Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ruth Graham - I love strong women!

It was so very good of God
to let my dreams come true,
to note a young girl's cherished hopes,
then lead her right to you;
so good of Him to take such care
in little, detailed parts
(He knows how much details mean
to young and wishful hearts);
so good of Him to let you be
tall and slender, too,
with waving hair more blond than brown
and eyes of steel blue.


The poem above is by Ruth Graham about her husband, Billy Graham. I've been reading Just As I Am, Billy's auto-biography. I'm skimming it now, but I drank in and laughed through the entire section on his meeting and marrying Ruth Graham. She's a bit of a heroine of mine, and I suppose he is too. I wasn't ever in circles that talked about Billy Graham a lot, I just knew he was a big name and had an impression of his revivals perhaps giving a bit of a simplistic view of lifelong discipleship.

But really, he is exceptional. His revivals would go over like a lead balloon with me and many of my generation, but revivals spoke powerfully in his generation. There were a great many revivalists and speakers in that generation, but he alone is the one that kept going, year after year, keeping only a basic salary and not profiting off of his fame, and keeping a rigid moral code to protect his marriage. So many men went down in waves of public shame after being caught in infidelity or siphoning money for personal extravagance.

So, I have had this respect for him because he seems to have been so humble and faithful to his wife and to the simplicity of the gospel. In an age of evangelical fundamentalism and anti-intellectualism, he determinedly worked across denominations and with Catholics (which made him unacceptable to fundamentalists), and his autobiography shows his frustration with fundamentalism's legalism. He was the spiritual advisor for multiple Presidents regardless of political affiliation, always guiding their souls with respect and refusing to report to the press on their conversations. And when his daughter's second marriage fell apart publicly with great shame, she tells of driving home and finding him waiting for her with flowers and love. I feel like he exemplified grace and truth.

One reason I have deep respect for Billy is that he married a strong woman. I think truly strong men only marry strong women - they need a match to their strength, not someone to passively fall in line. Ruth Graham was a strong woman. Perhaps I relate to her some because she was a missionary kid. She grew up in China and went to high school in what is now North Korea. When Billy met her as a Junior at Wheaton, she was vivacious, popular, beautiful, and planning to go to Mongolia.

Billy's words just crack me up, "Dating Ruth Bell I had to be creative." Theirs is a classic falling-in-love story, where she came back from their first date and prayed he was the one. What I love is that the story of their relationship is so normal and filled with struggles. "We had lots of discussions about our relationship. I wouldn't call them arguments exactly, but we certainly did not see eye to eye."

I absolutely love that Ruth was a committed Presbyterian that was completely convinced of the theological backing of her position, and so while Billy was an ordained Baptist minister, she stuck to her guns....her entire life! She stayed a Presbyterian and was a member at the local Presbyterian church while Billy was globetrotting as the most famous Baptist around. She said, "If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary." I love that about her. Ruth wrote to her parents while they were dating, "We've both got such strong wills or minds or something, I almost despaired of ever having things go peacefully between us, but I wouldn't want him any other way, and I can't be any other way. But you know, it's remarkable how two strong minds (or wills) like that can gradually begin to sort of fuse together. Or maybe we're learning to give in and don't realize it."

The road to marriage was rocky. Ruth was still headed towards Mongolia and Billy was increasingly headed towards the pastorate. He proposed and she strung him on as she struggled with the options. It was months before she wrote him a letter over summer break saying yes. She almost broke it off in the middle of the next year before they married the following summer. And though obviously they were deeply smitten, it cracks me up that their first kiss was retold like this: "I thought it was romantic, but she thought, or so she told me later, that I was going to swallow her."

Ruth obviously had a fantastic sense of humor, and Billy's writing is filled with several of her quips back at him in several situations, and even major pranks she played. For years I've had a little booklet of her poetry, but this poem makes more sense now that I've read Billy's autobiography. When he was in school in Florida (pre-Wheaton and Ruth) he fell in love and got engaged to an allegedly amazing young woman. She later dumped him for his friend, and that caused the internal crisis that led to Billy becoming a preacher. Well, I was just intrigued that Billy Graham got dumped by a girl, so I looked her up and saw that this Emily had indeed married his buddy Charles, and that he'd been a military chaplain and then a preacher in Florida until they both passed away. Well, this poem by Ruth makes sense now, and just cracks me up.

The night Bill told me
he loved me,
what did he discuss?
Us?
No.
Emily!
Beautiful.
Sweet.
Talented.
Spiritual.
(And second cousin to Herbert Hoover!)
I got madder,
(not sadder)
just madder and madder,
till blam!
with a slam
we rammed
into a truck
(what luck!).
(He was so busy looking
back he couldn't see where
he was going. There's a
moral here, but we won't belabor it.)
Still,
there were no quarrels
thanks to Charles!

I met her
years later
and knew
I would
hate her:
I hoped,
without praying
(that goes
without saying),
but I hoped
(how I hoped!)
by now
she'd become
fat and dumb.

Well?
She was a doll!
What's more,
after all,
I liked her!
She'd earned all those laurels.
Still,
Thank thank you, Charles!

Thus
by the happy twists
of life
folks pair off
as man and wife,
and children come
to bless each home:

This is the moral
of my ode
(if this is an ode,
and if odes have morals):
Thank you, Charles

And so she's obviously a strong, quick-witted woman who almost single-handedly raised their children and was involved in several different facets of ministry. She's also so tender. The reality of their marriage, in which he was gone for months at a time and probably a work-a-holic, must have set in quickly. I imagine resentment at it not being what she signed up for when she thought she was marrying a pastor who might become a missionary. And yet Billy's book is filled with periods of him wrestling over an issue and Ruth giving her input/strong opinion and helping him move forward wisely. I love that. Billy told of the sweetness of their marriage in her last years, and I bet it was such relief to settle from their years of work into daily life together in the mountains.

I'll close with one last poem by Ruth:

Train our love
that it may grow
slowly... deeply... steadily;
till our hearts will overflow
unrestrained and readily.

Discipline it, too,
dear God;
strength of steel
throughout the whole.
Teach us patience, thoughtfulness,
tenderness, and
self-control.

Deepen it
throughout the years,
age and mellow it
until, time that finds us
old without,
within,
will find us lovers still.

4 comments:

william and brittany said...

Kacie! This was such a fun read. Thank you for sharing!

Lisa said...

Six years ago I read every book I could get my hands on by or about Ruth bell graham....a beautiful woman indeed. Her poetry is amazing.

Sarah Bessey said...

Such a lovely tribute!

Renee said...

Love this! Your post makes me want to read all about Ruth Bell Graham. So glad I stopped in from Sarah Bessey's synchroblog. Blessings!