Easter Morning & Blended Families

As I write this, we are traveling up the Natchez Trace to spend the day and go to Easter services with my parents in Kosciusko, lunch to follow.

Becki made a broccoli salad to die for. Seriously. She also made a cake to take from a recipe found on Pinterest. I am not a big cake fan. I like carrot, red velvet and an occasional chocolate. But this cake, (excuse the bad pun) takes the cake… Strawberry Lemonade. If she ever invites you to eat with us and serves this cake, trust me, you will lose a hand or worse if you try to take mine.

It’s that good.

The Easter Bunny made an appearance sometime in the night. We woke up extremely early to trails of Hershey Chocolate Kisses running from the bedrooms to the hearth where the real goodies were laid. And of course there were hidden eggs to find as well as two appearances of the legendary Golden Egg complete with money inside.

That wascally wabbit always makes me shell out the dollars inside the eggs. He’s smart that way.

But, since he brought me a big bag of pistachios, I am going to cut him some major slack.

This is our first Easter as a blended family. Hence the need for two Golden Eggs. Already the day has been, challenging? I guess that’s a nice way to say it. Money is not always the root of all evil or least the cause of strife and dissension. Sometimes it wears a child’s name.

I say that half in jest and completely determined to make this a great day with a smile permanently affixed to my face…

Conner’s pants are too long (they aren’t).
Michael didn’t see any need to wear dress clothes (khaki shorts and shirt still look nice).
Max’s dress shoes didn’t fit and he is now wearing polo pants, polo button down, and black & red Nike (I could care less if he tucks his shirt in).
And Casey? Sweet innocent little Casey (who is dreaming now?), he didn’t want to wear anything remotely nice and his dress shoes didn’t fit (his cowboy boots look good anyway, thank you very much).

They all look like the handsome young men they are–a credit to those who love them.

Did I mention this is our first Easter as a blended family?

Oh, and by the way, Becki looks radiantly beautiful today. I am happy and blessed to have her by my side as we face the challenges of family, business, and the future.
I do have continued questions, fears, frustrations, and issues of trust–all centered on and around the work of God. So many whys and how comes still reverberate through my life.

But today?
Today is Easter.
Spring time in the south.
The redbuds are flowering.
The dogwoods are in bloom.
It is a time of renewal and thankfulness.

It is a day to spend less on wrestling and more on marveling.

Today? The questions take a back seat.

Today? I am thankful for Easter and blended families. For hope and peace. For love. For the beauty of new beginnings.

Happy Easter.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

White Chocolate, Pecan Eggs, Yellow Peeps, Jelly Beans, & Doubt

Easter.

Mom always made sure the Easter bunny brought white chocolate bunnies for my sister Julie, pecan eggs for me, and regular chocolate for Billy and Amy. And then there were the jelly beans and yellow peeps.

You may be a peep fan, but as far as I can determine they are proof we live in a flawed universe.

No peeps for me, yellow, pink, or any other color.

But then my mom scarred me for life–not by feeding me liver or brussel sprouts (which she did and it could have definitely done major damage, but so far, I am resisting therapy for that). No, by far the worst damage done by my mother was the new Easter clothes, particularly the emasculating burnt orange leisure suit.

It really existed.
I really had to wear it.
Can you feel my Easter pain?

(Laugh, Mom… You made Dad wear one too!)

A new friend asked me today what it was I desperately wanted to believe again?

This Easter weekend, please know I believe.
I believe in God the Father.
I believe in the Holy Spirt.
I believe in Jesus and his sacrificial death on behalf of sinners everywhere.

I believe in the goodness of God.

Somebody once suggested to me I needed to realize that God did not stop the Crucifixion of Jesus.

And the point seemed to be, that if God did not stop the death of His Son, there was no reason to stop the death of mine.

There is a huge difference here. The death of Jesus and His resurrection was a foregone conclusion. That was the plan. To redeem broken sinful man by the greatest of all sacrifices.

I am thankful for that.

I believe in the resurrection of the dead–I believe even now my son knows perfection first hand, up close, and personal.

And yet, I doubt. But my doubt is not about Cole or anybody else besides me.
Myself.
I.

Call me selfish or self-absorbed. I don’t care.

