Paul Prather

The Lord leads us in roundabout paths to our destination

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In 1977, I dropped out of the University of Kentucky for what I thought would be a semester, maybe two.

My plan always had been to become a lawyer.

I very much aspired to the bourgeoisie, to become a prosperous professional and drive a Lincoln and join a swank country club and sip fine bourbon while I discussed stock investments with my golf buddies.

Unfortunately, I’d already embraced the habit of guzzling scarily inferior bourbon and engaging in all manner of other debauchery, and doing this while working from midnight to 6 a.m. at Kroger to pay my tuition and fraternity dues.

None of that left much energy for attending classes or, heaven forbid, studying.

After three years of higher learning, I was broke, ignorant and pickled.

Thus I decided, like countless wastrels before, to sit out a while, move back in with my parents, work, save money and sober up — to get my act together, as we used to say. Then I’d return to school, pull up my GPA and find myself a gullible law school.

Honestly, it didn’t seem like a big deal — it was more of a slight readjustment.

It happened, however, that my parents were going through a real upheaval. The story’s much too long for this space, but Dad — a longtime Baptist pastor and a former Baptist college administrator — had just split from, or had been split from, the Baptists.

He was trying to lead a struggling Pentecostal congregation where they prophesied and spoke in tongues and healed people and banged tambourines.

Once I’d moved home, I started feeling sorry for my parents.

Their new church meant nothing to me, and their Pentecostal worship embarrassed my bourgeoisie-wannabe sensibilities.

I’d never even been much attached to the Baptist tradition in which I was raised.

Another part of my original plan had been to ultimately quit church altogether, or, at most, to become a nominal Christmas-and-Easter member of some uptown mainline congregation — a Presbyterian or an Episcopalian, say.

But I decided to attend these crazy Pentecostals services anyhow, as a way of showing moral support for Mom and Dad. They were my parents, and they were giving me free room and board, and honoring them seemed the decent thing to do.

Plus, it was only temporary. Soon enough, I’d be back at school.

Except that’s not how it worked out.

To everybody’s surprise, no one’s more than my own, the Pentecostals hooked me. They were so aglow with love, it blinded me to their zaniness.

And in fact, they weren’t as zany as I’d assumed. The more I listened, the more sense they made. Besides, they were incredibly happy. And I was unhappy.

Within months, I’d gone full-bore Holy Roller.

For a time, we held our church services in the rented basement of the local Farm Bureau building. (We were low church in more ways than one.)

Once, a visiting family of gospel singers came to perform. I introduced myself to the cute 17-year-old alto. Six months after that, we were married.

Next I became a Pentecostal preacher. The Episcopal Christmas choirs and Presbyterian pipe organs I’d imagined never materialized; in their place were twanging guitars, thumping drums and wailing saxophones.

Years down the line, I did return to UK, but as a married man, not a frat boy. I ended up in journalism instead of law. No country club. No Lincoln. Bye-bye, bourgeoisie.

Dropping out of college had seemed a minor thing when I did it. Looking back, I see that it completely redirected my life.

For me, that new direction was perfect.

Don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing wrong with lawyers, the upper-middle-class, Episcopalians or Presbyterians. God bless them all. I mean no disrespect.

I just discovered my own true calling in another kind of life, as if by happenstance. Nobody could have felt more fulfilled than I have as a Pentecostal preacher and, yes, even as a newspaper guy.

The other day, while searching for something on the internet, I happened across a sermon on the 23rd Psalm by the Rev. Stephen Clyborne, a Baptist pastor in South Carolina.

I don’t know Clyborne, but in his homily, he discusses the verse, “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

Clyborne cites Rabbi Harold Kushner, who said that a literal translation of the Hebrew would be, “The Shepherd leads me in roundabout ways that end up in the right direction.”

I love that. It’s how life really works, or at least how I perceive my life as having worked.

Over the decades, over and again, we make all manner of roundabout diversions. We zig. We zag. We lose our way. We follow this blind fork and that.

Yet if we’re lucky, we somehow end up headed in the right direction.

Eventually, we reach our own proper destination, one we might not have imagined when we started the journey.

I prefer to think that’s because a shepherd was leading us the whole time.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at pratpd@yahoo.com.

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