Music: My Favorites

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I take any chance I can to talk about the power of music on this blog. However, I have yet to simply talk about music in general. Today, that all changes.

My favorite genre of music is soft rock/folk rock. Although this genre does not always line up with my moral compass, I do enjoy it for its design, detail, and execution. To me, successful soft/folk rock relies on the artist. The artist does not rely on the genre.

Let me explain. For instance, the genre is not too overbearing or obnoxious. It does not try to do too much in little time. Instead, it focuses on telling a story. It focuses on using music to captivate hearts and share.

The genre is authentic and genuine. It is not pushy. It does not demand your attention. It draws you in. It is the type of genre you can listen to whilst doing chores. You can be slightly distracted and still walk away with a message or takeaway.

My favorite artists are John Mayer, Andrew Peterson, Lauren Daigle, James Blunt, and Five for Fighting.

For as long as I can remember, I have appreciated John Mayer’s music. However, I did not fully grasp the scope of his music until college. Now, I await all of his albums and know almost all, if not all, of his songs word-for-word.

Five for Fighting and James Blunt became a regular part of my listening, thanks to the John Mayer Pandora radio station. They are artists whose music I vaguely knew of prior to Pandora. When I say vaguely, I knew of their most popular songs and that was it.

One thing worth mentioning about the music I listen to is that most of the artists were popular in the late 90s and early 2000s. To be completely honest, I cannot stand most of the current day music. I am extremely picky about what I listen to and to whom.

Truthfully, though, I am picky about all of my music. Yet, I am extra picky about today’s music. There are only a handful of songs in today’s society that I genuinely appreciate. I always find myself going back to music in the 2000s.

I think this is because of the writer and storyteller in me. Personally, I do not think much of today’s music has a story to tell. It does not captivate me and cause me to want more. Music in the 2000s and prior told a story. It had a purpose. It wasn’t a bunch of repetitive nonsense with a bridge thrown in for pizzazz.

Andrew Peterson and Lauren Daigle are both Christian artists. They are one of the few artists I know that let God’s Word create the lyrics. They stick to God’s Word for what it is. They do not try to change a lyric simply because it will make the song sound better.

Lauren Daigle and Andrew Peterson stick to what I believe is biblical and true. I realize that may not make many people happy, especially considering there are a lot of contemporary Christian artists. But, I want the Christian music I hear to be God’s Word through and through.

Of all of my favorite artists, I have only had the opportunity to see John Mayer live. I hope to one day see Lauren Daigle and Andrew Peterson. I do realize I may never see Five for Fighting or James Blunt live. I am okay with this, though. Sometimes, the beauty of music is simply listening at your own convenience and leisure.

Other artists I do listen to on a semi-frequent basis but do not consider my favorite are Adele, The Vertical Church Band, Parachute, Casting Crowns, Michael Buble, and Josh Garrels. However, Josh Garrels could eventually become a favorite. A friend introduced me to him and Garrels fits my taste nicely.

Beyond my favorite artists and genre, I would describe myself as a one song at a time kind of gal. I have no trouble listening to the same song or album over and over again. I also tend to only like select songs from other artists.

For instance, one of my favorite songs is Remind Me Who I Am by Jason Gray. I have listened to other songs by him, but that song stands out the most. Yet, it also has a lot of meaning to me. I also only know of and enjoy the song Cars by Snow Patrol. Simply put, beyond my favorite artists, my music playlist often consists of single songs from various artists, rather than complete albums.

Speaking of albums, my favorites are John Mayer’s Paradise Valley, Lauren Daigle’s How Can It Be, and the soundtrack to the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  

Long story short, I only fully invest in a handful of artists. I don’t consider myself someone who knows a little bit of every genre—that is, beyond well-known songs in other genres. That does not bother me. There is a beauty in supporting an artist through all songs, albums, and seasons in life, not just in their popular ones.

My challenge to you is simple: If you have never listened to an entire album from beginning to end, do so. See what lessons you can learn about life. Try to understand what the artist wants to convey in the lyrics and style. Invest. Dig deep.

Let music captive your heart one song, one album, and one artist at a time.

Blessings,

Renata

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Blessings in Disguise: Rejoice Always

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My adoption challenged me in numerous ways this week. It has brought me to an uncomfortable state of fear and trepidation. In this past week, I spent nearly an hour dissecting parts of my adoption with my counselor. This week also marked 17 years in America.

It’s funny how life works. I walked into my counseling session unaware of what I would discuss. Yet, I surely thought it would not regard my adoption. In the same week, I’ve struggled with and celebrated my adoption.

