My Afternoon with Cissie Graham Lynch
The youngest granddaughter of America’s Preacher Rev. Billy Graham makes football her mission field
By Alison Storm
Visiting the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina is always a memorable experience. I was there five years ago covering the dedication, attended by three former presidents and Rev. Billy Graham himself. This time I walked through the base of the 40-foot tall glass cross at the entrance of the $27 million building armed with a new assignment—interviewing Billy Graham’s youngest granddaughter, Cissie Graham Lynch.
She met me in the lobby and guided me through some double doors, down a hallway to a conference room. Cissie, wearing a black tailored dress, sat in front of a life-size panoramic photo featuring the massive crowd of one of Billy Graham’s famous crusades covering one wall.
Throughout his six decades of ministry, Billy Graham held 417 crusades, wrote 29 books, preached in 185 countries, and has personally reached 210 million people in live audiences. He’s been named one of the “Ten Most Admired Men” a record fifty times. In 1989 he became the first clergyman honored by a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. He’s graced the cover of more magazines than some super models including Time, Newsweek, and Life. He’s participated in more presidential inaugurals than anyone alive today. There’s no denying that Billy Graham is one of the most influential men in history.
It’s a spiritual torch that has now been passed on to his son Franklin Graham, Cissie’s father. But despite growing up steps outside the spotlight, Cissie, 26, says she would have been perfectly content staying behind the scenes. It’s just one of the many things that I was surprised to learn during my afternoon with Cissie—but here are eight facts that may surprise you too.
- She tried to escape the Graham name. She spent years fighting her family’s prominent position. “Through high school I tried to run from the Graham name and be my own person,” explains Cissie. “I think it’s natural for someone who is born and raised in a celebrity home.” She didn’t dream of walking in her father or grandfather’s footsteps. Her goals involved a New York City apartment, a secular university and a career in public relations. A 2005 trip around the world with her dad changed all that. She realized she could play an important part in the ministry her grandfather started so many years ago.
- She worried she married the wrong man. Most newlyweds have that “uh oh” moment where you wonder if you married the right person. Cissie is no exception. After getting married to NFL player Corey Lynch in 2007, Cissie called her mom crying that she may have made a mistake, a story she now laughs about. “I went from being Franklin Graham’s daughter to Corey Lynch’s wife,” she explains. So finding her own identity was difficult at times. She says although it took her a year and a half to commit to changing her last name they are now a happily married couple. “My first job is to be a wife and support my husband and his career,” she says. “He comes first.”
- She and her husband are very frugal. Although she’s surrounded by wealthy professional athletes Cissie says her husband is extremely frugal. “He is very wise with his money,” explains Cissie. “Unfortunately we’re surrounded by people who are not.” Her husband Corey drives a Prius and for years Cissie drove her grandmother’s Volvo station wagon. Corey doesn’t buy anything unless it’s on sale and he even makes extra cash selling his teammates’ castoffs and selling them on eBay or Craigslist. When other NFL wives are upgrading their diamonds, Corey is a more practical gift-giver. “My husband gave me a blender,” Cissie laughs. “True story.”
- She once struggled with an eating disorder. Cissie suffered with an eating disorder for years, but only publicly shared the experience for the first time last summer. As special projects producer with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, she’s heading up a new internet tool called Ransom.tv, a website collecting personal stories from young adults whose faith has healed them from afflictions like eating disorders, suicide attempts and depression. “In James we’re told to confess our sins to others. I think you find freedom in that,” says Cissie, who credits the project with pushing her to share her own story. “And through your freedom you find healing.”
- She’s never read any of her grandfather’s books. Cissie says she’s not much of a reader and she never reads articles about herself. (Probably not even this one!) In fact, she told me she’s never read any of her grandfather’s 29 books until very recently when she picked up his latest book Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well.
- She spends many Sundays in football stadiums. Another mission field Cissie is passionate about is one measured in yards and covered in turf. Her husband spent the last four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cissie sees this lifestyle of excess as a ministry opportunity. “Sunday mornings my sanctuary is an NFL stadium,” she says. “That’s where I’m going to praise God.”
- She doesn’t have the Bible committed to memory. There’s no doubt Cissie knows scripture. For years she’s lived under the expectation that she can spout verses from memory and she admits it’s not true. “People assume I was born with scripture in my heart and I should be a Bible encyclopedia,” says Cissie. “I’m not.”
- This year she resolved to say “yes” to God. Although she doesn’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions, Cissie did say a special prayer back in January, promising to be more obedient by saying yes to God. And Cissie says He seems to be testing her commitment to that prayer by presenting her with various speaking engagements and opportunities. “I’m not called to be a preacher. That is for the men in my family,” she says. But what she feels she is called to be is an encouragement to women, whether it’s someone who has struggled with an eating disorder or an NFL wife looking for meaning in life. “I believe that He’s called us to be the best of the best of what we do.” And it’s obvious Cissie is taking that assignment from God very seriously.