The family takes the pulpit: Billy Graham's children say their good-byes
A few years before World War II, a 13-year-old girl in China wrote a prayer for her future husband.
The girl was Ruth Bell, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, and her five children have often shared that poem with others. So that's what Virginia "Gigi" Graham did, once again, at the March 2 funeral of the man her mother married in 1943 – the Rev. Billy Graham.
"Dear God, I pray all unafraid/ as we're inclined to do.
"I do not want a handsome man/ But, oh God, let him be like you.
"I do not need one big and strong/ nor yet so very tall.
"Nor need he be a genius/ or wealthy, Lord, at all.
"But let his head be high, dear God/ and let his eye be clear,
"His shoulders straight, whate'er his fate/ whate'er his earthly sphere.
"And, oh God, let his face have character/ and a ruggedness of soul,
"And let his whole life show, dear God/ a singleness of goal.
"And when he comes/ as he will come,
"With those quiet eyes aglow/ I'll understand that he's the man,
"I prayed for long ago."
One by one, Billy and Ruth Graham's children – Gigi, Anne, Ruth, Franklin and Ned – took the pulpit in a 28,000-square-foot tent erected at the Billy Graham Library, in Charlotte, N.C. They praised their famous father, of course, but also their mother who died in 2007. The family's patriarch died with 19 grandchildren, 44 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren.
The Graham children shared memories, as well as gentle inside-the-family jabs. Gigi Graham stressed that, rather than being labeled the oldest child, she was the "one that daddy loved the longest." Noting that others spoke longer than their assigned three minutes, Ned Graham was very brief, stressing that his father was "faithful, available and teachable. I want each one of you to remember that. … May we all be that way."
Evangelist Anne Graham Lotz fought a crosswind in the pulpit that blew tissues from her hand. But she carried on – with a trumpet voice strikingly like her father's – describing how her mother taught her to read the Bible daily. Her father, when at home, led discussions that helped her think her way through the scriptures.
In recent years, the roles reversed. Lotz described sitting – knee-to-knee, with her father's weak hearing – reading and commenting on Bible passages for up to an hour, until his stamina began to fade.
"At first, it was very intimidating," she said, "and then it became such a joy. … He never took his eyes off my face. Once and awhile, he would interrupt me and he would ask a question and we would discuss it. But he loved to hear God's word."
Lotz said that she closed each Bible session with: "Daddy, I love you." So that's what she did at the funeral.
Ruth Graham described how she rushed into a quick second marriage – ignoring her parents' advice – that immediately crashed. After a long drive home, her father was waiting at the top of the family's winding driveway in the North Carolina mountains.
"What was I going to say to daddy? What was I going to say to mother? … You women will understand: You don't want to embarrass your father. You really don't want to embarrass Billy Graham," she said.
"As I got out of the car, he wrapped his arms around me. He said, 'Welcome home.' There was no shame. There was no blame. There was no condemnation, just unconditional love. And you know, my father was not God. But he showed me what God was like, that day."
As leader of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Franklin Graham spoke last. On this occasion he avoided political commentary, but stressing what he called the simple, blunt, politically incorrect message of his father: That salvation is found through Jesus, alone.
"The Billy Graham that the world saw on television, the Billy Graham that the world saw in the big stadiums, was the same Billy Graham that we saw at home," he stressed. "There weren't two Billy Grahams. …
"Daddy, I won't see you on this earth again, but I will see you again. I'll see you, maybe soon. But not yet."
FIRST IMAGE: From the website of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.