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

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.