A One-Year Progress Report

AUDIO VERSION

This post includes metaphysical speculation. Readers are encouraged to draw their own conclusions.

I’d like to finish this series of posts about my relocation to Pittsburgh by telling the story of something interesting that happened while I was packing up the house. (In the future, I plan to share more stories of God’s endless mercies, particularly of God’s faithfulness to Priscilla and me during our years of pastoral and student ministry. But I’ll be taking a break for a little while to catch up on some other projects.)

As I was sorting through my bookshelves for the move, I came across Priscilla’s yearbooks from Bible school. A photograph I’d never seen before fell out of one of them. The picture was of some sort of panel discussion, with three panelists seated in chairs at a low table. A moderator was standing behind and above them so that she could address both them and the audience. Priscilla, a first-year student at the school and probably only 17 years old, was one of the panelists.

In the photo, Priscilla has a triumphant grin, as if she’s just said something completely unexpected but also virtually impossible to counter. But her demeanor is still friendly and cooperative. One of the other panelists seems to be trying to formulate a response. The moderator can barely contain her smile, as if she’s delighted with the moment.

I liked the picture because it showed a young Priscilla whose engaging personality was already emerging. I shared it on Facebook, and her friends and family were glad to see it as well.

Over the next couple of days, however, I couldn’t shake a nagging question about the picture. Why had I never seen it before? Those yearbooks had been lifted off the shelves many times in the same way, for example, when we moved, or when we relocated our books within the house. But the picture had never fallen out until now.

It was almost as if it had been withheld from me previously and only delivered to me at this time for a specific purpose. I felt as if heaven was sending it to me as a one-year Progress Report to the Family on how Priscilla was doing. The image was emblematic. Heaven was saying, “She’s still young and new by our standards, but we’ve already discovered that she’s irrepressible!”

That was some months ago. In preparation for writing this blog post, I decided to see what more I could find out about the event that was pictured. I had one lead: The photo was signed and dedicated to Priscilla on the back. There was only a first name, but it was a distinctive one, and I was able to look through the yearbook and match the name with a face. It was the moderator of the panel discussion.

Priscilla’s family had given me the letters she’d sent home from Bible school, and I found a description of this person, by name, in them. She was a fellow student. Priscilla reported that “she plays all sorts of instruments” and “speaks French.” The two of them had become fast friends. They were preparing a musical duet to perform together with guitars, recorders, and vocals at the freshman class Christmas celebration.

According to the yearbook, this student’s parents were on the faculty. It made sense to me that if the school had wanted to put together a panel that included students, they would have approached her and asked her to invite some of her fellow students to participate. It also made sense that she would have specifically invited her friend Priscilla.

I still wasn’t able to find out what the discussion had been about, and so for now the trail has gone cold there. However, a further interesting thing happened.

I also learned from Priscilla’s letters that the students were each assigned a “secret pal” who would pray for them and give them small gifts. In a letter early in the semester, Priscilla reported happily that her secret pal had slipped her an apple—fresh fruit was a prized commodity in the dormitories. Just before Christmas she wrote, “From my secret pal I got a book, If by Amy Carmichael. It looks good.”

I was amazed and pleased to discover that Priscilla had actually been introduced to Amy Carmichael and her writings so early in life. This might help explain why, as I described in an earlier post, she said “let’s take that one” when she saw Amy’s biography among the books being offered from the InterVarsity library at Michigan State. “I’ll be she and Amy are good buddies by now,” I thought. “But I guess we’ll have to wait many years to find out for sure.”

Two days later, I got an email from my niece. She had no idea that I’d been reading Priscilla’s old letters. But she’d been going through the books that had been on her grandparents’ shelves and she told me she’d found one by Amy Carmichael. Knowing how much I appreciated her writings, she wondered if I’d like to have it. The book was entitled If.

This might not be the same copy of the book Priscilla was given in Bible school. I’ll have to examine it to try to determine that. But it’s at least the same book, and that’s remarkable enough. Moreover, there’s much to suggest that it is her copy. It makes sense to me that she would have left it on the family shelves because she made several short-term moves in the few years after she returned from school. I can’t think of where her parents might have gotten a different copy.

In any event, I first learned in a 45-year-old letter that she’d been given this book by Amy Carmichael, and two days later it, or another copy, was independently offered to me. I wonder if someone is trying to tell me something.

Update: My niece mailed me the book, and I discovered that Priscilla’s father’s name and the date Dec. 22, 1947 were written inside the front cover. So he got this copy of the book many years before she was born and it’s not the one she got in Bible school. Still, I find this an intriguing adventure.

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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