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Dear Ibiye,

I am quite sure this will take you unawares. It’s 8 p.m. You may still be at your party, wearing your beautiful flowing dress or your short shorts and strap-on boots, relishing the attention everyone is giving you. Or you may be home fighting back tears for the number of people you hold dear who didn’t call, didn’t text and, needless to say, didn’t use you as their display photos on WhatsApp. Whether you are feeling overly important or totally insignificant or in the middle of both right now, I hope you find the strength to read through all I have written here. It may change how you feel. It may not.

You’ve just turned eighteen, girl, and there are many things you know already. Your wisdom shines in the good decisions you’ve taken up until now, your maturity shows in your victories over the numerous inward teenage battles you have fought and won, or are still fighting. Indeed, since insecurity, a lack of a healthy self-esteem or even depression hasn’t kill you yet, you are a fighter, one to be applauded.

And this is the major reason writing this is hard. What can I possibly tell you that you didn’t already know? You’ve taken responsibility for the results of your actions so far; results which largely were plausible, I must say. People spoke and advised but it rested on you to accede to their admonitions or not, to apply their principles in your life or not. Ultimately, you made the decisions, you held your life together to where it is now for the most part.

Still I write, because, you see, life is short, and indefinably so too. I would not want to hold regret for what I never said. I would not want to regret not being a good enough sister.

I am twenty now but I remember that at 18 and almost throughout my teenage life, I needed a big sister. I needed someone who would re-affirm in my ears that the wrong I heard was wrong was really wrong, and that the right was hard but worth choosing. I needed someone who understood the feelings. Yes, there were friends whose voices of reason I hearkened to; there were far off women I claimed as virtual mentors; and there were books I read—but they never did cut it. There was a void. One that was soon visible in the derogatory manner I both spoke about myself and carried myself. I was confused and I felt that no one understood or could understand, because I too didn’t understand.

Perhaps you also have that void, that void that can only be filled by having a present big sister. Or maybe you are lucky enough to have friends, big sister figures who sufficiently fill that void. Whichever way, I wish I was there more. I wish I did not just bear the tag “sister” but was also a friend and confidant. I cannot make promises now but I intend to try harder, starting with this letter.

Leaving school has taught me so many things. One of which is the diverse roles the people we choose to hold dear to our hearts can play in our lives. For everything I have become or obtained at any particular time, whether good or bad, it has been largely as a result of the people I called friends at that time. So I say to you, if you have found good friends, the ones that spur you on to success, hold them closely. They are rare.

On the other hand, if they are the opposite, if they are clearly uncomfortable with your success, if all they bring is unwanted drama and plain pain, let them use the door. You are better off without them. Trust me, or don’t, just take heed to what I write: I’ve had experiences and I’ve learnt to love myself enough to know when to say no and use that magic word without apologies.

Asides this antagonistic set, there are others you must be alert to. Those you are not even sure you can call friends but who hang around, always taking. They are parasitic and their sole purpose, I tell you, is to exploit you. These ones, girl, flee from them. Use the door and never turn back because if you do, like I have done several times, you’ll watch yourself grow drier and drearier as the days pass.

Another thing is the need for balance. We both were raised in a society where the full potential of a person to a very large extent is sized by their termly academic performance, at least while they are still in primary and secondary schools. It did us good, for the most part. You acing almost all of your exams till your current 200 level in the university, me leaving university with a first class degree. There were expectations people had of us and we strived all our lives never to let them down.

But, darling, I have learnt that as important as these things may be, they are not all, not even close to all. And we can have all, or better, achieve balance in all. A good degree without good friendships isn’t a wholesome life. Paper grades with no common sense, no wisdom on how to live with people or make reasonable decisions, is useless. A first class honour without empathy for those who weren’t as blessed academically is pride enthroning itself in your life. And of course, all the degrees from all the prestigious universities without a fulfilling purpose are a total waste. But we—you—can balance all the areas of your life perfectly. Excellence in one doesn’t have to mean failure in the others. It is hard work, but it is possible.

