One early morning, now a few years back, I went out for my usual run with a neighbor friend. Together my friend and I passed the miles, season after season, weaving a tapestry of friendship out of the bits and pieces that we shared from our personal lives. In the quiet hours before dawn, we discussed virtually everything about our world, our families…ourselves.
This particular morning was no different, and on this day, I brought to the run a heart and mind burdened with concern for my two-and-a half-year-old daughter who had struggled from birth with health and developmental problems. I was heavy with grief, worry and fear of the future. Recent tests and the words of a health professional had left me feeling scared and confused. Would Emily ever talk normally despite the best surgery and therapy? Did these test scores mean her learning ability was limited? Was my little girl different from other children? Would I know what to do to help her?
As our bodies moved through the darkness of the morning, my friend listened, then ushered me through my sadness, convincing me that the past or future must not gain hold of my daily living and thinking. I was a relatively young mother, blown this way and that by opinions of others, either spoken or written. Knowing my struggle with so much outside information, she encouraged me to listen deeply for my own voice and to celebrate each present day with my daughter, letting her unfold as her Creator intended. She told me, as we stood in the street, ready to go back to our homes, "You can only help and guide her each day to the best of your ability. This will strengthen you as a parent and as her mother. Trust me. You will see."
I walked down my driveway, thinking on these things, no longer clouded by the myriad details which had weighed down my body and mind an hour earlier. I opened the door into our kitchen and found my husband and daughter at the breakfast table. I poured a cup of coffee, picked up an issue of Episcopal Life sitting on the counter, then joined them at the table. Leafing through the magazine pages, my eye caught an ad for a new CD/tape recording of a Virginia church’s all-black choir, titled “It Is Well With My Soul.”
"Oh, that hymn," I sighed aloud to myself. "I love that hymn." Then in my thoughts, I dreamed, humming the tune softly to myself.
"When peace like a river attendeth my way…” Oh this song, I thought, I haven’t heard it in so many years.
“When sorrows like sea billows roll …” My daughter, who had crawled under the table, was now in my lap, looking into my eyes and smiling. “Whatever my lot…” Yes, I remember it now. My lot, my lot… of course, this life, my daughter, my family, this is my lot! “Thou hast taught me to say…” Now, with tears rolling down my cheeks, I remembered how it ended.“It is well, it is well with my soul!” It is well. It is well.
Three years ago, the words of a friend and the words of an old hymn helped open my eyes and my heart. The lesson of acceptance, no matter what the circumstance, and the peace which comes through that practice, became a stepping stone in my spiritual journey and in my journey as mother, wife, daughter and friend.
Author’s note: The hymn, “It is Well With My Soul,” was written by Horatio G. Spafford in 1873 from the deck of a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, overlooking the site of a shipwreck which had claimed the lives of his four daughters. His wife, on board with the children as they made their way to London, survived the tragedy. The verse from Isaiah 66, "For this saith the Lord, ‘Behold I will extend peace to her like a river,’" was the basis for the first stanza. The other verses are equally as uplifting as is the recording by the Grace Episcopal Church adult choir.
Paisley Clowe is a member of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Ardmore, Okla. She and her husband have two children.