‘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

That Lovin’ Feelin’

I rarely watch any TV. It’s not that I don’t want to, but sitting still for that long is quite often a problem for me—at least when staring at a screen.

Sometimes at night, one of the news channels will be on in the background, but I am usually reading or writing or otherwise occupied to pay much attention.

During college football season I’ll catch a few games here and there. I might watch a little of the World Series. And every once in awhile I might tune in to a Saints game.

That’s about it. I can’t remember the last movie I went to. I am regularly embarrassed by my lack of knowledge when it comes to movies, shows, actors, bands, and musicians. At one point, it was mentioned to me that The Band Perry used to live in a house around the corner from us. It was quite humorous (and embarrassing, I guess) because I had absolutely no idea who or what they were about. Pop culture doesn’t engender very much interest for me…

At one point I was quite proud of the fact that I had never ever listened to Taylor Swift. All that came to an unfortunate end last year at a school talent show I was obligated to attend. At the end of the evening, I dearly wanted to shake it off and pretend the night never happened.

But, totally out of character for me, this past Monday night I actually turned the TV on and looked for a movie. I stopped on basically the first thing I saw: Top Gun!

This is one of my favorite old movies. I let it play a bit in the background as I did other things. I focused on some of the flight scenes. But the one one part that grabbed my attention most was when Maverick (played by Tom Cruise) told his f-14 back seater, Goose, that “she’s lost that loving feeling.” In the movie, Goose immediately tells Mavrick, “no, she hasn’t.” And when Maverick insist she has, Goose utters one of my favorite lines, “I hate it when she’s lost that loving feeling.” And just like that the two of them are serenading a lady Maverick wants to meet…

You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips

And there’s no tenderness like before in your fingertips

You’re trying hard not to show it, (baby)

But baby, baby I know it

You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’

Whoa, that lovin’ feelin’

You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’

Now it’s gone…gone…gone…woah

(The Righteous Brothers)

And of course there is more to the song, but I wonder how many of us find this to be true.

  • I wonder how many of us are in relationships where somebody has lost that lovin’ feelin’.
  • I wonder how many of us have a skewed vision of love that is more about our own interests than the interests of others.
  • I wonder how many of us have simply forgotten that the greatest commandment, the command to love transcends all time and place.

One of the Pharisees, an expert in the Law, asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment… And Jesus’ answer was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:36–40 HCSB)

Seems to me, based on that one short passage, none of us can afford to lose our lovin’ feeling toward God or anyone else.

And that makes the words of Paul even more important…

If I speak human or angelic languages but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for languages, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1–13 HCSB)

How well do you love?

Doing the Maybe Dance

If you have woken up any day in the past couple of weeks and thought, I don’t recognize my world anymore, I completely understand…

Call me naïve.
Consider me sheltered.
And maybe even wonder if I have had my head in the sand…

But at the end of the day, I don’t recognize my world anymore.

I don’t understand how folks can be so full of hate that they shoot up churches. And it’s not like I haven’t personally experienced evil. To the contrary, I am well aware of how wicked and ugly people can be.

I don’t understand how and why folks can twist what is good and right into a perversion or caricature of what is intended.

I don’t understand how Christians can claim Christ and be hateful and spiteful—to each other and anybody else they find disagreement with.

So, if you are like me and hear yourself saying, I don’t recognize my world anymore

I get it.
In my best 80’s Valley Girl imitation, I so totally get it, dude! Or dude-ette. Whatever the case may be.

Up is down.
Down is up.
Right is wrong.
Wrong is right.

I don’t recognize my world anymore.

To some degree or in certain situations or circumstances, maybe I am naïve or sheltered. Maybe my head has been firmly entrenched in sand. I am not really prepared to argue it one way or another.

However I got here, I don’t recognize my world anymore. But since we are doing the maybe dance… Maybe that’s a good thing.

Because as it looks and feels today, Christianity is on the wrong side of culture.
Out of step.
Behind the times.
Old-fashioned.
Out of tune.
Or better yet, counter-culture.

Maybe we need to remember that because, well…

Maybe we have depended entirely too much on a government to provide the standard of what is good, right, and wholesome.

And maybe we have become entirely too comfortable with this world—too agreeable with a stance that doesn’t rock the boat or make some kind of a wave.

And maybe in all of our hand wringing when faced with the fact that the world’s values have never been that of the church, maybe we’ll remember we are here to share the eternal perspective of Jesus.

And maybe we have lost sight of the fact that this world is not our home.

And maybe we’ve forgotten that broken is broken and we are all broken in some form or fashion.

And in a maybe that might be the worst, maybe we have just simply loved ourselves more than others—and maybe in our own self-preoccupation, we have lost sight of that fact loving others isn’t always easy or pretty.

Finally, as we bring this maybe dance to a close, maybe we should quit saying maybe and remember the words of Jesus…

If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. But they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they don’t know the One who sent Me. (John 15:18–21 HCSB)

And then,

You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men. You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:11–14 HCSB)

Maybe?
No maybe to it.

