Navy pilot Charles Plum flew seventy-five successful missions over Vietnam. On his seventy-sixth mission he was shot down and parachuted into enemy territory, where he was held prisoner for six years. When he finally got home, Plum was a hero. He spoke around the country about his grit and endurance, receiving adulation wherever he went.
One evening at a restaurant a man Plum had never seen before tapped him on the shoulder, asking, “Are you Charles Plum, who flew off the Kitty Hawk in Vietnam?” “That’s me,” Plum answered. Then the man added, “Well, I packed your parachute.”
Plum was shocked. After an awkward silence, the other man said, “I guess it worked!” and walked away, never to be seen by Charles Plum again.
Plum couldn’t sleep that night, awakened to the realization that every time he’d flown a mission over Vietnam someone else first had stood in the hold of the ship, carefully and patiently folding a parachute with Plum’s name on it. And in the end, that parachute was enough. It had saved his life. Plum’s newly discovered gratitude for this quiet savior changed him.
In our lives it is God who stands lovingly, carefully, and patiently in the background, preparing us for challenge and joy. It is God who readies us for life, and it is God who provides the spiritual parachute on those occasions when we discover we are crashing. Our stewardship and discipleship are both how we express our gratitude to God and the way that we “pack the parachute” for so many others who rely upon the tangible ministry of the Cathedral. During this month of stewardship, God taps us on the shoulder, and we are reminded from whom our blessings come.
Charles Plum still speaks around the country, motivating and inspiring people. But today his focus is not so much on himself. His speech is now titled: “Who Packs Your Parachute?”
**This story was told to me by the Reverend Daniel P. Matthews.