Sometimes you find healing in the most unexpected places. It is easy to get fixed on certain moments of the past that leave us locked in childhood. Writing has the power to unlock doors. Through this simple writing exercise, you can step back and see the hand of the Master Weaver and allow Him to reframe a more complete picture of the scope of your life. In order to get where you are going, you need to know where “I Am From”.
Finding Healing Through Writing
I am a journaler. In my quiet times, I write down my conversations with God because I find that I catch more that I may have missed otherwise. When I get into the flow, I don’t stop to correct. I just let it all flow out and go back later to evaluate. Not surprisingly, I find that writing allows me to take the time to tap into what is buried within. Often I am surprised by what comes out. Sometimes writing releases deep things I didn’t even know were buried.
This exercise pulled out moments in my past that were misfiled in my mind and gave them the validation they deserved. This will be a personal poem between you, the writer, and your past. Some things may not make sense to others reading it, but it is not for others. This is a trip with God through your past, pulling out the good, bad, and the ugly. You will give each event, person, place, or dream a line to speak. When all the lines have spoken, then what is left is a picture of the whole, not just a part.
An Incomplete View of the Past
I am not a counselor. I can only speak from my own personal experience and from my experience working with people for over 20 years in ministry. Unfortunately, we have the tendency to get fixed on certain moments of our past that paint an incomplete view of our lives. We let that moment define our whole reality and we give our power over to it’s memory. I know for me, I let my parent’s divorce define almost every moment of my life until I did this “I Am From” exercise. By mapping out four quadrants and writing down anything that popped into my mind, I was able to broaden my scope of my past and see that amongst the pain, there was a whole lot of pretty amazing.
Where I Am From Originated
I bumped into this exercise when I signed up for an online writing workshop to help me find my voice. Allison Fallon, with Find Your Voice, sent out daily writing prompts to my inbox. This one in particular made a huge impression.
I wanted to write a book about the journey my family and I had taken across country in a camper, but didn’t know how to find my voice. Something about organizing my life into boxes and then pulling those moments out and expounding on them released something in me. You can read our story in my book, Water Walkers.
This exercise is based on the original poem I Am From by George Ella Lyon. I am not including it because I am including my own.
Separate Your Life Into Categories
To start, take a piece of paper and divide it into quarters. This will give you 4 boxes or quadrants. Label each box with the following headings:
- Places I’ve lived
- People who made the biggest impression on me (good or bad)
- Favorite things such as colors, foods, music, movies, clothes, vacation spots, cars, holidays, etc.
- Most memorable events (good, bad, or ugly)
Writing Prompts to Jog Your Memory
- Grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, best friend’s names, teachers
- Favorite food or meal
- Dreams or goals you had
- Favorite family tradition
- Special games or activities you did as a family
- Details about your home(s)
- Memorable places you visited or vacationed
- Nostalgic songs
- Smells, tastes, sounds, things you touched, images that made an impression
- Pet or favorite animal
- Best and worst thing you were ever told
- Words, poems, books, movies, quotes that impacted you
- Ordinary household items
- A security blanket, sucking thumb, doll, or toy
- Accidents or traumatic experiences
- Losses, pain, tragedy
- Family trait, personality trait
- Mood, joys, fears
- Learning experiences
- Colors, nature, seasons
- Most embarrassing moments or times that made you laugh
Ready to Write
Once you have organized your own personal experience into 4 quadrants, you are ready to write. This isn’t college English class so don’t feel pressured to have it perfect. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or if this will make sense to anyone. I have given you my poem as an example below to help you see the big picture. There are things that will make no sense to your reader because they are all like “insider” speak. Have you ever been around when at least two people are laughing at an inside joke? Well, this is like that. Maybe the people closest to you will understand, but again, it is not for them. This is for you. Let it flow. Don’t focus on only negative. Reach for all the moments that made you who you are. Go with whatever comes out and you will be amazed at the picture that emerges of your life.
To begin, preface each section or stanza with I am from….
I Am From: A Poem of My Childhood
by Rebecca L. Bramblet
I am from a white house with green trim on Wellesley Street and all the kids in the neighborhood wanted to be at our house.
There was nothing and then something and then it was all gone and given to another. But God had so much more.
Away to a farm to live and breathe the salt air and pine trees that stretched to the blue sky above.
I am from giant redwood trees and wrap-around decks with dancing ballerinas -dressed in purple and fuchsia – posing for me to paint as they drip from the tall, green foliage.
I am from raspberries picked warm in the sun and yellow spiders that make me run.
I am from “Pizza ready for Mark,” and giggles under the table because he got up.
I am from squeaky sneakers on the gym floor and dance routines that made people laugh because I could hide behind the mask and live unashamed and fully alive.
I am from crashing waves and undertows gripping sand to survive.
I am from hot dogs and s’mores and crackling campfires and boats on a lake with lapping water against the dock. “Hit It!” they call and she rises up out of the water and falls. The boat circles around and she tries again until she walks on water.
I am from pop up campers with zippered canvas sides and sleeping bags and quiet mornings by gurgling waters and swimming in ice melt streams floating down river with just a snorkel and the silence.
I am from fishing with garlic marshmallows and red fish eggs to catch one fish after another because I found just the right fishing hole to make my dad proud…but jealous.
I am from breakfast out on Fridays and Wednesday lunches with mom or dad because that is our special time and for an hour I get to be a daughter.
I hear words to never believe but feel hands that hold me strong.
I am from afternoon drives and stopping at the train tracks to hear the whistle blow and the dog bark. The train drew close and passed as daddy followed the sound. But there was no train. Was it a ghost? No, it was just a song queued at the right moment. He always told the best stories.
