Thursday, December 27, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

a weekly (sometimes) post of beauty seen, heard or discovered
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men
From heavens all gracious King!"
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels, to hear them sing

O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps so slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels, hear them sing
"Peace on earth, goodwill to men
From heavens all gracious King!"
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels, hear them sing
Sing - Sing - Sing - Sing

Still through the broken skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er Babel sounds
The blessed angels, the blessed angels sing.
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
Edmund Hamilton Sears
Arrangement by Sara Groves

I'm not a big fan of Christmas. More often than not, this time of year brings feelings of anxiety, stress, loneliness, dysfunction and despondency. I know I am not alone in this. So usually by this time (two days after Christmas), having survived disappointments or unmet expectations, the obligations, the hype and stress of preparations, I finally begin to rest and try to see clearly again; to reflect. 

Don't get me wrong, I have some beautiful memories of Christmas.... celebrating in Africa as a child with a Wattle tree as our 'Christmas tree'; watching my two nephews experience their first Christmases; learning and singing carols with my Grandma; baking sweet treats for family and friends.

The old hymn It Came Upon A Midnight Clear has become a special song the last two Christmases. This time last year I was still coming out of the darkest, bleakest period of my life.... I was still struggling to make sense of the pain and difficulty life had dealt me. In amongst this, I heard Sara Groves 'O Holy Night Prison Show'. It was unusual, but absolutely stunning and moving. The first time I listened I had tears in my eyes.... especially when she started to introduce this hymn. Sara spoke to a crowd of women in prison and reminded them that the angels didn't just come once thousands of years ago, but come everyday, with the same message of peace, hope and love for ALL of us. I had never really taken much notice of the promise the words contained. But as she begun singing the second verse, I knew this hymn was for me.

Despite my difficulties celebrating Christmas, I am reminded that it is the best time of year to celebrate the grace and hope that come through Jesus. It is precisely into the difficulty that Jesus comes.... to redeem the chaos, to make something beautiful out of the mess. We might be weary and our steps may be painful, but we can rest it the joy of knowing that all that pain can be redeemed so that we can sing with the angels as well.

If you want to try and redeem Christmas out of the chaos, take some time out to listen to this song and marvel in the beauty of Gods promises to us....

(you can hear a copy of the song here, just ignore the random images.)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

a weekly (sometimes) post of beauty seen, heard or discovered

I am finally free of uni work and very excited about getting back into blogging. For a little taste, my latest I Spy Beauty... is a song I heard for the first time a few weeks back, in the middle of absolute chaos and overwhelming stress.


By Matthew Mayfield 
withered and gold–
an autumn leaf blows
need you more proof….
of the treasures in the Fallen
and the retreat to youth
a little more grace
a little less haste….
nature needs room
she’s gotta whisper the secrets
that put you back in bloom
cus’ you’re alive….alive….alive…
will you receive
that i believe
you’re beautiful
will you receive
that i can see
you’re beautiful
how did i fall, how did i run dry?
how did i lose, how did i lie?
i’m gonna let you down,
let you down with truth
the echo of my whispers
–meaningless to you
but i wanna figure this out,
figure this out…so you
can finally hear the angels
screaming back at you…

I've always struggled to know my own worth. And I've often needed "more proof.../of treasures in the Fallen". When I'm especially vulnerable- such as stressed out of my brain with finishing a degree- I find it even harder to hear the voice that calls out to me, and all of us, telling us we're a beautiful.

This was a particularly poignant reminder that no matter whether I finish a degree or find a lifelong partner or make it as a writer.... I am beautiful. So are you!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

a weekly (sometimes) post of beauty seen, heard or discovered

It's been a musical kind of week....
I never cease to be amazed by Derek's creativity and innovation with his music. When he first started to veer away from the acoustic guitar-and-voice sound a few years back I was admittedly wary. But with the strength of his lyrical convictions and voice it's hard not to follow and fall in love with new sounds too.
Ctrl is both simple and complex, beautiful and haunting. And as always, his lyrics are thought provoking and convicting.... The very reason I love Derek Webb's work.

Known for her vocal acrobatics and quirky style mixed with classical piano... this album does not disappoint! Neither do Regina's poetic lyrics.... from "there's a small town in my mind" to "the piano is not firewood yet" to "you love 'em till they can't recall who they are again".
Also, her story is pretty interesting- her family fled eastern Europe in the 80's as Jewish refugees (you can hear about it here.)

