Ruth Bell Graham

On my “mentors” shelf sit books by Edith Schaeffer, Ann Ortlund, Gail MacDonald, Elisabeth Elliot, and Ruth Graham. I never met Ruth Bell Graham in person. But I spent time with her through her writing. She expressed a winsome, seemingly uninhibited breadth of personality and emotion—from impertinent to pensive.

Many Advent seasons, I read aloud to my children The Christmas Story (now revised and retitled, One Wintry Night). We returned to it again and again because it tells the whole Christmas story, beginning with “In the beginning.”

When I heard of Ruth Graham’s death, I pulled from that shelf her Collected Poems: Footprints of a Pilgrim. Among the many flagged pages, I found three for today.

Ruth Graham’s calling was to her husband and children. Her life was shaped in large part by the publicness of Billy Graham’s life and the challenges of raising children and keeping love warm while he was so much on the road. In this poem I hear a young Ruth preaching to herself when she’s about to say another goodby to her beloved (p. 90):

without clinging;
if you must—
but privately cry;
the heart will adjust
to the newness of loving
in practical ways:
and cooking
and sorting out clothes,
all say, “I love you,”
when lovingly done.

without clinging;
if you must—
but privately cry;
the heart will adjust
to the length of his stride,
the song he is singing,
the trail he must ride,
the tensions that make him
the man that he is,
the world he must face,
the life that is his.

without clinging;
if you must—
but privately cry;
the heart will adjust
to being the heart,
not the forefront of life;
a part of himself,
not the object—
his wife.


Dr. Graham and their children, children-in-law, and grandchildren today are experiencing what Mrs. Graham wrote once about another house and another person (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 pray God will bless the Graham family and that they might find the same comfort she did after the death of someone close (p. 268):

. . . flowers brought
a flood of memories
with which
my life is full.
Because of her
I’m rich.

I thank God for the life of Ruth Bell Graham.

Noël Piper (@noelpiper) is wife of John Piper, mother of five, and grandmother of twelve. She is author of Treasuring God in Our Traditions.