Only weeks ago, I visited the church in Palatka, Florida, where Billy was baptized and ordained a lifetime ago. I was the only visitor.

My father’s truck. I was riding shotgun. He was skinny, shirtless, sunburned. Billy Graham was on the radio, preaching like a man with his hair on fire.

Daddy didn’t do radio preachers—unless it was Billy. Daddy turned the volume up. His face went still. I’ll never forget it.

Billy said the words, “Jesus wept.” And my daddy started crying.

Daddy clicked the radio off. He wiped his eyes and said, “You know, I’d like to shake old Billy’s hand someday.”

Funny. The preacher who spoke at Daddy’s funeral delivered a good sermon. He told the congregation that “Jesus wept.” And I remember thinking about what a coincidence that was.

But at this age, I don’t believe in coincidences anymore.

I have a memory from my Granny’s dank, single-wide trailer. It was a place that smelled like smoke and mildew. The once-white ceiling was yellow from tobacco. My granny had been keeping the same Winston ember burning since the early fifties.

Billy Graham’s face was on a black-and-white console television. His voice was loud enough to blow the speaker.

“WHO IS YOUR NEIGHBOR?” he shouted.

My Granny forced a lungful of smoke out and asked me, “Who’s your neighbor?”

I shrugged.

Billy hollered to beat the band. He held his Bible in one hand. By the time he got to the invitation, I was singing along with “Just as I Am.”

As a young man, I pulled electrical wires with a man who was bad to drink. He was late-sixties; I wasn’t even twenty.

The man’s family had washed their hands of him. He wasn’t exactly father of the year.

One night, my phone rang. He was half tight, calling from a downtown payphone. He said his engine wouldn’t start.

Which was nothing short of a miracle. If he would’ve gotten behind the wheel in his condition, this story would have a different ending.

A friend and I drove him home. He slumped in the passenger seat, talking to himself.

Then he said, “You boys think God hears drunks?”

We helped him inside his apartment. We placed him on his sofa. We brewed coffee, and turned on his television.

Billy Graham was in the throes of a TV sermon. Coincidence? I don’t know. But I’ll never forget Billy’s words.

“God hears you…”

Years later, my friend died a sober man.

Billy has been a friendly face to me for a long time. I don’t know why. There’s something about him. Maybe you grow up loving the same people your granny loved.

Only weeks ago, I visited the church in Palatka, Florida, where Billy was baptized and ordained a lifetime ago. I was the only visitor.

The faded clapboard building sits beneath mossy oaks beside a cemetery. The doors were locked, but I peeked in the windows.

The chapel was antique. I saw the same floorboards he walked on when shouting things like, “WHO IS YOUR NEIGHBOR?”

I closed my eyes and pretended to hear his voice coming through the walls. But in my mind, all I saw was an old woman smoking a Winston, smiling at me.

I saw lots of old friends who left me behind. I saw the same people Billy once spoke to over the airwaves. Like drunks who just needed to know God wasn’t deaf.

People like sunburned men, riding in trucks on Saturday afternoons, listening to radios.

I never got to meet you, Billy.

But the skinny man shaking your hand right now is my daddy. He’s been waiting a long time for the privilege.


  1. Judy G - February 22, 2018 7:38 am

    Sean, you’re a master of words and feelings.

  2. Sandi in FL - February 22, 2018 7:45 am

    Sean, what a heartfelt tribute to a great evangelist, Reverend Billy Graham. Without a doubt his love for the Lord touched numerous lives, and all of Heaven is rejoicing now at his homecoming.

  3. Joy A. Lorton - February 22, 2018 7:53 am

    One of the best posts I’ve read on this blog, and I’m not even particularly a fan of Billy.

  4. Pamela Sullivent - February 22, 2018 8:13 am

    I am speechless!
    Thank you for these great words!