Through various trials and errors, I have discovered that the best way to live both a balanced and fulfilled life is by always having purpose at heart. And so this word, “purpose,” has become my watchword. While thinking of mine and trying to live it, I have realised that contrary to the many sermons we have heard about it, purpose rarely appears to us out of the blue. Its appearing is most times gradual—poking its head through things we’ve come to love doing, things we are exceptionally good at, and the places we find ourselves. Purpose is the one thing you live for and can die for, they say. So, deliberately ease yourself into finding it, girl. Explore. Think. Pray. Read. Read again. Then try. Don’t be scared to try. Don’t be scared to fail. I have learned that you can hardly get exclusively good at anything without failing.

Nonetheless, in everything you do, girl, put your best foot forward. This is what makes you excellent, the commitment to being your best, this is what makes the difference. Count the cost and be ready to pay the price.

Remember also the many prices that have been paid on your behalf, on our behalf. Staying home alone with Daddy these past few weeks has made me think a lot of the price he and Mummy paid to get us where we are now, and where we’ll be in the near future. Theirs was a sacrifice they hoped in. Theirs were seeds they sowed in tears, in pain with the assurance that they’ll reap in joy. They gave us the best lives they could afford in exchange for all the material things they denied themselves of. We owe them, in no small way. We owe them our success. We owe them our shine. We owe them our exceptionality. These, I can say, were largely what kept me going in school the many times I got tired of trying and wondered why I even had to. Let it keep you going too in everything you do. Let it be what makes you sometimes forsake the comfort of sleep and the excitement in vain, endless chatter with friends. If nothing drives you, let Daddy’s happiness and Mummy’s pride be enough.

In the matter of relationships with guys, I know you are not ignorant. But still, I’ll tell you. Just because. Your beauty is a conspicuous one. Your figure is one I am not sure the most intense High-Intensity Interval Training will fetch me. So I am sure guys abound who want to be more than just friends. But, babe, shine your eyes. There are many sob stories already. Please don’t be one more. Not all that glitters is gold.

If you’ve never heard it elsewhere, hear it now from a very genuine heart: you are special and worthy of a good man. So don’t be scared to want one. They still exist. Do not settle for just anything, especially if it entails forgoing the core qualities of trustworthiness, a strong faith, and a good heart. If it will mean you being single for a while, it’s worth it. Getting comfortable with and getting to know yourself better are topics for another letter all together but you could as well use your time to do those. I’m here. I’m single too and it’s really not that bad. I am not bothered, to say the least, because I know what I want is out there, somewhere. If you do not remember anything after this long rambling, remember that a good man still exist.

Lastly, and most importantly, I hope your relationship with our other Father is doing well. Wait. You didn’t just interpret that as ‘I hope you haven’t sinned lately,’ did you? I hope not. On my own part, these past few weeks have had me conscious of His merciful arms wrapped around me. It’s so cozy in here, I do not want to leave. I’m totally useless without Him. His love is to me a banner, it covers me thoroughly regardless of my many shortcomings. I’m glad you’ve come to know Him yourself because to attempt to explain Him to you or anyone else will be to start an endless journey. Knowing Him is a completely personal experience, one that continues until we take our last breath, if we remain yielded to Him. I hope you let Him make you the woman He wants you to be. I hope you let Him mold you into an image of His Son. I hope you let Him be God in your life.

We are the product of one man, our father’s undying trust in God. We are miracles. And while Daddy’s prayers and faith in God are priceless, it is time now for us to begin to say our own prayers and have our own faith, for ourselves and our children to come.

Enough already. Always remember I love you—we all do. Happy 18th, girl. Let’s talk about the things you want to talk about soon.

Your Sister,




About the Author:

Mercy Max is an Engineer who works better with words than with tools.