What I want to believe and know again with all of my heart is God’s love toward and protection of me. That God has my bests interests at heart.

That is my struggle.
Every fiber of who I am says God failed.
Or turned His back.

And I am not alone.
Those thoughts are felt and those words are expressed every day by countless others who cannot help but wonder why their lives are full of such pain and sorrow.

Like me, they want to believe and are searching even now for the faith, hope, and trust they want to put in the hands of God.

Happy Easter.
We still believe; we just have a few more doubts to wrestle with…

Les Ferguson, Jr.

I Felt The Earth Move Under My Feet

Don’t be a hater.
I am about to become a hero or a heel.
Depends on your perspective.

To the ladies who will consider me a hero or at least a really good guy, try to remember–I know it will be hard–that I am a very happily married man and therefore all of my considerable charms are unavailable. (Written with tongue planted firmly in cheek)

To the guys who are going to be haters… well imagine me with thumbs in my ears wiggling my fingers at you and saying nanny, nanny boo boo!

I am not necessarily proud of what I am going to divulge, but it is the reality of my world.

Favorite TV show? The Walking Dead.
Number of episodes watched during the latest season just ending? Zero–still trying to play catch up from the season before.

The reason why I watch so little of the action shows/ movies I love is quite simple.

Almost all of my TV time is spent curled up with my oh so beautiful wife watching our “favorite channels.” You know, Hallmark and Lifetime…

Yes, Hallmark and Lifetime are my friends–and if it means spending time with Becki, I will watch them until the cows come home (or she gets up and leaves the remote with me).

Just the other day, we were watching Frasier (and both enjoying it, thank you very much) when a commercial came on for a show with Joan Rivers. In this commercial, Joan and her daughter were trying out an earthquake simulator.

We had an earthquake once while living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It was just a few weeks or so after Hurricane Katrina. At least that is what they told us on the local news. I never felt a thing which means something very impressive: I am not an expert on earthquakes!

And yet, I have felt the whole earth take a seismic shift underneath my feet.

My friend Randy says about an earthquakes he experienced while stationed in California… 6.4 was the most scary feeling ever. How can a person stand their ground when it is rolling under your feet? We use the ground as a foundation. What happens when the foundation is what is changing?

Randy knows the worst kind of an earthquake. He lost a son in a car accident just a few months ago. We talk fairly often. I am not that far ahead of him in terms of time and loss. But I am far enough ahead to recognize what he is going through–to help him wrestle with his grief, anger, and pain. Much like one of my oldest friends (college roommate and road trip buddy–I am the giver, JD) did for me.
The brotherhood (and sisterhood) of loss understands like no one else the pain of losing a child…

What happens when you experience traumatic loss and a total upheaval (whether a child is involved or not)?

The ground under your feet moves, the foundation shifts, and the walls crumble.

Earthquakes change topography.
And no less so when the earthquake is of a spiritual natural.

Don’t be a hater.
If you’d like, you can make fun of me watching Lifetime and Hallmark (hey, some of those Christmas movies were pretty good).

But whatever you do, please understand this: There are some among us who have experienced the very worst life has to offer. The foundation of our lives has shifted, twisted, and crumbled beneath our feet.

I am one of them.
We have not rejected God. We are not denying Him. But we ask hard questions. We hurt. We seek to understand–even if there are no easy answers.

So don’t be a hater. Even worse, please don’t have a condescending or superior attitude. Reserve your judgment, for you unless you have walked in our shoes, you have no idea what you are judging.

I am thankful God is content with mental, emotional, and spiritual wrestling.

Can you be content and supportive of those who wrestle too?

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Whew

Whew…

Somebody commented one day and said I was really prolific.
They just had to use the p word.

Why couldn’t they have used the t word instead.

Terrific! That’s the ticket!

But I guess I have been a bit wordy. Not counting this post, I have written something like forty-six different articles.

I have ranted, cried, hurt, and shared my pain. And you for the most part, have encouraged, shared your struggles, and otherwise supported where I have been, where I am, and where I am going.

Thank you for sharing in the beginning of rediscovery–finding my voice again, developing a new ministry–whatever that might yet become or look like.

I have a speaking page attached to this blog and hope some will eventually allow me to share my journey and encourage them on theirs.

