‘Tis the Season…

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‘Tis the season to be jolly. At least until you run out of fa la la la la la la…

At this point in life, I can fully empathize with those who suffer through the holidays.

Personally, I normally try to fight through my pain. I don’t want to be that guy who is always a mess of wildly fluctuating emotions.  Letting myself have an old-fashioned cry isn’t my default choice.

But there are those moments when the only way forward is found in entering the emotional minefield. I am doing that now by sharing with you a part of my story only a few haver ever heard…

Several weeks before October 10, 2011, we started a Christmas layaway for the boys–mainly Casey and Cole.

After October 10, 2011, one set of items was no longer needed.

Unfortunately, this store did not understand my dilemma. They did not have any available mechanism or procedure to cancel part of the layaway or separate the items no longer needed.

There are some things in life you cannot avoid. Like I said earlier, sometimes the only way out is to go through it. And that’s what I did. I had to purchase the entire layaway and then separate all the individual items and return what wasn’t needed.

I feel sorry now for the poor cashier/checker who had to serve me, but not then. Not then at all. I was so full of anger and pain combined with a weird kind of tenderness. Cole never touched any of those things, but somehow they were still his treasures and worthy of a bit of respect.

I lost a piece of me that day. In many respects, it was like pouring salt on an open wound.

Why am I telling you this? This story is a sacred place for me. Hopefully sharing it will encourage you to have empathy for those who struggle during this time of year.

The best gift you will ever give cannot be bought. Give others the gift of patience, love, and acceptance.  Show them the arms of Jesus.  After all, tis the season to be the reason the people around you experience love.

Thank you for being my safe place too.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:7 HCSB)

Blessings to all,

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

My Eyes Are Dry

cole 1  You may look at the title and think the reference is to my tears or lack thereof.

Don’t get your hopes up.

I still cry.
I still struggle.
I still wrestle with loss.

Last month’s five-year anniversary of the day that changed our lives forever was particularly hard.

Honestly? I am already dreading the 27th of this month. That is Cole’s birthday. He would have been twenty-seven. I miss him so.

There is a place in my heart that will always be just a bit raw over our losses. I grieve regularly for my children and their pain.

In some respects, I will always have unanswered questions–at least on this side of the vale.

Believe it or not, sometimes my questions have much less to do with tragedy and more with life itself.`

Scripture often affirms that which we may not always quite understand or comprehend.

In this case specifically, I am reminded of the following descriptions of King David:

But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”  1 Samuel 13:14

After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ Acts 13:22

I read those verses and confess: I sometimes struggle to understand how this could be true.

David, a man after God’s own heart?

Obviously that sentiment is positively affirmed by scripture.  And just as obviously, I must accept it while I try to understand it.

When I look at David’s life, I see it through some dark and dirty lenses—my own as well as his.

He was a man of mistakes.  I am a man of mistakes. Some of David’s, like his affair with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of her husband Uriah, are stupendously ugly.  I’d rather not have to confess all of my ugliness, but ugly I own in multiple shapes and fashions. When you look at David’s family it becomes readily apparent that he would have never won the Father of the Year award. In solidarity, I have made more than my fair share of parenting gaffes and blunders.

So while freely acknowledging the sometimes strident nature of his failures and sins, still God says he was a man after His own heart.

How? How could a man like David be afforded such a gracious epithet?

Better yet, how can I? How can you? Is there any real hope for those of us who own an error filled life?

Yes, there is hope. No matter how dark the day, no matter how messed up the occasion, there is hope. And the answer to how may not be as far off as you might suppose.

These are David’s words: Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.  I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”  (Psalm 16:1-2)

David recognized the one true source of protection—the only place of real refuge.  David understood that without God he was nothing. And David, in spite of his epic flaws and failures, longed most of all to know and be known by God.

Although not written during David’s time, I suspect David instinctively knew the truth of Keith Green’s song, “My Eyes Are Dry.”

My eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to You and dead to me

But what can be done
For an old heart like mine
Soften it up
With oil and wine
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love
Please wash me anew
With the wine of Your Blood

May God soften my heart. May God soften yours. And in the softening may we be shaped, formed, and fashioned in such a way as to become a man, a woman after God’s own heart.

I long for the heart of God.

How about you?

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

Suck It Up Buttercup!

fat-man-running

These have been my mantras of late:

  • Endurance.
  • Perseverance.
  • Fight through the pain.
  • Soreness is weakness leaving your body.
  • It doesn’t matter where you start; It’s where you finish that counts.
  • I may be slow, but I’m faster than everyone still sitting on the couch.

And my favorite motivational phrase (thanks to Becki who found the t-shirt) is Suck it up Buttercup!

Over the last twelve weeks I have been on a journey of pain, soreness, competition, and learning about myself.

As a result, I am healthier, fitter and more fully engaged in a long-term transformation procedure. (Not where I want to be yet, but getting there…)

They call it Fitness Bootcamp.
I call it a desire to live better.

(Huge shoutout to Paul Lacoste, Clark Bruce & team at Paul Lacoste Sports–these are the guys to work with, hands down!)

I am not the first to do such a thing.
I will not be the last.
Actually, I am already signed up for another go!

(Good gracious, who was the chucklehead who invented burpees?)

This weight loss, get-in-shape, be healthier process is a lot like life. Christianity itself calls for perseverance and running the race with determination and endurance.

1 Corinthians 9:24, Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.

And so we run and train spiritually all the while knowing:

  • There will be detours.
  • There will be roadblocks.
  • There will be difficult competition.
  • There will be temptations to take shortcuts.
  • There will be pain.
  • There will be soreness.
  • And there will be days when you will desperately need the attitude and demeanor that says Suck it up Buttercup.

But no matter how hard life gets…

No matter how difficult this world can be…

No matter what tribulations come, we serve a God who tells us quite clearly that He has this!

Romans 8:35-39, Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

So do me a favor. If you see me struggling—if you catch me wallowing—then not so gently please  remind me, Suck it up buttercup!

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Blessings to you and yours,

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

Brett Favre’s Second Biggest Fan?

There is hopefully, a significant point to what you will read below. It is not to make you sad.

Not at all.

On the other hand, I hope you find the same joy and confidence in the Lord…

Trevor Cole Ferguson is my son.  I miss him so.

I miss his funny way of talking.
I miss the mischievous gleam in his eyes.
I miss his big wide open smile.
I miss the way he talked trash about even his own favorite football team if he thought it would get your goat.

Brett Favre never had a bigger fan unless it was his mother–I even miss having to hear about him constantly.

I miss my son.
And yet…

I am glad of the comfort I have in knowing he rests now in the arms of Jesus. But, as any parent who has lost a child understands, I miss him so.

We are coming up this fall on the fifth anniversary of the two deaths that so transformed our lives.  I am so thankful God has worked through heartache and pain to bring such great joy back into my life/ our lives.

Last week, we got to spend time with Cole’s namesake–our eight-month old grandson, Jude Cole Ferguson.  We did so in a place where I have such good memories of my Cole. It was fun, sweet, and beautiful to play, snuggle and love on that precious little boy. His smiles are infectious and I hated to see them go back to their own home in Tennessee…

The more time that passes, the more I have learned to appreciate Psalms 86:5…

 For You, Lord, are kind and ready to forgive, rich in faithful love to all who call on You. (Psalms 86:5 HCSB)

The Lord is kind, rich in faithful love.

It’s hard to believe at this stage in my life how much joy, peace, contentment, and love I am experiencing/ living with. Some of that comes from having a wife and family that enjoys one another. Some of that comes from having a church family like Lake Harbour Drive. Some of it comes from a perspective that is determined to enjoy life and live it to the full. All of it comes from God!

The Lord is kind, rich in faithful love.

