Wise Counsel

For many years I had people come to my office for counseling. I was never much a counselor of note. I had no specific training or expertise. There was nothing special about my technique.

The only qualification I had was a couple of theology degrees and years of experience loving people at their worst and enjoying them at their best. That and having to learn how to listen, something I struggle with even now.

Please know there is a lot of distance between worst and best behaviors and problems. Not to mention the varied and sometimes crazy and embarrassing topics and subjects you might be asked to shed some light on.

I wasn’t always the most sympathetic listener. More than once I wanted to look at whomever was gracing me with their presence and say something along the lines of “You are wasting my time and yours with this? You need to get a life. At least let me give you a swift kick in the backside for a reality check.”

  • Believe me. I didn’t want to know about your ED meds. I didn’t want to know about how you finally came to the decision to talk to your doctor. I didn’t want to know how they helped you. (Not kidding about this, I promise)
  • Believe me. I could not fix her. If I could have, I’d probably have started with you. But I could not fix you. At least I couldn’t do it and avoid jail at the same time.

Maybe you are laughing; maybe you are not. But, surrounded by the four walls of my office, I have heard some weird and wacky stuff.

Which leads me to believe all of us have a certain capacity for the weird and wacky. But then I digress.

I find myself these days on the other side of the desk wrestling with emotions and frustration I’d rather not. And no, I haven’t embarrassed myself with something weird or wacky.

Yet.

Knock on wood…

Earlier this week a counselor told me I needed to be easier on myself, I needed to have more patience with where I’ve been and where I am going. I get that. I have always been harder on myself than anybody else would be.

At the same time, I think that would be much easier to do if it wasn’t so open-ended. If I knew I just had to be patient for another month or two, that I could do.

So.

How do you let go and trust?  How do you just live in the moment?

Those are things I want to do, but I am not wired to do them easily.

Jesus teaches us not to worry, but that is easier said than done.

I guess I am like the guy who once told Jesus, “I believe. Help me with my unbelief.”

Except my words would be, “I trust you God. Help me where my trust has faded.”

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Done Dood!

Today I ran. It was a crisp cool morning.
The weekend rain had settled the dust.
The long gravel driveway and the two other gravel roads I ran were quiet and peaceful.
My running music was Billy Squire’s greatest hits, but as my mind ran on ahead of me, the music was soon an almost unheard background tempo…

I have never been an overly confident person.
Like many others, I often struggle with self-doubt.

As a preacher, even when I should have been confident in my ability, such knowledge often eluded me.

Why did I have such a lack of confidence?

There are a number of reasons.

I’d like to let myself off the hook and pretend that’s just the way I was wired. But the truth is I have allowed other factors to reprogram my original software with glaring glitches that are not all that flattering.

Where do these glitches come from? What causes our programming to be corrupted? The preacher in me wants to pound the pulpit and say in thundering voice sin is the reason. Sin corrupts everything, but that may be too simplistic of an answer.

From my personal perspective, instead of trusting in how God sees me, instead of finding my self-worth in Him, I tended to find value in performance.

My performance.
As in how well I performed in whatever capacity was called for.
Great performance always calls for pride and setting oneself up as the standard by which we measure.

But, performance is subject to many different variables. Some we can control; others we cannot. At any rate, as long as pride allows any of us to be the standard, failure is bound to happen.

Nobody is perfect.
Certainly not me.
Nor you either.

You know what happens when you fail often enough or performance falters? Yep. Prideful self-confidence is going to suffer!

But that’s not the end of the matter. As it turns out, our own pride in performance isn’t always the culprit. Sometimes it’s the pride of others. When they set themselves up as your standard, chances are, you’ll fail that little song and dance too. Where or when any of us tries to live our lives to please others? We will both be miserable before it’s over!

This is hard stuff for me to admit and change. I like to make people happy. I like even more to know I knocked it out of the ballpark.
Every time.
Every.

