Five Things I Learned from Songwriting

It has been almost three months since my last blog post and I am very happy to be back! A lot of events happened recently which caused my hiatus in writing, but I think one of the biggest factors was my journey in songwriting. A few weeks ago, I was surprised by how I survived the past months without writing on my journal or blog as often as I did. It was then that I realized how the Lord allowed me to express both my hurts and the lessons I have learned through music.

By God’s grace, He gave me the privilege of writing ten original songs about my walk with Him in the past nine weeks since the month of June. This morning, I listened to them again and remembered the pain and comfort I felt before as I read through the lyrics. I thanked the Lord because even though I didn’t get to write my thoughts down as much as I could, they were somehow immortalized through these songs. Personally, I find myself singing some of the lyrics especially when I experience the same struggles again.

TEN SONGS:

  1. “It’s You, Jesus”  – Walking by faith whenever I struggle with worry.
  2. “This Is Love” – No earthly love can ever compare to Jesus’ love for us.
  3. “Not Even a Hint” – Pursuing purity and fleeing from pornography.
  4. “You Are” – Amazed by how beautiful nature is, but even more awestruck by who our Creator is.
  5. “Into Your Arms” – Experiencing God’s forgiveness after falling into sin.
  6. “I Can” – Battlecry in the midst of problems and pains.
  7. “White as Snow” – Surrendering regrets and shame (because of my past) to the Lord.
  8. “No One Like You” – How God is the strength and desire of my heart.
  9. “You’re In Control” – Trusting in God’s will.
  10. “Don’t Ever Forget” – Finding hope in God’s love whenever we are downcast.

I loved listening to music, singing songs, and playing simple chords in the guitar and piano growing up. If it is God’s will, I do hope I can continue enjoying and making music for His glory. As I celebrate my 10th song in a row since June, I would like to share five keywords that I have learned along the way. I hope that these will encourage your heart somehow:

 

1. INSPIRATION

After writing the sixth song, I told a friend “I’m so tired. Although I enjoy being able to express myself through songwriting, it does come with a lot of emotions.” Don’t get me wrong, my heart has been very grateful to the Lord for this opportunity. But to give you an idea of how it usually happens to me, it starts with a struggle in my heart. It could be about pride, anger, lust, insecurities, worry, loneliness, and many more. When this happens, I bring it up to the Lord and ask Him to help me fight it with His truths found in the Bible. Afterwards, either a random melody or a few lines about who God is or my identity in Him would pop up in my mind. Then, I would be able to finish the rest of the song eventually. Imagine this process happening every week for the past 2 ½ months. Haha!

But, I do praise God because He knows how much music speaks to my heart. So, being able to merge Biblical truths and music really does help me fight the struggles. Although this process has been emotionally heavy at times (as countless tears were shed), I realized that these struggles and God’s grace through them became the inspiration of the songs. Whenever I experience new struggles in my heart, the Lord continues to renew my mind and help me see things through His perspective and Word.

 

2. DISCIPLINE

I am an amateur guitarist, singer, and songwriter. This year, I had the desire to be more intentional in songwriting and by God’s grace, He has been allowing me to grow through it. It does take up a lot of time and effort. During the first two songs, I struggled recording them at home because my fingers would feel this burning sensation after playing the guitar a couple of times. That’s when I knew I had to develop callouses on my fingers to help me play with ease. I literally played the guitar for at least 15 minutes after work each day for two weeks. This eventually helped me play the next songs without feeling much pain on my fingers.

Another aspect of discipline that I learned in the recent months was prioritizing songwriting. I remember having to decline some of the hangouts with friends and colleagues because I intentionally scheduled some of my nights for songwriting and guitar practice. Also, I have been more conscious of my health since I started writing songs consistently. I made sure to boost my immune system with vitamin C, drink more water, lessen my sugar intake, and workout more regularly. If I do not become disciplined in this aspect, I may not be able to sing well because of the usual health issues I have: sore throat, cough, and colds.

By God’s grace, songwriting has also helped me practice writing poems, properly strum and pluck the guitar, transpose, find the key that is right for my voice, learn from the different styles of other songwriters, and improve after every song.

 

3. PATIENCE

One of the struggles of songwriters is having a growing list of unfinished songs. I can’t begin to explain how frustrating it is to hear melodies or words in your head and not be able to put them in a song. In my phone’s voice memo, I have MANY 10-second to 30-second recordings of melodies and words that I haven’t finished writing yet. Haha!

