Cindy and I spent our Thanksgiving holidays on the beach. It was great just to get away and do nothing for a few days. The first night was cold, but the weather became warmer each day. Few things can compare to looking out the Gulf as the sun sets below the horizon.
As I sat looking over the water I was reminded of the story of Horatio Spafford. During the late 1860s, Spafford, a successful lawyer and real estate holder, his wife Anna and four daughters lived in Chicago. In 1871, Spafford lost much of his real estate investments in the Great Chicago Fire. His business interests were further hit by the economic downturn of 1873 at which time he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre. At the last moment, he was delayed because of business concerning some zoning problems connected with rebuilding after the fire. He sent his family on ahead with the plans to join them afterwards.
While crossing the Atlantic the SS Ville du Havre collided with the Loch Earn and sunk. In 12 minutes 226 people had lost their lives. Only 61 passengers and 26 crew members survived the accident. Anna was found and rescued clinging to some debris. She later sent the famous telegram to her husband which read in part “Saved alone. What shall I do…”.
Afterwards Spafford traveled to be with his wife Anna. While crossing the Atlantic, the captain showed him the area where the accident had occurred. I can’t imagine what he must have thought at that time but the moment later inspired the following words.
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.
Spafford was friends with Philip Bliss who composed the music to Spafford’s hymn. Bliss named the music Ville du Havre after the ship that sunk with Spafford’s family. Ironically, Bliss himself died in a tragic train wreck shortly after writing the music.
Spafford and Anna later had three more children, a son and two daughters. Their four year old son died in 1880 of Scarlet Fever. In 1881, the Spaffords moved to Jerusalem to serve the poor living there. Their group, the American Colony, later became the subject of the Nobel Prize winning novel, Jerusalem, by Selma Lagerlöf.