Open Letter to My Father

Dear Daddy,

My first day at school took you by complete surprise. I am told that while you dropped Nna off at school, I wandered into a class, sat, and refused to leave. You didn’t force me to come home with you and simply returned at the close of day.

You have always known this little girl’s heart. In that moment, you came to the realization that I would veer into many unchartered waters and you knew to let me be.

It was you who showed me how to be bold, to speak up, to ask questions. You showed me how to love God and persevere in prayer. You have prayed me into my destiny and covered me, as the priest of our home.

Your love made me unafraid, it made me sure of who I was. With you I was free to be me, to say what I thought. With you, I have known something I have never known with anyone else, security.

When you walk into a room, nothing could possibly go wrong. Your love gave me wings and your unshakeable presence taught me to use them. The gift of your name gave me something to defend, to uphold.

As my friend, you showed me the power of conversation and its ability to shift mindsets and transform hearts.

Your wisdom, your wit, your heart, and all that makes you who you are, I adore.

Thank you for surviving. Thank you for surviving and thriving through all life has thrown at you. Thank you for surviving the Civil War for me, for us. You are the rose that blossomed from concrete.

Because of you, I know what I deserve. Because of you, delighting in God’s love for me is easy.

For holding my hand when my heart was unsteady, for giving me jackets laden with your warmth and scent, for lending me your faith when mine vanished, I thank you.

For loving my mind just as much as you love my heart, I thank you. For trusting me to honor your legacy and your name far away from home, I thank you. For teaching me the virtue of hardships and their ability to produce resilient souls, I thank you. For holding me in my pain and tickling me to get me out of it, I thank you. For letting me play doctor/fashion guru/small mommy/lawyer/politician/journalist/personal assistant/banker, I thank you.

Because of you and mama, our tiny home has laughter baked into its walls.

May your spirit never fade. May your wife be a fruitful vine and your children like olive branches around God’s table.

May all the seeds of kindness you have sown in all directions, return to you bountifully.

And may you know, always and forever, that you are loved, honored, and will never walk alone.

Always your little,

Manma

Left Behind

On that sunny Friday in July, we gathered on our football field decked in white and blue. The girls wore headgears (gèlé) and the boys donned caps (fìlà). We had come to the end of the road in our secondary education. This was probably the last time ninety-seven of us would be together in one place. Shutters clicked, eyes twinkled, and the rays of the sun bounced off our white clothes.

My mother was resplendent in a blue blouse and pink wrappers, a typical outfit for an Igbò woman. My father who had been tied down all day in a meeting, walked in just in time for the awards section of the program. I was finally done, six years had breezed by and it was time to take on the world.

Four years later, I scroll through my Instagram page and it is awash with photos of my old classmates’ valedictory ceremonies. Hoods, hats, degrees, and graduation gowns. The whole works. While I am delighted at their achievements, I can’t shake the feeling that I have been left behind.

You see, although we graduated together, I did not leave for my university until about a year after due to circumstances I could not control. This is both the blessing and the curse of social media. In that, while it allows for us to connect with those in distant places, it can quickly become the pedestal to which we hold up our lives. All of it. We are left comparing our behind-the-scenes with the highlight reel of others.

As I itched to move on to my next big adventure, everything stood still. In hindsight, that one year at home did me a world of good. I got to know my father and mother not just as parents but as people. And what do I know? I haven’t been home since I moved a few years ago.

Truth be told, I am pleased and content with where I currently am. Yet every now and again, the feeling of not being quite “there yet” creeps in. For you, it might seem like things are falling in line for everyone but the person who stares at you when you look in the mirror.

Well, I am here to remind you that comparison is the thief of joy. Be content, not complacent. Keep your eyes on the prize and give thanks every day because although you are not where you want to be, you are not where you were.

Here’s a beautiful piece of advice I once heard. Kenya is two hours ahead of Nigeria, but it does not mean that Nigeria is slow, and it does not mean that Kenya is faster than Nigeria. Both countries are simply working based on their own time zone.

So should you. No matter how many times you hear it, please remember that this thing we call life is a journey, not a race to the finish line. You have lots to look forward to.

Everything good will come.

Gloom in Spring

I’ve been feeling out of sorts lately. I can’t place my finger on it but it feels like my soul has withdrawn from me. I don’t quite know what that means but it is very quiet down there.

Spring is in full bloom. The sun is out, the flowers are awake, and the trees sashay to the sound of the wind. The scent of freshly cut grass wafts through the air and the air itself feels different. It feels free and eager to erupt in singing. Winter’s chill is gone and I can finally put away that dreadful pile of jackets.

“What is this?”, I continually ask myself and God. I am sometimes at a loss for the will to create, to write. And yet when I do I know it is true. I find that now I let good and bad writing flow into each other, as long as it feels true. As long as it is true. Good and bad here, now, have become miscible and have formed a rich shade of gray.

But perhaps this is what love feels like. After the euphoria is gone and the crowd has dispersed. After the newness has fizzled away and all that is left is the quiet rhythm of ordinary life. The challenge then becomes loving the ordinary. Sitting in content silence while the fridge hums and the clock ticks.

