Genuine faith

Trusting even when it appears you have been forsaken; praying when it seems your words are simply entering a vast expanse where no one hears and no voice answers; believing that God’s love is complete and that He is aware of your circumstances, even when your world seems to grind on as if setting its own direction and not caring for life or moving one inch in response to your petitions; desiring only what God’s hands have planned for you; waiting patiently while seemingly starving to death, with your only fear being that your faith might fail — “this is the victory that has overcome the world”; this is genuine faith indeed.

George MacDonald

At the start of this year I did what has become a ritual for me, which is to write down my dreams, hopes and plans for the year ahead. As the year draws to a close, I think about how 2017 was a year full of unexpected moments, some of them pleasant, like falling in love with the most wonderful man 😍 and some not so pleasant, one of them being the passing of my darling older sister. There is so much that I remember about my last conversations with my sister, so many lessons and words of wisdom to apply to my life, that she left me with. As the middle child in a blended family of 8 children, I am accustomed to being the peacemaker. In the midst of temper tantrums being thrown by my younger siblings, I never felt as though there was room for me to throw a temper tantrum. Over the years it meant that I would bottle up my emotions, retreat into a corner and then come out when I had processed through whatever situation I was dealing with. My older sister Nadege, she was the best at teaching me that while throwing a temper tantrum would be satisfying in the moment, in the long run  it meant that you were always at the mercy of your feelings. My sister taught me that in order to make it through life without getting offended at absolutely every single thing, one needed to have the right balance of resiliency and vulnerability. Resiliency to recover quickly from difficulties, being able to spring back into shape; and vulnerability in order to learn that sometimes you recover quicker when you let others in, as opposed to doing what I did for a long time, isolating yourself.

As I live in the aftermath of my sister’s death, the biggest challenge for me is believing that God is here, in the middle of the ‘suck,’ with me. In the days following my sister’s death, I would listen to ‘even when it hurts,’ by Hillsong Worship incessantly. It became the soundtrack for my grief, and while I don’t recall feeling angry towards God when it first happened, and even right now I don’t feel any anger towards Him, there is however a piercing pain that gives way to numbness, not wanting to process this unsavoury part of life and ultimatly not wanting to process through this with God. It’s a strange feeling to know in my heart of hearts,  that He is here with me, yet on days where the pain feels too much to bear, my heart (so fickle that it is,) begins to doubt and wonder whether God is here but just not here with me. This season is shaping out to be a painful one in which I am learning what it means to be called a person of faith. It’s a lesson in learning or perhaps a better word is discovering what the substance of my faith is. This last part of 2017 has marked my soul more than any other experience in my life. There’s a feeling of disconnect not just between God and I, but with people too. The latter part of the year has been eye opening, painful and the biggest test I’ve yet had in my walk with God. It has and is still revealing the substance of my faith. It’s easy to call yourself a person of faith when life is playing according to the script that you’ve written. It’s a different thing to still have this faith that believes God is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18,) and can heal all wounds, wipe away your tears (Revelation 21:4,) when you’re hit with tragedy.

The gentle reminder that I try to hold onto is that God’s love is complete and He is able to bring me back to Him. I don’t have the energy to fight the gentle waves of comfort that the Holy Spirit brings, the only energy that I am willing to expend is that which I will be using to wake up everyday and believe (with a deep conviction,) that eventually everything is going to be okay, and we’ve all heard the second bit ‘if it’s not okay then it’s not the end.’

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (KJV)

I don’t know that I can say that I am excited about 2018. There’s a little bit of fear as to what the next year might hold. There’s an anxiety that I have to quieten as my mind wonders if there is anyone else that I will lose. As I wrote this post, I resolved in my spirit to not allow myself to live in this state of anxiety and constant dread. Going into 2018, the only mantra I’m adopting is that of the verse above (Romans 8:28) and that below, if God who loves me, and is indeed sovereign and in control of everything, started it then He will complete it beautifully and lovingly as only He can.

There’s good to come out of this year (even as it draws to a close,) that will lay a strong foundation for the next year. There’s more to come out of you to get you closer to your dreams, to get you living out your dreams! There’s more, and it’s going to be good. I believe that the only thing God wants us to truly focus on, is Him. It does say in His word to seek first His kingdom (Matthew 6:33) and everything else will be added. I believe that to seek His kingdom means to be in pursuit of Christ, but also remembering that we too are being pursued by a breathtaking and passionate love. This is the belief that I pray will carry you through this last portion of the year, as well as through 2018. I’m praying that you would be steadfast in staying on the path that Christ has laid out before you, and for Him to use those unsavoury bits of 2017 to bring out a beauty and strength that you never knew existed, in you. I’m praying for more of His favour in your life, more of His peace, love and comfort.

Here’s to 2017 ending on a high note, and to 2018 being a strong, fierce and beautiful year for you!

