My mother has lived during the “best of times and the worst of times,” – a famous quote from the classic English novel – The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
She came into the world in 1931. She had five older brothers and one older sister (Morley, Sally, Henry, Kinley, Conrad, Frank) and then there was Maggie. She came ten years after Frank so growing up, she pretty much learned how to entertain herself and enjoy her own company.
Sometimes when my mother is sleeping, I look at her now at the age of 75 and I think, what a beautiful woman, delicate yet so strong. A perfect blend of strength and gentleness. Given the times she lived in, in China, she could have turned out so different – bitter, fraught with separation anxieties or control issues due to lack of love. But on the contrary, most people who meet my mother very quickly say, “Maggie is a saint. Maggie is healing. You need to be around Maggie. She is so kind, generous and nurturing.
Given her tumultuous childhood, how did she become such a sterling example to me of love, genuine humility, commitment and self-sacrifice with a smile? I don’t know. I can only attribute it to God and how she handled each life and death situation with Him by her side.
She told me of one episode I’ll never forget. It was around 1936, during the Chinese-Japanese war. Mother was five and in the middle of the night her father, a high level Nationalist government official, sneaked into her bedroom. He gave her a kiss on the forehead, cheek and a big hug and said goodbye. Still groggy from sleep, she pushed him gently away because his whiskers tickled her, not knowing that it would be the last time she would see him. He had to leave on a special assignment and couldn’t tell her. She regrets to this day that unknowingly she pushed him away.
woke up the next morning and knew something was very wrong because her father
would always be up in the morning to greet “Little Maggie.” There was tension in the air. Her mother and old sister, Sally, said, “We
have to rush to the train station with Amma (I don’t know the pingyin for this
Chinese word. It was their house
guardian and errand boy.) He was an
incredibly faithful and loyal friend whom they considered more of a family
member. “Quickly!!” her mother said
with urgency. “The Japanese are coming and we can’t take anything!!”
So they rushed to the train station where there were hoards and hoards of people. Somehow in the mass chaos, my mother’s sweaty palms slipped from her mother’s hands just as they reached the train stairs. Her mother and sister were shoved into the train by the frenzied crowd but she was left behind. She was too small to battle the mass exodus and waves of people. Just then, she heard the train whistle blow and the train wheels started moving slowly pulling away from the station. She cried out, “Ma Ma! Don’t leave me behind!” Suddenly, a strong hand from no where reached out and grabbed her by the nape of the neck and stuck her through the train window. They were finally able to leave Nanking. Thank God because the next year, the infamous Nanking Massacre occurred were it was reported that the Japanese killed 600,000 Chinese in one day. Thousands of women were raped and bayoneted left and right. Chinese said it was their Holocaust.
I took time to tell this story because in tribute of my mom, when you meet her today, you will never have known that she went through experiences like that. And that is just one story. She never brings up the past.
Most people who see our family picture think, “Wow, did your mom grow up with a silver-spoon in her mouth? She looks so regal.” I just smile.
No…mom immigrated to the US with nothing in her pocket and one suitcase in her hand. She received a scholarship to go to a Catholic boarding school and eventually married my handsome father. She helped put him through his doctorate while trying to get a Masters herself. They both saved everything they had for five years to have me. My mother told me they wanted to bring me into the best world possible. When I first heard that, I cried.
Growing up, I saw God’s love in action through everything my mother did. I saw her help keep three generations happy under one roof. I saw her help support my father in all his professional endeavors. She was at almost all of my music recitals, swim and track meets, award banquets. She opened my sisters and I to the world of church, music, ballet, Chinese lessons. My father and my mother allowed my sisters and I to have two turtles, a collie, 36 hamsters and two parakeets. My mother NEVER missed an important event in my life be it through her presence, cards, gifts or a phone call. I’ve kept almost every single card she’s ever sent me.
Mother practiced her faith quietly. She didn’t go to church to upset dad but she was always
down the street providing casseroles to neighbors who were sick or had cancer. She always welcomed new families into the neighborhood with a small gift. She would get to know store clerks in town and uplift them with every visit by just spending a few short minutes to talk to them. She would help young couples keep their marriages together by providing sage advice and counsel whenever they called her.
