Leaving Salem

January 13, 1982 was a cold, snowy day in the nation’s capitol. A massive blizzard delayed the travel of commuters trying to get home and air-travelers trying to leave the city. At the height of the storm, Air Florida Flight 90 took off from Washington D.C.’s National Airport.

Just seconds in the air, its wings heavy with snow and ice, the plane struck the14th StreetBridge and plunged into the icy waters of the Potomac River. The attempted helicopter rescue of the precious few survivors was viewed on the nation’s television sets all afternoon.

Hundreds of onlookers gathered on the damaged bridge and the snow covered banks of the river to watch as well. One man was twenty-eight-year-old Lenny Skutnik, a gopher in the Congressional Budget office. Lenny had a simple life with his wife and two young sons. He had never taken a life-saving or first aid course. Making less than $15,000 a year, paying the $325 a month rent was his biggest regular challenge.

Yet, when he saw a woman, Priscilla Tirado, blinded by shock and jet fuel, too weak to grasp the rings being lowered by the rescue helicopter, Lenny quickly went from being an observer to a participant in a daring act of courage. He jumped into the freezing water after her, pulling her to shore and to safety.

Later that month President Ronald Reagan seated Lenny Skutnik next to the First Lady as his special guest for the State of the Union address. Lenny was the first ever “ordinary” American to receive such an honor.

President Reagan said, “Nothing had picked Lenny out particularly to be a hero, but without hesitation there he was and he saved her life.” Skutnik resisted all efforts to make his risky act into something extraordinary. He said, “Nobody else was doing anything. It was the only way…I just did it.”

Heroes, spiritual or otherwise, are not those who have special powers, bulging muscles, and colorful costumes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Heroes are simply those who, even in throat-strangling fear, say their prayers and jump into the water.

Whether it’s the giant-killer David, the law-giver Moses, the beautiful queen Esther, the missionary-traveler Paul, or the errand boy Lenny Skutnik, heroes are just plain normal people. Yet, this is who God chooses to work with and through: Ordinary people called to take extraordinary risks.

Mother Teresa, an ordinary woman in her own right who did extraordinary things, was once asked if she felt proud of all she had accomplished in her life and ministry. She brought up the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as her answer. She said, “When Christ rode the little donkey into Jerusalem and the people were shouting and praising God, do you think the donkey thought the praise was for him?”

There are no superheroes in the ways of God, only those who will trust and obey. Anything that results in a superhuman or extraordinary outcome finds its source in God, not in those who are mere instruments in his hand, conduit through which he works.

No, we can’t solve every problem. We can’t answer every call. We can’t singlehandedly do the heavy lifting that will change the world, but we can do what we can do. We can respond in faith, believing that the same God who calls us will grant us the necessary courage to act.

Tim Hansel says, “You can live on bland food so as to avoid an ulcer; drink no tea or coffee or other stimulants, in the name of health; go to bed early and stay away from night life; avoid all controversial subjects…spend money only on necessities…And still you could fall and break your neck in the bathtub, and it will serve you right.”

Yes, the water is cold. The dangers are many. The risk is great. But do not be afraid. Place your bets and roll the dice. Jump into the water. You may not think God can use you where you are, but one thing is certain: He can’t use you where you are not.

You are where you are because God has brought you to this place. Seize it. Quit waiting for that big moment to come along. This is the moment. God is calling today. Don’t let fear keep you on the sidelines.

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