Grief. It comes in shades of black

It’s been 16 days since my sister passed away. We’ve received flowers, messages from people we hadn’t spoken to in years, all relaying their condolences. Each person saying how sorry they are and that if we need anything, they’re there. I’ve been mulling over that phrase for a while now. What exactly is there that people can offer at this stage?

It’s a season of pain. A season of unanswered questions. A season of shock, none of us saw this coming. It’s a season of wondering how to go on with life without someone that was a permanent fixture in your life. The common thing I’ve heard is that it gets easier after the funeral, and also that eventually in time this hollow feeling, becomes bearable. Well I’m waiting for those days. I’m waiting to wake up from this dream. I’m waiting to receive a reply from the WhatsApp messages that I’ve sent my sister. I can’t even think of her as deceased. It’s not something I would have ever thought I’d be saying.

She is in every second of my day. On Monday morning, I tried to go back to training and instead I ended up watching my bestie wod. I had moments where my heart felt the pain of being at a place where my sister encouraged me so much. When I started CrossFit she would drive me to classes and give me pep talks in her car. Throughout my life, she has always been there to motivate, encourage and offer me home truths, some of them uncomfortable but done as only an older sister can. I’ve had a few setbacks in my Crossfit journey, but my sister believed that I had what it took to become a top athlete in South Africa. After recovering from a nasty back injury, the rehab and the grind to being better in 2018, had already begun. Now I feel lost. Derailed. Seeing everything in black or variations of it. Being anywhere that isn’t my room, feels like a slap in the face. A reality that I hate to face. A reality that I have to face. A reality that I am forced to face. It’s a reality that means I have to function. It means I have to do something other than think about her. It means I have to go on with my life. It means I have to go on with my life without her.

I haven’t yet had any days that have felt easier or better than the previous one. Each passing day adds to the number of days that we’ve been without my sister. Each passing day adds to the number of days that we are in shock of having so suddenly lost our sunflower. The toughest person you could have ever met. She had a true warrior spirit that seemed to have been what held me together. She was my best friend, a protective older sister, and even though this is generally a tough one, she understood me.

I went for a run on Monday evening, there were heavy rain clouds which afforded some comfort to me that perhaps nature seemed to be grieving too. I ran in silence: fast and hard thinking of my sister who would find my starting pace a bit too fast to be sustained. I thought about all the times that I could have slowed down to accommodate her. I thought about how even with my grumpiness at having to slow down, she treated each run with me as though she were running with her best friend for the first time.

I think of her final words to me a lot. I think of how I didn’t even know that those were her final words. It feels as though there is a tear in my heart.

So when people say ‘I’m here if you need anything.’ Here is the ‘anything,’ that I would like and that I need: I would like for you to piece my heart back together. I would like for you to tell me how one goes on with a ‘normal’ routine when life has thrown in a situation that wasn’t supposed to be part of your normal. I need time to sit. Time to heal. Time to understand and time to grieve. Now is a good time to press the pause button on life. The remote must be hidden.

Grief.

It comes in shades of black.

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

C.S Lewis

The Problem of Pain

Keep that core tight! 

A couple of days ago I was crying to God because I’m currently nursing a back injury which means that for the past two weeks, I’ve been unable to lift heavy. It is absolute torture!!! Going to the box, watching people throw their bars while I’m there stretching my lumbar spine 😴 and then the torture became too much and I relented to stretching and doing my core strengthening exercises at home…where I could sulk and pour as much as I wanted. All the while thinking, would I ever be able to lift without any pain again? Were my arms going to waste away into tiny little weeds? Were my thighs going to become floppy and forget how to power up when squatting? Was I going to lose all my strength? This was the trajectory that I was scared I’d go down on. 

Later that day, while soaking in the bath (still feeling very much sorry for myself,) I was listening to Ben Bergeron’s podcast chasing excellence and the topic was ‘redefining adversity.’ Ben spoke about how your reaction to failure, in my case, my reaction to injury, is what would define the outcome. One of the examples he used about adversity handled the right way is Katrin not being able to rope climb at regionals in 2014 and not qualifying for the games. She could have easily adopted the ‘woe is me’ attitude, but we all know that she didn’t and that’s why she’s the two time reigning fittest woman on earth! I listened to this podcast and I immediately switched my thoughts to: hey, I can love every single minute of these next few weeks because I’m working on foundational movements that will make me a better athlete. The bar’s still gonna be there when I get back; so will wall balls. 

Everything will be waiting for me when I’m 100% again, and I have a sneaky feeling that I’m going to be stronger, faster and even better than ever. A few minutes later as I was doing my core workout, thinking about how the lack of stability and strength in my core was one of the factors that contributed to my back injury, I began to think about how in life and in our walk with God, a lack of stability in our belief that God’s love is for us; is often what causes us to stumble in life. 

For such a person ought not to think or expect that he will receive anything [at all] from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable and restless in all his ways [in everything he thinks, feels, or decides].  ‭‭James 1:7-8‬ ‭(AMP‬‬)

To believe that God loves you and that His love is for you, is the foundational truth upon which our lives should be built. This statement is what will cause you to be stable in the face of adversity. 

