When Rev. Billy Graham passed away, there were wonderful tributes that poured forth from people who knew him or had been inspired by his life and preaching.
Each news story seemed to recall what most of us had always known about the kind Rev. Graham: He was a man of deep moral conviction; a favorite phrase was “The Bible says”, he was raised on a Charlotte dairy farm, he found salvation in a tent revival then devoted his life to preaching salvation through the risen Christ. We also knew that his wife Ruth had been dedicated until her death, they lived in the North Carolina mountains, he always wore suits with ties and was known for the thick mop of hair that turned from brown to silver.
Though his son, Franklin, has taken the helm of his father’s ministry, there are other preachers in the family including Anne Graham Lotz, whom her father had often called, “The best preacher in the family.”
Naturally, when she spoke on the day of his heavenly home going, she talked foremost of his devotion to Christ and the conversion of sinners. Her words were eloquent. Then, as only an accomplished storyteller can do, she shared insights that gave us a deeper look at the carnal man and his earthly habits.
She said, “When I think of him, I don’t think of Billy Graham, the public figure. I think of my Daddy. The one who was always a farmer at heart. Who loved his dogs and his cat. Who followed the weather patterns almost as closely as he did world events. Who wore old blue jeans, comfortable sweaters, and a baseball cap. Who loved lukewarm coffee, sweet ice tea, one scoop of ice cream, and a plain hamburger from McDonald’s. Who was interested in everything and everyone, from the small to the great. Whose mind remembered details that even a computer would have trouble recalling.”
And there, within her sentences, we learned details that we had not known during Rev. Graham’s long life on earth. Lukewarm coffee. Plain hamburgers. Sweet ice tea. It made him feel normal and more of a neighbor than a celestial icon.
The power of superb storytelling lies in the minutia of a person’s story. Yes, it matters if the teenager was driving a Ford or a Chevy truck when he got stuck in the mud at the football field. And it is more interesting if we know whether it was white or black so that our mind’s eye can see clearly the truck as it wrestled its way out of a muddy grave.
Not long ago, a friend experienced an attempted home invasion. This saga ends well in that the alarm system went off, he jumped out of bed, grabbed a nearby handgun and started firing. The three bandits fled but were captured later. As he told the story of what happened, he began by telling me that he had been suffering with a bad cold. So, that night, he took some cold medicine. He named the brand.
“I was so sleepy that I couldn’t hold my head so I went to bed.” His regaling tale included which room and in which chair he had been sitting before retiring and which television show his wife was watching. As he told the story, I was transported into the time and place of the happening.
“I just want you to know,” I told Tink, “this was a very serious story but he included the details like the name of the cold medicine, what time he took it, etcetera.”
Tink occasionally thinks we Southerners use too many details and sometimes encourages me to skip those details and get to the point.
“But, it matters what car someone drove or what she was wearing,” I usually protest.
A person’s true life, I believe, is embedded in the details. Just look at what they told us about Rev. Graham.