On the Death of Ruth Bell Graham (1920-2007)

When I received word of her death, I took down an autographed copy of her Collected Poems, which lies on a special "fire shelf" in my living room (in the event of fire, the contents of this shelf will get snatched up as I exit the house, once my children and husband are safely outside). I treasure it because it reminds me of a singular experience, an afternoon spent in an unassuming cabin at the top of a winding, gated road in Montreat, North Carolina.

Mrs. Graham was considered by many the "first lady of Evangelical Protestantism." Almost sixty-four years ago she exchanged one holy passion — to be a missionary in China, as her parents had before her — for another: to be Billy's wife, and the mother of his children. This turned out to be a monumental undertaking, and in many ways her life might have been much easier if she had stuck with the original plan and wound up an "old maid missionary" serving in some backwater Chinese hospital.

However, "easy" was not something to which Ruth aspired. Neither was "glittering" or "world-famous" or "celebrated." Hers was an unmistakable presence of gracious warmth and sincerity. Sitting on the overstuffed sofas with Mrs. Graham and her daughter Gigi, it was easy to forget that I was sitting where the Grahams had entertained countless notables and celebrities from every walk of life. The carving on the fireplace mantle summed it up

perfectly: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." It was Ruth who had made that fortress home.

Today I imagine them all gathered together in that place, and my heart aches for them. As Ruth herself observed in her Collected Poems (p.179),

A house

is not the same

when she

who made it home

is gone;

it looks

as it has always


and yet


There is an emptiness


a silence

where her chuckle was.

From now on

it is me alone

who once was "us."

I was still a "single career woman" when I met Mrs. Graham — I married Craig almost exactly a year later, in 1999. Knowing what I know now about the challenges inherent to the vocation of motherhood, I can appreciate even more what a remarkable a woman she was, and how it took the steadfastness of a "missionary heart" to accomplish what she did. Her secret? She stayed as close as possible to the heart of God, drinking deeply of the Scriptures until her soul was fairly steeped in its revealed truth. And yet, somehow she didn't seem overly "religious." She was lively, she was adventurous, she was funny, she was warm … she knew God intimately, and that is what kept her centered in a world spinning dizzily off-course.

And so, today I want to remember this dear sister in Christ. May her judgment be merciful, and her reward great … and may the effects of the rivers of prayer that streamed from her while she was still on earth continue to touch those she left behind. How much more do they need those prayers now!

Grant eternal rest to her, O Lord,

may her soul fly to you unencumbered by sorrow, or regret, or fear.

May she see with uncompromised clarity

the fullness of your glory and the wideness of your mercy.

May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

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