Another lesson I’m learning from Carter: learning to trust. That word has cropped up in several circumstances over the past few weeks so I guess it’s time for me to open my eyes and pay attention. Our pastor said it first at Carter’s memorial service. He said in the end we must believe that God is trustworthy. He Who created us, created the world and created Little Carter knows us and knows what our future brings. In John 14: 1 Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in Me.” He never promised things would be easy and that we wouldn’t have trouble and tragedy; but in those times more than any we have to dig deeper and find our way to trust Him.
I ran across an “Open Windows” devotion from Jan 25, 2010; one paragraph says
“When our hope has slipped between our fingers and our joy has turned to dust, we have a choice to make. We can choose to allow those circumstances to overwhelm us, or – no matter how difficult – we can choose to look to the Savior and trust Him.”
Here’s a familiar story, but one I never tire of reading and shows what trust in God looks like in real life.
It is no secret how much I love the hymn “It is Well With My Soul”. I have in fact requested that it be sung at my funeral. But I don’t know if I have ever shared why the song is so special. You’ll have to know the story of the song first.
Horatio G. Spafford was a prominent lawyer, a senior partner in a large and thriving firm in Chicago during the 1860s. He and his wife, Anna, were also prominent supporters and friends of evangelist Dwight L. Moody. Their life was running smoothly and they were by all accounts prosperous and happy.
Beginning in 1870, things turned worse for the Spaffords. Their only son, Horatio Jr., died of scarlet fever at the age of 4. In 1871 the Great Fire of Chicago reduced the city to ashes destroying all of Spafford’s sizeable real estate investments. Even though their finances were depleted Horatio and Anna used what was left to feed the hungry, help the homeless, care for the sick and injured and comfort their grief-stricken neighbors. In 1873 hoping to ease the suffering of Anna’s failing health, their loss in the fire and their lost son, the Spaffords planned a trip to Europe with their four daughters, 11 year old Annie, 9 year old Margaret Lee, 5 year old Bessie and 2 year old Tanetta.
At the last minute Spafford was delayed because of business, so he sent his wife and 4 daughters, their French governess, Emma Lorriaux and several friends and ministers on the journey and he would follow in a few days. On November 22, 1873 the ship Ville du Havre was struck by another vessel and sank in 12 minutes. All four of the Spaffords’ daughters perished, but Anna survived. Upon her rescue one of the ministers traveling with their party heard Anna say, “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why.” In her grief and despair, Anna heard a soft voice speaking to her, “You were saved for a purpose.” Then Anna remembered something a friend had once said, “It’s easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.” When she arrived in England she sent a telegram to Horatio: “Saved alone. What shall I do?”
Horatio left Chicago immediately after receiving Anna’s telegram to bring her home. The ship’s captain summoned Horatio to the bridge and informed him, “A careful reckoning has been made and I believe we are now passing the place where the Ville du Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep.” That night alone in his cabin Horatio penned the lyrics to “It Is Well With My Soul” included at the end of this story. It is believed that Horatio took the words “It is Well” from the Shunammite woman whose only son died but was later raised to life by Elisha (II Kings 4: 8-37).
Horatio and Anna returned to Chicago to begin their lives again and in 1876 another son was born, also called Horatio Jr. (more in honor of his brother than his father). In 1878 a daughter Bertha was born and another daughter, Grace, arrived in 1880. But sadly, little Horatio Jr. died that same year of scarlet fever (or possibly pneumonia) at 4 years old just like his brother. In 1881 the Spaffords decided to leave their home in America and settle in Jerusalem. They began a work which became known as the “American Colony”, serving the needy, helping the poor, caring for the sick and providing a home for homeless children. The Spaffords remained in Jerusalem until their deaths, Horatio in 1888 (malaria) and Anna in 1923.
Spafford’s lyrics were put to music in 1876 by P.P. Bliss and he first sang the song that year before an assembly of ministers hosted by Dwight L. Moody in Chicago’s Farewell Hall. Ironically, one month later, Bliss and his wife were killed in a horrific train wreck.
So, why is this song so special to me? It was born out of tragedy and was “smothered” in tragedy in so many ways. Even Bliss and his wife died in a train wreck a month after he introduced the world to this song. Yet, the message brings comfort to so many and to me personally. I cannot fathom having 8 children, to witness the death of 6 of them, and 4 at one time! Yet still, Spafford says “It is Well”. It is so much like Job who refused to denounce God for his misfortune. Yes he complained, he wanted to die, in fact he cursed the day he was born. But through the deep anguish of both of these men, we learn that in spite of how much we hurt our God loves us and knows what is happening.
Also out of our trouble and strife we grow in our faith and God somehow produces something good out of what we view as chaotic tragedy. In the Spaffords’ case, Bertha Spafford Vester, one of the two surviving children of Horatio and Anna Spafford, founded The Spafford Children’s Center on the site of The American Colony in 1925. It still operates today as a not-for-profit outpatient medical clinic for sick children and infant welfare center monitoring well babies for development, weighing and vaccinations. Services are provided to anyone in need regardless of race, religion, or cultural background. The Center is unusual, in an area of sectarian conflict, in having staff of different faiths (Muslim, Jew and Christian) working together for a common cause- the benefit of deprived and sick children. Some of their services include medical clinic, social work, psychological practice and even speech therapy.
Although we may never see the good results (Spafford likely never envisioned the work of The Spafford Children’s Center) we can see through eyes of faith that even in the middle of the storm it is really….well.
It is Well With My Soul
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord oh my soul.
And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll.
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul.
It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well; it is well with my soul.