20 Songs That Are Shaping my Twenties

If your life were a movie, and you had to choose the soundtrack, what songs would you play?

Every meaningful movie has conflict, some beauty, some struggle, and, if you’ve persevered long enough, some climax. Here’s 20 that hit each of those, shaping my 20s with inspiration, motivation, encouragement, and peace.

What are your songs? What have they brought you through? What memories come to mind when you hear them play?

20. Chasing the Light -Mat Kearney
I remember playing this song right as I would leave work during the summer of 2011, ready to begin my bike ride home. Home at the time was a capricious neighborhood in inner city Baltimore that felt like anything but home at the time. I was in a season of feeling utterly confused about where I was going in life. I thought I moved there to be a part of community development… but was miserable. I wasn’t finding contentment in my career. I just felt lost but knew that there were still passions alive with in me, somewhere, waiting to come alive, if only I would give them permisson. This song helped me to take comfort in knowing that if I just kept trying to “chase the light,” I was bound to find my way, somehow.

“Every bridge that keep on burning
Every leaf that you keep on turning
Every road that you find uncertain
Pray for you now
Baby that you’ll figure it out
As you keep chasing the light…”

19. I and Love and You -The Avett Brothers
I came across this song after entering my first real world job and beginning my first serious relationship. This song reminds me of the process of growing up and maturing, with all of its vulnerability and beauty. I spent many a night driving home to this song, not minding if the light turned red, as to have one more moment to simmer in the beauty of life with the aid of such an alluring song.

18. Beautiful Things -Gungor
I first came across this song on Jennie Allen’s blog in which she posted about her family’s experience of adoption. The video deeply moved me, as international adoption has been on my heart ever since I was in high school. This video got me thinking about the beautiful things in this world, like family, and how within my own family, more and more beauty was arising out of brokenness. I played this song night after night finding renewed hope in that no matter how circuitous or confusing this life stage seems, God makes beautiful things out of chaos. I got teary-eyed the first time I sang it at the new church I attend, which makes an intentional effort to create a safe place for the LGBT community. I thought about all the Christian circles in which I didn’t feel this kind of openness and bridge-building and felt oh so thankful knowing that these places truly do exist, showing that God does redeem and create beauty in the midst of hurt and pain.

17. Can’t Let it Go -Goo Goo Dolls
“Some days I can’t believe
others I’m on my knees
Trying to be heard…”

I first heard this song on my iPod while on a run down a dirt road in Africa. I was trying to stay in shape for sophomore year of afrmy collegiate swim season. All of a sudden, a young boy, maybe 10 years old, came up and ran along side me. I turned around and there were another 10 kids slowly running towards us with much curiosity. I stopped running, realizing the immediacy of this moment that I would perhaps never ever again have. We stopped on the side of the road and played “Duck Duck Goose” for an hour. It was one of the best hours of my life. I think about that memory often, especially alongside of my spiritual journey. Some days, if I’m honest, these lyrics are a better description of the precarious position I find myself in as a person of faith than many “worship” songs.

16. Every Tear  Drop is a Waterfall -Coldplayny 12
This was New Year’s Day 2012. It had been a difficult, challenging year living in inner city Baltimore, but when I looked up at the dawn of a new year and saw this, I think I knew what Chris Martin meant when he sings, “And Heaven Is in Sight.”

15. City of Blinding Lights  -U2
Brain a bit fuzzy, I woke up on a window seat of a Boeing 747 to see the 6 AM July sunrise glistening off thousands of square homes in Dakar, Senegal in 2007. We had a brief layover, and right as we were about to take off, I hear Bono echo through my iPod, “And I’m getting ready to leave the ground…. (crash into feel-good choirs of “ooo-oooh–oooh–oooh—oooh–ooooh!”), whisking my heart into a sense of adventure and discovery about the world that I forever want to hold onto.

14. Study War No More -Moby
Sojourners created this video in September 2011 to call attention to the U.S.’ 10 year occupation in Afghanistan, at which point the U.S. spent $445 billion on the war. Conversely, this money could have been spent building 17,000 hospitals or 24,000 schools. Through advocacy and using your voice to contact congress to support the end of war, Sojourners has encouraged us to dream of a world in which “nation will no longer fight nation, neither will they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4). That’s been a big picture image of what I want my twenties to look like… actively taking steps to reflect Earth as it is in Heaven.

