WB or JPN?

Can you say neglected or neglectful?

That’s not a nice word in most contexts.

“I’ve neglected my children.”
“I’ve been neglectful toward my wife.”
“I’ve have been so busy, that I have neglected to pay the correct attention to my rather large and independently wealthy investment portfolio.”

Aren’t those great examples? Where I am concerned, none of them are true, but the last? Well, that’s a subtle bit of humor considering the state of my finances.

But the truth is simple. I have been neglecting my blog of late. But, it’s not that I don’t have anything to say.

I have a lot to say. I have a lot I could rant and rave about.
I could easily go all political and talk about our cancelled insurance policy and who is to blame for that.
I could spend some time moaning and groaning about fate and all the struggles we continue to face.
I could wax poetic about these dang allergies or whatever I have been afflicted with for weeks without end.

Wax poetic? No not really, but you get the picture.

You do, don’t you?

Yeah..

So maybe neglected or neglectful is not the right word when it comes to not writing on my blog over the last week or so.

Maybe the correct word is avoided or avoidance.

I have avoided writing for one reason in particular.

The WB syndrome.

WB is shorthand for those who have and greatly exercise their ability to be a whiny butt. When life is giving you lemons and are you sick and tired, as well as tired and sick of both making and drinking lemonade, there is a great temptation to give into being a complainer. Or in my Dad’s vernacular, a whiny butt.

Know any whiny butts?
I bet you do, especially the one that looks back at you in the mirror.

Even though my laments are valid, one of these days I suspect I’ll gaze back at some of this and think I was the biggest whiny butt ever.

If not that, then maybe my diagnosis will be a text book example of JPN.

Just Plain Nuts.

I hope you get the point that I am trying to laugh in spite of difficulty.
I am.

And I don’t mind laughing at myself either–so feel free to laugh with me.

In case I don’t get back on here before turkey day, Happy Thanksgiving!

More importantly, tomorrow would have been Cole’s 24th birthday.
I miss him greatly.
I’ll make no excuse for whining about that.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

From Victim to Surviver to Thriver

In the immediate confusion and struggle of the events of October 10, 2011, I had no idea what to do from one moment to the next. I will ever be thankful for the people who were there giving guidance and support. I am particularly grateful for the friendship, compassion, and expertise of Bubba Lang and his staff at Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Homes.

We had a history together that predates those horrible events. After hurricane Katrina, Bubba allowed the church to use one of their chapels for worship services for about a year and a half while our new building was being constructed. In a crazy turn of events, we had sold our building and then two days before Katrina roared ashore, signed a contract to build a new building.

But unfortunately, everything changed including the projected costs as a result of storm recovery and rebuilding.

With a building project on hold and no building of our own, we were served well by Bubba and his staff. They made a difficult situation much easier than it could have been otherwise.

Even after being in our new church building, us “old timers” remembered those funeral chapel months with gratitude and humor. (After all, how many preachers get to preach in a place where people are dying to get into? Yeah, I know, it’s a groaner of a joke.)

But then the unthinkable happened. I found myself at the same chapel we had used all those months for Sunday worship trying to figure out what to do for a funeral service.

My friend Bubba was as compassionate and caring as anybody could have been. A business that provided a necessary service was more like a ministry and Bubba was the High Priest. I remember sitting there answering questions and carrying out what I think were lucid sounding conversations.

I also remember my breaking point that day. When directed to the casket show room and tasked with picking out two coffins, I reacted in anger. I balked, refused, and with a heavy heart, left the room. I still have no idea who made that final decision.

Immediately after, I remember being driven to the cemetery where we took possession of donated grave spots. I remember feeling how strange, unnatural, and horrible the whole process was.

I remember…

The horror of it all is still so very present.
And borrowing the words of a commenter on a another blog I read, I am doing my very best—determined—to make the transition from victim to survivor to thriver.

In many ways I already have made that transition.

And yet, the simple truth is that consequences often expand exponentially. With that expansion, which I often refer to as the ripple effects, comes a whole laundry list of unanswered questions, guilt, and anguish.

In those last minutes, what did they feel?
How terrified were they?
Did Cole understand what was happening?
Where was God?

Where was God?

Fair or not, with that question, at least for me, came a loss of trust, a loss of place, and a loss of friends.

Consequences.
And hard ones at that.
Consequences I still struggle with.

However, I remain very determined to face every one of them head on. Sadly, they don’t often have easy answers. They sometimes reoccur. And likely, it may very well take a long time to turn them around.

From victim to surviver to thriver. That’s my onward and upward journey.
Occasionally it feels like the proverbial one step forward and two steps backward.
But such is life for many.

