Until A Man Is Nothing

I have been careful to try and keep blog writing separate from book writing. Some–not much–but some of what I blog may end up in book format. Today’s post is a departure from that. I hope it helps you to see the part of my journey that is not so much hung up in the past and mired in pain, but looking toward the future… As always, thanks for reading and sharing my journey. Sometime last night, the blog went over 80,000 views–that astounds. I so appreciate those who tell me my struggling out loud is a help to you. Thanks again… in the meantime, enjoy. No more writing for the rest of the weekend. Sunday is coming…

I love to read. Since I was a young boy reading The Hardy Boys, it has often been my escape. I love to read. Like many of you, I have my favorite authors and genres. I am a Tom Clancy devotee. I love to read. The night before I took my comprehensive final exam in grad school and defended my final sermon presentation, I stayed up until about 2:00AM finishing the last book in The Twilight saga. Yes, I love to read.

As I write this part of the book, which I think will be the ending, but one written well before the first two-thirds of is done, I am reading Dan Brown’s Inferno. On page 394, he uses part of a startling Martin Luther quote. The entire quote says: “God creates out of nothing, therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.”

I resonate with that perspective. It is hard to image being taken any lower. I cannot comprehend a nothing that is less than the nothing I’ve become.

And yet, out of the nothingness, something new is arising. Not necessarily better in some ways, and yet immensely better in others. As I say these things, please understand, this is not a reflection of those my family has lost. It’s not a reflection of our relationships as they played out in the past.

On the other hand, it is a reflection of me. It is a reflection of all the soul searching, questioning, doubting, wondering and fear that has gotten me to this point. It is a reflection of my struggle to understand and know God anew. It is a reflection of my unwillingness to be kept prisoner by my own past cultural, historical, relational, and theological paradigms.

Pardon the old preacher joke here, but it will take more than a pair of dimes to help any of us find the right perspective and relational stance toward God.

I am reminded of a sermon I heard fairly recently about Moses and the Burning Bush.

“Poor Moses. Born a Jew. Raised as a royal Egyptian. He married into a Midianite family. Worked for his father-in-law. He didn’t know who or what he was. In the burning bush, God said, you belong to me.”

How’s that for an identity?

I am no Moses. Somedays I’d just as soon have the sea swallow me like Pharaoh’s Army.

But Moses’ story is my story too. Because ultimately I belong to God. Where He takes me and what I might do is looking like nothing I planned or imagined. Part of my responsibility is learning how to be ok with it. And where possible, embrace it.

Here I am Lord
Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go Lord
If you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart.

Daniel Schutte “Here I Am Lord” 1981

Les Ferguson, Jr.

The Great Adventure

Sunday is my day of reckoning.

I am excited.

I am scared.

I am worried.

I am full of doubt.

I don’t say these things to engender sympathy, comments, etc. After all it’s my blog and I can be just as honest as I want to be.

Sunday is my day of reckoning and I am afraid.

I want this new ministry of writing and speaking. I want it badly.

I want a new voice. I want the ability to share with the hurting, validate the questioning, and encourage the struggling. I want the ability and opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.

I keep saying I… as if it is all about me. It isn’t. I know it isn’t. I am glad it isn’t.

And yet, I am afraid of failure.

I am afraid of success.

I am afraid of not being in control.

And that’s funny considering one of the biggest lessons to have learned–forcibly–was how little I or anybody else really does control.

But we try.

We try hard.

We go to every imaginable length to control or at least feel like we are in control.

Often it is a grand illusion. Until it turns out to be not so grand.

So this Sunday is fast approaching. It’s been a long time since I have preached. It will be the first time to speak in as large a setting as this.

I used to have lots of confidence. These days? Not quite as much. But, I have prepared the best I can. I think God has given me a message. I pray it will be of benefit. I believe it is a message every church, every believer needs to hear,

I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant. I hope it doesn’t seem as if I am high on myself. To the contrary, I feel as if I am the least most likely person in the world to have a message others need.

Until I remember my pain.

Until I recall my doubt.

Until I am faced once again with all of my struggle and questioning…

And then I remember. Then I reconsider. Then I know there are untold numbers of people who are also in pain. Who wrestle with doubt. Who question and struggle with deep, dark things.

Then I remember.

I remember from whence I came.

From where I still am.

And I know others need the same message of hope and recovery.

Sunday is my day of reckoning.

And I am afraid.

But I will face the future as boldly as I know how… and ever thankful for second chances and new beginnings.