But what I’ve learned in the past months is being able to persevere in being patient. In my case, since I write about my walk with God or who He is, I trust that if ever He does want me to finish a song, He will allow it to happen in His perfect time. In the recent 10 songs that I’ve written, here are the various times it took me to finish them: 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 3 hours, 3 days, and 5 days. It’s fun to finish it in less than an hour. But when days have passed and the song isn’t finished yet, it’s tempting to just give up and forget about it. But I thank the Lord for His grace in giving me patience and helping me follow through.

 

4. AUTHENTICITY

I enjoy being with people who are real and it’s also because I like being real too. I remember one aunt casually told me: “You know, Nicole, it’s interesting and nice that you share what is in your heart whenever you blog. I mean, others wouldn’t really be that open with their struggles.” Another friend told me: “Nicole, we need this kind of realness in the world! Thank you for sharing!” There is beauty in authenticity that isn’t enjoyed or encouraged in the society often. Whenever I blog or write in my journals, I usually do not hold back and I share my hurts, the lessons I’ve learned, and how I am humbled through them. So, even in songwriting, it’s one of the non-negotiables that I have whenever I write the lyrics.

I still remember the very first time I wrote a full song back in 2009. I wanted to find a song that expresses exactly what was going on in my heart, that I could sing along to. But I couldn’t find one at that time. So, I thought “Why not just write a song from your heart? In that way, your heart would really relate to every line that you sing.” As the years passed, people would randomly share how some of the songs I’ve written spoke to them and how much they could relate to them. Some even mentioned that they worship the Lord through some of my songs. It’s amazing how being real allows us to connect with others, even strangers, in an uplifting way. It’s okay to be broken and weak because God’s grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in our weakness.

 

5. HUMILITY

As the Lord dealt with my heart’s struggles in the recent months, He made sure to remind me that at the end of each day and at the end of every song I’ve written, all the glory goes to Him. I can’t thank God enough for how He has used this recent journey in songwriting to show me that He alone is God and I am not. No one else is.

I also appreciate the many times I’ve received constructive feedback from family and friends on how to improve the way I choose my words, melody, and even beat of the song. For Christian songs, I learned from Tommy Walker how writing lyrics based on Bible verses not only makes the song beautiful, but it also impacts our hearts more than lyrics based on our own emotions. Of course! The Bible verses are God’s words! I’ve experienced this as I wrote the songs I mentioned above. It’s amazing how music helps me memorize verses from the Bible and encourages me to dig deeper in their context as I write about them.

This truth has been humbling my heart and helping me see my need to constantly abide in Him. With this, I take no glory for any of the songs I have written since I started. It is only by His grace that He gave me the privilege of being used by Him to make music for Him.

There were moments when I would tell God: “Lord, what if you remove my hands, my eyes, or my voice? What if I won’t be able to listen, sing, and make music for you anymore?” Then, God helped me realize that it isn’t about what I am able to do for Him, but it is always about His goodness, love, faithfulness, and grace for us. As He is teaching me to be humble, I am learning to surrender songwriting to Him and His will, whether or not He allows me to pursue this in the future. But for now, as long as I am able, I pray that I will keep my heart, ears, and hands open for His glory.

“Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things…” –Psalm 98:1

“…Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,  always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” –Ephesians 5:18-20

Is There Hope for My Broken Family?

One of the most difficult questions I’ve had to answer after our family’s 3-week vacation to the States was “How was your trip?”. Every single time a friend or a colleague asked me this, I took a deep breath, smiled, and said: “It was good! Really fun!” But, behind those answers was a heart breaking inside of me. Yes, by God’s grace, there were good and amazing highlights which I hope to share sometime soon. However, I couldn’t just let go of the fact that our family went through an emotional roller coaster ride that continued even a month after we got back to the Philippines. We went home to the same house each day and had occasional chats, but there was definitely an elephant in the room.

 

PRIDE IN THE FAMILY

The trip was supposed to be a fun time with the family because of three main reasons: 1) Our eldest sister’s wedding and meeting the extended family in Hawaii, 2) Our family reunion with my father’s side, and 3) Our whole family’s first time to travel the States together. But while we were still in the States, our different types of personalities clashed almost every day. From the smallest concerns to the biggest problems we encountered, the pride in us took over our hearts and minds.