Thanks for reading.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Throwback Thursday With Cole

Sometime in April 2009, I wrote the bulletin article below. It was a time when I wrestled and struggled with the health difficulties ever present in Cole’s life. Like every parent of a handicapped child, there were lots of implications and heartaches. Mine often took a spiritual direction.

Two weeks from today would have been Cole’s twenty-fourth birthday.
While I am glad he is now free from pain and struggle, I miss him so.
And, as it turns out, I still need to be reminded of the last few paragraphs I wrote what seems like so very long ago…

I Am Waiting

I will admit it. I don’t understand.

Sometimes my not understanding leads me to anger and sometimes to despair.

Truthfully, there are also times—more numerous than I want to admit where my not understanding leads me to a numbness of the soul where my spirituality isn’t really alive and vital—more of a going through the motions.

And yes, the theologian in me likes to think I do know the answer, but the answer I know—intellectually—isn’t always very satisfying emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

And it’s not like I don’t pray. And it’s not like it’s beyond God’s ability to answer my specific prayers in ways that would astound the world and give him all the glory.

Maybe you understand what I mean from your own unique perspective. However, my perspective is for our son, Cole.

I don’t understand why he has to go through 19 years of life with all of the difficulties, frustrations, and challenges he faces.
I don’t understand why we have to go through test after test and can’t seem to get any definitive answer.
I don’t understand why God doesn’t see fit to heal him completely…now.
I don’t understand why our prayers for his anger and out-of-control behavior seem as if they never rise above the roof.
I don’t understand why it seems at times we cannot get a single moment of peace.

Theologically, I understand sickness, disease, and death are by-products of living in a broken world.

Theologically, I understand the question isn’t “why me” but “why not me.”

Spiritually, emotionally, and physically, I am tired of that answer. But I am waiting. And as I wait, I pray that my attitude, actions, and life will reflect the words of John Waller’s song…

I’m waiting 
I’m waiting on You, Lord 
And I am hopeful 
I’m waiting on You, Lord 
Though it is painful 
But patiently, I will wait 

I will move ahead, bold and confident 
Taking every step in obedience 
While I’m waiting 
I will serve You 
While I’m waiting 
I will worship 
While I’m waiting 
I will not faint 
I’ll be running the race 
Even while I wait

In Mark 9, Jesus is presented with a healing opportunity—a boy with an evil spirit. As he talks with the boy’s father, Jesus says “Everything is possible for him who believes.” And the father’s answer has to be mine, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

I am waiting, Lord, sometimes impatiently, sometimes angrily, sometimes with a deep, deep numbness. But I am waiting. Help me over come my waiting that really isn’t.

May God help each of us move through life bold and confident, even when we are waiting…

Les, Jr.

Happy Veterans Day!

Happy Veterans Day!

I am sitting at the kitchen counter pecking away on my iPad. Most everybody is still asleep. All except Casey our resident energizer bunny who is up long before daylight starts to make an appearance.

He’s had cereal and I am on my second cup of coffee. And contemplating an apple for a good healthy breakfast.

I am kind of taking the day off. Kind off, because there is always something that needs to be done, some lead to follow or chase, some contact to be made. I plan on seeing two people today.

Both old friends, one owns a funeral home and may have something I can do part time or otherwise. I am not sure how I feel about that. If I never saw the inside of another funeral home again, I suspect I could die content. On the other hand… It might be a good opportunity and a ministry of sorts to boot. As the great and wise theologian otherwise known as my wife, Becki, said last night, this may be where God is leading me…

I used to say God had an amazing sense of humor. My proofs were the fact that men and women, husbands and wives are so vastly different and yet God expects us to live in peace and harmony. The other proof was a giraffe–God was having fun when He made them. The third proof, if born out, might just be the idea of me working in a funeral home.

The other meeting is with a friend who owns a bunch of restaurants. We are meeting originally to talk about co-opting one to use for a Saturday pancake breakfast to benefit the local Robotics Team. I suspect the conversation will go in other directions if for no other reason than this will be the first time together outside of a chance meeting at the gym in well over 30 years.

Blah, blah, blah…

All this is about as exciting as watching tea bags steep, I am sure. But, this is my world and I am glad to share it with you.

Life takes you in some strange and weird directions. Part of me is terrified of ever having a full-time preaching ministry again, while part of me at the same time wishes it could be so. I was the kind of preacher who under normal circumstances had his preaching schedule lined up a year in advance–and weekly sermons were always finished and ready by the end of Tuesday.

I like structure and order.
I like knowing my direction and having a pretty good idea of what is coming next.
I like, no a better word is crave… I crave stability.

Cobbling together a hodgepodge of businesses, jobs, and ministry is not something I could have remotely imagined.

But we persevere. It is what we do.
That and waiting…

I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord ’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:17-26 NIV)

Thanks for reading and waiting with me,

Les Ferguson, Jr.

