A woman I long-admired was Ruth Bell Graham, late wife of Rev. Billy Graham, most recently deceased. During their marriage, she single-handedly raised her large family while her husband traveled for months at a time preaching the gospel. My favorite book she wrote was entitled, Prodigals and Those Who Love Them. She shared stories of famous prodigals throughout history, but also spoke from the heart as she shared about a prodigal in her own family – her son, Franklin Graham.
William Franklin Graham III was born the fourth of five children to Rev. Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth, on July 14, 1952. The family lived in a log cabin in the Appalachian Mountains outside Asheville, North Carolina. His famous father, who was gone on the road for months at a time, made it difficult for Franklin as he grew up. He was adventurous and liked to hunt and fish, and admittedly had an adventurous nature.
Franklin’s mischief grew into young adult rebellion. He rode motorcycles, learned how to pilot planes and lived life in the fast lane. “I just wanted to have fun,” Graham said, describing wild times of “drinking the beer, and going out to the parties, and running around with different girlfriends.”
“I believed in God. I just didn’t want Jesus running my life. I wanted to run my own life. … But I was miserable,” Franklin admits. As a teen, he was sent to an alternative school in New York. He was later kicked out. Smoking, drinking and defying authority soon became his norm. “I took pride in my individuality and tried to see how far I could stretch rules before getting reprimanded,” he wrote in his autobiography, Rebel with a Cause. “Instead of getting my esteem from achieving within the system, I got my thrills and identity from challenging the system.”
But living by his own standards proved to be unfulfilling. “The more I tried to fill my life with things I thought would make me happy, the more empty I felt inside,” Franklin said during a crusade in Thailand in November 2013.
At age 22, Franklin got tired of running away from God and began running to God when he gave his life to Christ. “Suddenly, I had an overpowering conviction that I needed to get my life right with God … I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. My years of running and rebellion had ended. … It was finished. The rebel had found the cause.”
Boy, did he ever! Today Franklin Graham leads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse International. That’s the good news about being a prodigal … any prodigal … the Father is always waiting to welcome you home.
I’ve known quite a few prodigals in my lifetime – chief among them is me. Can you relate?
Luke 15:23-24 “Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”