RSW Blog #5: Delight

42672417_1849035105217167_7512565487729901568_o.jpg
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
— Psalm 37:4 ESV

Psalm 37:4 is a verse that I always interpreted wrong as a teenager. My mindset was “I want x and y to happen, so I have to seek God in order for him to give it to me.” Looking back on that time of spiritual immaturity makes me laugh now, but I remember being incredibly frustrated as a young Christian, never seeing prayers answered and wondering what I was doing wrong.

I’d always be asking, “Aren’t you supposed to give me the desires of my heart, God? Am I not seeking you correctly? Worship in church yesterday was really good, and I feel like I really connected with you. What else do I need to do for you to make this happen?” It led to years of anger, doubt, and discouragement.

The truth is, my focus was all wrong (which should have been obvious, lol), and I removed delight from the process altogether. While I was so busy focusing on how to attain the “desires of my heart,” I didn’t realize that the joy of spending time with my loving Father was right there in front of me the whole time.

This is something that I learned embarrassingly recently, after I started school here at RSW. In just these 2 months of school so far, my understanding of God (and of myself) has been flipped on its head. The God who I once saw as distant and forgetful keeps proving himself to be fiercely loving, kind, and attentive.

Allow me to illustrate this in a story. Yesterday (Friday), I went grocery shopping in the morning, and my car randomly started making a very loud & scary rattle sound. I reacted in a panic because I’m planning on driving two hours away for a Julien Baker concert on Sunday, and so I needed a working car to get me there safely. On top of that, because I moved here less than 2 months ago, I had NO idea where to take the car to get it fixed. I took a deep breath, asked my landlord for advice, and began looking up phone numbers for local car repair places. The first place I called was completely booked for weeks. I called the nearest dealership next, which also told me they were completely booked this weekend and couldn’t schedule an appointment for me. They told me to bring the car in anyway, and they might be able to keep the car overnight and look at it when they have a spare moment between appointments. That seemed like my only option, so I rushed to put my groceries away, said a frantic “God, please let this go smoothly” prayer, and carefully drove my noisy car to the dealership 20 minutes away.

The whole time I was driving there, I was in a constant state of anxiety. My thoughts went like this: “please God, don’t let something fall off the bottom of my car on the way there.” “God why would you let a car problem happen just DAYS before a road trip?” “God, I’m choosing to trust in your goodness even though I’m really annoyed at you right now and this is stupid and scary AF.” “WHY IS MY CAR SO LOUD?” “omg I might die today. My car will explode and someone will have to clean up my dead body. God, please don’t let that happen.”

Talk about messy prayers, right? Well, God listened and cared about ALL of those poorly-worded panicky prayers. I got to the dealership safely and was greeted by the most helpful and friendly staff member who chatted with me about my upcoming road trip. Turns out he used to be a concert promoter, and he likes Julien Baker too! When we got into the service garage, they happened to have a technician available, so they took my car back right away. As soon as I handed them the key and signed the estimate, my sweet friend Gretchen pulled into the garage with her car (what are the chances??) and she sat with me for a half hour or so. We got to talk and laugh, and it completely took my mind off of the stress of the morning. My car ended up getting fixed in just over an hour, the issue was minor, and the final cost was almost 20% less than the estimate they gave me.

I drove home with a huge smile on my face, thanking God out loud the entire way home. Not only was I thankful for the smoothness of the morning—I was thankful that the whole stressful ordeal was just a way for God to prove his trustworthiness. My messy “God, I’m choosing to trust in your goodness even though I’m really annoyed at you right now and this is stupid and scary AF” prayer was a pivotal moment in my heart… a moment of honesty with the Father that he was able to honor and use to actually build my trust in him.

My time at RSW has been full of these kinds of stories. Stories where I pray a messy, angry, poorly-worded, honest prayer, and God answers in a way that reveals he’s listening intently and loves to help.

That’s how the delight started happening. Once I began to see that he listens and cares about every word I say to him, I found myself starting to enjoy talking to him about everything. Once I looked back on the past year and realized that he held every moment and orchestrated everything to bring me to where I am now, I found myself getting excited about trusting him with things. Once I realized that he literally smiles at me and sits with me when I choose to spend time with him, I found myself loving every moment I get to spend in his presence.

