That he was capable of greatness seems obvious now, but my guess is that it was not quite so apparent way back then. In fact, somewhere in the back of my mind lies a faint wisp of a memory that says Billy once had a girl break up with him (maybe even end an engagement) because she said, "I want to marry someone that is going to amount to something in life."
That may be apocryphal instead of actual, but the essence rings true to what I have read concerning his early years. I think it was John Pollock's biography, or perhaps Billy's own telling of his life story entitled, "Just As I Am," that recounts how the young evangelist left a rather straight-laced, fundamentalist Bible college that I shall leave unnamed in order to enroll at a school in Florida. One important reason for the move was that in the Sunshine State, he would be able to spend time on the golf course as well as in his studies. The president of the institute he left is reputed to have told the young drop-out-to-be, "Young man, if you leave this school, you will be nothing but a backwoods preacher the rest of your life!"
Somehow Ruth saw beyond all of that. What makes me so sure? A daughter of missionary parents, she was a highly devoted follower of Jesus who had gone so far as to pray, "Lord, make me a martyr soon!" She would never have given up her dream of serving the Lord in China like her parents before her unless she somehow sensed God's blessing on her choice. I am quite familiar with that kind of woman. While I am certainly no Billy Graham, Teresa is cut from the same cloth as Ruth, and it took supernatural intervention for her to marry me!
Speaking of which, in one of God's divine serendipities, back in 1986 He allowed my sweetheart to meet Ruth in person while we were participating in the Billy Graham International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam, Holland. When Teresa showed up at a session for ministry wives, the only seats available were on the back row. A few moments after the program started, a woman slipped in and sat down beside her. At one point, the speaker asked everyone in the room to turn to the person beside her and introduce herself. Teresa did so, cheerily, saying, "Hello! My name is Teresa Brand." To her utter astonishment, the kind, gray headed woman seated beside her sweetly replied, "Hello! My name is Ruth Graham." Teresa had the same impression of Ruth that I did of Cliff Barrows when I stumbled upon him while taking a short cut through a deserted auditorium. They were two of the nicest, most down-to-earth, and utterly approachable human beings we have ever met, just like Jesus would have been.
Two other vignettes flashed across my mind today...
One was a photo from a book that showed scenes from the Graham's mountain home in Montreat. It was of a wooden plaque above the kitchen sink bearing these words, "Divine Service Performed Here Three Times Daily."
The other is an anecdote my own mother takes particular delight in telling. Ruth was once pressed by a reporter who found it hard to believe her statement that divorce had never crossed her mind during her and Billy's long and unusual marriage. In response to his question, "Is it really true that you have never, not even once, seriously contemplated divorce?" she replied, "Divorce, no; Murder, YES!"
Some modern cynic altered the age-old adage, "Behind every great man is a great woman," declaring, "Behind every great man is an astonished woman." I am sure that is true in many instances but I think the original version says it best when it comes to Ruth and Billy.
Thank you, Lord, for giving a very great woman to a very great man....!
P.S. Here are a few links I found to webpages with more information about Mrs. Ruth Graham:
Back in 1983, Ruth wrote an article about the book that influenced her the most, "The Confessions of Saint Augustine." Here is one, brief, quote,
Another great article by her dealt with the fear of the Lord and was entitled, "Afraid of the Right Things." Great mothers know how to instill that deep in the hearts of their children. Mine certainly did...!
He also recounts the sins and follies of his youth, the influence of his mother, and many of his experiences. These teach me, for instance, that sin, when confessed—truly confessed—will not be described in all its lurid details. True confession implies a genuine sorrow for sin that would negate any desire to say anything more about it than absolutely necessary.
We also learn of the faithful persistence of Augustine's mother. He tells us that she went to a certain well-known bishop in Carthage to plead with him to talk with Augustine, who had already developed a distaste for the Scriptures and been led into doctrinal error by the Manichaeans. But the bishop, aware of Augustine's brilliance, did not want to tangle with him. When his mother, Monica, persisted, the bishop replied, "Go thy way and God bless thee, for it is not possible that the son of these tears should perish."
Then comes the moving account of how he slips away from his mother by lying to her and proceeding to Rome and Milan. His mother prayed that he would not sail, but Augustine says God regarded not what she then asked, that he might make of him "what she ever asked."
In an obituary entitled, The Silent Rock Behind A Famous Evangelist, there is this great quote,
Billy was brought up in a house where the women did not question the men, while in the Bell house, that's all we did...You gotta love a lady like that...! As well as one who said she wanted as her epitaph the following phrase, "End of Construction: Thank You for Your Patience."
The Pilgrim Journey website markets an audio recording on her life narrated by Walter Cronkite and also offers some free downloads of both humorous and insightful audio clips from her family and close associates.
Her daughter, Anne Graham-Lotz, a great, great woman in her own right, issued a short but very moving statement with some more great quips and quotes like the following,
Anne, make the most of all that comes, and the least of all that goes.Finally, Christianity Today has a great obituary with many links to other items on the web.
A good marriage is made up of two good forgivers.
Every cat knows some things need to be covered.
It takes two to make a fight.
God called you not to make your husband good, but to make him happy.
You can’t teach your kids to like spinach if every time they see you eating yours, you gag.