A week ago this past Thursday was our fourth wedding anniversary.  Becki and I got away that Saturday night for dinner by ourselves. It was to loud to talk much, but not to loud to make goo-goo eyes across the table. Turns out, I am good at making goo goo eyes! The whole evening was a blessing in more ways than one. Keep reading and you will see why…

Our waiter/ server that night was funny. More than just funny, he was delightful and entertaining. He made the evening good even without the serendipity of his name.

His name?
Yes, his name…

Trevor.

And I had to smile.

God is good in ways we sometimes cannot anticipate or begin to imagine—but if we learn to listen and see with our hearts, we might, just might come to know God’s love more deeply.

For You, Lord, are kind and ready to forgive, rich in faithful love to all who call on You. (Psalms 86:5 HCSB)

Les, Jr.

Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

When You are Having Fun…

So I am doing this thing called a fitness bootcamp. It is killing me but like they say, no pain, no gain. And maybe I am gaining some muscle, but I am losing some weight too. In the meantime, I hurt. I hurt a lot.

But that’s a good thing in its own way.

Our kids are all doing well. Michael graduated from High School last week. Conner finished his Freshman year at that school up north. Max is going into the 10th grade and Casey into the 5th. And little Jude is a complete joy (thanks Kyle & Karissa–you do good work)!

Time flies when you are having fun.

And we are.

I find myself here at my blog for the first time in a long while. This blog has more often been about pain than anything else. And I still have pain. I will hurt for our losses until that day when all is made new again.

But I am here today and looking at my life in complete astonishment. I still haven’t finished the book I am working on–and the next is already percolating in my head. I find myself busier than I have ever been with life and kids and church and life. Did I say life?

Yes I did.

Life is wonderful.
Life is breathtaking.
And I am blessed by family, by church family, by opportunities, and by the good graces of God.

So why am I here today?

It isn’t to whine or moan.
It isn’t to weep and wail.
It isn’t to complain.

Why am I here today?

To say thank you.

To say thank you to my wife, to my family, to my church family, to my friends, to my encouragers, to my awesome God.

Thank you. Life is beautiful today. It may turn ugly tomorrow, the rain may fall and the rivers may rise, but today I am grateful, at peace, and so very thankful.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever.
Let Israel say, “His faithful love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say, “His faithful love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,“His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1-4 HCSB)

Ashes to Ashes

Ring around the Rosy
Pockets full of Posies
Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down!

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A childhood ditty, a childhood game but one familiar to most of us in some form or fashion.

It has a long history and versions exist in multiple languages.

There has been much speculation about origins and meanings. Some have suggested a pagan background. Still others a reference to the Great Plague or black death.

As dramatic as that might be—and the story is fairly convincing (rosy is a rash, posies are for the smell, and ashes signify death), that’s an explanation that only came into play around the mid-twentieth century. (If you are interested, Wikipedia has a fairly exhaustive article on its origins.)

Be that as it may, we have ingrained into our culture the idea that ashes signify death and decay. In fact, one doesn’t have to think very hard for the phrase Ashes to ashes; Dust to dust to enter our minds.

That particular expression is a melding of several Old Testament passages. When you add in the idea of cremation, ashes become an even more vivid description of dying, death, and decay.

Sunday is Easter.
Resurrection Sunday.
Resurrection Day.
A day in which most of the western Christian world focuses on the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the defeat of death, and the promise of new life, eternal life for those who belong to the Lord.

Sunday is about the hope we can know every day. The knowledge that our sins have been taken away. The faith certainty that even though we die, we will live again.

I don’t wish death on anybody. I hope we all get to live full and vibrant lives—secure in the knowledge that when this life ends, we have only just begun.

That’s resurrection promise.
That’s resurrection power.

But even more than that, I want you to know the hope of the resurrection now. I want you to know that even though your current situation or circumstances may be the ashes of defeat, heartache, pain, and struggle, you can know and experience resurrection power today.

In the ashes of life, there is hope.

His name is Jesus and He is the Resurrection and the life!

May you be blessed with a happy resurrection of you and yours!