And it’s a chain reaction—The more I delight in him, the more he reveals his delight in me. The joy just keeps on increasing. Last night, I was in tears as I talked to him in the shower, because I was overwhelmed by the fact that the God of the universe actually loves listening to me and isn’t annoyed with me.

So then, there’s the part of the verse that says “…and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

I’ve found that when you truly delight in the Lord, you kind of completely forget about the stuff you want for a bit. I think, when I was a teenager, I sort of knew that, and I didn’t want to forget about the desires of my heart for fear that God would never give them to me. I believed that it worked this way: you delight in God so that HE becomes the desire of your heart, and then the promise of that verse is fulfilled already, so he doesn’t have to give you anything else.

But that’s not how God works at all. As I fix my eyes on my loving Father and my little human desires seem less and less important in comparison, he takes such great care of my heart. I look around at my life once in a while and realize that, the whole time I was busy looking at him, he sneakily and generously surrounded me with blessings and answered prayers.

Here’s a specific (and personal) example: I used to wish all the time for a friend who was around my age, truly understood my weird brain, was on my same musical skill level and could make music with me, enjoyed spending quality time with me, and gave me a safe place to be 100% myself. I had a really hard time making friends as a teenager; it was a really tough and lonely season of my life, so I thought about this constantly. It never seemed to happen though, so eventually I gave up on praying for it, and I forced it into the back of my mind where I eventually forgot about it. Fast forward to now; RSW helped me discover God’s kindness and love for me, and as he became my main focus and I began to really enjoy every moment I spent with Him, I looked around at my life a few weeks later and realized that I had become surrounded by an incredible group of friends that felt like family, and one of those new friends has already checked off every single thing I wished for in a friend. That particular friendship has felt so God-chosen and anointed from the beginning, and it seems like a PERFECT example of the Father giving me one of the desires of my heart while I was busy delighting in him.

When I was younger, that friendship was the goal, and my relationship with God was essentially just a means to an end. But now, the Father has become my goal. That friend is just additional joy on top of it all. It’s like the dessert after a delicious meal.

I’m also realizing that my delight and dependence on the Father has given me the maturity and strength necessary to even handle having the desires of my heart. Viewing my relationship with God as a means to an end was like begging for the dessert before eating the actual meal; if he gave in to my plea and gave me what I wanted before I entrusted him with my heart first, all it would’ve done is make me sick and cause me to expect nutrition from something that has none. Not healthy.

Bottom line: the Father is so good. The joy that comes from an intimate relationship with him far surpasses anything else, but at the same time, he loves us so much that once we entrust him with our hearts, he takes such good care of us and gladly pours out blessing. It’s amazing.

I’m so thankful for this season of my life, where I’m discovering his realness and kindness for the first time.

RSW Blog #4: Feels like home already

42797549_10212009636387623_7698813390151483392_n.jpg

It has been 2 weeks since I moved to Kalamazoo, and 1 week since I started school. So much has happened during that time. I won’t be able to go into all of it, but I’ll tell you about the most important part: the people.

I’ve always had a hard time making friends and connecting with people, so naturally, one of my biggest fears about moving was the possibility of not fitting in here at all. But from the moment I arrived here 2 weeks ago, I have been making deep connections with everyone. That’s not an exaggeration— every classmate, every staff member, and even my landlords and I have shared some really great conversations and moments.

  • My landlords are the sweetest and most helpful people alive. They occasionally texted me to make sure I was doing okay during the few days after I moved in, and they were kind enough to invite me over and make me dinner last week. They have also been extremely helpful with recommending places to eat and stuff to do around town. It’s really cool that I can call these people my friends. :)

  • The RSW staff members are all so genuine, humble, and caring. I have been prayed over so many times since starting school, and every word prayed has been prophetic and life-giving. I already feel seen, valued, and loved here.

  • My classmates already feel like my best friends. Never before have I experienced true unity in Christ like I have with these people. At our fall retreat this past week, we came as 21 strangers with very different backgrounds, interests, and stages of life—but we prayed together, worshiped together, studied the Bible together, and enthusiastically supported each other for 3 days, and we came out of it feeling like family. I am genuinely so excited to do life with them and grow together over the next 8 months.

