Have you ever read stories that are so amazing and incredible that tears of gratitude, hope, and joy blur your eyes? As Thanksgiving approaches, we are all discouraged by our inability to enjoy the holiday with relatives and friends because of COVID restrictions. At the same time, we are given the opportunity to reflect on the blessings that God has given us: family, health, church, faith, and the opportunity to make a difference in our small corner of the world.
Reading the lectionary scriptures last week in the midst of my own disappointment around not being able to be with our grandchildren, I was inspired by four recent stories that fit the scriptures perfectly. You can access the scriptures here.
Chris Nikic is a 21-year-old young man with Downs Syndrome who always felt excluded because he was different – until he found his place in sports. When Chris began to ride a bike at age 15 after six months of learning, there was no stopping him. A year ago, Chris decided to train for an ironman triathlon, one of the most challenging and grueling-long distance events in all of sports.
An Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile open water swim, 112 miles of biking, and a 26.2-mile run (marathon distance), all of which needs to be completed in 17 hours. On November 7, in Panama City Beach, Florida, Chris (with a guide) swam, cycled, and ran his way into the history books, finishing with a time of 16 hours, 46 minutes, and 9 seconds. “I learned that there are no limits,” Chris said. “Do not put a lid on me.”
“Enter the gates of the Lord with thanksgiving; go into these courts with praise; give thanks to God and call upon the name of the Lord. For the Lord is good, whose steadfast love is everlasting; and whose faithfulness endures from age to age.” (Psalm 100:4-5)
Michael Knapinski was hiking on Mt. Ranier in the state of Washington several weeks ago when he became lost in an overnight whiteout with freezing conditions. He was finally discovered the next afternoon and was airlifted by helicopter to a Seattle hospital. Unconscious and suffering from hypothermia, Knapinski’s heart stopped a few minutes later, and he died.
A nurse immediately started CPR, and for 45 minutes Knapinski was also was hooked up to a heart-lung bypass machine. Within two days, Knapinski was able to sit up in his hospital bed, and when the ventilator was removed, his first words were to express gratitude for being alive.
Dr. Sam Arbabi, the medical director of the surgical intensive care unit at Harborview, said, “He was as dead as somebody gets before they are truly dead… For this person to come back and his mental status to be great, it is as miraculous as it gets in medicine.”
“I will seek out the lost, bring back the strays, bind up the wounded, and strengthen the weak. But the fat and the strong I will destroy, because I will tend my sheep with justice.” (Ezekiel 34:16)
Maya Moore has been named by Sports Illustrated as the greatest winner in the history of women’s basketball. She was drafted out of the University of Connecticut in 2011 and played for the Minnesota Lynx of the Women’s National Basketball Association. In 2019, however, Moore took a break from her WNBA career to focus on restorative justice.
Moore and her family first met Jonathan Irons in 2007 through a prison ministry, right before she started college. The two became friends, and they kept in touch, with Moore visiting Irons in prison in Missouri as she was able. Eventually, they fell in love, and Moore began working to overturn Irons’ conviction for burglary and assault, which he claimed was a false charge.
Describing it as a call from God, Moore paused her basketball career by deciding not to become part of the 2020 Olympic team in order to work for his release, which took place on July 1, twenty years after Irons was wrongly convicted. The eyes of Moore’s heart saw the truth about Jonathan Irons, and on September 16, she announced their marriage.
“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’” Matthew 25:37-40
On November 12, at 6:05 a.m., Emily Harrington became the first woman to free-climb the Golden Gate route of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in under 24 hours. The 3,000-foot-high granite face has 41 pitches or sections and attracts thousands of climbers every year.
The way a free-climb ascent works is that the climber goes up one pitch then stops. A belayer, which is a person attached to the other end of the rope, will then follow. If the climber happens to fall, she returns to the bottom of the pitch and begins again. Harrington said that while climbing, she repeated this mantra, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” It takes most people four to six days to make it to the top.
Harrington wrote on Instagram, “I never believed I could actually free climb El Cap in a day when I first set the goal for myself. It didn’t seem like a realistic objective for me. I didn’t have the skills, fitness, or risk profile to move quickly over a large piece of stone. But I chose it for exactly that reason. Impossible dreams challenge us to rise above who we are now to see if we can become better versions of ourselves.”
“I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength.” (Ephesians 1:18-19)
- How might our world change if we looked at all people with the eyes of our heart?
- How might we be able to change the trajectory of COVID-19 if we considered all of our decisions in light of God’s unfathomable love for all people, especially those who are most vulnerable?
- As we celebrate Thanksgiving during this pandemic, many of us are without the normal presence of family and friends. How is God calling us to embrace and practice the spiritual disciplines of isolation, social distancing, and avoiding putting ourselves and others at risk?
- As we sing in the Christmas carol, In the Bleak Midwinter, “What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd. I would bring a lamb; If I were a wise man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him – give my heart.”
May you have a meaningful Thanksgiving holiday, and may the energy conferred by God’s powerful strength empower each one of us to give thanks with the eyes of our heart, to rise above who we are now, and to see what is the hope of God’s call for just such a time as this.