I told my husband the other day that I didn't want to live to be old. I told him I thought the Lord would honor that prayer, and he said,

"What makes you think he'd make an exception for you?"

Ruth Bell Graham just turned 80 and she prayed the same prayer, more or less, when as a young girl she asked the Lord to let her die a martyr's death, preferably as an old-maid missionary in Tibet. Her life has been a testimony to that unanswered prayer. She never served in Tibet and didn't make it out of college without an engagement ring on her finger. She told me once that God entrusted her

"with the martyrdom of a long life."

Her back hurts a lot these days. That is because she fell several years ago testing a zip line that she and some of her grandchildren had jerry-built. She wanted to make sure it worked before they took their turns. It didn't. She's been feeling it ever since, and now suffers considerably from the pain of more than one hip-replacement surgery.

She probably isn't crawling through second-story windows anymore either, like she did the time she roused out of bed an unruly young Franklin when he thought he had outfoxed her by locking his door.

Her journal entry dated February 14, 1957, reads (in part): Four full-blooded little Grahams … They fight, they yell, they answer back. … [W]hen I [got] up at 6:15 so did Anne and Franklin, and they fought during the time I have with the Lord alone. … Grumbling, interrupting, slurring one another, impudent to me. So now they're off [to school], I'm in bed with my Bible thinking it through.

Whatever her thoughts were that day, she got through it, and the Lord evidently hearkened to her prayers. The "little Grahams" some 40 years thence are "off" again, this time with more sanctified dispositions. Franklin, none the worse for having once been consigned to the car trunk for tormenting his sisters en route from Montreat to town, has stepped into his father's shoes at crusades and oversees the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Ned inherited his mother's passion for China and manages a ministry that distributes Bibles there. Anne's preaching has no less fire and spellbinding force than her father's. And Bunny and Gigi serve actively in ministry and writing or speaking. Ruth's prayers during long hours alone in that house on the mountain with those five kids (without a husband) seem to have brought in a multiplied harvest—and that's not counting the added blessing of 19 grandchildren and "numerous" great-grandchildren.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

"You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody" (2 Corinthians 3:2).

Ruth Graham's life, aching back and all, is a letter crafted especially for people like me who dread the thought of growing old. It's got to hurt, bearing the physical repercussions of gutsy living while putting your own well-being on the line in deference to others. (Being in bed with a Bible was probably a good place to be sometimes.) Ruth Graham's 80 years provide a picture of the sweet sacrifice of the martyrdom of a long life. It is a letter that should be known and read by everybody.

Related Elsewhere

Ruth Bell Graham's Web site has information about her various books and projects, including an upcoming PBS special about her life.

Books by Ruth Graham include:
Mothers Together, One Wintry Night, Prayers from a Mother's Heart, Prodigals and Those Who Love Them, and Ruth Bell Graham's Collected Poems. Her biography, Ruth, a Portrait, is available from the CO Bookstore. She also writes a monthly column for Decision magazine.

In a Christian Reader article last fall, Robert Morgan wrote about " What Ruth Graham Taught Me About Prayer."

A recent issue of Christian History looked at the career of Ruth's famous husband, Billy Graham. The Billy Graham Training Center, the Billy Graham Institute of Evangelism, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and The Hour of Decision are all online.

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