  5. Susan Parker - February 22, 2018 8:22 am

    I think most of us got to hear Billy Graham through an adult in our lives. I know his family is grieving, but there are so many of our families who finally got to visit with him now. And I am certain that all of Heaven is rejoicing!

  6. Lucretia Jones - February 22, 2018 8:58 am

    Thank you, Sean, for stirring the memories in me of people who have left me behind and in whose lives Billy had influence for calling out the good. I am thankful for and blessed by the good talents used then and now.

  7. Ronnie - February 22, 2018 10:36 am

    Beautiful! Another of my favorites!

  8. Sherry - February 22, 2018 11:04 am

    May his soul and the souls of all our dearly departed rest in peace…Rev. Graham was a true servant of God.

  9. Cathi - February 22, 2018 11:29 am

    You’ve gotten me good twice this week…if I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t read your column first thing. every morning. Please keep ’em comin’…your dad’s with my folks, grandparents & a long line of people greetin’ Billy! Oh, what a happy day in heaven it has been!

  10. Susie - February 22, 2018 11:29 am

    What a wonderful, upright, man of integrity he was. Well done.

  11. B.K. - February 22, 2018 11:35 am

    ‘My granny had been keeping the same Winston ember burning since the early fifties’. Man, you can write. I’d like to shake your hand. B.K.

  12. Todd F - February 22, 2018 12:00 pm

    The hope of such reunions or meetings, and the faith that bears up that hope are the priceless treasures of eternity.

  13. Becky - February 22, 2018 1:07 pm

    Sean, I think we all need a little Billy Graham sermon. You are right, there are no coincidences in life. My Granny dipped snuff and could spit between her fingers like an Olympian spitter. She loved Billy Graham and I can still see him with George Bevrly Shea singing some wonderful hymns.

  14. Connie - February 22, 2018 1:09 pm

    Of all the tributes I’ve read, yours touched me the most. Probably because of an old Granny I loved very much (not mine) who listened to him all the time. She’s been in Heaven a long time. I’m sure she was among the souls who greeted him yesterday.

  15. Joan Dake - February 22, 2018 1:16 pm

    Well done, good and faithful servant.

  16. Cathy W. - February 22, 2018 1:19 pm

    This is one of your best❤️

  17. Marcia MacLean - February 22, 2018 1:39 pm

    Sean, I don’t believe in coincidences either. I call them God nods. I grew up watching Billy Graham on TV with my MawMaw. Just imagine how many are in heaven because of him? Beautiful tribute.

  18. Sue Cronkite - February 22, 2018 1:42 pm

    Isn’t it wonderful that millions of people in this world feel the same way you do about Billy Graham? I don’t believe in coincidence either. God is at work in all those hearts. Every day. Every minute.

  19. Susan Miller - February 22, 2018 1:52 pm

    How on earth did you find your way to Putnam County? Palatka? Did you make it to Angel’s Diner? It’s been there since the 50’s, probably longer. Go south on 27 and you’ll cross Dunn’s Creek, go through Satsuma and Lake Como to Crescent City.

    The town is four blocks wide, between two lakes. I grew up there. It used to be half orange groves. Blocks were grove lots, one house and the rest orange trees. When the orange blossoms bloomed, the whole town was perfumed.

    Miller’s Grocery sold 20 brands of snuff. Thistle and the like were out front. Classy people who dipped Copenhagen or Skol sauntered up to the cashier with an air of sophistication and asked for their brand. I had to fetch it from the cooler.

    Kids had the run of the town, houses had names. The Steele’s hadn’t lived there for years, but it was still The Old Steele House. No leash laws. We knew dogs by name.

    I was the oldest of six kids. When we outgrew our shoes, we threw them in a cardboard box in the bottom of a closet. When we needed shoes, it was the shoebox first, then to McKinnon’s where we’d get our feet X-rayed. The house wasn’t heated. When it got cold, we took Dad’s WWII navy uniforms out of the closet, put them on, and climbed into bed. I can still feel that scratchy wool against my cheek.