What does this adversity look like? Very simply, adversity in our Christian walk is anything that threatens to shake our identity in Christ and how we view our beautiful Jesus. This adversity can come in the shape of thoughts where you feel that you aren’t good enough; that you’ll never amount to anything. These thoughts trickle down into the depths of your soul and begin to shape a new identity, a false identity; one where you’re not made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) one where you don’t live boldly and without hindrance (Acts 28:31,) to do all the God has destined for your life. The only way that this can change is by renewing yourself daily with the word of God, putting on your new nature (Colossians 3:10) and trusting in His love for you. Trust in God begins with a thought as simple as ‘God, I’m going to believe that you love me and that you will lead me down the path of everlasting life. I’m going to trust the directive that you have for my life.’

When I repeat such seemingly simple phrases, (the Gospel is after all simple truth,) I find that my anxiety level drops by at least 90% and the striving ceases. Repeating such simple truths daily is what has crafted and is still crafting me into the type of woman that I want to be for Jesus. Notice that I wrote for Jesus! We become unstable and restless in all of our ways (how & what we think, feel & believe,) when we try to gather up all the different selves that people want us to be, into one. 

We’ll never achieve anything by such double minded living; the saying goes you can’t please everyone because you’re not Nutella, so why not choose to live for Christ, to please Him, doing your utmost for the Highest. In making this decision to live just and only for Him; you’ll find that all adversity does is strengthen your identity in Christ and push you closer to what He’s planned for your life but you have to choose. Nothing great ever came forth from being passive, core strength included. So today, on this beautiful Sunday, think about the little changes you can make to put you on the trajectory to an unrivaled life of excellence empowered by God, and as you think of those changes you can make, go ahead and do it! 

Now that we’ve covered the faith part of this post, let’s throw in some fitness. 

Here are 5 of my favourite core busting moves, starting with the move that’s in the image:

1. Wall squats with dumbbell 

Stand in front of a wall and hold a light dumbbell (or kettlebell,) in an overhead position. Keep your core tight and your arm straight as you lower down into a squat. This is mega hard for me and highlighted just how much I tend to lean forward with my back when squatting. I could only do 1 when I first started these and now I’m up to three, I typically do 3 sets of 3 after my main workout which these days is just simple bodyweight and Pilates. I’m working really hard at not leaning to the side, use a light weight for these. My dumbbell was 5kg; pull that tum into your belly, your core will feel it and you’ll get bette each time. 

2. Wall climb 

Start in a plank position or for an even harder progression, start flat on your stomach with your hands slightly outside your shoulders to support them as you start climbing up. Resist the urge to twerk up the wall, you’re not in a hip hop video and you aren’t using your bummy to get you up. It’s all in the core so don’t let your back dip. Using opposite arm and leg, climb up the wall until your nose touches the wall, 3 sets of 10 will set your core on fire. 

3. Downward dog 🐶 

This is a favourite of mine; nothing gets at those hamstrings and lengthens my back, better than this doggie! Start on all fours, your wrists about 15 to 30cm in front of your shoulders. Separate your knees hip width apart, curl your toes underneath. Push evenly into your palms, lifting your knees off the floor. Lift your sit bones and push the top of your thighs back so that your body looks like an inverted V. Slowly start to straighten your knees without locking them, gently moving your chest back towards your thighs. Don’t let your head do a little dangle dance. Lengthen your spine, keep those hips lifted and push strongly into your hands. Hold this post for 10 deep breaths and repeat 5 more times. It’s okay if you can’t keep your heels on the floor, I’m still fighting ridiculously tight hamstrings but practice makes perfect. I’ll get there, and so will you! 

4. Bridge 

This pose is great for spine realignment and teaching you how to use your gluteal muscles. It’s pretty straightforward! All you do is lie on your back with your knees bent directly over your feet, hands by your heels and palms up. Use your abs (I promise they’re there,) and glutes to lift your hips and torso towards the ceiling. Hold for five to 10 breaths. Lower down, starting with your upper back and finishing with your lower back, keeping your pelvis tilted up. Repeat this 5 more times and you’ll be well on your way to building a bridge that’ll get you over troubled waters. Was that mildly funny? No? Okay onto number 5! 

5. Bow 

This pose is one that I really battle with but I love the way my back feels afterwards. Lie on your stomach with your legs hip width apart and bend your knees then reach back and grab the outside of your ankles or the top of your feet. Inhale, pressing back through your legs as you lift your thighs and chest off the floor. Then press your feet back into your hands, drop your chin to your chest and breath deeply. Release and repeat 3 more times. 

I’m not enjoying being injured, but through this I’m still learning more about the athlete that I will become based on the athlete that I was. There probably will be a lot of days where I’m going to cry because I can’t yet do all the things I want to do, there will be days when I’m probably still gonna cry when I watch CrossFit videos, but it’s okay. This isn’t forever. It’s just a little pit stop on the way to greatness. 

Right handed

I remember the day I started wearing the black band on my wrist…okay maybe I don’t remember the exact date BUT I do know that it was a couple of days before my 27th birthday (loved that day!!!) I was on ‘fuel for fire’s’ Instagram page where they wrote about the white rubber band that reigning fittest woman on earth, Katrin Davidsdottir wears on her wrist to keep her from complaining or having a negative mindset. 

