In Honor of Charlene Charmeygne (Nelson) Reyes, A Daughter of the Most High God.
Our mother, Charlene Charmeygne (Nelson) Reyes, daughter of John Nelson and Eleanor Walter, was born May 26, 1930 in San Jose, CA and passed on July 5, 2014 at the age of 84 in Strafford, MO.
Charlene was born, at the beginning of the depression, into a well-established family with a woodworking business. Her father was born in Sweden and came to America, by boat, with 5 of his 12 siblings at age 17. He had a strong work ethic, with an 8th grade education, and was mentored in Scandinavian carving and fine wood working. He took his family to Sweden twice before Charlene was born. Her Mother, Eleanor, was able to correspond to the relatives in three languages: German, Swedish and English. She graduated from Pacifica College with an Art degree and drew beautiful pastel sketches of her time in Sweden. Eleanor loved creating healthy meals for her family and setting the mood of her home with laughter from a glad heart. Charlene admired her siblings. When she was born, her brother Ivan was 21, Robert was 19 and Janice was 13. Her brothers had learned their father’s trade and assisted in restoring the hull of a boat into a beautiful 40 foot sloop, with cherry and mahogany wood in the cabin. The boat was christened the “Charlene” and Mom took her first sailboat ride at two weeks old. Almost every Sunday for the next 18 years, Charlene enjoyed sailing with her family. As a child, she fell overboard and often claimed to have seen a shark, giving her the nick name, “Charky”. At a very young age, Charky could pick out advertisement jingles and play them on the piano. This started her piano lessons, which continued through college. At the age of about 5 or 6, her mother allowed her to bring food to the back porch, to feed good people who were less fortunate. Charky used her gift of compassion and knew the value of giving to others in need.
She and her cousin Marie were close to the same age. They had many fond memories of sailing in the bay, camping and fishing in Yosemite, and earning money each summer cutting apricots from her uncle’s orchard. Charky saw the world through beautiful shades of color, shapes and designs. She was a passionate artist, pianist, and could envision what her heart loved. She remembers about age 13, seeing a dandelion that had gone to seed, and knowing that an intelligent designer had created it. She longed to know the God of the universe. As a teen, Charky and her girl-friend would listen to classical music by the hours, while flitting around like ballerinas on the side walk. She was a very free spirit, always seeking to know why. Fate drew her to Rudolph Shaffer School of Design in San Francisco, where she met Rex Reyes. Through their friendship and later long distance courtship, Charky grew to have deep respect and love for this tall Latin artist and technical illustrator. On Sept.12, 1953, they gave their hearts and vows in marriage in a chapel overlooking the ocean at Hermosa Beach, CA. As a testimony of their love, four children were born: Jenny Lynn, Jon Nelson, Robin Rebecca and Spring Sparling.
Mom was a passionate truth-seeker. During her years as a young mother, she met Helen Orgeta, who became a lifelong friend and student of the Bible. They researched and studied by the hours wanting to know God’s plan. Little did Mom know this was to prepare her for a very difficult season of her life, lasting for the next fifty years! Dad had moved the family to Ridgecrest, CA to work at China Lake as the Art Director, Technical Illustrator and Liaison between Genge Engineering Company and NASA.
At the height of his career, a single tragic event would change Mom’s life dramatically and test the true quality of her faith. Four months before the birth of their last child, a 15 year old drunk driver hit Dad’s car, head on, causing him severe brain damage. Mom relied on help from her church family to take care of her children, provide her a car and fresh outfits to wear. During her long days at the hospital, Mom came to know and draw even closer to her Heavenly Father, who loved her and knew her every need. Dad’s accident happened on Nov.22, 1961. He was in a coma, had amnesia and required several brain surgeries. He was just beginning to realize he had a family, when his youngest daughter, Spring, was born March 24, 1962.