    When here was a fire, the 12 o’clock siren on top of the bank building went off. The fire truck drove down Main Street and all the volunteer firemen left their stores and hopped on the truck.

    Main Street ran four blocks between the lakes. We had a newspaper, dry cleaners, flower shop, pharmacist, feed store, 5 and 10, bank, two restaurants, dry goods store, grocery, candy store, garden supply, shoe store, undertaker and hardware.

    When we wanted candy, we went on a bottle hunt, slipping between buildings where the winos mixed the hard stuff with coca-cola. An empty soda bottle was worth two cents at Mr. Clark’s candy store. He had lots of penny candy. Licorice whips were my brothers’ favorite. But I liked the wax lips.

    Happs Cafe opened at 6 am. Five old guys were at the door every morning. They were called “The Breakfast Club. Herman Smith and Martin Roberts were two of them. The menu changed every day of the week. Thursday was liver and onions. Every plate came with four vegetables. Mac and cheese is a vegetable. Desserts were homemade. Peanut pie was always a sellout. I called ahead to have Miz Annie Frank save me a slice.

    I grew up in Mayberry, The town is falling apart. My great-grandfather is buried there, along with my grandfather, and parents, My son rests beside my folks,

    Thanks for helping me remember these things. Your writing reminds me of my favorite play, “Our Town.” Emily comes back for breakfast, An ordinary morning. And so wonderful.

    • Steven - February 24, 2018 12:59 pm

      Love this. Thanks for sharing.

    • Bunny - March 10, 2018 6:20 am

      Susan, you have a way with words too!

  20. Rene’ Hodges - February 22, 2018 1:55 pm

    Sean, I did meet Billy Graham. I was 13 or 14 years old. My parents were invited to the 50th wedding anniversary of Ed & Gaye Curry, who were his neighbor & friend in Montreat. (Rev Curry had been a missionary in China and served as interim minister in our church while they searched for a permanent one). Rev Graham stood away from the crowd, talking to me for a good part of the afternoon. I don’t remember who told me this – probably my dad when I wondered why he chose a silly teenager to have a fascinating conversation with – but he did not want to take the focus off the Curry’s big day. I knew who he was & watched my mother swoon when he walked into the room but I really had no idea what a great man I was talking to. He was as humble as an old shoe. That was well over 50 years ago and it is as vivid to me as if it occurred yesterday.

  21. Amy - February 22, 2018 1:56 pm

    Yes. This. All of it. Thank you for your beautiful words. What a way to remember someone who made such an impact on so many.

  22. Jan - February 22, 2018 2:05 pm

    Thank you for writing such a moving story to demonstrate how much Billy Graham impacted the lives of so many in his 99 years of life. He spoke to ordinary people as well as presidents, kings and queens. God used him in powerful ways to open eyes, hearts and minds. I believe He is using you to do the same and He can use us all if we will allow Him to do so! I don’t believe in coincidences either.

  23. Linda Daughtry - February 22, 2018 2:17 pm

    ….and I’m pretty sure he was an honored guest at my sweet Mama’s Heavenly birthday party yesterday!

    • theholtgirls - February 22, 2018 5:29 pm

      Oh, Linda, goodbyes are hard, but I am thankful for the hope you have to see her again! I am sorry about your loss. Heaven keeps getting dearer, with so many loved ones there.

  24. Judy - February 22, 2018 2:23 pm

    So many times, I finish reading something you have written with tears. Other times I just enjoy the memories your story has stirred. Today, I finished with “Beautiful!”, and chills. The good chills. Yes, I could actually see your Daddy and Billy shaking hands … and Jesus with a hand on each one’s shoulder.

  25. Sandra Marrar - February 22, 2018 2:25 pm

    Amen! A touching tribute to a remarkable man of God .

  26. Carol Houston Rothwell - February 22, 2018 2:26 pm

    DANK you Sean.!..You made me cry!!He’s shaking a lot of hands in heaven today!! What a glorious day in heaven it is!!