This is clearly where God wants me to be, and if I had any doubt about that before moving here, all of that doubt is gone. Sterling Heights, MI was a great place to grow up, but Kalamazoo has already given me a feeling of “home” that I have never experienced before. Not at all what I was expecting to happen :)

RSW Blog #3: Ready to Go

hello-i-m-nik-698722-unsplash.jpg

It's already the end of August, and I just can't believe it. When I found out I got into RSW in June, the first day of school in September seemed such a safe distance away. But I blinked, and somehow the summer is almost over. I move in just 2 weeks. My official move date is September 15th.

One thing I did not anticipate was the emotional toll this was going to take. Packing has been physically exhausting of course, but also emotionally exhausting, and I've ended up crying multiple times this week. I like change in general, and I know I'm going to end up loving this change too, but the messy transition process has been painful. Back in May, I remember God telling me that this year was going to get difficult for me but he'll be with me through all of it. I've been reminding myself of that constantly.

Luckily, I'm pretty much done packing, and the move day is getting closer. My back hurts, I'm experiencing a lot of emotions, and I'm EXHAUSTED, but I can finally see the light at the end of this long tunnel.

Despite the emotional crap I've been dealing with, God is still taking good care of me. Get this: my neighbor down the street asked me to move into their house to house-sit while they're away, from today (September 1st) through the 14th. My first instinct was to immediately say no, but I ended up saying yes for a whole bunch of reasons. First and foremost, it gave me a reason to get my packing done before the end of August, which is a huge relief. It also will give me a chance to get used to living on my own a little, cooking for myself, and taking care of the place, while still being right down the street from my parents' house. Lastly, and most importantly, I have house-sat for this neighbor before, and their home is full of books and windows and is surrounded by trees, so it's a perfect place to think and create. The place is just really good for my mental health in general. So because of that, and because my packing is mostly done, I'll really be able to rest and take care of myself before the craziness of the move date. It seems like a gift from God. He knows me and takes care of me so well.

Over the next 2 weeks, I'll be finishing up some stuff at my job, getting the rest of my packing done, planning the logistics of the move date, hanging out with my family/friends and saying goodbye, and being intentional about self-care. I'm hoping to write some songs and make a video or two during my time at my neighbor's house too, but who knows. It's gonna be good.

No matter how hard this gets, I'm already growing a lot, and I'm thankful. I have a feeling my entire experience at RSW is going to be similar: full of difficult growing pains, but I'll be a brand new person by the end of it. I'm choosing to cast off my fears. I'm excited for what God has in store.

RSW Blog #2: I guess I accidentally prophesied this whole thing

IMG_5074.jpg

Back in November, I released my second full-length album, "Overflow." This project consists of 9 songs written over the course of 2016 and 2017, and it was the very first time I wrote lyrics to my songs and released it into the world. While it was a significant milestone in my musical career to release my own lyrics, at the time I didn't think it was any more than just a bunch of words thrown together. But somehow, God had plans to use it and turn it into much more than that.

It wasn't until this summer that I started noticing a trend as I listened to the songs in Overflow. As I began preparing to move for the very first time to an unfamiliar city, I immediately saw a shockingly strong connection between the lyrics I wrote and what I was feeling in anticipation of RSW. I wrote these songs way before I had any idea what 2018 would look like, let alone what I might be doing or feeling.

Because I am a list person, let me outline for you exactly what I mean:

