“That Still Small Voice”
I was hitching a ride at the Whitehall exit, about thirty miles east of Butte, Montana on Route 90. It was early evening but it seemed much later because of the darkness. The sky was an ominous greenish black color indicating that if I didn’t get a ride soon I would come face to face with one very serious storm. It was times like these when I realized how vulnerable I truly was, and would marvel at how swiftly things could change from moment to moment, and from one part of the day to the next.
I thought back to that morning and to how beautiful and sunny it was when I left a campground further south. At that time I stood at it’s entrance watching the caravan of expensive trailers and Winnebagos go by one after another. It was May and the children weren’t out of school yet so it was mostly the retirees getting an early start on their day.
“They never pick you up,” I thought to myself.
That thought no sooner crossed my mind when a couple in a car pulling a good-looking Airstream stopped.
“How far ya goin’,” they asked
“I’m trying to get up to highway 90 and as far west as I can by tonight,” I responded. “I’m headed for Spokane, Washington.”
“Hop in. We can take you as far as 90. My name is Bill and this is my wife, Gladys.”
“I’m glad to meet you. My name is Tom,”
“We’re finally going to do it,” said Gladys. “We’ve been passing up this way every summer for the last ten years. There’s a little Bar and Grill up in the Gallatin area that we’re buying; so we’re moving everything up there now, lock, stock and barrel. Have you ever been to Yellowstone?”
“No,” I responded
“We’ll be driving through so we can show you some points of interest if you’d like,” said Bill.
“Sure,” I said. “I’d like to see as much as I can while I’m up this way.”
We spent most of the day together, much of it in Yellowstone National Park. They literally wine and dined me.
“Have you ever seen any buffalo,” asked Bill.
“No, not in the wilds.” I responded
“Well, there’s a small herd over there,” he said, and pointed. “I’ll pull over so you can get a better look.” It was exciting. Every time I saw something new it was like being a kid again. I felt like I was looking at a living link with this great Country’s history.
“ They’re still so far away. I wish we could get closer.”
The next thing I felt was Bill’s hand on my shoulder as he handed me his binoculars.
“This is great,” I said as I peered out at the herd. Seeing these magnificent animals close up I realized how much of the early History of this country depended on them.
Just then Gladys came out of the trailer.
“Lunch is ready,” she said.
I couldn’t believe all the hospitality toward a stranger. She had laid out a real spread: several types of bread, cheeses and wine. I too felt called to share some of my own home baked bread, a recipe I had developed over the years and called my “Super Bread.” Along with some Trail Mix we had a veritable banquet. Most of all we shared our dreams.
They continued to take me to different points of interest where they would wait in the car while I hiked a bit of the trail. We had spent a great day together but we reached Highway 90 and it was time to part company. As I stood at the side of the road I thought back to that morning and my blanket statement about ‘retirees.’ I couldn’t have been more wrong.
After that I got a couple of short rides and now found myself at the Whitehall exit where I watched this impending storm getting ready to dump it’s load on me. As I looked up the ramp I could see an old gas station and some kind of a large storage facility; both looked closed and boarded up.
I thought to myself, ”I think I’ll go up there to see if there’s a place to get out of the storm when it hits; just so I know it’s there, then I’ll come back down and hitch’ for awhile longer.”
Just then I felt an inner prompting. “Don’t worry you’re going on tonight.”
It wasn’t an audible voice but it’s intent seemed clear. I still wasn’t used to communicating with God in this way although I definitely felt guided at times.
“Okay,” I thought, “but I should still check out those places just in case.”
Again I heard, “Don’t worry, you’re going on tonight.”
As the sky grew steadily darker and the storm seemed more imminent I thought,
“But just in case, I’m still not sure I’m not just talking to myself and making this all up.”
Again the inner prompter repeated, “Don’t worry, you’re going on tonight.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll stand here. I’ll wait. I’ll let it pour on me. I’ll let myself get totally soaked. But make sure that wherever I end up tonight that I know without a doubt that it’s your will and not mine. (And not just some beautiful grassy spot under the stars.)”
I no sooner finished that thought when a pickup truck pulled up the ramp and stopped.
“How far ya goin’?” the driver asked.
“Well I was hoping to make it at least as far as Butte. Maybe I can find a place there to spend the night.”
“Well that’s where I’m heading,” he said. “Throw your pack in the back.”
