What is it that enables a man who
cannot walk, cannot speak, cannot
breathe, and cannot eat to live a life
that is so filled with joy that it overflows
to brighten the lives of others?
For Charlie Wedemeyer, who for 18 years has fought a physically debilitating battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, living in joy has been part gift and part choice. During the early years, the battle robbed Charlie of joy. At one point, he told his wife Lucy that he would rather be dead than to live as he was. Her response was that she would rather have him as he was than not to have him at all. When Lucy expressed that love for him, she gave Charlie a precious gift that prompted him to make a conscious choice to not only live, but to live life as fully and joyfully as possible. And the Wedemeyer family does live life with abundant joy.
Humor in all forms, from jokes to pranks to just plain silly fun, helps brighten the hard work of helping Charlie live. Charlie’s motto, “any excuse for a party,” made zany parties a trademark of the Wedemeyer household during their children’s teenage years. One time Charlie insisted on sneaking into a hospital long after visiting hours to throw an impromptu party for a teenage friend. No one on the hospital staff ever thought to stop a nurse pushing an obviously sick man in a wheelchair down the corridor! Even the balloon bouquet Lucy carried didn’t give them away.
Another time, Charlie was released from an extended hospital stay so that he could go home “to die.” Two days later, the whole family, including two nurses and all of Charlie’s medical equipment, boarded a plane for a vacation in Hawaii. Their first stop was at the airport gift shop where they purchased a beautiful tropical beach postcard that they mailed to Charlie’s doctor!
Through it all, Charlie is convinced that God can salvage good out of any circumstance. Believing that God has chosen him to bring His message of hope and encouragement to others, Charlie has chosen the path of joy.
“Sometimes,” he warns, “we’ll all be faced with some circumstance that will seem too difficult to cope with. When that time comes, we have to make a 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 the other side as stronger people for the experience. We all have that choice.”
As Charlie’s friend, Tim Hansel, reminds us, “Pain and suffering is inevitable, but misery is optional.” Charlie stands as a powerful testimony to the importance of making that choice.