How did they get you in? How did they get you in the Kingdom? What did they do?" And one thing that I like to share is that my parents never hit me over the head with the Bible, they never forced me to do anything. What they showed to me was Jesus in their lives.
Mom and Dad, I would like to thank you for being an example of what unconditional love is, for showing me the love of Jesus through your lives and through your love for me; for your endless prayers and support before I became a Christian; for your patience with me; and for laying a foundation in my life of commitment and of compassion and of giving of myself.
Dennis: You know, there are a lot of tears right now in the studio, and I think there are tears from a pair of children who are honoring their mom and dad, and there is a mom and dad crying tears of honor having just experienced that.
I just had the feeling, Bob, as both of these for sharing about their parents of just the holiness of a moment, of a couple who have been courageous beyond description. A lot of people have limitations in their lives but have never been challenged like this couple. But to have kids who have watched them live it, who have been up close, and who have seen the authenticity even makes their words even all that much more powerful and the honor that has been given to Charlie and Lucy all that more meaningful.
I want to say thanks to you two for not quitting and for not giving up. You really are a model of commitment, and our country desperately needs couples like you, and I pray 17 years from today you come back.
Bob: Well, again, today we've been listening to part 2 of a conversation recorded now more than a decade ago with Charlie and Lucy Wedemeyer. So we're getting close to that 17-year mark.
Dennis: You know, I'm looking at it, Bob, and I think we need to have them back before then, I really do. I think we need to invite them back, and let's hear the rest of the love story because, Bob, we're all in need of hearing the real deal. I think authenticity today – well, I think people are hungering and thirsting to hear people who are no baloney, just tell it to me as it is, even in its raw, unvarnished form where life is gritty and tough and you know what? It doesn't turn out perfect like we wish it would. And that's what I really like about Charlie and Lucy. This is a tough story. It is a love story, but it's continuing today, and I know the sacrifices and price that has been paid probably go beyond our imagination.
But I just want to turn to the listener and say to you, I don't know what you're facing in your marriage with your children, with life, but God is there. He'll be there in the midst of that just like He was for Charlie and Lucy and has guided them all these years, and He calls us to faith.
The other morning, I woke up, and I don't know what caused me to do this with Barbara, but I – we were kind of conversing as we were waking up in bed, and I just quoted one of Dr. Bill Bright's favorite verses. Dr. Bright was the president and founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, and he loved Galatians, chapter 2, verse 20 – "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me." Now listen the last part of this verse – "And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and delivered Himself up for me."
Did you catch that? How does Lucy Wedemeyer do it? How does Charlie do it? They live their lives by faith in the Son of God who demonstrated His love for them and gave them a love for one another that has endured enormous suffering, and that same love can be yours in the circumstances that you're facing if you'll place your faith in the Son of God.
Bob: Yes, I think of the verse that Mary Ann and I put on our wedding invitations from 1 John, chapter 4, verse 19. It says, "We love because He first loved us." And, really, the source of love for one another begins when we understand what real love is by experiencing God's love for us, and we experience God's love for us when we recognize that Jesus died to forgive our sins, to renovate and revolutionize our lives and to give us a hope.
We'd like to invite out listeners – if you would like to know what it means to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and to experience the kind of love that Charlie and Lucy understand firsthand, we want you to invite you to contact us by calling 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329. When someone answers just say, "I want to know how to become a Christian," and there is a book we'd love to send you called "Pursuing God." It explains what it means for a person to have a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ and to experience God's love.
Again, call 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and tell whoever answers that you'd like to become a Christian, and we're happy to send you a copy of the book, "Pursuing God."
Let me also encourage you to visit our website, FamilyLife.com. When you get to the home page, if you click the box on the right side that says, "Today's Broadcast," that will take you to an area of the site where you can get more information about resources that are available through FamilyLife Today. We have a limited number of copies of a book called "Charlie's Victory" that tells Charlie and Lucy's story, and you can get more information about that book on our website at FamilyLife.com, or you can order a copy of it from us online.
There are also additional resources designed to help you strengthen your marriage relationship. Dr. Gary Chapman has written a wonderful book called "Covenant Marriage," and it's in our FamilyLife Resource Center as well. Again, all the information about these resources can be found on our website, FamilyLife.com, or if you need additional help, call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, and someone on our team will answer any questions you have or make arrangements to have the resources you need sent to you.
And when you do get in touch with us, will you keep in mind that FamilyLife Today is a listener-supported ministry, which means that folks like you are the ones who help make sure that FamilyLife Today can continue to be heard on this station and on other stations all across the country, and you do that by making a donation from time to time to help support this ministry.
This month, when you make a donation of any amount, we would be honored to send you a copy of a 365-day devotional guide that Dennis and Barbara Rainey have written for husbands and wives called "Moments With You." This daily devotional brings you together as a couple around a verse from the Scripture. It helps you apply that verse in your marriage and gives you an opportunity to pray together each day.
If you would like to receive a copy of the book, simply request it when you make a donation of any amount either on our website at FamilyLife.com, and if you're donating there, when you get to the keycode box on the donation form, type in the word "You," y-o-u, so that we know to send you a copy of the book, or you can make a donation over the phone. Call 1-800-FLTODAY and simply mention that you'd like a copy of the daily devotional, "Moments With You," by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. We're happy to send it to you as our way of saying thanks for your partnership with us, your financial support of this ministry. It means a lot to us, and we appreciate hearing from you.
Well, we hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can be back with us on Monday when we're going to feature one of our favorite interviews of all time. We will hear from Dr. Robertson McQuilkin on Monday, and hear how he continued to love his life well following her diagnosis with Alzheimer's disease. I hope you can join 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. Have a great weekend, we'll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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