Some 2,000 people gathered in a large white tent in Charlotte, North Carolina on Friday for a private funeral honoring Rev. Billy Graham, who died on February 21 at the age of 99. After being honored this week in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, the service took place outside the Billy Graham Library and included remarks by several of the late evangelist’s children. His youngest daughter, Ruth, brought many in attendance to tears when she shared a stirring story of her father’s unconditional love and forgiveness.
Throughout his decades of ministry, Graham touched the lives of millions around the globe, and Ruth said that she has been touched by all the stories and remembrances people have shared with her these last couple of weeks. Speaking from the stage, she told gatherers that it was her turn to share a Billy Graham story that “speaks to the essence” of who her father was.
After 21 years of marriage, Ruth went through a messy divorce from the father of her children and was left “floundering.” Admitting she “did a lot wrong,” Ruth moved away, at the encouragement of her family, for a fresh start. She settled near one of her sisters and started attending a local church where she was introduced a widower.
As she explained it, the two started dating “fast and furiously,” and it didn’t take long for her parents, her children, and those who knew her best to start expressing their concerns. Worried the relationship was moving too fast, Ruth said her father and mother both asked her to slow down, but she scoffed at the suggestion. “What did they know,” she thought.
Describing herself as “stubborn,” “willful,” and “sinful,” Ruth ignored her family’s concerns and married the name on New Year’s Eve. “Within 24 hours,” she said, “I knew I’d made a terrible mistake.”
Five weeks later, she fled the marriage fearing for her safety and began a two-day trek back to her parent’s home. She recalled how questions “swirled” in her mind as she thought about what her father would say to her.
“You don’t want to embarrass your father,” Ruth quipped. “You really don’t want to embarrass Billy Graham.”
When Ruth finally made her way up the mountain to her parent’s home, she found her father waiting in the driveway with his arms wide open. She tearfully told attendees of the incredible mercy he showed her:
“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.'”
It was that display of grace that reminded Ruth of the healing power of God’s love, and before leaving the stage, she reminded all those in attendance that the same “invitation is open for you,” should you choose to seek forgiveness.