With that kind of motivation, it is easy to find yourself doing things for all the wrong reasons.

If I ever preach again on a regular basis, it has to be different than it was before. I have to be different. At the very least, I need to do a much better job of taking my ego out of the equation.

There I ago again.
Isn’t it funny where and how pride raises its ugly head?
I need God to take my ego out of the equation.

So today I ran.
As I ran, the music faded into the background, and I could clearly hear Cole’s words from the not-so-distant past… You done dood, Dad.

Dood.
That’s Cole-speak for good.
High praise indeed.
How I wish I could hear it today.

One day I hope to listen as the Father says well done good and faithful servant, followed by Cole’s pronouncement you done dood, Dad. You done dood.

Today I ran on gravel roads. But in the blink of an eye, Cole and I? We will run together on streets of gold…

Ready to run,
Les Ferguson, Jr.

A Song Can Rise

Normally I write on my Mac or my iPad. But last night, inspiration struck late. I spent awhile furiously scribbling on scraps of paper and left over stuff from the real estate day we had just concluded.

I can’t wait to finish it. I can’t wait to share it. I think it will be provocative and challenging. I believe if shared enough, if given a wide enough audience, it might just help us in the fight against those who who molest children or sexually assault others.

But in the midst of the writing storm, an old friend from my preaching days posted some song lyrics on Facebook. She didn’t give the name of the song. She didn’t share the identity of the group that sang it.

But how the lyrics resonated.
With me.
With my life.
With my struggle with God.

I am doing so much better than I was. I am standing. I am determined. I am moving forward to build the best life ever.

But there are days. Yes, there are days…
There are days of heartache and challenges.
There are days of little to no self-confidence.
There are days where the questions seem to overpower the hope.

But not for long.

So, as I work on an article I believe will be helpful, I’d like to share the lyrics from Worn by Tenth Avenue North

I’m tired
I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes to keep on breathing

I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

I know I need
To lift my eyes up
But I’m too week
Life just won’t let up
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

And my prayers are wearing thin
I’m worn even before the day begins
I’m worn I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn so heaven so come and fluid my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Yes all that’s dead inside will be reborn
Though I’m worn
Yeah I’m worn

I want to know a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life

With sometimes cracking voice and strained vocal chords, I am singing.

I suspect some reading this need to let God start warming them up to sing again.

Do you think we might sing together?

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Another Throwback Post: Authentic Religion

If you just decide not to read some of these old posts of late, I’m not gonna moan and cry.

I am writing and working–trying to be ready for speaking three times this weekend. I promise to share some fresh stuff in the weeks ahead.

Promise.

In the meantime, we will blow past 84,000 views in the next few hours it appears. That’s hard for me to imagine. I am thankful for the voice your reading is giving me.

Enjoy, comment, and share if you can… 

It is somewhat amazing to think of the things we do in the name of religion. Worse, is the way we often describe it.

So many in our culture are looking for an authentic religious experience. Unfortunately, so many also define religious authenticity as a worship experience that moves them in some emotional way.

Don’t get me wrong. I crave those times of worship. I need our worship leader (who is simply wonderful) to help us enter the throne room of God in a passionate, emotional way. As mystical as it might sound to some who are more logical and rote in their approach to worship, I want to be moved by the songs we sing, the prayers we pray, and the word we preach.

And, I am not so naive as to think that my frame of mind, attitude, and effort isn’t important to the whole process. But when you crave intimacy through worship, you can find it if your heart is right no matter the songs we sing or the leader who leads.

But what gets me and I know I sound like a broken record to some is how much of our religion is defined by what we do in a worship assembly. It’s the “go to church” mentality.

And frankly, I am quite weary with the kind of Christianity that sees its sum total as taking place on Sunday morning. I wouldn’t miss worshiping with my family for anything, but if that is all there was to it, Christianity is shallow at best and worst, empty of anything that really matters.