Also, there is a page devoted to endorsements. I am always looking for more–endorsements may help others see what I am trying to do.

My greatest dream is to write–as a source of healing for myself, inspiration for others, and a way to serve those who have their own faith struggles. And if I can support my family in the process, even better!

So, allow me to say thanks again for all the love.

In the meantime, there is a new article ready to go for tomorrow. I had fun writing it and look forward to sharing it with you.

I am extremely excited about the possibilities before me! In the next few days, I hope to have more information about my radio interview with Drew Marshall. I really hope good things come from that.

As always, your prayers are appreciated

Blessings to you and yours…

Les

I Don’t Want Anything To Do With Your Plan!

C’mon.
Really?

Are you serious?
Is that how you want to reconcile your questions and faith?

Ok. So maybe you’re scratching your head wondering if good old Les has finally lost his mind. Probably, but that’s not really up for discussion. At least not in this post.

Try this premise on for size: I am seriously confident in believing there are very few who don’t have a God created in their own image.

Yesterday’s post was just two examples of how we create God in our image. We have expectations of God. We expect Him to perform as we think He should. We expect Him to provide answers that completely satisfy our questions.

Good luck with that. At the same time, I am confident you also have had an occasion or two in which your expectations have not been met.

So here’s my rant, difficulty, and frustration–not with God, He gets a break today…

When God did not fit in your god box, when God did not do what you think He should have, and when God did not and doesn’t yet answer your questions, please, please quit ascribing your lack of understanding to some mysterious plan!

I could scream every time somebody suggests that all the bad stuff that has happened is a part of God’s plan. Think about what you are saying!

When the horrific occurs and people are scrambling to get a handle on it–to understand how and why such things happen… When you have a million questions for God–when you are striving to comprehend where God was… Quit giving Him and yourself a pass and ask the hard questions! Sure, you may never get a satisfactory answer, but ask the questions anyway.

When you credit the unanswerable to some vague plan of God, you are not comforting the hurting, you are trying to give yourself false comfort and hope.

News Flash! News Flash! News Flash!

Bad things happen to good people. Hearts are broken. Lives are shattered. Blood is spilled that can never be put back. And to say rape, murder, suicide, divorce, cancer, and any other horror is God’s plan? That is tantamount to blasphemy. God does not work that way.

Care to repeat that with me?
God does not work that way!

But Satan certainly does.

The thief comes only to steal and kill. (John 10:10a, NIV)

I don’t understand why God doesn’t intervene. I confess my struggle to reconcile God’s presence in my life with those times He is so conspicuously absent.

Surely, if I thought for a minute God was behind the loathsome events that shattered my family and whose ripples are still being felt and will continue throughout our lives…

I would curse Him and beg to die.

That’s not my God.
That’s not His plan.

It doesn’t mean I am letting Him off the hook with the hard questions. It doesn’t mean I don’t still want answers. To the contrary, I do so want them.

Even as I recognize answers may never come this side of eternity, I’d rather go through life wrestling, struggling, and limping with God than to live in blissful ignorance. No matter how many times you say it, I will not pretend to find some lame comfort in a non-existent plan.

If nothing else, that’s a plan I have to live with.

Aren’t you glad faith is not one size fits all?

Les, Jr.

PS. Thanks to all who read. Today the blog went over 50,000 views. And thanks as well to all who have subscribed and liked the Facebook page!

When God Isn’t

God.

How do you cope, what do you say when God isn’t?

Isn’t what?
Yes, that’s the question, what then when God isn’t God?

I am getting ready to celebrate the two year anniversary of my 49th birthday.
If you can’t figure that out, it means I’m almost 51.

I don’t feel old, act old, or look old. In fact, I am one good looking man. Right Becki? Becki?

Smiling with you before we go a bit deeper.

The point isn’t my age or what I look like…
The point is the culture in which I live.

I am a Burger King guy in a Burger King world. Not so much the actual burgers themselves, but I have grown up and matured in a culture that has told me I could have it my own way. Every time. All the time.

Like most people in the American context, we want what we want and we demand it our way… or else.

And in our thinking, that’s the way it works in a God context as well. Man is made in the image of God–and we turn around and make God in ours.

