'No Life Is a Mistake'
Ruth Graham on her daughter's unplanned pregnancy, adoption, and why there's room for improvement in the church.
BY: Interview by Deborah Caldwell
The third daughter of the famous televangelist Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, Ruth is the head of the Ruth Graham Ministries. She has three children of her own and is a published author of numerous books. Her most recent book is "A Legacy of Love: Things I Learned From My Mother."
You mention throughout the book that Windsor's father left the marriage and that you got a divorce when she was a girl. You wrote that you felt that contributed to her need for love.
Yes, my husband was involved in extra-marital affairs for a number of years when she was a little girl.
How old was she when you divorced him?
She was 13. We had been separated for three or four years before that. And he was involved in the extra-marital affairs when she was a baby, so he was not very present to us at that time. He died in 1997.
What impact did those losses have on her?
I do not think we can underestimate the role of a father in his children's lives, especially little girls. I think the father is really the one who gives the little girl her sense of self and her sense of confidence and self-assurance and love and beauty. And when that's not there, she's going to find it somewhere--a little girl wants affection. And she's going to go find that affection somewhere. And if a father doesn't do that, then more than likely some boyfriend is going to show her.
She did go live with him for about six months after she'd had the second baby, and I think that brought some healing, which was a real blessing.
What was your experience with the church during this period?
I think the church is learning. I think when this happened to us, this was--and to some extent still is--something that the church doesn't know how to deal with, doesn't want to deal with, doesn't want to even admit happens. And when it did happen to us and we sought out counsel, some were very helpful and some were not. And I think very often we want our theology to be tidy and neat. An unplanned pregnancy doesn't allow for tidiness.
Do you think that's specifically true of evangelicals or do you think of all Christians?
I don't know that I can speak for all evangelicals or all Christians. I know that it happened in our experience, and at the time I was going to an evangelical church. They labeled her as rebellious, and I did not think she was rebellious. I thought she was just desperately hurt and looking for love in the all the wrong places.
It was tough to go through, but I felt, too, that I handled it wrong at times...I think I was trying more to please the elders of the church than I was looking out for my child. And I wanted the theology to fit and I wanted to make sure I did everything by the rules.
When you say you wanted a theology to fit, what do you mean?
We were talking about sin and repentance and we were doing everything just the right way. The acknowledgement of sin, the confession of sin, then the restoration and then we were going to watch to see that this was taking place in the right fashion and the right steps...and it doesn't happen that way necessarily. Life is messy. And emotions are running high and topsy-turvy. It's a tough thing to go through. And some do better than others. And I think that the young girls who go through this who have goals and have plans, they do better than young women who don't have goals and plans. And Windsor was just one of those who didn't have (plans). I mean her goal was to get married, and she believed these young men that they wanted to marry her and live happily ever after. And of course, that didn't happen.
Do you have a message for the church about behaving better?
I would have a message to the church concerning anybody who is wounded. And the message that I want to give the church, and I do think that the church is getting better, is that we learn to accept--not condone, there's a fine line--those who have fallen, those that have shown their sin. And we sit in church, and I think sometimes when we get to church, we think that all the sinners are on the outside. And we wear these masks and everything's perfect and we're victorious and we've got it all together. And we sit there with our self-righteousness and pride. When a little girl comes along and sits besides us in the pew with her tummy pouching out, we can look askance at her.
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