Tag Archives: Atlanta

My Friend Billy Graham

How could I be so brash as to claim Billy Graham was my friend? I never talked to him, even on the phone. I never received a personal note or letter. I never shared a cup of coffee or glass of water with him. I never shook his hand.

Yet I confidently do claim he was my friend. He was America’s pastor and he had the God-given talent of reaching by television, radio, movies, and the written word into our very homes, sharing the love of God in a personal and compelling way. The man who took the message of Christ’s grace all over the world was never rude or arrogant or unkind, just straightforward and real, as much so to us in our living rooms as to the millions in huge arenas.

I miss him from this planet. But I rejoice with him for being reunited with his Ruth, his friends George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows, and for seeing Jesus face to face. And I can’t imagine his joy as he meets some of the millions who are in heaven because of his messages.

I was eight years old when I first listened to Billy Graham on his radio show “The Hour of Decision.” The year was 1950. My father only listened to a few shows but that was one of them. I guess I knew it wasn’t something a kid of my age should volunteer to listen to so I took it all in from a tiny attic room right over Daddy’s study. I was fascinated by the way Billy Graham talked so fast yet so clearly. I also liked to hear him say “God bless you real good” at the end of the program.

Not long after his show was aired, Billy Graham held a tent revival in Atlanta. Because of rare circumstances, my mother and I accompanied my big brother John to one night of that crusade. I had already made a commitment to the Lord Jesus and knew that I was a redeemed child of God. Maybe that’s why that night was so very special. I remember the smell of the thick sawdust on the floor and how thrilled I was to see Billy Graham, even if he was so far away he was only about an inch high.

As a teenager in the 1950s I was stirred by the occasional messages I heard on television as Billy Graham spoke to phenomenal crowds. We acquired a book about Graham which had black and white pictures of him and his family. I started praying for them. Ruth Graham’s writing was an inspiration to me. I wanted to write like that myself.

Early in my marriage to Charles Graham (no kin to Billy!) he was asked to be chairman of the committee preparing for and presenting a BGEA movie, “Time To Run,” in our small town. That very rich experience gave both of us opportunities we couldn’t have imagined. I was a counselor following the movie for several showings. I counseled a sweet twelve year old girl who gave her life to Jesus. In the years of following up her commitment with visits, a backyard Bible club, and prayer with her family, we built a friendship I cherished. She died of some rare disorder when her son was still quite young.

My church in Cairo, about 1990, provided a bus for a large group of us to go hear Billy Graham at the civic center in Tallahassee. He was no longer the young preacher speaking so fast trying to get all his words in. His hair was white, he leaned on a stool, his words were more measured than before. But there was the same passion, the same zeal, unsquelched after all those years. And the power of God Almighty was present that night as crowds responded to his call for commitment.

I have read several of Billy Graham’s books and gained spiritual strength from each one, “Angels,” “Just As I Am,” and others. But the little paperback “It’s My Turn” by Ruth has given me recently the sweetest peek into the Grahams’ home life. I’ve been reading it in small segments to my Magnolia Place devotional group. Ruth kept the home fires burning, literally, while Billy was away for sometimes weeks at a time. But she sometimes traveled with him. She tells of once when she was counseling at the London Crusade in 1954. She sat down beside an attractive young woman and asked if she could help her. The lady said wistfully, “I just wonder what it would be like to wake up and find yourself married to that man!” Ruth answered her, “You’ve asked the right person. I’ve been doing it for the past eleven years.” Ruth followed up that funny story with her statement of surety that if she could have picked from all the men in the world, she would still have chosen Billy. She said she would rather see a little bit of him than a whole lot of any other man.

But back to Billy’s books. I have his very last book. I’ve read several that he thought might be his last one. But this really is: “Where I Am.” I’ve peeped into it just enough to know from, Franklin’s foreword, that Billy based his title on John 14:3 which is words of Jesus saying, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

Where I Am. Billy told his son Franklin with resolve, “When I die, tell others that I’ve gone to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ–that’s where I am.

Worldwide Pictures, an arm of BGEA, has done videos of classic crusades by Billy Graham. I just watched one including clips of the London 1954 crusade. Consistently, throughout that crusade, and all his ministry, we could hear Billy preaching “the Bible says,” and emphasizing that the awesome actions, the swelling crowds of converts, was because of God and only Him. And even now as I hold my iPad in my lap and watch the young Billy preaching so passionately, a message comes up on the screen telling the viewer how to find help, how to know he/she is going to heaven. Billy’s gone to heaven, but his ministry is still going on here!