Saddle up your horses we’ve got a trail to blaze

Through the wild blue yonder of God’s amazing grace

Let’s follow our leader into the glorious unknown

This is a life like no other – this is The Great Adventure…

 Come on get ready for the ride of your life

Gonna leave long faced religion in a cloud of dust behind

And discover all the new horizons just waiting to be explored

This is what we were created for…

Steven Curtis Chapman–The Great Adventure

Are you ready for yours?

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Saturday Night’s All Right! (So Sue Me For liking Elton John Songs)

I have been busier than ever imagined or hoped with real estate.
Did I say busy?
Yes, busy.
Very, very busy!

It is at times exciting, fun, and frustrating.
I think it will eventually pay the bills.
That’s even more exciting for reasons obvious.

But, working is seriously cramping my style.
My writing style, that is.

I have planned to take a day off once a week to devote to writing for the past four… it hasn’t happened yet. But, having speaking opportunities (the more the merrier, hint, hint) ensures I will make time to write, think, and study. We are working at creating an absolutely fabulous place here at the house for that very purpose.

Still I am grateful. (And convinced a sermon will get finished somehow, some way in time for June 30th… and that’s pretty funny considering in my old life, sermons were always done by Tuesday evening–always).

I am not complaining. I am, to the contrary, joyously happy for the distractions of life that mean we are still living. Learning to be in the moment is to relish those moments as they happen. There is immeasurable riches and richness in that.

So, from that perspective, stolen moments to write–like now, are relaxing. We are sitting on a bench at the outlet mall. Becky is shopping. The other boys are doing whatever teenage boys do in a place like this. Casey is sitting beside me eating a scoop of rainbow sherbet in a waffle cone. And I am fully relaxed and amazed at the sunset spread out before me (while valiantly fighting the urge to get my own ice cream cone).

I still wrestle with God.
I mourn the relationship I thought I had with Him.
My spiritual limp is pretty evident.
My prayers are fraught with doubt and questions.
I long for the ability to trust once again–for the knowledge that my trust is not in vain.
I crave the experiential presence of God.
I often feel a weird disconnect (which is probably more in my mind than anywhere else) with friends and acquaintances from the past… like I don”t quite fit in.
On occasion, I am surprised and overcome when least expected with powerful episodes of tears and anger. I still hurt. Badly.

But, in spite of it all, God has managed quite nicely to help me find more peace than frustration, more tranquility than anxiousness, and more joy than sadness.

Who couldn’t be happy with that?

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Bless Her Heart

Judgement and judging.

The Bible says an awful lot about those things.

Sometimes we are told to judge; other times we are commanded not to judge.

There is such a thing as righteous judgment. There is such a thing as discernment. We can rightly see certain situations and circumstances and justly judge them wrong.

Nathan saw what David had done regarding Bathsheba and Uriah. And directed by God, the prophet told him, You are the man. There was no way to soft peddle it; there was no way to justify. Samuel’s judgment was righteous, justified, needed, and true.

My long time friend and college roommate, John Dobbs, refers to the phenomenon of piling on to somebody when they are down as a “monkey pile.”

That’s a kind of judgment that is more about condemnation. And most of us are good at it.

In the South we have a genteel way of doing that.

“She/ he has some pretty bad problems and consistently makes horrible choices… bless her/ his heart.”

Translation? She/ he is dumb as a rock and stupid too. And probably deserves whatever she/ he gets.

That “bless her heart” bit?  Somehow that is supposed to make it ok for judgment and even condemnation.

I think “Monkey Pile” is an adequate description of judging hearts. As one who has experienced the very uncomfortable feeling of having every action and reaction judged and found wanting, and condemned too–as one who has been guilty of doing the same thing to others, bless their little hearts… we need to recognize that while calling wrong things wrong, most of our judging and condemnation is reserved for people whose shoes we would never choose to walk in.

While we may think we know what’s in another person’s heart, the reality is, unless we are experiencing the exact same thing from the exact same framework, we haven’t a clue.

Really. We don’t.

We may think we have a good idea.

We may be the best emphasizer in the world with an empathy that is off the charts, but the truth is, we cannot know.

And because we cannot know all the reasons and rationals involved in all of the mistakes, missteps… because we cannot really and truly understand the heart and motive behind the things we don’t always approve of, we need to be less judgmental and more compassionate.

Unless of course you want to trade places with them?

Yeah. I didn’t figure you wanted to any more than me.

I know sin is sin; wrong is wrong.

I know that.

