“I’m not sure I want to be married anymore.”
Bill and I were just shy of our one-year anniversary when he uttered those words. We had met on a blind date set up by his sister, who was my co-worker at the World Book Encyclopedia Company’s branch office in Raleigh, North Carolina. I was 20 years old and Bill had just turned 23. Neither of us was saved, nor were we interested in anything having to do with God. Three days after we met, Bill asked me to marry him. Two months later, we were husband and wife!
Crazy as that was, we were as happy as any newlyweds should be … until the day he made that announcement.
I was shocked and devastated. Not knowing what else to do, I turned to his mother for sympathy and for help with her son. I thought she would set him straight. But she sat me down and took me through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I listened very respectfully, then I left in tears, thinking, She didn’t help at all.
But seeds were planted.
A few nights later she invited me to a Billy Graham Crusade at Carter Stadium in Raleigh. I reluctantly accepted the invitation, although Bill made it clear that if I went it would mark the end of our marriage.
Much of the night at the Crusade is a blur. I don’t even remember what Mr. Graham’s message was, but I yearned to know this Jesus he spoke of. I clearly remember my response, physically, mentally and spiritually, when he asked those who wanted to give their lives to Jesus to stand. My heart began pounding. I was shaking and thinking, if I do this, I will lose my husband. My heart continued to race and my legs were weak as I made my way down to the field. Standing there on the grass, tears flowing, I felt as if I was the only one present, although there were hundreds, I’m sure.
I was born again, a believer in Christ, a new creation and I knew it with every fiber of my being. On Sept. 28, 1973, my life turned 180 degrees around. My conversion was powerful!
I loved my husband more than ever, and I was brokenhearted that he was leaving me. I was scared and crying uncontrollably a few days later as I sat on the edge of our bed and he told me he was now leaving. As he walked toward the front door, he turned and said to me, “Just don’t lose what you have.” That didn’t make any sense to me. Through hysterical tears I yelled to him, “If it’s so good, why don’t you want it?”
He stopped just as his hand was on the doorknob. He turned around, walked to the phone and called his parents. It was around midnight, but within a short time they and two gentlemen from their church were sitting with us as my husband received salvation. A few days later we were baptized together.
Neither Bill nor I had grown up in Christian families. Bill was in Vietnam when he received a letter from his parents telling him they had become Christians. He didn’t know what that meant until I was born again and he could see the change in me.
God has given us three children and nine grandchildren. He kept Bill safe during a 32-year military career involving wars and many hours of helicopter training and missions, including the ill-fated Iranian hostage rescue attempt when our children were only 5, 3 and 2. Bill served first in the Army and then the Navy, on a helicopter squad that was stationed in Virginia Beach, Virginia, which is where we still live.
Through God’s mercies we have weathered many storms, from health issues to difficult living conditions and much more. I recently had ankle replacement, and my dear husband was beside me, caring for me and loving me with a Christ-centered love. There have been other surgeries, I had bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia for a period of years, and Bill has also had some struggles. But God has faithfully used all of those things as part of His completing the good work He began in us all those years ago.
There will always be a special place in my heart for Billy Graham. I am one of countless thousands who received salvation through his faithful preaching of God’s Word to a lost world. While our conversion story may be a bit more dramatic than some, every single salvation is recorded in Heaven with the same celebration. Glory to God!
Because God used Billy Graham to heal our hearts and our home, we are together, which is a testimony of God’s power to overcome evil with good and turn our messes into His miracles. ©2022 Sandy Hope
Sandy Hope and her husband, Bill, a retired military officer, reside in Virginia Beach, Virgina. She enjoys time with friends and family and has recently completed her memoir about military life.
Photo: Courtesy of Sandy Hope