Unfortunately, this caused us to stumble and sin not only in our thoughts, but also in the harsh and unloving words that we carelessly threw against each other. When someone made a mistake, some of us were quick to judge and comment about it. When someone made suggestions, some of us chose to disregard and belittle them. When someone opened up that he/she was hurt, the other side became defensive. When we experienced delays, hassles, or detours during the trip, blaming and getting annoyed at each other became a normal response. Moreover, smiling for the camera in between these moments was the cherry on top! It was very tiring and frustrating.

 

INDIFFERENCE IN THE FAMILY

As each day passed by, I kept telling God about my disappointment and heartbreak because of our family’s situation. There were moments when I would cry or cringe especially when I would see myself and my other family members being joyful with others, yet having not much emotion or interest back at home. It broke my heart to see how it was normal for us to worship God and serve others when we ourselves weren’t honoring God in our relationships in the family. I also noticed that some of us preferred staying out late instead of going home early to spend more time with the family. In addition, some of us kept ourselves busy with work or other interests, since it was more convenient compared to dealing with the problem. In a nutshell, our family was already giving up on each other.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.Psalm 43:5

 

HUMILITY IN THE FAMILY

Last Saturday, during a road trip with my older sister to a coffee farm, I had the opportunity to open up to her and share what I was feeling and thinking of, in relation to the elephant in the room. I said things like: “I honestly don’t know my parents and siblings anymore. We don’t make time for each other which causes us to be quick in judging and not understanding each other.” and “I’ve been ranting about this to God almost every day. I feel like He’s telling me to stop ranting and to start doing something about it!”

Our exchanges of experiences led us to agreeing that we needed to resolve issues and have a family meeting. We just couldn’t imagine seeing this problem snowball into something bigger in the years to come. I sent out a chat invite to our family’s group chat and surprisingly, they all (parents, older sister, and younger brother) confirmed their attendance for the next day. Ironically, that same road trip, I let my pride take control of me and it caused a tension between me and my sister (which I shared in my previous POST). But, God used that experience for me to understand the value and blessing of humility and by His grace, this inspired me to be intentional in praying for and facilitating our family meeting that weekend.

It was one of the awkward moments I’ve had with the family. Seeing them walk in the coffee shop one by one and knowing that we all had unresolved issues in our hearts. But somehow, God was encouraging me to trust that He is more than able to restore our relationships in His perfect timing. After Mom opened in prayer, I started to lead the discussion by sharing that the purpose of our talk that night was for us to be aware of the situation we had and to trust that God will help us restore what was broken.

I then asked everyone (including myself) two questions that night. The first question was: “What changes do you desire to see in our family?”. This was our chance to let each other know about the improvements that we wanted to see in the members of the family. After around 10 minutes, I asked them the second question: “What changes do you desire to see in YOURSELF, in relation to the family?”. I remember seeing some of their eyes widen and hearing some say “ohh my!”. I guess it was a question that they did not expect. After everyone finished typing their answers on their mobile phones, I said: “Okay! It’s now time to share our answers to the group. Let’s begin with question… #2.”

By God’s grace, He inspired me to set the tone of humility in our discussion by starting with the second question. Knowing our family (based on the previous open forums we’ve had in the past years), whenever we first shared about family issues and problems because of each other, our conversations did end up having action steps, but they also turned a bit sour afterwards. Sometimes, there would still be conversations after the open forum where some of us would say, “I still felt that I wasn’t understood when I opened up…” and all those similar responses.

So, for our recent family meeting, it was refreshing and very humbling for each of us to start the discussion by admitting our own weaknesses, shortcomings, and desires to improve ourselves within the context of family. By the time we moved on to question #1, the issues and concerns shared were willingly welcomed by each member. After a loooong time, I sincerely saw how each member was intentional in hearing out and understanding where the hurting member was coming from. There were no defensive or harsh comments made and when we were almost leaning towards a tension, the other members helped in balancing the conversation. Not only did we get to know each other and our hurts more, we also had the opportunity to forgive, to ask for forgiveness, and to believe in the best towards each other. Hugs were given, tears were shed, funny comments were occasionally said, tips to love each other were shared, and walls among us were slowly being destroyed.

