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A man not my husband touched my heart today. A devout Presbyterian and prosperous Chicago attorney. A compelling man with many political and social connections, yet a man with moving creative talents not many knew.

This man, confident of his abilities, took on the challenge of life and succeeded spectacularly, at least it seemed. Not only a sought after attorney, but a real estate developer as well. A man finely tuned to seizing opportunities others failed to recognize.

But ... that was before. This family man dearly desired a son to carry on his enterprise. After four daughters, the heir was born. And then tragically, at four years old, the son died.

And this was only the beginning.

You see, this man touched my heart 150 years after he experienced a series of events that most of us could not bear singularly, let alone collectively. This series of tragedies forged a man who would give the world a spectacular gift.

In 1861, heavily invested in real estate, this man once again faced loss as almost everything he owned went up in flames in one of the great fires America has know. The Great Chicago Fire.

Two years later, burdened by loss and hardship, this man knew his family needed some time away, a time to begin the healing process. His friend, the great Dwight L. Moody, was holding meetings in England and it was there he decided his family needed to be. His wife's health had begun to fail in the wake of their losses.

Delayed by business and unwilling to yet again disappoint his family, he boarded his wife and four daughters on the French steamship Ville du Havre.

The Ville du Havre was struck by a British vessel and sunk within twelve minutes. All four daughters lost their lives.

Only 81 of the 307 passengers and crew survived. His wife, alone, survived. Nine days later, she was able to send a simple telegraph that read, "Saved alone. What shall I do ..."

Horatio Spafford immediately left Chicago upon this word. Standing at the railing, the ship captain joined Spafford shortly after leaving port. "A careful reckoning has been made," he said, "and I believe we are now passing the place where the du Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep."

To be truly moved by this story, you must know something of gospel music. For when Horatio Spafford left the railing that day, he closed himself into his cabin and penned, in my opinion, one of the greatest most moving lyrics ever set to music.

He wrote:

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

You may be very aware of this man and his story. I was not. Alone I had to contemplate the many times I'd lamented seeming hardship, inconvenience, superficial loss. And I was ashamed.

I suppose January is a month of reflection. In that, I'm grateful. I hope to be reminded when I take life's many blessings for granted. And never, ever will I hear that dear sweet hymn and not shed a tear for a very courageous man who decided against bitterness and anger and instead gave a gift to the world that will last for eternity.

For the full lyrics to this hymn, click here.
For images and more information on the life of Horatio Spafford, click here.

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