"I have dreamed in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind." —Emily Bronte, British Novelist and Poet 1818-1848
The world is full of dreamers. And rightfully so—God created us that way. But at some point in our lives, we have the choice: to keep the dream for sleeping, or to wake up and live it.
For Natalie Grant, critically acclaimed artist and two-time Dove Award nominee for Female Vocalist of the Year, the choice was to awaken.
Awaken, Natalie's second Curb Records studio album, is the follow-up to her hit-laden label debut, 2003's Deeper Life (which featured the mainstream radio/film soundtrack hit "No Sign of It"), and the critically acclaimed 2004 Integrity Music release, Worship with Natalie Grant and Friends. Unearthing a deeper, richer, risk-taking artistry, Awaken is more self-aware and socially conscious and finds Natalie Grant writing and singing the songs of her life. Not because she's supposed to; not because it was on the calendar to record again; but because her heart was jolted into a reality she didn't know existed, because she had an encounter with the worst imaginable.
Awake To Reality
Oddly enough, it was an episode of the popular NBC drama Law & Order that first pricked Natalie's consciousness about the horrors of human trafficking. "I knew that the cases portrayed on Law & Order are always based on real issues," Natalie recounts. "But I couldn't believe what I was seeing—10, 11, 12-year-old girls in cages, shipped over to America to be used as sexual slaves, forced into prostitution. As I sat there in my comfortable home, sipping my tea, I thought to myself, 'There is no way that is true. I mean, maybe somewhere else in the world, but not here in America.' I had never even heard the term 'human trafficking.'"
Natalie says that night was a 'Divine appointment,' one that would change her life forever. She immediately sat down at her computer and was horrified to learn that each year more 600,000 people are sold and abused worldwide, with at least 14,000 shipped to America. "Homelessness and poverty are tragic enough," she says, "but some of these children are kept in cages and forced to perform heinous, unfathomable acts 50 and 60 times a day. And you never hear anyone talk about it."
That night on the Internet, Natalie found an organization devoted to rescuing children from prostitution and giving them a home, an education and the skills to make a living on their own. She called the organization's office first thing the next morning and expressed her desire to help. Within a matter of months, Natalie and her husband traveled to India to visit the red-light districts, to witness human trafficking up close, and to see what is being done to stop it.
"I was walking down the street in Mumbai, in broad daylight, when my eyes locked on a little girl, maybe 6 or 7 years old, peering out of a cage, looking at us on the street below. It was beyond my imagination," Natalie says of the experience. "I'll never forget that moment. That was her life. Every day people walked by, and they didn't even notice her."
That experience, coming in the middle of a restless, stressed-out season for her, completely changed the trajectory of Natalie's life, awakening her out of complacency and passivity and into a life driven by compassion and passion. And it has forever changed the way she approaches her music.
"This has really been a pivotal season for me in my artistic and creative journey," says Natalie. "In every way—personally and professionally—I've been in a real place of self-discovery, learning a lot about myself and what's really important in my life. The more I know myself, the more I'm writing from my heart. I've realized that in the end, it's the power in a song that stands the test of time, and that's what I focused on with this project."
Perhaps that explains why Awaken is the most unexpected, honest and compelling project Natalie's ever created. Produced by her husband, Bernie Herms; Phil Symonds; Shaun Shankel; and Rob Graves, Natalie wrote or co-wrote half of the songs on Awaken, along with a supportive roster of such notable songwriters as Stephanie Lewis, Trina Harmon, and Matthew West.
"More than anything," she says, "I wanted to be challenged, to take risks, to go to the edge of myself—beyond my comfort zone, to reach for whatever my artistic limit is. I'm more alive than I've ever felt before, and it was important for me to have that come through in the music."
In the end, although she never aimed for a thematic center for Awaken, one inevitably surfaced. "It's amazing how that happened," she says, "how it all came together in the end, but it makes sense. My spirit has awakened to the need to make my life count for something other than myself. Life is hard and sad and messy and there won't always be answers. I've come to understand that it's okay to ask questions—but at the end of the day, we choose to have faith, to believe that God is good."
Awake, My Soul, and Sing
Undeniably, the 12 cuts on Awaken reveal Natalie's ever-evolving passion for powerful songs that express the truth of that revelation in her life. The project's title-track is a full-on, power-pop exclamation-of-a-prayer to God to shake up the status quo of our lives, to wake us up to live passionately, intentionally every day.
The stirring second single, "Held," captivates with its lyrical depth, revealing the promises of God in times of suffering. Written by Christa Wells in the wake of losing two loved ones, "Held" takes the "hand of bitterness" and reveals where God is when prayers seemingly aren't answered and when life doesn't make sense.
"The Real Me" is a piano-driven affirmation of how God sees us, Natalie says. As transparent as any lyric can be, "'The Real Me' reflects my own journey of self-discovery and what God has shown me about who He is and who I am."
Co-written with Trina Harmon, with lush strings courtesy of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, "Home" is Natalie's musical response to the plight of the children trapped in human trafficking and prostitution. "It's a song that's based around this issue, but it's also a song for everybody, no matter who you are or what your story is. We all need a place to belong. We need that feeling that we are safe, and that we are in a place where we can rediscover our dreams and deal with the brokenness in our lives."
Awaken also features "Bring It All Together," an old-school gospel duet with country music icon Wynonna Judd, a vocalist Natalie says "not only has a voice the size of Texas, but is the perfect person to deliver a song about restoration and God's grace in our broken lives."
Awake and Full Speed Ahead
Throughout the album, you'll hear a woman who's fiercely determined to use her influence to compel others to see the tragedy of human trafficking and to get involved. Toward that end, Natalie has established The Home Foundation to raise both awareness and funds to help the victims of human trafficking. "I really believe that through my concert ministry, I can bring more awareness to this tragic issue," Natalie states.
In 2005, Natalie also continues her partnership with Women of Faith in a powerful new way as she helps launch "The Revolve Tour," WOF's first nationwide conference for girls in the 7th-12th grades. In addition to sharing music from Awaken, Natalie will be a featured speaker, discussing self-esteem issues and sharing more about her own past struggle with bulimia.
In fact, Natalie has written The Real Me: Becoming The Girl God Sees (W Publishing/Transit) a book that addresses these issues from a spiritual perspective, encouraging girls to accept God's view of them and His purpose for their lives. "The book is my story—as honest and as transparent as I can tell it—but it's also a tool to help girls understand the truth of how God feels about them versus that pop-culture myth of perfection we've been bombarded with all our lives."
As Natalie stands poised to write the next chapters in her life, music and ministry, her heart is set on staying fully awake and fully alive, making every moment count, and living her dream to make a difference in the lives of those she can reach. Through the stereo; from the stage; next door and around the world.
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