I understand that.

I recognize that.

You do too.

But even when it involves sin, a little less condemnation, a little more mercy, grace, and compassion goes an awful long way to helping the hurting, strengthening the struggling, and restoring the fallen.

“Bless Her Heart?” Chances are, we need just as much blessing or more.

So before you judge or condemn, ask yourself what you would want if walking in the same shoes…

Where have you experienced judgment/ condemnation when you really needed mercy, grace, and compassion?

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Unity?

Unity?

A week or so ago I posed the question on my blog Facebook page, if you had a choice in something to tackle with words, what would you want me to write about?

One of the answers was unity.

In a blog of self discovery, recovery, and restoration… in a blog about learning somehow  to trust and really believe in God’s providential care, how could I possibly address the concept of unity?

Unity?

I grew up in Churches of Christ. I am thankful for my heritage. I owe it a lot. But the truth is, even though we might claim a return to New Testament Christianity, we have a long way to go when it comes to unity among ourselves as well as Christianity at large. And (heresy alert!), I have had reason to wonder if there are certain concepts the ancient church took for granted that we in our modern rational context have failed to grasp.

Unity?

And yet, Jesus prayed in John 17, My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

So how does that work when we are so divided and fractured over stuff that causes some to go ballistic?

I am also reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:1-6, As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

So where do we go from here?

What does it mean to have unity?

How is unity even possible?

I suspect genuine theologians would have some much more in-depth answers.

And yet? Does everything theological have to be difficult? Do we have to make things more complicated than they already are?

Why can’t some answers be simple?

I used to say God had to have an amazing sense of humor. He made giraffes, didn’t he?   And he made men and women with fundamental differences and told us to love each other and get along. How crazy funny is that?

I think unity can and should boil down to this:

  1. I don’t have all knowledge and understanding–what wisdom I do posses resides in a body and mind prone to mistakes, pride, and well, completely missing the point and getting it (whatever doctrine, idea, tradition, etc.) wrong.
  2. If I am capable of mistakes, and you are too, can we not stop arguing, cut each other some slack, and get along–recognizing that our shared goal is getting closer to God?

Too simple? Probably for many, but it is where I am…

Here’s how I got there: My tragedy and loss–my grief, heartache, and despair had me closer to sucking on the end of a gun barrel to stop the pain than I want to admit. At least out loud. At least in this public forum.

Pain like that has a way of clarifying issues–or rather rendering them impotent, stupid, and irrelevant.

I no longer have time to debate or argue the merits of my understanding against yours in all the many ways we have divided ourselves in the world of Christianity.

It’s all I can do to keep the spark of faith flickering… It’s all I can do to to keep wrestling with God… so arguing with other Christians about the differences in our understanding just doesn’t make much sense.

Unity? I want a better understanding of God–a more vibrant and trusting relationship with Him. And if that’s the road you are traveling–if you are striving to be one through Jesus, then united we will be in spite of the things we understand differently.

Honestly? I hope I never lose this simple idea of unity…

Les Ferguson, Jr.

 

Your Preacher/ Minister

I have been neglecting my blog.
Not intentionally.
It’s just life.

The real estate work Becki and I have embarked on is keeping us busy. And it is a true joy for us to work together as a team. I hope we are successful even as I hope, pray, and work toward success in a new ministry of writing and speaking.

I am writing. And studying. Wrestling with scripture. Trying to pray. And wondering.
Wondering if the God I knew before will be transformed into a God I understand better… Or rather, if I will be transformed into a man who enjoys a closer relationship than my past life entailed.

I hope so…
I desperately need it to be so.

Desperately Wanting to Believe Again isn’t about a disbelief of or a denial of God.
Not at all.

It is, however, about my personal journey.
About my emotional, mental, and spiritual healing.

It is about trying to have a new understanding of the nature of God.
How He acts, interacts, or not in the lives of men.

I have struggled with Deism a bit. It is easier for me to perceive a God who wound up the cosmos and let’ er rip (Sorry for the Beyblade terminology, I am the parent of a seven year old who is forever “letting it rip”). But while Deism might provide a particular framework to help understand why some bad things happen, it fails miserably in meeting our deepest need for a relationship with the one who made us!

And so I move forward, however slowly, seeking the answers that I need.
I am so very thankful you have embarked on this journey with me. I am grateful for the reads, follows, subscriptions, and sharing. Please continue to pass it on…

As I write what I hope will be published one day, I am enamored by the life of Jacob. In fact, up until about three or four weeks ago, the title was going to be something like A Jacob Life. But in a bit of a teaser for the discoveries I am working through and trying to process, I feel another title change coming.

