Faith, Hope & a Whole Lotta Love

I often ask myself what is the purpose of our lives and I conclude that life’s purpose is to be happy. We have no guarantee what will happen in the future, but we live in hope. That’s what keeps us going. Dalai Lama

Nothing hypes me up more than a compliment or two… from my siblings. Hang on, a couple of weeks ago I was in gym leggings and a top and my niece said I looked cute, so maybe it’s compliments from my siblings AND one very cute 3-year-old niece. If you’re lucky enough to have siblings and a niece or two, they should be your ‘hype guys.’ My sister Nadege or Ya Dena as we affectionately called her, always believed that I was stronger than I thought. She was our hype guy!

Her death was sudden.

No long drawn out illness that we knew of or had time to prepare for, it’s not to say that knowing in advance prepares your heart any better for a loved one’s death. The first few weeks after her death are still a blur. There is a void in my brain rendering me incapable of recalling how I survived those first few days; how I’ve survived these past few months. My heart still hurts, excruciatingly so and sometimes it feels as though I have to stop myself from thinking about her in order to not breakdown. It is a wound that seven months on, still feels fresh, one that hasn’t dulled in terms of the feelings of pain and discomfort that it elicits. I’ve heard from well-meaning people that it gets better in time… I’m still waiting on that.

We’re at the halfway mark of 2018, the warmth of summer has firmly been replaced by winter’s chill. Today I’ve given myself room to pause, ponder and reflect on all that 2018 has so far been and the lessons that I’ve learnt, i.e. how Jesus is holding me up.

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  1. You’ve gotta have faith, hope and a whole lotta love in your heart.

I stepped into 2018 semi-optimistic. Considering the fact that I ended the year, and started the year funemployed, the only expectation I had of this year was that I’d at least end it with a job. My hopes were not high, I was ready to take whatever came my way and not really fight for anything better. My sister would have told me off for that. In fact in the Bible, Paul writes to us and tells us that we should be prisoners of hope* and in the book of Romans speaks on how hope does not put us to shame.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the  Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-2 (ESV)

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I don’t believe that when Paul wrote ‘we rejoice in our sufferings,’ he meant that we get the tambourine out, beat the drums and express how delighted we are that we have this hard thing happening to us because ‘hallelujah Jesus, it’s going to produce endurance in us.’ That would be silly, and I don’t know about you but if silly were to denote a person whose word is to be taken as a joke, I highly doubt that Paul is in that league. This rejoicing I believe denotes a quiet spirit, perhaps one that has been or is being broken by the trials of life whether physical or spiritual, yet holding on to the truth and hope that things will get better. It is this kind of hope that fuels us and directs us into moving in the direction where great things can happen to us. It is this hope that brings opportunity to each new day that we face. Hope that today may not have been great but tomorrow will be. Apparently if you repeat that to yourself enough times, your brain begins to believe it as more than just a motto but accepts it as a fact of life. The more we look for good things, the more we find them. Of course there’s still work that needs to be done, the life you want isn’t earned by just hoping for the best. In garnering a positive outlook, you possess the drive needed to fuel your efforts that will get you to where you want to be. This is the attitude I adopted when I PROPERLY started looking for a job. Lo and behold 2 months into the year, I was employed 🙂 Having a positive attitude doesn’t make things easier but it does give you a better outlook on life and your current circumstance. It puts you in the right frame of mind to analyse how best to navigate the season that you’re in.

  1. If you believe in God, expect for your belief in Him to be shaken AND stirred!

I remember loudly (and proudly…pride comes before a fall no?) exclaiming to a friend that I didn’t feel any further from God since my sister passing, that was a month after she had passed and now that I look back on it, I realize that I had spoken in haste. I hadn’t yet felt the sting of what death can do not just to your relationship with others, but also to your relationship with God. The days leading up to my sister’s funeral were difficult, but being inundated with messages, as overwhelming as it felt, provided a distraction and gave me a break (albeit temporarily) from having to deal with my emotions. I comforted myself with songs and verses that stated God would never leave me nor forsake me. I lived on the memories of when Christ had been a tangible comfort in the midst of past trials and tribulations. I kept telling myself that it would get better. I wish I could pinpoint the day when I stopped believing that. Apathy starts off this way, a slow and gradual freezing of the heart. You tell yourself that you’re temporarily isolating yourself from the situation in order to preserve and protect yourself. Until that one day turns into a week, a week into a month et cetera. All the while, your heart growing colder by the minute. The interesting thing is that while we think closing ourselves off from feeling and emotion, protects us. What it serves to do is isolate us and further draw us away from God. I could no longer see things getting better and the more I saw how certain individuals behaved in disappointing ways following her death, the less I wanted to let anyone in. Choosing to ignore reality and the pain that was in every moment of it, led to me ignoring God and isolating myself from Him. I could feel the anger rising, disappointment creeping in, making itself comfortable in my heart.

I was disillusioned.

Had I believed a lie that God exists?

That Jesus exists and furthermore, that He cared?

It wasn’t until my boyfie sent me a book entitled 10% happier that I was able to identify the root cause of my moment of disbelief in God. The title alone had me questioning whether I’d ever again know what it meant to be happy, let alone 10% happier. As I analysed the causative factors of my unhappiness, I realised that I had begun to view people as accurate, wholly true representations of God. So when I had a number of friends withdraw when the dust had seemingly settled, I saw it as God withdrawing and no longer caring. When I saw someone behave in a way that filled me with disappointment, I viewed God as disappointing. Forsaken, disappointed and alone, I no longer felt like I needed God, especially if God was like these people that had let me down. There exists no perfect human model for the loving nature of God that I have in the past vividly experienced. As hard as it may be, a healthy relationship with Christ is only cultivated through focusing on Him and Him alone. He doesn’t need a plus one!

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  1. Better is not always better…at least not in the way you think.

Better isn’t better until it stops hurting, that’s what we’re taught to think. Better isn’t better until you’ve managed to run back in time (‘Flash’ fan here), and have managed to save your loved one. Right? Wrong. What we have to understand, what I’m learning to understand is that sometimes things getting better isn’t reflective of the physical, but the internal. How is your heart being moulded? How is your character being formed during this very crappy season? In the past few months as I noticed my heart growing cold, my faith in humanity feeling shattered, and my hope in God, seemingly nowhere to be found. I realise now that there is a different definition of what it means for things to get better, one that has greater defining power on my character than the definition that I know. This ‘better’ requires constant evaluation and introspection of your character, your actions, and your choices. This is echoed in the verse where Christ tells us to remove the speck in our eyes before we talk about the log in our brother’s eye. Environment does have a huge bearing on our emotions but the thing that is more important than our physical environment is the internal environment that we cultivate.

So here we are at the end of this post and if someone were to ask me if I’m hopeful of the future. My answer is a resounding yes, while the days aren’t always easy. The journey is often hard and feels littered with pain, I’m certain that Jesus is holding me up. How well you ask: like I’m in the palm of His hand. Securely.

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