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The Playlist that Turned My Life Around

Read this reflective narrative about pandemic music.

Last year, Brandy found herself losing her spark. “I felt trapped,” she writes. “My anxiety told me I would never feel fully alive again.” This is how she felt God reaching out to her — and sustaining her — through music.

In the early days of the pandemic, being an optimist was carrying me through. I figured I could make it through a couple of weeks, maybe even a couple of months (!), of quarantine-life if I stayed busy with projects. I kept up with a daily planner, hosted elaborate virtual parties, experimented in the kitchen, spent time praying daily, and trained for a half-marathon. I was going to “pass” the lockdown life with flying colors!

The half-marathon I had signed up for was pivoted into a “virtual” race, which meant I could map out my own 13.1-mile course that started and ended at my house. On the day of the race, I encountered the usual jitters I get as I doubted my abilities to complete the long run. I had assembled a playlist that I was particularly excited about, and it was a perfect spring morning, so I persisted through my anxieties and started my run.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, my playlist was inspiring, and friends and family cheered me on along the way. Then, about 12 miles in — the point when I always rely on music to carry me through — my playlist abruptly ended.

After a brief moment of panic, I felt inspired to repeat a song I’d recently discovered, “Brand New,” by Ben Rector. When the song had played earlier in my run, I’d been surprised to find myself getting choked up. I had pushed past the emotions the first time, but now I was curious why it had felt so significant.

As I focused on finishing the race, I suddenly found myself transported to what I can only describe as a prayerful, euphoric, “mountaintop” experience. I struggle now to find the words to describe it, but I knew in my bones that God was sharing his unconditional love with me directly through that song. Some might chalk up what I was feeling to a “runner’s high,” but I have experienced that exercise-driven adrenaline rush before, and I can tell you this was significantly different.

The lyrics in “Brand New” are about the unrestrained joy the singer has when he’s with “you”— someone he loves. My feet picked up speed as God shared this joy and delight with me, reminding me I’m someone he loves. I heard God speaking directly to my heart: “Brandy, I love you — more than you will ever know.” Tears of wonder streamed down my face. For the next five minutes, I felt fully alive.

This is the part of the story where I tell you that I victoriously completed the run, maintained a spirit of joy, and never doubted God’s love again. What actually happened is quite different.

Just seconds after this mountaintop moment, I plunged into bitterness and resentment. My husband had missed being at the “finish line” of my run, and I felt slighted. When I saw him, I snapped, “Where were you?!” Then I began to beat myself up for “failing” God — for not being able to share the love God had shown me. I felt weak and hopeless.

As the weeks after the race tapered on, I desperately tried to cling to the mountaintop experience, but it became a distant memory. Life started to get hard again, especially as I realized we were in this pandemic for the long haul.

I was pregnant at the time, and my hormones had me on an emotional roller coaster. I found myself losing my spark. The daily planner and prayer went by the wayside, and I stopped running altogether. I was impatient and unkind to my husband and friends, which left me more isolated.

I began to think, “How could anyone love me? I’m the worst.” I remember being in the car and hearing Brandi Carlile’s song “Closer to You” and weeping at the words: “Now I wonder if I’ve been doing something wrong / Help me get my feet back on the ground.” I felt so lost and so distant from God.

After my baby was born, things seemed to get worse. It was a cold and dark winter, Covid numbers were spiking again, and I was struggling with postpartum anxiety and depression. I felt trapped in my home and in my head. My anxiety told me I would never feel fully alive again.

Though I struggled to connect with God, I clung to the memory of that mountaintop experience. Music is what brought me to God then, and I hoped music could bring me back to him again. So I began to make playlists of songs that brought me joy in the past. At first, it felt forced. While some of the songs provided a brief moment of joy, the feeling didn’t last.

Eventually spring came, and I slowly began to pick up my familiar habit of running again. One morning, I remember turning a corner after a short run and feeling like dancing. Right there, in front of my house, I listened to my music and broke out into a spontaneous solo dance-party. I wanted to get back to the fully alive version of myself. For me, this meant being able to live Ben Rector’s lyrics, where I could “close my eyes” and “not even care if anyone saw me dancing.”

Over the next few weeks, I continued to dance after my runs and I began to experience a re-awakening. I was able to transform my dance to prayer. As my spirit lifted, I prayed that others going through the same dullness could also find the light again.

As I reflect back on that very long year of my life, I can see God was walking with me through it all. I definitely believe God knew how much I would struggle in my pregnancy and postpartum days and gave me that mountaintop experience before things went downhill, as an anchor to keep me grounded. And God — who has counted every hair on my head — knew my deep connection to music and found ways to continually reach out to me through song.

I can’t say exactly where I’m at on my journey right now — perhaps a plateau? — but wherever I’m at, I’m trying to hold on to God’s love, even on those days I don’t feel so lovable. Wherever you are at, I hope that you can hold on, too. God loves you, too — more than you will ever know.

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