Aunt Senie passed away last week. Over the years, she had battled several serious physical problems. Senie Williams fought the good fight until her body finally gave out.
Aunt Senie was always more concerned with the welfare of others than she was for herself. She would always want to know how you were doing, rather than talk about the physical difficulties she was facing. She wasn’t being a busybody, she really cared.
Her funeral, that cold, not just chilly, Friday, was simple and sweet, just the way she would have liked it. A musical family, her daughter in law, Susan, and granddaughters, Alex and Terri, played an instrumental version of “How Great Thou Art.” The pastor’s message was right on target, emphasizing the life Aunt Senie lived and what she meant to those around her. It was bitter cold and windy at the short graveside service. We joked that Aunt Senie would have probably told us all we shouldn’t have bothered, and to get back to the church where it was warm.
During the funeral service, they played a video from the Cape Fear High School concert band. Aunt Senie’s son, Mike Williams, is the band director at Cape Fear High. (Like I said, they are a musical family.) The video was of the concert band, under Mike’s direction, giving an outstanding performance of the hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.” As I listened to those high school kids do such a great job under Mike’s direction, I thought about the song itself, and how its words were written.
Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago in the mid-1800’s. On October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire swept through the city. Horatio was a prominent lawyer in Chicago, and had invested heavily in real estate and the fire nearly wiped out everything he owned. Two years later in 1873, Spafford decided that he and his family should take a vacation in England and to hear his friend and famed evangelist D. L. Moody preach. He was delayed by business, but sent his wife, Anna, and their four daughters ahead.
Tragically, on November 22, 1873, the ship they were sailing was struck by another vessel and 226 people lost their lives, including all four of Spafford’s daughters. Horatio’s wife, Anna, who survived, telegraphed her husband back in the United States to tell him of the terrible loss of the four daughters, whose ages ranged from two to eleven years old. It was on that long, lonely voyage to England to meet his wife that Horatio Spafford penned the words to “It Is Well with My Soul.” Spafford’s ship actually sailed over the same location where his daughters died.
I wonder if the seas were rough and the skies threatening when he wrote,
“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.”
How can anything be “well with your soul” after experiencing such tragedy? It’s hard for me to fathom, but the key is found in the first line of the song, “peace.” Peace is a word you probably heard quite often during the Christmas season. You know, “Peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” Then, what is peace? It’s probably easier to define what peace isn’t, rather than what it is.
Peace is not the absence of strife. Peace is not the lack of hurt or pain. Peace is not “being happy,” because happiness is based on a particular situation you are in and is, well, situational. Peace is not a feeling, although there may be feelings and emotions involved. True peace is the peace that comes from God. It’s hard to understand and describe. As a matter of fact, Philippians 4:7 in the Bible states that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Senie Williams knew that peace, and those around her could sense it. And now, after years of struggle, we can say that it is well with Aunt Senie.
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at [email protected]