My Eyes Are Dry

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

Don’t get your hopes up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David, a man after God’s own heart?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I long for the heart of God.

How about you?

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

Silence

Silence.
I relish quiet time and silence.
Time when the kids are asleep.
Time when and the TV’s are not blaring.
Precious time to think, process, write and rewrite.
Time to just breathe…
Time when silence is in fact, golden.

Golden, yes, but not when it comes to prayer.
Silence is painful then.
Silence is a reminder of an empty void.
Silence serves as a jarring notice that while we still pray, we also still want and need, wonder and question.

If I had a dime for every time I cried out to God on Cole’s behalf…
Obviously it’s not the money I would like to see.
Not the money at all.

But my prayers for Cole were all of a similar nature.
To be normal.
To be like the other kids.
To be able to run, walk, climb, and jump.
To be without pain.
To speak clearly.
To have a girlfriend.
To have a life.
To really live.

None of those requests are out of the ordinary. In fact most parents—-at least in our American culture–assume their children will live normal productive lives. And more times than not those children will have the opportunity to do so.

But not Cole.
Not Cole.

Cole had more physical disabilities than you could imagine. Add in his cognitive challenges and the struggle was immense. But in spite of his difficulties, the intellect for self-perception was always there. He knew he was different and not in a way the world perceived as good.

And as much as we loved him, we could not always protect him from that pain.
But we tried.
Oh God how we tried.
And prayed.
And begged.
And pleaded.
And made deals.

And there was nothing but silence.

Silence.
Screaming, ear busting, head splitting, banshee loud, deafening silence.

Silence.

For twenty years.
Silence.
Silence.
Silence.

And then he was gone.
Ripped from life before he ever had the chance to live like other kids.
Gone before… so many things he would never see, do, or experience.

I wish I had a dime for every time I cried out to God.
I wish I could have sucker-punched every well-meaning soul who tried to console with words, images, and thoughts of Cole in a better place.

Intellectually, I understood his pain and struggles were over.
Theologically, I believed he was with God and well.
Spiritually, I was angry and hurt.
Emotionally, I cried for what was lost and what would never be.

I live with a lot of regrets and what ifs.
We lost an awful lot that terrible day.
The empty seats at the table are ever before us.
And if the silence was deafening before…

As clichéd as it might be, time really does help.
On most days, even though I miss him with a deep unfulfilled longing, I can smile, laugh and talk about my son who is in a different place.
But some days the pain is just as raw as it was the day he was taken.
And silence is an all too familiar experience.

On those days I sometimes use this picture to remind me of Cole’s new reality and the truth of answered prayers… even when they are not answered in my arbitrary time frame.

HopeRealized
(With thanks to the Huffington Post for an inspiring picture and story)

Even though the silence mostly still remains, I am thankful for so much. I am thankful for the good memories and the precious time we had. Cole made me a better person. I miss him so, but I am glad he is free and unfettered…

cole

To those who hurt with loss, you are not alone…

Blessings to you,

Les, Jr.

Email address

Huge Sucking Chest Wound

It’s really strange the things that catch me off guard and start the waterworks.

This past Saturday I was trying to find something in one of my dresser drawers that is a catch all. There is a lot of stuff in the drawer.

  • Hunting knife
  • Hunting gloves
  • Toboggan hat
  • Checkbook refills
  • Navy Medals/ Ribbons

You name it, I find it, and invariably, if it is somehow important to me, it gets stuck in that particular drawer… or it’s twin brother.

Yes, I have two of them.

At any rate, while searching for something I needed, I accidentally dropped/ dumped the entire drawer on the brick floor.

Casey rushed in to help me, and as he began to pick up stuff, he found a couple of pictures of Cole he had never seen before.

I don’t know for sure what set me off.

Maybe it was the strange look on Casey’s face and the questions I heard forming in his head…

Or, maybe it was the fact those specific pictures are stuck away because it just about kills me every time I see them…

Poor Casey. He’s standing there holding here before unseen pictures in his hand, and me? I am having a complete meltdown on the hard brick bedroom floor.

I am so grateful for good days and positive directions. I am thankful for old and new friends alike–for your encouragement, understanding (even when you haven’t a clue), and support.