Something a tad more provocative, but you’ll have to read it to ascertain it’s validity…
The Weakness Of God.

So be teased.

In the meantime, someone asked for me to expound a bit more about the insensitivity some congregations have toward their preachers.

Hmmm.
I am not sure if whole congregations should be categorized that way–although if influenced enough by a person in power, I suspect a congregation can have that particular feel or flavor.

So let me preface the following with this fact about myself: I am a prankster. A joker. A kidder. But just because you can kid somebody about something, doesn’t mean you should…

Being a person who has struggled off and on with weight issues most of my adult life, fat jokes and unasked for comments hurt. No matter who says them. Or How.

Am I too insensitive? Should I probably develop a thicker skin?
Not doubt but easier said than done.

Supposedly joking or not, I think it can be quite easy to develop a cultural contempt toward the work preachers do. Even while loving them.

I suspect you know the drill.
“You only work on Sunday.”
“How hard can it be?”
“We pay you way to much money.”
“It must be nice to get something new.”
“Preachers need to be kept poor and dependent.”
“Don’t you have some nicer looking suits?”
“Preacher’s kids are the worst kind.” (Only because we played with the elders and deacon’s kids, heathens all… Just kidding. Kind of)

I once had an elder who did despicable things. His attitude toward preachers? I quote, “preachers are a necessary evil.”

Looking back, I shudder to think how much I just laughed and went along with it.
But the truth is that kind of behavior toward the men and their families who are trying to serve God through the local church creates a toxic atmosphere–the kind that can become abusive. The kind that can drive preachers into looking for any other kind of work. Anything that will support their family and allow them a modicum of self-respect.

And ultimately, while I struggle to find a new ministry voice, I cannot fathom ever again subjecting my family to that…

Your experience may be different than mine. You may have had a preacher that did nothing but milk the system. Those kind exist, but they are not the norm.

So whether you agree or not, do yourself a favor… love your preacher. He works in sometimes difficult positions and harsh arenas. And he loves you with everything he has. Chances are, he deserves better than he gets.

I am thankful for those who minister to me…

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Saturday’s Ruminations… A Fork?

It’s a Saturday.
We took one dog in the truck to be shaved and bathed.
Went to the hardware store.

It’s a Saturday.
The garden has been picked.
Snap beans have been snapped (I loved writing that, don’t ask me why–I have no idea).

It’s a Saturday.
Normal life goes on.

Even with a headache today, I can still appreciate the life we have been given. And find many, many reasons to be thankful.

Unknown to anybody else but God, earlier today I had a pretty intense crying spell. I cried quite hard for my friend Mark who lost his son in a car accident Thursday evening. He was 19. I cried for the parents of the 16 year old girl who was killed with him. I cried for my friend Randy who wrestles just as hard as I do, but about a year or so behind me on this insane dizzy journey of loss. I cried for other parents too. For John and Maggy. I cried for parents who are almost paralyzed by the fear of joining this unfortunate soiree.

In full disclosure, my crying jag didn’t start out that way. It begin with an attempt to do what is so very hard for me. It began with prayer. Just me and God (I know that isn’t correct, but it’s my blog and I type how I want to…). I began by trying once again to explain my desperate need for peace with Him. I talked about all the ways I have tried to justify Him. I tried to talk about my need to have all these unanswered questions answered… about how my faith, trust, and hope is so dependent on answers even as I try to live without them. Even as I try with all my heart to find a new me, a new ministry, a new niche in serving those who need to be served…

So I prayed. Prayer turned into anger which in turn segued into tears.

One of my old friends from high school wrote me this week and said…

I think in your former life you were like a silver goblet. The kind they use in Catholic communion. Everyone drinks from the cup. It’s ornate and everyone likes to touch it as they take a drink. But God decided to melt the goblet and make something different. Now He will make you into a fork. Not as noticeable by the crowd, but more useful. The fork is what gets the meat into the hungry person’s mouth. It is used one person at a time, so it’s a more intimate relationship than the goblet. Les, I think you will be able to feed people that are truly hungry for the REAL God in a way that most “preachers” will never be able to.

The truth? That’s not what I necessarily wanted to hear.
The truth? I needed to hear it.

I never imagined my relationship with God would be so hard. I have had my Jonah moments of rebellion and pride. Who hasn’t? But this feels so different even if it isn’t.