I am convinced and confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will [continue to] perfect and complete it until the day of Christ Jesus [the time of His return]. Philippians 1:6 (AMP)

Athletes’ Corner part II: Adrian Conway

If I had to ask you about the most important part of a CrossFit box, what would your answer be? Facilities? Location? And then maybe after a little bit more thought, you’d say the coaches. In my opinion, CrossFit coaches are what make this sport unique and unmatched by any other. My first foray into CrossFit, at my very first box, I remember a coach who would be on his phone during wods, he spent the first part of the class with the competitive athletes so beginners that came in, never lasted for longer than two or so months. In this first year of CrossFit, as much as I would come to the box because I wanted to be fit and strong. On the flipside, I’d also approach each class with dread as to what movement I would be berated on for not being able to do it as he saw fit with very minimal instruction. One of those movements was the snatch. I would cherry pick and any wod that had a snatch in any shape or form, would see me skip that day. I wouldn’t even come for open gym sessions.

Frustrated I got a PVC pipe and learnt how to master these moves by watching videos on YouTube and reading CrossFit articles online. It wasn’t long before our box had to relocate and we got a new coach, Nuno. He will always be my OG coach, regardless of where I find myself in the future, I call him my first coach because  it was only when Nuno started coaching me that I began to see myself as a CrossFitter. A coach who cared about how his athletes, (ALL OF THEM,) moved. The pressure to load the bar for the sake of loading it disappeared, in fact I can remember wods where he would tell me to strip weight off after seeing horrendous technique and sure it meant sometimes I wanted to throw the weights he told me to take off at him, but it also meant that for the most part, I remained injury free. I have a separate article on this very special coach coming up so I won’t say too much about him, although I kinda feel like I have haha! The point I want to make is this, in CrossFit especially, coaches matter! They’re a big deal, they’re the real MVPs. The success you have as an athlete is down to the work you put in, but you need people in your corner who help you work on those barriers stopping you from progressing in a sustainable and healthy way. In this part of athletes’ corner, Adrian tells us on what it takes to be a good coach!

  • What are the skills/characteristics a coach needs to in order to better relate to individual personalities at the box?

AC: No skills. You have to care. Coach Glassman said in order to be successful as a coach, “you have to be interesting, and you have to be interested.” To me this is a lot like Paul teaches us in the New Testament that we must be “all things to all men”. We need to care about who they are, get to know them and be willing to share ourselves with them as well.

  • A statement that often swirls around is that CrossFit isn’t for everyone. You’re a coach and a competitive athlete, in your own words, what is the appeal of CrossFit for someone who maybe doesn’t have any competitive aspirations, and is out to improve the quality of their life? How do you as a coach relate to those who don’t have as a goal to compete or make it to the Games?

AC: CrossFit isn’t designed to get you to the Games. CrossFit is designed to increase your work capacity across broad time and modal domains and do so for as long as you live. This training regime is designed for EVERYONE to live a longer fuller life. I don’t glamorise competing, it is not glamorous. I glamorise those that come in 5/7 days of the week, eat well and have great performance results to show it. I don’t create an ultra competitive environment, that is not the purpose. I don’t even talk about competing, there are many members at my own gym that don’t know I was at the Games as an individual or even what the Games truly are. And for that I’m proud because the Games and CrossFit in my gym are very different and I hope they always are. People having the ability to RX a workout here and there, people who get their first pull up, or their first real burpee, those people are the foundation of my community, those are our all stars. As long as coaches and box owners understand that and lead by example with lifting that up, they will have success at communicating that it’s for everyone.

  • As a coach, how do you know when to draw the line between encouraging & pushing your members, to knowing when they’ve had enough and need a bit of a breather?

AC: Experience is key for this one. We all learn hard lessons through experience. I’m sure I’ve almost killed a few people. Haha. But, again….people come to my gym to pay for my service, so they WANT to get better. I don’t need to do much to fire them up. I do this by being excited about what I teach and empowering their training. I’m very informative with the why’s behind what we do in my gym, this helps them own their workouts. They then know why we are doing something and what they should be getting out of it. There are some people who need a kick in the butt, and some people I need to tell to calm down….you learn that through genuine relationships and getting to know them. It takes simply time and effort.

  • What habits can be created/implemented in a box that can help in creating the sense of community and motivation that CrossFit is so well known for in order to create a culture where members keep coming back?

AC: Who you are, is who your community will become. If you are serving, honest, engaged, and caring….they will become that OR they will not like your gym. To me culture is what you create by who you are. You can’t tell people to be a certain way, you show them, and then they follow suit if they respect you. As a good leader you understand and see the balance of being a little of the lion and little of the lamb. I say that because you want to serve, care, love and help everyone….but at times you must remove cancers or dangers to your community from it. And being stern and honest can cut some to the heart, but those are hard things a leader of a community must do to protect the rest of the flock.

The next part in this series will be with you in the new year. Happy holidays lovelies. Enjoy this time with your family and see you in 2018! 

Mindfulness, what’s it all about?

In my efforts to be the best athlete I can be, I have explored different things that can help in legally enhancing your mental and physical capacities during a wod, and especially for the competitive athletes, during a competition, one of these things or techniques, is mindfulness. Due to a back injury, 2017 was a year that I had to rule out competing. When I started my rehab,  in the back of my head, I had the memory of what had happened when I last competed in 2016. It was at Last Man Standing, a 2 day CrossFit competition, and that year the wods favoured what I excelled in, or at least what I thought I excelled in : short quick wods with heavier weights. My training was consistent, however (isn’t it horrible that there is always a ‘however,’)  coupled with an erratic work schedule…hmmm that’s probably why I resigned (that’s a post for another day!) I fell sick with the worst flu virus that took me until the day of the competition to shake off. I suffered with feelings of nausea throughout the day but I chalked some of it up to nerves. The highlight of that weekend was throwing up on someones car, I’m sorry whoever you are. During that weekend, one of the wods we had involved pulling a sled with a rope, and an odd object overhead carry.  I was ahead with the sled pull until my rope got tangled on the sled and the very temperamental CrossFit diva that I was at that time, threw the towel in. I remember crying after that wod, hating CrossFit for about a minute and then having that mood trickle into all the other wods that weekend.

