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

Unpacking A Move!

boxes
(http://www.guardianremovals.co.uk)

Over the past several weeks, we have moved more of our stuff from Vicksburg to Madison

We’ve packed up over there; unpacked over here (or least stacked boxes in sometimes strategic places).

The act of moving is not an art. There isn’t a delicate movement here or there—no finely tuned instrumentation taking place. It is just a blunt necessity.

This particular move has been anything but typical. We have strung this out in bits and pieces while we work on the new house. But ready or not, it is time to get everything from there to here.

What has been typical comes from this perspective: What looked valuable, important, and needed over there somehow looks junky, unimportant, and unwanted over here.

Be that as it may, all this moving stuff has caused me a bit of difficulty.

Over there, I had mostly hidden the treasures and knick knacks that were so important to my son, Cole. Hidden, as in put away, out of sight, and lacking the ability to move around on their own. I knew what and where to avoid—to keep myself from stepping on any emotional land mines especially if I was unprepared (as if one could ever be truly be ready).

Over here, I am having to handle them, find places for them, and otherwise deal with my grief and pain in a fresh new way.

I have been known to say that losing a child is like living a nightmare you never wake up from.

It’s always there.
It never goes away
And tears may come when you least expect it.

King David mourned the death of his son with these famous words: My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son! (2 Samuel 18:33 HCSB)

I get it.
I wish I didn’t, but I do.

I get the pain.
I get the hurt.
I get the anguish and anger.

As I write this, I would like to fuss about my contacts not working.  I’d like to complain about how blurry my glasses are. But the truth is often quite simple: tears have a way of distorting our vision.

Some days it is just plain hard to see.
I miss my boy.
I really do.

But as I push past the tears, as I trust in the God who will one day wipe them all away, I find myself thankful for you:

For my wife
For my children
For my family
For my friends
For my church
For all who lent an ear, shared a shoulder, and otherwise walked with me through the valley of the shadow of death.

Your love and support helps bear a burden too big to carry alone.

Thank you for being Jesus to me and living out the words of Paul in Colossians 3:12-15.

Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful.

And I am.
Thankful.

As the song says, thank you Lord for loving me

Les, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland

I Finally Found God

This was written at the request of The Relevant Christian magazine–I suspect it will form some of what I might say in one place or another… In the meantime, here it is.

found

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.

That may not mean much to you and that’s ok. In fact, you may have no idea who I am or where I have been. Any news stories you might have seen have long left the airwaves…

And I am good with that.

There was a time not so long ago when my name didn’t mean much to me either. I longed to drown my memories, to forget my existence, and to somehow alleviate my all-encompassing pain.

At this point, frankly, I am somewhat weary of the notoriety of my story—I am weary of some of the things that have become an ingrained part of my new identity. I am weary of the heartache of the past that will always be a part of my present and future.

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.
I am a preacher’s kid.
The world of church work has been a part of my life since almost as long as I can remember.
I grew up in church.
I came of age in church.
Much of my identity and self-worth has long been tied up in church and service to her. Even when I wanted to be far away, she was always close by, an ever-present attraction or irritant, depending on the circumstances.

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.
I used to be a preacher and that is a story we are getting to.

In fact, I started preaching for a little country church at the age of 15. It was a predominately African-American church. I say predominately, because there was one skinny white kid who preached there on Sunday mornings. Yes, that was me.

I owe that little group of folks a lot, but that’s a part of my story we will not delve into today…

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.
I went to Magnolia Bible College and studied to be a preacher. My time at school was divided by a six-year hitch in the US Navy. After the Navy, I began work as a youth minister in Vicksburg, MS and also went back to school. In time, I began a full-time preaching ministry in Laurel, MS and later in Gulfport, MS.

I’d like to think I did good work during some of those years. Certainly I grew as a speaker/ communicator. More importantly, I grew as a theologian and minister. And as compassionate as I’d like to think I was, I had lessons yet to learn that would prove to be the fight of my life…

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.
I used to be a preacher and then I found myself being one again.

In some ways, it would be easier if I could tell you I suffered a moral lapse or made some huge mistake that necessitated a ministry time out. It would be easier to say I cheated with my time. Or maybe I swindled some sweet elderly lady out of her life’s savings or insurance. It would be so less painful to tell you I embezzled church funds or got caught up in some aspect of illegal drug use. It would be far simpler to just acknowledge some degree of depression or a mental breakdown.

It would be easier and I wish I could, but I can’t.

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr. and the time between having been a preacher and becoming one again was a long hard battle of lost and rediscovered faith.

Preachers are not supposed to lose their faith. Standing all alone atop our pedestal of supposed super spirituality, we are thought to be invincible to the failure of doubt. At least until we aren’t and by then, there is little you can say to stop it.

When faith departs, there isn’t a single religious cliché that will fix anything—not WWJD (What would Jesus Do) and not FROG (Fully Rely On God). And faking it till you make it isn’t a viable option either.

And then there was scripture.

Comparing my story to the story of Job wasn’t comforting; it was obscene. And Romans 8:28 enraged me—there was nothing good about the murder of a wife and son.

And so faith departed. It didn’t happen all at once, but I felt it trickle away and was powerless to stop it.

I am not sure I wanted to.