I am trying to wrap my mind around being a fork…

How would you describe yourself?

Les Ferguson

My Destination

Life can take us on some pretty funny (not haha, so maybe I should say strange instead) paths.

Social situations and circumstances are so different for me now than they used to be in my old life.

Back then, I was the PreacherMan–always the social butterfly–always trolling for new relationships, new opportunities to be of service to those in need, whatever that need may have been.

I am a preacher’s son. If I wasn’t hardwired to be that way, then at least I was like the Borg from Star Trek–God, church, and family melded the parts of me into PreacherMan, able to leap tall buildings theologically, able to preach and teach and lead at the drop of a hat. And move tables. No PreacherMan can really be the PreacherMan without the super duper amazing ability to move tables for whatever occasion to whatever location needed

That guy? PreacherMan? I am not sure where he is anymore. Some days I think he is just in hibernation, awaiting the end of a long winter’s nap to emerge fresh and ready to take on all challenges. And then reality sinks in… That particular guy is gone forever.

Sometimes I mourn the loss of me. At least the me I once was. Or maybe the kind of things I once did. Some of them at least.

And then on other days, I feel a new excitement. I think the old PreacherMan is like an ugly caterpillar–the really slimy gross kind–and I am encased in a truly weird cocoon. Sooner or later that cocoon is going to shape and form me into a totally different kind of servant.

I may never be what I was once was; but I am going to be something totally different. Better. More effective. More helpful.

At least that is what I hope. What I dream. What I want with all of my heart.

I am trying to prepare myself for that. Writing. Wrestling. Rethinking. Re-imagining. And learning to trust God again all the while surrounded by people who love me unconditionally.

That’s not a bad place to be. Different from what I could have ever dreamed, but a good place nonetheless.

So what’s different about social situations and circumstances?
Lots of things.

Since I am not the preacher anymore, some people are a little more natural. They don’t posture a spirituality that doesn’t really exist. If they are not particularly fond of me they don’t usually pretend to be my friend. And believe it or not some folks are just nicer… the meanest things I have ever heard have, with one exception, come from people who called me their preacher.

I don’t pretend as much either. I don’t pretend to like somebody just because they have power over me. I don’t pretend that hateful or hurtful things are not.

Lastly, maybe it’s my insecurity, but I often feel like I am a visible reminder of the evil that can happen to anybody.

At this point I may never ever again be the old super duper PreacherMan. And that’s ok. In some ways it is a good thing.
In some ways it is exciting waiting to see what comes next…

Life is a journey. I am ready for the next stage. I am living it now…

And I
I’ve taken so long, I know
Never had so far to go
it’s not where you can be, it’s what you can see
That takes you there
Your destination

Your destination
it’s here inside, right here inside

My Destination by Tom Scholz (Boston, Third Stage)

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Running

In the immediate aftermath of October 10, 2011, I started running.

Everyday without fail, I ran.
Sometimes twice a day.

As I ran I cried. Listened to music. Cursed. Cursed God. Glared at people who looked at me funny. And well, if you can imagine an angry, mad man spoiling for a fight–any fight to ease the pain, then you can probably see me fairly accurately at that time.

I ran. It didn’t matter how hot, cold, or wet it was. I ran.

It was my therapy of sorts. It helped me focus on the minute by minute or better yet, the next step. And the next. And the next.

God knows I needed some therapy then.
And I still do.

After months of laziness and inactivity, I have started running again. Ostensibly to help me lose the pounds packed back on in almost a year of being married again. But don’t blame Becki. She’s a great cook and I like to eat. (She makes everything from scratch–the first time I tried to buy canned whop whop biscuits, she looked at me like the idiot I found out I was!)

I happen to believe when God made me, he left out the function called metabolism. I have none. I can gain five pounds looking at your water glass sitting across the room. Heaven helps us if you are eating a hamburger, then it might be ten gained pounds–all without the personal satisfaction of tasting your “two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame bun.”

And so, in an effort to help the diet process and regain my youthful fighting form (go ahead and laugh, one day I will be skinny again–I just hope it’s before the worms get me), I run.

I am back up to the two mile mark again–and trying to inch the distance up just a few tenths more a day. I am exhausted–my body hasn’t gotten back quite into the routine yet–but I am running.

And it is therapeutic. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I curse. Sometimes I curse God. And thankfully, sometimes I go mercifully blank. Even better, sometimes I begin to think I am going to have a normal relationship with God.

But then again, my normal is a bit different these days.
Even so, I am thankful for the life we have already built–the life we will continue to build.

