Friday, 23 February 2018

Who am I? An exercise - by Helen Murray

Someone asked me who I was. What would I say? On my blog I am defined by relationships: I am someone's wife, someone's daughter, someone's mother. On Twitter I am defined by what I do: I am a reader, a writer, a swimmer, a coffee drinker. On my most basic, spiritual level, I am an adopted daughter of the Creator of the world - is that the best answer?

Well, here are my musings. I suppose you could call this the long answer. I'm recording it here not because I know that you'll all be hanging on my every life-experience but for this reason: as I wrote down this stream-of-consciousness outpouring of thoughts and memories I found my head flooded with inspiration for things I wanted to write about. If you ever find yourself with your digits hovering over the home keys with a blank page ahead of you and no words, try it. The key is not to get too bogged down in explanations, chronology or even tenses, but to pour it all onto paper and see what comes out.

Pleased to meet you.

I am from Chesterfield, an unremarkable Midlands town with a crooked spire and Roman history, once great but now faded market and struggling town centre. Peak District hills and dales and moors and crags. I am from the county furthest from the sea in a small, crowded island that can sometimes feel big.

I am from a 1930s bay window dormer bungalow, back garden photographs in brown and orange 1970s flares, chunky legs and a scowl in front of the newly planted conifer, tiny then, towering last year, now only a stump. I am from the endless summer, 1976 drought, bathwater slopping down the garden to water the vegetables, plague of ladybirds, lizards in the rockery. I am snowmen and snow-in-your-wellies and cocoa with sugar in blue and white striped mugs.

I am made of buckets and spades, hunts for seashells, scared of seaweed, little flags on sandcastles. Caravans and car journeys, travel sickness tablets and lay-bys. I am from pub-lunches and motorbike rides and leapfrogs and awful school dinners.

I was the one in 'Jesus' sandals with ankle socks, sensible shoes, gabardine raincoats, wonky fringe, cheese and beetroot sandwiches, skipping ropes, grazed knees and space hoppers. Shoe buckles snagging on the sofa cushions,  wax crayons and writing stories in tiny notebooks. Beans on toast, pikelets with melted butter and tinned fruit and ice cream that you cut in slices. My mum's rice pudding; the best in the world.

I remember Sunday lunch at Grandma's, chicken and gravy and boring grown up conversation and rhubarb-from-the-garden suet pudding and custard made from scratch. I remember rocking chairs and setting lotion and cigarette smoke and bags of sweets and leaving my comfort blanket behind and insisting that Dad goes out in the night to fetch it. I remember kiss-it-better and it won't always be dark at six and if at first you don't succeed... I am reserved and English and stiff-upper-lip and a smile costs nothing.

I loved Enid Blyton and Helen Dore Boylston and Nancy Drew and Jill's Gymkhana. I pored over Bunty magazine, and my brother's Beano and then Just Seventeen and Mizz and Cosmopolitan. I loved shopping with Mum, saving up for things, cracking open the piggy bank, giving things to Dad to mend rather than buy new.

I date back to Listen with Mother and Magic Roundabout with Dad and Andy Pandy with Mum and Mary, Mungo and Midge. The longing for a Blue Peter Badge and the innocence of Jim'll Fix It and the excitement of Why Don't You...? Jacques Cousteau's Undersea World and the dull bit at the end of The Two Ronnies. Cigarette smoke in the sitting room during The Antiques Roadshow, staying up late on New Year's Eve watching The Sound of Music for the very first time.

I am eager to please, english lessons easy and maths lessons hard; too much homework each night and ice on the inside of the bedroom window above my desk. I was the bullied, the insecure, the fearful, the betrayed, the distrustful. I did adolescence in the company of boys, not girls, much more straightforward that way.

I was into hotbrushes, big hair, hairspray and new-fangled Sodastream. Into rolled up jacket sleeves and 'Flashdance' and 'Pretty In Pink' and 'The Breakfast Club'.

I had Slinkies and Sindy dolls and Pippa and thought that ET was not remotely cute; unmoved when he nearly died and yes, Auntie, I did understand it.

I remember Atari tennis blip blip electronic games and longing for a hand-held Donkey Kong game that everyone had but meI remember three TV channels and no video; the girl with the teddy and blackboard when the telly was finished. I remember our first phone installed in the hall and it went bring bring and we sat on the stairs in a draught to talk.