"There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print, they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
And it comes in black, and it comes in white
And I’m frightened by those who don’t see it"
What more can I say?! The whole album is brilliant.....

  • And finally, I once again got to see Katie Herzig and Butterfly Boucher live in Sydney.
And I even got to meet Katie briefly and thank her for the gift her music has been. There's nothing like seeing your favourite songs live.

So much beautiful art to behold....

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

Oh trust the lord, my soul and all that is in me
Oh trust the light to show my darkest parts
With wounds of truth and love, a friend who has known me
A fool would keep his secrets in his heart

Sandra McCracken's new video clip has given me a new love for this gorgeous song.
McCracken's hymns album 'In Feast or Fallow' released in 2010 just prior to my mentor and dear friend suffering a series of seizures, a brain hemorrhage, stroke and multiple brain surgeries. The album was my solace for many months during that dark time.... this song in particular.
I also remember singing the second verse over and over to myself last year when I felt I was falling apart.
My enemies surround me like an army
Within without the battles raging on
I pray the spirit would be strong and mighty
For courage through the night until the dawn
For more beautiful new and old hymns, check out Sandra McCracken's website:

I have been quite slack lately in my blog posting, but not about spying beauty.
It continues to be an important part of each, day regardless of how enjoyable or hard it is.
I can't wait to share more.
"A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul."
- Goethe

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I Spy Beauty

A weekly post of beauty seen, heard or discovered

Despite the very large CD collection courtesy of years working in the Christian retail industry, I’ve become pretty cynical about 'Christian' music (whatever that is!). Cookie-cutter praise and worship, uncreative music that lacks, well, actual musicality and unimaginative lyrics are unfortunately too common- but it talks about Jesus, so it’s ok, right?!

But I stumbled on some unexpected beauty this week:


I was bumbling around youtube and came across these stunning performances. I was all at once intrigued by the combination of instruments, the harmonies, the lyrics. And as I watched I was blown away by the talent of these musicians who were, all the while, singing about faith and life and even Jesus! I mean where else in 'Christian' music is there a beat boxing cello player?! And I don't even know what kind of instrument the lady was playing.

These two clips fed my soul this week. They reminded of the beauty of our hope, and that our message is beautiful- even in the hard places and dry bones. And they may have started to restore my faith in artists who earnestly seek faith and art and beauty in equal measure.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

… even when shit happens; that should be today’s subtitle.
Some Sundays I question what on earth possessed me to set myself the intentional goal of these weekly posts.
This questioning has been particularly acute the last few weeks (which is why there hasn’t been any). In fact, late Sunday night two weeks ago I opened my computer and all I managed to get onto the screen was ‘Shit happens’ … and something about ‘being more awake’- but I’ll get to that later.
At the end of that day all I felt was that chaos and mess and pain reigned over all the small bits of beauty I might have managed to spy. In fact the most beautiful moments I could consciously think of from the previous week turned out to be the most painful. Beautiful, but heartache, sick-in-my-stomach painful.
And why is that? I want/ed to know how, despite the hard work I’ve done and the grace of God, I still cannot see beyond the mess. Why was I feeling so intensely, and darkly, about witnessing an intimate, beautiful and holy moment?
It has taken me a while to even put thoughts into words, onto a page.

But two things have been coming to mind all week.
The first is:
“Out of these ashes beauty will rise”
The line I am thinking of is not the verse from Isaiah- though that is a powerful reminder. I’m thinking of the line from a Steven Curtis Chapman album; an album he wrote after his five year old daughter was accidently killed by his youngest son. After listening to the album and reading his wife’s memoir, I believe the Chapman’s have begun to see beauty rising from what they saw as the darkest moment ever.
And that reminds me that the truth Isaiah proclaimed thousands of years ago is still true today. Despite the chaos and mess and pain, God is still working beauty. I’ve seen it it my own life on occasion and I see it in the lives of others. I need to remember those times, when I question my sanity and the absence of beauty.
As life goes on and I continue to struggle with my own brokenness, with the pain and chaos around me, I will trust that God is working…. I will look for the beauty rising in the morning.

