Not All the Leaves Are Falling is my melodic ode to difficult endings and strained new beginnings, to getting lost and being found, to unlocked trauma and healing journeys, to deep, quiet and still places, to feet-finding, hope-discovering, friend-making and community-building, to awakening, to spiritual graces, to reinvention and liminal spaces – and through it all, to my God, my source of everlasting love, my compass and my horizon, my deep silence and my brave expression.
PART ONE | THE PROMISE
When I moved home to New Zealand from Sydney in the summer of 2009, I made a promise to myself. It was time to return to my first loves – words and music – the natural habitats of my childhood. Some deep instinct said that this was the way I was going to recover my whole-heartedness – the way I would rebuild a new life for myself.
It was songwriting that had first taken me to Sydney at the age of 19. My own personal creative projects quickly became just one little piece of coloured glass in a mosaic of new opportunities that opened up as I joined the staff team at Christian City Church Oxford Falls on the beautiful Northern Beaches.
I look back on those Sydney years as golden days of vision, friendship, community, purpose and growth. I enjoyed six formative, dynamic, colourful and adventurous years there.
But, in the seventh year, everything fell apart.
Disruptive change turned my professional life upside down.
A complex relationship unlocked in me unprocessed trauma from my childhood that left me reeling.
I faced a spiritual crisis and a choice about whether to continue with the God of my youth or to leave him behind.
In the messy fall-out of this tri-fold disintegration, I chose to leave both my job and my tribe, to choose the painful path of healing, and to continue with the One who had been undeniably and personally faithful to me through it all.
I returned home to my parents’ Bay of Plenty farm in 2008, in debt, burnt-out, broken-hearted and with no idea what I was going to do next.
After years of holding it all together, I was undone. But in the undoing there was also opportunity – an opportunity to heal, to slow down, to learn different rhythms. This fracture in my life’s path heralded a slow but restorative return to core facets of myself that had become dusty and dull, layered over by pressing concerns and other people’s priorities.
At this time of beginning again, creativity beckoned.
Words and music called to me and I responded in two ways.
I began reading the classics of the literary canon. Hardy, Dickens, Wilde, Austen, Woolfe and the Bronte sisters become my companions in recovery. The richness, intelligence and texture of their prose worked its magic on me and recovered my love of words and narrative.
I also gathered together a little clutch of songs I had written during my difficult final year in Sydney, and began to record demos using basic recording gear and my sub-amateur recording skills.
There I was – in debt, working part-time on the family farm and living and recording in a caravan in my parents’ backyard.
It was a less than ideal scenario, but something about working with those songs gave me hope. They reconnected me with an innate creative impulse that had a regenerating power in this new and barren landscape.
The songs were born from a stormy chapter, but the combination of words and melodies that emerged from them were my silver lining.
PART TWO | CREATIVITY UNDERGROUND
It wasn’t too long before my in-debt status pushed me out of the caravan and back into the real world of pressures and paychecks.
In 2011, staring 30 in the face, unattached and with a desire to create something of my own, I left a secure job and started my own content and social marketing business, Engage Communications. The enterprise relied on my words and my wits. It was consuming, to say the least, and music and songwriting became luxuries of time I thought I couldn’t afford. The pressures of self-employment took their toll. I became stressed and stale, pressured and bored – the worst of combinations.
I was committed to what I was doing, and was doing it well. The problem was, I was living with only half of my heart awake. For several years I plodded along, disconnected from my creativity – a vital source of joy and strength. It had been so long since I had been ‘in flow’, I forgot what it felt like.
It was like living with only one lung.
PART THREE | THE TURNING POINT
We rarely know when the turning points in our life stories are about to occur. In the movies we have the soundtrack and the close-ups as clues that these moments matter. In real life it is often only in hindsight that the significance of certain plot-points become evident.
The turning point in this particular story happened one sunny, wintry Sunday morning. As we packed up the music gear after church, I approached my new friend, Luke Thompson, with a question. Outwardly I tried to appear cool, calm and nonchalant. Inside I was a flutter of nerves.
“Luke, I have this little collection of songs that I feel like I need to do something with – even if it’s just to document my own story. Do you ever record other people and would you help me to record my songs?”
Under the dull plodding of routine, my buried creative instinct had somehow managed to send an SOS signal to my consciousness. A quiet but insistent voice told me I needed to recover this lost part of me and that, until I picked up those old songs again, I was going to be going around in circles.
Being willing to expose my songs to the light of day was a way of turning back towards this core part of me. It was also a turning towards the painful chapter that they were born from – an honouring and gathering-in of the shadow sides of myself and my story.
There was a lot at stake. Luckily, Luke said yes.
PART FOUR | THE MIRACLE
Then the miracle happened. Almost as soon as I started recording my Sydney songs with Luke, I started writing new songs again.
As another autumn rolled around and the trees continued their cycle of death and rebirth in a blaze of auburn beauty, my stale old soul became aerated and alive once more.
New songs bubbled up – hopeful, unbidden and unstrained. The mysterious partnership with inspiration re-entered my life and I felt reborn. I had forgotten what it felt like to let something come through you that is both you and not you. I had forgotten how re-creating creativity is.
I couldn’t control it. All I could do was be grateful.
Working with Luke once a week or so became my new rhythm. It was a tonic for my soul and it reinvigorated the rest of my life. I came alive and awake again. Studio days were always my favourite days. I got to begin with coffee and conversation, to swap my office wardrobe for jeans, and my to-do list for a ‘make-it-up-as-we-go’ list.
I loved working with Luke. His songwriting talents inspire me and as a producer he had a precise and intuitive instinct about the right approach to take to bring my songs to life. I would never have been able to bring this project to fruition without his help. He was the perfect person for me to work with and I’ll be forever grateful.
Over the course of two and a half years, the project evolved and grew to the point where I had enough songs for a full album.
Alongside some songs I had written for friends and family, the songs from that difficult Sydney year became companions to the hopeful songs that came seven years later.
I really like this juxtaposition.
It creates something of a bridge across the slow rebuild of the intervening years, the long quiet winter of liminal uncertainty, and the gradual reassembly of the pieces of my life into something new – something more resilient and humble, more whole-hearted, more open to mystery.
NOT ALL THE LEAVES ARE FALLING
Not All the Leaves Are Falling is the title track of this collection of songs. The autumnal references throughout the album are a meaningful motif for me. Autumn captures something of the grace of liminal spaces.
Liminal spaces can be deeply uncomfortable, disorienting thresholds where old certainties no longer hold true and new understandings are yet to emerge. But the miracle of grace can transform them into powerful and transformative places of new potential and new understanding.
Autumn is a liminal season. It is a time of long shadows, golden light and the beauty of letting go. Leaves flare gold and auburn as they die. It marks a time of intense but beautiful surrender to the long, quiet, nothingness of winter and the reviving choirs of springtime hope.
Writing these songs helped me to become more present, both to myself and to God. They gave me a true and beautiful place to stand along the winding way. I hope in some small way they might do the same for you – that they may help you to become present to your own heart and to the Divine Mystery we call God who is there in all our wanderings and wonderings.
Stories of love, loss and hope belong not to me, but to the human experience. I hope then, that you discover space for your own stories inside my words and find your own sense of hope within my melodies.