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Dear younger self

By Karen Racelis Published Dec 30, 2022 5:00 am

In second grade, you were excited to do cross-multiplication. 

Paint that time with me. You walk up to the blackboard where the problem waits. White chalk scratches at a high pitch but you grit your teeth and keep writing. “Draw diagonal 1.” “Cross with diagonal 2.” “Multiply your denominators.” 

Your heart races as you solve fractions in a way Section B has never seen, but Papa taught you and you consider it your noble duty to show your classmates. 

You step back, wiping chalk dust from your skirt, hoping your math teacher doesn’t notice. Inhale deeply. Said math teacher checks your work. You don’t need air, you think. You just need her to say “Correct.” And she does.

Your friends burst into confused questions in their seats as you hold your head high. Walk back to your seat, because this lesson isn’t just about numbers. It’s about you, too. 

Here’s an equation for you: your worth is not the sum of the grades on your exams.

In the following 24 months, you bury your head in scratch paper, explaining numerators and denominators to your first barkada. You are eight years old, already spending lunch break in the library.

At several points, you find yourself hoping there’s homework because you know the answers and you need to prove you can reach them.

The teacher puts a stamp on every problem sheet “well done” and that ink becomes the symbol you hope for each day. You come to identify yourself with each “Excellent” scribbled in a red star. 

Here’s an equation for you: your worth is not the sum of the grades on your exams. Still, I forgive you for how tightly you held onto those scores.

At fourteen, you get the prettiest jacket ever. It’s black, but it catches the light. Twitter says bomber jackets were big in the ’90s, so it’s no wonder this style accompanies the resurgence of mom jeans. You wear it at least twice a week, whispering a silent thank you when class activities are held in the air-conditioned hall. 

Do you remember that jacket? You wore it with almost anything: dresses, joggers, the school uniform, and the PE uniform. Watch how you put it on. You pull a white shirt down, right arm in, left arm in, mandatory mirror selfie. You don’t usually take pictures, but your jacket deserves some flash. 

This era won’t last long, but the clothes will! Your signature pieces, aside from that bomber, are a woven cardigan, a striped A-line, and a pair of immaculately white Nikes. You carefully plan outfits so that every time you get caught in a group photo, you need not fear the Instagram tag. You learn how to wing eyeliner as though it’s a first-aid skill. 

Here is something you should know. Your worth does not increase every time your wardrobe gets updated. However, I forgive you for finding comfort in your image in the mirror. 

On your way out of high school, you win your first solo championship. It is October. You hold your breath as they count down from 15th place.

The conference host says name after name, none being yours, and you almost give up. But in the middle of a group hug that you did not see forming, you finally hear it. First place. Your name.

Your favorite coach drags you to the stage and someone shoves a yellow certificate into your hands. Do you remember what you thought, as phone cameras clicked away? This is it. This is who I am. 

Your worth does not increase every time your wardrobe gets updated.

Here’s what I want you to know. You are not made more valuable by every medal you bring home or less valuable by the medals that slip away. Still, I forgive you for wearing your victories as badges of honor. 

You are 17, nursing a broken heart for the very first time. Your phone is on the other side of the room because you keep telling yourself not to text him.

It’s cyclical. You pick up the phone, tap in emphatic words without sending them, and put the phone back down. You walk away, knowing that you will pick it up again. You ask your friends the same question: Was I not enough? 

You spend four weeks in jealousy. The girl that gets to be his deserves all the love in the world. You know that, but you can’t bring yourself to feel the joy of that love. She’s prettier. She’s friendlier. She’s better than you in all the ways that matter to him.

Here’s the tricky part. The measure of you is not the amount of love that he gave you, but I forgive you for measuring your worth against that of the girl he chose. 

Five years later, you will pack up to move to your dorm for law school. As always, the last to go into the bag is your books. You will scan the family shelf just in case. It will peek at you from the very edge.

Mama’s book has a pale blue cover: a frost-capped mountain, a tree, and a flock of birds. Your earliest bible studies will resurface. “More than many sparrows,” you will whisper to yourself. 

You are more than how much you achieve.

The sparrow is three inches tall. Mama says that God knows every time the tiniest one falls onto the ground. That’s how much a single sparrow matters to Him.

Imagine how much you are worth to Him then,” Mama reminds you every few months. You are worth more than many sparrows.

You are worth more than the grades you get. Your measure is beyond how trendy you look. You are more than how much you achieve, and your value definitely surpasses the love any boy will give you.

At the end of 2022, you will sit down for this letter. I write to you from your study desk at twenty-two years old. You will whisper a simple prayer: “Help me.”

“Faith” is something you have clutched since you learned the word. It is in faith that I write these words of forgiveness.

Your worth, little one, comes from the Father who loves you. As such, your worth is constant forever. No matter how many times the world will whisper that it holds your value, the world will always be wrong.

I forgive you for listening to it, but one day you will come to know better. And when you do, take courage in the fact. Take courage in the knowledge that you will always be worth “more than many sparrows.”

For now, I leave you with the words you will cling to in time: Never give up hope. Never tire. Be not afraid.