A couple of months later while taking inventory of the things that I could have changed prior, during and after the competition, I came across a post on social media where Ben Bergeron, owner of CrossFit New England, and coach of 2X Fittest Woman on Earth, Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir,  wrote about the technique of mindfulness that he uses with his athletes to keep them focussed during wods/competions on giving their very best effort, focusing on the things that they have control over and not variables that are subject to change. On that fateful day in September, I had no control on my rope getting tangled on the sled, but I could have controlled the trajectory of my thoughts, instead using that experience to fuel me to push harder and pace myself in a smarter way in the following wods, as opposed to having thrown a hissy fit, shedding a few tears, thereby  sabotaging myself for that weekend.

Mindfulness can best be described as the art of being present in the moment, it’s a training and disciplining of your thoughts so as to not allow them to wander off into thoughts of past efforts or future efforts. Mindfulness is focussing on the here and now. Being present, mind, body and soul, in the activity that you are partaking in. Mindfulness is an awareness of everything that is going on in your body. It’s a shift from doing things in response to what others are doing, and instead doing things in response to what will work out best for you. I’ve found that as I practice mindfulness, I care less about measuring myself up to other people victories and instead, I’m focussed on my path, my victories and my effort/s.

‘Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.’  Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is not only learning how to perform anything and everything with purpose and joy, but the idea behind it is to cultivate attention on the body and mind as it is, moment to moment, and so help with pain or moments of discomfort, both physical and emotional.  In those moments you are, (as you can probably guess,) mindful and acutely aware of everything that is going on around you, but most importantly in you. Mindfulness can be helpful in positively changing the perception you have of the world and yourself. In these moments of self-evaluation, you are able to pay attention to your why and (hopefully,) find the good, no matter how small it is, in whatever you’re doing.

Genetically, I consider myself exceptionally lucky to be able to build strength as easily as I do. Squats, deadlifts and donuts, that’s all that makes me happy. However (ooh there’s that word again,) ask me to do a wod that has running AND strength, and my mind immediately runs to the worst case scenario, where I’m left completely destroyed by Helen…that’s the wod that fills me with fear haha! In an effort to have and sustain the joy and gratitude that exists whenever I have a bar, kettlebell or dumbbells in my hands, I began to explore mindfulness as a means of learning how to transfer these happy emotions to any wod that has running.

Mindfulness & CrossFit, match made in heaven?

CrossFit is great for developing attributes such as endurance, strength and metabolic fitness, but in order to become a great athlete, when you’re taking stock of your progress (which we should all be doing,) you’ll discover that it is important to pay some attention to the external factors that can impact your training and therefore your performance on the comp floor. We’ve often heard it before that your mind is the most powerful weapon you have. Mindfulness is a way to make this muscle stronger. I’m a firm believer that an empty mind, very easily becomes the devils playground. An empty mind is easier to fill with junk. These junky thoughts start off with negative thoughts that you believe about yourself, and then eventually they become thoughts that you believe about other people. This highlights how important it is to be aware of what you’re choosing to focus on and giving your energy to. Mindfulness can form part of ones meditation practice in that for an extended period of time, using techniques such as journaling or deep breathing, you are aware of what’s going on with yourself. This technique of mindfulness is one that sports psychologists have studied and confirmed as a contributing factor to excelling in your training and competitive performances. In honing in your thoughts you become someone who will constantly show up at the box to be first. The definition of what it means to be first is that you’re an athlete who shows up to give their all. An athlete who as frustrated as they are at their rope getting tangled on the sled, is able to push those feelings of frustration aside because she realises that right now giving into that particular feeling will sabotage and not fuel her efforts when not harness correctly.

Ready to get mindful about what’s in your head?

Next time you’re headed to the box, aim to get there five minutes earlier. Pick a spot, put the timer on for five minutes, alternatively you can use a meditation app, I’ve listed my favourites at the end of this article. As you lay on the floor, allow your eyes to gently close, taking a few deep inhalations and exhalations, hands on your stomach, focussing on the movement of your stomach up and down with each breath. Your ribcage taking in that precious oxygen that is going to fuel you during that wod that you’re going to crush, think of a positive event that happened during the course of the day. It doesn’t have to anything grand, although if it is, that’s great! It can even be the fact that you woke up this morning. Focus on the emotions that you experienced when that event happened, reliving that moment in your mind, allowing it to vividly remember every aspect of that moment. At the end of your five minutes,  focus on holding on to those positive emotion through every movement that your wod will consist of.

