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Roxane B. Salonen, Published August 30 2013

Living Faith: With God, we have what it takes to be truly heroic

I’ve been deeply moved by a recent television news interview with elementary school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff, of Decatur, Ga., that has gone viral.

In it, Tuff explains how she was able to talk a gunman out of his irrational plot to open fire on a playground filled with young children.

Tuff verbally walks through the horrific ordeal, during which she went back and forth in conversation between the potential shooter and a 911 operator.

The dialogue with the gunman turned humane as she shared personal details about her own life, including that her husband of 33 years had left her and her son is disabled. She assured him we all go through difficult things in life but life is still worth living.

“I realized it was bigger than me, that he was really a hurting young man,” Tuff said in the interview. “So I just started praying for him. I started talking to him, letting him know some of my life story, letting him know it was going to be okay.”

The man insisted he was going to die. “I said, ‘No, you don’t have to die today,’ ” Tuff responded.

He eventually surrendered, and Tuff is being hailed as a hero.

When the reporter posed the idea of her heroism, Tuff said, “I give it all to God. I’m not the hero. I was terrified.”

“You kept it together,” the reporter said.

“Through his grace and mercy I did,” Tuff said.

“It was scary because at that moment he was ready to take my life along with his, and I knew that if I didn’t say the right thing, we’d all be dead,” she added.

Tuff told the gunman she loved him, and when he expressed fears he’d be hated, she said, “We’re not going to hate you, baby.”

As I listened to the 911 recording, it seemed clear something powerful had taken hold of Tuff as she reached out in compassion to the disturbed man.

The intensity would have been incredible. In fact, once the man was in custody, Tuff exhaled, then admitted shakily to the 911 operator, “I’ve never been so scared in all the days of my life. Oh, Jesus.”

It’s been said that success in life is largely owed to preparation. Without knowing it, through her relationship with God, Tuff had prepared for this moment in time.

Just as revealing was a conversation that took place by two atheist commenters below the YouTube video, one of whom said that “claiming that some higher power was orchestrating her actions undersells her own courage.”

“Just as religion is too often used by the bigoted to justify their hatred, it is too often used by the humble to mask their own abilities,” he added. “This woman is the hero – no invisible magical space daddy required.”

I can hear the murmuring now of women and men of faith, and I’m right there with you. But I take heart by the response of the next commenter, who also identified himself as an atheist. He challenged his fellow nonbeliever, calling him condescending and patronizing.

“If you want to give her credit, give her credit, but don’t put her down for believing in her own personal God. Which clearly is where she got her strength from to handle such a detrimental situation,” he said.

And I say, “Amen.”

Sheer adrenaline and human effort cannot alone effect what went down that day. Those of us who’ve felt God’s grace in our lives and found ourselves able to do and say what would have been impossible on our own accord recognize what’s truly at work here.

Tuff’s actions were divinely inspired, and come from the heart of one aligned with a loving creator, as many who listen to the 911 tape will recognize.

With God’s grace we all have the potential to be this heroic. But in order to draw on that grace, we need to keep God near, as Tuff so obviously has through her own suffering and surrender.

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband

and five children. If you have a story

of faith to share with her, email roxanebsalonen@gmail.com