“Charlie died tonight.” We received the text a couple of days ago. Charlie had been sick for a while, in and out of the hospital, finally landing in a nursing home. A few days later, just a few hours after my parents visited, Charlie drew his last breath.
I grew up with Charlie in my life. He was always around at church. For many years he and his sister Gail cleaned the church building every week so that we could gather for worship. I’ll never forget the one year that Charlie (presumably while cleaning the church during the week) decided to play a prank on the church choir of whom my dad was the director. The choir was planning to sing a Christmas cantata the following Sunday. They had been practicing for weeks for that act of worship and were finally prepared for the big day. When Sunday morning rolled around, my dad arrived at the church early and found that the music for the cantata had disappeared without a trace. He looked everywhere for the missing music but to no avail.
He immediately suspected Charlie. This was, after all, not the first time something like this had happened. Charlie had a reputation as a prankster. When confronted with the missing music, Charlie denied any and all knowledge of the missing choir books. Alas, the cantata was not sung, and the books were not found until later the next week when they mysteriously reappeared in their normal location. This was quintessential Charlie.
Charlie always carried a notebook with him so that he could jot down everything that happened around him. You never knew if something you said in Charlie’s hearing would be quoted in a later conversation. When I later pastored the Lovington Church of the Nazarene, the same church in which I grew up, I asked Charlie to serve as our greeter and head usher. He absolutely loved doing these jobs in the church and he took them very seriously.
He did however go about his duties in his own unique way. It was not uncommon for Charlie to be conversing with everyone who entered about the Friday night Wildcat football game, or the Thursday evening J.V. game, or even a seventh, eighth, or ninth grade game from earlier in the week. All of which he had entered by conspicuously flashing the Lovington Leader press pass my dad had given him. He was even caught commentating from the announcer’s box a time or two at J.V. baseball games. If someone in the church made the paper, Charlie would proudly present them with the clipped article and/or picture as they entered for worship.
When there was no sporting event to talk about, Charlie would bring along one of his joke books. You know, the thin ones you used to buy from the end caps at variety or grocery stores. He would read selected jokes to me or other members of the congregation throughout the morning. On occasion, I would suggest he choose a different joke, but most of the time the whole practice was rather funny and enjoyable in a corny joke kind of way. I do have a favorite from those Charlie shared over the years. With a completely serious face Charlie recited it to me one Sunday morning as we stood in the foyer waiting for worshipers to arrive:
Charlie: “How many Nazarenes does it take to change a light bulb.”
Me: “I don’t know Charlie, how many?”
Charlie: “Twelve…one to change the light bulb and eleven to plan the fellowship dinner afterward.”
The truth is, I will miss Charlie. He was so much more than a prankster. He was an authentic follower of Jesus Christ. Because of Charlie our church began playing in the city softball league, where we had tons of fun together and engaged intentionally with people in our community who needed to know the love of Christ. It didn’t matter if we won or lost, Charlie loved it and our church became stronger for it. He made us better, with his simple faith and his enthusiasm for life.
Charlie taught me some valuable lessons about the Christian life. One day, Charlie stopped by our office and told pastor Aaron and I that he didn’t have any furniture anymore. When we asked him why, he told us that a homeless man had come to visit, so he gave him his furniture. Charlie didn’t have much to begin with, a couch, a chair, a dining table, a T.V. a coffee table a bed. We were a bit upset by this, but Charlie just said: “I thought he needed it more than I did so I gave it to him.”
Wow! What generosity. Charlie would literally give the shirt off of his back if he thought someone needed it more than he did. I can’t help but think of the words of Jesus in Mark 9:35 “Whoever wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” In the kingdom of God Charlie is not poor. He is rich, for he was indeed a servant of all.
Charlie had more than his share of challenges. He lived with a mental disability for his entire life. In many ways, he was a 12 or 13-year-old boy trapped in the aging body of man. This brought with it significant challenges. At times Charlie faced bullying and ridicule. At times he didn’t understand what was going on around him. More than once he was the target of thieves who no doubt thought he was an easy target and that his bicycle or other processions should be theirs.
But these are not the things that defined Charlie. I will always remember his unconditional love for our church and community, his giving spirit, his sense of humor, and his childlike faith. And so I look forward to the day of resurrection when our Lord returns and we are raised to new life. For on that day, I know I will see Charlie again.
Rest in the presence of Christ my friend!