Salvation Army leader trusted God 'no matter what'
Editor’s note: Salvation Army Maj. Charlotte Gargis and her husband Carlyle were featured in the weekly “Of Character” column in the May 7 edition of The Sunday Oklahoman. The article included information about their tenure as commanders of the Salvation Army Central Oklahoma Area Command but there’s more to their story. Charlotte Gargis, in particular, has a testimony about the Lord’s faithfulness throughout her battle against breast cancer. Here, she shares her story with Religion Editor Carla Hinton.
“…behold, all things are become new.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
Everywhere she looked there were caps, scarves and hats in different colors and patterns.
Maj. Charlotte Gargis said she tried on each item that her friends brought to her “covering party” hosted by her Salvation Army staff one afternoon. One of her favorite hats was a crocheted pink cap with “goldilocks” sticking out of both sides.
The event was much like a baby or wedding shower except instead of bringing infant gifts or housewares for a new mom or couple, people brought items that Gargis would need as she battled breast cancer. She said they “covered” her in prayer, as well.
The party was held just a few days after her first chemotherapy treatment in 2014 and the hats, head wraps and assorted “chemo caps” came just in time.
As she put the hats on and took them off one after another, Gargis noticed strands of her hair inside the lining of the caps.
The next day, she and her daughter Charlsie Ann paid a visit to her hair dresser and asked him to shave her head.
He wept as he did it.
“I said ‘No! Don’t cry! You’re helping me,” she said, laughing.
Gargis and her husband Maj. Carlyle Gargis had been in charge of the Salvation Army Central Oklahoma Area Command for six months when she discovered a lump in her breast while the couple enjoyed vacation time in January 2014.
They had just completed their first Christmas season as leaders of the Central Oklahoma Area Command and they were relieved to be able to enjoy some quiet time together after the busy Salvation Army holiday efforts to help the community’s less fortunate.
Gargis said she had a sinking feeling that the lump was cancerous.
She hoped that it wasn’t, but when she reached out to her family practitioner for help, she wasn’t optimistic.
Gargis, 50, admitted that it wasn’t like her to be pessimistic.
She and her husband were faithful Christians who believed God could move mountains for His people and yet, she felt frightened.
“I knew I shouldn’t be, but I was,” she said.
The couple had been high school sweethearts, both Ada natives.
They had served as Salvation Army leaders in Shawnee and then Fort Smith, Ark., before learning they were going “home” to the Oklahoma City area to lead the Central Oklahoma Area Command.
Gargis said Oklahoma City was where she and her love had picked out her engagement ring. It was where they went for their “big dates” – the El Fenix restaurant in Crossroads Mall.
They had been thrilled to be back in Oklahoma and now a situation had popped up that was both unwelcome and alarming.
“I started falling apart but I knew I had to get a grip,” she said.
They were preparing the Central Oklahoma Area Command for the big move from the old Salvation Army downtown headquarters to the newly built Center of Hope and it was a huge undertaking. Their daughter and her husband were preparing to move to Atlanta where they would begin their own chapter with the Salvation Army.
Gargis said she hated the timing, but would there ever be a good time to get sick?
She didn’t tell her husband for a few days because she didn’t want to worry him. When she did, they held tight to one another and prayed.
Finally, her doctor confirmed the news – she did have breast cancer.
She said she got the news when she was riding in the car with her husband and best friend. They immediately pulled over and began to pray.
Her husband sitting in the seat next to her wrapped his arm around her and her friend wrapped her arm around her on the other side, but Gargis said she somehow felt hands wrapped around her middle.
“I swear it was God’s arms wrapped around me,” she said.
When she and her husband got back to their office at the Salvation Army, there was a surprise bosses' appreciation party awaiting them.
Gargis said she still remembers all the little details – the pretty cake and punch and several gifts. There was lots of laughter and fun and they needed that boost.
She thought the Lord was proving to have impeccable timing, after all.
“He immediately showed us the support that we had.”
That thought proved true in more ways than one.
Gargis said the Salvation Army women’s auxiliary brought the couple meals every night for two weeks after her surgery.
The group also helped box up her office for the move to the new Center of Hope at NW 10 and Pennsylvania. Meetings at the office were scheduled a few days after her chemotherapy treatments so that she wouldn’t be too ill to attend.
Staff member and women’s auxiliary members made sure she sat between Gov. Mary Fallin and one of her favorite gospel recording artists, Sandi Patty, during a Salvation Army event that occurred during her cancer treatment.
She said “They made me feel like I was the queen or something.”
When Patty dedicated the song “His Eye is On The Sparrow” in her honor, Gargis was overjoyed.
She could do nothing but weep and praise God.
‘No Matter What’
Timing once again played a key role.
Initially, Gargis was to have half a dozen chemotherapy treatments and 32 radiation treatments.
Then, her chemotherapy port malfunctioned and doctors said they wanted to remove it and surgically replace it with another one.
Gargis said she was mentally tired, her body was tired and she just hated the thought of another surgery.
She said the way her treatments were scheduled, and with the prospect of surgery to install a new port,, she was heartsick, realizing that she wasn’t going to be able to help her daughter and son-in-law move to Atlanta as she had hoped.
Filled with anguish, the Gargises prayed.
“It was our lowest point,” she said.
Gargis said she and her husband come up with a catchphrase each January that would become a kind of theme for the New Year. She said after praying together, she told him that they needed to cling to God like never before. She said their new phrase for this season and this cancer journey would be “no matter what.”
The phrase would reflect their trust in the Lord through good and bad times.
“I told him no matter if I live or I die, God is good and He is faithful. He has good intentions for His children.”
They reached out to trusted friends – prayer warriors – and one of the women prayed in faith that Gargis wouldn’t have to have any more surgeries or chemotherapy.
Gargis admitted that she felt her friend, however sweet, was giving her false hope with such a petition to God.
The next morning, the prayer warrior’s cry to the Lord was answered.
The doctor called and said Gargis’ team of physicians knew her body had been through a lot and they didn’t feel it was a good idea to subject her through another surgery.
The doctor said they had come up with another plan – one that meant they had figured out a way to give her what was to be her last chemotherapy treatment without a port.
Gargis said her father, who had been ill much of her life, was transferred from an Ada hospital to a south Oklahoma City medical facility close to her Moore home, and she thought again of the Lord’s timing.
Despite having to keep her appointments for radiation treatment, she was able to see her father much more frequently than if he had been hospitalized in her home town.
He died on the day of her last radiation treatment.
Gargis said despite the sadness and sense of loss she felt with his passing, she also saw God’s divine plan unfolding.
Because she had completed her treatment, she was able to join her husband conducting the funeral for her beloved dad. And because the treatments ended when they did, the couple was able to drive their children to their assignment in Atlanta after all.
“So my God is an on time God,” Gargis said.
“He was faithful through all of this and He honored the desires of my heart.”
God is doing a new thing
Gargis said she and her husband feel sad about leaving friends, family and their Salvation Army flock in Oklahoma but they extremely excited about their opportunity to impact lives in Jacksonville, Fla.
She said they will be in charge of a 120-bed Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) which offers a six-month in-house rehabilitation program for men.
The career change couldn’t have happened at a better time, Gargis said.
She quoted Scripture her husband as they began to prepare for the move.
Gargis had her last oncology visit on Tuesday, May 9. And she’s proud to say that she has been trying to lose weight and she has lost 85 pounds.
“The Scripture says ‘I make all things new,” she said.
“It’s a brand new chapter for us.”
She said their new key phrase for this next season of their lives is very appropriate.
It is “Made New.”