I very heavily document the highs and lows of my emotions, and having suffered with depression; sometimes it can feel like you’re just never getting better, I have days where I seriously question whether there might just be a very hormonal pregnant woman hiding in the deeper parts of my belly 🤔 However I have begun to ACTIVELY work on healing myself; no longer the passive bystander, constantly coming up with excuses on why things will always stay the way they are. 
For me; one of my excuses was: ‘hey I’ve suffered with depression and I’ve been through so much, people don’t know what I’ve been through. Besides I’m kind of trying to improve my mental game, I haven’t said can’t in agessss. At least I’m trying!’ 

Was I really trying? 
Are YOU really trying? 

The dangerous thing about excuses is that if we repeat them to ourselves long enough; they condition our minds into believing that these excuses are the gospel truth. Luckily for me, Jesus really loves me, (I mean I know we have the childhood song ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…’ BUT this girl over here, I’m His favourite!) and it is because of this fierce and passionate love that He will 9 times out of 10, swoop in like the hero that He is to destroy the excuses, as well as the wrong mindsets [strongholds] that oppose the great plan that He has for my life. Sometimes Jesus (along with some very wise friends,) has to remind me to drop the crutch. Don’t try, no excuses, just do it! 

So when I started wearing my rubber band; (mine is a black one that I got from A21, an organization that fights human trafficking, a cause very important to me,) I evaluated the things that are important to me not just as a human but also as a daughter deeply loved and highly favoured by God. These things are: Jesus, CrossFit, doughnuts and Jesus. Everything begins and ends with Him. As I questioned my motives and searched my heart in what has been a turning point in my spiritual health; I came to the realization that not only in CrossFit, but even in my walk with God, I had applied a lot of excuses, cutting corners where I could, sugar coating what was indeed laziness, with a WHOLE lot of excuses. Excuses that seeped into (and were threatening to derail,) my pursuit to become a top CrossFit athlete. 

My most popular excuse: I just don’t have time; I’m always working, and you know what? It might seem like a valid excuse (and for those who know me; they’ll know that I am indeed almost always working,) but whether you’re working or sitting on your 🍑 at home; life goes on, people go on. As you neglect to do what you can to ensure healthy spiritual growth or in the case of my fitness pursuit, better athlete ability; it doesn’t mean that everyone else is neglecting those areas.  

People were getting their muscle ups strung together. People were falling deeper in love with God. 

And me? 

I had a tug of war going on in my head. The very things that I wanted to achieve, I couldn’t even visualize myself doing. There would be a nervousness that would gnaw so viciously at any confidence that I had in myself; leaving me with just enough to get by (you’re survivin’ honey, but not thriving.) Not enough to excel, just enough to not completely sink. 

It was time for a mindset shift; for good this time. I hate to give this guy credit 🙄 but coach 1/2, Bruno, has been someone who I am learning a lot from in terms of creating in your mind a space where the energy that you draw from while training, while living, is always positive and life giving. A few weeks ago, I walked into the box for the best class; 5am and looked at the wod. This was a spicy one that was 10 rounds long, and because it had one of my favourite moves; front squats, I didn’t even bother reading twice before deciding that RX+ was going to be my portion that day; front squats at 40kg , easy for girls with thighs and just my kind of weight; (heavy just how I loooves it!) thrown in were double unders & handstand push ups. Now I don’t hate handstand push ups but in my head (on that particular day,) I felt that I had regressed. I wasn’t looking forward to the HSPU, but when you love squatting (or deadlifts;) you’ll go through any ugly movement (toes to bar are there,) to get to your cake, and front squats…that was MY cake, cake, cake! 🎂 

Front squats done, quads singing 🎤 and then I walk to the wall. Handstand push up timeeee!!! At least that’s what I thought; I could barely get on the wall which was frustrating to me because I have video evidence of me stringing 6 kipping HSPU together. On that day; I couldn’t even get 2. I could feel myself getting more and more frustrated each time I had to approach the wall, but before I could start crying (I cry a lot at the box haha,) I looked at my band and as much as my coach offered the scaled options to me; I (like to think that I was polite,) declined. Today was a great day to practice not allowing my mind to wander off into negativity land, and potentially even quit; I was not going to do that, ESPECIALLY because I had in my tank, the memory of being able to do HSPU’s.  

Wearing my black band (and telling my coach about it,) held me accountable; it meant that everyday I would choose  positivity. I had to keep my band on the right, which meant no complaining, no sucky attitude approaching any wod or movement. Now more than ever, I feel accountable to God. Am I squandering what He has given me? What did I believe, what do I currently believe? About who I can become as a Christian woman. About who I can become as an athlete? 

It’s no longer about not verbalizing the negative comments but also not thinking negatively! It was hard when I started and it’s still hard now. It’s going against what used to be your normal, it’s going against everything you’ve ever known as the right way to think. It’s fighting the battle within, and winning. Your mind doesn’t control you, you control it! 

The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself- the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us- that’s where it’s at. 

Jesse Owens