I am from playing house and church and cops and robbers with the cousins. I was always the mommy and the preacher and all my dolls and animals were saved. She was always the cop with a keen sense of justice. Funny how destiny plays out from youth.
I am from a language my brother and I made, all our own, that made us laugh and others tried to mimic but couldn’t because it was ours and it’s what kept us close.
I am from zucchini corn casserole and boysenberry pie mom made in the summertime from homegrown berries and scratch made crusts and flour marked faces.
I am from gardens laden with fresh vegetables and fruits and BBQ’s with oysters and ribs and chicken. Food piled high and always delicious.
I am from Labor Day campouts with intoxicated uncles singing over horseshoes and sprinkler dances till dawn and pollywog swimming holes and too many shooting stars to count because out there the heavens open and stars come down close enough to touch.
I am from bubble baths with Baby Magic and as many cousins that can fit in the tub. Dried and slathered in Rose Milk with hair rolled in pink foamy curlers, patiently waiting with a burning head under a pink hair dryer in the closet.
I am from Halloween goblins, scarecrows, and ghosts and spider webs and homemade costumes while gathering buckets of Trick or Treats and then sorting and trading for days after for the “good” candy.
I am from Christmas Eve anticipation when 4 O’Clock could not come soon enough. Presents sprawled out across the living room floor and all the cousins scanning the tags greedily counting how many had their names on it, shaking each one to guess the contents inside. Dinner dragged on forever. Yummy, but grownups talk too long.
I am from Christmas trees draped in stale popcorn garland, homemade ornaments, a family of deer on the mantle, and colored lights enclosed in asbestos clouds. Santa still came and left me the doll in the blue dress in my stocking even though I had to use the potty before midnight and I was afraid to still be awake and he would pass over. I had been so good that year.
I am from New Year’s Eve late night countdowns with hors d’oeuvres and cheese fondue and one movie or one game after another so your eyes don’t shut from heaviness.
I am from plump stock with freckled hands and drooping, gathered skin. Soft. Therapeutic. Aged, but loved. Grandma’s don’t get sick and they never use a recipe when a little of this and a little of that is just right. Grandpas answer the phone, “Hell-O” as if you are the most important person to ever call. Everyone comes home for the holidays so we can grow up, dress up, and be a bigger family than 3.
I am from climbing cherry trees at the Pirates’ house, who buried the treasure and sent us on a hunt when the school bus dropped us off.
I am from a peeling green barn with plastic skylights and dusty sunbeams exposing spider webs and rusty tools that served their time and then had been forgotten.
I am from early mornings gathering chickens’ eggs still warm as the Ginny pig squeals in a thunderstorm. The tree crashes from the other side not breaking a fence but rather creating a bridge to a magic wonderland where the witch lives. We gather ferns to make soup and mud pies and explore for miles and don’t come back ‘till dinner is called.
I am from a country road, every other weekend, where the hound dog howls and the chickens were pets. We had a horse in an electric fence and we all held hands to see how far the shock would carry -then never did it again. The yellow house grew smaller as I aged, and then one day it disappeared altogether as airplanes took off and landed in my backyard.
I am from tree houses three stories high across the field where the bull stands watch and grandpa runs the length of the paddock. And the bull runs after him. And then we run to play until it is time to come home and we do it all over again.
I am from the Grand Canyon at sunrise on Easter Sunday when the voices echo from across the canyon walls and angels descend in worship as the sun rises in red, pink, and purple splendor.
I am from the frigid clear waters of Tahoe when Daddy swam down to the bottom to retrieve some paper money. Another story? I don’t know but he commissioned me to see what others miss. Life has a soundtrack, always playing, always inviting us to dance.
I am from a white horse across the field that galloped to nuzzle me when he saw my sugar blond hair lifted up. He was my angel.
I am from a butterfly that landed on demand just because I whispered for it to come.
I am from balloon races and tempers that erupt when the balloon wouldn’t pop and I lost. Hands on hips and shaking finger. Life is not always fair.
I am from baseball games. Choke up. Watch your stance. Grit your teeth. Crush it. Batting right handed when all the while, the homerun was in the left. Who knew and who trained it out of me?
I am from Sugarloaf hikes and ocean picnics with the smell of Tarweed on the breeze in August. Driving along rolling hills until the gold turns into blue and the crests of white waves brush upon the shore.
I am from Summer magic when Gravensteins ripen on the trees and the town gathers for its festival of music and games and fritters. One is never enough.
I am from 22 trips to the Happiest Place on Earth where it is tradition to walk down Main Street and take a left at Adventureland, past the jungle cruise and Swiss Family Robinson’s Treehouse where the organ plays in the trees. In New Orleans Square the Mickey Mouse Pancakes greet you with a toothpick pierced blueberry nose and a pineapple smile and the Mark Twain blows her good morning blow as she passes by on the river bend. The first ride is always the Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s just what we do.
I am from ski trips with Anna, giggling over moguls and jumps and falling more that flying and crashing was much more fun than going straight down. Nothing matched and no one cared. We were warm and image didn’t matter then.
I am from driving through the drive thru backwards at McDonalds because the young act and then think and sometimes that is just more fun.
I am from houseboat vacations and losing my swimsuit top over the side of the boat only to have it retrieved by the older high school boy while I clung to the nearest towel to take cover. Embarrassing moments make you realize you are growing up and that is good. Laughing at life and with life keeps you free and full of joy. And I dearly love to laugh.
I am not a Jennifer, I am a Rebecca. That is my name and this is where I am from. Even amongst the pain, joy is sprinkled throughout.