I love hymns. Having grown up in choir since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I just love old hymns. Maybe it’s because I was the chubby little brunette on the front row pretending to sing on Broadway … but I still love singing hymns.
I was reminded this past Sunday of another reason I love them. We were singing, “It Is Well With My Soul,” when I thought of the story that inspired its origin.
Horatio Spafford wrote “It Is Well With My Soul.” He was born in New York on October 20, 1828, but it was in Chicago that he became well-known for his clear Christian testimony. He and his wife Anna were active in their church, and their home was always open to visitors. They were blessed with five children and considerable wealth. Horatio was a lawyer and owned a great deal of property in his home city.
Tragedy came in great measure to this happy home. Their son, Horatio Jr, died suddenly of scarlet fever at the age of four. A year later, a massive fire swept through downtown Chicago, devastating the city, including many properties owned by Horatio. Despite substantial loss, the Spaffords sought to demonstrate the love of Christ, by assisting those who were grief-stricken and in great need.
Two years later, in 1873, Spafford decided his family should take a holiday in England. Horatio was delayed because of business, so he sent his family ahead: his wife and his four daughters.
On November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic, their vessel was struck by an iron sailing ship. Two hundred and twenty-six people lost their lives. All four of Horatio Spafford’s daughters perished, sparing Anna Spafford. Upon arrival in Wales, Anna sent a telegram to her husband, which included the words, “Saved alone….”
Horatio immediately set sail to Wales. During the voyage, the captain summoned him to the bridge of the vessel. The captain explained they were then passing over the very spot where the vessel had sunk, and where his daughters had died. It is said that Spafford immediately returned to his cabin and wrote the hymn, “It is well with my soul,” the first line of which is, “When peace like a river, attendeth my way…”
I always wondered how Spafford could say “it is well,” facing so much tragedy. I’ve had tragedy in my life that left me paralyzed. I would question God and scream, “why me, Lord? … how could you let this happen.” Many of you have faced your own tragedies and, perhaps, can relate to what I’m saying.
Then I ran across another, more recent story …
Jeremy Williams, was a Greenville, Georgia, football coach who battled ALS for almost 15 years. He was named the National High School Football Association’s coach of the year after the 2009 season, when he led Greenville to an 11-1 record and region title while struggling to walk, communicate and sometimes breathe.
Williams was diagnosed with ALS in October, 2007, and continued to lead Greenville for four more seasons. The 2009 Greenville team remains the school’s most recent region champion. His final team in 2010 went 8-3 and reached the playoffs.As the disease progressed, Williams used a golf cart given to him by community leaders to get around while coaching. In his last season, his ninth at Greenville, Williams used a motorized wheelchair. The players rallied around their coach and played the best football Greenville had seen in over a decade.
“I can still make a difference on this earth,” said Williams, using a synthesized voice, told a reporter in 2014. “I can share the gospel of Jesus Christ. I can still coach. I can tell my wife I love her. And I can share knowledge and praise my beautiful girl and brave boy. I still have purpose.” “Just imagine not being able to communicate and not being able to move,” Williams said. “Your mind is bright with ideas and statements, but you have no way to express yourself. Being like that you have no worth.’’ “The message I got afterward is that we are not promised another breath on this earth,” Williams said. “I want to have everything taken care of so Jennifer does not have to make any decisions. I want Jennifer and the kids to enjoy my celebration of life. It will be a party not a funeral because I will be hugging Jesus.”
Jeremy Williams passed away in May of this year. Nothing in his testimony led me to believe he asked “why me, Lord?”
All I can say is that’s what can happen when you have peace like a river …
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