In my mind, God is like my Father. He is my protector, fixer, helper, and validater (ok, validater is not a word, but I needed the tense and couldn’t say validates). I have meaning because God says it and proves it doing the things a father does.

Until He doesn’t.
What then?

My expectations of God are not that difficult. Not for an all powerful, ever present God. Especially considering we had a deal.

I serve Him. He protects me and mine.

Until He didn’t.
What now?

I never knew until I did how many other people have such questions. Such pain. Such anger. Such doubt about how He choses to work or not in our lives.

Since I started writing Desperately Wanting To Believe Again, my email is dinged daily from people who struggle just like I do.

People who are bitterly disappointed in God. People who cannot understand how a loving Father God sits idly by and does nothing. People who are on the ragged edge of ever believing and trusting in Him again.

If it were you, could you really blame us? If you had to walk in our shoes, would your faith take a hit?

Please, please quit telling us how God has a plan. Really? God’s plan was a brutal double homicide? Or cancer? Or suicide?

This isn’t really about how disappointed we are in God. I am. We are. And He knows it.
He would have to be deaf and blind or zoned out to not know.

But that’s not the only way we have made God in our image. We have this expectation of answers here. Answers now. Answers that make sense and give us hope.

Sadly, those answers are not always forthcoming–and we are not completely capable of understanding.

It is hard when God isn’t God. At least the God we have come to demand and expect.

So what then when God isn’t?

That’s the conundrum of faith.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1Corinthians 13:12, NIV)

Faith is a journey some of us limp on…

Where are your faith struggles?

Les, Jr.

Cole! Heaven’s Quarterback!

cole again

Cole.

He was a funny boy with an incredibly infectious smile that lit up the room. He could be hard to understand, but the more you were with him, the easier it was to communicate.

He could be hard headed, stubborn, and difficult. Especially if he hurt and didn’t want to to tell you.

We had a lot of fun interspersed with difficult days that were painful for all. His sexual abuse and rape changed everything and it affected our whole family dynamic.

The months and weeks leading up to October 10, 2011 were hard. Cole was often angry, fearful, and upset. Because of his disabilities, he couldn’t quite find a way to process those things that made him a victim of a sexual predator. Even had he been normal as the world defines such, I don’t know if he could have ever processed it.

God knows I struggled and still do to understand how evil can walk among us like a wolf in sheep clothing. Harder still are the lengths some will go to defend the guilty and tear down the wounded.

Most people were so very supportive. But some doubted–and I understand in a way, because I tried out every possible scenario to make this all a mistake or misunderstanding. Who in their right mind would want to believe something so dreadful happened to their precious child?

Not this father. Not ever.

And try as I might, I couldn’t make it something different. It was a Friday night when the truth finally hit home. Cole was able to communicate a little more clearly the great extent of what occurred. What I share next is going to sound really strange. While I have shared this before, I suspect hearing it for the first time or the second, you will have no trouble understanding the graphic nature of what Cole told us…

“He put toothpaste on my butt and give me a big shot.”

That was the night I had to be stopped from leaving the house for a Buckman hunting trip.

I honestly could have killed him without blinking. I would have wished the power to resurrect him to do it over and over in ways imaginative and cruel.

My precious son deserved so much more than he received from life–and the one who conspired to steal it.

I wish you could have known him, to experience his zest for life and desire to do anything you could. I wish you’d had the unparalleled opportunity to watch a football game with him. Especially if his hero, Brett Farve was playing.

He could talk trash with the best!

Two weeks before Cole died, he was still telling me Brett was going to make another come back.

We buried Cole in his beloved autographed Brett Farve football jersey given to him from Brett on his 21st birthday.

I bet these days heaven’s newest and best quarterback has the strongest arm ever…

Play hard, Cole. Your Daddy is proud of you.

I will go to him, but he will not return to me. (2 Samuel 12:23 NIV)

Love your children! Hug them when you can! Live now without regrets later!

How can I help you make the most of your time?

Les, Jr.

Gimpy Faith Legs

Several posts back I asked What Can I Do For You regarding questions you might have about my journey back to faith. I should not have been surprised at how insightful those questions were. I have answered one and thought I’d take on another.