I was a teenager in the middle of a huge crowd on a hot, hot day in May listening to an evangelist introduce me to Jesus Christ. I was one of those struggling past rows of knees to get to the aisle, self-consciousness miraculously forgotten, to turn my tearstained face upwards and say yes please to the One who really saw me.

I was a gung-ho church youth group member, teen camps in the Lake District, boyfriends, exam-passing, teacher-pleasing (mostly) and the first in the family to go to university. I revelled in Bronte, Hardy, John Clare, Keats and Shelley, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Jonson, Rosetti, Milton and Byron and the whodunnit? I drank cider in half-pints because I didn't know how to order anything else.

I was definitely churchy, goody-goody, black and white, right and wrong, finding out about the grey the hard way. I had the broken heart, deeply hurt, church work disillusionment and faith on the back burner for a long time. I wept because of broken friendships, loneliness, confusion and low self esteem. I started out knowing what I want, then changed my mind, changed direction, worried my parents.

I moved on to leaving the country, running from decisions, backpacking, bewildering long haul flights and sleeping on coaches, brushing teeth out of the window, getting by with foreign languages, watching my back, camping under the stars; geyser fields and sunrises, waterfalls, volcanoes and air so thin it's hard to breathe. The beauty and the grime and the wonder and the riches and the poverty. Postcards and souvenirs.

I moved around a bit.  Newcastle upon Tyne, Liverpool, Essex, London. Old friends, new friends, new town, new university, new boyfriend; a keeper. Anatomy, physiology, sociology, psychology. More exams, romance, wedding magazines and flowers. These days were simple: happy, holding hands, holidays and freedom; uniforms, paperwork, hospitals, holding hands, comforting, healing, mending bodies, teaching skills, ticking boxes, climbing the ladder, striving, achieving, trying so hard but wondering what else there is.

I am all sentimentality, memories, diaries, journals, fragments of stories. Love and joy and the blue line in the box and wonderful, hopeful expectation; baby name books and bumps and kicks and then ... the late night phone call and the speed-limit drive and paramedics shaking their heads and checking my blood pressure and crushing, shocking bereavement and numbness and undertakers and flowers and funerals.

Days later contractions and ragged breaths and another late night dash of a different kind.  I remember congratulations cards among the condolence cards and not knowing which flowers were for what, from whom. I know fractured sleep and crying babies and Moses baskets and mobiles and feeding charts and confusion, exhaustion and black despair. I know post natal depression, lost and lonely and fearful.

Then, one day, I remember coming home to the church of my teenage years and finding that it was not God who went away but me. There He was with arms wide open to hold me tight.

I came back to live in the house with the wonderful tussocky grass for playing on and the conifer tree stump and the rhubarb patch and the people who mean the world to me.

I am now middle aged with aching joints and calorie counting and comfort-eating and swimming and gymming and making excuses. I am almost beyond self-conscious and inhibited, fresh from the land of low self-esteem and distorted self-image.

I have come awake again to the truth of how much I am loved, just as I am, in all my imperfection, and I want to tell the world: if I am loved like this, then you are too.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude and awe and empty-handed, head-bowed thanksgiving. I love hands-in-the-air worship where the angels' voices mingle with mine and I glimpse eternity; I revel in the silence and space of quiet prayer and scribbling my life in journal conversations with my Saviour and my friend. I see Him, I hear Him, I feel Him, I am after His heart.

I have come from closed-fist to open-palm, from rags to riches, from darkness to light. From lost to found.

I am a wife and a mother and a daughter and a sister and a friend. I am a reader and a writer.

I am a child of God.

Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire, England, with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has a blog: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01


  1. Oh Helen! You are me or I am you, except that I'm decades older than you and you have had a more interesting life than I have. But so much is the same and I can't thank you enough for your message. My only real connection with Chesterfield is that my first son was born in Ashgate Maternity Home in Chesterfield. I live in Sheffield where I was born, which meant I knew the Peak District better than the Yorkshire countryside.

    1. Ashgate Hospital (not that its a hospital any more) is just around the corner from where I live! I'm so glad that it struck a chord with you. Thanks Shirley.

  2. Helen, this is beautiful. Just beautiful xx

    1. Thank you, Deborah. That's lovely of you. x

  3. Very moving post, perhaps we should all try this as a writing exercise.

    1. I found it really sparked off some ideas. Give it a try! Thanks very much Veronica. x

  4. I write a short piece of poetry on my own blog on this theme and later the same week discovered that my eldest grandson had also been challenged to write a similar piece. They can both be found here

  5. Thanks Martin - will check them out.