When it’s Not Always Well

In 1873, Horatio Spafford put his wife and four daughters aboard a ship traveling from the United States to Europe, with the intention of following them a few days later for a family vacation.  The Saffords had already suffered the death of their young son and lost all of their properties in the Chicago Fires.  A trip to get away was definitely in order. However, the ship Mrs. Safford and her girls were aboard collided with another ship while en route, causing the boat to sink.  The vast majority of the 313 passengers drowned in the ice cold waters of the Atlantic.  While Horatio’s wife was rescued after being found clinging to part of the ship’s debris, his daughters did not survive.  Spafford left on the next ship to be with his wife after learning the tragic news.  As his ship passed by the exact spot where his daughters died, he penned the words to the beloved hymn, “It is Well”.  The words of that grieving father have been an inspiration to me in light of such personal loss, as I’m sure they have been for many.  If one can say “It is well” when reeling from the death of not one, but five children….wouldn’t we all consider that to be a person of great faith?

A year ago, I would have agreed with that.  And many a time, I have sat at the piano and have sung those same words, thinking that I, too, must be a person of great faith to even be able to utter such lyrics.  After all, wasn’t it a great demonstration of unshakable faith and immovable trust in God to accept “my lot” in life?  If I wasn’t able to sing those words, it seemed to be a denial of that faith and trust.

But as time continues to pass in my grief journey, I find it more and more difficult to sing, let alone, hear those words.  Recently as I walked around my neighborhood one evening, those familiar words came streaming through my earbuds:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

My ears heard the words.  But my heart was not comforted.  Tears welled up as I faced the conclusion that even a year after my son’s death, I can say with brutal honesty that it is not well with my soul.  And it never will be.

It is not well with my soul that my son doesn’t get to begin his sophomore year of high school.

It is not well with my soul when I look at kids Joe’s age dressing up for a homecoming dance.

It is not well with my soul that his friends have started to learn how to drive – something he couldn’t wait to do.

It is not well with my soul to go eat sushi and not have him across the table from me.

It is not well with my soul every time I take out two plates for dinner, rather than three.

It is not well with my soul that his room remains empty day in and day out.

I am learning that as long as I have breath in these earthly lungs, I will never be “well” with Joe’s death.  There will never be a day where I don’t long to see his face and wrap my arms around him.  And that is perhaps one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in grief:

It is OK to not be OK.

It is well to not be well with the difficult circumstances of this world.  When I look at the devastation of hurricanes and earthquakes and fires and violence, it is not well with my soul.  When I see those around me suffering with illness and cancer and Alzheimer’s, it is not well with my soul.  When I hear about death of any kind, my soul cries for those who now have to walk their own difficult journey. And it is not well with my soul.

If all of this is not well with my soul, it begs the question….well, then what IS well with my soul?  The answer is one that is slowly developing with the course of passing time and the healing of my broken heart.

I am well with the sovereignty of God.  I am OK knowing that God is God and I am not. God is in control of all things He created.  He owns all things, knows all things, rules all things.  Nothing that happens in my life is a mystery to Him.  Even the death of my child.

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please. ~ Isaiah 46:9-10

I am well with God’s plan for my life. I fully trust that God has a plan with a much bigger perspective than I will ever know or understand.  He sees the big picture and ultimately, I know it is not about God living out His part in my story.  Rather, it is about me living out my part in HIS story.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. ~ Proverbs 19:21

I am well with God’s mercy.  There is never a more greater awareness of the mercy of God than when walking through the journey of grief.  I cannot explain it well enough to do it justice, but it is because of this undeserved mercy that I have the assurance of seeing my son again.  My child was saved because of the mercy of God through Jesus Christ.  I am too.  And this is what will ultimately reunite us.

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you…  ~1 Peter 1:3-4

Perhaps it is this concept of God’s mercy that inspired Horatio Spafford to write the less infamous verse of “It is Well”.

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, O my soul!

And finally, I am well with Christ’s return like never before.   Joe and I used to joke about that all the time.  Whenever things were hard and we were dealing with difficult issues, or when we would watch depressing news stories, one of us would turn to the other and say, “I’m ready for Jesus to come back.”  And the other would agree.  But let me tell you, a grieving mother’s heart could not mean it any more sincerely to say those same words and pray it to come true every day.

1For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. ~  1 Thessalonians 4:16

The final two verses Horatio Spafford wrote are no mystery to those of us who long for Christ’s return with every fiber of our being.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the 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.

