Nerves of Steel

One of the positives of limiting our schedules and staying inside is the chance to read the books we have stacked in a corner. 

I just finished Nerves of Steel by Tammie Jo Shults, the captain of Southwest Flight 1380. The lessons she provides are a word of hope to all of us during this pandemic crisis.

Our families, friends, and those around us are watching to see how our faith impacts our actions. 

We could all use nerves of steel for the next few weeks. 

Who is Tammie Jo Shults? 

There weren’t very many female pilots in the US Navy back in the 1980s, but Tammie Jo Shults was one of them. Her book provides an interesting look at her opportunities and her obstacles. Any woman who attempts to break social barriers has to be willing to suffer some hits, and Tammie Jo wanted to be a Navy pilot. Her story is composed of accomplishments and challenges. 

She became one of the first women to fly fighter jets for the Navy. She chose to endure prejudice, persecution, and hardships for the sake of her goals. Her faith kept her moving forward even when it would have been easier to quit. 

She credits her parents, her mentors, her friends, her husband, and, most importantly, her Lord for giving her the encouragement and strength she needed to pursue her goals. 

After retiring from the Navy, she was hired by Southwest Airlines and earned the opportunity to captain their aircrafts. That is what she was doing on April 17, 2018, when she piloted her Boeing 737 from LaGuardia and headed for Dallas. 

About twenty minutes into Flight 1380, one of the plane’s engines failed, the cockpit filled with smoke, and Tammie Jo Shults had to make a series of critical decisions. 

Instincts for any crisis 

Smoke filled the cockpit, and it was difficult to see the instruments. Tammie Jo said it felt like the plane had been T-boned by a Mack truck. At first, she thought another plane might have hit them. Quickly, she found the gauge that told her the left engine was dead. 

Just as quickly, the air pressure plummeted. A sharp pain pierced her ears. The roar was deafening. The plane began to vibrate violently. 

In all her years of training and flying, she had never experienced anything like that. 

But she had come close to disaster before. 

Her book describes the next moments 

The prologue records the brief moments that made all the difference. Tammie Jo wrote, 

Amid the confusion, I have a forced moment of solitude. I cannot see, I cannot hear, and I cannot breathe. I am isolated in one of life’s brief pauses, and adrenaline compresses my thoughts into an instant. This isn’t the first time I’ve flown without all the information I need. It isn’t the first time I’ve come close to disaster. My thoughts are distilled to their simplest form: bad news/good news. The bad news? With this fierce, abusive shuddering, I’m not sure everything we need to stay in flight will remain attached to the aircraft. This might be the day I meet my Maker face-to-face. The good news? We’re still flying. So it’s time to get to work. 

Tammie Jo knew salvation in Christ and had worked to have a strong walk with him as her strength. She instinctively turned to that strength in her moment of crisis. 

Later, when they listened to the cockpit tapes, she was surprised to hear her voice saying, “Heavenly Father.” 

She had instinctively prayed to the One she knew could help. 

Three lessons for a crisis 

The reason the book is titled Nerves of Steel is that a passenger on the flight used those words to describe the character of Tammie Jo’s words over the intercom, before she was able to land the disabled plane. She was calm. She gave them the information they needed and her voice quieted the chaos. 

She was asked to write the book so she could tell her story and help others understand how she was able to handle her terrifying circumstances. 

Tammie Jo gives three reasons she was able to function during that flight. 


She writes, “Habits—good and bad—become instincts under pressure. In other words, the choices we make every day become our reflex on bad days.” 

She goes on to say that one of her lifelong habits was to turn to God for help when things were difficult. The peace that followed her prayer provided her a stillness that steadied her thoughts. 


She writes, “I’ve come to realize since the events of Flight 1380 that hope may not change our circumstances, but it always changes us.” 

When Tammie Jo knew she was heading the plane toward an airport in Philadelphia, she told the entire plane, “We are landing in Philly.” She didn’t know they could land safely, but that hope caused everyone to find a place of peace and calm. 

Hope didn’t change their circumstances, but it changed them. 


Tammie Jo writes, “A true hero is someone who takes the time to see and makes the effort to act on behalf of someone else. In a word, they care.” 

She wanted everyone to realize that there were a lot of heroes on the plane that day. Her copilot, the flight crew, and several passengers had been extraordinarily brave and helpful both during and after the terrifying moments. 

What are your instincts for this crisis? 

All of us who watch the news know our nation, our world, is in a time of crisis. What are your instincts right now? 

How are the habits you have developed through your entire life carrying you now? 

I want to choose faith over fear. 

Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” 

I’m glad the government, the scientists, the doctors, and those who do research are hard at work right now. But, I trust it will be the Lord who guides them to the cure. He already has the answers. 

Will you pray with me that all those who want to help will cry out to God for that help? 

Will you share hope with those around you? 

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” 

We all have an amazing opportunity to be a voice of calm amid the chaos. Does that describe your voice today? 

Will you be considered a hero when these days have passed? 

Tammie Jo Shults commented that she found it interesting that in most of her television interviews people didn’t want to talk about her skills as a pilot during those terrifying moments. They wanted to talk about the moments after she landed the plane. 

She had walked the aisles of the plane, helping people get what they needed, speaking to them kindly, showing interest in each passenger. That’s what people remembered. That is what made Tammie Jo Shults a hero. 

What will people remember about you after these days of crises? 

You can determine that answer now by your choices. 

Will you be someone’s hero in the days ahead? 

You know people who will be losing a lot of their hourly pay. 

You know people who will get sick. 

You know people who will be upset, scared, angry, and self-centered. 

Will you notice them—and help? 

You know Jesus wants to be their hero—through you. 

This crisis is an opportunity. 

Will you ask Jesus for the “nerves of steel” that you will need for these next weeks? 

He wants to answer that prayer.