  • The song September was written in September 2016, when I simultaneously started at a new job and joined a new band. The only lyrics are: "I thought I knew my plans, but I was wrong. I thought this was my home, but now I'm gone."
    Fast forward to now... I was sure of my plans to go into marketing, but I was wrong - God is definitely leading me straight to a School of Worship. And I thought Metro Detroit would be my home for a while, but I'll be gone in less than a month.
    "I thought I knew my plans, but I was wrong. I thought this was my home, but now I'm gone."
    Plus, I'm moving and starting school in September. Perfect, right?
  • Past The Wall is a song that I wrote right after deciding to let go of some toxic friendships, stop caring what they thought of me, and really embrace who I'm meant to be. The whole theme of the song is basically that life is safer inside your expectations and comfort zone, but when you leave those boundaries, you find life and color and joy all around you.
    As I prepare for RSW, I find so much encouragement in those lyrics. Sure, leaving the safety of my home and friends is scary as heck, but things are going to be so much more exciting when I'm free from the walls of my comfort zone.
    "To be real, back inside the walls it's safer, but it's clear you never meant for me to hide behind my fear. So I left it all behind, and I can see you're here with me."
  • Restarting Point is an instrumental song I composed in the beginning of 2016 right after releasing my first album. RSW marks a completely new chapter in my life and I can't help but mark it as a fresh restarting point in my life.
  • Moment By Moment... Alright, listen guys. Moving has been stressing me the frick out, and it has been just a long to-do list of things that give me anxiety when I think about them (like figuring out financial stuff and getting new tires on my car, for example). But God has been teaching me to take each day & each moment as it comes, without worrying about the next. Before I know it, my long list of stress gets much shorter as I take things one at a time, moment-by-moment. There's a lot more room to trust God with the future when your main focus is on the present moment.
  • Shift actually made me cry the night I found out about RSW in the first place. After finding out about RSW in April and feeling a strong push to apply, I felt a lot of fear and doubt - I kept asking, "is this really God speaking to me? I can't do something like this. This can't possibly be right."
    I spent some time with God that evening, and as I was shuffling a worship playlist on my phone, Shift came on. The entire song's lyrics suddenly felt like God speaking directly to me. Here's a few of them:
    "Ready for change, for something more. You lead the way, I step through the door."
    "I'm casting off my doubt and fear; as I step out, I feel you near."

    "I'm facing fears. I'm crossing seas. You dry my tears. I'm breaking free."
    It was mind-blowing. Still is mind-blowing.
  • New Light became the cry of my heart right after I found out I got accepted into RSW. I mean, seriously, who am I that God would call me to all of this and take such good care of me every step of the way? I don't deserve any of it.
    "Oh, who am I that you'd give me this life? All my days I will sing for your glory."
  • Oh man, Overflow always has meant a ton to me. It's the album's title track for a reason. The melody, feel, and even the key it's in all resonate so strongly with my soul. I always meant for it to represent an outpouring of God's love, similar to a person standing under a waterfall - and as I navigate the preparation for RSW, it's reaching a whole new level of that love. Every step of this moving process keeps falling into place as I take steps forward in obedience, and I can't explain any of it except that it's Jesus providing and caring for me. I'm experiencing an actual overflow of His love over my life to a degree that doesn't even make sense. Listening to Overflow only makes me become overwhelmed with gratitude and awe.
 

I know this blog post was a lot to take in, but I really wanted to share it with you. One of my favorite parts of being a creative person is that the things I create ultimately come from God, not me - so sometimes, he just completely takes over my music and turns it into something that I'll need to hear later. It's bizarre and wonderful, and it's just another reminder that I'm literally nothing without God.

If you haven't heard any of these songs yet, they're on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Bandcamp, and basically everywhere else. Or you can click the button below to listen :)

RSW Blog #1: Getting Ready to Move

matthew-sleeper-124918-unsplash.jpg

I'm going to be attending the Radiant School of Worship (RSW) this fall. Most people know this already because of social media, but I don't think I've written about it on my blog yet, so here it is. I want to keep you guys updated on this exciting new chapter of my life, so this is the first of many blog posts that I'm gonna put out into the world over the next 9-ish months.

I made a video about my acceptance into RSW a couple months ago, so you can watch it if you want more info:

Ever since I received my RSW acceptance letter in the beginning of June, my life has been an absolute whirlwind. I have no choice but to trust God during this season - let's be honest, I have no idea how to move, how to choose an apartment, how to be an adult. But God has been guiding me so firmly and sweetly, and he has been providing for my every need. I have been a Christian for so long and experienced God's goodness before, but never to this extent. It's honestly blowing my mind how he's taking care of things. All I had to do was present my obedience and best effort.

Upon receiving my acceptance letter, my first goal was to find a place to live. Not knowing where to start, I posted on Facebook asking if anyone knew of people looking for roommates around Kalamazoo. A friend I met at camp shared the post, and one of his coworkers happened to be renting out a cool little loft only 10 minutes away from Radiant Church. After talking to her about it and traveling there to see the place, I thought it was way too good to be true, but I once again felt a nudge from God to go for it... so I did. I confirmed with my friend's coworker last weekend. I'll be moving into that loft on September 15th.

