It’s not easy to imagine life in America without Billy Graham. He served as a comforting blanket of trustworthiness and faith in the highest corridors of power and some of the least visible places on earth. He moved through doors freely and as long as he walked the planet we knew someone important must be encountering God in a potentially life changing way which would hopefully trickle down and impact all of us for the better. President Obama visited him in North Carolina only eight years ago, the last of our Presidents to actually see him. I never met him, but he changed my life.
While sitting on my Grandma’s gold velour sofa, eating a hot fudge sundae at the age of seven, I watched his crusade on t.v. Grandma always let me stay up later than my parents and never guilted me into thinking I watched too much t.v. Like parents today who admonish their kids for wasting precious time on video games, my parents did the same with t.v. But on that night, no time was wasted. Mr. Graham spelled it out so simply, “You are a sinner, but you don’t need to die a sinner. Come to Jesus and he will change your life.” He didn’t try to impress me with quotes from commentators or other erudite sources, just the gospel pure and simple. In listening to his message and watching the endless stream of people walking forward to “make a decision for Christ,” I knew I wanted that hope. I didn’t tell my Grandma or anyone else, but when she tucked me in and turned out the light on her rose colored nightstand I did as Mr. Graham said, I asked Jesus into my life. To this day I remember that feeling of security and peace, falling asleep new beneath Grandma’s starched white sheets.
About thirty years later I was on a call with an evangelist, John Guest and he asked me, “How did you come to faith?” I shared my story of Billy Graham and he startlingly said on the phone, “Let’s pray for Mr. Graham and your grandma right now and thank God for the way he used them in your life.” Never before had someone requested that we pray together on the phone. I felt shy and insecure doing it, but as the memory of that night came back accompanied by the smell of Grandma’s rose scented hand lotion and the rattling of her newspaper while I pretended to be asleep, my heart filled with gratitude. Millions came to faith or were exposed to the truth of the gospel through Billy Graham’s ministry and they are welcoming him into heaven today with a big crown and a choir singing something even better than Handel’s Messiah, but for me on that night in a single bed in River Forest, Illinois it was just me, Billy and Jesus.