1.26.2012

Where Can I Turn for Peace?

Another Green World

Back in November, I received a last-minute invitation from my neighbor to go to the Mormon Women Project "Salon", a conference for women. I needed to go to Salt Lake anyway, so it worked out perfectly. I quickly made arrangements for my kids, drove with my friend to Salt Lake, stopped to run my errand at the Apple Store, and then we went to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Because I hadn't planned on attending, I walked into the meeting without knowing anything about who the speakers were or what topics they would be covering.

The keynote speaker was an 87-year-old woman who slowly made her way up to the podium with her walker. If anything, she was slightly underdressed, and the delivery of her address was noticeably erratic.
She started off by saying that she was supposed to talk about choices but had decided to talk about limitations, and then she was off on Hillary Clinton, Condeleezza Rice, Olene Walker, and women of influence. Although the speaker's physical abilities might have been on the decline, she was exuberant and witty. We heard stories about what a bad singer she was, assignments from a writing class she teaches, and about playing tennis with her brother. My attention was waning, not because she wasn't enjoyable, but because I could not figure out where she was going with her ramblings.

Then she began relating a long story about the oldest of her five daughters, who suffered from severe mental disorders and was later diagnosed as anorexic, bulimic and bipolar. But it was the early 1970s and information about (and treatment for) these diseases was not readily available. Her daughter had gone off to college in California, and they spoke with her over the telephone every Sunday. After receiving some letters from her, they became a little alarmed. And then one day they received a call from their daughter's friend, saying that the daughter was very sick and they needed to get there immediately.

The speaker, Emma Lou Thayne, decided to go to California by herself. The daughter was clearly overcome with some severe problems, and a visit with a psychiatrist landed her in the hospital. Emma Lou pled with him to let her take her daughter home. A medication was administered and she had thirty minutes to get her daughter on the plane. Chaos (and some miracles) ensued, and they boarded the flight and were able to fly home to Utah.

But the struggles were far from over. Her daughter's behavior was bizarre and dangerous and she was admitted to a psychiatric ward. Doctors didn't know what to do, and Emma Lou wondered how her daughter would ever live a normal life.

In the middle of this bleak trial, Emma Lou was serving on the Young Women's General Board, and she was asked to write a song for an upcoming conference. She sat down at her desk and easily wrote these words:

Where can I turn for peace?
Where is my solace
When other sources cease to make me whole?
When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice,
I draw myself apart,
Searching my soul?

Where, when my aching grows,
Where, when I languish,
Where in my need to know, where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?
Who, who can understand?
He, only One.

He answers privately,
Reaches my reaching
In my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend.
Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching.
Constant he is and kind,
Love without end.

My jaw just about dropped. This peculiar lady standing in front of me was the author of the hymn that had spoken to my soul and become so special to me. (If this isn't one of your favorite hymns, read through the words again. And then memorize the song so you can have the words with you when you need them.)

Music was added, the song was sung at the Young Womens conference, and later added to the LDS Hymnbook. At that point in the MWP conference, Ariel Bybee, a retired Metropolitan Opera singer, sang those beautiful words that have repeatedly come to my rescue and healed my pain.

Emma Lou Thayne pulled her message together and talked about making decisions. She counseled that we should stay in touch two ways: vertically with the Divine and horizontally with the human. And if we can stay right in the middle, we will be happy.

I was still a bit shocked by how that whole talk had turned out when Emma Lou Thayne came up to me as she was walking down from the podium. "In my next life, I want to be tall just like you. Are you a singer too?" How disappointing that I'm not. But I did thank her for writing one of my very favorite hymns and sharing that story with us.

Sometimes, when I am singing hymns at church, I find myself wondering what it was that prompted them to be written. What trials and challenges were the authors facing? (Sometimes I can't really focus on the words to the hymns at church because my kids are being so loud.) Sometimes I wish I were a good singer so I could walk around my house singing songs out loud instead of just in my head. And sometimes people invite us to things at the last minute and we are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

4 comments:

Rachael said...

In high school I was doing a research project on eating disorders and read the book that Emma Lou Thayne and her daughter wrote about their experiences. I did not know that she was the author of that hymn until I had almost finished the book. What a cool experience you had!

Mindy said...

Em, you have no idea how much I needed to read an uplifting story this morning. Thank you!

Stephanie said...

The screen is blurred because of my tears. Thank you!

HeidiAnn said...

awesome post. i loved it. thank you.