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

Joy in the Morning

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For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime.
Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning.
(Psalms 30:5 HCSB)

Sing with me, sing for the year
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tear
Sing with me just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good lord will take you away…
(Steven Tyler/ Aerosmith)

Hope. Sometimes it’s a rare commodity, but if you’ll pardon the bad pun, I hope you realize hope is something we all need.

As much as we might appreciate hope, we tend to throw the word/ concept around like it was a two-bit toy we aren’t all that impressed to begin with.

  • I hope my team wins.
  • I hope I get off work early.
  • I hope I get to see that movie.
  • I hope we have meatloaf for supper (I can dream, can’t I?).

I hope this, you hope that, we hope something entirely different together.

Hope, hope, hope…

More often than not, the things we hope for and the things we hope in are without much real value in the long term scheme of things.

And that verse at the top of this post? I admit, I have not much been a fan. Where I tended to view it through my frustration or pain, I missed the hope.

For forty years, Burger King convinced those of us who have come of age in a fast-food world that we could “have it our way!”

McDonald’s may have been even worse because they convinced the same folks (self included) that “we deserve a break today!”

And so here we are.

We want life quick, easy, cheap and convenient—and for the most part that is what we hope for.

When difficulties come our way, when life struggles happen, when grief assails, what then?

If you are like me, then you might realize even more struggle because our ability to endure, our ability to wait for the joy that comes in the morning has been compromised and often severely by our expectations.

But real hope—not a convenient hope—but a real and abiding hope takes a long-term approach.

Real hope understands that the difficulties of this life last but a night in the scope of eternity.

Real hope understands that morning is coming but morning may not yet be on our calendar.

How’s your hope? Mine is growing clearer, because in Jesus, hope is here!

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS.

For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime.
Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning.
(Psalms 30:5 HCSB)

ThereIsHope

Enough?

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12–13)

Once upon a time, in a land far away, I woke up to the simple fact that I was woefully flawed.

It wasn’t really anything newly discovered.  There wasn’t any blatant immortality that suddenly reared its ugly head.  There was no forced intervention of family and friends to rescue me from some overtly destructive behavior.

On the other hand, there was the slowly dawning realization that my flaws and failures were real and weren’t going to be wished away.  There was the slowly expanding understanding that the Spirit of God had much work still yet to do in me.  And, to make matters worse I came to see how my stubborn pride was doing a pretty good job of putting out the Spirit’s fire.

I was a master at sticking my head in the sand. I was perfectly equipped to ignore or at least see my flaws as less flawed than others. As a result, it was far easier to preach to someone else than to recognize God’s Spirit illuminating my own short comings.

Ultimately, I began to understand with greater clarity that all men (and women) were truly equal: we are all broken by sin!  My sin, my struggles, my brokenness was not somehow less sinful than yours. At the end of the day, the only real difference between any of us–outside of the saving grace of Jesus– was our ability to see our own imperfection.

Today?

Today, I am the same guy to one degree or another. I am still tempted on occasion to see myself as above others. I am still enticed by the desire to see your failures as worse than mine. Thankfully, God is still working on me and His enlightenment continues to grow.

Tomorrow may be different. I may get stuck again. I may close my eyes to some essential truth. And If I do, well, tomorrow I may need you to kindly and lovingly remind me that I am not what I sometimes think.

But today? Today I can say with all the hope in the universe… “Hi! My name is Les Ferguson, Jr. I am a husband, father, son, and brother–and now a grandfather. I am a minister. I am a writer. But more importantly, I am a child of the King. Broken by sin/ renewed, restored, and reconciled by grace.”

And that’s enough.

Until God calls us home, that’s enough.

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Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

I Am Waiting…

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As I write this I am waiting.

I am not at the doctor’s office or hospital.
I am not waiting on a child to get through with music lessons.
I am not waiting on somebody to get ready.
I am not waiting on an appointment.

And even though you were to see me now sitting at my desk in my office pecking away at this keyboard, you would find me waiting.

