William Franklin Graham Jr. passed unto glory on February 21, 2018 at the ripe age of 99. Today I write a tribute as lessons to learn from the glorious life of an icon of faith and service to humanity.
On Sunday, February 16, 1997, I began my pilgrimage of change and I believe it is a pilgrimage of a lifetime. Before then I had experienced erased childhood and my erased childhood, of necessity birthed empty adulthood.
One of the most profound lessons of my change pilgrimage to date is that socialization is superior to psychology. I found that we are always as strong or weak as our upbringing. Everybody is a product of his/her childhood. It takes God and God alone to help restore to meaningful adulthood, erased childhood.
The foregoing lesson drives me almost uncontrollably to collect and read biographies of both heroes and villains. I am an addicted collector of biographies and I think I am paying my dues in devouring many of the ones I have collected. My first interest in biographies is the making of the person, whose life it conveys and the lesson I can learn therefrom.
Few years ago, as a wedding gift, a couple gifted my wife and I, Billy Graham’s autobiography, ‘JUST AS I AM.’ It is a massive piece of work, where he shared about life, family, childhood, private life, ministries and many other matters of interest to him.
The autobiography is of many pages expectedly, but that was not any discouragement for me to begin to devour it. While others may see many pages of a book, I saw many layers of priceless treasures coming to me as one-stop compendium of living wisdom. Pronto, I dived into the material and of a truth, it was a bountiful harvest of invaluable treasures. I have in the last eleven years kept them safely for personal instructions and teaching materials for many.
As this icon of faith and service to humanity passes into God’s glory, I feel there is no better way to pay a tribute to him than to share with us priceless lessons from his glorious legacy. What is Billy Graham’s legacy? He summed it up thus, ‘the greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.’
Reading, his autobiography, I can categorically say to you that Billy Graham was a priceless gift from God, deposited into a balanced Christian home and presented by that home as an invaluable blessing to the world. It is my belief that God does not give a child to the world. He gives children to families. Families present the children to the world as a gift or menace, depending their stability or instability. The foundation of Billy Graham’s legacy that we all celebrate today was laid in a functional Christian home. His parents deliberately sowed the seed of greatness, which became a mighty forest from which his world, beginning from his immediate family came to take fortified refuge.
Billy Graham shared with us the foundation of his faith in these words: ‘when they (my parents) read the family Bible in our home, they were not simply going through a pious ritual. Mother told us that they had established a family altar with daily Bible reading the very first day they were married. They accepted that book as the very Word of God, seeking and getting heavenly help to keep the family together.
He concluded thus, every time my mother prayed with one of us, and every time my parents prayed for their sons and daughters, they were declaring their dependence on God for the wisdom and strength and courage to stay in control of life, no matter what circumstances might bring. Beyond that, they prayed for their children, that they might come into the kingdom of God.’
He further shared in his autobiography the role his parents play in building deliberately mental and spiritual capacity: ‘at home, from my earliest years, Mother encouraged me in the habit of reading. The exploits of Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest entranced me. I read the whole Tom Swift series, and the Rover Boys. Among my favorite adventure reading were the Tarzan books; they came out every few months. I could hardly wait for the next one to be issued, and my mother would always buy it for me…’
He continues, ‘Mother saw to it that there was more serious reading too. Before I was ten, she had made me memorize the Westminster [Presbyterian] Shorter Catechism. Once I was visiting an aunt who ordered us to spend sometime reading the Bible. In about ten minutes, I went back to her and boasted, “I just read a whole book in the Bible.” She thought I was a remarkable boy. [I had discovered the epistle of Jude, the shortest book in the New Testament. One page! Mother also prodded me to read The Book of Knowledge, an encyclopedia.’
He shared about the balanced relationship between him and his parents in many pages of the autobiography and how his parents helped him to develop independent of thoughts and gaining sense of responsibility from youth. Permit me to share with you some incisive extracts. He revealed, ‘while my parents were swift to punish when punishment was deserved, they did not overload me with arbitrary regulations that were impossible to respect. In fact, they were open. My parents never once told me to be in a certain time when I went out on a Friday or Saturday night date. I knew that I had to be up by three in the morning and that if I stayed out past midnight I would get only a couple of hours of sleep.’
Billy revealed to us that child discipline begins with teaching and not abuse. He debunked the popular belief that there is a thin line between child discipline and abuse. It is unfortunate that many have hidden under this unfounded but popular saying that there is a thin line between child discipline and abuse to perpetrate untold damage again the child physically and emotionally. Yet there is no thin line. Discipline and abuse are far poles apart, but many, who are untrained confuse the two and perpetuate the evil of child abuse in the name of child discipline. It is my humble opinion that as water and oil do not mix, so ABUSE and DISCIPLINE do not meet. I found comforting corroboration in the words of Billy Graham thus: ‘in all the strictness of my upbringing, there was no hint of child abuse.’ He further shed light on how the parents instilled discipline by communicating value, ‘I learned to obey without questioning. Lying, cheating, stealing, and property destruction were foreign to me. I was taught that laziness was one of the worst evils, and that there was dignity and honor in labor. I could abandon myself enthusiastically to milking the cows, cleaning out the latrines, and shovelling manure, not because they were pleasant jobs, certainly, but because sweaty labor held its own satisfaction.’
Billy Graham did not come from a perfect home. The truth of the matter is that no such home exists in our world today. He helped us to understand that parents may give in to their imperfection once in a while, but in the midst of such, they must learn to exercise caution, knowing that they are letters being read by their observing children as daily living manual. He revealed about his parents and their frailties, ‘there had to have been tensions between Daddy and Mother from time to time that we children were not supposed to see. I suppose my parents occasionally disappointed each other, and certainly they sometimes disagreed about serious as well as trivial things, but in any quarrels between them (parents) that I witnessed, I never heard either of them use a word of profanity. My mother and father [mostly my mother] could storm at each other once in a while when provoked, but they weathered every tempest and sailed on, together.’
Space fails me to continue to expound on the life, times and lessons of Billy Graham. I however believe that I have shared some priceless lessons, which may serve as a guide for us as we relate with our children both as primary and secondary caregivers. It is my humble and honest prayer today that God will prepare us as families, equipped to raise godly seed to the glory of God and to the benefits of His humanity. I hope that the immeasurable blessings that the life of Billy Graham is to humanity will not only serve an inspiration to join me in saying amen to this prayers but to trust God for the wisdom to make the prayer a reality in our lives. Do have an INSPIRED day.
I am Taiwo ‘ODINAKACHUKWU’ AKINLAMI (The Preacher) and I Speak for the Precious African Child