13. Cha Cha Slide -Mr. C The Slide Man
My 20s have been full of celebrating weddings. There’s something about this beat that will forever remind me of celebrating the joy of life with friends on the dance floor. I hope when I’m sixty I’ll remember my dear friend Katie Sutherland getting wild to “Apple Bottom Jeans” or how I knew the wedding would be ten times more fun if my friend Anastasia would be able to drive up from Virginia and catch a break from her grad program long enough to get funky on the dance floor to “O.M.G.”, showing me how to celebrate life and still have fun in the midst of overwhelming busyness. I’ll remember “Single ladies” playing at nearly every bouquet toss, and how, over the years, the friends I’d drag onto the dance floor with me for this song would slowly dwindle. But it didn’t matter. It was still fun every time. I’ll remember the time my friends and I drove nearly 6 hours to Virginia Beach for Lindsay’s wedding and piled into tiny stalls in a random Target bathroom to get into our dresses a half hour before the wedding ceremony began. I hope I’ll remember… and if I don’t, I’ll rely on some of these videos and pictures to help remind me… after all, we only capture the memories we love.

jt  red dr  j wed

12. Oh my God– Jars of Clay
Do you remember May 2, 2011? I listened to this song non-stop on this day; the day Osama Bin Laden was killed. I was crushed by the juxtaposition of death and peace and felt a sickness in my heart as I watched images of Americans gathering in the streets of D.C. celebrating the death of another human being. My heart hurt for the world and to see love overcome evil- all evil— all killing– and grew ever longing for the God of Heaven.

When we wake we hate our brother, we still move to hurt each other,
Sometimes I can close my eyes and all the fear the keeps me silent,
Falls below my heavy breathing, what makes me so badly bent?
We all have a chance to murder; we all have the need for wonder.
We still want to be reminded that the pain is worth the plunder.

Sometimes when I lose my grip, I wonder what to make of heaven,
All the times I thought to reach up, all the times I had to give up.
Babies underneath their beds, in hospitals that cannot treat them.
All the wounds that money causes, all the comforts of cathedrals,
All the cries of thirsty children,
this is our inheritance,
All the rage of watching mothers, this is our greatest offense.

11. Under African Skies -Paul Simon
My dad and I have long bonded to Paul Simon, from “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” where I enjoyed the song’s rhymes as a kid, to “Under African Skies.” Paul Simon will always remind me of my dad, forever. This song reminds me of the fabrics that weave us together as humans and the power of love.
This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein…

For more on this song, check out Cathleen Falsani’s article: “Graceland, Apartheid, and the Truth That Artists Speak

10. Poison and Wine -The Civil Wars
This song gave me a more beautiful and realistic understanding of love:
“Poison & Wine is a musical snapshot about the dichotomy of love – that while it can be the thing that destroys you, it can also be the very same thing that beckons and builds you. This song was our attempt at being as brutally honest about the dangerous and beautiful process of knowing and being known.” (-Joy Williams, The Civil Wars)

9. Maybe There’s a Loving God -Sara Groves
Maybe this was made for me
For lying on my back in the middle of a field
Maybe that’s a selfish thought
Or maybe there’s a loving God
Maybe I was made this way
To think and to reason and to question and to pray
And I have never prayed a lot
But maybe there’s a loving God

This song helps me to rediscover the beauty and artistry of life and how God created us with an inquisition for wonder.

8. Hallowed -Jennifer Knapp
This song has helped me to wind down many a night to find inner peace.

7. Get on Your Boots -U2
For a couple months, until I broke my phone, this was my alarm ringtone. What would it look like if everyday we got on our boots ready to change the world?

6. Hush -Usher
Complains about the gas prices but still supports the war
He complains about his 6 figure salary tax to feed the poor
He doesn’t understand the homeless, doesn’t think its genocide
That millions die from three lethal letters
He does sh*t to make it better and I’m thinking
Everyone wants to touch the sky
Nobody wants to reach back
For the ones who are scared to fly
Everybody wants heaven
If you don’t want to sacrifice
Don’t say nothing

This song, released around the time of the 2008 election, encouraged young voters to get involved in social activism. According to Usher, “‘Hush’ is about my awakening over the past 10 years to the social issues in our country and realizing that I have a voice.” The striking lyrics got me thinking about the distribution of wealth in our country and wondering how we can make society more equitable and just.

5. What Matters More -Derek Webb
You say always treat people like you’d like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
About what you believe
Make you sound like a freak
‘Cause if you really believed
What you say you believe
You wouldn’t be so damned reckless
With the words you speak
You wouldn’t silently consent
When the liars speak
Tell me, brother what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister what matters more to you?