Second: during a moment of raw emotion and brokenness (read snotty weeping and losing it) after worship the other Sunday, I told the two friends brave enough to sit with me that I didn’t want to go back there (severe depression and suicidal thoughts) again, I won’t be able to handle it, I said. “But it won’t be the same this time,” a friend encouraged. “You’re more awake this time.”
That phrase caught my attention and I’ve been mulling over it ever since. This particular friend has not known me very long, only a few months. She knows very little about my story, even the most recent parts. And so the words she spoke seemed prophetic.
I am more awake.
A couple of months a wrote in a blog:
“These days, though, I find myself feeling and breathing and releasing. Words reveal truths and pains and hope that I could not find elsewhere. They begin to tell the story that I have been safely locking up inside my heart…. I am beginning to breathe and feel and believe again. And I am so very grateful for the gift.”
The greatest thing that my near- nervous breakdown last year accomplished, was to drag me out of the stupor I had adopted for many years- my survival mentality. It was, very literally, an awakening. To who God had created me to be, to how I can live with this ‘disability’. To the fact that beauty, my love of words and the mysteries of faith, and the intersection of these things, was what would save me from myself. (See On Noticing Beauty from October 2011)
Through the awakening I began to allow myself to feel deeply again and express those feelings. I began to write and form beauty of my own that I thought I’d lost the ability to create. And it was in this time I found the act of intentionally seeking out beauty was not just therapeutic, but essential for finding God in the mess.
Which led me to starting the “I Spy Beauty…” blogs.

And so I am more awake. And I am convinced that God is making beauty out of ashes.
And that is why each Sunday, even when shit happens, I need to sit down at my computer and share some of the beauty….

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Land of Dirt

The land of dirt is in my veins.
I was just three when my feet
first touched the light beige soil.
I was three when I first saw
a leper, wearing rags and begging
in front of the western burger restaurant.
I stared at the remnant, dead tree at the zoo,
imagining the sandy desert stretching
thousands of kilometres with not one tree left.
As I played in the dirt with my brothers
and tobogganed down the dunes on the edge of the city,
I was mildly aware:
Of the women at the river
washing their clothes by hand,
carrying children on their backs
and loads of wood on their head,
pounding what little yam or millet they had
to feed their families.
At three, and four and five and six, I was curious
about why people washed in such a brown, dirty river
and what the beggar man ate for dinner.
I understood that I lived on the edge
of the biggest, driest desert on earth
and that growing plants was near impossible.
And I understood that when I contracted a disease
rarely experienced in the developed world,
I had the medicine to save my life
in a day.

The land of dirt is in my veins.
Thousands of kilometres away and comfortably cool,
my walls contain fabric pictures
from another world.
Mementos of a place far removed from this
green, humid land-
soapstone elephants and wooden bowls.
Photographs of mud brick temples and nomads on their camels
remind me of an existence
most around me will never know.
I am twelve. And I remember
the women on the banks of the river
with babies on the backs and loads of wood on their heads.

The land of dirt is in my veins.
Although I sit in a state-of-the-art university
I am transported to the dirt
by the film showing the women
and the disease the babies on their backs
are dying from.
The land of dirt
appears without hope, without help.
Stories of economy, of corruption, of debt,
complicate and obscure the obvious-
In the land of dirt
life is unfair, unjust,
people are hungry
and people die
at rates not seen anywhere else in the world.
I am moved to learn-
the economics, the corruption, the debt,
to un-complicate the hopelessness and
locate the hope for the women at the river
with babies on their backs and loads of wood on their heads.

It’s 2012 and the women
are on the front page of a far away newspaper.
My mind trades the comfort of Sydney
for the river banks of the river in Niamey.
The horrific statistics no longer shock me,
the images no longer make me sick,
I know the babies are dying
and the women have no food to feed their families.
In Niger there is a drought
there is famine
there is hopelessness.
But I remember the women at the river
with babies on the backs and loads of wood on their head.

And because the land of dirt is in my veins
I will tell their story.

