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

12 Highlights of My 2018

I almost forgot that I had an annual tradition of listing down twelve highlights of my year, which started last 2016. Hahaha. As long as I am alive, I plan to continue this simple way of remembering God’s faithfulness and grace every year. If I could summarize my 2018 in a few Bible verses, it would be Jeremiah 17:7-8, which says:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

I chose these verses not because I was similar to the tree in the passage (believe me, I struggled with worries and insecurities big time last year!), but because of its humbling reminder that God IS all I need. He is THE ONE whom I should trust in both the highlights and hurdles of my life.

Here are the 12 Highlights of my 2018:

 

1. MEETING BOYCE AVENUE… AGAIN!

Boyce Avenue is my favorite acoustic band. By God’s grace, He has been allowing me to experience faith-stretching moments during their concerts in Manila since 2013. Last June 2018, I attended another concert and met the band for the fourth time! Yay! More details HERE.

2. NOVA

2017 was a challenging time for me because I saw my savings decrease more and more due to major car repairs. After much prayer and waiting, God provided a better, secondhand vehicle for me last 2018. Thanks to my dad and older brother, it was sold at a very reasonable price and with gracious terms of payment. I also had the privilege of dedicating my Innova (“Nova”) and myself (as the driver) to the Lord last year. It served as a reminder for me to use this blessing for His glory.

 

3. PROMOTION & LDP GRADUATION

By God’s grace, I graduated from our company’s Leadership Development Program and Toastmaster’s club last year. Also, He gave me the privilege of being promoted before the year ended — something that I did not expect!

 

4. MY 10,000TH DAY ON EARTH

A close friend of mine and I had a conversation last August 2017 and we ended up talking about reaching milestones, including the number of days we’ve been alive. When we computed mine, we realized that my 10,000th day on earth would be on the 3rd day of May 2018. I celebrated it with a cup of my favorite Frappuccino and a weekend getaway with the Lord!

 

5. ISLAND HOPPING & ROADTRIPS

Two travels last year that delighted my heart: 1) ISLAND HOPPING: Bacolod-Iloilo-Gigantes-Guimaras and 2) ROADTRIP: Pampanga-Dagupan-Bolinao-Bulacan. I went with my awesome former and current colleagues, respectively. It sparked my love for culture, nature, food, photography, and our Creator!

 

6. NEW DISCIPLESHIP GROUP & MENTORS

I ended my 2017 with a broken heart because my small group (discipleship group) of 15 years at church dissolved. Most of my dgroupmates already got married and my discipler moved to Davao for work. So, we only get to keep in touch online. However, in God’s perfect timing, He introduced me to a warm and fun new small group who loves Jesus! I praise God for my mentors, Tim & Kina, and for the blessing of being accountable to the rest of the group, as we encourage each other to grow in love and obedience to God and His word.

 

7. GARDENING MILESTONES

By God’s grace, He allowed me to grow the best bunch of cherry tomatoes I’ve grown since I started gardening a decade ago. He also helped me experience the struggles and joys of growing chili (siling labuyo), which I brought home from my Bacolod trip. This plant produced at least 800 pcs. of sili (and counting), which I shared to family and friends. Growing this plant was very timely too because of the unexpected price increase of sili last year (Php 1000/kilo). I also grew more sili seedlings and gave them to some friends. Last but not the least, I enjoyed growing stalks of pechay in our veranda.

 

8. MUSIC MILESTONES

When the Lord inspired my heart, He gave me the privilege of composing two full songs and a few more songs with pending stanzas. He also allowed me to busk (thanks to Jello!) and play/sing one of my original songs in public for the very first time in BGC. Lastly, God gave me the honor of singing at a bridal march of a colleague and a special number in a wedding of my close accountability partner. Both ladies are named Tin. Haha!

 

9. BIBLE STUDY GROUP IN THE OFFICE

By God’s grace, I took a leap of faith and started a Bible study small group in the office where I shared Jesus and His word to my colleagues. We met every Thursday night since April 2018 and it has been such a joy for me to get to know each of them more and to learn with them as we prayed and studied God’s word. More details HERE..

 

10. DIGGING DEEP AT THE PRAYER MOUNTAIN

My not-so-secret getaway is definitely a highlight for my 2018. If it wasn’t for this venue where I could be alone with God and nature, I probably would not have had the opportunities to quiet myself, find rest in Him, pray for my concerns, listen to Him without being distracted, and see the areas in my life that I needed to surrender completely. I went to the prayer mountain at least 10 times last year and slept for a night or two each time. More details HERE..

 

11. FAMILY MILESTONES

It was a colorful year for our family and I can only thank the Lord for His faithfulness and grace in each milestone that we had. 1) My older brother’s marriage, 2) My eldest sister’s engagement, 3) Our whole family’s US Visas getting approved, 4) My first niece / our parent’s first grandchild, 5) Our first time to wear costumes as a family on my 28th, and 6) My older sister’s 30th!

 

12. A YEAR WITHOUT SOCIAL MEDIA

It was only by the grace of God that I, a former addict of social media, survived the year without it! I learned so much through this humbling experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s struggling as well. More details HERE..

 

By God’s grace, I have survived another year and I look forward to seeing Him move beautifully and mightily again this 2019. :)

Bible, Buskers, and BGC

My voice and hands were shaking while I was singing in the middle of a sidewalk at Uptown Parade, BGC (Bonifacio Global City) last Thursday. For the first time in my life, I played my original song, “Heto Na Naman Ako” in public and it was one of the most memorable moments I have had in my life. More than having the privilege of singing and playing the guitar, my heart was blessed with how God allowed me to experience Him in a personal way that day.

