Have you ever heard a story and stopped what you were doing because you were so enthralled by what the person was saying on TV, the radio or a podcast? This happened to me two days ago, and it has been a great reminder to be thankful for everything that I have. I’d like to share a bit of the story with you as it’s been on my mind since I heard it. This story is about the murder and attempted murder of English born Israeli citizen Kay Wilson and American Christian Kristine Luken by Palestinian terrorists.
In December of 2010, the two women (who had been friends for years) went for a hike outside of Jerusalem. They were approached by two Palestinian men asking for water. Sensing something wasn’t right, they started walking back towards their car. Kay walked in front of Kristine so she could take her pocket knife out of her coat. As she did this, the two men grabbed both women. They struggled and Kay managed to stab her attacker with her knife, but to no avail. The women were tied up with their shoe laces, gagged and made to walk into the woods, the men now brandishing machetes. The attackers separated the women and forced them to kneel with their heads down.
The radio host spoke to to Kay about this, about the moment she knew that they might be killed. What was going through her mind. This is what she said (not verbatim): “It was in that moment that I knew I was going to be murdered. My life did not flash before my eyes. But what did go through my mind was I can’t believe my life will end today. I’ll never get to taste good wine again, I’ll never get to hear the sound of the desert as the wind whips through it. And most of all I prayed to God that the attacker would not botch up the murder and he would quickly chop off my head so he didn’t have to sit there and saw on my neck.” Kay then also spoke about hearing Kristine screaming and screaming over and over again as she was stabbed. Kay herself was stabbed 13 times and passed out. She woke up and the attackers had left, but were coming back. She played dead and just to be sure, they stabbed her again in the sternum. They left and she fought consciousness and staggered back to her car for help. She was found, and thanks to her knife, they had the attacker’s DNA and the attackers were caught and sent to prison. Kristine did not survive the attack.
As I sat there listening to her speak waves of nausea and grief passed over me. She and Kristine were targeted to be killed just because the attackers believed them to be Jewish. That was their crime. Now I am not writing this as a political statement, although I could. I’m writing this to highlight her beliefs and outlook on life after the attack, and to highlight our own need to have gratitude. So what are her beliefs? Again, not verbatim: “I don’t believe I was saved by God to do some purpose on this life, but I am not angry at God and I thank God every day that I was saved. I laid in a hospital for 2 years after the attacks and I am in constant pain. But that doesn’t stop me from living my life and being grateful to be alive.” Wow. I want to add that I do believe God had a purpose for saving her and she is showing us all what strength and courage really is. So even though she is in constant pain, she is thankful for being alive and speaking her story. Wow again. There is so much evil in this world and every day reading or watching the news we see it.
About 10 years ago I decided to go to South Africa. It’s another story unto itself, but there was the first time I saw what true poverty was. Houses made of cardboard and tin. Entire towns where there was no solid structure. Dirt floors, no running water, etc. It was a truly eye opening experience and one that in many ways I am eternally grateful. It was after that trip that I realized how most Americans have no idea what other countries are going through. This is also not a post to cast Americans in a negative light and say how lucky we all are. We are, but again that’s another post. What I wanted to get across in this post is:
We all have bad, even terrible and unthinkable things happen to us. Hopefully none as awful as Kay or Kristine’s experience, but this is not a competition or who has had it the worst. No one is immune to tragedy, no one is immune to hardship. And we all at one time or another have to wonder “Why me.” I don’t know the answer because I am not God. But I choose to live my live believing that we all have a God given purpose in our life and we have to do our best to follow our call. Also, when something happens that shatters our life, it is ok to be sad, angry, depressed, etc. This is normal and healthy. But in order to help pull us up, we have to start to see the bigger picture around us. What can we do to make the world a better place. What can we do to stop looking inward and focus our thoughts outward.
Lastly, my hope was to help other athletes who have gone through life altering injuries, accidents or illnesses to look outside themselves and ask, “why did this happen, what is the bigger picture.” If you’re been reading this blog, you know that I have gone through several medical challenges over the past few years. 1 year of the doctors not being able to diagnose me, 1 year of recovery post surgery, then developing Rhabdomyolysis while returning to exercise. The past 2 years have been such a struggle for me. I felt like I lost my identity, was in constant pain and no one could tell me why. It was a never ending cycle of pain, doctors appointments, potential treatments, those treatments not working, and on and on. I felt so low and really looking back I felt so sorry for myself.
So here is my advice for athletes who goes through accidents, injury and illness:
Go through the 5 stages of grief
Honor each one of those. Don’t feel bad about any of them. Truly allow yourself to grieve. Don’t belittle these feelings by saying things like “I’m not really bad off, I don’t have a deadly illness,” or “I’m still able to do my job, I have a loving family, I shouldn’t feel like this.” Don’t say those. Instead say “wow this really sucks. My life has turned upside down. I really wish this didn’t happen.” Allow yourself the time to grieve because no matter how big or small, if it was an important part of your life, to you it is very important. Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t feel a certain way. But then STOP. Look around at the world. You may get your identity from being an athlete, but this is a sign that you’ve been given a chance to look at what your greater purpose is around you. With God’s help I was finally able to see that my purpose is helping other athletes achieve performance and life goals through proper nutrition. And because of the down time from training, I had the ability to put things in action to create a new website and nutrition software. Now I’d really like to be back to being an athlete, but I am not angry that this happened. It has allowed me to be so much more. So I challenge you, when you’re ready to move on from the grief, self pity, anger, depression, look around and see what your purpose is. It doesn’t mean you can’t be the athlete you once were, it doesn’t mean you can’t do what your heart is set on. I just know if I hadn’t stopped myself from the self pity, sadness, anger, etc. I would not be the person I am. Not everyone who reads this is a Christian, and I’m not telling you that have to be. For me, it is apart of who I am and has helped guide me. If that’s not you, still look outside of yourself at what you really feel like your purpose might be. And embrace it.
So where does the jar come in. On march 1st I decided to create a gratitude jar. Every night I will write down one thing that happened that day that I am grateful for. And anytime I start to feel down or depressed, I’ll look at that jar. I will again be an athlete, but I won’t again get my self worth from being an athlete. It took me several years to get here, but I know who I am. I am a heart centered, purpose driven, Christian, wife, daughter, sister, who is passionate about helping others achieve their dreams through endurance coaching and sports nutrition. I am an athlete, but that is not how I describe myself first. I have so much to be thankful for and I am blessed beyond measure. I have a family and husband who loves and supports me, I am a mom to 2 fur-babies, I have a job doing what I love and I have good food and safe shelter. I encourage everyone to do this. Create a jar, or create a journal to write in. Something that you can look at when you are down. Because if you think about it, there is so much to be grateful for. And if you focus on those things instead of what you don’t have or what was taken away, I think you’ll start to heal. And I encourage you to think outside of yourself. What does this accident, injury or illness mean? What can you do now that you are in this spot? Instead of feeling down, anxious, stressed, etc. Think, how can I do something to better myself and others. And when you feel down, think about or look at your gratitude jar. Think about people like Kay Wilson, who had to watch her friend be murdered, who was nearly murdered herself and every day she still thanks God that she is here. She was targeted just for being a Jewish women. So take the tragedies that happen in your life, and decide in the end to not let them define you. It may take you weeks, months or years to get to the place where you can look around and say “I’m ok.” If you are in that place, as hard as it is, look around at what you have. Be grateful for the blessings in your life. You might not be exactly where you want to be, but don’t let that dictate how you will feel. Never stop believing that things will get better and the more gratitude you have for what you already have, the easier it will be.