Yes we all know that cycling is a part of my life, for many reasons: exercise, stress relief, fresh air, competition, friendship, and pain (make it hurt now so it hurts less later etc.). But there is another significant part of my life that I want to share with everyone. While cycling is an outlet that helps me deal with almost anything there is another outlet that is even more effective and longer lasting - my faith. So with this motivation I'm sort of changing the purpose of my blog to focus on everything that helps me get motivated, including cycling. I had the opportunity to speak to the congregation at my church a few weeks ago. This posts contains the remarks I had prepared, I share them with you in hopes that someone else will find them helpful and motivating.
In 1988 a young athlete named John Maclean was training for an upcoming triathlon by cycling along a long country road near his hometown in Australia. John had overcome a challenging childhood and learned at a young age to find solace through athletic competition. John was a strong rugby player who had recently begun his career in triathlons and showed potential to become one of Australia’s greatest athletes. Tragically while cycling along the road that day the driver of an 8 ton truck made an unfortunate mistake and struck John from behind causing a terrible accident. An accident that left John paralyzed from the waist down. From his perspective after a very long hospital stay, his life, his plans and future initially looked very bleak. Being accustomed to running or cycling for many hours every day, then having that ability taken away, caused pain so great that for a time John lost even his desire to continue living.
During times of great trial it is understandable that many questions about the purpose of life are asked. One question in particular seems to stand out over all others. A question whose answer can be more elusive than any; why? Why did this tragic thing have to happen? Why was it not prevented? Why were those unfortunate decisions made? Why now? Why me?
Whenever we find ourselves in challenging circumstances, we have the opportunity to make decisions that shape our character.
Rather than dwell on the tragedy, John Maclean eventually decided to not be defined by the wheelchair that he was now confined to. He continued to train and pursue an athletic career, and in 1995 John Maclean became the first paraplegic athlete to complete the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon course. The Ironman distance triathlon consists of swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles then running a marathon, 26.2 miles without stopping; which means that after swimming 2.4 miles with just his arms, John then used his arms to spin the wheels of his chair for another 138.2 miles in oppressive heat, wind and elevation changes so steep that he sometimes struggled to keep his front wheels on the ground, and that was just the beginning. John went on to finish the same race on two more occasions; he also competed in the Paralympics in various events and swam the English Channel. The list of John's athletic accomplishments is long, but most important of all is that instead of allowing his tragic circumstances to control his attitude, John chose to act, and that decision was probably even more challenging than the last mile of every race he has since competed in. John Maclean is now a source of positive inspiration to thousands of people.
The decision to act positively is not one that is made only once, but many times, even many times a day, especially when we are in the middle of a difficult situation.
For some of us, the greatest challenge might not be completing a 140.2 mile race. Instead of swimming, cycling and running our triathlon might consist of getting on our knees to pray, reading the scriptures and attending church. Being active in the gospel of Jesus Christ is a challenge perceived very differently in the eyes of the world but a victory in that challenge is far greater than any Ironman has ever received.
We all frequently have reminders of our own mortality and sometimes it will be our turn to ask, why? There are answers to every question, even this one; and they are readily available to us if we diligently seek them.
President Uchtdorf has told of one such occasion, during his training to become a fighter pilot he explained, "As I was running I began to notice something that, frankly, troubled me. Time and again I was being passed by men who smoked, drank, and did all manner of things that were contrary to the gospel and, in particular, to the Word of Wisdom. I remember thinking, “Wait a minute! Aren’t I supposed to be able to run and not be weary?” But I was weary, and I was overtaken by people who were definitely not following the Word of Wisdom. I confess, it troubled me at the time. I asked myself, was the promise true or was it not? The answer didn’t come immediately. But eventually I learned that God’s promises are not always fulfilled as quickly as or in the way we might hope; they come according to His timing and in His ways."
All of our challenges whether physical or spiritual remind us of the true extent of the fall of man and the nature of our purpose in this life.
In this life we are supposed to be subject to all the frailties and imperfections of mortality, we are supposed to be subject to consequences, not only the consequences of our decisions but also the consequences of the decisions of others. Our bodies have imperfections, sometimes through no fault of our own our cells begin to function improperly and we develop things like cancer or disease, sometimes our bodies get sick, and eventually our bodies die, that is what it means to be mortal.
I like the language In 2nd Corinthians 5:4 as it explains mortality, it says "For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life."
We cannot always determine what will happen to us, but we can always choose how we react. That is what it means to have agency. When we choose how to act we are also choosing who we will become. That is how we learn and grow. And growth is exciting; it feels good to have knowledge. And it gets even better; none of us has to go through this learning process alone. Each of us has a father and a mother, grandparents, great grandparents, some of us have brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins - we have families. Heavenly Father planned it this way. We know that families are designed by God because he has revealed this to his prophets, who have taught it to us. In 1995 the prophet Gordon B Hinckley read this proclamation during a General Relief Society meeting, he said "The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity."
I have been blessed with a father who honors his priesthood, and a mother who has an endless capacity to love and serve and who has done more for me than I can ever begin to explain. Imagine what the world could be like if everyone had parents who honored their marital vows and understood their divine responsibility. Things like war and poverty would cease to exist. Families founded on the teaching of Jesus Christ are the answer to even the worst problems in the world.
Having parents who do not make good choices is a trial that many will have to face in this life. Not everyone will be born of goodly parents, but those children are not forgotten, no one has to go through this life alone.
In addition to families, we have this church. This church of Jesus Christ is another example of the help that our Heavenly Father sends us and all are welcome here. In this church everyone can come and feel the love of a father and mother, sisters and brothers. There is a long list of support organizations that are part of this church that do incredible things, the relief society, the youth program, the primary, we have social services including family counseling, addiction recovery programs, seminary, institute, universities, home and visiting teaching, the perpetual education fund, fast offerings that support a welfare program and we have the priesthood. We have everything a person could possibly need to overcome any trial right here. No part of this church exists because of chance, all of this, is part of a divine design. It is all part of what we call the plan of salvation.
Our Heavenly Father created our spirits and gave us our agency before the earth was formed; we learn this in many scriptures such as when the Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.”
Abraham 3: 23-25 says: “And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born. And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;”
I don’t know if we could comprehend the nature of the challenges that each of us would face during our mortal life. John Maclean might not have known that there would be a time when he would lose the use of his legs. But there is one thing we did know, that a Savior would be provided for us; a Savior that would overcome everything, every injustice, every physical imperfection, every mistake and all the pain that we feel, a Savior that would create a way for us to return to our heavenly home. And every person who was and will be born on this Earth chose to follow him.
“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” – That was 1st Corinthians chapter 15: 53-55.
Our victory is provided through Jesus Christ. Our victory comes during the resurrection. “Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.” 2nd Nephi chapter 3 verse 8.
It is through faith in Jesus Christ that we can find the answer to the question, why? Through my own trials and decisions I have come to learn the answer for myself. It is a very personal thing. That answer continues to influence many of the decisions I make every day. That answer grows and becomes more powerful as my understanding of the gospel grows.
I encourage each of you to seek the answers to your own questions, and if you find that you are struggling with a challenge, please know that you do not have to face it alone. Use the plan of salvation, the plan of happiness, the gospel and this church is all part of it, they are gifts that has been given to us, use the organizations within the Church and most importantly, use the atonement. If you are unsure about how to use any of these precious tools in your life, you can start by coming to the church, ask our teachers and leaders. Use the plan that God has given to us, and you will be able to understand why, and in the Lord’s time you will be able to overcome every trial.