Not long after, Bush got to meet and interact with Graham on a more personal level: "He asked me to go for a walk with him around Walker’s Point. I was captivated by him. He had a powerful presence, full of kindness and grace, and a keen mind. He asked about my life in Texas. I talked to him about Laura and our little girls."
It was during that conversation that the not-yet-president shared a thought he'd had with Graham about reading the Bible and how it might help make him a better person, to which Graham responded with one of the Bible’s most fundamental lessons: "One should strive to be better, but we’re all sinners who earn God’s love not through our good deeds, but through His grace."
While Bush did not fully grasp that concept at the time, he recalls this moment as a seed being planted: "His thoughtful explanation made the soil less hard, the brambles less thick."
Shortly after that incident, while back at home in Texas, Bush says he received a package in the mail from Graham, a copy of the Living Bible. "He had inscribed it and included a reference to Philippians 1:6: 'And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.'”
Billy Graham's small gestures in sharing the Gospel with Bush were the beginning of God’s work within him, he says, and his care and his teachings were the "real beginning of [his] faith walk."
This is also the series of events in his life which Bush credits when recalling his final decision to quit drinking: "I couldn’t have given up alcohol on my own. But in 1986, at 40, I finally found the strength to quit. That strength came from love I had felt from my earliest days and from faith I didn’t fully discover until my later years."
"When I was governor of Texas, I sat behind Billy at one of his crusades in San Antonio. His powerful message of God’s love moved people to tears and motivated hundreds to come forward to commit themselves to Christ," Bush wrote. "I remember thinking about all the crusades Billy had led over the years around the world, and his capacity to open up hearts to Jesus. This good man was truly a shepherd of the Lord."
Bush, America's 43rd president who served during the terrorist attacks of 9/11, considers the ecumenical service at Washington National Cathedral on Sept. 14, 2001, a time when America was "on bended knee—frightened, angry, uncertain," as Graham's most meaningful service to him. "As only Billy Graham could," he said, "he helped us feel God’s arms wrapped around our mourning country."
“We come together today,” Graham preached, “to affirm our conviction that God cares for us, whatever our ethnic, religious or political background may be. The Bible says that he is ‘the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.’” Through Graham, his "special servant", Bush says God comforted the nation that day.
Graham's influence and guidance continued well into his family's lives, as Bush recalls in an anecdote: "One night while dad was away on a trip during his presidency, mother and I had dinner at the White House. Eventually we got to talking about religion and who gets to go to heaven. I made the point that the New Testament says clearly that to get to heaven, one must believe in Christ. Mother asked about the devout who don’t believe in Jesus but do God’s work by serving others. She then took advantage of one of the benefits of being first lady. She picked up the phone and asked the White House operator to call Reverend Graham."
When Graham's "reassuring Southern voice" came on the phone, he said, “Barbara and George, I believe what is written in the New Testament. But don’t play God. He decides who goes to heaven, not you.”
"Those of us who were blessed to know Billy Graham benefited from his deep convictions and personal example, his wisdom and humility, his grace and purity of heart," Bush concluded. "We knew that his life was a gift from the Almighty. And I rejoice that he is now in the company of God, whom he loved so much and served so well."