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A Story to Tell

His life tells a story.

Unexpected business caused the lawyer to stay home in Chicago a few extra days instead of joining his family on the trip across the ocean. A companion of the famous evangelist D. L. Moody, the Presbyterian layman and his family planned to join Moody in England for one of his crusades.

Tragedy befell the steamship S.S. Ville du Havre, when struck by an iron sailing vessel. 226 reportedly died because of the accident, including Spafford’s four daughters. Annie, Maggie, Bessie, and Tanetta – ranging in ages from two to eleven – all drowned in the waters of the Atlantic on November 22, 1873. Spafford’s wife Anna survived the trip. Arriving in England, she sent a simple telegram to her husband that read “Saved Alone.”

Spafford took the next ship to England, asking the ship’s captain to alert him when they came to the spot of the previous accident. Bertha Spafford, a daughter born later to the couple, shared that it was at the tragedy’s location where he penned these famous 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.

It is well (it is well),
with my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.


As he looked over the cold waters, a tomb that held the bodies of his beloved daughters beneath, he wrote a piece that would become one of the church’s most treasured songs of the next century.

It is impossible to guess the thousands and perhaps millions of believers touched deeply by the words of that hymn. Their words, birthed in great sorrow, became ones of hope, strength, and comfort sung by countless worshipers for many decades. Did this heartbroken father ever expect Christians to still be singing his writing more than 140 years later?

God often brings purpose out of pain. He offers comfort out of chaos. And he births blessing out of brokenness.

The apostle Paul thought so. Describing a terribly difficult season of life, he remarked, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

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God has someone to touch through your words. You take classes, read books, and work to perfect your craft. But there are deeper lessons that you can’t find at a writer’s conference. The Lord takes you through difficulty, heartache, and impossible circumstances. He leads you through the valley. And in that experience, he gives you a story to tell.

Allow God to continue shaping that deep work within. And remember that there is someone waiting on the other side of that trial who will be strengthened, equipped, and inspired by your words.

About Rhett Wilson - A Word in Season

Rhett Wilson - A Word in Season
Rhett Wilson has loved reading and writing since his childhood when he won first place in a statewide short story contest. He is a family-man, pastor, and award-winning author. Rhett's blog, "Faith, Family, and Freedom," can be found at www.rhettwilson.blogspot.com. He enjoys doing life with his wife Tracey and their three children. The Wilsons explore waterfalls in the Carolinas, tube down mountain streams, and look forward to March Madness basketball every year. For fun, Rhett likes reading legal thrillers and Southern fiction, writing, and listening to wholesome country, classical, and Broadway music. He and his wife Tracey have released two CD’s: Lead Me On and Offered Praises. Rhett's byline has appeared in HomeLife, Thriving Family, Leadership Journal, and The Old Schoolhouse magazines as well as The Upper Room devotional.

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One comment

  1. EXACTLY what I needed to hear this morning. I had not heard the history behind “It is Well with My Soul.” That’s a beautiful testimony to remember. Thanks for sharing it.

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