Doing Well in the Things that Count
How are you doing? We’re often asking one another. And we dutifully respond, “Fine. I’m doing just fine.” When, in fact, we may be on the brink of despair. Do you ever feel that you’re believing and hoping in the darkness? Is your soul weary and troubled? You’re not alone. The life of Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863-1961) is a marvelous illustration of clinging and “doing well” though doing so in the total darkness.
Helen was born in Wardle, England, November 14, 1863. Her father was a Wesleyan minister who decided, when their daughter was about twelve-years-old, to immigrate to America. The family first settled in Mississippi and later moved to Wisconsin.
Early in her life, Helen had shown great love for music, and great skill. Her parents did their best to find good vocal teachers for their daughter, and her vocal expertise increased. In 1904, an opportunity arose in Seattle, Washington for Helen to write about music for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. After four years, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arose: Helen was invited to further her musical studies in Germany.
While studying abroad, she fell in love with a wealthy European and they got married. How are you doing, Helen? Very well, indeed! So it seemed. Until tragedy struck. She was rapidly losing her eyesight. When she became totally blind—her husband abandoned her. Helen would struggle with loneliness and various heartaches throughout the rest of her long life.
Her soul, “weary and troubled,” blind Helen returned to America, “no light in the darkness” could she see. How are you doing, Helen? I'm lonely, afraid, blind, and abandonned--how do you think I'm doing? But her Savior had her graven on his heart, and she could still sing. Looking full in the wonderful face of her Savior, she travelled widely, singing in churches throughout the Midwest. During these years, Helen was hired to teach voice at Moody Bible Institute.
When she was fifty-five years old, Helen heard someone say something about her eyes--almost insulting--that had a huge impact on her mind and imagination: "So then, turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face and you will see that the things of earth will acquire a strange new dimness."
“I stood still,” Helen later recalled, “and singing in my soul and spirit was the chorus:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.
She continued her account, saying that there was “…not one conscious moment of putting word to word to make rhyme, or note to note to make melody. The verses were written the same week, after the usual manner of composition, but,” she added, “nonetheless dictated by the Holy Spirit.”
Now elderly, lonely, and infirm—and blind—Helen became acquainted with her neighbor, a young man named Doug Goins and his parents, Paul and Kathryn Goins. “She was advanced in years and almost destitute, but she was an amazing person,” recalled Doug. “She made a great impression on me as a junior high child because of her joy and enthusiasm. Though she was living on government assistance in a sparse bedroom, whenever we’d ask how she was doing, she would reply, ‘I’m doing well in the things that count.’” One day, the Goins invited her to dinner. “We had never entertained a blind person before,” said Kathryn, “…despite her infirmities, she was full of life.”
“She was always composing hymns,” said Kathryn. “She had no way of writing them down, so she would call my husband at all hours, and he’d rush down and record them before she forgot the words.”
Helen had a cheap plastic keyboard by her bed, at which she spent her days playing, singing—and, in her sorrows—sometimes crying. “One day, God is going to bless me with a great heavenly keyboard,” she’d say. “I can hardly wait!”
Helen Lemmel, a member of Ballard Baptist Church, died in Seattle on November 1, 1961, thirteen days before her 98th birthday; she had written nearly 500 hymns. Due to her extreme poverty, her remains were cremated and nobody seems to know where they were disposed of. No matter. Those are things of earth. Strangely dim. Imagine her joy, when she turned her glorified eyes on her Savior and Look[ed} full in his wonderful face”!
How are you really doing? In the things that really count?
1. O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free!
Refrain: Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.
2. Thro' death into life everlasting, He passed, and we follow Him there; O’er us sin no more hath dominion-- For more than conqu’rors we are!
3. His Word shall not fail you--He promised; Believe Him, and all will be well: Then go to a world that is dying, His perfect salvation to tell!
Douglas Bond, author of more than thirty books, directs the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class, leads Church history tours (join him on the Rome to Geneva Tour, 2023), and he is copy editor for authors and publishers. Contact him at email@example.com