It was September 8, 1860. Edward Spencer, a sophomore at Northwestern University at Evanston, Illinois, thought it would be a normal day. Like himself, several students got up for an early walk along Chicago’s Lake Michigan beach. As they were walking, they saw that some debris had washed up on the shore. Some of that debris was human.

What they didn’t know is that around 2:30 in the morning, a storm had brewed on Lake Michigan and the Lady Elgin, carrying soldiers, collided with another ship. Life boats were deployed, but there was not enough. As the ship sank the soldiers looked for anything to float on.

It was one of the worst marine disasters ever in North American history. Over 400 people lost their lives and that morning still hundreds more were floating on debris, trying to make it to shore.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Edward rid himself of any extra clothing that might hinder him and be dived in the rolling, chopping waves. He was able to reach the wreck and, fighting his way back, he brought the first person to safety. He had repeated this heroic effort several more times when those on shore said, “Ed, you’ve done all you can. You’ll surely kill yourself if you try it anymore.” Ed’s reply was, “I’ve got to go my best.” He plunged again and brought another one to safety, and another and another until he had rescued 17 people. He could go no further and fell unconscious on shore.

All through the night, as he lay in the infirmary, he kept repeating, “Have I done my best, fellows? Fellows, have I done my best?” He had done his best but the experience cost him his health, because, you see, from that moment on, Edward had to use a walker or a wheelchair just to get around.

Years later, inspired by the story, Ensign Edwin Young wrote the song, Have I Done My Best For Jesus?

How many are the lost that I have lifted
How many are the chained I’ve helped to free
I wonder, have I done my best for Jesus
When He has done so much for me

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