**I apologize for the length and disjointed nature of this post. The grief is still raw, but I needed to write this. If you start to read it, please don’t stop halfway through and never finish, especially if you’re from PHC.**
Saturday: The news hits. He’s in the hospital. Recovering.
Later that day: Things aren’t looking good. Nobody’s given up hope yet, but prayers are increasing. People are worried. Family is gathering.
Sunday morning: No change. Worry increases.
Sunday night: The family is all gathered. They share with us that his death is coming. Hearts are breaking.
Monday: Things are looking bad. Though many are praying, it looks as though he is going Home to Heaven. We wait. One of his granddaughters blogs to share her heart with the world. He has perhaps 3 days, barring a miracle.
Waiting, waiting, waiting. The agony of waiting. We cry in fear. We go through our routines. We check Facebook every few moments, praying there will be news. We want a miracle. We fear the worst. We both love and despise social media for connecting us to this event. While we want to know, we don’t want to hear the news from our computer screens. Yet we continue to refresh the page, desperate to know.
Tuesday: He’s dying. The doctors are just trying to keep him comfortable. His family waits. The church extends a hand. We all wait. Halfway across the country, sitting in my dorm room at the college he was so proud to see me attend, I wait. I wait for the Facebook post from the church. Or else the phone call from my parents. We wait.
Wednesday: I turn on my computer. There it is–the news from my church. Last night, Charles Wingfield went home to Jesus. My heart–well, I can’t really explain it. I think the best description is that my heart swells. It bloats with sorrow and joy and regret and memories. I call my dad. They already knew. They got the call last night. Now we must grieve. A whole church of people–and beyond. Family from around the country. Hundreds, thousands of lives touched and changed by knowing Charles. College students stranded far from home in the midst of finishing the semester. Families scattered around the nation–and probably around the globe–wishing they could be with Charles one last time.
So I grieve. I’ve cried a lot these past few days. I cried quite a bit this morning. Yet this is mourning with hope. It is strange and hard and wonderful. This morning, within an hour of receiving the news, I got dressed and went to class. I tried to concentrate. I went to chapel. I tried not to cry my way through the beautiful Christmas music. I miss Charles. But he has had a full life here on Earth. Now he is beginning his full life in Heaven. I’m happy for him.
But I grieve. And I remember. I recall, with shame and regret, being young and thinking his sermons were unendurably long. Then I think of how blessed I am to have grown up under that teaching, to have learned to respect my elders even when I found them boring. I consider how much I grew by listening to Charles. I bite my lip as I realize I could have been home for his last sermon, but I was instead at school. I click on the audio recording on my church’s website. I cling to his words, marveling at how God worked in this man. I realize how far I’ve come from that child I used to be. When I’m home from college, I love to hear him preach. Now I will never again hear him instruct me from his pulpit in St. Louis. I miss Charles.
And while I grieve, my mind wanders back to a day when I was in middle school. I shadowed one of my youth pastors that day. Titus showed me around the church offices as part of the experience. When we reached the corner office, the one reserved for the senior pastor, Titus stopped. Charles wasn’t in. So Titus stood in front of that door reverently. He told me that someday he wanted to be like Charles Wingfield. My young heart was opened to a new level of respect for Charles. I loved and respected my youth pastor. If he so deeply respected Charles, I would too. I would find out what it was in Charles that Titus so deeply admired. And I did.
It wasn’t hard to find. Charles exuded Christ-likeness. I remember him taking video of VBS sessions, saying hello to anyone he encountered, and treating each person with utmost respect. He was always serving. He preached the truth with no qualms. The Gospel was the Gospel. Yet he preached with amazing love for God and for each person to whom he was speaking. I could recount dozens of instances of Charles’s great love for me and for the church. We knew that Charles loved us.
He was a bit of a grandfather to almost everyone. When I would see him in the church lobby, I would make a point to go over and say hello, to shake his hand and act respectfully. Charles inspired honor. He never demanded it, but he had such a way about him that you couldn’t help interacting with him as you would a prince perhaps. I was always honored that he would shake my hand, smile at me, and call me by name. The pleasure was always mine when I talked with Charles, though I think he enjoyed chatting with me as well. Often I felt a bit shy hanging around this great man. He was my Billy Graham, my unrelated grandfather, my much-loved teacher.
Oh, if I could only express how this man lived! My words are so inadequate to explain what God did with this man from Virginia. I miss him so deeply and wish I could communicate who he was to you! You must know him! He may not have been as well known as Dr. Dobson or Chuck Swindoll or Billy Graham, but Charles Wingfield was just as great a giant. He lived his life fully and in Christ. I want to have the faith of such a man.
Now, I must say a few words to a specific–and perhaps unexpected–community: the family that is Patrick Henry College. Oh, my friends, if I could only articulate all that I want to say! As it is, my words will fall far short, but I must try. You see, Charles loved this college. I would go so far to say he loved you. All of you. He was so proud that I decided to go here. I didn’t even know he’d heard of the college until I was chatting about going there one day. He had so much joy in hearing me talk about PHC. I remember him telling me one day that he was bragging to his family in Virginia about the young lady from his church who was attending PHC. I was amazed. With the shy demeanor that had become my default when chatting with Charles, I suggested he come visit the college sometime. I am deeply saddened that he never made it here. I would have loved to show him around, to introduce him to all of you, to give him a glimpse of what life is like here. He would have loved to see the campus, to meet you all, to chat with you in the dining hall or the coffee shop. He would have loved the professors, the classes, the chapel services. It breaks my heart to know that he will never walk across the campus with me, taking in the college he was so fond of. My PHC friends, know that Charles Wingfield cared for you, prayed for you, and would have loved to meet you. I only wish you could have met him and he could have met you. But that is not for this side of Heaven… Until then, my friends, treasure the love of a man you never met but who loved you deeply.
Come LORD Jesus!