In just a few hours, Lord willing, I will be celebrating my 54th birthday. It seems like the time has just raced by so swiftly. I don’t feel 54, whatever it’s supposed to feel like, but I’m celebrating 54. Ironically, it will be one year from the day that I received the diagnosis that I had cancer (melanoma) or as my brother, Dr. Bernard J. Sutton rephrased it “an infirmity.”
Much has happened over the course of my life. Unfortunately very few people can look back over their life and say “I’ve never had a problem or trouble or heartaches or pain” – I number in the former and not the latter. Life has not been a “crystal stair,” it’s been like a mountain railroad. There are ten things that I’ve learned on this journey that I want to share with you:
1. God will provide. I have gone through the “had it all” and “lost it all” stage. In the midst of that turbulent season of storms, when I talked to the Lord after crying, sitting in an empty apartment with no furniture what to speak of and only the clothes on my back, God said (and I heard Him audibly say) “trust me.” I did not realize that what I thought was a mine field, God was using it as basic training for me to prepare for the next season in my life. In this season, it has been the most loving, rewarding and fulfilling season in my life, thanks to The Provider.
2. Loved Ones start transitioning. I cannot remember a period in my life where death has been invading the ranks of those I have loved, admired, celebrated and fellowshipped with. In this recent season, I’ve seen my father in the ministry, my father-in-law, two dear brothers of ministry, mentors, friends, church members and those who poured into my life leave from these shores to a home “over there.” In my middle 50s, I suspect I will see many of those who mean much to me leave from here. But thankfully most of those in that list are saved through the blood of Jesus Christ. In the words of a friend, “people are dying now who have never died before.”
3. Relationships mean much. As a pastor in my middle 50s, I’m not seeking fame or fortune. I think I’ve already been through that stage and found out that once you get on the star there is a plethora of preachers who want to take your place. In my distant future, I’m preparing to move out of the way for some emerging younger pastors and preachers to make their presence known. This year, I’m retiring (due to tenure) as President of the Kentucky State Convention of the PNBC. I’ve already laid down the mantle as Secretary of the Frankfort/Franklin County Ministerial Association. There will come a time when I will retire as Chairman of the Publishing Board of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky. I’ve retired as Webmaster of the Progressive National Baptist Convention (and I probably had just cause to do it much, much sooner). I intend to wear convention affiliation like a loose garment and spend more time with those who mean much to me through the avenue of relationships.
4. Live life. I think one of the major points I learned from Dr. A. Louis Patterson before the Lord took him home was his joy in living. It was rare to see Dr. Pat with a sour demeanor or disposition (to my knowledge, I have never personally seen it). I was to live joyously. Yes, laugh. Yes, joke. Yes, travel with my bride. See things and places I’ve never seen before, take up a hobby (I still want to learn how to play an acoustic guitar). I’ve never had a formal piano lesson, and that’s on the bucket list as well. But most importantly, I want to go to bed with a smile on my face and wake up in the sam manner.
5. Pass on a legacy. I want to take what God has given to me and put it in the hands of faithful believers who will pass it on accordingly. I think I have two more books in my spirit. Before I die I want to share, build up and encourage someone else. I’m proud of my wife, my sisters, my mom, my aunt, my relatives, and those preachers who have adopted me as a pastoral father figure or mentor. I want to have a Paul, Timothy and Titus in my life – someone I can learn from, someone I can consider as a colleague, and someone I can mentor. I’ve been threatening to, many years from now, after I retire (many, many years from now), to join his church as a heckler (smile). But really, in older age, all I want to do is help someone else up the hill.
Looking forward to tomorrow, if the Lord wills, to see 54.