  27. Summer - February 22, 2018 2:48 pm

    Billy Graham was the real deal. Beautiful.

  28. Toni M Martin - February 22, 2018 2:53 pm

    Can you imagine Billy’s reception?!? I am not sad in the least at the passing of Billy, I am thrilled for him! And now, thanks to you for sharing, I am thrilled for your Dad. Enjoy, boys, we’re all waiting for our turn! xoxo

    • Ava - February 22, 2018 8:38 pm

      The wonderful thing about being saved and a Child of God is that we all get the same reception in Heaven. Billy’s will be grand, but then so will ours.

  29. Gary - February 22, 2018 3:16 pm

    AMEN !

  30. Jack Darnell - February 22, 2018 3:25 pm

    I need to stop reading this blog. But I can’t just yet. 😉 I just forwarded that to my entire family. THANKS DUDE. Sorry I missed you in Palatka! But next time I would like to shake your hand.

  31. Jack Quanstrum - February 22, 2018 3:25 pm

    Touched my heart!

  32. Janie Fuller - February 22, 2018 3:55 pm

    This meant a lot to me today! A lot! Can’t wait to share it with my husband and his mama. Thank you Sean! It’s beautiful!

  33. Celeste Sheppard - February 22, 2018 3:56 pm

    Well Sean, you did it again! You are amazing. You weave such a wonderful tapestry with words. I love you Sean. Please don’t ever stop writing!

  34. Diana Williams - February 22, 2018 4:31 pm

    Wonderful to read about the wonderful Billy Graham. Thank you for this.

  35. Kathy Ball - February 22, 2018 4:57 pm

    Tender and touching memory of Billy and your Pa! I almost could smell the Winstons! Bless you, my friend I have never met!

  36. Gwen McGill - February 22, 2018 5:01 pm

    The best.

  37. Mary Lee - February 22, 2018 5:31 pm

    One of your best….love your last line and I know it’s true.

  38. theholtgirls - February 22, 2018 5:32 pm

    Sean, thank you for your writing, and for inviting us to wander the South with you. Your commenters here tell great stories too. It’s almost like we’re one big family. 😉

  39. Michael Sigler - February 22, 2018 5:41 pm

    My wife and I met Billy Graham at an event in Wheaton, Illinois. He chatted with us for a bit and shook my hand. That was in 1977. I consider that handshake one of the greatest honors of my life.

  40. muthahun - February 22, 2018 5:50 pm

    From the sounds of it, Sean, Billy’s own kids spend a good deal of their childhoods missing their dad, too [].

    My great grandfather, Henry, was himself a Nazarene minister. He had his own little chapel across the road from his house, and when I was little more than a toddler, I can remember him watching Billy Graham on my grandparents’ first B&W tv and saying, “Now how to you s’pose they got all those people into that little box?”

    Yours is a lovely tribute.

  41. Penn Wells - February 22, 2018 6:18 pm

    I try to read the comments section of your column as I start each morning with you. Both
    the volume and the ‘velocity’ of the comments this morning are noteworthy. When I was a kid growing up in South Georgia, Billy Graham was universally respected and admired by all and loved by most. But I don’t believe I can remember anyone I personally knew who admitted they were saved by him…until, that is, I read Louis Zamperini’s testimony at the end of Lauren Hillenbrand’s excellent book, “Unbroken” (by the time I finished reading it, I felt like I had grown up with Louis Zamperini). I am sure such stories are both legion and…true. RIP, Billy Graham.

  42. Jana Frost - February 22, 2018 6:33 pm

    I just need to tell you that your stories make me smile & my heart sing. Life is all about the little things, the things we don’t realize are significant at the time. I too have wonderful memories of relatives that have passed. I lost my dad last week. I bet he is in line to shake Billy’s hand too. Keep the stories coming.