“God, I’m done running from the reason that You sent Your Son. So I’m gonna choose to love.
Maybe I’ll hurt, maybe I’ll bruise, maybe I’ll cry, maybe I’ll lose.
Still I will choose to love.” –Francesca Battistelli

 

HOPE FOR THE FAMILY

We ended the night by encouraging each other to grow in our relationship with Jesus and in our love for each other, by the power of the Holy Spirit. My heart was overjoyed, not because all of our family concerns were solved, but because we found hope in Jesus. In spite of our weaknesses, He is more than able to transform our hearts and do miracles in our families, no matter how simple or hopeless the situations and problems may be. All it takes is a step of faith when He calls us to act on it and trust in Him.

You too might wonder: “Is there hope for my broken family?”

I think you already know the answer to it. Will you believe it? :)

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” –Romans 15:13

*Note: I asked my family’s permission before blogging about this.*

I Didn’t Want to Say Sorry

I didn’t want to say sorry. So, I chose to gargle the pride in my mouth and let it linger overnight! It’s interesting how easy it is for us to just sweep things under the rug and ignore the nudge of the Holy Spirit, especially when our ego is hurt or when we focus on ourselves and selfish desires.

Yesterday, during a roadtrip bonding with my older sister, we got into a conversation about pursuing certain studies that we were passionate about. As I was sharing about mine, I unintentionally put my passion on a pedestal and made it seem like it had a more meaningful purpose than hers. Our conversation and bonding didn’t turn sour, by God’s grace, but my heart knew that I wasn’t careful with my words and motives.

What was I thinking? Looking back, I realized how selfish and proud I was to believe in the lie that I needed to prove that I was better. Even though it was unintentional for me to carelessly react that way, I was reminded of Matthew 12:34 where it says,

“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

Obviously, my heart was already overflowing with pride and insecurities even before our roadtrip. So, when I had that conversation with my sister, the words just naturally flowed from my heart to my mouth. And unfortunately, it wasn’t a moment that I was proud of.

We still had the rest of the afternoon and evening to bond and although I knew there was pride in my heart, I did not say sorry immediately. I just disregarded it and continued to have a good time with her. Later that night, I remembered my pride and thought, “Why should I even bring it up? I don’t need to apologize for the way I acted earlier today. She seems fine.” But, I praise God for the Holy Spirit that cares and convicts.

This morning, God opened the eyes of my heart. It happened while I was throwing trash in a brown paper bag of Frankie’s inside our kitchen. The frankie’s staff apparently wrote these words on the paper bag before they gave it to us last night: “You are enough just as you are.” This hit me hard. Immediately, I knew that God was renewing my mind and reminding me of my true security in Jesus. I didn’t need to prove myself or seek affirmation and praise from people. I didn’t need to nurture the pride in my heart because clearly, everything that I am is only by the grace of God.

So, with His help, I reached out to my sister this afternoon and apologized for my behavior and pride yesterday. She was gracious in forgiving me and making me feel loved by her! 

This is just a simple struggle that God needed to deal in my heart and I do praise Him for His endless pursuit and pruning in my life. By the power of the Holy Spirit in us, we CAN choose to humble ourselves and forgive others no matter how big or small the struggle is. I pray that I will continue to grow in this aspect as I expose the dirt and hurt and let God work in and through me. For the love of the relationships that He has blessed me with and for His glory, ultimately.

P.S. Thanks, temic, for our roadtrip bonding yesterday! 

Hollywood Walk of Fame

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting Hollywood with the family. Our aunt toured us around the area, including the famous Hollywood sign and Walk of Fame.

As soon as we got out of the car, I hurriedly walked along the stars with a camera on hand, ready to take snapshots of the stars of the actors and musicians that I see on the screen! It was a fun experience, knowing that these people, at least once, walked on the same streets. Some of them even left their signatures and hand and feet prints on the cement. I was definitely starstruck! These people were amazing in their respective crafts!

However, towards the end of our tour, as we walked back towards the parking lot, I noticed that some of the stars along the Walk of Fame aren’t in good condition anymore. Aside from the dirt, there were cracks and faded gold names on them too. When I passed by a star without any name on it, it made me think about the possibilities of fame in my life and being recognized for achievements like all the others who had stars!

But, I was reminded that fame and success should never be the goal of my heart and hands. For just like the stars on the ground, these earthly riches will eventually fade away. Indeed, there is danger in pursuing things that are here today, but gone tomorrow.

Instead, as I live, love, and serve in this life, I pray that I will be like the stars in the sky, that give glory to the Everlasting One who made them; who made me. 

Psalm 148:3 “…praise Him, all you shining stars.”

Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”