Authentic religion is best described by James the brother of Jesus who says, If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted in the world. (James 1:26-27 NIV)

Sometimes I wish we didn’t have a single church building to our name. Again, don’t get me wrong. Church buildings can be one of the most valuable tools we own. I pray that every church building be utilized to its fullest from soup kitchens to after school play times to whatever gets us involved in the lives of those who live in our vicinity.

Authentic religion is living out our beliefs in God-honoring, life-changing ways. It is changing how we think, speak, and act. It means looking after the needs of those who may be unable to help themselves. It means going to places and being with people we might never associate with in a normal and sane world. It is all about knowing whom we belong to and living accordingly.

The reality is that authentic religion, authentic Christianity is not played out in pristine, sterile settings! An Australian, John Smith, once wrote, If I remember correctly, it was a clergyman of some distinction who said long ago that we must rediscover the fact in the church that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on a town garbage heap that was so cosmopolitan they had to list his name in several languages, in a place where men talked smut and where soldiers gambled for the only thing he possessed. That’s what Jesus was about and that’s what the church ought to be about.

So where does Sunday morning worship fit into authentic religion? It is the time where we renew and revive our connection to the Father and to each other–it is the time when we encourage and are encouraged to live like Jesus, to love like the Lord, and to care like the Good Shepherd!

If you want an authentic Christian life, then be in worship this Sunday. Magnify the name of the Lord. And then take Him into the highways and byways of the life you have been given!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

July 5, 2006

Happy Memorial Day?

Happy Memorial Day?

A quick perusal of Facebook tells me people are wondering if it is ok to say Happy Memorial Day.

For the first time, I am not so sure anymore.

But for the biggest part of my life it was never a question.

Memorial Day and Veterans Day have always been big deals for me. And mostly synonymous. I love them because I am highly patriotic. Probably too much so for my own good, but nevertheless, I still am.

Military service, in my way of thinking, is something to be proud of. While I stop short of calling for a military draft, I believe everybody ought to have to give something back in service to the country. How that would work in my mind is fairly simple but needs to be a different topic on another day–and mostly not for this format–unless I am begged very hard–and bribed too.

Ed Conner, my grandfather-in-law, who has now gone to be with the Lord, fought in hand-to-hand combat through the islands of the Pacific in WWII.

Bob Brown, my father-in-law, served in the Army as an Officer and Combat Engineer during a tour of duty in Vietnam.

My father, Les Ferguson, Sr. served as a radar operator on the East Coast on Nike Missile installations during a hitch in the US Army.

And me? I am proud of my service as a weapons control computer operator/ technician on the USS Josephus Daniels CG-27 in the US Navy.

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I have never regretted my six year enlistment in Uncle Sam’s Canoe Club. I saw lots of different things, experienced some really cool places, people, etc. I am, however, not all that eager to go back to the Middle East again–six months of Operation Desert Shield was enough combat pay/ adrenaline to last a lifetime.

I am thankful for all those who have served before, with, and after me. So many Americans have no idea the sacrifices military and their families endure.

If you want a better way to support those who currently serve, I’d suggest the Wounded Warrior Project.

At any rate, back to the idea of saying Happy Memorial Day…

For what it is worth, Memorial Day has taken on some additional meaning for me. At this stage of my life, grief is an ever present, bittersweet sort of friend. On one hand, I wish he would disappear for ever; on the other hand, I am glad for the constant reminder of what has been lost. I don’t want to forget…

Memorial Day is about remembering so that those we have lost will not be forgotten.
Today, I celebrate Memorial Day a little differently than I have before. I remember those who have fallen, yes, but, I also grieve with and for those who are left to carry the memories of loved ones lost.

My suggestion? Enjoy the time with your family. Barbecue on the grill. Go fishing with the kids. Canoe a river. Celebrate the wonderful life and blessing of being an American.

And as you do, don’t forget the inherent sadness of the day. Don’t forget to grieve with those who know Memorial Day to really be a mourning day. Explain it to your kids. Remind them of the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives–and the sacrifices those left behind still have to make.

