‘Tis the Season…

6925088-free-christmas-images

‘Tis the season to be jolly. At least until you run out of fa la la la la la la…

At this point in life, I can fully empathize with those who suffer through the holidays.

Personally, I normally try to fight through my pain. I don’t want to be that guy who is always a mess of wildly fluctuating emotions.  Letting myself have an old-fashioned cry isn’t my default choice.

But there are those moments when the only way forward is found in entering the emotional minefield. I am doing that now by sharing with you a part of my story only a few haver ever heard…

Several weeks before October 10, 2011, we started a Christmas layaway for the boys–mainly Casey and Cole.

After October 10, 2011, one set of items was no longer needed.

Unfortunately, this store did not understand my dilemma. They did not have any available mechanism or procedure to cancel part of the layaway or separate the items no longer needed.

There are some things in life you cannot avoid. Like I said earlier, sometimes the only way out is to go through it. And that’s what I did. I had to purchase the entire layaway and then separate all the individual items and return what wasn’t needed.

I feel sorry now for the poor cashier/checker who had to serve me, but not then. Not then at all. I was so full of anger and pain combined with a weird kind of tenderness. Cole never touched any of those things, but somehow they were still his treasures and worthy of a bit of respect.

I lost a piece of me that day. In many respects, it was like pouring salt on an open wound.

Why am I telling you this? This story is a sacred place for me. Hopefully sharing it will encourage you to have empathy for those who struggle during this time of year.

The best gift you will ever give cannot be bought. Give others the gift of patience, love, and acceptance.  Show them the arms of Jesus.  After all, tis the season to be the reason the people around you experience love.

Thank you for being my safe place too.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:7 HCSB)

Blessings to all,

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

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.

Toothpick

Toothpicks.

I rather doubt anybody would ever decide to read about toothpicks.

I can’t imagine such a subject would be very enlightening or informative or otherwise helpful for those who struggle.

Unless, however, you are challenged in the dental department with gaps and holes and other places for Big Macs and fries to get stuck.

As I write these words, I am in the middle of a Mr. Mom gig at the orthodontist with my youngest stepson, Max.

It’s braces day and I am reminded of toothpicks.

Go figure.

I like toothpicks.

I prefer the flat uncolored kind.

When I was a kid, we used to buy cinnamon oil from the pharmacy and make our own amazingly hot cinnamon toothpicks.

But I digress.

I have only ever once watched the Science channel show, How Do They Do It. And wouldn’t you know it, the subject was toothpicks.

It was interesting.

Ok.

More than interesting, I was enthralled.

High drama, huh?

Toothpicks.

Have you ever wondered how they were made?

Did you ever question the manufacturing process?

When you picked up one of those individually wrapped toothpicks at the check out counter of your favorite restaurant, did you marvel at the engineering?

It’s time to ‘fess up, as my daddy likes to say.

Go ahead and admit your lifelong fascination with the whole subject of toothpicks.

Ok, I am waiting…

What? No takers? An opportunity to come clean and face your obsession and you are going to let it slide?

“Hi, my name is Les Ferguson, Jr. and I am addicted to all things toothpick.”

No. Not really. It’s all a lie. A sham. A shameless literary stunt to introduce something else.

A little resentment if you will…

Toothpicks are in reality, a fairly common, mundane fact or object of life. Unless that is, you are a really strange and obsessed connoisseur of toothpicks. Otherwise, toothpicks are a tool you use or not.

They don’t require much thought.

They don’t factor into your life in a huge meaningful way.

Toothpicks are toothpicks. They just are.

I envy those of you who have toothpick lives, who just get to rock along content and unworried.

And sometimes I feel not a little, but a great resentment.

I look at our struggles. I wrestle with our needs. And I wonder…

I wonder why so many get to skate through life seemingly untouched by trauma, heartache, and the ever present after-effects.

I wonder why our difficulties can be so all-consuming and yet invisible to many.

I wonder why life has to be so hard for some and so easy for others.

I wonder why opportunities and success can be ever present or always elusive, depending on who you are.

Like you, I want peace, hope, and security. I want a purpose that matters on a bigger stage.

I am sure I am consumed with envy.

Please forgive me.

And yet, as much as I want better circumstances, I am also thankful for the new found ability to truly be compassionate and understanding of those whose lives involve heartache and struggle.

I get it, I really do.

If you struggle, you are not alone.

On the other hand, if you are free from major heartache and trauma, take a walk on the wild side and open yourself up to what others have to endure. You’ll be more thankful and eventually be a blessing to some poor soul in need.

Yes, I hate our struggles at the same time I am thankful for the life lessons learned.

Who wants a toothpick?

Les Ferguson, Jr.

The Promise of a Coming Day

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
Psalms 137:1-4

As irritating as TV commercials can be, there is one playing currently that cracks me up.
Literally, it has me laughing out loud. And sometimes even before the funny part–all in anticipation.

Maybe you’ve seen it.

It starts with animated characters drawn in what looks like pencil. The whole thing is set to the old A-Ha song, Take On Me (and uses the original music video as its inspiration). Suddenly, the whole scene changes to a board room type situation where we realize the drawings have been made by a guy doodling as the meeting progresses… only to realize he is singing. Loud. In the middle of the meeting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=bbRVMua0HUc

Can you say embarrassment?
I love it!

For about a week now I have been humming, whistling, and singing one particular song by Crosby, Stills, and Nash…

I whistle a bar here, sing a line there. And like the guy in the commercial, suddenly realize I am humming out loud.

I love their music. They have multiple songs on their playlist that I really enjoy.

But my favorite song was a dream that one day came true.

During my stint in the US Navy, I travelled all over the world.
Saw some great places.
Met different and intriguing cultures.
My favorite country to visit? Chile.

It was on the way to Chile, as we sailed and showed the Flag around the entire continent of South America, that I finally saw what I had only envisioned in my mind before.

The Southern Cross.
The constellation ancient mariners navigated by in the southern hemisphere.

Thanks to Crosby, Stills, and Nash, I once longed to see those stars aligned in the nighttime sky. Thanks to the US Navy (and Becki), I have. (The Becki part? That’s a story for another day.)

I’d like to see the constellation again someday, but in the meantime? I sing, whistle, and hum…

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way
‘Cause the truth you might be runnin’ from is so small
But it’s as big as the promise, the promise of a comin’ day…

The song itself is about loss.
It’s about escape.
It’s about a new life even as one moves forward from and within the remnants of the old.
Most importantly, its about the promise of a coming day.

In other words, hope!

Hope!

Today may be painful.
Tomorrow may be worse.
And next week or even next year?
Yes, there will be times of continued pain and difficulty or the onset of brand new hurts not even imagined as of yet. And it may feel as if you are living in a foreign land…

Turns out, there isn’t a shelf life or expiration date for the pain life often has to offer.
Like losing a child… it will always be there, always sting, and always ache. Like a nightmare you can’t wake up from, it never quite goes away.

It is what it is.

But even in the pain.
Even in the uncertainty.
Even in the questioning and wondering of why you came this way…
There is always the promise of a coming day.

Hope!

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way
‘Cause the truth you might be runnin’ from is so small
But it’s as big as the promise, the promise of a comin’ day…

In Jesus, there will be a new day!

Hope!

Les Ferguson, Jr.