It is an odd place for a California business lawyer–a conference center in the Smoky Mountains, teaching a seminar called “Your Relationship with Christ” and giving talks at night to a group of young adults on gospel themes.
After I finish speaking most nights, Patricia and I change our clothes and shoes and walk around the lake on the grounds. The path is paved and well-tended.
Lightning flashes off to the south and east beyond the Blue Ridge in the general direction of South Carolina. Rain spatters us here and there.
The darkness cloaks the young couples slipping by us, the girls trailing perfume into the warm, humid air.
There is something about camp meeting for 16-19 year-olds, give or take a year, that mixes the fervent preaching, stirring gospel songs, the freedom of being away from home and routines, hot sun and balmy nights, and the presence of interesting members of the opposite sex into an intoxicating emotional brew. The cynical world would call it “infatuation,” but these sweet innocents call it “having fun” or “getting serious” depending on their particular personality and frame of mind.
It was so for Patricia in Arizona and for me in Central California on camp meeting nights many summers ago, and for our parents before us.
From the shadows of the gazebos and benches along the shore, we can hear murmuring of hopes, fears, likes, dislikes, and endearments. One them, most likely the girl, is no doubt frequently checking a luminescent watch dial so as to comply with parental curfews back at the cabins.
The setting of the time is not hard to imagine. “Mom, we are going to walk around the lake after the meeting to get some exercise.”
“Well, OK, but you be back here and your “good nights” said, by eleven o’clock sharp!”
“OK. I promise.”
One night, Patricia forgets her flashlight. “Do you want me to go back and get it?” I ask twice, knowing that she has problems with her peripheral vision in the dark.
“No,” she says. “I think I’ll be OK.”
But she’s not. The shadows are erratic and make it hard to pick out uneven places in the path. There are blinding headlights from the adjacent road. It is a slow, tentative effort that takes us around. My own eyes are adjusting to my first pair of prescription glasses.
At times, Patricia can follow the gleaming whiteness of my untanned, bare lawyer’s legs as I walk ahead of her, limping on an arthritic knee, leaning on a walking stick for relief.
On the far side of the lake, where the woods crowd the shore and the lighting is sparse, we hold hands and match steps — fiercely independent, both of us — more used to walking alone than together, but in need of the light of companionship in the darkness. Together, we make it around without incident.
Forty years ago, it could have been us out there, slipping into the night like it was day on strong, tanned legs, knowing exactly where we were going together and why. We didn’t know that the path might get darker, not lighter. We hadn’t a thought that our knees might be fickle and our bright eyes might not see through the shadows.
God asks, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” (Am 3:3). Thirty-four years ago, Patricia and I stood before witnesses and pledged so easily “to have and to hold each other in sickness and in health, for better and for worse.” Now, stumbling along in darkness deeper than we had imagined back then, the pledge has come due and it proves good in our hearts and on the path.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8)
Under the mercy of Christ,