I suppose I should clarify what I mean by losing faith. In my case, I never quit believing in God. I never doubted His existence. I never doubted His presence in this world. In fact, that knowledge and belief in Him fueled my doubt like pouring gasoline on an already raging fire.

When I say I lost my faith, what I mean is losing my trust, hope, and belief in a God who loved and cared for me. I knew He cared for others. I saw the evidence in a thousand places in a thousand times. I heard the happy praise. I saw the exponential joy. I felt the faith of others as a living, breathing, tangible thing…

I get giving God credit for the good things we experience in life. I really do. But every time I heard someone speak of what God had done for them–curing their illness, getting them a new job, buying them a new house, or making their headache go away… I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs both literally and metaphorically the immortal words of Esau, “Do you only have one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” (Genesis 27:38 HCSB)

The next phrase in that verse says, “And Esau wept loudly.”

So did I.
So did I.

And in my tears, rage, and bitterness, I cried with an impotence hard to imagine…

What about me?
What about me, God?
Don’t I count too? 
Why doesn’t my family matter as much as his stupid toothache or her goofy issues?
Why God, why?
Why can’t I be blessed like all the rest around me?
What did I do wrong?
How did I fail you?
What about me?

In those words are the pain of every hurting, broken, questioner who has wondered where God is and why He hasn’t made a difference so desperately wanted and needed.

In the dark despair of tragedy, in the grip of a destructive evil, those were my words.
They were given birth the day my family was ripped from me.
I angrily thought them the day I was forced to pick out two caskets.
I mouthed those words relentlessly as I stood in a day long receiving line.
I cried those words as the funeral message was preached.
I sobbed those words quietly at night as I tried to comfort a five-year demanding to see his grave-bound mother…

Eventually those words took on a life of their own. In my bitterness and despair–in a dry and weary land–there was no comfort, no solace, no balm of Gilead to soothe my spirit, to ease in even some small way the despair that had taken root in my soul.

In that fertile ground of pain and sorrow grew the sure knowledge that God—real and alive—cared nothing for me. I couldn’t trust Him. There were no bargains to be made; no deals to be had.

Hope was gone and I was alone.
Raw.
Bleeding.
And desperate for something to ease the pain…

In my heartache and anger, I eventually found God.
Not all at once.
But slowly and surely, as life became more than just my pain, God started showing up.

Here’s where the story gets real.

The former preacher, the guy with two theology degrees and a lifetime of ministry, finally found God.

Not the God who blesses America (even though He does).
Not the prosperity God who delivers wealth to those who contribute (to whatever cause or bank account needing funding).
Not the God we keep all locked up in a box (church, traditions, understanding) of our own making (although He can dwell there too if He so chooses).
Not the God we bargain with and cut deals for (even though I am sure He is interested).

Instead, I found God.
The God who created everything.
The God who wants nothing more than relationship with His creation.
The God who offers grace, mercy, and love.
The God who redeems our brokenness and changes our story.

For me, the redemption of my story was everything. To use my pain to bless others means my family did not die in vain.

And thus, the grace of God has proven to be overwhelming.

I am preaching again and this time I share a message of grace I have experienced; a message of grace I am compelled to share with others.

My faith is secure.

It took awhile, but I finally found God on His terms and not mine…

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Madison/ Ridgeland, MS.

Two

October 10, 2013.
Not today.
But Thursday.
This Thursday.
Not tomorrow.
Not Wednesday.
Thursday.

It’s coming quickly.
More quickly than we want.
We would like to fast forward past it.
Better yet, skipping it completely seems like a splendid idea.

But no matter how badly we want to avoid it, it’s coming like gangbusters and will continue to do so until time is no more.

With everyday of every calendar.
With every new moon of every month.
With every change of every season, it comes around again and again.

For most folks, October 10th is just another fall day.
The sun will rise.
The day will run it’s course.
And a new day will take its place.

This year it is on a Thursday.
A prelude to a three day weekend.
The boys have various things planned or hoped for.
We need to get in another load of firewood.
Life goes on.

This October 10th means two years.

Two.

Two years.
Two long years.
Two short years.
Two heartbreaking years.
Two years of pain.

Two.

Two years.
Two years of happiness.
Two years of joy.
Two years we could not have ever imagined.

Two years of new life and living.
Two years of new experiences.
Two years of new relationships.
Two years of new challenges.
Two years of new adventures.

Two.

Two years of struggle.
Two years of triumph.

Two.

Two years of wondrous healing.
Two years of still desperately needing to be healed.

Two.

Two years seems like an achingly long time with more to come.
Two years is an eternity.

Two years have passed in an incredible blur.
Two years gone and it seems like the past was a dream life barely remembered.

Two.

Such a paradox.
Such is life.

Two years ago this coming Thursday, October 10, 2011, one life ended and another began.

What do you do with an anniversary like this?
What do you do with a yearly reminder of the most hurtful, pain-filled day in your life and the life of your children?

Two years and an ocean-full of tears.
Two years and a heavy heart.
Two years…

This Thursday we remember.
Not that we ever forget.
But this Thursday we remember.

We remember, honor, and give thanks.
We give thanks for the lives we lived and those we lost.
We give thanks for the new lives we live and the new love we’ve found.

And we endeavor.
We endeavor to live life fully.
We endeavor to embrace every day.
We endeavor to face the future while never forgetting the past.

Two.

We remember.

Les Ferguson, Jr.