I don’t know what God intended in those circumstances. But, they happened. One day, I am torn and heavy-laden. The next, God reminds me of the very gift of life I have. God reminds me being able to call America home is a blessing in disguise. I may not always see the blessing that it is. Nonetheless, it is a blessing.

I think my roller coaster of emotion towards a pivotal event is quite symbolic of life itself. It was a nudge from God saying, “I did not promise life would be easy. However, I did promise I would always be with you.” I think the shift of emotion towards one event shows that we ultimately do not have control of our lives.

Quite frankly, we can walk into a day, a week, a month, a year, or even our lives thinking we have a small idea of how it will unfold. Truthfully, we have no idea. I spent most of my celebratory “Happy 17 years in America” day deeply struggling with depression.

I thought I would walk into Wednesday with no hurt or heartache. Yet, I did. It did not last the whole day. But, it did shift the focus of my day and its circumstances for quite a while. Saying this does not mean I am ungrateful for the Lord’s gift of life in America. Saying this solidifies, yet again, my plans are not always the Lord’s.

My battle with depression on my celebratory day in America also showed me that every day should be a celebratory day for my life—not just on my birthday or on my “Welcome to America” anniversary. God does not call us to have joy and a thankful heart only on the good days. He calls us to always have joy and a thankful heart.

That does not mean I always have it together. No, it means, each day, I stop and take a moment to praise and thank the One who created the universe and my being. It means, no matter what day it is or how rough it is, God is worthy of our praise, thanks, and adoration.

So, no, I did not spend the whole day, or even week, jolly about my adoption. Nevertheless, I was always grateful.

My challenge to you is simple: Treat each day as a gift. Celebrate each day, no matter how mundane or grand it may be. No one day is greater in the eyes of God. May you find gratitude in the deepest of valleys and highest of mountains—even on a messy Monday.

Blessings,

Renata

“Hachi” Film: Why the Story Captivated My Heart

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A few weeks ago, I saw the movie “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.” It is based on a true story about a dog named Hachi who walks his owner to and from the train station. His owner unexpectedly passes away. Yet, Hachi remains loyal to his owner and their tradition. He waits for his owner to come home until Hachi himself passes away.

This film was one of the saddest yet best movies I have ever seen. I bawled my eyes out whilst watching this movie. I am the weird person who enjoys sad—basically emotional—movies. I like these movies because they tell a story that often captivates your heart.

Emotional movies also help portray a beautiful image of Christ in my life. Hachi the dog reminded me much of Jesus Christ. In Deuteronomy 31:6, the Lord says, I will never leave you nor forsake you. Hachi’s loyalty to his owner was such a beautiful picture of God’s declaration in Deuteronomy 31:6.

I think the story of Hachi also captivated my heart because it reminded me of God’s love for us. Hachi loved his owner so much that he was willing to wait for him. Hachi baffled so many people by his loyalty. But, he also challenged them.

I think God’s love is the same way. It will always be there. It will be there even when we think it is long gone. Or, when we think it should be long gone. It will be there even when we walk away from Him. God’s love will continuously captivate hearts, challenge others to be more like Him, and simply baffle others at its awesomeness.

The movie Hachi taught me it is okay to cry. In fact, it is okay to bawl our eyes out. Goodness, even Jesus wept. Jesus knows us on every level possible, even on levels we cannot grasp or understand. Jesus knows every temptation, every fear, and every trial we could ever experience.

He is not some strange, distant person unable to relate. He is like Hachi. He is somebody who understands more than we ourselves will ever be able to fathom. I don’t think God made a mistake when He created dogs.

God is dog backward. It may be tacky to even discuss it, but it is true. Dogs are considered man’s best friend for a reason. Not every dog may be as loyal as Hachi was. But, God is abundantly more loyal and loving than all the dogs on this earth.

Talk about incredible. He is worthy of our praise.

Blessings,

Renata

One of My Daily Battles: Learning to Love Myself

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Let me preface this by saying this could be a long blog post. But, it is one I’ve wanted to write a long time. And, it is one I need to share.

My adoption has caused a lot of pain in various facets of my life. Yes, I am abundantly grateful that God saw it in His perfect plan for me to be born in Russia and find a home in America five years later. But, that does not come without its challenge—emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Simply put, it is because of my adoption that I have an extremely difficult time loving myself. I do mean difficult. I have spent the majority of my life thinking and wholeheartedly believing I am not good enough. I have believed I am unlovable; that I am worthless; that I am broken beyond repair.