A different way of practicing mindfulness is through something that I’ve learnt from Katrin Davidsdottir, she wears a white rubber band on her right wrist that she has to move to her left wrist anytime she has a negative thought or complains about a movement or wod. The goal is to keep it on the same wrist; it’s a lot harder than anyone would think!  This practice will create in you an increased awareness of the words that come out of your mouth and forces you to focus on the conversation going on in your head. The interesting thing is that even though I sought out mindfulness to improve my sports performance, eventually it trickled into my everyday life where I have been able to remove myself from people and surroundings that were adding to the strain that I was under mentally.

Favourite meditation apps:

Simple Habit

Zensong

Rain Rain

A few good reads to hone in your thoughts:

 The Champions Mind by Jim Afremo

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Soul Detox by Craig Groeschel

Athletes’ Corner part I: Adrian Conway

In light of what this blog covers (faith, fitness and everything else,) as a Christian first and athlete second, I can attest to the fact that 9 times out of 10, God has taught me the most when I am training. There exists a beautiful intersection between faith and fitness, one gleans the physical body, and the other gleans the spiritual body. If it wasn’t for God, I would be the sorest loser haha, and if it wasn’t for fitness, I would have a very unhealthy relationship with myself, others and food. I’ve always thought of fitness as the cheapest form of therapy. I love reading about other people’s faith and fitness walk and I cannot think of anyone better that I could have gotten to inaugurate this new feature on the blog than Adrian Conway!

Adrian wears many hats, as a competitive CrossFit athlete, he has won the affiliate cup with the Wasatch Brutes at the CrossFit Games 3 times. He is part of the Brute strength training team, and the CrossFit HQ L1 seminar staff. Adrian is an owner in the FNXfit supplement line,  recently became a gym owner ‘Live in Victory CrossFit’ , and if that wasn’t enough, he still helps run and coach at Wasatch CrossFit. The common thread in all of Adrian’s answers is this: hard work pays off but the way to have longevity is found in being consistent and being a person of integrity not just to others but to you. Massive thanks to Adrian for taking time out of his schedule to answer these questions. I was left inspired and motivated to do more and be more not just in my fitness, but also in my faith walk, which at the end of the day is what sustains it all. I am incredibly honoured and tickled pink to share this with y’all.

Welcome to the Athletes’ Corner!

  • So let’s start with a hash-tag that some of us will have seen on social media platforms, #Christianathlete. As spokesperson for the masses, I know that we’re all curious to find out your tips on what it takes to win the CrossFit Games, but before we delve into that,  let’s talk a little bit about your faith walk. What does it mean to you to be a Christian athlete, and how does that influence not just your training, but your life?

AC: I’m a Christian. That is what defines me, my actions, my words and my thoughts. An athlete isn’t a part of my identity, it is just something that I “do”. To answer your question directly, being a Christian man influences everything I do, so being an athlete is a very small part of that. It does reflect traits that carry well into my athletic pursuit however. I am a hard worker, always going to be THE hardest worker in the room or even in my field of current pursuit. I do this not because I want to be great but because as a disciple of Christ I’m called to “do all things as if doing them for the glory of God.” (Colossians 3:23).

I also know that how I win, how I lose, how I interact with my peers, the way I serve my community all have to be done in this way as well.

I tell people, and a lot of time I think they assume I’m being sarcastic and joking, that everything good you see in me comes from God. I mean it when I say it. My nature is not that of my actions, I have to make several internal decisions to be Christ like all the time, it doesn’t come easy, especially in the heat of a competition.

There’s a song called ‘One Sixteen’ by Trip Lee, that personally for me was a game changer. I recall being a young girl in church believing that the best place (the only place,) that I could honour God was there in church, but I couldn’t sing as well as the others and I wasn’t really a fan of people. So I said to myself perhaps I could volunteer somewhere in Africa…ironic seeing that I live in South Africa but it had to be somewhere more remote and more African…and then I heard this song. This was (as Oprah loves to say,) my ‘aha!’ moment, I realized that even in my training, I could honour God unashamed, fitness could be the way that I honoured Him and celebrated all the things that He had allowed this body to do and then by careful discipline, work on the things that it couldn’t yet do. This meant (and still means,) that anytime I want to have a stank attitude, I can almost audibly hear the Holy Spirit telling me ‘girrrlll is this really honouring me?’ and then the brat pipes down for a bit…

  • Can you pinpoint when you had your ‘aha!’ moment, how did that define your journey as an athlete then, and does it define/shape where you’re at as an athlete today?

AC: I’ve had a lot of ups and downs as a Christian athlete. When I first studied the Bible with a few men who were gracious and brave enough to invite me to, that changed my entire life. I grew up knowing of only hypocritical types of Christian worship which unfortunately is the majority of self-proclaimed Christian lifestyles out there. I saw men and women who claimed to know of Jesus not living anything like the Bible taught but showing up to church on Sunday and putting on the best front you could ever see. So as I studied with men that showed me on a day to day basis what it looked like to be a disciple of Christ, it strongly impacted me and encouraged me that I could do the same. Because becoming a Christian changed me so much, it changed how I competed. I often used rage, anger and fear as fuel on game day. I literally lined up against others with “hate” in my heart. In a violent sport line division like football in the US can be, it played to my advantage, but what it was doing to my heart and what I was reflecting wasn’t right. After I was baptized and my perspective on life and eternity really transformed I couldn’t pull on those “negative” emotions anymore. So much of my past that I had now forgiven or moved on from couldn’t be my fuel.

