Thirty years ago, I was a student minister, in rural Manitoba. One cold January night, around 9 pm, I was home alone in the manse, the minister’s house beside the church. I had been out earlier for a supper visit, that turned into staying for cards, and a second dessert. As a young, single minister in farm country, I rarely ate at home. The good part about that was I ate well. The challenging part was it meant I spent a lot of time with people. For an introvert like me, it could leave me weary at the end of the day, and ready to just be in my own space.
And that was my plan for the rest of that chilly winter evening, except that I got this odd urge to go out again into the cold without actually knowing where. I started up my little silver-grey Chevy Chevette, backed it out of the garage, to let it warm up (It was about 25 below that night, and then I headed out.
The village I lived in was very small, more like a place where two country roads crossed near a grain elevator. There were maybe 60 houses, one church, and a post office. It was only a short drive up the main street before it met the provincial highway.
By the time I reached the stop sign, I knew I should turn left. That took me south on highway 59, but I did not stay on the highway long. I turned right on the road towards the ski hill, which led up into rolling hills along the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. You could stand at the top of the highest of those hills and be in two provinces at once.
My little Chevy Chevette seemed to know where it was supposed to go. I slowed and turned right, and up the long driveway to Eric’s house. He was a man in his forties who was very involved in the church. His lights were on, so I was hopeful it wasn’t too late to drop in.
At harvest time a late night visit would have made more sense, because the odds would be good that Eric would have just been getting in from driving combine. But in the middle of the winter this was all very unusual.
Eric saw me coming up his drive, and light spilled out as he opened his mudroom door. I’d learned while living in Manitoba farm country that the mudroom is the way you enter if you’re not company. Company would use the front porch door. The mudroom is where you knock the mud or snow off your boots, hang up your outer wear, and come in the back of the house to the kitchen.
Eric welcomed me, and had me sit at the table while he put on the kettle for tea. Seriously, two guys sitting down in a farmhouse kitchen to chat over tea! He ran water into the kettle, but before he could plug it in, the phone on the kitchen wall rang. This was when people still had those phones on the wall, with the long receiver cord that allowed you to walk around the whole kitchen. But Eric did not move. He recognized the voice on the other end, said hello, and then just held the receiver against his head, and stood, mouth open.
When I saw his face, I knew why I was at there, at his house, why I had left my house so late at night, in the January cold, to show up unannounced at Eric’s door. There had been a tragic, unexpected death in his family, just around the time I climbed into my car. His brother-in-law was making the calls to let all the family know.
I sat with Eric for a few minutes, and went with him to the next farm over, where his mom and dad had also had their phone call. Eric’s older sister had died. The family, from different parts of the province, would all be coming home.
Have you ever been surprised by the urge to do something out of the ordinary? Some might call it a whisper from God. If you have had such a moment, did you follow the urge, and do the strange thing?
If we are open to being led by God’s spirit, then God’s spirit will lead us. I told you my dramatic example, because I will never forget that night. But little nudges, and good ideas, intuitions, and inspirations happen all the time.