God walked Mom through many years of care giving for her soul mate. She was not a complainer, but an eternal optimist, always ready to envision better days ahead. She did not seem to stop until she was at the point of exhaustion and her body wouldn’t go anymore. She often stayed up late to catch up on chores, and study the Bible, which was her lifeline and hope. Her parents passed away when her children were still young, leaving her a modest inheritance, which provided funds to begin building a house. While Rex was still recovering, she designed and oversaw the building of their home on a country acre in Tehachapi, CA.
The family survived well through some difficult years with a menagerie of sheep, chickens, ducks and goats. The hardships seemed to bring the ties that bind, even closer; with lots of work and lots of love and laughter. During the difficult days of Rex’s recovery, it became more apparent that God had given Mom a gift of tenacious faith and unending grace. As a result of the accident, Dad’s brain damage caused him to be irrational and quick tempered, have epileptic seizures and memory loss. He was severely mentally handicapped, leaving him unable to be the husband, father and provider he had previously been. Prior to his accident, he had been a logical, reasonable, man who gave valuable, thoughtful, gentle advice to many. Now he was changed without the ability to process thoughts and emotions normally and was unable to return to the job that he loved. Everyone pitched in to make life work. The teen-aged children: sewed their own clothes, plowed the land, chopped wood, installed electric outlets, repaired televisions, washing machines and cars, even donated to the family finances with their own earnings. Everyone cleaned house, milked goats, fed chickens and worked in the garden, were a few of the never-ending chores. Mom drove Rex to and from his jobs of manual labor at a turf farm, and as a carry-out at a grocery store. Mom taught piano lessons and cleaned homes. She took the family to church three times a week for several years. She became exhausted.
While Mom caught up on her sleep and took a sabbatical from church, she heard God speaking directly to her from His word. It was at this time, she was able to see a much bigger picture and a more loving God than she had known before. Grace had been revealed to her and she couldn’t go back to a God, who, as she had been taught, demanded performance in order to be accepted. God’s Word had revealed to her that God loved all people unconditionally. In His time, God pulled the blinders off her eyes to, “… see that He is a good God”. Mom was compelled out of gratitude to respond to this great love. As it says in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Mom saw the Bible had truths for every area of her life. She became very interested in healthy eating and the use of herbs for healing. Gardening and being close to nature was a large part of her life. Making the desert bloom became increasingly expensive, when the water bills continue to increase. So, when the last child was starting high school, during the bi-centennial year of 1976, the family moved to a farm in Hartville, MO. One acre in California was able to purchase 49 acres with a river, a spring-fed pond, and a very old, falling down farmhouse in Missouri.
Mom lived in her visions and never let the details of life keep her down too long. Mom and her son, Jon, designed a new home that was constructed and lived in, but never fully completed. Trying to finish a large house with a basement, maintaining an orchard, her garden and disabled husband, all took its toll. At some point there was a realization: the harder she tried, the “behinder” she got. Yes, life was hard, but she found the secret of contentment and strength in her joy. Complications from a broken hip and neck caused Dad and Mom to live with their daughter Robin and her family in Penngrove, CA for the last several years of their lives. They enjoyed beautiful organically grown fruits, berries and veggies that grew in Robin’s garden. Together they enjoyed sitting on the sunny patio, over- looking the redwoods as they recovered and aged gracefully. Surrounding several hospital stays, Mom was by Dad’s side, sacrificing and pouring out her love to his last day. Dad preceded mom in death, at 86 years of age, 2 years earlier on Oct 8, 2012. As mom declined, she was cared for by her daughter Robin and her family. Mom loved delightful sunny California, but she longed for her Missouri home by the river. God gave Mom the desire of her heart, as she lived out her final month with her youngest daughter’s family here in Missouri, allowing her the delight of meeting some Great grandchildren for the first time.