When I answered God’s call in 1983, my father was pretty upset. I started keeping the biblical Sabbath and eating kosher (which meant no pork). I didn’t come home for Christmas because I started observing the biblical festivals and I resigned from my job at Lockheed to go into full-time ministry. I understood why my father was so angry. It was because he loved me so much and thought I was being brainwashed. Knowing his background in China, where survival was more important that studying the meaning of life, he thought I was going backwards versus forwards in life. Since I was the firstborn, he thought I was supposed to set a good example for my two younger sisters and going to Bible school was not what he had in mind. During this time, my mother loved me unconditionally. She would pray for me and keep calling me. She would say, “Even though it is difficult at home right now, mom can handle it. You just do what you need to do. I trust you.” My mother was my best friend at that time.
Through all of my mother’s life experiences, she never never ever complained. She never had a cross word. As much as I can remember, she never committed lashon hara, the Hebrew word for “Evil Tongue.” The Bible says that if a person is able to bridle their tongue, then he or she is considered a perfect person. In this respect, my mother is a perfect woman in my eyes.
Sometimes, I’ll just see her standing at the stove with her eyes closed. Praying.
Or sitting in the car with her eyes closed waiting for me to do an errand. Praying.
When her arthritis in her hands and feet got worse, her attitude was “if this is the only problem I have in life, I am most blessed.”
My mother sees rainbows when others see rain.
My mother hears birds chirping when others hear horns blasting.
Many women come into this world but few touch the heart of it – like my mother.
I’ve always thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could just take my mother around to meet all my friends. I’ve always thought, “They need to experience my mom. They would truly change.” Isn’t that like Jesus?
My mother is like an angel and I’ve discovered why she can still fly when the storms of life pass by -- because she takes herself lightly and keeps looking up at God.
My Mother-in-Law…Ruth Bell Graham
What can I say about my mother-in-law? She is probably one of the best known women in this century because of her faithfulness and loyalty to one of history’s most loved and respected evangelists – Rev. Billy Graham.
As you all know, she was born and raised in Huaiyin, China. She loves China to this day and says she is a daughter of China. When my husband and I went back in 2003 to help take care of her, sometimes we would have quiet moments to talk and she would always want to reflect back on her life in Huaiyin. She said despite the challenging times, she said it brought back such good memories because she could see how God was so faithful to her missionary parents and her family.
She told me when wicked bandits came to their area one day, many people were shot and robbed. Her parents told her sisters and her to just pray and never fear what man could do. They taught her that God was always by their side. She has always remembered that throughout her life.
I can see in the five years that I’ve known my mother-in-law that God indeed called her to be the wife of Billy Graham because He knew it would take a very special lady to stand beside him to raise their five children as well as build a home where the father would be gone a good part of the time. God knew Ruth Bell Graham would have to have a very strong identity in Christ because God would use her husband, Billy Graham, to reach millions of people around the world. She wouldn’t be able to think about her needs being fulfilled all the time but about what God had called them BOTH to do. It takes a special wife to know how to meet Kings and Queens but also knows how to play with her 19 grandchildren and 29 great grandchildren.
The only way Ruth Graham has been able to live such a full and productive life glorifying God is because since very young age, she would always start her day by opening the Word of God. You should see her Bible, it is all marked up with inspiring thoughts of her talks with God. She said one of the most frustrating things now that she is older and her eyes have deteriorated is that she is not able to read the Bible. She misses that SO much even though she has most of God’s Word memorized and stored in her heart.
Like my mother, Mrs. Graham has a rod of steel within her (strong and courageous) but is also so loving, encouraging and gentle as well. She has written many books like the Prodigal Son, that have helped many women turn to God when they experience the challenges of marriage and motherhood. She is honest. She is real. She is a living example of someone who is the power of prayer in action.
Now that she is older, she is confined to a wheelchair yet her spirit is incredibly strong. All her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and dear friends, call her often to say they are praying for her or to seek her wisdom or advice on life’s problems. She always has a wise and kind word for them to take home. For example, one time one of her children was having a very big trial and said, “I can’t do the impossible.” Mrs. Graham said, “Let God take care of the impossible. You do what’s possible.”
When you meet her, she always has the most beautiful smile even though she may be experiencing great physical pain. She doesn’t think about herself. She’s thinking about YOU and what she can give to you. That’s what her whole life has been about.
In the world’s eyes, she’s not as famous as her husband but in God’s eyes, she has been lovingly serving her family and others through the power of the living God and is therefore a Queen.