I Don’t Know Where I Fit In

In my earliest days as a beginning theologian, I understood well my conservative upbringing. I knew intimately the points and counterpoints of some pretty intense theological debates.

I was well versed in the different papers and publications put out by the differing and dueling editor-bishops. I knew what schools held to what doctrinal positions. I understood what would happen if I aligned myself to this camp or another.

There were theological giants walking among us and I was quite eager to hear everything they said.

For years I thrived in that atmosphere. I was a living sponge soaking up those doctrinal differences and arguments—reveling in my knowledge, honing my own ability to dissect, discourse, and write.

A large portion of my life involved doctrine, doctrinal analysis, debates, discussions, and like the proverb says, iron sharpening iron.

The little dictionary capability that resides within my word processor defines lockstep like this:

  • a way of marching with each person as close as possible to the one in front. 
  • close adherence to and emulation of another’s actions.

Yes, I was good at maintaining the right positions and attitudes—I could march and fit in—and I did.

I did at least until a pesky thing called ministry got in the way.

Ministry or the art of ministering into the lives of others was where I found myself more times than not. I could only retreat into my study and the scholarship of which I love for so long before real life had to be challenged.

Ministry meant interacting in the messy lives of others—and confronting my own messiness in the process.

Along the way, a funny thing happened (here’s where I probably lose the next preaching job or opportunity). As I became intimately involved with the lives of hurting broken people—as I came alongside them with the brokenness and hurt of my own life, I found it harder and harder to maintain some of my positions.

Sometimes it was because my positions didn’t hold water in the practicality of living out my faith—at other times, I realized that in the grip of pain and struggle, I couldn’t often afford the luxury of smug self-assurance.

At this point in my life, I have apparently lost the ability to march in lockstep. Or maybe you might consider me a round peg in a square hole.

And it’s not that I am advocating for you to rethink your arguments or positions. I am not all that worried about knowing whose theology is more accurate, yours or mine.

But here’s the rub: things that were once so important have lost their impetus.

I have come to believe that in the context of theology—and in the context of how we live our lives, a lot of doctrine and theology—bad, misguided, or completely correct—is overshadowed by the two greatest commands: Love God & Love Others.

I desperately want to have a ministry again one day. But in the trauma and heartache of my life, I have come to realize that nothing matters more than how I love God by loving others.

Living out that ideology might just be the biggest and best ministry any of us can have.

Yes, I am not sure where I fit into the theological world today… and yes, I respect your beliefs and opinions. But…

I choose to remember the words of Peter in 1 Peter 4:8, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Waiters

So yesterday I spoke at the Discover Rally. I am thankful to my lifetime buddy, John Dobbs, for inviting and giving me the opportunity.

I doubt if anybody needed to hear the message more than me.

The majority of the sermon came directly out of a chapter called Forlorn and Forgotten, written for my book-in-progress. It is about Hagar and Ishmael, but mostly Hagar. She is a highly sympathetic character and deserving of our attention to her story.

As far as the book chapter goes and the edited version for a sermon, I needed to write those things as a part of my journey, a part of my recovery, and a part of my new walk of faith. And as much as I needed to write them, I needed even more to say those words out loud with others as a witness.

The reality is quite simple: I needed to believe them then… I need to believe them today.

And I do.

Honestly?
Some days it is harder than others to do so.
Some days the pain is closer to the surface.
Some days the frustration is much to high for comfort and ease of belief.

But on most other days, life is good.
Really good.
On those days, pain is buried pretty deep and finds it so much harder to reach the surface.
On those days, I find ready laughter, abundant joy, and much to live and hope for.

And I do.

Truthfully?
Those are the kind of days when I need to believe even more.
Those are the kind of days my focus on God needs to be much clearer.
Those are the days I need to be most aware that my blessings come from God…

Why?

Because those are the days I am most tempted to rely on my own strength and ability.
Those are the days I am tempted the most to fall prey to the world’s ideas of rugged individualism versus the idea of patiently waiting on the Lord.

No, I am not normally patient.
The idea of sitting still and waiting is foreign to me.
I don’t like to wait.

A long time ago Queen sang,

Adventure seeker on an empty street
Just an alley creeper light on his feet
A young fighter screaming with no time for doubt
With the pain and anger can’t see a way out
It ain’t much I’m asking, I heard him say
Gotta find me a future move out of my way
I want it all I want it all I want it all and I want it now
I want it all I want it all I want it all and I want it now

That could be my anthem song because I do want it all.
And yes, I am tired of waiting. I want it now.

Please?

In the meantime, I am trying to learn how to believe and live the waiting of Lamentations.

I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord ’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:17-26 NIV)

Waiting is easier in the company of other waiters.

Anybody else need to learn how to wait?

Impatiently yours,

Les Ferguson, Jr.