A Great Woman of God

My heart is heavy as I heard the news of the 'homegoing' of a great woman of God today-Ruth Bell Graham. For those of you who have not been blessed to read her writing or poetry or hear the testimony of her faithful life, Ruth is the wife of world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham.

In my late 20's, while plundering through odds and ends at a Goodwill store with my mom, I came across some books by Ruth, and thought she might be someone who would have something worthwhile to say. I bought one book, "Legacy of a Pack Rat," and took it home to read. I found myself, over the next few days, nudging Chris late at night and reading entire passages aloud to him from her book. Over the next couple of years I devoured anything and everything I could get my hands on that were written by or about her. I was drawn to her easy writing style, her humour, and her honesty in recounting the struggles of raising her children, so often without the influence of their father. Chris was on the road a lot at this time, ministering as an evangelist, and I remember thinking, "Well, the work of raising her five virtually by herself was probably comparable to the work of taking care of my Nathan, with his myriad of disabilities."

Later on, after reading all of her prose, I discovered her poetry. Never one to be especially fond of the medium, Ruth's poetry moved me deeply. It is often simple, capturing her deep love of nature or the day-to-day life of loving God and family. In my struggle with anxiety, I will often pull my volume of her poetry off my shelf and read a little-it never fails to bring me peace.

In the article about her death, her local pastor, Rev. Richard White, was quoted as saying, "She had the ability to move among presidents and leaders, but then turn right around and clean the oven of a widow." Ruth was always real, and I believe that she was Billy's anchor as God used him on the world stage to bring the gospel to millions. She shared in her writings that Billy would drift into areas of politics that she thought he ought not to move into, and she never hesitated to tell him so.

In this day and age, I am constantly disgusted by big-time ministers or pastors whose ministries become huge and then they leave behind chasing the kingdom to chase the world's standard of success. You know the ones I mean-the ones who live in multi-million dollar condos in Trump tower, or will only stay in six-diamond hotels if they take a speaking engagement. If anyone could have let kingdom success go to his head and make him earthly-minded, it was Billy Graham. Who else has, for generations, been called 'America's pastor'? But Ruth was always there for him to come home to, after rubbing elbows with the movers and shakers or sunburned from the media glare he attracted, full of gentle wisdom and practical sense in their humble cabin far up in the mountains of North Carolina that she built herself. Who knows where he might have wandered if not for the anchor of her candor and utter lack of pretense.

Now that I am a full-time pastor's wife, Ruth serves as a shining example of what I hope to be for my husband-a refuge, an anchor, a faithful steward of his home. Her motherhood and the results of it-five grown children faithfully serving God-serve as an example of what I hope to be as a mother. And her diligent, expository study of God's word and faithful struggle to put it into work in her daily life serve as an example of what it means to be a true disciple of this faith that I hold so dear.

By the way, that day in the Goodwill store there were several of Ruth's books on the bookshelf, but I only picked one to buy because I wasn't sure if I would like her work. In my subsequent collection of her writing, I have been eluded by one particular title which has long been out of print-a book called "Sitting By My Laughing Fire." I have kicked myself for the better part of a decade for not buying every single one of those books when I had the chance that day! (I know I can buy it on amazon, but I am just waiting for the happy day when God lets me come across it sitting on some used bookstore or antique store shelf! It has become my 'holy grail' of books, and I refuse to take the easy way out in finding it!!)

Ruth's degenerative arthritis was the result of an accident in which she fell out of a tree while helping her grandchildren to repair a swing. (No measly tree could stand in the way of this little powerhouse of a woman doing what her loved ones needed doing!) Now that she has finally been given a new body, one free of the pain that had crippled her in the last years of her life, I can just imagine her up there, climbing the tree of life and shaking down fruit for everyone. If there has ever been a person to whom I could easily iimagine God saying, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant," it is Ruth Bell Graham.

PS-Here are two of my favorite Ruth quotes, to reward you for reading through this long post. When asked about her views on marriage, Ruth said two very profound things: "If the two of you agree on everything, one of you is unnecessary" and to the question about whether she had ever considered divorce, "Divorce no, murder yes!"


Juloyes said...

I can't believe I hadn't heard about this yet! Thanks for sharing such a beautiful post.

blackpurl said...

Thank you for sharing this... it is so beautiful. I cried when I heard about her death. One reporter described her as a major support to her husband. I pray that will be said about me someday.

Thanks again.


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