To love and be so sure of that love that has built a magnificent castle and yet want to sit in the embrace of the ordinary.

I, even you, may be guilty of wanting to cram things into each waking moment. Don’t. Life, being what it is, sometimes forces you to sit still by its sheer will. And I would lose if I tried to wrestle with it. Fall into the ordinary and love where you land.

Inhale. Exhale. Eyes open, heart ready to love not the wonders of the world but the corners of my home that have become so familiar and grown nearly invisible. I fall into it.

Stretch Marks, Cellulite, and Self-Confidence

It is a rainy Saturday morning in May. I get up, the lessons of the past day, fresh and resounding in my mind. I scrub my bathtub and sink, thinking and thanking my Creator for another chance at life. I offer my words and my life as a sacrifice and hope they please him. I shower and get ready to meet two gorgeous women for breakfast. After an hour and a half, my belly is full. And so is my soul.

The sun is still on her day off and the clouds are moody about it. They keep crying. Their tears pour from the skies in quiet, gentle showers. It is Sunday the next day and so I try out three outfits for church. My roommate and I come to a decision. We deem the third outfit, a light blue off-the-shoulder dress and nude shoes with gold embellishments, the winner.

I like what I see when I look into the mirror. Standing there for a few more moments, I go back a few years ago, to a time when I inched closer to reproach for my body. It is pertinent that I provide some context here. I am an African woman who possesses her mother’s features. Her rosy cheeks, her nose, her full hips. Of my siblings, I am the least lean. This did not come without certain remarks from some extended family members. Now and again, I would hear “are you sure you’re not eating your sister’s food?” It was a casual jab that made my heart bleed. Being Nigerian means that you do not take certain things seriously. Knowing this did not take the sting out of those words, often laced with big smiles.

Perhaps I had acted without wisdom in some respects. I enjoyed food thoroughly and now and again, disregarded my parents’ counsel to eat a little less.

Puberty hit and stretch marks became permanent visitors. You know, the kinds that show up unannounced and have no immediate plans of vacating your space. I didn’t like them. I didn’t like that they spread out on my arms without regard for my feelings. I didn’t like that they were there. I didn’t like that I didn’t take my mother’s soft and flawless arms. I didn’t like that they didn’t respond to cocoa butter, shea butter, aloe vera, stretch mark creams and soaps, and the ultimate, bio-oil. It broke my heart when one day in boarding school, I discovered that my bio-oil had disappeared from my locker. Where and how was I to find it?

The morning before mass one Sunday morning, I wanted to dress up in a pretty sleeveless dress. It had a white background and was adorned with green, turquoise blue, and black designs. I examined my appearance in the mirror and did not like what I saw. Because I didn’t want anyone looking at those crooked lines, I promptly found my mother’s leftover foundation and poured some of the brown liquid onto my palm. Smoothing it over both sides of my upper arm, I nodded, satisfied with the result.

I grew up in a happy home and knew that I was loved fiercely. I believed that true beauty resided on the inside yet I knew that appearance mattered.

In the weeks leading up to my graduation from secondary school, I enlisted my mother’s help as my coach in my quest to become more fit. My father and siblings cheered me on and my mother and I bonded. I was satisfied with the outcome of that exercise and felt beautiful on the day I graduated. I felt even better, knowing that I had done my parents proud by winning prizes.

I think something profound shifted after those years. Perhaps the hormones wore off and I could think and see more clearly. Beauty had never been something I had always thought about with a standard in mind. For me and for others, being presentable was all that mattered.

An important part of growing old is growing up. This is the area where many of us fall down. It has taken seeing myself through God’s eyes to get to the place of true beauty, one that never fades.

I also believe I became inspired by people who regarded themselves with admiration and considered it normal. As a person who is always looking to do better and be better, I find it difficult sometimes to hush and say “I like where I am and who I am.” I fear complacency. I don’t like or want to be ordinary and so I’m constantly looking for ways to improve. But without knowing it and through God’s help, I found myself with people who affirmed me out of love. Find those people. Keep them. Be them.

In a previous post, I outlined my qualms with society’s idea of self-love. Out of love, not spite, my parents cautioned me when I overate and it would have done me good if I listened. We all know that excess weight predisposes us to coronary diseases. It is my firm belief that self-control is an act of love, even towards self.

I owe the person I am today to all of my experiences. I don’t want a filtered, airbrushed type of beauty. I want the crooked-nosed, gap-toothed, sun-beaten type of beauty. Beauty was never meant to be just superficial. Beauty was meant to orient man towards heaven, towards the author of beauty. I want the kind of beauty that wells up like a spring, from within.

If my stretch marks disappeared overnight, I’d miss them. They have greeted my eyes every morning for years now, and have taught me a great many things about what fills a person with beauty and grace.

Quiet the chaos and clothe yourself with dignity and strength. According to Pope Benedict XVI, you are willed, you are loved, and you are necessary. Believing any less would be selling yourself short.

Rain. Mist. Seas.

