Paul Prather

Paul Prather: Make a plan, graduates, but expect life to take you to unexpected places

Paul Prather
Paul Prather

This is the season when high schools and colleges hold their graduation ceremonies, when seniors eagerly plot the grand educational or professional moves they hope will eventually sweep them to fame and happiness or, barring that, to filthy lucre.

As I've said before, no one ever asks me to share my priceless insights with these gullible, optimistic grads. However, if I were asked, I'd tell them that planning big moves is fine. We should plan.

But even as we plan we ought to realize that the vast majority of our big dreams will come to naught. When you're 18 or 22, what you think you'll do with your life bears little resemblance to what your life will turn out to be.

Indeed, the most profound changes you'll experience will likely result from seemingly trivial moments you didn't foresee.

When I entered the University of Kentucky in the 1970s as an undergraduate, my goal was to become a lawyer.

During my junior year, though, I took a class designed for those who intended to go to law school. I quickly learned that studying law bored me to insanity.

Realizing I'd never last as an attorney, I decided to drop out of school and move home temporarily with my parents.

I thought sitting out a term or two might give me time to weigh other career options, such as business, writing or teaching. The clergy wasn't a consideration. As the son of a minister, I'd seen religion from the inside. No way.

I quit my job at a Lexington supermarket. I meant to find another job closer to home. But nobody was hiring.

Then, as I returned from filling out yet another employment application, I t-boned a car that had run a stop sign. The impact totaled my Opel Manta.

My parents lived on an isolated, hilly farm, and I ended up stranded for months far out in the country with no job and no vehicle.

For entertainment and enlightenment — and because there was nothing else to do (we didn't even have cable TV) — I started reading a Bible.

Then I started reading it a lot.

By the time I came off that hillside, I was on the path to becoming a preacher. I've now been ordained for more than 30 years.

That series of small twists — becoming disillusioned by a school course, not being able to find a part-time job, wrecking my car — redirected my whole life.

This sort of thing is common. There's nothing new to tell here. Still, it's worth mentioning: Often, minor events turn out to alter our lives in major ways.

My son, John, went into a flower shop to order flowers for the girl he was dating. There are several shops in our town, but for no particular reason he picked this one. He could have phoned his order, but he stopped in person.

A pretty young woman was working behind the counter.

John recognized her from high school. She'd graduated in the grade ahead of him. He smiled as she took down his information.

He addressed her by name: "Cassie."

She didn't recognize John and was startled that he knew her.

When he left, Cassie found herself musing, "I wonder what it would be like to be married to a guy that nice."

Fast-forward. John and his girlfriend had broken up. Cassie and her long-time boyfriend had broken up, too.

John didn't intend to get serious with another woman, not for a very long time. Over on her side of town, Cassie felt the same way.

Then a mutual friend decided to fix them up on a blind date.

Cassie figured out who the friend had in mind — and recalled John's easy smile and his kindness. She went.

John went.

Within six months they were married.

In their first year of marriage they had a daughter. Now, five years into their union, they have four kids and counting — my grandchildren.

There's no telling how many great-grandchildren and great-greats will result. Whole new lives and souls may be birthed on and on until time ends, largely because John decided to order flowers from a particular shop and happened to remember the name of the young clerk behind the counter.

There was no plan. It just happened.

Coincidence. Luck. Random atoms reeling into atoms.

Or was there a plan after all?

For those of us who believe in God — in a God who cares about each person, a God who, in the Psalmist's words, wrote down all "the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them"— for us, few things happen accidentally.

Even so, rarely can we decipher God's script as we're trekking across its present pages. Much of life appears routine, happenstance, workaday, ho-hum.

It's only as we look over our shoulder we comprehend that our world has been entirely reordered and new universes created.