Millions saw the Rev. Billy Graham preach from the pulpit — that’s their story with the beloved preacher. But his children have their own stories, too.
During Billy Graham’s funeral on Friday, the late Baptist minister’s youngest daughter, Ruth, shared her own stirring story of her dad’s unconditional love and forgiveness, and how it pointed her toward God.
After going through a messy divorce, Ruth Graham said she decided to move away for a fresh start somewhere else. She moved closer to one of her sisters and started attending a local church.
Soon thereafter, she met a widower, and they started dating “fast and furiously.” Her children didn’t like him, and her parents thought the relationship was moving too fast, but that didn’t stop her.
Ruth Graham ignored her family and married the man.
“So being stubborn, willful, and sinful, I married this man on New Year’s Eve, and within 24 hours, I knew I’d made a terrible mistake,” she told those gathered for her father’s funeral on Friday.
It only lasted a few weeks. Ruth Graham said she quickly fled her new husband because she feared him. During her two-day drive home to see her parents, she said her mind “swirled” with questions, wondering how to break the news to her famous father.
“You don’t want to embarrass your father,” she quipped. “You really don’t want to embarrass Billy Graham.”
But rather than lecture her or tell her, “I told you so,” Ruth Graham said her evangelist father immediately showed her the unconditional love God promises throughout Scripture. She was immediately welcomed home:
“My father was standing there waiting for me. As I got out of the car, he wrapped his arms around me and he said, ‘Welcome home.’ There was no shame, there was no blame, there was no condemnation, just unconditional love.
My father was not God, but he showed me what God was like that day. When we come to God with our sin, our brokenness, our failure, our pain, and our hurt, God says, ‘Welcome home.'”
Ruth Graham’s story is reminiscent of the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. In the passage, Jesus tells his disciples about two sons, the younger of whom squanders his inheritance and fears his father’s rejection when he comes home begging for a job.
But instead of rebuking him, the father welcomes his wayward son with open arms, celebrating his return.
Billy Graham passed away on Feb. 21. This week, his body laid in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda before returning to Charlotte, North Carolina, on Thursday for his funeral on Friday.