Happy Memorial Day? I don’t think so…

God bless all who sit down tonight without the one they love. May they find some sweet memory that brings just a little bit of a smile. They deserve that and more!

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In The Hands of the Lord

This blog is for all those who know the indescribable pain of losing a child.

This blog is for all those whom I pray will never know the indescribable pain of losing a child.

One of these days I’ll probably lose some readers who just can’t handle the dark stuff we often talk about. If you have to go, I get it. What some of us are dealing with is hard. It is unbelievably dark. It is a depth of pain that ebbs and flows but never quite goes away.

Some days the pain recedes into the distance and I am able to experience great joy. Those days I more than manage to live and thrive. In the ebb and flow, there is life and living, with an occasional twinge or reminder out there on the edges ready to make itself known…

This past weekend was not one of those times. I had to fight my way through an incredible obsession. I was consumed with thoughts of driving to Gulfport and digging my son up out of the grave and bringing him home. the

Like I said, dark thoughts. Terrible thoughts. Thoughts no parent should ever have to think.

And yet we do.
Our number is legion and growing every day.
God help us all.

Please don’t try to tell me God understands (although I am sure He does, but that is hardly comforting given what usually comes next). Yes, He went through the loss of His own son in tragic circumstances, but His son came back to life on the third day.

And the rest of us? We are still waiting…

Time does not heal all wounds. These wounds may scab over, but every time we encounter a newly grieving parent–or hear of another tragedy or heartache, the scab is violently ripped off anew. We would like to grieve with you and we try, but our pain once again becomes all we can see and more than we can bear.

The following song was heard at church this past Sunday as the church honored her high school graduates…

See the hands, see the face,
see the miracle of God’s grace.
Now we come as many have before
to place the child in the hands of the Lord.

A child will come into our lives with open hearts, open eyes.
We surround them with a love outpoured
and place the child in the hands of the Lord.

Through every step, the child will grow and change,
there will be joy, there will be pain.
So now we come to join this day
and vow to teach, to guard and pray,
that when they fail and when they soar,
they are held by the hands of the Lord.

And when our hands must let them go,
by faith our hearts will always know
that whatever life may have in store,
we place the child into the hands of the Lord.

There is comfort in those words.
There is unbelievable agony in those words.

It is comforting to know God holds our children’s future secure.
Until He doesn’t. At least in this world.

I am so glad your children/ our children get a chance to thrive. I pray they continue to do so.

But those of us who have lost a child… we know they are safe in the hands of the Lord and mad at the same time that they are.

And like David of old, we cry, my son, my son…

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An Interview With Drew Marshall–Canada’s Most Listened To Spiritual Talk Show

I hate with a passion the events that changed the course of my life.

I despise the pain I have seen in friends and family–self included–as a result.

At times, the despair has been completely overwhelming.

My faith has wavered on the shakiest of shaky ground.

And yet, we still remain.

Standing.

Sometimes on legs as weak as a new born calf.

Sometimes with strength that surprises me.

And sometimes, the standing is only because I am being propped up with the power of others. (Thank you, Becki and family for the strength you so willing lend)

I may not ever run. But I will limp just as hard and fast as I can in building a new life, a new faith, and a new (pardon the pun) walk with God.

Many of you–in your encouragement to write and press forward–are great supporters. Some of you are old friends, some of you are new friends, and some of you I may never meet in person. But I am thankful all the same.

I love writing and speaking. I am  working hard at improving my craft and finding new opportunities. I will not wallow in self-pity or despair. It is a new day, and I intend to live it to the fullest.

I’m so thankful God allows anger, dissent and argument. He’s good like that..

Aren’t you glad he puts up with you too?

In the meantime, for those who are interested, I am posting the audio to my interview with Drew Marshall: Drew Marshall interview 4-6-13

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:30-31

Yours,

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