But at the risk of using unpreacher-like language, sometimes there is nothing good that can be said… sometimes, life just sucks.

Years ago in the Navy, I went through rudimentary first aid. I remember learning about different ways to seal up or contain a sucking chest wound. Maybe they have fancier language for that these days, but I know what that means. I suspect you do too. If not, then google it here.

Turns out I am all too familiar with a huge sucking chest wound. Mine comes from having my heart periodically ripped out of my body. Grief does that. and sometimes when you least suspect it.

Days like Saturday are hard.

And they suck.

Big time.

Thanks for reading. God bless!

In the meantime, if you want to listen to my sermon at Meadowbrook from a couple of Sunday’s ago, you can do so here: Meadowbrook sermon–the trickster.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Burdened

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

I depended on those words for a long time. They were my touchstone during times of heartache, despair, anguish, or loss.

When life became difficult, when being a preacher/ elder, husband or father became overwhelming, I drew great comfort from believing that Jesus would give me rest.

And maybe He did.
Maybe it was friends or family being the hands of Jesus to me when some of the burdens were lifted.
Maybe, when my nerves were at the breaking point, it was the Comforter, whom Jesus promised, soothing my spirit, calming my fears, and easing my anxiety.

Stress? I wasn’t always the first person to recognize how stressed and up tight I could become.

There was once a time in the U.S. Navy when my neck hurt–I couldn’t turn my head at all. If I needed to look in a certain direction, I had to turn my body to see. Finally I went to a base physician. After a thorough examination where nothing physical was found wrong, he asked if I had any stress in my life.

Me? Stress? Absolutely not. Stress was for wimps. I was the Man of Steel. Or at least Batman.

So he asked me to talk about my life at that point…

So I told him… I was home on emergency leave because of Cole’s initial diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy. While there, my beloved grandfather died. On the way to the funeral, the motor on our four year old car burned up, one month after the warranty expired. After taking out a loan, the motor was replaced. We made the trip back to Norfolk, Va. and settled down for this new life with a handicapped child. A month later, Cole’s diagnosis was changed to Leukodystrophy, a fatal brain disease that would slowly turn Cole incommunicative, a bedridden boy who only had an early death to look forward to.

And my neck hurt. But I had no stress. And the doctor laughed.

After he explained the effects of stress on the body, my neck returned to normal almost just by acknowledging what we were experiencing.

Over the years, I grieved and mourned Cole’s condition. At times I was full of hope. At other times, I was more accepting, not quite resigned, but with a kind of contentment that things would be ok.

But I never completely understood why God didn’t step in. For Cole. For the boy who wanted to do everything everybody else did. For the boy who when he hit the ball for the first time in a T-ball game fell over backwards and layed in the dirt laughing like a crazy child for the sheer joy of it.

In all this, somewhere I thought if I could just be the kind of man God wanted, my prayer would be answered. My burden, Cole’s burden would be lifted.

But that would never be the case this side of eternity.

As it was, not only would those prayers go unanswered (or at least answered the way I wanted), I was also unable to protect him from an evil that wanted to do even more harm.

Turns out some burdens are for life. Some burdens are a part of your journey. Some burdens just are.

And Jesus’s words? They were my favorite verses in the Bible. I guess they still are, but they mean something totally different.

In the context of Jesus life and ministry, they were not a promise to ease every difficulty, struggle, or heartache.

Instead, Jesus offered to lift the burden, to ease the pressure of religion.

Religion? Yes religion.

After years of preaching, teaching, baptizing, and ministering to people, I needed something more than the theological framework of my life. Like the Jews of Jesus’ day, I had a religion, but what I needed most was a relationship.

These days, the things that mattered so much to me… the doctrines I had built my life around… the knowledge I had accumulated through multiple degrees and years of study… those things have their place, but they are of little comfort without a relationship with the One who made me.

I don’t know where I fit these days in the religious world. At this point I don’t really care. There are bigger fish to fry.

But Jesus promised to ease my burden.

So I will keep wrestling with Him until He (through our relationship) does…

I am burdened, how about you?

Les Ferguson, Jr.