Billy Graham helped change my life

Everybody has a Billy Graham story. This is mine.

I was in a hurry. I had just finished a wedding and pulled on to U.S. 321 from Dallas headed to Belmont for an urgent meeting. The traffic was creeping. I noticed that highway patrolmen were posted by the road every quarter of a mile. I was frustrated. I followed the slow-moving traffic on to Interstate 85. My business on this Saturday in June of 2007 was pressing but the traffic crept along all the way to Belmont. It was only when I arrived at my destination did I learn that I had been a part of the funeral cortege of Ruth Graham. I had been too preoccupied to notice how honored I should have felt to be in such a procession.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, I was ready. Poised and mindful on the bridge at Exit 22 over Interstate 85, I craned my neck among those gathered to pay tribute to the family of Billy Graham as they passed by our location. As far as I could see in the distance both north toward Gastonia and south toward Belmont, I could see firetrucks, emergency medical service vehicles, highway patrolmen, and various other branches of law enforcement along with people. Civilians like me wanted to pay their respects to the one who once, upon being posed the question to his vocation on the witness stand in a legal case, said, “I preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world.”

I felt as if this were a procession not just for president but a king. Indeed, to me this was a procession more important than any state funeral for any president or king that I have ever witnessed in my lifetime. Quite simply, I believe there was no single individual in the world in the last century who has more of positive effect on the world than Billy Graham. In essence, this was a procession for a king, the King of Kings, to whom this son of North Carolina had borne witness all of his life. I thought about what Billy would have said at this display of affection. For him, life was all about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. For him, it was about the cross and the salvation offered to all people through the sacrificial death of Jesus and his subsequent Resurrection that literally changed the world.

I glanced at the people around me. All of them have a Billy Graham story that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. I have my own story. In the aftermath of my father’s death when I was 8 years old, I attended a Billy Graham Crusade. It was held in a stadium right across from the cemetery where my father and brother were buried. On that night, I heard a preacher share the good news again. I was sent follow-up materials (“some literature” as Billy would put it) that seemed to be addressed to me by a spiritual father still alive on this earth. Billy was like God’s reminder to me that my heavenly Father had not left me alone. We lived with family who cared for us in the aftermath of our tragedy. My grandfather and uncles helped me, but it was because Billy Graham still lived that I felt some of the presence of my now-departed earthly father. I know it sounds strange, but it was oh so true for me. What is your Billy Graham story? Tell it to someone and find your own heart lifted.

A note in closing. Several years ago, my wife Andrea and I attended a service at Calvary Church in Charlotte where Billy Graham’s family has been involved for a long time. After the service was over and Billy headed back to the atrium of the church with the other Calvary pastors, Andrea whispered in my ear, “I want to meet him.” I said, “Go for it.” She quickly got up and moved down the aisle to catch him before the crowd left and/or before he was whisked away. Andrea is not usually this impulsive so I was a little bit surprised. I caught up with her shortly thereafter and she was beaming with joy. “I met him!” she exclaimed. “I touched his arm and he was so nice.”

On Saturday, I made an appointment to be on the bridge with others to honor Billy’s life in service to the King of all kings. I slowed down long enough to be mindful of the moment and the memory as this family followed in pristine procession. In the end, we all touched him or were touched by him in some way.

Slow down. Take time. You may discover like me that by the time you get to where you are in a such hurry to make arrival, it will be just fine.


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