Author Anne Blue Wills’s biography of Ruth Bell Graham is part of the Library of Religious Biography series, books that “link the lives of their subjects to the broader cultural contexts and religious issues that surrounded them.” Wills explains: “Human beings bear the marks, for good or ill, of their times and their ties, even when those ties are tested.” Employing impeccable research and lively storytelling, Wills shows that Billy Graham was not Ruth’s only influence, as a simplistic rendering of her life might lead one to believe.
Wills explores Ruth’s childhood as the daughter of medical missionaries to China in the 1920s and 1930s: the concerns Ruth’s parents had for her, how their demanding work influenced Ruth and her siblings, and the effect on Ruth of the suffering and violence she witnessed in Chinese society. She details Ruth’s fears, interests, and ambitions as an adolescent, and the homesickness that plagued her when she was separated from her family; and Ruth’s years at Wheaton College in Illinois, where she met Billy and considered different vocational paths.
Wills points out that Ruth finally agreed to marry Billy Graham after a time of soul searching and ultimately giving up her childhood dream of being a single woman missionary to Tibet to follow her new husband in his career as an evangelist. In private, she described her life as “an odd kind of cross to bear” as she endured public scrutiny, living in the shadow of her husband, and devising, in light of the women’s liberation movement which she did not embrace, “her own ethic of Christian womanhood, characterized by ‘adjusting’ to Bill.” Wills goes on to explain, “In so doing, she helped bring his preaching to the world. She also lived richly, thought deeply, and left a legacy distinctly her own.”
An Odd Cross to Bear offers readers an intriguing window into the life of Ruth Bell Graham, who tried to live out her love for God with wit, compassion, and sacrificial choices in often challenging, lonely, and difficult circumstances.