Our family had gathered at our father's house in Montreat, North Carolina, responding to the word that Mother had been taken off life support. For weeks, Mother had clung to life. She seemed torn between wanting to remain here, with Daddy and the rest of the family, and wanting to be with Jesus. We all felt her struggle.
As her time to go home drew near, we gathered around her bed, singing and praying and reading Scripture. Daddy had excused himself for a brief rest. But as Mother's breathing became shallower, he returned to her side. She gazed in his direction, took two breaths, and entered into the presence of Jesus. Our tears that had been held in check for weeks flowed freely. Our sorrow and grief was, and still is, great.
But I couldn't help reflecting at that very moment that the only person my mother would leave my Daddy for was Jesus. If I could have seen the other side of the pearly gates when Mother entered, I have no doubt that I would have seen that celestial moment as my daughter Rachel-Ruth helped me to visualize it: millions of angels standing to applaud Jesus, giving him all the glory and praise for the life and the legacy of Ruth Bell Graham.
I have been asked what I will miss most about my mother. The answer is simple: Everything! My memories of Mother are many and varied.
Her sparkling eyes. If they were truly windows into her soul, they revealed someone who relished life. She was full of fun, opinions, and a zest for living that was evident until her last breath.
Her arms outstretched. Even her gestures conveyed the warmth of her welcome and her unconditional love, which she generously extended to each family member, and to an expansive circle of friendssinners and saints alike.
Her quips and quotes, such as:
"Anne, make the most of all that comes, and the least of all that goes."
"A good marriage is made up of two good forgivers."
"The most important quality in a husband is simple kindness."
"Every cat knows some things need to be covered."
"It takes two to fight."
"God called you not to make your husband good, but to make him happy."
"You can't teach your children to like spinach if every time they see you eating yours, you gag."
"You don't have to like worms to go fishing," (speaking of the music used to draw young people into my father's evangelistic meetings)
Her whimsical enjoyment of the ridiculous. Small stuffed hedgehogs that peeked out of the knots in the beams of the dining room (and were left in place even when the President of the United States came for lunch); an assortment of stuffed mice that lived between the railings of the steps going upstairs from her bedroom; little wooden mice that she pinned over a tear in her denim skirt to convey the impression that they had eaten a hole in the fabric; a sign, with large bones stacked below it, positioned beside the driveway to our home that said, "Trespassers will be eaten"; an old tree stump that still had the remaining stub of a branch, which she painted to look like the face of some old hag with no teeth.
While my vault of memories is full and causes me even now to smile through my tears, my mother's real legacy in my life runs very deep and wide. Two things stand out above everything else. The first is that Mother was in love with Jesusand that love was contagious. She wasn't caught up in religion or traditions or rituals or even a denomination, although she was staunchly Presbyterian and very proud of it. She was caught up in a personal relationship with Jesus. While it was a relationship that was very intimate and passionate, it was not rooted in her emotions or in her experiences; it was rooted in the truth of God's Word and in prayer, which is the second primary aspect of the legacy she left to me.
Mother loved her Bible. Growing up, my bedroom was situated directly over hers. It didn't matter what time I went to bed at nightI could see the light from her window reflected on the trees outside, and I knew she was up. If I slipped down to her room, I would find her on her knees in prayer beside her bed. Regardless of what time I got up in the morning, I would find her at her big flattop desk, reading her Bible.
For the past few years, macular degeneration had robbed her of her ability to read her Bible. But she instructed her assistant to print out the Psalms in one-inch letters, then assemble them in large black notebooks that she kept by her bed. Because of the size of the print, she was only able to read a few words on a page, but she still worked hard at capturing the verses in her memory. I can still vividly see her in my mind's eye, sitting up in bed with her white cotton gown billowing out around her, her pearls draped elegantly around her neck, her white hair like an angelic halo about her head, her black notebooks spread out before her, as she animatedly explained some treasured insight she had just been meditating on. One verse she quoted frequently and seemed to cling to was Psalm 119:90: "Your faithfulness continues through all generations."
Mother developed her relationship with Jesus over a lifetime. She literally spent hours reading and studying her Bibleshe had as many as 19 Bible translations that she read comparatively. She didn't teach me the information of the Bible as much as she taught me about the Author. She impressed on me that the Bible is God's Word to me. She showed me how to put my name into the Scripture to make it more personal. The first verse I can remember that she helped me to personalize was one she had personalized for herself as a young girl, Isaiah 53:5: "He was pierced for Anne's transgressions, he was crushed for Anne's iniquities; the punishment that brought Anne peace was upon him, and by his wounds Anne is healed."
Mother spent hours on her knees in prayer. She taught me to pray expectantly. From the time I was young she taught me to keep my prayer requests in a journal, leaving a space underneath each one so that I would have room to record the date it was answered. Even now I can quote the words of an old hymn she wrote into the flyleaf of one of my first Bibles:
Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring,
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.
By her very example, Mother taught me that Jesus is everything. He was the wellspring of her love and joy and peace that overflowed into our home. His presence was enough to ease the pain of her loneliness without Daddy. His power was enough to get her through the day, for all practical purposes, as a single parent not just somehow, but triumphantly, with her sense of humor intact.
I have no doubt that the reason I love Jesus and my Bible is because she did, and she planted those seeds in my heart long ago. Her legacy in my life could be summarized by one word: Jesus. And so I ask myself, What will be the legacy that I leave behind? With all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength, I have recommitted my life to leaving behind that same Legacy.
Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Anne Graham Lotz's sister, Ruth Graham, also wrote about their mother's legacy.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has a memorial site for Ruth. The press release above is from A. Larry Ross and Associates, Billy's longtime personal publicist and spokesman, has photos, video, and more information.
Christianity Today articles by and about Ruth Bell Graham include:
Mrs. Graham's Grit | Three cheers for incompatibility. (August 1, 2007)
"The Epitome of a Christian Woman" | A longtime friend of Ruth Graham says this woman of great faith also missed her husband deeply. (June 20, 2007)
A Living Birthday Letter | Ruth Graham's life is a letter crafted especially for people like me who dread the thought of growing old. (Wendy Murray Zoba, June 12, 2000)
What Ruth Graham Taught Me About Prayer | A powerful way to make God's words your own. (Today's Christian, July/August 1999)
Moved into the Presence of God | Ruth Graham tells what book has influenced her the most. (September 2, 1983)
Afraid of the Right Things | One fear puts all others in proper perspective. (March 4, 1983)
Love Coversor Discovers? | Every cat knows some things need to be buried. (Ruth Bell Graham, May 21, 1982)
Putting Pressure in Its Place | Ruth Bell Graham on the purpose of stress. (May 8, 1981)
RuthBellGraham.com expired in 2005 and is now a cybersquatter's site, but its content is still available at the Internet Archive.
Obituaries on Ruth Bell Graham include those from the Associated Press, Asheville Citizen-Times, Charlotte Observer, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, News14 Charlotte, and other sources.