Helen Howarth Lemmel was born in England in 1863, into the home of a Wesleyan minister who immigrated to America when Helen was a child. She loved music, and her parents provided the best vocal teachers they could find. Eventually Helen returned to Europe to study vocal music in Germany. In time, she married a wealthy European, but he left her when she became blind, and Helen struggled with multiple heartaches during midlife.
At age 55, Helen hears a statement that deeply impressed her: “So then, turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face and you will find that the things on earth will acquire a strange new dimness.”
“I stood still, Helen later said, “and singing in my soul and spirit was the chorus, not without 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 nonetheless dictated by the Holy Spirit.”
Pastor Doug Goins of Palo Alto, California, and his parents, Paul and Kathryn Goins, both 82, of Sun city, Arizona, knew Helen in Seattle. “She was advanced in years and almost destitute, but she was an amazing person,” said 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 spare 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 supper. “We had never entertained a blind person before,” recalled Kathryn, “and it was interesting. Despite her infirmities, she was full of life. I remember how amused we were when, following supper, she said, ‘Now if you will lead me to the bathroom, I’ll sit on the throne and reign.”
“But she was always composing hymns,” said Kathryn. “She has 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 small plastic keyboard by her bed. There she would play, sing, and cry. “One day God is going to bless me with a great heavenly keyboard,” she’d say. “I can hardly wait!”
Helen Lemmel, who wrote nearly 500 hymns during her lifetime, died in Seattle in 1961, thirteen days before her 98th birthday.
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!
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.
Thro’ death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conqu’rors we are!
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!
Words and music by Hellen H. Lemmel