I love Derek’s audacious courage specifically asking Christians, what matters more— laws, rules, doctrine, telling people what you’re against—- or loving people well and showing them the love of God?

4. Words I Never Said -Lupe Fiasco and Skylar Grey
I think that all the silence is worse than all the violence
Fear is such a weak emotion that’s why I despise it
We scared of almost everything, afraid to even tell the truth
So scared of what you think of me, I’m scared of even telling you
It’s so loud inside my head
With words that I should have said

Bound to offend someone, Lupe sings about his honest feelings about the world, politics, injustice, oppression and inspired me to be less afraid to speak up with the words I haven’t yet said.
To learn more about Lupe’s Islamic faith and his album LASERS (backronym for Love Always Shines Everytime, Remember 2 Smile), check out Relevant’s article “The Incisive Lupe Fiasco.”

3. Breathing Air Again -Robbie Seay Band
I discovered this song sometime around 20. I spent spring break that year with friends driving to New Orleans for Katrina relief. We took our time driving home, getting our car stuck in the sand of Pensacola, doing cartwheels in the parks of Savannah, GA and sleeping at a rest stop in NC before heading home. This trip reminded me that while there is much depravity, as witnessed in the abandoned homes in New Orleans, there is also so much beauty in the world if we stop to admire it long enough.
miss  nq  ab

Take the time to be okay and laugh a bit along the way
You could take me for a ride; We could just drive all day…
And we could breathe again; Step outside our front door
And gaze upon the stars, And know we’re not alone
So run into the fields; Scream louder than you can
It’s good to be alive And breathing air again…
2. We Don’t Eat -James Vincent McMorrow
So if in the future I might need myself a savior
I’ll remember what was written on that wall
That we don’t eat until your father’s at the table
We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust
Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love
So if I were you, I’d have a little trust
This song fills me up with hope.
1. We Are United -Vintage Church

Every church on every street
Even when we disagree
Every part it’s all unique
God under you I pray we’ll be…

This song reminds me that at the end of the day, our diviciveness lies null, along with our arguing and disagreement, as we gather around the table as ONE.

All pictures copyright MO

20 Proverbial Gems Guiding My Twenties ((That Look a lot like Freedom and Open Spaces))

20. On learning to do crazy things with life:
       Love Life. Be Brave. Play Hard. (Found this etched on a necklace in Kohl’s once)

19. On learning to give myself permission to experience freedom:
                    There is life here in the wide open spaces.
          When you stop waiting for permission from anyone but God,
       You’d be surprised how many of us there are  here, waiting for you.”
     -Sarah Bessey, In Which There Are More of Us Than You Might Think

18. On questioning what I’ve been taught:
“Life in the tank made me think of how we are raised at home and in school. It made me think of being told that certain jobs are not acceptable and that certain jobs are out of reach, of being schooled to live a certain way, of being trained to think that only practical things are possible, of being warned over and over that life outside the tank of our values is risky and dangerous…
It makes me wonder now, in middle age, if being spontaneous and kind and curious are all parts of our natural ability to swim.
Each time I hesitate to do the unplanned or unexpected, or hesitate to reach and help another, or hesitate to inquire into something I know nothing about; each time I ignore the impulse to run in the rain or call you up just to say I love you—I wonder, am I turning on myself, swimming safely in the middle of the tub? -Mark Nepo, Life in the Tank
(I was at a yoga class in January and our yoga instructor read this to us at the end of class while in corpse pose. I started crying warm tears, right there, on my yoga mat in the middle of a gym in Baltimore City and looked up at the ceiling. I realized that I was currently living my life in a fish tank. I was rarely present each day, but in that moment, I was. And the present hurt and required some healing and changes to make. I was the only one keeping myself there, stuck. I had long dreamed of a life “outside the tank” but what I really wanted, I was too scared to seek, and knew that others wouldn’t approve of me and would disagree with my choices. That scared me. But tasting those tears, I knew, from a stillness deep inside that I was going to commit to doing those very things because indecision, people pleasing, and fear have robbed my life for far too long. I made a commitment to reclaim life-not existence or going through the motions- and get brave, one shaky new beginning at a time.)

