FAITH, HOPE … AND LAUGHTER
Rachel-Ruth Lotz Wright mines the Billy Graham family memory album for inspiring examples of living out everyday faith.
WHAT ADVICE DOES Billy Graham’s granddaughter have for the parents of this generation? Help your kids fall in love with the Lord.
“Sharing the gospel is not just for the evangelists and pastors of the world, like my grandfathers, or for Bible teachers and study group leaders like my parents,” Rachel-Ruth Lotz Wright states in her new book, Jesus Followers: Real-Life Lessons for Igniting Faith in the Next Generation. Rachel-Ruth co-wrote the book with her mom, AnGeL Ministries founder Anne Graham Lotz, in an effort to illustrate how families today can pass down a robust, intentional heritage of faith.
The book is timely for parents who are panicked about losing their grip of spiritual influence over this generation of kids. In one sense, Rachel-Ruth’s message to parents is: Don’t panic. An immediate follow-up to that is: Don’t squander the opportunity.
“I have tried to be very transparent with my girls, and not unsympathetically say, ‘This is just what the Bible says to do,’” says Rachel-Ruth in a recent interview. “I comprehend with stories, so I’ve pulled from my own experiences and stories to help raise my girls. But those are my experiences and my family’s experiences. It’s always God’s Word that we fall back on. That’s what gives us wisdom to know what to do with whatever we’re going through.”
In this way, the mom-daughter duo breaks down their new book into digestible bits of part Scripture, part family candor. Rachel-Ruth applies biblical truths by sharing personal triumphs and tribulations within her own family over the years, bracketing the book with a sports analogy of passing the baton of Truth from one generation to another.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Rachel-Ruth’s family stories speak to parents today who are stressing over how to raise kids in the way they should go, even in the face of grueling pressure to perform academically, excel athletically or artistically, function socially, and present as spiritually sound without any missteps. Rachel-Ruth’s experience growing up was with a family that managed to give her room to grow while remaining firm and uncompromising in their faith. They embodied a spirit of forgiveness and a rich love of the Lord — a nuance Christian parents today are longing to get right.
Yet, feeling untethered in the face of today’s culture isn’t reason to muster up rigidity around their faith or around God’s Word. “As parents, your walk with the Lord should be the most enjoyable part of your life,” counsels Rachel-Ruth, and advises parents to drive this home to their kids, believing that Jesus is longing to do the same if we allow His affection to overwhelm us in full measure.
“All of God’s Word is alive. He comes alive and is specific,” she says. “I’ve tried to tell my girls as we read the Scripture stories that God’s Word grounds us, corrects us, and convicts us. But when Jesus corrects us, it’s always in the kindest way, the gentlest way. And it’s not 50 things at once. Jesus takes it one thing at a time.”
Rachel-Ruth shares a story in the book about her father driving home Jesus’ love by treating her to ice cream, even though she had just slammed a door, shattered the glass, and ran from the scene — all in retaliation to Rachel-Ruth’s sister, Morrow, with whom she was having a knockdown, drag-out fight. Her dad wanted to teach her about grace, so he took that opportunity to say, “Instead of punishing you for breaking the glass door, I’m going to take you out for ice cream.”
Rachel-Ruth couldn’t have been more shocked. She never forgot the gesture or the lesson. Even though she wasn’t punished that day, the moment moved her to tears. It drove home the abundance and sheer weight of what really, deeply, momentously happened at the cross. Her dad was intentional and practical in his approach to showing his daughter that his faith was one of relationship and redemption, not rote religion.
However, if calm, steady adults are hard to come by given today’s parenting trend of worrying rather than exhibiting healthy boundaries that foster well-adjusted kids — Rachel-Ruth can relate.
“The way the Lord made me has given me a real discernment,” comments Rachel-Ruth on the matter of wanting good outcomes for our kids. But Rachel-Ruth admits that discernment can have her attempting to preempt possible wrong steps of her kids. “Just this last year, the second to last message in my Bible study had to do with the story of Abraham laying Isaac on the altar. That story brought to mind something that I was clinging to — my oldest had just gone off to college and I was just worrying.