Someone has said that perhaps Billy’s death will bring on a greater revival than ever happened in his life. I think that would take the participation of all God’s people, all of us who claim to be Billy’s friends and, more importantly, friends of his master, Jesus.

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Artist On A Rock



When some of us headed up Stone Mountain for the first time on our recent adventurous weekend, Mattie, seven, suddenly remembered she wanted her drawing materials. Though it is an easy walk from the gondola line back to Stone Mountain Inn where we were staying, we were ready to ride up and didn’t want to give up our place. But Mattie’s face was a cloud. She’d been talking over breakfast about drawing the mountain. Her mother calmly asked Mattie to let her search her backpack and quickly came up with a single pencil and a piece of paper. This was clearly not Mattie’s entire pack of art supplies. But she relaxed and was ready to go.

Mattie’s oldest brother William, twelve, was enrolled that weekend in a basketball camp nearby, with his dad and granddaddy eagerly watching his progress. So it was Christi and I and the two youngest ones of our Birmingham grandchildren who were so excited about riding up the mountain that day. Thomas, nine, had noticed from the inn that there were some trees on top and had declared he was going to play amongst them. I said “Trees? On Stone Mountain?” He assured me that, yes, there were trees and, of course, there were, enough trees to give the great bald mountain a slight bit of “hair” on one side.

The cable car operator was giving us many interesting facts about the mountain as we rode up past the famous carving. Some of these facts we knew, some we’d totally forgotten. Here are some of them, jotted down quickly before I forgot them:

  1. Stone Mountain is the largest exposed granite face in the world.
  2. The carving is of Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee, and General Stonewall Jackson.
  3. It is 90 feet from the tip of General Lee’s sword suspended from his waist, to the top of his head.
  4. Two city buses would fit lengthwise on Lee’s horse Traveler’s back.
  5. This is the deepest bas-relief carving in the world being 41 plus feet deep.
  6. The finished sculpture by Walker Kirtland Hancock was completed in 1972.
  7. One of the two earlier sculptors (whose work was dynamited away for the final sculptor to begin) was Gutzmon Borglum who later completed the Mount Rushmore carving which, by the way, isn’t as large as this one.
  8. The mountain was purchased by the state of Georgia in 1958. Prior to that it was owned by the Venable family. (Imagine owning Stone Mountain!)

But the main thing that interested both Thomas and Mattie was getting to the top of the mountain to begin their exploration.

They pushed their way quickly out of the gondola and took off running. They paid no attention to the gift shop. They had a goal in mind. I saw them discovering views of Atlanta from the top but by the time I reached them they were ready to go down the city side as far as that grove of stubby pine trees. It was indeed a magical playground. There were many rocks amongst the pines, rocks of varying shapes and sizes, excellent for climbing, sitting on, hiding behind. The children clambered up and over and down, here there, and yonder. Christi and I watched in amazement and thoroughly enjoyed their movements, their games, their super agility. We also enjoyed very much the views of Atlanta’s skyline, Midtown’s challenging character, the mountains, Kennesaw and others I couldn’t quite name, and the whole scope of highways lacing through the green of Georgia. It was a beautiful clear day and we could see “forever.”

By and by, I noticed Mattie situating herself on a chosen rock with her single pencil and piece of paper. I had actually thought she’d probably forget all about her sketching desire. I was wrong. She looked all around from her high position, back up to the top of the mountain, around at the rocks and the pine trees, far out to the city, and up to circling big birds and even farther up to jets criss-crossing the blue sky. Thomas, giving up on being chased at the moment, settled down to his own challenges of climbing and choosing a perfect fit of a “resting rock.” So Mattie was free to become quite pensive and then to  apply herself diligently to her self-assigned job.

Christi and I chatted lightly enjoying the whole scene.

I was very interested in what Mattie might have sketched. Did she attempt a sketch of the carving on the side of the mountain? Did she sketch one favorite big rock? Did she try for a clump of the beautiful yellow daisies? Or did she even try to sketch the distant Atlanta skyline that looked like cereal boxes of different heights?

I was hugely honored when she gave me her sketch later that day. It was torn and wrinkled from its trip back down the mountain in her backpack. But here’s what I saw: the curve of the top of the mountain with dark squiggles to represent her favorite place, the stubby pine trees.

Her sketch is marked with the rough surface she worked on, a part of her media choice, you might say. I’m going to treasure it and the photo I took of the Artist On A Rock.

