Today is my birthday. I turned 51 years old.

When I hit half-a-century last year during the pandemic, I told my wife that I was looking forward to middle-age. She raised a brow and responded, “Not sure how long you’re planning on living, but you passed middle-age a decade ago.” Thanks, dear.

Now that I have one foot squarely pointed towards the second 50 years of my life, I’m looking forward to what lies ahead. However, before I step into this new and exciting period of my life, I want to take a moment of indulgence to reflect on the first 50 years.

Recently, I stopped by the Indian Hospital in Claremore, Oklahoma, where I was born. My mom and dad were 20 and 19, respectively, when they had me; just kids trying to make it through life. Over the course of our childhood and adolescence, my younger brother and I were shaped by their dogged determination, impeccable integrity and compassionate spirits. We are who we are today because of them.

While always taking my “big-brother” role seriously, I never realized how much I needed my younger brother until I was an adult. The “big brother” is always supposed to keep an eye out for the “little brother,” but no one ever told me about the valuable lessons “little brothers” teach their older siblings. My brother is an absolute inspiration. He teaches art in public schools, raised two amazing daughters as a single dad, fostered three babies with his wonderful second wife and now has two young and beautiful boys.

During the pandemic, I lost my grandfather (Herbert Sheffield) from complications due to COVID-19. Each of my grandparents had a significant part in mentoring me over the years. Okema connected me to my Muscogee Creek culture. Les instilled the value of education. Carlene demonstrated the importance of sacrifice. Herbert reminded me about the importance of humility while always striving to make certain the next generation has it better.

Growing up Southern Baptist, I must admit the significance that faith held in my life. While I certainly disagree with much of the SBC’s doctrine and politics today, their passion for teaching the Scriptures and applying them to life has influenced me. Today, I am serious about the Scriptures and how they guide my faith – not necessarily in spite of my SBC upbringing, but because of it.

While baseball was constant in my life, that cold October morning in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in 1992 after college baseball workouts changed my life forever.  On that fall morning — looking across a kaleidoscope of colorful trees while drinking coffee — I heard the calling of God upon my life.

Attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Boo Helflin shook my understanding of faith by opening the entirety of the Scriptures to me as never before. From that day forward, I was on a journey of serious discovery that began to shape my life almost immediately.

I met my wife at church. Seriously, I did. A church in Coppell, Texas, called me as their new pastor while I was still in seminary and very much single, dedicated to the Lord and all. However, once I met Missy on that first Spring Sunday and a donkey brayed during my sermon, I was smitten.

Because of the strangeness and complexities of a single pastor dating a parishioner, we decided to marry soon after we declared our love for each other. Twenty-five years later, we’re happily married and thrilled to be watching two sons begin their careers.

Our life together has not always been filled with rainbows and unicorns – ministry and life, you know – but it has been filled with adventure, surprises and wonderful memories we will always cherish.

You’re supposed to be an example for your kids, right? Then, why did no one tell me that your kids would become examples for you?

I hope Missy and I have been good instructors for our boys, but more than anything they have shown us a better way for the future.

Their commitment to community and passion for social justice offers us a glimpse into a future where individuals live outside their own self-interests to embrace a common good for all people. We’re so proud of their accomplishments and the adults they are becoming.

The church can be filled with the most wonderful moments in a pastor’s life, but the church can also be the source of great pain and heartache.

Relationships forged within the stained-glass walls of congregational life can be soul-filling. These are the saints that forever shape your life. However, there are times when congregants turn on you in attempts to put you in your place or exert authority over you. During those times, the church likes to remind you that she is still filled with sinners – the pastor being chief among them.

With nearly three decades of walking alongside the church, I love her more now than ever before.

When I stepped beyond the walls of the church to enter a new phase of ministry, I was both scared and excited. After 20 years of pastoral ministry, I had grown comfortable with preaching, teaching, ministering and leading a congregation. Being the executive director of an ethics organization sounded a bit out of my league.

In my eyes, I was still the little Indian boy born at the Indian hospital who grew up on the eastside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The notion that a group of Christians wanted me to lead a national organization was far beyond my expectations. However, it was exactly what I needed.

Being the executive director of and now CEO of Good Faith Media has been a life-altering experience. The greatest perk of my job is getting to meet so many inspiring and fascinating people of faith engaged in transformative work.

From racial justice advocates to LGBTQ allies, the world is filled with passionate people rolling up their sleeves to make this world a better place. And many of them are not abandoning their faith to accomplish these goals but embracing their faith as a catalyst for global change.

In the Christian tradition, we are certainly seeing more and more people practicing an inclusive gospel to bring about transformative communities. It is a sheer pleasure to tell their stories.

All in all, the first 50 years of living on this rock have been extremely rewarding.

Sure, I’ve lived through some strange and heartbreaking times: Watergate, Iran hostage situation, Iran-Contra affair, Challenger and Columbia explosions, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, multiple mass shootings, the Great Recession, racial injustices, a U.S. president using force on U.S citizens peacefully demonstrating, an attack on the U.S. Capitol by U.S citizens, and a continued global pandemic wreaking sickness and death across the globe.

However, even within all of these dreadful moments, the light of the gospel has never been extinguished.

Yes, there were times when it flickered and almost went out for me. But as soon as those moments thought they had won the day, a flicker of the gospel would always emerge. Either through a comforting word or creative idea, hope resides in the hearts of people who come together to find solutions.

While I very much enjoyed and appreciated my first 50 years, I’m looking forward to another 50, hopefully.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds, for the emerging generations are filled with a desire and passion to instill common-sense change. Therefore, I wake today to put my feet on the floor, ready to step into a future filled with light and hope.

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