Does the Holy Spirit motivate us? Talk to us? Cajole us? Quietly? With a loud voice? I think so. In fact, I know for certain. The third of the Trinity, the hardest to understand and hear, is very real to me.
I was in grade school when I heard and felt the call to a career in law enforcement. From the age of 10 on, I could not think of a line of work that I wanted to dedicate my life to. As strong as the call was, I did everything the opposite of what I should have done to make it happen. A high school diploma was the minimum education required. I refused to go to high school. I worked job after job establishing a record of employment instability, not because I had a problem with the multiple jobs I held, but because of an insatiable curiosity drove me to learn a job and then moved on when I got bored. Law enforcement requires stability; I didn’t show anything close to stability. By luck? By grace? A sympathetic Sheriff hired me as a Deputy Sheriff in a low crime jurisdiction. Not satisfied, I applied for a job in a metropolitan area with a high crime rate a year later. I drove 650 miles for an interview that led to my dream job, Deputy Sheriff in a city with real crime to fight.
I was on my way home from the initial job interview. I was driving a 90 mile stretch of highway between a town and a cluster of houses that passed for a town in South Dakota. I was about 20 or so miles south of that cluster of houses when I spotted a 1956 Chevy pickup parked on the shoulder. At 2:00 a.m., in the dead of winter, with the temperature at -20 degrees below zero and falling, you do not pass a stranded vehicle in the middle of nowhere. I slowed to a crawl. The engine was off, the rear window frosted over. My lights illuminated the interior. Had there been anyone inside, I would have seen a shadow. The side window, also frosted over, did not show a shadow. The front window, frosted over. It was clear that the driver parked the pickup there long enough to frost over all the windows. Nobody jumped out thankful for a ride so I hit the gas and continued on my way.
I was almost at the speed limit with the pickup out of my mind when something hit my gut. Have you ever been sitting quietly contemplating and enjoying being alone when somebody walked up behind you, said something or made a noise, startled you and you nearly jumped out of your skin? Has anyone ever snuck up behind you and popped a paper bag or made some other noise and made you jump? When I say a sudden urge hit me, that is what I felt that cold night. Startled. Stunned. Alarmed. Disconcerted. Disturbed. All fit what I felt.
I stopped and backed down the middle of the highway until my headlights were even with the back bumper of the pickup. I got out, walked to the driver’s door and tried to look through the frost. I didn’t see a thing, so I opened the door.
There was a man sprawled across the seat. His back was up against the back rest. His left arm lay on his left side. He had dropped a cigarette on the seat. A smoldering fire set off by the dropped cigarette and had burned a hole through the seat. The stuffing under the seat cover was burning, filling the cab with smoke and toxic fumes from the synthetics in the seat. I though the man was dead. The smoldering fire started to flare up as I looked over the situation.
I pulled the man out and lowered him to the pavement. He moaned and moved as I did. He was alive. I pulled my car up, wrestled him inside, moved the car to safety then went back to take care of the fire. I owned a 56 Chevy pickup so I knew that the seat popped out. With no way to put the fire out, I pulled up on the driver’s side unlatching the seat then went around to the passenger side, did the same then pulled the seat out and tossed it on the snow bank in the ditch and let it burn.
That reads like it took a long time, but it wasn’t. It was open the door. Smell the smoke. See the man. See the fire. See the fire start to flare. Grab the man, pull him out; 5 to 8 seconds elapsed at the most before he hit the pavement. Moving my car up, wrestling the man into my car, moving the car to safety, then removing the seat took longer.
The man came to as I drove. I partially opened my window to let the smoke off the man’s clothes out. As the smoke dissipated I smelled alcohol. I assumed that he pulled over and passed out with a lit cigarette in his hand.
I dropped the man at an old fashioned hotel at the collection of buildings ahead of me. He was able to walk but only by leaning on me. The woman behind the desk knew the man and said she would see to him. I told her that his pickup was south of town and that the seat was on fire and left.
Three things were at work in the cab of that pickup before I opened the door. First, and most obvious, the fire. Second, the smoke and toxic fumes filling the cab, and third, the fire was burning up the available oxygen. That was obvious from the way the smoldering flame flared seconds after I opened the door.
There was a fourth event waiting to happen in that cab. Chevy pickups built in 1956 had the gas tank inside the cab behind the seat. The gas fill cap connected to the gas tank with a rubber-like connector. That was a spectacular fire waiting to happen. It was a matter of time.
Deep down, every law enforcement officer wants to be a hero. I saved a life and there was nobody around to witness the event and dole out accolades. At first I found that ironic and amusing, but later accepted it as a lesson in humility. I got the job I interviewed for. The incident changed my outlook. From that day on I did my job for reasons other than accolades; I did my job because it was the right thing to do, not because of what somebody else would think or say or write about me.
The moment I focus on, when I think about the incident, isn’t pulling the man out of that pickup and in all likelihood saving his life; I focus on the moment something startled me as I accelerated past the pickup, something that alarmed me enough to send my heart racing and my blood pressure rising and made me back up and take a closer look. After years of thinking about that moment, I concluded without any doubt that the Holy Spirit gave me that jolt and sent me back to that pickup and a man in trouble. Somebody saw what I did and reversed my action.