    • Sandi in FL - February 23, 2018 11:18 pm

      Since condolences to you on the loss of your father last week, Jana. May God comfort you and your family at this sad time.

  43. Linda Chipman - February 22, 2018 9:26 pm

    And my Mama is right there with your Daddy shaking Billy’s hand.

  44. Karen - February 22, 2018 9:58 pm

    I love this story. Of course I’m sure you hear that all the time. I love this story in particular because it tells what an important part Reverend Billy Graham played in so many people’s lives. He would say that it wasn’t him, he wasn’t important, he was just doing what God told him to do, saying what God told him to say. He would say he was just the loudspeaker for God’s word. I never had the privilege of meeting him. I just know this world was a better place with him in it. Rest in Heaven Reverend Graham.

  45. Kaye - February 22, 2018 11:10 pm

    I have no words. This is just raw and beautiful. It brought me to tears and made me smile at the same time!!! THANK you!

  46. Jon Jones - February 23, 2018 12:01 am

    My old Pop loved him as well, even when he drank. Thanks again for making an old guy cry..

  47. Patricia Gibson - February 23, 2018 1:09 am

    Wonderful tribute!

  48. Judy Broussard - February 23, 2018 4:12 am

    Beautiful tribute

  49. Kathy burgess - February 23, 2018 5:01 am

    When I was little and growing up in SC, my whole family would sit around out small black and white tv. listening to Billy. My daddy would cry , my mama would almost defrost and my grandma would be the amen, hallelujah corner. My sister and I would sit there shivering in fear. We heard plenty of fire and brimstone at church but not the way Billy would preach it…where you could smell the coals and feel the fire licking at bare feet.
    Now, when I go to church, I pray the preacher will preach like that…I love the book of Revelations, and watch old Billy Graham crusades by choice. Nobody can come close to him.

  50. Regina Peavy - February 23, 2018 6:17 pm

    You speak to me in so many ways, since I’m from Dothan, in South Alabama, but this one tops them all. ❤️

  51. Judy Riley - February 23, 2018 7:56 pm

    Gave me “chills” reading this….

  52. Barbara Schweck - February 23, 2018 7:56 pm

    I was raised Episcolian so was never one to listen to Bible Thumping preaching. However, when I saw Billy Graham on TV I decided then and there that I would go see him one day. I was so blessed to see him in the Atlanta Stadium which was filled with young and old I do believe that he was a true man of God, lived his life as such, and was very humble even though he touched the lives of millions. You know he is glad to be with the Lord and I believe that God is so glad to have him iin the Glory Land. I believe God would say to him, “Well done my son.”

  53. Randal Brown - February 24, 2018 12:29 am

    Words spoken are only as good as the anointing with which they are spoken. I am so very glad the anointing was on these words, I am also thankful that the Holy Anointing was on the words which Billy Graham spoke for so many years.

  54. Jenny Walker - February 24, 2018 1:29 am

    Just ❤️

  55. Steven - February 24, 2018 1:53 pm

    I’ve become a very big fan in a very short time. Each post that I have read has resonated.

    We have a little family get-away place in Black Mountain. Montreat is literally next door. It was always comforting to know Billy was on ‘one of them mountainsides over thar’. Like his presence hung over and protected the larger community. I trust his spirit will continue to do so.

    My wife is a Methodist minister. Her mentor was the great British evangelical Donald English. Don and Billy were tight. When Don died some years ago Billy called my wife to tell her the news. He was that kind of guy. Ordinary but extraordinary. Don was the same.

    Both had the good fortune to be supported by wives who held the fort, and the family, together while their husbands lived very public lives, doing their best to answer God’s call. Hello, Bertha! A funny aside – my wife used to send care packages of Jiffy mix cornbread to Bertha – apparently the British didn’t have access to such culinary goodness! Ordinary but extraordinary.

  56. Wayne Stark - February 26, 2018 3:29 am

    Where can I buy your books. I looked online and they were listed as out-of-stock. I’d like all of them.


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