On the day I am writing this post, Billy Graham recently passed away at the age of 99. The tributes to him are numerous and, as a long time admirer of Rev. Graham and his unique brand of religion, including promoting Christianity to the masses, I thought it would be a good idea to add a personal note to these public accolades. As everyone who knows me well is aware, my late Mother was a highly religious person who instilled a strong value system in her youngest child, me. Mom hosted neighborhood Bible studies every week in our home and all the nearby children were invited to attend. Mom rarely missed attending Sunday school, church on both Sunday morning and evening, and Wednesday night church services. Most of her life’s activities were centered on church and other religious pursuits. Needless to say, Mom adored Billy Graham. When his national crusades were on TV, there was nothing that prevented her from watching them, not to mention nothing that prevented her from requiring me to watch them alongside her. I grew up with Billy Graham on TV, Billy Graham newsletters delivered to our house in the mail, and George Beverly Shea singing “How Great Thou Art” on Mom’s record player (as turntables were then known). Although I was never a part of the church scene as much as Mom would have liked, I always admired and respected Billy Graham. For a preacher, he seemed pretty cool! It was with much delight that, in 2000, David and I were able to make one of Mom’s dreams come true. Thanks to David’s dad, “my Herman,” we obtained tickets (for a luxury corporate box!) to see a Billy Graham crusade in Jacksonville. Mom was beside herself with joy and it thrilled me to be able to do something that made her so happy. The icing on the cake was our arrival at the stadium at exactly the same time as Rev. Graham and his entourage arrived. Upon realizing who we were seeing arrive with a police escort, we hurried to the area where Billy Graham would be exiting from the car in which he arrived. Mom, who was 84 years young at that time, jumped for joy when she saw her favorite preacher step out of the car. She clapped her hands with glee, shouted, waved, and, in general, reminded me of a groupie at a Rolling Stones concert who had just seen Mick Jagger! What a memory! RIP, Rev. Billy Graham. Thanks for bringing joy to so many people in your 99 years on Earth.
I smile with the memory of Leola, so giddy with excitement, at seeing Billy Graham. I realize that no one is perfect, and Rev. Graham would probably say that before anyone else would, but is refreshing in today’s world to consider someone who did such good in the world, without a major controversy. Even his progeny cannot live up to that standard. Unlike many evangelists who followed in his footsteps, he did not seem to seek glory for himself. Though enriched by his ministry, he did not seem to strut in the manner that caused many others to “fall from glory.” I have read many of the tributes and stories about his life which followed his death and was struck by the account by George W. Bush (aka 43) of how Billy Graham impacted his life. Part of the story included a recounting of a conversation Mr. Bush was having with his mother at a time when she was first lady. They were debating an issue common in the evangelical Christian world regarding whether heaven is only reserved for Christians. The debate includes the question of whether heaven is also for non Christians, such as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or even those who have never heard of religion. So, given the power of the White House switchboard, they placed a call to Rev. Graham about 9:00 one night. He answered and discussed the question with them, and essentially stated that he knew what he believed from the New Testament, that is, how he would live his life and what he would tell his “flock.” But, beyond that, he said it was up to God to decide the answer to the debated question – not to him. Knowing one’s limits is good in many ways and this extreme example should be a welcome reminder that we don’t have to do more than live our lives, without interfering with the lives of others.