The BEST Reference Books

Hevenly Highway HymnsWhile you can look just about anything up on-line these days, it’s sometimes nice to have an actual book you can take down from the shelf and flip through to find what you need.

That’s what I do when I want to include hymn lyrics in one of my novels. When a character sings, mentions a favorite hymn, or is touched by lyrics, I reach for my 1956 copy of Heavenly Highway Hymns from Laurel Fork United Methodist Church.

By the time I was a kid in the 70s, we’d replaced the worn, softcover hymnals with foil stamped hardback copies. But, of course, no one threw away the old ones. So, probably 15 years ago, I asked for one of the 1956 copies (turns out to be the first printing). And now I treasure it. And refer to it often when working on a manuscript.

The problem is, once I dip into those fragile pages, I am typically lost. On the way to Rock of Ages–#225–I stumble across #241. And I have to sing it (aloud if no one’s around). Who can resist a chorus like, “Lord, build me a cabin in the corner of glory land . . . In the shade of the tree of life that it may ever stand; Where I can hear the angels sing and shake Jesus’ hand; Yes, build me a cabin in the corner of glory land.”

I can hear Smutt and Anna, Uncle Willis and Aunt Dorothy, Aunt Bess, Mom & Dad, Glenn and Mary, Freddie and Mary and all the others singing a capella because no one could play the piano that almost always sat silent at the front of the church. Freddie hit the bass notes.

And what’s even better, is that my book is a shape note hymnal. It’s an old-style of singing where each note (do, re, mi, etc.) is assigned a specific shape (diamond, square, triangle, etc.). It was a way to teach folks to sing without having to teach them to read music.

Trust and ObeyWhile my impromptu hymn-singing when I’m supposed to be writing can turn into a serious distraction, I think it’s also really helpful. Because I write about Appalachia–where shape note (or sacred harp) singing still hangs on. And those side trips back to my childhood in a one-room church where I first learned to call God by name–well, that’s why I write. It’s good to be reminded. And maybe to sing a few verses of #99, “When we walk with the Lord, In the light of His word, What a glory He sheds on our way!”


  1. Yes…Our church~Faith Baptist Church~uses that same Hymnal today~albeit a much newer version!
    I have ALWAYS loved that hymnal!!
    I also look forward to your writings, books & blog….You are a BLESSING!! ✝️

  2. I always find myself crying when I hear or sing the hymns of the first years after finding the Savior of my Soul. It has sadden me that the many of the present day churches have moved away from these hymns that are so full of the message of God’s Word. I love the choruses we have sung and sing but there is a visceral quality in singing the hymns that have drawn so many to the Lord! Thanks for sharing the process of finding songs that are present in your books and how the Holy Spirit leads you from page to page in that beautiful old hymnal.

    • I’m so glad that the church I attend offers a mix of modern praise music and old-time hymns–we get the best of both worlds! (But I’ll always love the old hymns best.)

  3. I have two copies ~ both say 1956, but… have different covers. I didn’t know the meaning of the shape notes; thanks! My first copy is like yours above, and then found the second copy to have a singalong, ready for sharing! No. 92 will always be right up there for me. Sung the day I was saved and remembering the little 12-year-old girl sitting on the floor up front with the other children many years earlier. I was able to visit that little church and give my testimony when we visited for a high school reunion. The little country church is now carpeted but my memories are there too. Victory in Jesus. Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House

  4. Don’t know how I missed this when you posted it, but glad I found it this evening. Don’t suppose you could snag me a copy…. Is I Shall Not Be Moved in there? Loved Build Me A Cabin and have not heard it in forever.

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