The place of my childhood - Niger- is facing one of it's worst famines in the last century. It is land-locked country almost entirely made up of Sahara Desert. It is one of the most undeveloped nations in the world, frequently seen at the bottom of the UNDP index and with some of the most consistently terrible women and child health statistics. 
Thankfully, it has begun to make it into our news in the past few weeks. But unfortunately the reality currently facing the country is not new and is the result of consistent neglect from the international community. The perfect storm of climate change-induced severe drought, rising food prices and poor aid and development responses to it's unique problems are causing widespread hunger and malnutrition.
This place holds a special place in my heart.

Here is a link to the story (including image gallery) from this weekend's Sydney Morning Herald that inspired the poem: A Tragedy in Niger

If you are interested in supporting any of the immediate relief efforts here are some links:

And for some further context, read this recent media release from Oxfam: Joint study finds Niger communities will run out of food before next harvest

Thank you for listening....

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

A weekly post of beauty seen heard or discovered
"What if the closest I get to the moment is now"
It is a haunting question that Katie Herzig poses in her beautiful song 'The Closest I Get'.

Last Saturday I spent the day with some of the dearest people in my world- William, Sascha and Vivienne (and their lovely parents!) They are aged five, two and a half and one, respectively. I love them like they are my own children. And now that I live an hour away I don't get to see them anywhere near as much as I would like.
As I was preparing for Will's 5th birthday party and playing with them, I caught myself feeling sad at what I am missing out on, how much they are growing between visits, and the fact that at some point that evening I would have to leave them.
(And if I'm to be brutally honest, I was also feeling emotional about whether I will ever have the blessing of my own family.)
Then in a moment as I was sitting on the floor cuddling a giggling and happy Vivienne, I was struck with an epiphany- by being sad and sorry for myself I was missing the moment!
Here I was with a precious little human who wanted to play with me and I was somewhere else.
And Katie Herzig's song came to mind... "what if the closest I get to the moment is now?"
What if I miss the joy and beauty of a child's love and play because I am too caught up in myself?
It was still hard to kiss them goodnight and tuck them into bed later that night knowing I wouldn't be there in the morning, but I experienced all the rest of the evening's moments as best I could.

Watch Katie's song...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

A weekly post of beauty seen, heard or discovered

 This afternoon I sat out on my porch with a cup of coffee and some uni reading to do.
... not much reading got done...
But I sat. I listened to the noise of children playing in the lane behind our house, the sounds of a band practicing in a garage nearby, the birds and wind (along with the occasional Boeing 747 overhead!).
I looked out at the changing colours of the vines in our yard and the beautiful clear blue sky.
And I felt at peace.
I have spent much of this week feeling very unwell, miserable and sorry for myself - I'm not very good at being sick. And my mind is full of worry at so many things. Like uni and relationships and money and where to live and my health and what the future holds.
But in that moment, I was so grateful for taking the time to sit and enjoy the beauty of reality right there.
There was a time when I had no idea how to do that. And another wave of gratefulness came over me as I realised the growth - the autumns, winters, springs and summers - that have allowed me to come to this place... of spying beauty....
God is faithful. And beautiful.
I am blessed.

Now to get back to that uni reading....

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

A weekly post of beauty seen, heard or discovered

This week has been a bit ordinary. And sometimes I find it hard to see God and beauty and time in the ordinary.

But I keep coming back to some words in Sara Grove's new song, 'Precious Again'.
"Promise that just when love grows cold
You'll make it precious...
Press mud with holy fingers
Light the ineffable
Fused in the ordinary
So much to wonder..."(copyright 2011 Sara Groves Music)
The 'ordinary' around us is laden with beauty if we have eyes to see it. I believe God speaks to us through the ordinary just as much as the extraordinary- Jesus certainly did.

May we have eyes to see the BEAUTY and take it in.

Check out the full song 'Precious Again'.

And Sara's commentary on the story behind the song.

Monday, April 16, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

A weekly post of beauty seen, heard or discovered

On the road from West Wyalong to Hay. I didn't know such red dirt existed in NSW.
Just outside Hay, the intense greenery of post-flood land.
Floods are devastating, but the colours on this day were stunning.
On the Hay Plain, one of the flattest places on earth. A magical Easter Sunday morning.
Henley Beach, Adelaide.
I do love jetty's
The colour of the sea in South Australia is breathtaking.
Port Willunga, south of Adelaide.
Hugh Hamilton Vineyards, McLaren Vale (south-east of Adelaide).
This past week I saw parts of the Australian country as I road-tripped with my mum to visit my sister in Adelaide.
It was definitely BEAUTIFUL.
God put on a magical colour show for me- none of the above pictures have any filters! I felt my soul being recharged as I watched the scenery go by me on the drive; I didn't want to nap in case I missed out on any of it.