Counter-culture.
Salt and light.
Love and hope.
Mercy and grace.
That’s our answer to a world we don’t understand anymore.

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

Forgiving again…

The last time I wrote here—a little over a week ago, I said these words: Paul Buckman? I may have to wrestle with this over and over again, but today, I forgive you.

I wonder how many who read this the first time around caught the word today.

I.

We like to think forgiveness means forgetting. And often it should. A slight or slur forgiven four years earlier ought to soon become something of little consequence and certainly not an event or circumstance to be trotted back out again and again.

In the great biblical chapter of love (1 Corinthians 13, NIV), Paul says love… keeps no record of wrongs.
And in that sense, forgiveness, love, and forgetfulness all become intertwined.

Forgiving Paul Buckman can never mean forgetting.
There is no way short of a full frontal lobotomy to ever forget the events of October 10, 2011.
Not on this side of eternity.
And maybe not ever.

From my perspective, heaven’s promise to wipe away all tears does not mean all past heartaches will be forgotten. However, I believe it does mean the sting, pain, and hurt will all be taken away.

So, as I said before, forgiving Paul Buckman can never mean forgetting.
The consequences, fall out, and ripple effects are ever before us.
There are empty places at the table.
There are tears for the missing.
There are hurts at key moments and significant events with the absence of those who have gone on before.

Indeed, every time a little seven year old boy says, I miss my mom, there is no way to forget.

Forgiveness does not always mean forgetting.
Somethings just cannot be done.

So what then?
How do you forgive that which utterly destroys?
How do you forgive an obscenity that most cannot even imagine?
How do you forgive a nightmare scenario that becomes reality?
How do you forgive a life altering event that cannot possibly be forgotten?

How?

And maybe that is your question too.
Maybe you have never and will never experience anything like our family tragedy.
Maybe.

But maybe just maybe you still know the pain of unfairness.
Maybe you have known what it felt like to be treated unkindly and condescendingly.
Maybe you have experienced insult and slander.
Maybe you have experienced harsh attitudes and harsher actions from someone who was supposed to love you.

Maybe.

What then?
How do you forgive when you cannot forget.

Letting something go is a cliched concept that is easier said than done.

Instead, the key for me is today.

Paul Buckman? I may have to wrestle with this over and over again, but today, I forgive you.
Today, I choose forgiveness instead of bitterness.
Today, I choose peace and tranquility.
Today, I choose life instead of the despair of anger and rage.
Today, I choose to live.

I cannot ever forget the horror that invaded our lives.
But I can choose to live a life of love.

Once more, the Apostle Paul says, love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I choose love with the hope and perseverance it brings.

Today, I choose to forgive.
I choose to live.
I choose love.

How about you? What will you choose?

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Extravagant

I used to have a really bad temper.

Flying off the handle.
Getting mad.
Harsh words.
A willingness to fight.

There have been times in my life when those things could have been and were an apt description.
Not always, but definitely some.

I have never been proud of my hot-headed tendencies. I have often fought and won against them.

But not always.
Unfortunately, the ones I love have more often either been in the crosshairs or innocent bystanders with collateral damage.
Either way it hurts.

I am not going to tell you that my temper is no more.
As soon as I did, some situation would arise to put the lie to my words.

But, I have matured.
I have changed.
My volatility is nothing like it was in the past.
These days I am learning the art of asking myself an all important question: Does this really matter enough to lose my cool?

Still, there is room to grow.
Not losing my temper needs to become having greater patience.
Being more tolerant. 
Exhibiting mercy.
Being a conduit of grace.

I am so glad God is still working in me…

Having said all of that, I still struggle with anger.
I still wrestle with resentment.
I still want answers.
I still get mad at God.

Still.
Get.
Mad.
At.
God.

And yet.
And yet…

I am glad He loves me enough to be patient.
I am glad His tolerance is much better than mine.
I am thankful for His mercy.
I am gratified by His grace.

I am learning to live with the non-answers.
I am learning to trust God’s love even when I cannot comprehend.
I am learning how to still worship… even when the oceans rise and thunders roar. (Still by Hillsong United)

I wish I was the only one with unanswered questions.
I wish I was the only with with anger.
I wish I was the only who has ever been mad at God.

But I am not.
These days I too often meet fellow travelers.
Or, hear of those who have joined this fraternity of pain, doubt, and questions.

I wish I had the answers we both want.
I wish.
How I wish I did.

But some answers are never to be.
And in truth, we both know that the answers will never undo the pain or repair the damage.

But, from my perspective almost two years out from the horror of October 10, 2011, I’d like to share with you a passage of scripture that gives me comfort, hope, and a little bit of peace.

Still.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13, (The Message)

In your pain, with your doubt, and in spite of your unanswered questions, do your best to love.
Love extravagantly.

In the act of loving, redemption and relief can often be found…

I am thankful for the love shown to me.
I am thankful for the blessing of loving you in return.

Extravagantly yours,
Les Ferguson, Jr.