My passion took a shift from being self-focused, and hate filled to being the best instrument for Christ that I could be. He blessed me with gifts, it is my obligation to get the most potential from those gifts and allow them to be a tool to share his word and who he is with others. My aha moment was in 2007 at Weber State University.

In my faith/fitness walk, I have two central verses that I always go back to, Hebrews 12:11-12, paraphrased it reads ‘no discipline is enjoyable while it is happening-it’s painful (yes!) take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees.’ and Colossians 3:23, doing everything heartily as to the LORD. In a way it has strengthened my belief that through physical discomfort, there is a gleaning and strengthening of the spirit that happens, and whenever I come dangerously close to throwing an ugly tantrum, thankfully the part of my mind that remains under Christ’s control always goes to these verses.

  • What is the inner dialogue that you have whether it is during a wod or a competition, that keeps you centred and focused on giving it your all?

AC: I have always loved the verse Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I loved it even before I was a Christian, not fully understanding the meaning, I took it as God would give me the ability to do literally ANYTHING almost like a superman type of perspective. Now it means much more. I like to look at the verse in the full context. Prior to verse 13 Paul describes that through his walk with Christ he has both been in situations where he has had great needs and also where he has had plenty but that through Christ he knows he can do anything. So, from my perspective no matter what I must endure in order to improve or to seek victory, I know Christ provides that for me. I love many scriptures though, and I think about a few others while competing as well, but for life in general, and when competing that is my favourite as I rock that verse on my inner left wrist.

About two months ago, I injured my back and I remember my coach telling me to scale the wod, but we’ve all unfortunately at least once, listened to the egotistical voice inside of us telling us to keep going. I recall stopping mid-wod and crying because I was in so much pain. I very sheepishly realized that had I listened to my coach (sometimes they know better haha), I would not have ended up in tears, aggravating an existing injury, I’m sorry Bruno. I’d like to say that it was on that day that the stubborn streak died, but I went through a few more months of painful training sessions, back getting worse, for me to finally put to the grave… ok partially put to the grave my stubborn streak.

  • Have you ever had moments similar to mine, where against your better judgement, you pushed through pain, (maybe you didn’t cry like I did…or maybe you did,) and suffered a setback? What did you learn from that situation?

AC: Of course I’ve had moments where I don’t listen to my instincts and others advice, I’m a boy! Haha. I joke but it’s true. Pride is the fall of all men. And I battle with it daily. I have had a few instances, one specifically that led me to injuring myself prior to the 2014 regional days before the competition. I trained so much that I beat my body down, the week out instead of resting, trusting my training and de-loading, I trained hard and kept up my attack. I did this really out of insecurity. I was worried I wouldn’t win the regional, and that was my goal, crush everyone. (See I’m ruthless still in my own mind, dominance is always the goal, not mere OH HEY, let’s just do our best…..sounds again brutal but its quite cowardly for me to claim that’s all I want when it’s not true.) So out of my inability to trust the process, I trained on, and had to end my season very early. That year I was the fittest of my career and the programming at Regionals and at the CF Games was likely the best if I could have chosen the events, that I could have asked for. I look back thankful for the missed opportunity because again, I’m grateful for where God has put me. And what if I had made it? And then gotten top 5 at the Games? I think my life would have made several different turns, I’d rather be no where else than here, right now.

Part 2 drops like a hot potato on Monday 

So Will I

One of my dear friends Eunice, sent me the link to the song ‘So Will I,’ by Hillsong worship. I had seen this on social media, a lot of my friends go to Hillsong so the title was not a surprise to me. I was standing in front of my workplace, waiting for the video to load, and even before the song started playing, I had already decided that I wasn’t going to be moved. I’ve shared in previous posts about the passing of my sister, and everyday has been a wave of emotions that range mostly from sadness, despair, disbelief, anger and then whatever other mix of emotions that are floating around in the atmosphere.

Today was my day to be numb. No crying, no internal angry outbursts, no reaction to anything.

For about a minute…maybe even less, I was okay. I’m watching the video, listening to the words, my heart silently agreeing and as with all things heavenly anointed, my spirit moved by His spirit, tears start to well up in my eyes at this line ‘if creation still obeys You, so will I.’

This past month, I have found it incredibly difficult to sing to the LORD. I have found it hard to declare the good things because right now, I feel enveloped by the pain that grief so abundantly brings. What has been interesting for me is that while I have been sad and angry in regards to the way that my sister lost her life, I haven’t in my heart of hearts felt angry at Jesus. I’ve been battling dark thoughts in my head, biting my tongue from what it truly wants to say to well meaning friends who say that it’ll get better.

Yet in this season that hurts like hell, there is a hallelujah (הללויה) in me. The word ‘hallelujah’ is the amalgamation of two Hebrew words ‘hallelu’ (הללו) which is an exhortation to praise someone, and ‘Yah’ (יה) which is a version of Yahweh (יהוה) the English transliteration of the covenant name of God. Hallelujah therefore means praise Yahweh. My hallelujah song is not the strongest right now. I can barely get it out, and on the days that I manage to sing, those rare days that my voice somehow finds its way out of my mouth, my singing sounds off-key. The pain masking the beautiful melody that should be there, making me feel as though I’m singing along to a song that I wasn’t given the lyrics to.