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Two Orman Stories

My oldest brother Orman died almost two weeks ago at the age of 91. A pastor and missionary to the Philippines, he was an avid student of the gospel of Jesus Christ and, though his mind at the end was clouded by the effects of vascular dementia, he still clung to the need to “go to a meeting,” write a sermon, and to counsel. One of the pictures my sister-in-law, his sweet wife Reggie, has shared with me, is of him in a wheelchair, hunched forward, studying his Bible as if nothing else in life mattered.

Along with his other many, many talents, Orman was a great storyteller. So it seems appropriate now as I remember him to tell a couple of stories about him.

I was a college student that year of 1964 when I was assigned as a summer missionary to go for ten weeks in Washington State helping with vacation Bible schools in small churches. My finals ended the day I was to leave on the train so my brother Orman brought my mother to the University of Georgia, sixty miles from our home, to see me off. I was thrilled that Orman, home on furlough from the Philippines, would take time to do that.

The first sign of trouble on my trip came when I changed trains in Atlanta. A young man who smelled of whisky and tobacco plopped his large frame beside me. I had already chosen a window seat because I love to see out. But now his long legs trapped me. It was a long ways to Chicago. The farther we went and the darker night fell outside, the more nervous I became. The young man was just like the ones about whom my parents had diligently warned me. He talked a steady stream how he would help me all along the way. I thought when he went to sleep I would change seats, but instead he went to sleep slumped on my shoulder as I squeezed harder and harder against the window. What if he followed me when I got to Chicago to change trains? I breathed a prayer against the window and then shoved hard as I could trying to budge the fellow’s dead weight. He only slumped a little harder against me!

The minute the train stopped in Chicago at 3:00 a.m. I made a gigantic effort and was able to scramble over the inert body of that fellow, grab my things from overhead, and plunge down the steps. Then, there I stood in the midst of the biggest crowd I’d ever seen. It was noisy, too, and I couldn’t tell what the announcer was saying. Which way was I supposed to go? Looking over my shoulder, I saw the disgruntled guy starting down the steps. Instinctively, I moved forward into the crowd.

Suddenly a lady appeared right in front of me smiling and saying my name very distinctly: “You are Brenda Knight, aren’t you? I recognize you because your brother Orman told me what you’d be wearing.” In astonishment, I nodded dumbly. She went on to explain as she took some of my belongings that my brother had wakened in the night knowing he must find someone to meet me and get me on the next train. She was one of his former church members and had hastily dressed and come to town.

I knew instantly that God had heard my feeble plea breathed against that dark window and had wakened Orman with instructions he was quick to obey.

The second story is about much more recent happenings. My brother’s first wife died on New Year’s Eve, 2002. Though Orman had thought he could live as a widower all right, it wasn’t many months before I heard him say, as some of us chatted, that he really wished God would send him another wife. He lived in Clarkesville, 300 miles from my home in Cairo, Georgia. Only a few weeks later I was in a sewing circle in Cairo when I heard a recently widowed sister of my friend Sally say almost the exact words Orman had expressed. She wished God would send her another husband.

I remember even now how my heart rate sped up as I realized these two people had many similar interests and that they would never meet each other unless someone (could it be I?) did something about it. I couldn’t shake that feeling of responsibility as the days went by. Was this God’s nudging, or my own romantic giddy idea? I talked to my friend Sally and to another brother of mine, John, and finally very timidly approached first Reggie, then Orman, telling them about each other and asking if they’d like to meet. They both said yes.

Charles and I hosted an intimate dinner party on September 16, 2003 attended by our friends Sally and Wes, who brought Reggie with them, and Orman. The next day Orman and Reggie went on their first date, browsing in Havana, Florida, a little town full of antique shops. Reggie said that sounded like a non-threatening setting for the two of them to get acquainted. They returned to my house that afternoon literally glowing. I couldn’t believe my big brother was asking me for advice, but on Sunday after they’d  had their first date on Friday, he asked me if it would be too forward of him to go to Reggie’s church in Albany and worship with her. I said go ahead! From that day on there was no doubt what the rest of the story was going to be.

They got married on February 14, 2004 and had twelve years of marriage, enjoying many happy and fulfilling experiences. They traveled twice to the Philippines to visit Orman’s churches there, twice to Alaska for sheer fun, and absolutely loved teaching Sunday school together, sharing each others’ grandchildren, melding their families, walking the hills, everything!

Every year on my birthday, including September 17, 2015, Orman called me to thank me for introducing him to Reggie. I count it as a huge blessing that God let me be “the little bird” that brought them together.

Both these stories are a testament to Orman’s deep faith and his prayer life. And now, as someone said at his funeral, he’s in heaven meeting some of the many people he brought to know the Lord. But we miss him here!

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