I stood in the door frame of the kitchen and faced my parents, who were drinking coffee and sitting in the two overstuffed armchairs in front of the bay window. A fire burned in the big stone fireplace. Through the window I could see the valley, its trees stripped bare, and the mountains in the distance. It was February.
"Can I read you something?" I asked.
I had been home for a couple of weeks. I had driven to Montreat with my fifteen-year-old daughter, now returned to boarding school, and my most valuable possessions in the back of my station wagon. I left my house in Florida in a hurry -- in flight from a second marriage that had broken down leaving me fearful for my personal safety and overwhelmed with shame for the mistake I had made in going through with the marriage in the first place. It had been a few years since my first marriage ended in divorce. Family members had warned me about entering into marriage again so soon, but I had not listened. Stubborn and willful, I believed I was the better judge. Now, devastated, I saw just how wrong my judgment had been. The second marriage had collapsed in a matter of weeks.
"I have a letter," I said to Mother and Daddy, holding up the sheets of paper. I was using the time in Montreat to stabilize, and I had prepared a letter to my then-husband. I wanted to read it to my parents so they could offer input. I was depending on them now -- I certainly didn't trust myself.
Mother smiled and motioned toward the kitchen table. I pulled out one of the chairs, sat down, and began to read.
My parents listened attentively as I struggled through the letter, stifling tears. I was thinking about the damage I had caused my children and the shame I had brought on by family. Mother and Daddy were eager to help in any way they could, but I wondered what they must think of me. What a mess I made! And here it was in black and white. I was spelling it out for them, all of the ugliness. What would they say?
Once I finished, I folded the letter and looked up. Daddy was gazing tenderly at me, his coffee mug resting in his lap. Too ashamed to meet his eye, I looked down at the letter again and braced myself for whatever was coming. I noticed my hands starting to shake.
Then my father spoke. He told me first that I had assumed an enormous amount of responsibility for what had happened in the conflict. After that he said something I will never forget.
"Ruth," he said gently, "don't be so hard on yourself. We all live under grace and do the best we can."
It took me a moment to register what my father had said. His words were so kind, so loving. Even as he was talking about grace, he was demonstrating it. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. Daddy had been kind to me since the day I arrived home from Florida -- literally, since the moment I arrived.
I thought back to that moment now. Driving up my parents' driveway with my daughter, herself confused and upset, was one of the hardest things I had ever done. Completely exhausted, I simply had no idea what to expect from my parents, and I feared the worst. Here I had gone and remarried against the urgent advice of loved ones. Now I was basically on the run with my daughter and a car full of valuables. What would Mother and Daddy say? Would they reject me? Would they dismiss me as having "made my bed" and tell me to lie in it?
What followed was one of the defining moments of my life. As I rounded the bend at the top of the driveway, I saw my father standing near the front of the house. Stopping the car, I tried to prepare to face him. I turned off the ignition and opened the door. I took a deep breath. Then, stifling my emotion, I got out of the car. And as I did, my father, who had every right to be ashamed of me, wrapped his arms around me and said, "Welcome home."
Ruth Graham appears this Monday on LIFE TODAY. This is an excerpt from A Legacy of Faith: Things I Learned from My Father, Billy Graham by Ruth Graham. Copyright ©2006, 2014 by Ruth Graham. Published by Zondervan, a division of Harper Collins. Used by permission.