In 1871, Horatio Spafford lost his four-year-old son. That same year, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed most of his investments and nearly ruined him financially. Two years later, he sent his four remaining daughters and wife on ahead of him to Europe while he remained behind to finalize some business work. The ship carrying them sank, killing all four girls. His wife’s telegram to him read, “Saved alone.”
Soon after, when he himself was crossing the Atlantic, as he passed near the place where his children had drowned, he penned these words, “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.”
This weekend, I will not be with you, because in two days my husband will undergo important surgery in Pittsburgh. It is essential to his life and to his ability to flourish. It will also be one of the most painful things he will ever experience. And, as many of you know, he lost his mother two weeks ago, which means that this time he will not have her to talk to in the aftermath. We appreciate your prayers as the day approaches.
I know that I have not known you for long. And that time has been cut even shorter by the outbreak and what we have had to do to keep our community safe. So many of you may feel as though I am still an outsider. Perhaps you are still withholding judgment or trust, because you remain uncertain.
There is not much I can do about the circumstances of the world at large. We are in the middle of a world-wide pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans, infected over 7.5 million in this country, and continues to grow. We face political entrenchment the likes of which we have not seen in generations, if we ever have. And none of that is within my power to change, slow, or stop.
But I can share a little bit about me, so that maybe you can feel that you know me more: I may only be turning thirty-eight this month, but I have already buried all three of my parents – my father at eight, my dad (step-dad) at thirty-one, and my mother at thirty-four. I was born an only child, but am number seven of eight within my step-family, all of whom I consider my siblings. My oldest brother is seventy and my little brother is thirty-five and has been quadriplegic and on a vent for almost fifteen years. I have suffered a miscarriage and given birth to premature twins. My mother had at least ten major surgeries during my lifetime. My husband has had nearly thirty surgeries. My grandfather fought in World War I. My uncle fought in World War II and was a prisoner of war, then fought in Korea. My father was a full-bird Colonel and served in the United States Army for over twenty-five years. He was also an Eagle Scout at the ripe young age of fourteen (back in 1954). My family is of English, German, and mostly Scotch-Irish descent, having lived in Pennsylvania and the Carolinas since before the Revolution.
This land is home to me. I come from a long line of Protestants, most of whom were Presbyterians. My family has fought and bled for this country for generations. And my life experiences include an unusual amount packed into just under four decades.
I tell you these things so that hopefully you will begin to feel that you know me a bit more.
Even before I arrived here, I already loved you. Even before I met you, I felt I had known this family of faith for a long, long time. God has brought us together for a reason – and at this time, for a reason.
Horatio Spafford’s words and story always come to my mind whenever the world seems to be spinning madly around me. It is the kind of faith I strive to have, even at the times when I fall short.
No matter what may come – in our world, in our country, in our community, in our lives – I can promise you this: it can be well with our souls because God is here with us. Walking amongst us. Working within us and through us and around us. Making sure everything will be okay. Even if we don’t know what okay is going to look like.
So be well. Stay safe. Be kind. Stay sane. And know that all will be well.
Blessings, Pastor Janie.