Higher ground

Jeff enjoys the view from higher ground, Acadia National Park, June 2012

Jeff enjoys the view from higher ground, Acadia National Park, Maine, June 2012

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 with two wars 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 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.

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Good morning, Julia!
    Like you, I have a storehouse of hymns and songs that can and have pulled me through “mirey clay” or “sorrows” or out of a “flood of mortal ills,” or a number of other dilemmas, poetic or otherwise.
    I couldn’t be more grateful.

    • It is indeed a blessing!

  2. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Not being familiar with that hymn, “I’m pressing on the upward way (Higher Ground)”, I looked it up on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2emsPPCH4c. I really like it and will share it with a group I’m meeting with via zoom tonight. It sounds like a southern gospel hymn that has encouraged a whole lot of people for years and years. We all need encouragement these days.

    • Judy, I’m so happy you found that song. You have introduced me to a website (or should I say a YouTube account) that I have already enjoyed so much! I subscribed to the channel and will visit many times. Re: Higher Ground — I grew up singing that song and really do love it. I don’t know that it’s of southern origin, but it was certainly well known in that region. Thanks again for introducing me to that collection of a cappella hymns. It’s a gift that keeps on giving! Many great songs at that channel. Hope you and Stew are doing well.

  3. Frances Kettren

    Oh how I love this song!! So comforting! Thank you for sharing! I will call soon.

    • Thanks Franny. Can’t wait to talk to you. 🙂 ❤

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