Faithful Living

"I know. You have probably got frustrated about the canned coverage of the Olympics and turned the TV off. Perhaps you have chosen, instead, to step outside and experience those last rays of summer sun, still peeking out from behind that growing cluster of gray clouds. Good enough, I say, for autumn has arrived and soon it will be too wet and chilly to play outside.I would, however, like to indulge in one more look at the Olympic spirit - demonstrated this week by a little known American heavyweight by the name of Rulon Gardner.Born in the summer of 1971 into a large farming family who made their home in Afton, Wyo., Rulon Gardner learned some big life lessons early on. He came to understand that the combined efforts of his family and hard work would be necessary to make their farm successful as well as provide adequately for their large family. He also learned that kids could be cruel and he would need to make something of his large stature, in spite of taunts that he was merely a fat farm boy.As it turns out, Gardner developed a fascination with Greco-Roman wrestling. I can only imagine all the lamps he and his brothers knocked over in the family room as they demonstrated their moves to mom. And imagine how happy his high school coach must have been when Gardner showed up for the first day of practice. There are not a lot of 6-foot-2, 285 pound kids willing to match muscle for muscle out there in the center of the gym with some other kid. It can be a lonely, grueling spot to work.But that is just what Gardner has done for years. Now 29 years old and a married man, he has championed his dream with perseverance and determination and an unbreakable vision for himself. Still, this is a big world in which we live and Gardner had only competed in one major international competition before reaching the gold medal round this week at the Sydney Olympics. During his one international experience in 1997, Gardner met three-time Olympic gold medalist Aleksandr Karelin, who used his trademark reverse body lift three times to defeat Gardner 5-0. The ever-positive American wrestler responded, I had never flown before, so I thought it was pretty cool. While eventually finishing fifth, Gardner pushed beyond the disappointment, refusing to give up his own Olympic dreams or allow any private doubts to derail him.On Tuesday of this week Gardner qualified for the gold medal round to face -you guessed it - the 13-year undefeated heavyweight champion Aleksandr Karelin. While the prospect alone might have crushed a whole lot of us, Gardner walked out on that mat one determined young man. He says he had nothing to lose as he was a relative unknown who already viewed himself as a winner - along with his hometown contingency that numbered 36 family members and their spouses.Rulon Gardner wrestled with heart, and patience, and determination. He won with a score of 1-0, capturing the gold and reminding the world heavyweight champion - right along with the rest of us who look for life lessons in the strangest of places - that big things can come of ordinary people who never give up.While I have enormous admiration for Rulon Gardner and am unfamiliar with his view on faith or how God may have played into his Olympic experience, I can easily identify others I know who are wrestling Olympic-sized opponents; others who comfortably describe the role God plays in their lives.Take my friend Rich, whose brain cancer has stolen his speech and a quality of life he enjoyed for years. Before the cancer injured the speech center of his brain, Rich promised us his faith would never falter and urged us to abide in our faith in Christ, no matter what. I know Rich has a natural determination - you cannot complete medical school and a residency without it. He also turns to God, who promised long ago to abide with Rich through all the events of his life - providing the wisdom and strength necessary to live without ever worrying that he has been tossed out into the center of the mat to wrestle alone.To live with depth we must struggle with the triumphs and the tragedies. While you are at it, why not try faith - especially when it seems the opponent is unbeatable. Only then can we discover the heavenly strength that will propel some of us to great victories.---------------Joan Bay Klope is a freelance writer and former editor of Christian books published by Gospel Light Publications. She can be reached at "

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