A flagrant violation of camp rules



At Priscilla’s cousin’s wedding, where she was a bridesmaid, one young man took an immediate interest in her.  He pursued every opportunity to get to know her that weekend, and when she left he told her that he’d like to see her again.

When I got to Bethel camp later that month, I learned that she’d received a letter from him inviting her to come visit him in the state where he lived.  As I was also a trusted source of relationship advice for her, she asked me what I thought she should do.  “I think it would be best if he came here first,” I suggested.  Since he was the one taking the initiative, it shouldn’t be up to Priscilla to make the first exploratory trip.  So she wrote back and invited him to come to Quebec, and he accepted.

At the start of the last week I’d be at Camp de Béthel that summer, Priscilla came to me with a further relational problem.  “What if there’s somebody I like better?” she asked.  There was a twinkle in her eyes and the beginnings of a smile around the corners of her mouth.  I looked over my right shoulder, then over my left shoulder, didn’t see anybody else, and realized she was talking about me.  “I’ll answer your question very soon,” I promised.

Prayer, as I’ve mentioned, is an interactive process.  I knew it would only be right to pray about such a potential change in this friendship that had meant so much to both of us over the years. I was fully expecting to get a mild scolding for even bringing up the possibility of a romantic relationship with Priscilla.  “Don’t you dare lead her on!” I thought God would say.  “You know you’re getting on a bus back to the U.S. at the end of the week, and that you have no plans to see her again.  So be a gentleman and step gracefully out of the way.”

Instead, I received some of the clearest and most unmistakable divine guidance I’ve ever gotten in my life.  It was as if God was actually speaking the words to me, “This is the woman I want you to marry.”  Oh, I said to myself, then I’d better stay another week.

Sometimes when we believe we’ve discerned what God wants us to do, we then struggle to obey.  That wasn’t the case in this instance.  Up to this point, the difference in our ages and life situations had kept me from considering a romantic relationship with Priscilla as even a possibility.  But now we were both “in our twenties,” finished with college, and making future plans.  It appeared that God wanted me to make my plans around her.  The rightness of this washed over me. I could almost feel all the different areas of my brain lighting up at the same time.

We’d first met as fellow workers in a shared enterprise, an outreach to children in the name of Christ.  I knew she was fully committed to His cause.  I was planning to enter the Christian ministry, and she would be an invaluable fellow worker.  Though I would only later discover her talents for things such as entertaining, interior decorating, floral design, landscaping, and so forth, I had had the chance to witness her remarkable gifts for reaching out to others.  Here’s a story from this last summer at Camp de Béthel that I also shared in my eulogy at her memorial service.

I was doing double duty as a counselor and as a lifeguard/swimming instructor.  The doctor Priscilla had been working for had reluctantly concluded that she didn’t have an adequate medical vocabulary in French to transcribe his reports accurately, so he’d had to let her go.  This left her free to help at the camp, and since she was also a trained lifeguard, she worked with me at the pool.

At the start of one week, the middle school campers came bursting through the gate of the pool enclosure for their first lesson, running, shouting, and splashing into the water.  Behind them a girl stepped shyly just inside the gate and stood against the fence with her head down, both hands grasping the towel around her neck.  “Can you handle the rest of the class?” Priscilla asked me.  “I think so,” I said.  While I tried to carry on some semblance of a swimming lesson with all the others, she walked over to the girl and started talking quietly with her.  Soon she got her to take her hand and walk over to the edge of the pool.  Before the class was over, she had her in the shallow end and was pulling her though the water with both hands.  The girl was smiling.  I remember saying to myself at the time that it was like watching magic.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a wonderful and effective life partner and ministry partner Priscilla would make.  It seemed clear that we could make a greater contribution to the kingdom of God together than we could separately.  Beyond this, we’d always enjoyed any time we’d been able to spend together.  And she was beautiful.  And maybe we already were in love.  Maybe we had been long before either one of us realized it.

But now was the time to do something about it.  Someone else was interested in Priscilla, so I needed to make my move without delay.

One afternoon a little later that week we were sitting together on a poolside bench, waiting for the first recreational swimmers to arrive, when she asked me where I planned to hide for the “staff hunt” the campers would go on that evening.  “Over there,” I indicated, pointing over her shoulder.  She turned to look, opening a clear path to one cheek, on which I quickly planted a friendly kiss.

As boys and girls were supposed to maintain an 18-inch “air gap” between themselves, this was a flagrant violation of camp rules.  But since the first swimmers came into the pool enclosure a moment later, Priscilla wasn’t free to ask out loud, “Why did you just kiss me?”  However, after a two-hour recreational swim for the campers, throughout which electricity crackled between the lifeguards, she came over and stood quietly and expectantly beside me as I was closing up the pool.

“I guess you’d like to know what that meant,” I began.  I reported how I’d prayed and the answer I’d received, and told her, “If I were in a position to ask you to marry me, I would, but I don’t feel that I am.”  I explained that I’d always planned to finish three years of seminary and become established as a minister before I got married.

“I’ll wait,” she said.

Priscilla's bronze medallion, which she earned to qualify to work as a lifeguard in Canada.
Priscilla’s bronze medallion, which qualified her to work as a lifeguard in Canada.

Author: endlessmercies

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister and served local churches as a pastor for nearly twenty years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School. Dr. Smith answers questions about the Bible, particularly those that arise from the use of his study guides, at goodquestionblog.com.

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