My heart has no desire to stay
where doubts arise and fears dismay.
Though some may dwell where these abound,
My prayer, my aim is higher ground.
–Johnson Oatman, Jr.
Growing up in a church where a cappella singing was a vital part of every worship, I was exposed early and often to verses that carried encouraging thoughts or stirring challenges. I learned to love many of these hymns, which play inside my head to this day and help me face times of trial.
As we have moved around to different churches in different parts of the country, I have come to associate particular hymns with places, people or times in my life. When we moved to Virginia in 2004, I missed northern California terribly, and took longer than usual to start thinking of our new location as “home.” Times seemed uncertain at best, with a husband serving in the military as two wars were underway, and a school system that completely rejected the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that Matt’s California special education team had spent countless hours refining.
Somewhere during those first months in Virginia, this song I learned in childhood came back into my head and heart, and I decided to adopt its words as my theme for this phase of my life. I printed out all the verses to the song and hung the print inside my linen closet door, where I saw it daily, and actually still see it each day we are in York County.
In 2004 I had no idea of the challenges that would lie ahead during the years to come. Multiple cardiac hospitalizations as Matt’s heart condition grew worse, the suicide of a dear friend, and Jeff’s diagnosis of stage IV cancer were only a few of the heartaches that awaited us. Despite this, the determination to rise above the unpredictable assaults of life continues. I know very little about Johnson Oatman, but I thank God that he penned these words that have served me so well.
Do you have any favorite songs or hymns that help you head for higher ground in your mind, when things are pulling you down? If you can’t think of any, perhaps you can take some time to choose a few to learn and sing, aloud or in your heart, when your courage starts to fail. It’s hard to feel afraid when singing words of cheer, faith and hope.