This week: The Power of FaithEdited by: ember_rain
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I hesitated to volunteer to do a spirituality newsletter, until one of my children pointed out who better than me. I am the eldest daughter of a church of Christ preacher and a social worker. Growing up, I got to see the best and the worst in a multitude of people from a multitude of places. To come clean, I no longer consider myself a Christian. I do not believe that I have abandoned my path, but rather the path abandoned me. My mother assures me that had my grandmother not convinced my father he wasn't good at anything but public speaking, they would have followed the same path. I am here to share a bit about what my childhood and more often than not, what my father taught me. He is no longer with us, but his message never changed. What kind of a daughter would I be not to share it.
My father didn't enter the Christian Communications Program (C.C.P), now known as Harding's School of Biblical Studies (H.S.B.S) until I was in the fourth grade. What prompted him to attend was the closing of the F.M.C. Plant in Jonesboro, Arkansas where he was working. They didn't give us any kind of notices really. They just came in and told everyone this was their two weeks notice. There were no other jobs that paid blue collar workers what F.M.C. did. He came home that day, locked himself in the bathroom and cried. I had never heard my father cry before. It is one of my more powerful memories.
I looked around the early 1900's home we were living in. I knew it was all we could afford even with the job. I didn't know what the term slum lord meant, until I got much older but I can honestly say the man that rented the place to us was a slum lord. We spent a week living with my grandmother until he could assure my mother he had caught the rat--and by rat I mean rodent of unusual size straight out of "The Princess Bride". It found its way to our house when the feed store two blocks away flooded.
To say Daddy was already at his whits end feeling as though he couldn't afford to take care of his family, would be an understatement. Working at F.M.C. wasn't his only job. He also was a part time preacher at a small church just outside of town. Two jobs wasn't making it, what was he going to do with only one? To say it got better from there would be a flat out lie.
Back then C.C.P. wasn't a degree program. You couldn't get loans or Pell grants to attend like you can now. For Daddy that meant one thing and one thing only; if he was going to get the training he needed to be a real preacher he had to convince churches to sponsor him. Every week we were in a new town at a new church. He would preach for them to show them he had a talent for it and it would be a good investment on their part. On occasion, he would have to turn the mics down because he had this booming voice that carried easily. There were places where he would just turn it off and ask if the people in the back could hear him. Those were the churches where the preacher usually objected to helping us. Their pride got in the way. Daddy eventually realized this and put away his sermon about how pride comes before the fall.
After about six months he settled on pretty much one sermon. It became my favorite. It told a story about the writing of the poem that became the song "It Is Well With My Soul." I can't say that I can prove my fathers story is true. I refuse to look it up for fear that it isn't. But the words of the song and the story go so well together, its hard to believe otherwise.
The man who wrote the poem that became the song came to the U.S. in the late 1800's by steam ship from England to visit family who had moved here. He brought with him his wife and daughter with the intent of staying a couple of months. Two weeks before they were to head home, they got word that his wife's father was deathly ill. He tried to book passage for all three on a ship leaving the next day but they only had two tickets left. So he sent his wife and daughter on ahead with assurances he would only be two weeks behind them.
Two weeks later, as he began boarding the ship that would take him home--the ship his wife and daughter should have been on--he was met by the captain. "Sir, I regret to report that we have received notice that the ship your wife and daughter were on hit an unexpected storm in the middle of the Atlantic. The ship is lost. There are no survivors."
The man thanked him for letting him known and asked that he notify him when they reached the spot the ship was thought to have sank. The captain agreed and a few days later sent word, they were weighing anchor over the spot. The man who had lost two of the most important people in his world went on deck and while overlooking the watery grave of his family, he wrote the poem that became the song.
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrow like sea billows roll,
whatever my Lord, thou has taught me to say
It is well with my soul.
I was nearly grown before it dawned on me that the reason that sermon was the one he used when essentially begging churches to help, was that he was making his own peace with their answer. He was reminding himself that no matter how desperate he felt, if they said no it was because the God he believed in and trusted had a different plan for him and there might be other lives he needed to touch before he accomplished his goal.
When he passed away 6 years ago, at the age of 55, it was those words that got me through. I had changed my spiritual path long before then, but I kept going back to those words.
This is the spiritual nature we all strive for. This is the peace that encourages people to fill up churches, temples and oak groves around the world. It matters not who you pray to, it matters only that you pray. It matters not how bad things seem, in order to go on, in order to keep moving forward we must be able to say... "it is well with my soul." Even atheists, which make up a large number of my friends, have a way to accomplish this. It is the part of human nature that encourages sayings like, "Pull yourself up by your boot straps and keep on going."
This is what dulls the sharper edge of the sword we know as hope. It can bring us great joy or infinite sadness. But it is in the acceptance that this poem showed that the infinite sadness gives way to understanding and lessens the pain.
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What song or story inspired you to continue to strive forward? Do you consider people who can keep going and live a life of acceptance to be a type of spiritual hero? Is there someone you know that seems to have a handle on this idea that you try to pattern your life after?
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