It Is Well
…Through it all, Through it all… my eyes are on you
It’s hard to know where to begin this particularly painful section of my life-long God story. I can testify to so many times when God has come after me, His lost rebellious lamb, to bring me back home. I think, what makes this story different, is that the pain my family and I walked through, the tragedy and sting of loss, was experienced while I was in a close and obedient walk with Jesus. I wasn’t experiencing the natural ramifications of my poor behavior… as I had during the previous years of my life. I was a born-again, saved, redeemed, and passionate child of God… and yet, the rain, the storms, the pain… it still fell on me.
Early in my Christian walk, I was being brought up and mentored in worship ministry. I always loved the old hymns from my childhood but now that I knew the God that was behind those songs, they became even more rich… even more powerful. I wanted to learn more about these hymns: who wrote them? What was going on in their life that inspired them to pen these words? I started reading books and doing research… and I came upon “It is Well with my Soul” written by Horacio Spafford in 1873.
Shortly after losing his only son to scarlet fever, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 took Spafford’s thriving legal business and home. Looking for a new start for his wife and 4 daughters, he decided to move to Europe. Spafford sent his family to their new home ahead of him, with plans to meet them a few weeks later. Tragically , the ship his family was traveling on, sank. He received a telegram from his wife saying, “Saved alone.” The shipwreck had taken all 4 of his daughters. Shortly after this loss, Spafford set sail to meet his wife in Europe. On the ship, as he crossed over the very spot, the very waters that had consumed his children just weeks before, he went down into his room and wrote the now famous hymn, “It is Well”.
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.
I marveled at the tenacity of this man’s faith and obedience… absolutely marveled. I hoped that one day I might have as much faith and trust in God that he did. My husband, Justin, after several years of wandering, both came home to Christ in 2010. From that point forward we dedicated our every move to the will of God. I was being trained up as a worship leader and he had just recently began pursuing a call to become a Chaplain. Perfectly happy and surrounded by love and family, Justin and I were living “our best life” with our three children, ages 4, 2, and 9 months. Life was just so perfect and lovely.
I (unexpectedly) became pregnant with our 4th child, soon after the birth of our third. Unlike any of my previous pregnancies, I began having complications early on. We went to see our doctor, who performed an ultrasound, showing us our baby’s heartbeat. Although I was optimistic seeing that life, our doctor told us that, though the heart was beating now, there was no guarantee that the baby would survive the weekend. She didn’t know why and there was nothing she could do to prevent miscarriage. That weekend, surrounded by family and supported by our church, we grieved the miscarriage of our 4th child.
A few weeks later we discovered that I was pregnant again. At this point in our lives we felt that we were being called to move out of our comfort zones and across the country to serve at a small Calvary Chapel in Georgia. With heavy hearts and eyes fixed on Jesus, we left the comfort of our lives and stepped out in faith to serve Him.
I began working as worship leader and directed the children’s ministry. Justin was very involved in Men’s ministry and was second to our pastor at the time. I was still pregnant with, what we had learned was a boy, our son Paul. Life was busy, but wonderful… and we were so excited that God had given us another son. I headed in to my midwife’s office, whole family in tow, for our 5 month pregnancy check. It was pretty routine… they find the heartbeat, measure your belly, take your blood pressure. I laid on the table as the midwife struggled to find a heart beat with the Doppler. Assuring me that everything was fine, she called in the sonogram tech. It would take about thirty minutes for the tech to arrive so they put us in a room until she got there. We prayed, we called on our families and friends to pray, I begged , my husband prayed specifically, “ Lord, we have just experienced loss like this not long ago. Please let this cup pass from us.” The cup didn’t pass. Sonogram showed that our son’s heart was no longer beating and that he was no longer living, in the womb. The child within me had died … and more painful still, I was too far along in my pregnancy and, for my safety, would have to give birth to him, via induced labor.
A few days later, Justin and I were sitting, waiting for our room on the Labor and Delivery floor. There had been an abnormally high amount of births the night before and our appointment kept getting pushed back. We sat in the ward, watching nurses push freshly swaddled and bathed newborn babies around in their bassinets. Every time a beautiful baby would pass, Justin and I would look each other in the eye, both of us recognizing the agony we were experiencing. Our baby wasn’t going to be swaddled and handed back to us.
Paul Veritas Nordstrom was born early in the morning on May 16, 2014. We held him… we prayed and wept over him. This was the worst moment of my life, to date… and yet I felt God’s presence more powerfully than I have… ever. Our hearts were shattered but the perfect peace of God held us together; allowed us to press forward and continue living with the children we did have. Paul’s body was given over to be tested and examined. The doctors were never able to determine the cause of his death.
Justin and I vowed that, though this loss was tragic and terrible, we were going to press on and continue serving the Lord through all it. The church I was leading worship for told me I could take as much time off as I needed but, strangely enough… I didn’t feel called to sit out. I felt called and I powered to continue to lead worship. As I prepared songs for the Sunday following Paul’s birth, the Lord whispered “It is Well”, the old hymn, to my heart. Before I sang with with our small, sweet fellowship, I shared with them the story of Horatio Spafford. We sang together and our church, knowing what we had lost our son a week earlier, worshipped and wept with us. It is, perhaps, one of the sweetest and most painful memories in worship leading that I have ever experienced…. And though I was heartbroken and grieving, I also felt victorious and renewed in the words we was were singing together.
