[dropcap]T[/dropcap] his is what I wish I knew as a teenager. I was the definition of untouchable in high school: a black girl in a white school, a working-class girl with wealthy classmates, and a Christian girl in an amoral environment. I was a pair of Pumas in a world of docksiders. Rarely asked out on dates or invited to parties.
Lunch hour was an agonizing dance of popularity, disdain, or acceptance. Thank God for the girlfriends who surrounded me, little black-girl outcasts, whose common aim was to make good on the opportunities afforded them, excel, and keep our virtue. The last part wasn’t a problem because, at my school, only the most daring or rebellious wanted to date a black girl.
Huddled in my corner of safety, questioning the value of my hair and skin, aching to be seen, I know now that God’s hand was my shelter. He kept me from self-destruction. If I knew then what I know now, I would praise Him for the shelter. I wish I could go back and encourage my teenage self that I am more than OK–I am prized. I would tell myself:
● You matter to God. There were so many times when I felt invisible to everyone but my parents and my teachers. People would skip me in the lunch line. I would be the last person acknowledged in a conversation. My toes would get stepped on during rush hour on the bus or train.
God is not pleased when someone disrespects His image-bearers. He cares. He gives grace to the humble. He exalts His own. Think of how many people disregarded the widow who gave her mite–all she had–in the temple. How overlooked she must have felt. Jesus spotted her in a moment, and praised her.
● Don’t waste your time with music or people who will harm your soul.
● You declare your self-worth in how you speak about yourself, who you surround yourself with, and who you date.
I didn’t want to be seen with my parents for a while when I was a teenager, sadly. It’s the whole haze of hormones, blossoming physiology, and increased autonomy. Still, constructive expressions of independence are healthy. So…
● Creative ways to rebel:
Learn to sew. Sounds lame, until your tailor-made, one-of-a-kind outfits start an unduplicated and enviable trend. Plus, you bypass all the worrying about fitting into a certain size.
Read. Contrary to what marketers–and some classmates–want you to believe, knowledge is power.
Choose kindness. The power to do evil, or to do nothing, is not nearly as potent as the power of compassion. The impact of Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa will far outlast those of Bernie Madoff, Hugh Hefner, and Leona Helmsley.
Experiment with your hair. Preferably in the fall, or winter–before college and/or job interviews. (Just know that those pictures of you with the hot pink Jheri curl will come back to haunt you.)
● Your zits will not be there forever. They’ll clear up right about the time you get your first wrinkle.
● You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Your nose, your hair, your giggle, your gait…God stamped them with absolute approval, and then He broke the mold. Defy the voices that blaspheme who God made you to be. Defy them.
● Be daring in what you believe God for. Believe Him to heal your grandfather. Believe He can and will help you be the first to attend graduate school. Believe that He loves you and won’t let go. Believe that failure does not have the final say.
● When making decisions, ask yourself three things:
“What if I succeed?” (You ask,“what if I fail?” all the time, right?)
“Will my descendants be proud?”
“Would God kiss me on the forehead for this?”
● Wear sunscreen, skip smoking, floss regularly, and eat a colorful array of foods (mostly plants) in their most natural state. This beauty regimen is worth more than botox and lipo.
● Enjoy your food. Leave the food-fear alone, and treasure balance instead. Fried chicken, grease cascading down your palms? Good. A ripe mango, sweet and supple? Blessed.
● Open and maintain an interest-bearing account. You’ll never have an opportunity to stash earnings from a job or allowance–without paying rent, a car note, utilities, groceries, you get the picture–again. The earlier you start saving, the more interest you’ll earn.
● Give. Give generously. It’s better to receive than give. The Lord loves a miserly, stingy giver. Not.
● You can always make more money, but two things you cannot buy are character and time.
● Avoid the credit card pitches when you get to college. If you can’t pay for it now, you cannot afford it.
● Friends are like tattoos; choose them wisely. If you don’t see yourself with them in the long term, why bother with the short term?
● Forgive (yourself and others).
● Ask for forgiveness.
● Three phrases you should always use with reverence and sincerity:
I love you.
Sharifa Stevens is a wife and mother, singer, and writer. She earned a B.A. from Columbia University in New York and a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She lives in Dallas.