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Paralyzed Army Veteran Completes Marathon in Robotic Exoskeleton: The Power of Public Gratitude

  • 2019 Nov 27

Terry Hannigan Vereline is a former Army sergeant and Vietnam veteran. She made history earlier this month by becoming the first paralyzed competitor to successfully finish a marathon with the help of a robotic exoskeleton. She completed the New York City Marathon by walking the entire 26.2 miles over the course of three days.

“Don’t give up,” she said in an interview. “The things that I did prior to me being paralyzed, I can still do. It’s just finding another way of doing it.” She is grateful to those who helped her use her exoskeleton to fulfill her dream. 

In other news, DeAndre Hopkins scored two touchdowns as his Houston Texans defeated the Indianapolis Colts last week. Each time, he gave the ball to his mother sitting in the stands. Here’s what makes their story so remarkable: his mom has been blind since 2002, when she was attacked by another woman who believed she was sleeping with her boyfriend. 

Acid was involved in the assault, causing her blindness. She has never been able to see her son play in the NFL, so he gives her the football when he scores at home games as tangible proof of his gratitude for her support.

Singing hymns in prison at midnight 

Yesterday, we encountered the biblical commands to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and to “always give thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5:20 NCV). We are to give thanks “in” and “for” all that we experience. 

As we noted, the harder our circumstances, the more difficult it is to express such gratitude. We may never understand God’s reasons for allowing our suffering until we are with him in glory. But we can claim the fact that we will know then what we do not know now (1 Corinthians 13:12). And we can trust his heart even when we do not see his hand. 

A second way to be thankful in hard places is to note the way people who express gratitude in adversity can inspire the world with their courage. 

Paul’s example comes to mind. When he and his fellow sailors were facing calamity, “he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat” (Acts 27:35). Then “they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves” (v. 36). 

When Paul and Silas sang hymns to God at midnight in a Philippian jail, “the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). When God did not remove his “thorn in the flesh,” the apostle chose to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). And his courageous gratitude still marks those who encounter it today. 

“If it bleeds, it leads.” 

One reason such gratitude is so inspirational is that it is so unusual. It’s far easier when reading the day’s news to focus on the negative than on the positive. 

For instance, CNN tells us that life expectancy at birth continues to drop in America. Brutal weather is disrupting holiday travels and could even ground the famous balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the first time since 1971. And a man who contracted a rare bacterial infection after being licked by his dog has died. 

I could go on, but you get the point. As the old newspaper adage goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.” We are more drawn to bad news than to good news. 

There’s a second factor at work as well. Secular people discount the possibility of a divine factor in their current circumstances. They also see the future as chaotic and unpredictable. As a result, they are unlikely to credit God for their present successes or turn to him with their present problems or future fears. 

Consequently, for millions of Americans, Thanksgiving is a holiday focusing on feasting and football rather than a holy day focusing on a Father who loves us. 

The Power that empowers gratitude 

For these reasons, giving thanks to God in good times is countercultural. Giving thanks to God in hard times is even more so. 

That’s an important reason why giving thanks in and for all things is so important. Skeptics can discount our faith when life is easy. But they cannot help taking note when we trust and thank God when life is hard. 

So, if you are facing challenges today, know that others are watching. And know that God will help you experience gratitude if you will ask him. 

The biblical call to “always give thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5:20 NCV) is preceded by the imperative to “be filled with the Spirit” (v. 18). When we submit our struggles and pain to the Holy Spirit and ask him to redeem them for God’s glory and our good, he empowers us to give thanks in a storm and sing hymns in a prison.

“How manifold His goodness, how rich His grace to me!” 

On Thanksgiving Day, we’ll learn from a very unlikely source how to give thanks for what we have. On Friday, we’ll learn from a small boy’s gift how to give thanks for what we do not yet have. 

For today, as we consider the power of a grateful heart, let’s close with this testimony:

My heart is overflowing with gratitude and praise,
To Him whose loving kindness has followed all my days;
To Him who gently leads me by cool and quiet rills
And with their balm of comfort my thirsty spirit fills.

Within the vale of blessing, I walk beneath the light
Reflected from His glory, that shines forever bright.
I feel His constant presence wherever I may be;
How manifold His goodness, how rich His grace to me!

My heart is overflowing with love and joy and song,
As if it heard an echo from yonder ransomed throng.
Its every chord is vocal with music’s sweetest lay,
And to its home of sunshine it longs to fly away.

I feign would tell the story, and yet I know full well
The half was never, never told—the half I cannot tell.

Fanny Crosby wrote these words. Her eyes were blind. But her heart saw God and gave him thanks.

Does yours?

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Publication Date: November 27, 2019

Photo Courtesy: Pexels/Snapwire

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