….Let go my soul and trust in Him…
Shortly after Paul’s loss we became pregnant again. This time we chose to see a doctor that specializes in high-risk pregnancy. A few weeks into our 5th pregnancy I, again, started having complications. We went in for a sonogram and were relieved to see a heartbeat. Though the heart was beating the doctor told us there were no guarantees and that it didn’t look as though this baby would survive. Surely, I thought, “Surely the God that I love will not allow this to happen to us, again. I have been faithful. I have been obedient, I have sacrificed, I have followed him! Surely He would not lead me here!”
A few days after this appointment, I miscarried. We ran every test and did every exam possible and, even the expert doctor couldn’t tell me why I kept losing my babies.
Though I still loved the Lord and I still trusted Him… I certainly was becoming discouraged and confused. My heart ached in a way that I cannot adequately put into words. I had given up on having another child, completely. I didn’t even think my body was able to… but the worst part was not knowing WHY. No one could fix me, diagnose me, help me. I came to terms with the fact that we would not have a fourth child in the Nordstrom family.
Much to our surprise, a month or so after the third miscarriage, we discovered I was pregnant; again. This time I wasn’t happy… I didn’t hug my husband in excitement and wouldn’t allow myself to get excited. I didn’t want to set myself up for what I was sure would be another tragic experience.
A few weeks into this new pregnancy, our 7th in 8 years, we took a trip to visit my family for the holidays. I was probably 4 months pregnant at this time and still not allowing myself to acknowledge or attach myself emotionally to the child growing within me. Family time was wonderfully refreshing and sweet. My sisters and brothers were all home, our kids were playing with each other… life felt nice. As my sisters and I prepared our Thanksgiving dinner, my mom went to pick up our grandma to bring her over to celebrate with us and I was so looking forward to spending time with her.
Doris Jean Leighton, my grandma, was my favorite person on this earth. Growing up, she was a calm place to rest amidst the turmoil. She taught me about music and encouraged me to sing. We would laugh and she would tell me stories. I don’t remember much of my childhood but what I can remember…any good memory I can dig up… she is in the center of it. I was whisking the corn starch into the gravy (just like Grandma taught me!) when my mom called the house with the news that my Grandma had a stroke when they were there to pick her up. She was still alive and the prognosis uncertain. We served our family Thanksgiving dinner and headed to the hospital. Grandma couldn’t talk and her vitals were not good. She was able to look at me and hold my hand. We didn’t want to let her go but we knew she was ready and that her time had come. A few days later she passed peacefully. We laid her to rest next to the love of her life, who preceded her in death several years earlier.
Shortly after returning home from Grandma’s funeral, I found myself in a moment of painful reflection. Justin had taken the kids for the morning to let me sleep. I was still pregnant and just beginning to show. I sat up in bed that morning, alone, and surveyed the last twelve months of my life. In a little over a year we had moved across the country, lost three children in a row, and then, just when I thought the storm might be over, I had to bury my grandma . I wept in confusion, I wept in frustration, I wept in complete and total brokenness. I reached out in prayer and said:
“Lord, I need to know that these sufferings are not in vain. I need you to somehow show me that YOU are REAL, that I will see my babies in the heaven that you promise exists… I need to know that grandma is with you and I will see her again. Please Lord, show me that you are still here.”
…The waves and wind still know his name…
I pulled myself together that afternoon and met my family to go pick out a Christmas tree. We searched the local stores and couldn’t, for whatever reason, find a tree we liked. Justin suggested we drive out to the tree farm, run by a sweet Christian family, that was about 45 minutes away; so we did. “Days of Creation”, the tree farm, was large with so many different types of trees. Our guide led us through to look at all of our different options. We finally settled on one and told our guide which tree to cut down. “Oh!,” she said, “that’s a LEIGHTON tree!”
“A what?” I asked.
“ That is a Leighton tree. The species name is Leighton.”
“Leighton” was my late Grandmother’s last name.
I closed my eyes as my heart nearly burst. I smiled, tears rolling down my face, knowing that, without a doubt, this was God giving me the sign I had wept and begged for that very morning. “I’m still here,” he said to me, “I see you. I see your broken heart. Keep walking with me, I won’t forsake you.”
Six months later, after a complicated last trimester and a move during my ninth month of pregnancy, on June 18, 2015, I gave birth to our rainbow baby, Miss Cora Leigh Nordstrom.
Through it all, Through it all… It is Well.
In Matthew 5:45, Jesus tells us that God “… causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and unjust” (ESV). I will never fully understand, this side of heaven, why I was made to walk through this storm … why I was allowed to receive blow upon blow of devastating loss. One thing I do know and can see clearly now, when I look back, is that He was with me every step of the way. He endured the pain with me; he wept with me. He sent his spirit to comfort me as I sobbed on the cold tile floor, time and time again. And, when I didn’t think I could go any further, when I desperately needed Him to show Himself to me… He did.
I don’t say, or sing, “It is well with my soul” without pain in my heart. What I love so much about Bethel’s version of this classic hymn is the minor, almost sad sounding key they present it in. It declares that “though my heart is slayed and broken, though I don’t understand, though there are tears streaming down my face as I lift my hands in praise, IT IS WELL. Why? because I trust God. I trust in His goodness and His everlasting promises. I have experienced his faithfulness and comfort and I submit to the fact that His ways, though they may cause me pain, His ways are higher and better than mine… and I rest in that. Horatio Spafford went on to have three more children with his wife in Europe.
If Paul had survived to be our fourth child, we wouldn’t have had a Cora. If I had not suffered in miscarriage, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to feel the comfort of Christ and the power of His presence. I am stronger in my faith, having walked with Him through these fires. Perhaps, heaven needed three of our babies for my Grandma to rock…and earth needed a Cora…. And even so, it… is….. well, with my soul.