Suffering, failure, loneliness, sorrow, discouragement, and death will be part of your journey,
but the Kingdom of God will conquer all these horrors.
No evil can resist grace forever —Brennan Manning
A couple of weeks after I’d been released from the psychiatric hospital in the early 1990s, Ruth Bell Graham invited me to spend a few days at their North Carolina home.
I flew into the Asheville airport. One of their staff picked me up and drove me the thirty minutes to their house set high in the mountains.
Ruth met me at the gate and introduced me to their two German shepherds.
Apparently it was important that they knew I was a friend. Amen to that!
It was a lovely afternoon, so we sat outside in rocking chairs, drinking iced tea and enjoying the quiet. Ruth could see that I was tired, so after dinner she showed me to my bedroom and asked if I’d like a cup of tea.
It’s a memory that I treasure. There was a high bed with little wooden steps beside it and crisp white linens that Ruth told me she’d bought in Switzerland. I was tucked up in bed when she came back with my tea and asked if she could read to me.
She sat at the bottom of the bed with an old Scottish book “Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush” by Ian Maclaren.
She thumbed through the well-worn pages until she found what she was looking for, “The Transformation of Lachlan Campbell.” Ruth asked me if I knew the story, but I didn’t.
So she said, “It’s about a young girl, Flora Campbell, whose mother had died. Her strict, judgmental father, Lachlan, now raised her. Their home was a truly graceless place, so one day Flora ran away to London. Her father was so furious that he removed her name from the family Bible. She was wretched and alone in London.”
“One night she made her way into a church,” Ruth continued, and she began to read:
You maybe know that a wounded deer will try to hide herself, and I crept into the shadow of a church, and wept.
Then the people and the noise and the houses passed away like the mist on the hill, and I was walking to the kirk with my father, oh yes, and I saw you all in your places, and I heard the Psalms, and I could see through the window the green fields and the trees on the edge of the moor.
And I saw my home, with the dogs before the door, and the flowers that I planted, and the lamb coming for her milk, and I heard myself singing, and I awoke.
But there was singing, oh yes, and beautiful too, for the dark church was open, and the light was falling over my head . . . and this was the hymn—“ There is a fountain filled with blood.”
Ruth paused for a moment.
“Life is unbearable without grace,” she said. “They both needed it, the daughter and the father. This is my favorite part, when Flora makes her way home.”
She continued to read:
When she reached the door, her strength had departed, and she was not able to knock. But there was no need, for the dogs, who never forget nor cast off, were bidding her welcome with short joyous yelps of delight, and she could hear her father feeling for the latch, which for once could not be found, and saying nothing but “Flora, Flora.”
She had made up some kind of speech, but the only word she ever said was “Father,” for Lachlan, who had never even kissed her all the days of her youth, clasped her in his arms and sobbed out blessings over her head, while the dogs licked her hands with their soft, kindly tongues.
I’ll never forget that night or the grace that was lavished all over me by Ruth. As I left, she gave me her copy of the book.
I can’t tell you how many times I have picked up this gift and turned once more through the well-worn pages until I found Lachlan and Flora’s story.
It ends like this: Flora Campbell. Missed April 1873. Found September 1873.
“Her father fell on her neck and kissed her.”
Flora’s is the story of the prodigal son.
It’s the story of the lost daughter.
It’s the story of anyone who longs for grace, and when grace finds you, you can’t keep it to yourself.
It has to ring out like church bells:
I was lost but now I’m found.