I have a hard time giving myself grace because I have spent most of my life feeling like I have to prove myself. Or, I thought I have to earn someone’s love. My adoption is the root of a sick, twisted cycle where I think I always have to do more to be valued and appreciated.

I have yet to fully grasp my biological mother leaving me in the hospital on my birthdate was not the end of my story. I have yet to fully grasp that God does, in fact, have far better plans for me outside of Russia. All I have to do is look around me. But, it’s hard. It is extremely hard.

This mentality has completely stripped me of any sense of self-worth and gratitude towards God for creating me. I will pour out my heart to someone time and time again well before I even consider myself. I would love to say that is humble of me. But, it is not.

In fact, it is detrimental to my well-being. For me, learning to love myself means taking care of my body. It means honoring the body God gave me. It means treating my body with grace and mercy. It means encouraging one of God’s creations.

I should not deprive myself of the same love I give out to others. That’s a form of rejection to God. That’s saying to God, “The way you made me is not good enough. You did not do good enough.” Guess what? He did do good enough. He did more than good enough. He did so perfectly and intricately because He is a perfect, infallible God.

Learning to love myself means realizing I am one of God’s chosen people. Learning to love myself means knowing God will always be with me in every season of my life. Learning to love myself means accepting I am not a mistake or failure. It means accepting I am no exception to the love I pour out to others and the love that God gives me. It means God did not make a mistake when He created me and brought me to Him.

It means accepting I am a sinful, fallible human being desperately in need of undeserved grace. Yes, undeserved. Because His grace is undeserved, I should honor it, treasure it, and not destroy it with self-deprecating thoughts. It means realizing there will always be enough of God’s grace for me. My cup of His grace will continually runneth over.

Learning to love myself does not mean I puff myself up to be an incredible human being with no faults or setbacks. Learning to love myself means daily dying to self and saying, “I need you, Christ, today, every day, and forever.” Learning to love myself means praising God and thanking Him for creating me.

I have yet to reach a place in my life where I truly love myself for who I am in Christ and who He made me to be. I will get there one day. It may not be today, or tomorrow, or even next week. But, I will get there.

I challenge you: Examine yourself. Do you encourage yourself? Do you daily die to self? Do you praise God because He created you? Do you honor your body and the great temple it is for His Kingdom?

Do not neglect yourself. Love yourself and love who God made you to be because He did not make a mistake. He did not. No matter where your story began, where it is now, or where it will be in the future, your life has value. It has a purpose.

You are lovable. You are good enough. You are one of God’s magnificent creations. Make today the day you embrace Him completely.

Blessings,

Renata

Life in 20-Minute Spurts: Trying to Find Peace in Chaos

just_keep_swimming_by_handdrawnviolist-da7jogtWell, guys, I wrote this in 20 minutes because I had to. My life is so hectic right now that I want to scream from all the stress. Adulthood is stressful. It’s chaotic and always moving.

I cannot remember the last time I relaxed because I could, not because I had to simply to give myself a break. I just want you to know that I am having a rough time trying to make sense of all my priorities.

I do not know how some people can constantly be going and going. I did not think I had anxiety until the last few months or so. The last few months I have felt the pains of simply trying to find room to breathe in the chaos.

I just don’t know how I am supposed to make sense of it all. I hate it when I cannot understand my emotions, my experiences, and the people around me. I have had so much go on lately, yet I have not been able to find the time to put my thoughts on paper.

I have an accumulating list of blog post ideas I desperately want to make a reality. But, I cannot do them justice in 20-minute spurts. I cannot. So, I have not.

As a writer, I firmly believe in authenticity. I firmly believe in crafting a piece of writing into something beautiful and inspiring. I firmly believe in being honest with every word and thought.

I am not taking a break. I am simply telling you I have so much planned that I want to say but not enough time to put it to paper. I am hoping my life will calm down a bit once I have a small break from school, which is coming oh, so soon! I am so excited.

Please bear with me among the trenches of juggling a full-time job, school, and a marriage. Please know that, from the bottom of my heart, I want to keep creating content. But, I refuse to publish inauthentic work.

I praise God that in the muddles of life, I still stand firm in what I believe and hold dear to my heart. My blog—what and how I present content—is no exception. In the midst of all of it, I still have something to be grateful and joyful for. There is no greater peace.

If your life is as chaotic as mine right now, rest assured, you are not alone. I suppose it’s bound to happen to all of us with the holiday season in full-swing and the coming and going of another year ahead.

My call to you is the same that I have for myself: Just breathe. Count to 10 and breathe. It may sound cheesy and unnecessary, but it truly works. No, life’s chaos won’t be gone, but it will be a little less stressful.

Blessings,

Renata