I haven’t quit. I won’t quit. Even though I have deep questions to which there seem to be no answers, I will share this story. I will continue to run (and write, speak, and live).

In our doubt, our faith may blossom; in our struggle, hope may lie. In our tears we find our laughter, in the darkness, God is nigh. For the wonder and the comfort and the mystery of our faith, may we live in glad commitment to the One who is our way.

For the road that leads us onward to the places yet unseen; for the Spirit ever leading to the dreams we’ve yet to dream; for the faith enough to question and the faith enough to trust, may our lives be used in service given in the name of love.

“Hands of Blessing” Peggy Haymes 1992

Les Ferguson

Memories in the Making

Tonight I am channeling my inner valley girl or at least Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High
Totally Tubular…
Radical dude!

Maybe you get the picture.

I am amazed at the fact that some time Thursday night or early Friday morning, the blog went over 75,000 total views. That’s exciting to me. Add in the fact that so many write and thank me for writing… well, it helps me believe I still have a ministry life of some type ahead of me.

Last weekend I was privileged to speak in Mountain Home, AR. I am speaking in Ash Flat, AR in June and Columbus, MS in September. In the meantime, I hear from folks who want me to speak at various places (Reno, Nevada? How cool is that?) and I really hope that becomes possible.

I so appreciate your feedback and encouragement and sharing!

Today I would like you to meet Meshele Coleman Tomplait.

I only know Meshele through her comments and blog Memories in the Making. She writes about the common theme of losing a child.

With her permission, I gratefully share her blog post here…

”How many kids do you have?”

It’s a common question asked between adults in all walks of life and it seems to be an innocent, generic and non-invasive conversation starter when you find yourself interacting with someone you don’t know very well. For the grieving parent though, this is one of the most horrifying and, to say the least, awkward questions we will be asked for the rest of our lives. Instantly we’re pinned between equally overwhelming desires – to recognize our child who has passed and keep them alive by keeping their memory fresh and to not expose intimate details of our private lives with every stranger who happens to cross our path.

There are several options you can choose from and no one way is right or wrong; there’s only what’s right or wrong for the individual parent. I’ve even found that each interaction might find a different option that feels right in the moment.

1. Spill the beans. Tell them everything; every detail of the events that lead up to, during and after your child’s passing. Sometimes you just have to let it all out.

2. Tip of the iceberg. Tell them you have a child who has passed on, but gloss over it as quickly as possible. You’re not looking for sympathy, but you just can’t leave it out altogether.

3. Concealed in the counting. Another option is to simply rattle off the number of children you’ve given birth to and an account of their current ages, including the age your child would have been if their Earthly journey had continued. Only you know and it still gives honor and recognition to your child.

4. Out of sight, out of mind. For some, it’s just too painful to mention their child at all. They mention the children who have survived or, in the case of only children, simply say they have no children at all. For some, this is less painful than recognizing the existence of the departed child. Or, maybe the situation simply calls for discussion of living children only for technical reasons.

This summer will mark four years since our sweet James Timothy left our home for his heavenly home, following a drowning accident in July 2009. Just a few weeks ago I found myself in group of unfamiliar faces, making small talk, and being asked how many children I had at home and their genders and ages. I hadn’t anticipated this moment and hadn’t prepared myself to give an answer. Before I knew it, I was awkwardly fumbling my words and tripping over sudden uprising emotions. As a parent of a heavenly resident, you might mention your departed child because you simply enjoy talking about them; it keeps them alive and active in your heart in your family. Talking about our passed on children helps their siblings remember them or, in some cases, get to know them. More often than not, we’re not looking for sympathy when we mention our child is no longer with us. We just want you to know they exist.

However, sometimes social situations are so casual that you might not feel right in weighing down the lighthearted conversation with such a heavy topic. Most of the time, people are just making conversation. They’re not trying to get to know you or share a connection. They’re just trying to pass the time. You may see these people very rarely or never again. In that moment, you find yourself having to feel the heaviness of each possible response and measure it against the weight of the conversation and situation. You want people to know your child exists, but you also don’t want to drag down an otherwise pleasant exchange with the burden of your revelation.

So the next time you’re talking to a random person and they seem to fumble awkwardly over such a simple question as, “How many kids do you have?” – Consider that may be a very cumbersome question for some people and forgive them while they adjust the weight.

Thanks, Meshele. For sharing a journey none of us could want even though share it we do…

Les Ferguson, Jr.