‘Tis the Season…

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‘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

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

I Am Waiting…

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As I write this I am waiting.

I am not at the doctor’s office or hospital.
I am not waiting on a child to get through with music lessons.
I am not waiting on somebody to get ready.
I am not waiting on an appointment.

And even though you were to see me now sitting at my desk in my office pecking away at this keyboard, you would find me waiting.

I am not good at waiting. Years ago in the US Navy we would laugh with frustration at how the military often worked. It was quite common to both hear and say, hurry up and wait

I am waiting on many things in this life.
People don’t move at the speed I would like.
Things don’t happen in my timeframe.
My expectations/ desires are often not the reality of my world.

And so I wait.

I wait for fairness and justice.
I wait for understanding.
I wait for answers I know will not satisfy the longing in my heart.
I wait for answers that will not be given on this side of life.

And so I wait.

I eagerly await the day when sickness, sorrow, pain, and suffering are no longer a part of our lives.
I long for the day when death is gone forever.
I wait expectantly for the ultimate redemption, restoration, and reconciliation of this world/ creation.

At times it seems as if it will take forever.
And so I wait.

I am tired of being broken.
I am weary of struggling against my own broken nature.
I am often exhausted by by the ache and loss in my heart.
I shed tears on a regular basis for the pain and hurt my children feel but seldom express.
I am sometimes shocked by how much that which would be joyous is overshadowed by loss.

There is a tension here at my new address.
And so I wait.

Thankfully, I do not wait alone.
I wait with my wife and family—we walk this journey together.
I wait with others whose faith has been tested.
I wait with those who so identify with the man who told Jesus: I believe. Help my unbelief.

We are not joyless people out here on the margins.
We are not without hope.
In fact, ours is a hope so real we cling to it as if nothing else matters.
Because nothing else does…

May the greatest of blessings be yours this season.

Merry Christmas to all…

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS.

When Church Is A House Of Pain

The title to this blog post sounds mighty negative. I get that. However, my goal in sharing what you are about to read is that it not be another post bashing the bride of Christ.

To the contrary.

I love the church and have much I owe her. I have not always gotten along with her well–there have been many days when she frustrated or made me angry.

But when you are dealing with mistake prone people–family and friends even who are as damaged by sin as the next guy (the next guy being me), you’re going to find flaws. And where you have flawed people, you will find pain–self-inflicted as well as inflicted by others.

As Uncle Si would say, that’s a fact, Jack!

I have written before about the pain and anguish felt as the result of people who didn’t handle the hurts and disappointments of others very well. Especially those who are struggling with death and loss.

Obviously, everybody’s story is different. But for most, the initial days, weeks, and months after the funeral is over are just the beginning of new adjustments, new levels of anguish, and trying to rebuild. Frankly for me, the second year was harder than the first. I don’t know why, it just was.

To illustrate how it works for some, read what Pam McCutcheon says about the aftermath of losing her son….

“I have a confession.  Please don’t judge me.  I haven’t attended a church service for over three years.  My relationship with God is strong and my faith is not in jeopardy.  But church is a house of pain, on many levels, since Max was killed.

First and foremost, my grief lives deep down in my soul.  A vulnerable place.  That same place in my soul that I tap in to when I worship God.  The tears naturally come.  And I refuse to “play” church and keep a happy face on.  I bawl when praise music starts.  God is fully worthy of my praise.  But (He already knows this, it’s well discussed territory), I am mad at Him for the decision to take Max to heaven at 18. I cannot sing about the faithfulness of God when I know very well I feel like He betrayed my trust.  I cannot sing about His goodness, even though I know and believe He is good.  Not in public.  I know others cry in church.  But I don’t have a ‘pretty’ cry.  My face gets red, I am vocal, and I melt down.  I’m a spectacle and truly, I don’t want people gawking at me when I’m that exposed.  It was much easier for me to sing “I Surrender All” when it didn’t require me surrendering my oldest child to death

Secondly, I have been betrayed by those who genuinely love and follow Jesus.  Some do not know how to minister to grieving people.  Some can only do it for a short while. I’m not talking about those people, although they have hurt me because I truly needed them and they weren’t there.  No.  I’m talking about the horrible things said “in the name of Christ”, or “telling the truth in love”, both phrases thrown around with too many cliches that have no meaning or power in my grief.  I am not going to get too specific because I hope to mend those fences someday, even if I have to wait until I reach eternity for unity again.  The self-righteous, smug, advice-givers inflict the most damage.  And they are not the reason I stay away from church.  But they certainly contribute to the church being a house of pain.  I do not doubt that they love Jesus, but they surely don’t reflect His heart for grieving people.

Do you know what Jesus did when He came upon the sisters of Lazarus right after he had died?  The sisters were angry with Him, yelling, they told Him that if He had been there, Lazarus wouldn’t have died!  Did Jesus say “but he is in heaven, a better place”?  Did Jesus say “you might damage your witness by grieving so outwardly”?  Did Jesus say “here is some Scripture”?  NO.  Jesus simply WEPT.  He wept with them.  He was deeply moved and He wept.  Even though He knew He was going to resurrect him that very day.   He wept out of love.  (John chapter 11)  I pray more would use His example and not say damaging things, but simply weep with those who weep.
The man who asked me to write a blog on this topic has this to say in HIS blog – ‘I discovered that theological arguments, debates, and discussions matter little to people living on the jagged edge of holding it together or losing it entirely. And, I discovered that more “church members” are in that category of folks than we could possibly imagine.’ 

And finally, if you (as a church) are looking for people to minister to, please humbly accept my suggestion to start with your own congregation.  There is plenty of pain in your own back yard.  Talking of grand mission trips are fine, but only if you are taking care of your own too.  Know someone in pain in your congregation but don’t know how to help?  Take a meal, send a note of encouragement, organize a group to come over and surprise with a cleaning crew or a day working in their yard, take the kids out for an afternoon so the parents can be alone for a few hours, call them for lunch, meet them for a walk, ask questions that allow them to talk about their pain rather than avoiding them.  The gestures don’t have to be big, but they need to be ongoing beyond the first days of crisis.  People in pain look around at the others in church and beg to be helped, yet it seems easier not to get involved or bring “it” up.  Please do.  Get involved, bring it up, JUST DO IT.  Otherwise, your personal church is a house of pain.

I will attend church again.  I want a place to belong and feel loved again, a place that I can contribute my gifts and talents to.  But not yet.  Just not yet.”

Yes.

Even though everyone does not have the same grieving experiences, those are hard words to read.

And, in an effort to help the church be what she should, may I humbly suggest… We can do better.
We can.

Part of my mission in life is to help those who hurt and those who might minister to us.

Here’s the second rule to follow: when striving to help the hurting, patience is the key, along with lots of mercy, grace, and compassion.

And the first rule is even more simple: use hugs and actions. Words just muddle it all up!

God bless us all.

Please remember my in-laws in prayer… Joan Brown is very sick and Bob is keeping a bedside vigil. They have experienced so much loss…

Les Ferguson, Jr.