The following questions come from and are posted with permission of my friend, Sam Seamans in Mountain Home, AR…

I would like to know what the things were that you were sure about prior to 10/11 that are now not so clear. What is it that you now have real doubts about, especially in regards to assurance, including salvation, and many other “standards” that used to be clear that have now faded to gray. How are you dealing with them? How has it changed how you relate to others concerning your Christian faith? Also, do you sometimes wonder what life would look like if you couldn’t “persevere” and lost your way. Do you still fear that? Has your idea of God gotten a little more generous or “wider” perhaps? Have you ever looked up and said, “Are you there?” Tough and deep questions I know, but you asked….;-)

I am not sure where to begin, Sam. It feels like you are trying to get me to write a book. Send $100 to my I-need-some-money fund and we will be good to go…  (You know us ex-preachers, if we can take money from the brethren, we can take money from anyone!) Smile! I am just kidding!

On to the questions…

In some regards, my former theology is all messed up.

We may differ on things both of us can prove with scripture. We can look at the same passage and have widely divergent views regarding the context and meaning.

In the past, I loved nothing more than a great cup of coffee and a good scholarly discussion. But some of the things I used to think important have paled in comparison to the “weightier matters.” And it scares me because I am sure it will cause others to relate to me differently and I to them. Just this week, a friend relayed how sad some local folks are because in their words, I have “lost my way.”

There is some arrogance in that thought, but no more than the arrogance I used to wield  like a sword. I can remember talking to some who had been Christians most of their lives. As life drew to an end, they wondered and worried about their salvation. Often it was more about what they did or didn’t do and less about a radical trust in God.

In my arrogance, I can clearly remember thinking how sad it was to live as a Christian and have no hope at the end.

God help me, but I can now relate. My life is so different especially where faith has shifted, warped,and changed. I don’t have the time or inclination for debates, discussions, and judgments. You can judge me now for being in a different place if you like, but I suspect you wouldn’t want to join me on the wrestling mat with God.

Here’s my truth. Assurance of salvation? I am often terrified that there isn’t enough grace in the universe to help my gimpy legs of faith limp across the finish line. But at the same time, I have hope for a God big enough to take me home–in spite of my failures, my changed thinking, and inability to see things as I once saw them.

Here’s an even bigger truth. While I wouldn’t wish my tragedy and heartache on any one, I do wish those whose lives have been far more idyllic could be more patient, compassionate, and understanding with those whose faith may very well involve a life-long struggle.

In the back and forth of questioning and strife, faith is refined and limps are accepted.

I haven’t lost my way, it’s just really hard to run…

How is your limp?

Les, Jr.

 

Never Give Up, Never Slow Down

I have been listening to a James Taylor song where he sings:

Never give up, never slow down                                                                                     Never grow old, never ever die young.

In the eighth grade I had a foundational moment. It was one of those things that shape and transform.

I quit football.

When I did, the coach looked at me and hatefully said, “Once a quitter always a quitter. You will never amount to anything.”

Coach actually did me a favor in a roundabout way. Those words shook me to my core. As silly as it sounds, I can still feel their sting and I have tried ever since to live my life without quitting anything.

I have been successful thus far in every area with one exception.

I quit preaching.

Initially, there were a couple of valid reasons.

First, for quite some time, I could find nothing good to say about God. Not one single solitary thing. Contrary to what some well meaning but misguided folks wanted me to do, I couldn’t get up and pretend until it felt right again.

That wouldn’t have been preaching. I may have said words, but I would have been doing nothing other than flapping my gums.

And besides, I had already lost so much, I couldn’t stand the thought of losing my integrity too.

The second reason was really simple. I could not walk in the auditorium of our church building and worship.

I. Couldn’t. Do. It.

Every time I went, all I could see when I looked at the front were two caskets that had been there previously. It was not unusual to almost vomit right where I sat.

So, I quit. I walked away. I ran as fast as I could from the heartache, pressure, and stress of three hundred people looking to me for leadership, guidance, and a Word from The Lord.

I was empty. Void.

A vacuum needing to be filled.

I could never imagine preaching in a church building again.