I placed my pack as close to the cab as I could and covered it with a piece of plastic to keep it as dry as possible when the storm hit. The only other thing in the bed was a small motorcycle. As I climbed into the cab the rain started and before we got up to speed it was coming down in buckets. It was one of those downpours that remind you of Noah’s Ark. The wipers just couldn’t clear the windshield fast enough so we slowed to keep a safe speed. Many vehicles had already pulled on to the shoulder to wait out the storm.
“My name is Gene,” he said. “I’ve fixed this motorcycle for a friend and am taking it back to him. He’s a good guy. His name is Domingo and he’ll probably let you stay at his place; but if not I can bring you back to my house in Whitehall and you can get a fresh start in the morning.”
He must have read my mind for that was my concern at that moment.
“Want a beer,” he asked pointing with his eyes to a six-pack between us on the bench seat.
“No thanks,” I said. Lately I had started to eat more simply and was experimenting with fasting to purify myself, and beer wasn’t part of that diet. But as I said ”No” I felt a wall go up between us. We rode in silence for some time and it was starting to feel uncomfortable.
‘What should I do,’ I thought to myself. Again the voice inside my heart said, “Have the beer.”
“But Lord,” I said, “I’ve been trying to purify my self so I can hear your voice better.” Again the inner voice repeated, “Just have the beer.”
At that moment I remembered a scene from the Bible. It was after the Lord had risen. Peter was praying up on a rooftop in Joppa when he saw a vision of a sheet being lowered before him. It was filled with all manner of unclean animals. He too had been instructed to take and eat, and he too had a similar reaction to mine.
“But Lord, I have refrained from these things all my life,” but the Lord answered.
“Do not consider unclean what God declares clean.”
So I said, “You know, I think I will have that beer.”
The next words out of Gene's mouth surprised me. “You're a Christian aren't you?” he said. How could he have made that connection from me saying I'd have a beer? It didn't make sense unless God's hand was in the middle of it.
“I said that I was and he seemed comfortable sharing some of his current struggles with me.
We soon arrived in Butte. It was still pouring.
“Domingo, said he'd meet me at the Cafe but he forgot to tell me which one,” he said.
We drove from cafe to cafe looking for Domingo. Finally, we pulled up to yet another.
“There's Domingo,” he said “quick slide over and let him in.”
Domingo ran through the downpour and quickly hopped in. As we pulled away from the café, all three of us looking out the windshield, Domingo spoke:
“You're a Christian aren't you?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well you can stay with me tonight.”
This was all too weird, but it felt comfortable and I could sense God's hand in it. Domingo lived in an older house about a block from the edge of the huge Anaconda Copper pit.
“This house probably won't be here in another year or two. They keep widening the mine and tearing down the houses on the rim.”
Domingo and I spoke late into the night.
“I've been walking with the Lord for some time,” he said, “and this is probably the lowest I've ever been. But I believe that by the Lord sending you here, He's letting me know that He is still with me.”
I shared with him some of the experiences I was having and how the Lord had lead me here. I told him about my own struggles with the different Christian groups I had encountered in my travels, so much so the I had started to Pray directly to God the Father, so as not to be identified with them.
“I'd like you to meet the people in my prayer group,” he said, “They are new Christians with a lot to learn, but I think you'll like them. Ask the Father if you can stay here until Tuesday night for our meeting.”
“He definitely lead me here, I think it will be alright,” I replied.
As I lay there in the stillness of the night I thought back to that guy standing at the Whitehall exit thinking he was making a decision. I mean; Gene was already on his way to pick me up. Even how and when I would decide had already been decided. It was all a gift.
I stayed for the Tuesday night prayer meeting. As Domingo introduced me they asked if I played, and handed me a guitar. I took the last chair in the prayer circle. Domingo nodded that it was OK and pulled up a chair behind me. As I shared some of my experiences I sensed that they were uncomfortable with this way of knowing God. I was feeling their level of discomfort increase when I heard Domingo speak up with a gentle authority.
“I don't think you heard what Tom was trying to say.” He then proceeded to reword what I had said in a way that was more acceptable to them.
I left Domingo the next day but it was the start of a forever friendship. To this day we still share the struggles and triumphs of our faith walk, and I always feel he brings the very best out in me whenever we're together.
Something changed in me with that experience. It was something new yet familiar. I felt that I was on my way “Home” lead only by my desire to know the Truth and “That Still Small Voice.”