This guest post comes to us courtesy of Jennifer Kaluzny, a rabbi, wife and mom. Jennifer found that exercise gave her strength — inside and out — to cope with her loss of a child. You can follow her on Twitter.
I have always wanted to be thin. Effortlessly thin. The kind of thin that wakes up in the morning, thinks nothing of which pair of jeans to wear, matches it with a fitted white tee that hugs all the right places, kind of thin. I have always envied the thin that eats to satiation, not discomfort, enjoys dessert without self deprecation, and leaves the hospital after delivering her baby in her own jeans. I am not that kind of thin. I am not any of those things.
I have nothing less than 20 pairs of jeans in my closet because I never know what degree of bloat and generalized “ick” I will feel on any given day, necessitating a marathon trial of each and every pair to see which will do. I have never just worn a white T; it reveals far too much. Often my belly protrudes from overeating (albeit ultra large salads), I browbeat myself for indulging (albeit once every six months), and my pre-baby jeans are still waiting for their post-baby reappearance. I am not thin. But I am other, very important things; things that took a very, very long time for me to value over being thin. I am a wife, mother, daughter, rabbi and friend. What I realized was that in order to be all of those things to all of those people, not to mention fulfill my own personal goals, I had to have faith; faith that God would help me surmount my doubts and fears, faith that I was more than a number on the scale, and faith that if I cared for my body as it should be cared for, my soul would be strengthened in kind.
For me, faith and fitness began to cross-train after our daughter, Sage, died. I found that the weight of my soul became more important than the weight of my body, and after we lost her, my soul was very, very heavy. My husband Ryan felt the same way. To heal, we found ourselves running on nature trails. We drank in the sun as we put one foot in front of the other, and talked about Sage. We pushed 80 pounds of toddler in our double jogger (our 2-year-old Bayla and Sage’s twin, Asher) until the tires wore down to nothing. When we felt like our souls couldn’t bear the weight of the grief, we ran. And ran. And ran. As I ran, I prayed. Prayed for strength to mother my other children. Prayed for strength to heal my body that felt so tired and beat down. Prayed for strength to be playful again, to laugh again, to enjoy again. I embraced running the summer after Sage died, because for me, praying and running became one in the same. Faith and fitness was the best cross-training program I had experienced to date.
My fitness/faith experience only got better when I was paired with my trainer, Matt. He too appreciated the mind/body/soul connection and nurtured my strength training in every way possible. When I lifted weights, I lifted my soul back from the place where it had fallen. The heavier I lifted, the stronger I became, the more my soul rose up. Soon, I could bear more weight. The 80-pound stroller didn’t feel as hard to push. My soul could bear more weight, too; the grief of our loss didn’t seem as crushing. My body was healing. My soul was healing. Together. One inextricably linked to the other.
Two years after Sage’s death, I still slip back into my old ways now and again. It’s hard to not want to wear the skinny jeans and white tee and feel totally confident. But now, I have a more sacred goal to work towards. I know that my physical goals have to match my spiritual goals. I know that I have the power to bench press well beyond my weight, and carry both my children up the stairs to bed at one time. But I also have the strength to help other parents through their grief after experiencing the loss of a child; something I can only do because I still pray for strength with each arm curl, each tricep dip, each pull-up. I pray for the strength of my body — and the strength of my soul.
I challenge you to join me in my new fitness journey. As you work towards rock-hard abs, remember to be sure that you are strengthening your core as well. When I say core, I mean your soul. Without a strong core, that six-pack is not as solid as it looks. As you train to improve your endurance, check in with your spirit, and see if it can go the distance as well.
This is how I plan to train for the rest of my life. I will continue to run and lift weights and pray all the while, because for me, cross-training your body and your soul is the only way to be truly fit. —Jennifer Kalzuny