In these moments, there is an awkwardness and stumbling in His presence, but I think what God wants me to learn, what God wants us to learn is that there are no pre-written lyrics to my/our hallelujah song. If there was, then it would mean that the individual and personal relationship we have with God is not unique, and is simply a copy and paste of what previous generations experienced with Him. Sometimes the melody to your hallelujah song will sound off-key. Sometimes the melody to your hallelujah song won’t be beautiful because the season you’re going through, is anything but beautiful. These are the highs and lows of life. These are the highs and lows of our walk with God. I am starting to realise that this season of pain is all the same lovely and dare I say a very scandalous thing! Precious, because in this I now get to experience a different facet of this loving God who remains kind, gentle and true even when life does not seem kind, gentle and true.

As I go through this season of a weak hallelujah song, this is what I have to tell myself, this is what you have to tell yourself if you’re going through a season of indescribable pain. It will not last forever.

Do I believe it? No

But do I believe in God, that He is able to turn this season of being covered in ashes into one of beauty*? Yes

This is the God who created the universe from nothing. This is the God who turned water into wine. This is the God who could not be defeated by death.

There are more days to come where I will feel utter confusion at what has happened, and circumstances in the future will probably bring me to a point where the strength of my hallelujah song will be tested again. It’ll happen to you too, and each time though it might not seem like it, though it might not feel like it, your hallelujah song will be strengthened. That is the nugget to hold onto, that Jesus who sustains you, is also able to strengthen you.

I am reminded of a resolve that I made 10 years ago, to follow Jesus. Some seasons are easier to follow and understand than others, but I won’t stop following. If the stars were made to worship, SO WILL I.

If the stars were made to worship so will I

If the mountains bow in reverence so will I

If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I

For if everything exists to lift You high so will I

If the wind goes where You send it so will I

If the rocks cry out in silence so will I

If the sum of all our praises still falls shy

Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times

*’to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.’

Isaiah 61:3 (ESV)

Other songs getting me by:

‘Even when it hurts.’ Hillsong Worship

‘God I look to You.’ Bethel Music

‘Holding my world.’ Kristian Stanfill

‘He’s been good.’ Ron Kenoly

‘Desert song.’ Hillsong

Just what is this blog about?

When I started my first blog, I was a confused 23 year old. I had some idea of what I wanted in life, but I was too afraid to go for it. Fast forward a couple of years later, I’m 27 now (my word!) and in some aspects, I’m still as confused now as I was at 23, but I’m no longer afraid…well I’m still afraid but not nearly enough to be stopped on my pursuit of making the world a better place. I know, I know! That last line sounds incredibly cheesy, but it’s the truth. I believe that in all of us, there lies a God-given gift (breathtaking in beauty,) that God intends for us to use to not just serve ourselves and our personal ambition, but to serve people, and better the world we live in. It’s a gift that knows no selfishness, and is abundant, in pursuit of excellence, and extravagant in all it does.

In my journey of faith, fitness & everything else, there are certain truths that I have decided, resolved to build my life upon. The most important one being that Christ is enough for me. Now just because my spirit knows this as truth, it doesn’t mean that I breeze through life as a perfectly behaved woman (they don’t make history anyway,) who always remembers this. When I want to be a little bit faster in a wod, in a race, I sometimes forget that Christ is enough. When I feel a stinky attitude cropping up because my snatch still hasn’t improved, do you think I remember that Christ is enough? Nope, I don’t. In fact in those moments where I am a bratty, self-absorbed, greedy (especially when it comes to sharing my food,) little drama queen, God has to remind me of this truth to guide me back home to the place where I am a woman more concerned with helping and serving others, than simply being focused on what the benefit will be for me.

Why have I called this blog, ‘faith, fitness & everything else’ ?

I believe that we are created by a passionate God who is creative, strong, breathtaking in beauty, and irreplaceable. I think that’s how He wants us to live: as strong, creative and breathtakingly beautiful men/women who are irreplaceable because of the unique gifts that they bring to the table in the sphere of influence that they are in. This essence of God is what I want to share with you on this blog. This blog is about my faith journey, my mishaps, and Lord help me, I hope some successes along the way to encourage y’all haha! It’s also about your faith journey, the beliefs that hold you together!

It’s about my fitness journey, but it’s also about your fitness journey. Your personal bests, your feelings of euphoria when you beat the old you that thought he/she couldn’t. And the everything else? Those are the things that make your life memorable, stories about the people that make a difference in your life. The ‘everything else,’ is also made up of those things that can make life difficult, those things that can make life heartbreaking, those things that can make life seem unbearable.

This blog is your outlet to be real, raw, and as transparent as you want to be. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to channel Taylor Swift and write songs about any ex…or person who has ever hurt you, here’s your place to lay it all on the table. This is a place where we will hold each other accountable for the change we wish to make in the world. It’s a place where I hope we’ll laugh together, cry together, grieve together and grow together through each other’s collective stories on how we’re navigating through life. This is a place where we will work out our faith, fitness and everything else, together.

Welcome to your new, (and slightly bonkers,) family!

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

The Sun’s Flower 

13 days ago my beloved sister passed away. 

