In the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me family members, friends and Christian leaders tell 101 stories about Billy Graham.
Bestselling author and speaker; founder and president of Ruth Graham Ministries, and daughter of Mr. Graham
I gave my heart to Christ at a young age as I knelt beside my bed with my mother asking Jesus to forgive me and come into my heart. It was a private moment. I had yet to make a public commitment, which Christ asks us to do.
My father’s affection and unconditional love for me was a bedrock for my childhood. Though often gone, I knew he loved me. That built my confidence like nothing else.
Perhaps, most significantly for me, when I was ten Daddy took me to a revival at a Baptist church in Florida, where our family was wintering that year. My father’s associate, Lee Fisher, was holding the revival in a nearby city, and Daddy attended in order to lend support. The sanctuary was small and we slipped into one of the pews in back so as not to attract too much attention.
Near the end of the service, Mr. Fisher (“Uncle Lee” as we called him) invited people who wished to make a public confession for Christ to come forward. The pianist was playing a hymn, and I remember feeling self-conscious standing at my seat. I wanted to go forward, but what would people think? I was already conspicuous in the little church -- despite his best efforts my father drew attention wherever he went -- and I did not want to make more of a scene by going to the altar. What if I embarrassed my father? I dreaded being noticed.
But whatever my fears, they passed quickly. The “yes” to go forward became stronger than the “no” holding me back. Overcoming the awkwardness, I walked to the front of the church and stood before Uncle Lee with my eyes shut tight and my head down. I could hear movement and the sound of footsteps -- other people coming forward. Then, suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I opened my eyes and recognized my father’s hand. He was standing with me in front of the congregation. The evangelist who had invited countless people around the world to commit their lives to Christ now stood with me, his daughter, as I responded and made that same public commitment.
My father’s support has never waned. After my marriage of twenty-one years ended, my family encouraged me to make a fresh start. Thinking I would be nearer my older sister and a good church to both minister and be minister to, I moved from rural Virginia to the downtown of a southern city. I was out of my comfort zone trying to rebuild my life.
Soon the pastor and my sister introduced me to a handsome widower. We began to date and he showered me with attention. I was even told he had made a commitment to Christ at one of my father’s crusades. He seemed tailor made for me but my children didn’t like him.
My family became concerned. My father called me from Tokyo to tell me to slow down. My mother called me from Seattle to suggest I wait. I thought they didn’t know what it was like to be divorced and a single mother. I thought I knew what was best for myself and after dating him for six months I married him on a New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t twenty-four hours before I knew I had made a huge mistake. After five weeks I became afraid of him and had to flee. What was I going to do? Where could I go?
I had to go home and face the music.
It was a two-day drive. My questions multiplied with each mile. What was I going to say to them? I feared I was the weak link in a godly heritage. Would they be disappointed in me? Embarrassed by me? Would they tell me that they warned me? That I had made my bed and now I had to lie in it? What was I going to say to my children? I had let them down. What kind of example had I been for them? How could they trust me again? How could I trust myself again after making such a terrible mistake?
As I rounded the last bend in my parents’ driveway, I saw my father standing there. I pulled my car to a stop and got out. As soon as I did, my father wrapped me in his arms and said, “Welcome home.”
There was no “I told you so,” no condemnation, no blame, just unconditional love. His grace changed my life and it informs my ministry today as I seek to pass that same godly grace on to those sitting in the pews with a broken heart -- those whose lives are in tatters because of their own choices or the choices of others.
This excerpt from "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me" is provided courtesy of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC, Copyright 2013.