“I had to ask myself, What is worrying doing for me?”
Rachel-Ruth grew convicted by how much she was trying to control the situation and laid it before the Lord. “That set me free, and it set her free. She’s relaxed more and it’s benefited our relationship. But it’s been a process.”
Passing the Torch
One element that has helped Rachel-Ruth’s family weather that process over the past several decades is: they’re funny.
“My dad was really funny. My Tai Tai (grandma Ruth Graham) was very quick-witted. Laughter is a wonderful thing and can go a long way toward us being real in our families.”
Rachel-Ruth writes stories that are funny. Like the time Rachel-Ruth asked her Grandma Tai Tai about the tenacity of her marriage despite Grandpa Billy Graham’s extended traveling absences, and her grandma mischievously replied that she’d had a legendarily happy marriage because of those absences. Or when Rachel-Ruth’s paternal grandpa asked her to read the Bible to him but only verse 17 in every chapter, and once Rachel-Ruth started, her grandpa promptly began to snore.
“I’m so thankful for a sense of humor!” says Rachel-Ruth, who knows personally a family that loves the Lord, loves His Word, and loves each other, develops a rich legacy that comes with an authenticity and agility that lets everybody enjoy a good laugh.
“I think we can as believers just have fun,” she continues, acknowledging that it can help families weather the harder elements of training up a child. Rachel-Ruth acknowledges that some of her hardest times were when she was young.
She tells readers about her high school experience, which was, in short, miserable. Her mom would meet her at the end of her days with popcorn, chocolate milk, and a shoulder to cry on.
Rachel-Ruth’s mom would listen, cry with her, laugh with her, but not lecture her. It was a parent’s way to channel more than a parent’s love, but God’s love — and a sense that this was a season, not forever, not to be feared, but walked through, with Jesus. That gave Rachel-Ruth hope.
Never belittling and always patient in affliction, Rachel- Ruth’s mom set a standard for her that passing a faith on to our kids isn’t only what comes out of our mouths to instill tenacity or resilience, but to be a tenacious, resilient parent right alongside, no matter the situation.
Rachel-Ruth gets to the heart of the matter: Parents who want to leave a legacy and pass down a correct theology that the gospel isn’t a “me” story, but a God-doing-in-our-world-through-Jesus story, will need to double down on the day-to-day. Quite simply, it’s God’s truth, passed on by word and example, repeated one small, simple step at a time, in love. The going may get rough but submitting ourselves to Jesus’ grace for our parenting includes joy.
“Enjoy your relationship with the Lord,” as she has and continues to do. In addition to her current book project with her mom, Rachel-Ruth continues to teach a Bible study at the University of North Carolina — her dad’s alma mater and where he started the first North Carolina chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Chapel Hill, through which he met his wife, and both his daughters met their husbands.
In its eighth year, Rachel-Ruth said, “The Lord has just busted this Bible study open.” For the most recent study, she decided that she would get back to where it all started — Genesis. When the pandemic hit, she, like other teachers, moved her lectures online, and began to pray that the Lord would give her work wings.
“I’ve become friends with women in Russia, in Lebanon, in Australia,” Rachel-Ruth declares. “We’ve got people from all these countries from all over the world. They’re sharing and discussing Scripture, and I just love it.”
In that way, not much has changed from earlier generations in Rachel-Ruth’s family, who aimed to reach the world for Christ, while painstakingly and personally tending to the care and growth of their own family. Rachel-Ruth wants parents who are passionate for God’s Word — for teaching it and making it simple — to know they’re not alone.
“Jesus is wanting to develop a relationship with your kids, and Jesus is always faithful. Always.”
Janelle Alberts is a freelance writer and can be found on Instagram @notes4faithIRL. Her first book, Honest Answers, (pithy Q&As to help parents tackle hard tween questions) can be found on Amazon.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (November 2021). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.