Broken is an understatement. She was my best friend. The one who understood my neuroses. The one who would cry with me, the one who would cry for me as though everything that had ever hurt me, had hurt her. I miss her more with each day that goes by.  I’m haunted by thoughts of whether I could have saved her. Apparently once the funeral is done, things get easier. It isn’t easier. It’s harder.

Sleep evades me, and when I do sleep I wake up feeling as though I would much rather be in heaven with her.

My heart hurts.

Living hurts.

Everything hurts. 

Everything reminds me of her. 

The things I eat. 

The things I do.

I don’t know what it means to go back to normal & do the things I love when one of the people I love the most is no longer here. 

Nobody knew me more than my beloved older sister. I’m not going to be okay for a long time, so I guess this is where the faith part of this blog comes in. 
Day 13. It might as well be day 1. 

i am sorry this world 

could not keep you safe

may your journey home 

be a soft and peaceful one
~ rest in peace 
rupi kaur 

Integrity: doing what you say you’ll do 

This morning (and every morning for the past two months,) I have made it a daily habit to listen to podcasts that start my day off with either laughter, (Russell Brand on Radio X) or aligns my focus so that I can get the maximum benefit from tasks that I get to complete. I’ll be honest, when you wake up at 4:15 every single morning to make it in time for the 5am class, you have to coax you brain into deciding that you will apply the same (if not greater,) level of focus, determination and joy that early, as you would for a later time when you’re slightly more awake and pleasant to be around without the need of caffeine. 
When you train that early, you have to be mindful in every single thing that you get to do. In previous posts, I’ve touched on how practicing mindfulness, (i.e. changing my mindset) has helped in improving my performance as an athlete and recently my quality of life. As I progress on this journey, developing a healthy mindset (not just for sports performance,) is becoming increasingly important. This morning I was listening to a podcast by Brute Strength on ‘mindsets and gaining the edge,’ with 2nd fittest woman in the world, Kara Webb and there was so much gold in this podcast that I found myself having to do more reining in than I typically do, to my ridiculously ADHD brain that wants to spew out everything all at once! 

A word that came up in this podcast, and stuck with me, is the word  ‘integrity.’

integrity

– The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. 

– The state of being whole and undivided. 

It’s a word we use to describe people that we respect, admire or simply want to be like! I am very blessed to have coaches (and people,) who are loaded with this trait, and I’ve learnt (and continue to learn,) so much from them. If you have people like these in your life, treasure them. These people are great! These people are important, make sure to high 5 them next time you see them! Do you know what else is great & even more important? Personal integrity to yourself (comes in at about 35:02 minutes in the podcast…I’m on my third listen of this 🙈)
What you tell yourself you’re going to do AND then carrying out that action, speaks volumes about the person that you are to yourself. Are you undivided, honest and steadfast to the word or promises that you make to yourself? Are you a person of integrity to yourself? Do you honor the promises you make to yourself whether health wise or (for me especially,) in your faith walk? 

When you honor the promises that you make to yourself, and do them CONSISTENTLY, you begin to build personal trust in yourself, in your efforts, in your entirety as a living being. 

I had to ask myself this question: 

‘Do you trust yourself? Are you a person of integrity to Aurélie?’



Here’s the thing that I discovered as I attempted to answer this question; I couldn’t come up with a solid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. In my head these two answers were swirling around : ‘sometimes when I know I’m good at something, yeah then I definitely trust myself’ or ‘yeah when things are going well and usually when I feel like it, I’d say I have good personal integrity to myself.’  The goal is to get to a place where you can say: ‘YES I am a person of integrity to [insert your name over here] all the damn time!’ 

Life will offer you a multitude of situations (and people too haha,) to test the mettle of your character. Who is the person that rises up when demands are made on the moral fabric that ties you together? A great question to ask yourself when these situations (or people crop up,) occur: ‘is this true to the person that I want to be to myself? Will this enhance the relationship that I have with myself as a person of integrity?’ If it doesn’t fulfill that criteria, don’t compromise, no dilly dallying over here, say no! 

I am at a beautiful stage in my life where (slowly…slow doesn’t mean it isn’t happening,) I’m cutting off all the things that don’t align with the person I want to be (firstly) to myself, and then to others. I’m learning to match every moment of my existence to the purposes that I would most like to pursue. It’s what we all need to do, not the purposes that have been assigned to us based on gender, race and/or socio-economic status, not the purposes that people would like you to pursue. You have to be the one that decides these purposes. 
I’ll be honest, I don’t always get it right, habits take time to change (don’t make that your excuse/crutch though,) but I’m chasing greater personal integrity & excellence to myself and that’s something that should never stop. 
Not for me. Definitely not for you! 

The aftermath of listening to this podcast was a 5K run that I had half-heartedly planned 🙃, hence the post- run image for this post. Only subscribe to the Brute Strength podcast if you’re serious about bettering yourself; you just might end up going for a 10K run 😉 

Recommended reading: ‘Getting things done: the art of stress-free productivity.’ David Allen 

‘A champion is not the winner. A champion is a person who comes through in the final hour.’