Mom felt other people’s pain as if it were her own. She often prayed for those who were hurting, homeless, refugees and those persecuted for their faith. Mom loved to read and learn about world events and how they fit into Bible prophecy. She knew how dark the capacity of the human heart could be. She also knew of God’s ability to reconcile everything back to Himself, and how powerful was God’s redemptive work in making all things new. She was full of hope and expectation even to her dying day. Mom received wonderful support from the Hospice nurses and many caregivers that worked hard to help us keep her comfortable. Mom had remarkable tenacity and independence, even in her weakened condition.
On Independence Day, while the Nation was celebrating their freedom from bondage and fireworks were exploding, mom was leaving us. Like a butterfly, her Spirit was set free from a very frail body. We miss her greatly, life will never be the same, but, we are happy for her transition. We believe Mom’s testimony would agree with Paul, who said in 2 Tim 4: 7, 8 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Here’s a part of a letter from someone Charlene spent countless hours on the phone with over many years. She never met this person:
“I could always share and discuss things with Charlene that I never could with anyone else…especially spiritual matters. She is the only person I ever met that has had a lifelong love affair with truth just as I had up until recently when I realized that peace is more important than truth. She’s the only woman that halfway understands me, and she has told me several times that I probably understand her better than anyone. We all need to be understood, and neither of us is all that easy to understand. So in that way for one, we have a special need for one another.
Charlene’s utter selfless and tireless devotion to her husband for the 51 years he lived after the 1961 accident that took part of him away evoked my utmost respect and admiration. She also bore the responsibility of raising four children who had lost a part of their dad. During the 7 years I knew Charlene while she was caring for Rex, I never once heard her complain. That’s love. If only I could have been so fortunate to have found a woman half as loving and devoted to me, I would have considered myself very blessed.
…She habitually demonstrates her passion about her beliefs, though she has always remained ready to edit her knowledge base whenever she would realize she had been wrong about something.
I have never thought of Charlene as an old person; to me she has always been just Charlene. I didn’t think of her as a mother figure, and she didn’t think of me like a son. We have always been just friends, irrespective of the 29 years that separate us. And we’ve always trusted one another. Considering how difficult it is for me to trust anyone, that mutual trust has always been a very valuable component of our friendship. I consider her the dearest friend I’ve ever made. And that’s saying a lot, considering Charlene and I have never even met in person.”
A word from Gary Amirault about Charlene Reyes: The first time I met Charlene was at her home, Futility Farm, in Hartville, Missouri. She invited a Bible teacher named Louis Abbott to hold a Bible study there. I tagged along. Over the years, I’d see her occasionally at a Bible conference. We corresponded by phone and letter. What always amazed me was her zeal to know more about the Bible, to know more about her Maker, her true Father. She was always like a child when it came to the things of the Spirit and the Word. She was always hungry for more.
She grew to know her Maker far deeper than most Christians. She dropped the religious boxes we, Christians, often find ourselves trapped in. Her God truly was all-powerful, all-knowing, wise. She knew a God whose love is unfailing and unending. She knew a Savior who could actually save. Her love embraced all, because she knew the Savior of all. Charlene knew a Savior who tasted death for everyone. Jesus once said, “If you suffer with Me, you shall reign with me.” Surely she is seated in Christ at the right hand of our Father.
The greatest impact Charlene has had in my life was her ability to never grumble, gripe or complain. Oh, she had plenty to whine about if she wanted to, but she never did. I am amazed at how graceful Charlene was with the grace given her. She bore her cross gracefully. Jesus spoke of 30, 60 and 100 fold increase. My bet is Charlene is in the 100 fold camp.
As I was preparing what to say for a Celebration of life, Charlene’s children were preparing for her, my wife and I were going through old letters, cards and photographs. We came across a card from an old friend who reminded me of Charlene. In the card, Helen Mallicoat (a wonderful poet) wrote, “Thank God for sending Jesus to be the savior of the world. Yes, it seems like an awful mess, but He told me “It should be spelled AWE ful — so it is His mess and it isn’t awful at all — just His wonderful drama of Life and the end is “And they lived happily ever after.” Just a love story.
Charlene’s life is a love story.