After finding a place to live, I ran into another hurdle: I didn't have kitchen stuff, furniture, or anything that I'd need to live on my own. But after announcing the fact that I found an apartment on social media, friends and church members have been offering their extra stuff to me for free. The only things I need at this point are a couch, a bed frame, a bedside table, and some miscellaneous small stuff. Everything else has already been taken care of, even down to the moving boxes. It's been a humbling experience; God is providing for me through the selflessness and kindness of His people, and it's a convicting reminder that I need to work on being more selfless and kind myself.

I'm about to start the process of packing stuff into boxes and planning the logistics of the move day. Normally I would be very anxious and scared about this, but at this point, God has been so faithful and kind in every single step of this process and I know I have nothing to worry about. Is this what it's like to truly follow God? There's nothing but uncertainty ahead, but I'm feeling overwhelming peace about it.

The realness of this whole thing has been starting to hit me lately. I'm so excited to live on my own, decorate my own place, meet new friends, and grow musically and spiritually at RSW - but I'm also nervous about figuring things out, and I'm not looking forward to being so far from my family and boyfriend. I know that adjusting to living on my own for the first time in an unfamiliar city is going to be difficult. But one of the things God told me back in May was "2018 is going to be difficult for you - but I am with you through it all. It's because of my presence with you that you're going to grow."

I'm excited to grow. No matter how difficult it may get.

 

How you can help

Quite a few people have asked how they can help me - if you're one of those people, here are some things you can do that would mean the WORLD to me:

  • Pray for me.
  • Click here to buy my music on BandCamp. You can choose to pay more than the listed price, if you feel led to do so. This is a great way to support me financially (and you get some pretty cool music too).
  • Click here to buy a t-shirt with my logo on it.
  • If you live near me and you have any of the following items that you're looking to get rid of: twin bed frame, couch, bedside table, toaster, or some other misc household items, I will gladly take it off your hands.
  • I hate asking for money, but that's definitely what I need the most right now - RSW doesn't provide housing, so I'll need to pay for rent and food while I'm there. So if you don't feel like buying my music or a shirt, but you still want to contribute financially, click here to get in contact with me.

Reckless Love Cover to be Featured on Reverbnation

It is with great excitement that I share this news with you: My new cover of Reckless Love, which has only been out for less than a week, earned a featured spot on ReverbNation's homepage AND caught the attention of their senior curating team!

Songs that earn a 7.5 (out of 10) rating or above on a crowd review get to be featured, and my Reckless Love cover made the cut with a 7.6 rating. My song is in the 93rd percentile of all ranked songs on ReverbNation, which is a big accomplishment! My feature slot will run for a week, starting on October 23rd.

Being noticed by ReverbNation's curation team is also very exciting. Being curated can open doors to all kinds of opportunities in the music industry, including (but not limited to) record deals, brand partnerships, and promotion to millions of listeners. I'm not sure what (if anything) will come from this, but it's a sign that I'm doing something right and that people are enjoying my music.

I'm very humbled and thankful for the opportunities that have been presented to me lately, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the next year takes me. To whoever may be reading this, thank you so much for supporting me and believing in me!

5 Things I Learned By Giving Up Social Media for 31 Days

Easter Sunday is next weekend (how??). I chose to give up social media for Lent.

SOCIAL MEDIA blog pic.jpg

Before I get into the main points of this post, let me explain a little of the story. I am not Catholic so I don't observe the Lent season in a traditional way, but every year I try to give up something that has consumed my life in one way or another. Last year I gave up sugar, the year before I think I gave up coffee - this year, I felt God nudging me to fast social media.

Social media is a crucial part to marketing my own music & personal brand, so I kept telling God "I can't give up social media. What if I lose followers by being inactive, and my music career takes a hit?" He kept telling me to trust Him, so on Ash Wednesday I deleted the social apps off my phone and committed to only visiting my work-related social accounts (I'm a social media manager at both of my day jobs).

I broke the fast on my birthday and intended to resume the fast after that, but I decided to end the fast there so I could start marketing my music again. Even though I didn't do the full 40+ days of Lent, I still gained a lot of healthy perspective when it comes to the internet, and I'm so glad I chose to fast social media.