I am not good at waiting. Years ago in the US Navy we would laugh with frustration at how the military often worked. It was quite common to both hear and say, hurry up and wait

I am waiting on many things in this life.
People don’t move at the speed I would like.
Things don’t happen in my timeframe.
My expectations/ desires are often not the reality of my world.

And so I wait.

I wait for fairness and justice.
I wait for understanding.
I wait for answers I know will not satisfy the longing in my heart.
I wait for answers that will not be given on this side of life.

And so I wait.

I eagerly await the day when sickness, sorrow, pain, and suffering are no longer a part of our lives.
I long for the day when death is gone forever.
I wait expectantly for the ultimate redemption, restoration, and reconciliation of this world/ creation.

At times it seems as if it will take forever.
And so I wait.

I am tired of being broken.
I am weary of struggling against my own broken nature.
I am often exhausted by by the ache and loss in my heart.
I shed tears on a regular basis for the pain and hurt my children feel but seldom express.
I am sometimes shocked by how much that which would be joyous is overshadowed by loss.

There is a tension here at my new address.
And so I wait.

Thankfully, I do not wait alone.
I wait with my wife and family—we walk this journey together.
I wait with others whose faith has been tested.
I wait with those who so identify with the man who told Jesus: I believe. Help my unbelief.

We are not joyless people out here on the margins.
We are not without hope.
In fact, ours is a hope so real we cling to it as if nothing else matters.
Because nothing else does…

May the greatest of blessings be yours this season.

Merry Christmas to all…

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS.

That Lovin’ Feelin’

I rarely watch any TV. It’s not that I don’t want to, but sitting still for that long is quite often a problem for me—at least when staring at a screen.

Sometimes at night, one of the news channels will be on in the background, but I am usually reading or writing or otherwise occupied to pay much attention.

During college football season I’ll catch a few games here and there. I might watch a little of the World Series. And every once in awhile I might tune in to a Saints game.

That’s about it. I can’t remember the last movie I went to. I am regularly embarrassed by my lack of knowledge when it comes to movies, shows, actors, bands, and musicians. At one point, it was mentioned to me that The Band Perry used to live in a house around the corner from us. It was quite humorous (and embarrassing, I guess) because I had absolutely no idea who or what they were about. Pop culture doesn’t engender very much interest for me…

At one point I was quite proud of the fact that I had never ever listened to Taylor Swift. All that came to an unfortunate end last year at a school talent show I was obligated to attend. At the end of the evening, I dearly wanted to shake it off and pretend the night never happened.

But, totally out of character for me, this past Monday night I actually turned the TV on and looked for a movie. I stopped on basically the first thing I saw: Top Gun!

This is one of my favorite old movies. I let it play a bit in the background as I did other things. I focused on some of the flight scenes. But the one one part that grabbed my attention most was when Maverick (played by Tom Cruise) told his f-14 back seater, Goose, that “she’s lost that loving feeling.” In the movie, Goose immediately tells Mavrick, “no, she hasn’t.” And when Maverick insist she has, Goose utters one of my favorite lines, “I hate it when she’s lost that loving feeling.” And just like that the two of them are serenading a lady Maverick wants to meet…

You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips

And there’s no tenderness like before in your fingertips

You’re trying hard not to show it, (baby)

But baby, baby I know it

You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’

Whoa, that lovin’ feelin’

You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’

Now it’s gone…gone…gone…woah

(The Righteous Brothers)

And of course there is more to the song, but I wonder how many of us find this to be true.

  • I wonder how many of us are in relationships where somebody has lost that lovin’ feelin’.
  • I wonder how many of us have a skewed vision of love that is more about our own interests than the interests of others.
  • I wonder how many of us have simply forgotten that the greatest commandment, the command to love transcends all time and place.

One of the Pharisees, an expert in the Law, asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment… And Jesus’ answer was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:36–40 HCSB)

Seems to me, based on that one short passage, none of us can afford to lose our lovin’ feeling toward God or anyone else.

And that makes the words of Paul even more important…

If I speak human or angelic languages but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for languages, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1–13 HCSB)

How well do you love?