As I look back it amazes me that I have not blogged since March back when I was teaching my class in Church History on Eleuthera. I have started this particular blog a number of times and it seems I just cannot get through it. It is also hard to imagine all the things that have happened since then. The biggest of course is the death of my parents. Even as I write that it seems surreal. My dad went into the hospital in early June, diagnosed with extensive cancer. He never came home. His last days were not terribly difficult and technically he was not in the hospital. At Palmetto Baptist in Columbia they have a wing that houses the hospice center. That is where my dad spent the last month of his life. My mom was there every day and there were few days when my sister LeRores, my brother Philip or I were not there. Continue reading
Some times joy just sneaks up on you. You find joy in the least likely places. Today it was an email from Southwest Air letting me know that on April 2 Bethany Grace Ferguson’s flight would be arriving in Nashville. Great joy. Turns a day following a stressful night into a wonderful day what Debbie and I now call a Dee Dah Day after reading John Ortburg’s The Life You Always Wanted (again as I have said before don’t let the title fool you not the kind of self-fulfillment that preacher in Texas would be talking about).
As many of my blog followers know my daughter Bethany is a missionary. Started off as a short term missionary in Uganda teaching the children of missionaries. I visited her there in 2005 and came to understand why she loves Africa. Many people who go once feel like they simply must go back. At least one more trip to Africa is on my bucket list.
Then she returned to the States to get a degree in Biblical counseling and then heard God’s call to return to Africa with a new team with World Harvest in Southern Sudan to help with education, counseling, pastoral training, fresh water production, you name it is in her “job description”.
Lots of people have romantic ideas about missionaries: above average saints, people who have no desire for the nice pleasures of this life, people called to sacrifice. I have known many missionaries over the past 30 years and most of them are more like me and you than you would imagine. My daughter for examples loves manicures, pedicures, fine coffee, exotic restaurants and massages (the very first massage I hand was one Bethany bought for me as a gift at an African safari park – but that is another story). She is a missionary, however, because that is what God has called her to.
She loves the people of Southern Sudan, though she weeps at their struggles, poverty and suffering. This is what God has fitted her for. As for me I would much rather have a daughter who stayed in the States, got married, presented me with grandchildren but she is first and foremost God’s daughter and He loves her much more than I do.
So now she live a live without Starbucks, pedicures and even indoor plumbing but this is what she has been prepared for all her life. So we call her via internet calling cards and try occasionally to Skype her just so we can see her face but that doesn’t seem to work most of the time.
So we talk and wait until she can get home. So today we heard that she will touch down on April 2 and we (me and Debbie) float with joy. Joy that we have not known in many days. Though we know it is only for a short time. While she is here she will: go to Asia to share the gospel to Christians there who struggle in a hostile environment (if you wonder about Christians needing to hear the gospel make sure you check out the mission she serves with – World Harvest Mission – www.whm.org), take part in the wedding of her former housemate from Sudan and help a friend in Philadelphia move. We look forward with great delight to the days we will have with her.
There are several “divine ironies” to this whole situation with our daughter. One is that the mission she serves with is one that Debbie and I have been involved with for almost 20 years. And on top of that one of my friends from seminary, Josiah Bancroft, has rejoined the mission there and now provides spiritual support for the missionaries (like Bethany) who serve with World Harvest. I met Josiah the very first day I started classes at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS in 1977 and now 30+ years later, he is ministering side by side with my daughter.
So Debbie and I look forward to great longing to seeing our daughter. We know that the visit will not be as long as we would like but we know that our daughter is serving on the front lines of God’s kingdom and she delights in that as much as she does in lattes and running along the Schuylkill.
If you are “fifty something” then you may remember this ad from when we were kids:
I remember it vividly because of one of my earliest childhood memories about my dad. My dad turned 91 this year and so I find myself replaying memories of him more and more.
On this occasion our family had returned from and evening Vacation Bible School at our church (a friend of mine who held Christian education responsibilities in our denomination once told me what when it came to Vacation Bible School for kids there was only one word in the name that they are interested in and it wasn’t Bible or school). When I got home I carefully took off my name tag to make sure I had it for the next night and went to bed.