17. On learning how to use my voice instead of quake in fear:
Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head,
       dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice,
dulling your mind, satiating your hunger with the lesser things of this world.
       Stand up, shake the dust from your feet if you need to,
and look outside, it’s beautiful, isn’t it?
        There are a lot of us here, waiting for you, in the open air.”
        -Sarah Bessey, In Which You Are Loved and You Are Free

16. On trying something different:
“Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere. A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont. The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset. A seat on the subway. And something bad will have happened: You will have lost someone you loved, or failed at something at which you badly wanted to succeed. And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look for some core to sustain you. And if you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be. I don’t want anyone I know to take that terrible chance. And the only way to avoid it is to listen to that small voice inside you
that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian,
to go another way…”
 -Anna Quindlen

15.  On Christian Unity:
“We finally meet one another not in our agreements or disagreements,
but at the foot of the cross,
where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.” -Bishop Mark Hanson

14. On how to live with my heart on my sleeve in reckless abandon:
To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.
 If you want to make sure of keeping it intact,
you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements;
lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken;
it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” -C.S. Lewis

13. On learning to love:
“I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God.
I will stop expecting your love, demanding you love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love.

I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again.
God risked Himself on me. I will risk myself on you.
And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us.”
-Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

12. On travel and exploration:
“And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?
It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.
I want to repeat one word for you:
Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be.
And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back.
It is you who will have changed.
” -Donald Miller, “Through Painted Deserts”

11. On remembering that my faith journey is actually supposed to enjoyable:
“I was not experiencing the joy or contentment Scripture promises us in Christ.
I was unhappy, frustrated, overworked, and harried.
God had brought me into the Christian life with the offer,
My yoke is easy and my burden is light‘ (Matt. 11:30),
an invitation to a free and abundant life.
 -Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

10. On accepting change:
“Change is not a function of life’s cruelty, but instead, a function of God’s graciousness.
If you dig in and fight the changes, they will smash you to bits. They’ll hold you under, drag you across the rough sand, scare, and confuse you. But if you can find it within yourself, just for a moment, in the wildest of seasons, to trust in the goodness of God, who made it all, who holds it altogether, you will find yourself drawn along to an entirely new place and there is truly nothing sweeter. Unclean your fists. Unlock your knees and also the door to your heart. Take a deep breath and begin to let God do his work in you.” -Shauna Niequest, Learning How to Swim

9. On letting go of people pleasing:
“A good woman knows she cannot be all things to all people, and she may,
in fact, displease those who think she should just be nice.

She is not strident or petty or demanding,
but she does live according to conviction.
She knows the Jesus she follows was a revolutionary
who never tried to keep everyone happy,”
-Lynne Hybels, “Nice Girls Don’t Change the World”

8. On freedom from narrow Biblical teachings:
“They believe that they believe the right things and so they’re ‘saved,’ but it hasn’t delivered the full life that it was supposed to, and so they’re bitter. Deep down, they believe God has let them down. Which is often something they can’t share with those around them, because they are the leaders who are supposed to have it all together. And so they quietly suffer, thinking this is the good news. It is the gospel of the goats, and it is lethal.
God is not a slave driver. The good news is better than that.”
-Rob Bell, Love Wins

7. On letting go and holding on:
“True wisdom is knowing when to hold on and when to let go.” (I’m sure someone more well-known has said this, but it’s something that keeps mulling over in my mind. Life is a series of holding on and letting go. And sometimes we hold on for longer than is safe, than is wise. And sometimes we let go too soon, when all we really needed to do was to hang on a little tighter and fight a little harder.)

6. On learning that love and freedom cannot exist without each other:
Love gives freedom. (A theme of “Love Wins”: That’s how love works. It can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins.)

5.On creating a more equitable and just Christianity for both genders:
“It’s time for Christians to do what they say they believe when it comes to giving voice to those who have been silenced, and to empower the marginalized, even if that subjugated group makes up more than half of the world’s population. ” -Christian Piatt, On Rachel Held Evans and Why ‘Vagina Gate’ Matters

4. On taking risks and getting out of your comfort zone:
“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt... The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy.
But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning
and its incredible beauty.” ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

3. On making new friends (particularly ones who encourage freedom):
        “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you.
                 You have to go to them sometimes.” -Winnie the Pooh

2. On being able to stop holding my breath in conversations about the Bible:
        “The Bible is meant to be a conversation starter, not a conversation ender,”
                              -Rachel Held Evans, “Asking Better Questions”

1. On recognizing that this is my year to experience full freedom and doing so
may cause others to disapprove of me
      Piss a few people off and sing freedom to the rest.” –Sarah Bessey, “Fearless”