God knew we would have to walk through trials in this life.  He knew the moment sin entered the world that it would not be well.  With His soul or ours. Which is why He sent His only Son to die the death we deserved.  So that there would be no more separation. No more sadness.  No more grief.  No more death.  He made a way so that it would truly be well between Him and us.  Forever.

And that is why I can declare with all that is in me, “It is well with my soul.”

 

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Surrendering the Pen

One of the most rewarding yet frustrating parts of teaching Kindergarten is walking my students through the writing process.  In the beginning of the year, the children simply draw pictures to tell their stories, as most of them don’t have the phonetic skills to sound words out and write them down.  But as the year goes on, they begin to label, then write beginning sounds, stretch words out, learn and use high frequency words, and put all those things together to create sentences.  By the end of the school year, my little Kinders can write several sentences about their chosen topic.  It is truly a wonder to behold!  But the process of getting there?  Well….let’s just say there are days when digging my eyeballs out with my bare hands would be less painful.

The other day, one of my sweet boys sat with a blank piece of paper in front of him for the entire writing time.  I checked in on him periodically to offer suggestions of stories he may want to share, but all he would quietly say was, “I just don’t know what to write.” I’ve started to figure out that this little cutie is a bit of a perfectionist.  He didn’t just want to slop anything down on the paper.  He wanted it to be exactly the right thing.

I like to imagine God as the author of my story (although, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m merely a character in HIS story).  But unlike the uncertainty of a new writer, God already has every detail of my life planned out.  He doesn’t just sit wondering what to write.  He is purposeful.  Timely.  All-knowing.  He wants my life to be exactly the right thing.

It’s an interesting notion to think of your life as a story, isn’t it?  If you’re anything like me, there are good chapters, boring chapters, exciting chapters, and sad ones, too.  And then there are those chapter that you desperately wish you could just tear out of the book, because they weren’t supposed to be there in the first place.

Or were they?

Perhaps this is one of the greatest dichotomies of faith to make sense of…we believe that God has written some wonderful chapters for our lives, but then we question if He really did author the completely tragic ones, too.  And if so, why did those have to be a part of our story and not someone else’s?  Nearly a year later, my mind often revisits the chapter called, “The Day Joe Went Home to Jesus”.  I don’t know why the Author allowed my sweet boy’s death to be written into my story.  But He did.  And there’s no rewriting that chapter. No edits can be made.  When I reread it, the outcome remains the same.

Over a year ago, when Joe was going through some very difficult issues, he’d often come to me for counsel and advice.  I told him I knew deep down God was writing an amazing story for his life.  And that one day, all of it would make sense.  That God was going to take the bad parts he was walking through and use it for his good and God’s glory someday.  Thinking back on those conversations are tough….maybe because it didn’t go the way I had planned it in my head.  But God was still the author of Joe’s story.  Not me. And so I trust that God saw some bigger purpose for my son’s life through his death.

Which reminds me of another story.  Of a Son’s death with not just a big purpose.  But the greatest purpose.  It was a purpose that was birthed from the moment sin entered the world.  And it was fulfilled the second that Son – Jesus – breathed His last.  It was the chapter that God knew had to be written, if we had any shred of hope to spend eternity with Him.  And as awful as that chapter is to read or even imagine, it is the single most life-altering chapter for all humanity.  I am forever indebted to the Author, because it means my son’s story continues in heaven and that one day I will get to share how God did indeed use his story for good.

There’s been a part of my story I’ve been trying to write for a while.  At times the pages are blank, just staring back at me.  And while I have allowed God to pick up the pen to start the chapter, I find myself taking it out of His hands and trying to finish it myself. But God has so gently whispered to my heart to let go, to surrender that control, and let Him make something beautiful out of what He’s purposed.

So….where are you in your story?

Is your life going well and everything you dreamed it would be?  Surrender the pen.

Are you waiting for God to move in an area of your life because things aren’t going according to your timetable?  Surrender the pen.

Have the trials of this world made you hopeless and weary and you aren’t sure how you will make it through another day?  Surrender the pen.

Because God has been writing the most incredible stories since the beginning of time. Some were miraculous, like Moses’ story.  Some were tragic, like Job’s.  Some were unbelievable like Jonah’s.  But they all had God as the Author.  And not only did He write those stories.  He was the Hero.  Every. Single. Time.

I don’t know how my story – or yours –  will turn out.  The process of letting it unfold may be painful at times.   But I do know that regardless of the chapter – good, bad, or ugly – God will forever be the Author and the Hero of my story.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.  ~ Proverbs 19:21