Flow but never lose your substance

Bend through creeks, flow into lakes

Cause floods, quench raging fires

Carry thunder

Clean, absolve, make new

Renew broken spirits

Refresh tired bodies

Signal the beginning of a new season

Cause life to flourish

Sustain it

Flow but never lose your substance

 

photo credit: Milo McDowell

7 Ideas For Your Next Self-Care Session

One of my favorite things to say is that one cannot pour from an empty jar. It is impossible to give what you do not have. In the course of our daily lives, we share, give, and do things constantly. At the end of any given day, it is essential that you recharge and refuel. As an introvert, this is key to my existence.

Just so you know, self-care is not selfish. The Golden Rule asks us to love others as we love ourselves. In order to love others properly, we must first love ourselves. You must pour back into your spirit so that you can do more and be more for others. Without further ado, let us jump right in!

  • Shower with the Lights Off

Slow down and let those deliciously warm drops of water touch you. Don’t be in a hurry, your best ideas tend to come when you pace yourself. Get comfortable with your thoughts. Be careful when stepping out so you do not slip and fall.

  • Lay on the Floor in the Dark

This sounds ridiculous but oh how relaxing it is! Pick a clean and quiet space, turn off your phone, and unplug the fridge so it doesn’t hum. Breathe slowly and hone in on one thought. This is a good time to pick a psalm, a proverb, or a quote to focus on.

  • Count Your Blessings

Don’t focus on the flood so much that you miss the rainbow. Learn to look up and leave your worries below for a moment. Name your blessings one by one. You are alive, there is hope.

  • Be Kind

Do something for someone else without expecting anything in return. The next time you’re feeling helpless, help someone. Remember that you are blessed beyond measure. It might just take a little more effort to see that when things go wrong.

  • Pray

This should be the first thing to do. Pray without ceasing and offer thanks for who you are and who you will be. God is near to the brokenhearted. You are not an afterthought, you are not a mistake. The Creator looked at all the good things in the world and thought it still needed you. Your talents and abilities are his gifts to you. Be grateful for that.

  • Create a Treasure Box

Get a random box and fill it with all the words and wishes others have given you on any occasion. You could even fill it with notes you have written yourself. When you feel down, affirm yourself with those words. You is smart, you is kind, you is important.

  • Journal

And light a candle while doing so. Pour your heart out on those pages. Create an atmosphere devoid of distractions and center yourself. The beautiful thing about journaling is that when the storms are over, you can look back on how you rode the waves.

Eat, sleep, exercise, and surround yourself with good people. Those who challenge you, who inspire you, and those whose shoulders you can lean on. Life is suffering, it is tough. But so are you.

Quotes I Live By

The winter semester is going by really quickly! I feel like I have just kept doing things non-stop. Last week was really hard for me and it was really hard to find quiet time.

So this week I am trying to remind myself of why I do the things I do and take more naps. Today on the blog, I will be sharing quotes that I try to live by.

These are from people who have walked/walk the earth and won my admiration. Enjoy!

 

  • As a rule,  I don’t like suffering to no purpose. Suffering should be creative, should give birth to something good and lovely ~ Chinua Achebe
  • My job is to inform, not to convince ~ St. Bernadette
  • Life and death are in the power of the tongue ~ Proverbs 18 v 21
  • I can take hardship. I can sleep on the cold floor anytime. I can also sleep on a feather bed ~ Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
  • Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the highroad to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction ~ Margaret Thatcher
  • A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself ~  Proverbs 11 v 17
  • A cynical young person is almost the saddest sight to see because it means that he or she has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing ~ Maya Angelou
  • Every man dies, but not every man truly lives ~ William Wallace in Braveheart
  • That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for ~ Sam in Lord of the Rings
  • Love to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self ~ Mother Teresa

 

There it is, folks! What are some quotes that have helped you on your journey through life?

Green Behind the Ears

“The sweet converse of an innocent mind… is my soul’s pleasure”- John Keats, Sonnet to Solitude

I do not know how it happened but somehow, I began to see people rationalizing doing things for others only if they deserved or would appreciate them. Individuals promptly took to keeping their “circle” small and not trusting so easily.

In my lifetime, I have been described as many things. One of the most recurrent themes has been kindheartedness. I enjoy talking with people who are more advanced in years and time after time, they are baffled when I brush someone being mean spirited to me as an isolated incident.

Some of these people I have encountered are confounded when  I state my belief that although other occupants of the world are broken just like me, they usually have the best intentions. Their amazement is quickly followed by the words, “don’t ever change”.

Amongst the greatest marvels in the world is the sweet innocence of a child. This innocence is often blown out by adversity, like a candle in the wind.Continue reading “Green Behind the Ears”

Roused by the Sounds of Morning

The apartment I share is situated by a long road that bends to the left and to the right. At the dawn of summer days, sunlight filters through the window and wakes me. On crisp September mornings, I hear the rustle of leaves carried by the wind.

At night, it appears as though the cars zooming back and forth are rushing to or returning from another day of toil. Another day of making things come together for complete strangers.

When I get out of bed early enough, I brew a cuppa tea and see schoolchildren as they chatter and queue up. The jolly little fellows await the bus eagerly.Continue reading “Roused by the Sounds of Morning”