Every Thursday night since April this year, by God’s grace, I led a Bible study group with some of the ladies at work. For eight weeks, we met consistently until we had to postpone our sessions due to storms and other seminars. When the weather became better last week, I knew that God was reminding me of bringing it back again. However, because I was juggling different concerns in my life at that time, I felt that I was inadequate and de-motivated to lead the ladies for Bible study. I even told God, “Lord, You would understand if I postpone it again, right? I really can’t see myself leading the group now. I just want to go home after work.” But, despite my efforts to express my lack of enthusiasm before God, He still encouraged me to push through that night.

Right after office hours, one of my colleagues (Eiza) invited me to watch her busker boyfriend, Jello, sing and play at Uptown Parade. My eyes beamed when I heard her because I have always been fascinated by buskers! I rarely see buskers in Manila, but I remember watching them when I had the chance to visit Singapore and Hong Kong a few years ago. In a few seconds, I thought: “How timely! Maybe I could just postpone the Bible study tonight!” But, God immediately reminded me of my commitment to Him in sharing Jesus to my colleagues through this small group ministry. So, I told my colleague that I was meeting some of our officemates for a Bible study that night instead.

During our Bible study, my heart was humbled and blessed because I missed listening to the updates of my colleagues. I was also encouraged because God reminded us of the importance and blessing of seeking Him and obeying His word. In our group, we started a 6-week series on knowing our “True Identity in Christ”. So far, we have studied Bible verses that talk about the identities: FORGIVEN & COMFORTED.  Last week, we studied what it meant to be SECURE in Jesus. When the Bible study was finished, I remembered the invite that my colleague shared to me earlier that evening. Since it was just 9 pm and the busking session was until 11 pm, I decided to drop by Uptown Parade.

Originally, I wanted to stay for 30 minutes only since we still had work the next day. But, as soon as I got to the venue, I did not even realize how quickly time passed by. I sat with my colleague and met another friend (Deck), while we all listened to Jello, as he serenaded the sidewalk where strangers and friends were hanging out. He played original songs and a few covers in between. He also asked his friend, Deck, to join him in singing and playing the guitar! After an hour, they started challenging me to sing and play too. Of course, my initial reaction was: “Yikes! No way!” Haha! I did not have any experience of busking in the past nor did I have the confidence to perform in public that night.

 

Also, one reason why I didn’t want to sing or play in public was because I was conscious of what other people would think of me, especially when I make mistakes. I felt that my songs weren’t polished yet, my vocal skills weren’t the best at that time, and months without practice made my guitar skills rusty. When I expressed what I felt to my new busker friend, Jello, he told me: “Don’t worry about it. It’s okay if you make mistakes. Deck and I made mistakes tonight too! Also, if you don’t try busking and sharing your music now at the sidewalk, when will you try singing and sharing your music in public? When you’re already in front of a lot of people? You can do it now! It feels great to share the music from your heart. Go! Sing one of your original songs!”

 

While they were encouraging me, I recalled what I learned during our Bible study earlier that night. One of the passages that I shared with the group was a recent personal favorite: Jeremiah 17:7-8, which says, “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” In an instant, Jeremiah’s words gave me the inspiration to busk with my new friends that night, even if I didn’t have any experience. I was reminded that my flaws and the opinions of other people do not define who I am and that by God’s grace, I am able to find my confidence in the Lord. Even in this simple and random situation.

Just before Jello closed his last set that night, he gave the floor to me. I remember whispering “Lord, I’ve decided to sing the song that I made last year which was about finding comfort in you. May you be honored. Please help me.” I reached for the guitar and positioned my mouth near the microphone as I strummed and sang from my heart. It was an exhilarating yet amazing feeling for me to be able to spontaneously share my music to random passers-by along Uptown Parade. Yes, my voice did crack and I did miss a few chords, but at the end of the night, my heart was on fire! I was beyond grateful for the quick opportunity to enjoy sharing an original song and listening to original compositions of my new friends too. Jello and Deck, who are songwriters, also eagerly encouraged me to continue writing songs. They even invited me to join songwriting sessions or clubs in the country.

That day started with worries and concerns in my heart which crippled me at the start. But, thank God for His grace! He still gave me the privilege of humbling myself before Him, studying His word with colleagues, randomly busking for the first time in BGC, and being affirmed by new friends to develop my skills and desire in songwriting. If it’s God’s will, I do hope that I will be able to share His grace through more music too.

Here’s a compilation of some snippets from busking last week:

 

My First OPM Song

Exactly a week ago, on my birthday, I shared my very first OPM (Original Pilipino Music) song to the public.

Originally, I wrote a verse and chorus in English. But after struggling to finish the rest of the song, I was inspired to translate it to Tagalog instead. In less than 10 minutes, by God’s grace, He helped me finish the song.

It’s entitled “Heto na Naman Ako”.

 

You know how it is very burdensome to go through a struggle day after day, year after year, where you just feel defeated and hopeless each time? I felt that when I struggled with insecurities about being single recently (which I wrote about HERE.)  But, God encouraged me through John 16:33. Because of this, I was inspired to share what is in my heart through this song.

To anyone who is struggling with something that doesn’t seem to end,
To anyone who feels that God doesn’t care,
To anyone who sincerely wants to draw near to God but feels weak…

May this song encourage your heart to remember that we can trust in Jesus — who is always with us; who knows exactly what is going on in our hearts; and who has already won the victory.