Thankfully, a church in Yazoo City invited me this past November/December to fill their pulpit twice. They were very gracious as I trembled before them and spoke of my journey, my struggling faith, and my desire to somehow find my way.

I am stronger now. Much stronger. And while I have no desire to pastor/ shepherd/minister a local church again, I have realized God has not stripped me of the passion needed to serve and minister to others.

My discernment may not be as accurate as I hope, but I think I sense his hand filling me and leading me to a new voice of ministry with a greater freedom than ever experienced before. I pray for bigger and better opportunities to write, speak, share, and encourage those whose faith has faltered.

I can always use some tag team partners in this wrestling match with God.

James Taylor sings never give up, never slow down, never grow old, never ever die young.

Here’s my challenge…

I will not give up; I will not slow down.

I will not live the rest of my life as an old man afraid of change.

I will die one day, but it will not be as a young man untested or bested by what this world throws my way.

Here I stand.

How about you?

Will you stand too?

Les, Jr.

How Faith Survived?

The following is an attempt to answer a question posed by a reader in response to this post. The question: How could I still believe at all?

I love being able to take pen to paper or pound on a key board. I love using words to communicate feelings, describe emotions, and work out meaning and understanding.

That I am not alone in seeking something better and more complete makes the process that much sweeter.

For the longest time I felt all alone. I was the only person I knew who had experienced the murder of spouse and child by somebody known, trusted, and invited into our home. The fact that he was a member of our church family made the horror of it all so much greater.

I felt physically and emotionally alone everywhere I went.
I was damaged goods.
The world was dark and dim.
And no matter how many times somebody said I understand your struggle and feel your pain, the truth was this: you had no idea.

I couldn’t begin yet to quantify the depth, height, and width of anguish, sorrow, and hurt. I am still discovering those dimensions–in some ways, we will not ever know how big the hurt will be. In fact, my children have a lifetime of painful moments ahead of them. Every significant event, holiday, achievement, success or failure will be a moment in time in which they will be reminded of their loss–and the brutal horror of it.

I have teased my oldest son and his wife that they are not allowed to become parents–because I am not old enough to be a grandfather. So far it is working.

But there is going to come a day when that first grandchild makes an appearance. And in the midst of happiness, I will know my son’s bitter hurt and disappointment because his mother and brother will not be there to share…

So if we can’t know yet the dimensions of our pain, how can you?

Please don’t misunderstand and think we are a family burdened by an overwrought misery. To be expected, we all have our moments. I had one last night–it was a brief time of guilt because I had such a good day. Some of you will comprehend the guilt inherent in having a day not weighed down by sorrow.

But the truth is we are all trying to live good, happy, and adjusted lives–far different than what we imagined, but good nonetheless.

Did I mention how alone I felt?

Surrounded by family and friends, you can still be the loneliest person in the world.
Especially when the most lonesome aspect is perceived abandonment by God.

Whether He was there or not, it is hard to feel Him in the grips of such grief and anger.

Initially I was bolstered by my faith. But in the next month or so as the new reality of tragic loss began to take hold, faith turned into anger.

How could a loving God let such a thing happen? Where was He when Cole was being systematically raped and abused.

That was my precious son and God stood by and did nothing.

Where was He when Cole and Karen were fighting for their lives?

Yes.
I.
Was.
Angry!

Wouldn’t you have been?

Those were the times when the platitudes and sappy hope of an effortless faith meant nothing at all.

My faith loss wasn’t about disbelief in God. My loss of faith was about my understanding of God’s nature. Who was He, really? What was he really like? How could He really let such evil thrive?

No, I never quit believing in God. There is a sense in which I never quit believing He loved me.

I just didn’t understand. I can’t yet claim to understand a God who is so far beyond human comprehension.

The truth is this simple: I never realized how much hard work faith requires. Faith requires a belief and trust that God really does have your best interests at heart. I struggle with that. At the same time, I am not ready to jettison the idea of God caring for me.

So here is my conundrum…

Either I go through life empty with no hope.
Or, I try to do the hard work necessary to trust the God I don’t understand.

It is easy to be peeved and angry–it is hard to trust.

So I wrestle and limp and wrestle some more.
And have faith that one day, my limping gimpy self will trust the God I chose to serve…

Les Ferguson, Jr.

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