Baby got back (issues)

I’m every woman…just ask my friends about my mood swings 😂 My favorite woman to be is the one that gives a damn about her health spiritually, mentally and physically. The one that tempers discipline with kindness and isn’t obsessing over what she’s had for dinner…even if it was four (okay five,) doughnuts 🙈 My favorite woman to be is the one that is decisive, no dilly dallying, and in control of everything going on in her life because her end goal is to have lived a life that will have firstly made God proud and then herself, I’ve purposely left out making others proud. You’re not here to be Nutella.
As I write this post, I’d love to say that I am always that woman who is in control of everything. Dynamic, minimal tantrum throwing (mine are always to friends thankfully,) and I would love to say that I am the girl who ALWAYS remembers to do her back strengthening exercises 🙈🙈🙈

But I’m not that girl yet.

Most evenings I have to rush through them and then quickly apply my favorite massage bar from LUSH (you can get it here, a treat for sore muscles!!!) and convince myself that I’ve done enough, when in truth I’ve done the bare minimum. 

For the past couple of months, I have been incredibly stressed to the point where I wake up in the middle of the night, heartbeat racing, as though at any moment my body would decide that life is a bit too much and decide to breakdown, if only to get me to stop. For someone with a personality like mine, being out of control is not something that I love or welcome. I don’t like anything being decided for me and I certainly do not like having to stop. Stop is something that I don’t do. Stop was something that I was forced to do when I found out that I have an extra vertebra, it’s called the L6 phenomenon…not really, but I call it the L6 phenomenon. If you remember anything about Biology in high school or maybe went on to study human anatomy in college, you’ll know that the spine is made up of 33 individual bones stacked one on top of each other and beautifully fused as only God knows how. (Ain’t it lovely how God has crafted the human body?) Your spine is divided into 3 parts: your cervical region, your thoracic region and the one that was really important for my L6 phenomenon, the lumbar region/curve. 
Image from Mayfield Clinic 

Usually you have 5 vertebrae in your lumbar region but as you would have guessed with all the L6 name dropping, this girl over here has an extra vertebra. A sixth lumbar vertebra, underneath the fifth (obvs, 6 does come after 5 after all haha!) and while usually this isn’t a problem for most people, I am not like most people 😂 so of course it would wreak a little bit of havoc on me. It started off with mild discomfort, graduating to niggles that would be painful but bearable, and then it got to the point where the pain would be debilitating and I’d cry during wods and sometimes even afterwards 🙈 I remember feeling a horrible pull in my lower back during Karen, (150 wallballs for time,) my bestie standing next to me telling me to stop and I don’t know what I muttered to her,but I kept going and at the end of it, collapsed on the floor and started crying. I even remember what I was wearing on that day…my turquoise blue Nike leggings that make my bum look even more amazing than it usually does.

Now you’d think that an experience like that would cause the alarm to go off in your head and most people would by then, go get their back checked out. Me? I like to live on the wild side and we’ve established, I am not like most people 😂 I suffered (and suffer it was,) for a little bit longer until I finally listened to my coach and went for x-rays, physiotherapy and needling. I was struggling with lower back pain because of this extra vertebra that was never meant to be there. It was creating friction with the first vertebra in my sacral region and coupled with a core that wasn’t nearly as strong as I thought my 6 pack denoted 🙄 it was a recipe for disaster. If I kept medicating the symptoms and never truly dealt with the root cause of the pain, this could have been the thing to rule me out from not just CrossFit, but sports in general. I needed to take care of my back, and properly this time. 

For a month I couldn’t do anything but yoga, and as much as I love yoga, I had a lot of sessions in my room where I’d be yawning endlessly, but I needed to rebuild the foundation. A year of neglecting my back health had culminated to me getting to a point where standing hurt, sitting hurt, everything hurt. I needed to learn how to go slow so that in the future, I could go further. After the month of yoga, I started to add in short runs. The distances or the speed were nothing to write home to your local newspaper about, but it was enough to get my body back into the swing of things. Then another month later, I could go back to my greatest love, CrossFit!!! It was nothing but humbling: a 10 minute row, which I still can’t believe my coach wasn’t joking about and then the slowest, most disgusting Cindy (20 min. AMRAP 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, 15 air squats,) that I have ever done. My body was still trying to remember how to do gymnastics, where was that muscle memory that people spoke of?
For a few weeks…right now even, I still feel like the worst of beginners, and it has been frustrating but I also have in my foundation rebuild corner, the best coaches ever! When I do get down on myself, it never lasts for long because of the guidance that they give me. The phrase that I have to keep repeating to myself is, ‘patience baby chicken. Go slow to go fast.’ Remember my positivity band that I wrote about over here? That’s keeping me in check to not complain and instead do the hard work, attack every wod as furiously as I can and to give it my all. My PVC pipe is getting a lot of action as I fix movements that I thought I knew how to execute. Squatting without pulling my chest forward, and not for a single second compensating on the natural curve that my spine should have. Learning how to have good posture in every single movement and working on technique has exposed major areas of opportunity and I can’t wait to meet the athlete that I will have become in another three months time. I still can’t do a lot of extensions, still hurts but in due time, I know I’ll get there. 

What’s the lesson for you? If you’re suffering with any kind of pain: back, neck, shoulder or even emotional pain, SEEK HELP! Don’t be the stubborn Sally that I am (back pain unfortunately does not get rid of all obstinate tendencies,) when on top of emotional stress now you also have physical stress forcing you into a corner where you have to slow down. It is a beautiful thing to be able to move and while we have these bodies, we should do as much as we can to make sure it’s running as well as it possibly can. 

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)