Here are the main things I learned:

1. You're allowed to enjoy things for yourself.

The first day of Lent, I spent my afternoon at Starbucks, and they were playing music by Julien Baker (one of my favorite artists) over the speakers. I remember wanting to tweet about it. Instead, I realized, "I don't have to share this happy moment with anyone else. This happy moment belongs to me, and I get to enjoy it." It was liberating. The same kind of thing happened frequently during my social media fast - I'd be hanging out with new friends, realizing "I don't have to add this to my Instagram story. These friends chose to spend time with me, not with a couple hundred of my followers."

2. Facebook is toxic.

When I broke my fast on my birthday and checked Facebook for the first time, I felt sick to my stomach. My news feed immediately blasted me with Facebook statuses filled with complaints, political arguments, and memes with Minions (ugh) on them, and my profile was filled with half-hearted birthday wishes from people I barely knew. I thought to myself, Is this what Facebook has always been like? Was I just blind to all this negativity and superficial "friendship?" Needless to say, I won't be re-downloading the Facebook app on my phone, and I'll be happily limiting my time on Facebook from now on.

3. No one misses you while you're gone.

Unless, of course, you're a popular blogger or a celebrity or something... but as for me, a little-known musician, my followers went on with their lives as normal the whole time I was gone. There was absolutely no pressure for me to get back on. I didn't come back to a lower follower count or comments demanding where I've been. I didn't miss out on much either - in fact, a friend got engaged, and of course I missed the Facebook announcement, but I still found out about it via a conversation with a mutual friend.

4. People's impressions of you (and of what you represent) are shaped by your social media presence.

This was something that I learned after I logged back in, when I had a fresh perspective: People are watching me, especially because I volunteer on the worship team at a large church. I felt a little convicted; I definitely have complained about my life and posted negative things on social media before, all of which was seen by people who have seen me lead worship. They know that I claim to love Jesus, so shouldn't my posts look like Christ? Even from a non-Christian perspective, there's already WAY too much negativity on the internet, so I should only be contributing kindness and positivity.

5. Social media saps creativity out of a creative person.

By taking a break from social media, not only did I free up a lot of time that I'd normally spend scrolling; I freed up my thoughts as well. Before Lent began, my thoughts consistently dwelled on social media: "I wrote a little chord progression. I should post a video of me playing it." "Something frustrating happened at work today. I'm gonna vent on Twitter."
Stepping back allowed me to think normally. I was able to write chord progressions and then work on adding to them or developing them into full songs, instead of stopping the writing process to record an Instagram video. And when something frustrating happened to me, I'd channel my feelings into writing music instead of channeling it all into my Twitter account. When I freed my brain from its social media cage, it was able to freely create.

 

This social media fast was exactly what I needed, to say the least. Now, with fresh perspective, I'm ready to harness social media as a marketing tool, NOT a crutch or outlet. I encourage you to do something similar; just take a break. You won't miss anything, and you'll come back feeling liberated and refreshed.

New Beginnings

jamie-dench-73632.jpg

Happy 2018!

I'm not really a New Years person. I don't like staying up late, I don't like parties, I don't like fireworks, I don't think there's anything special about entering another calendar year - basically, I just don't understand the hype, and I'm content playing video games by myself and going to bed at a reasonable time on New Years Eve. However, even though I believe you can start over at any point during the year, I'm choosing to give into the cliche and make 2018 a new beginning in my life. My personal slogan for the year is "Lazy Alanah will not win," and that will shape every aspect of my life, from working to exercising to making music to how many times I snooze the alarm in the morning.

I have audacious goals for my music career this year, and I'm working on some brand new things that I'll hopefully be revealing to you soon. I used to say that writing and releasing my albums was scary, but really, those albums were very easy and fun for me to make. These new projects, however, are uncharted territory for me, out of my comfort zone, and they genuinely scare me. 2018 is going to be the year of doing new things, taking risks, and forcing myself to get better at things I never thought I'd do.

I'm so excited to show you all what I'm working on, but I can't reveal anything just yet. If you want to be the first to know when I announce it, join my email list:

Thanks for journeying with me and supporting me in 2017 as I released an album, made videos here and there, and chased my musical dreams. I'm stoked to have you with me in 2018 as well!