Lying there in the dark I heard a little pitter-patter that sounded like someone walking around. It wasn’t constant. It was like someone was walking around in my room, stopping and then walking again. So I immediately called out: “Daddy, daddy there is a little man in my room”. I just knew what it was: Manners the Butler was in my room!
So my dad comes in the door and says “What’s the matter”. I exclaimed that I heard a little man like Manners the Butler walking around in my room. He listened and heard nothing but got down on his hands and knees and looked under my bed and by brother’s bed and around the room. He assured me that there was no little man and turned off the light. As soon as he left the room and I settled back to bed there was the noise again. “Daddy, daddy there is a little man in my room”. My dad returns this time looking in the closet, looks in all the places “the little man” could hid. No one there. He again assures me that he could find no one there and assures me there is nothing to worry about.
Third time is the charm. Happens again. I assure my dad that every time he comes in and turns on the light Manners runs off and hides in a place Daddy cannot find him. So he turns off the light, climbs in bed with me and as soon as things are quiet, wonder of wonder he hears the noise! Well he turns on the light and discovers that I have put my name tag in just the right place for the oscillating fan to cause it to “rattle” every time the fan swept past that part of the room. When my dad was in the room looking for Manners, he was near the fan and it did not blow across my name tag. My dad moved the name tag, kissed me good night and turned off the light. No more Manners the Butler in my room.
I tell this story as a reminder of my father’s love for me. Rather than telling me to “grow up, there is no such thing as little men” or getting angry after the second and third time, he patiently worked through this “nightmare” with his son. Over the years I have counseled many man who have been wounded by their fathers. I have participated in numerous men’s groups where much of their struggles have to do with failures of their fathers: fathers who left them, fathers who introduced them to porn, fathers who were drunk more than they were sober. I have wept and prayed with these men and tried to understand their woundings. It has been one of the great joys of my life to have the father I have had. I can recount time and time again when his love and concern for me was clearly demonstrated.
My dad is a man of few words. I have both of the letters he has written me in my life but his actions truly has spoken louder than words.
The other day during lunch I watched the last episode of one of my favorite TV series of all time Magnum P.I. Over the past few years I have watch through the entire series as my children gave me the entire series, year-by-year, on DVD. It has been a wonderful present but usually when I watch them and especially when I watch the “last Magnum” – as it became known in our family – I struggle in guilt and end up rejoicing in the glory of forgivenenss.
My wonderful son Davie, who lives in Austin, Texas, went in with his brother and sister about 10 years ago to give me the first season. They followed up year by year until all eight seasons were on our shelf. These gifts were a great delight for me but also a sad reminder. Magnum went off the air in 1988 when Davie was only 6 but somewhere along the line in a few years he began to learn how to work the VCR (remember those?). I went in one night to watch the “last Magnum” and found to my dismay it had been replaced by Pinky and the Brain or some other such cartoon that Davie greatly loved. Well ends up dad enters a shouting fit about “taping over the last Magnum” and Davie feels terrible and remembers it for all those years.
You look back and think “Why didn’t I understand it is just a stupid TV show”. But so often we say things to our family members – the people we love the most -that we would never say to our closest friends. But the other end of the spectrum is also true. Forgiveness by family members is often the best and sweetest. My son forgave me for my sinful rant against him. He did not give me the Magnum DVDs to buy my affections but as a way to say I’m sorry and I love you. The truth is that when we sin against friends and acquaintances and they forgive us it is like a taste of heaven. But when those whom we sin against the most, the ones we love the most, our family members, they forgive and forgive and forgive again and it is like a foretaste of the wedding feast of the lamb.
So on Thanksgiving I gave thanks for my wonderful wife and 3 wonderful children. I was glad that my fabulous son Andrew was home but I will deeply long to have Davie and Bethany here so we could eat turkey together and maybe, just maybe watch the “last Magnum” together and laugh at over the “folly” of our sin and rejoice together in the joy of forgiving each other.