Seeing the flooding, and it's aftermath, in south-western NSW was also amazing. My mum can not recall ever seeing the land so green. I reflected on this in my journal the day we drove through...
"I know that flooding can cause farmers just as much damage and difficulty as drought, but when the floodwaters have receded it looks as if the land is so full of life and better than ever. It is sad that our world and environment are experiencing such extremes from droughts to large floods, that communities are forced to struggle to make a living so dependent on the seasons of weather. And yet seeing the countryside recovering and rejuvenating itself was phenomenal."

All in all, it was a week filled with seeing beauty in God's creation.... I am so grateful.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

A weekly post of beauty seen, heard or discovered


Mary Oliver

The poppies send up their

orange flares; swaying

in the wind, their congregations

are a levitation

of bright dust, of thin

and lacy leaves.

There isn't a place

in this world that doesn't

sooner or later drown

in the indigos of darkness,

but now, for a while,

the roughage

shines like a miracle

as it floats above everything

with its yellow hair.

Of course nothing stops the cold,

black, curved blade

from hooking forward—

of course

loss is the great lesson.

But I also say this: that light

is an invitation

to happiness,

and that happiness,

when it's done right,

is a kind of holiness,

palpable and redemptive.

Inside the bright fields,

touched by their rough and spongy gold,

I am washed and washed

in the river

of earthly delight—

and what are you going to do—

what can you do

about it—

deep, blue night?

sourced from:

I only discovered the poetry of Mary Oliver in the last year, and I have very quickly fallen in love.

While being bogged down in a mountain of study last week, I was excited to see a Mary Oliver poem on my text list for English class.

And I was blown away by this one!

Redemption from, and through, darkness is such a large part of my story. So I was instantly drawn to this reflection on light and darkness. Everything might die or darken, but we can still appreciate beauty and happiness... And as Oliver writes doing so "is a kind of holiness,/palpable and redemptive."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

A weekly post of beauty seen, heard or discovered

It's been a hard week. And I've found myself humming this song so many times.
I think it speaks for itself - so hope-filled and beautiful!

Since I last mentioned The Civil Wars on this blog they have won multiple Grammy's. I think they deserve it!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I Spy Beauty...

A weekly post of beauty seen, heard or discovered
Unclench your fists
Hold out your hands.
Take mine.
Let us hold each other.
Thus is his Glory
from 'The Ordering of Love: the new and collected poems of Madeleine L'Engle' (2005), page 139.
I have been thinking about community these past few weeks. This poem is a beautiful description of true community and intimacy.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Living the Questions, Today

...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 in Letters to a Young Poet

It’s been over ten years since I first read this quote, thanks to Carolyn Arends and her life-changing book ‘Living the Questions’. I have spent those ten years continually looking for the beauty and hope in this truth. Sometimes it’s been a battle to the death- the death of something broken in me. Sometimes the truth has been found in a moment of resolute relinquishment. Sometimes I simply gave up searching…. And in that space, found the truth.

Today my questions are much bigger, and perhaps more frightening, than I could of imagined at 18. How do you comfort a 30-something friend diagnosed with cancer, who doesn’t know the power of love and redemption? Will I ever know the intimacy of a soul mate? What would it look like to no longer live in fear of chronic depression and anxiety?

But like I did at 18, I still believe in God. The God of infinite mystery, yes, but also the God of infinite grace and love and HOPE. That belief is what ultimately drives me to keep living the questions… and waiting for the answers. At 18 I couldn’t be given some of the answers I asked of God. I now know I was incapable of understanding. But slowly, through the mess and beauty of life placed before me, God has granted a few answers. Enough to keep me believing and enough to keep me asking.

And though I have yet to learn the answers to today’s questions, I live in the hope that the God of mystery will help me to live each day to the fullest.

As Switchfoot says in their song ‘Meant to live’:

Maybe we've been living with our eyes half open

Maybe we're bent and broken…

…We were meant to live for so much more

That’s my answer, and my question, for today.