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Book Review | Ruth, A Portrait

As a typical type-A personality, one whose mind is continually moving 90-to-nothing, I confess: I struggle staying with a book. Most of today's inspirational books, especially those written for women, lose me after the first few chapters. I start out with great intentions, aspiring to read the current supposed-sizzler--the one that is going to change my life and my way of thinking "like it did for everyone else"--and a few chapters in, I think, "Isn't that what the author said in Chapter One? Wait, I forgot." Regrettably, my reading comprehension skills require me to read most sentences a few times over to fully embrace them as my thoughts are chasing one another into various directions.

It is with this weakness in mind that I march my two daughters into the local public library each summer and sign them up for the summer reading program. Our oldest daughter is a voracious reader, consuming multiple books per day. I recently resorted to pay-offs for our younger daughter for each book she reads and completes a book summary. And it was upon this year's annual visit to the library that the librarian caught me as I had almost slipped out with my token biography en tow and reminded me, "We have a summer reading program for adults, you know!", which was, unfortunately stated within earshot of said daughters. I don't have to tell you that I now have a stack of biographies sitting near my bed and the book I'm reviewing here will be Book Number One, completed in a whopping three weeks.

The truth is that if I'm going to see a written work from page one to its completion, I'm far more likely to pick up a biography or autobiography. Something about someone's story--a real-life legend--typically piques my interest. To my thrill I discovered at the library's shelves this book about Ruth Bell Graham, wife of the world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham.

Author Patricia Cornwell takes the reader on a journey through the life of this woman who preferred to remain behind the scenes, but whose marriage and ministry put her on the map. Born in China to medical missionaries, Ruth lived the first seventeen years of her life on foreign soil that often was more like home than her parents' home base of the United States. It was during her time at Wheaton College that she encountered a young Billy Graham and fell in love. But it wasn't without nervous premonitions that were eventually fully realized over the course of their marriage of multiple decades.

Ruth may have been less desirous of the spotlight but she undoubtedly had something significant to say. It seemed to me that Billy, while a true southern gentleman who believed women should understand their role in the home, knew he would come to rely on the sweet-but-salty Ruth who was able to stand on her own two feet. In an age where women were often relegated to stand behind their husbands and, in essence, seem helpless should their husbands not handle the major decisions, Ruth rose to the occasion when, all too quickly, Billy's ministry drew national attention and took him away for weeks at a time.

As an evangelist's wife myself, I found myself identifying throughout the 284 pages with the more independent side of Ruth, as well as the one who found herself lonely for many of their years "together". Following the birth of their third child it became clearly evident that Ruth would now need to decline invitations to travel alongside her husband. "His absences were more keenly felt, and longing to be with him, she was increasingly isolated and torn when she would hear about him in the news. Days were lonely, and sometimes there seemed no escape, " author Cornwell writes.

While a child, Ruth often fantasized about becoming an "old maid missionary" to Tibet, considering martyrdom her primary goal. Years later as a young college student, feeling God's plan taking a different direction toward marriage and ministry stateside, she discovered each year taking her further into surrender to the life she never considered a desirable one.

"I surrendered for the obscurity of the mission field. I thought the height and depth of surrender was to lose myself in heathen obscurity for God. I find my surrender was neither high enough nor deep enough.

All summer I have rebelled at this publicity. I've climbed into a shell. I've tacked Private, No Admittance over my life, and it won't work. I belong to God and He placed me here, and He will undertake for me and give me poise, grace, love, wisdom all I need to bring Him honour in the life He has appointed." (Ruth Bell Graham, summer of 1954)

This detailed memoir takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes tour of this ministry power couple, complete with the detours, disagreements, delightful encounters, mountain highs, and valley lows. Ruth endeavored to raise her children to know and live by the Scriptures, guiding them through the various rebellious seasons they each encountered in the public eye.

"When God asks someone to do something for Him entailing sacrifice, He makes up for it in surprising ways. God has not let me down. Though He had led Bill all over the world to preach the gospel, He had not forgotten the little family in the mountains of North Carolina. I have watched with gratitude as God has guided each child." (Ruth Bell Graham)

It was wisdom spoken through Ruth that spared Billy many a tragedy. She had a craving for adventure but also a desire to be Billy's fiercest protector. Ruth Bell Graham backed down from no one but submitted to the bidding of her personal Lord and Savior. Billy Graham may have made the front page, but lurking behind several paces was his partner in life, seeking out the individuals she could touch with the kindness of Christ and mercy of His message.


We are in WEEK FOUR of our Sanctuary Summer Book Club! Each week we will feature a review of one of our favorite reads--something that will challenge you, remind you to re-read, refresh, or provide the motivation you've been needing to take some time to just invest in YOU. Comment below with your first/last name/city/state to enter our weekly giveaway.

Let's redefine summer @Sanctuary!

What's your current favorite book? Share with us in the comments below!


Bridgette Tomlin, founder of Sanctuary, and her husband, Chresten, have been married and in full-time ministry for 21 years. 20 of the 21 years have been spent in evangelistic work, both stateside and overseas. The couple has two beautiful blonde babies--ages 14 and 9--and base out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like many ministry wives Bridgette often feels like a red flag on the tug-of-war rope with the children on one end and her husband and the ministry on the other end! When she finds time for personal hobbies, Bridgette enjoys entertaining, blogging, singing, browsing the local antique shops, and sipping on a cup of hot tea for a few precious quiet moments. Her heart is to lead others to the authentic presence of God--through worship, through Word, and through one-on-one connection.

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