- Associated Press - Saturday, October 7, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - It’s all there, in 53,000 words that took Les Ferguson four years to write and revise.

His journey to becoming a Church of Christ minister, just like his father. His life as a husband, father of three and leader of Orange Grove Church of Christ in Gulfport.

Yes, his real-life nightmare is in there, too: The slaying in 2011 of his wife, Karen, and their 21-year-old special-needs son, Cole, by a congregation member. Their assailant, Paul Buckman, 70, had been arrested and charged with molesting Cole weekly for about three months and was out on bond until a grand jury could hear the case.

It happened on the couple’s 24th wedding anniversary.

Ferguson wrote about his scuffles with God, how he suddenly doubted every sermon he had preached, how he privately vowed to never set foot in a pulpit again.

And he writes of his new life as pastor of Lake Harbour Church of Christ in Ridgeland since 2014, his marriage to Becki - “my miracle,” he calls her - and his renewed faith that has led him to become a more passionate teacher of the Scripture than ever before.

His book “Still Wrestling: Faith Renewed Through Brokenness” (Leafwood Publishers, $14.99) can be found at amazon.com and is ready for pre-order.

“Writing this book really was like giving birth,” says Ferguson, a contributing faith columnist for The Clarion-Ledger. “It was pulled out of me, kicking and screaming.

“It was harder to write about than I ever imagined.”

‘Until you’ve suffered that loss …’

I interviewed Ferguson several times in 2014 for my story about the loss of Karen and Cole. He was writing the book then, and I kept wondering: Why would he put himself through reliving such tragedy over and over again?

I finally asked him the other day.

“I realized that I had a story that could maybe help someone who has lost a spouse, lost a child . suffered loss, period,” he says. “Until you’ve suffered that loss, especially in such a violent way, it’s hard to imagine everything that goes through your mind. You suddenly question everything, at least I did. My faith. God’s love. You name it, I questioned it.

“But time has a way of allowing you to sort through things. It’s not easy. It’s still not. People can be so traumatized by life events, they never have another adventure, never take a chance to be happy again. I thought I would be one of those people.

“Thank God, I’m on a new adventure now.”

Ferguson had known Becki for years. She was friends with one of his sisters decades ago. He married Becki in 2012, and they have a blended family of five boys, from ages 11 to 30. They also have a daughter-in-law and a 23-month-old grandson.

“I love my life, and I think it’s showing in a lot of ways,” he says. “It’s definitely showing up in my sermons. I’m preaching now from a place of vulnerability. Dealing with trauma forced me to delve deeper into trying to understand God and his word.

“That’s transformative. It’s sort of like going off into the deep end of the pool. When you’re there, you’re there and you’d better deal with it.”

He says God’s love “is more real than ever” and explains: “In my old life, I think my view of God was shallow. I saw him more as a fix-it God, a bargain God. ‘I’ll do this and this, and you’ll do that and that and everything will be hunky dory.’ Well, God wasn’t the one writing those contracts. I was. He does take care of me, but he does so in ways that I wasn’t necessarily looking for or understanding.”

Ferguson becomes emotional when I ask for an example of what he means by that.

He begins talking about Cole, who used a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, a disease that attacks one’s motor skills and movement.

“All those years when Cole was still alive, I prayed for God to fix him,” he says. “He did. It just didn’t happen the way I envisioned it. Cole has his alternative healing now. He’s whole. Me? I was looking for then and there.

“That’s where a lot of tension comes from in Christianity. We want everything now. We want a Burger King world where we can have it our way. It simply doesn’t work like that, and I’ve finally accepted it.”

He still has trouble answering one question: Has he forgiven Paul Buckman, who took his own life shortly after killing Karen and Cole?

“It’s ongoing,” he says. “I’ve told people that I’ve forgiven the man who did this to my family, but there’s a good chance I’ll have to forgive him again next week.”

I ask if he is certain it will ever happen.

“Absolutely,” he says. “In eternity.”

Putting words to paper

Ferguson learned other lessons while writing the book, ones that authors and aspiring authors might find interesting.

He wrote in longhand and also by “two-finger pecking on a computer.” He wrote all hours of the day and night. “Whenever I could find spare time,” he says.

He wrote at his kitchen table, dining room table, in his living room, at his subdivision’s pool. “I even straddled a hope chest Becki’s dad made for her,” he says, laughing.

Ferguson learned the power of the subconscious, that writing and arranging stories and chapters don’t always occur with pen in hand or at a keyboard.

“Ideas or notes would pop into my head, and I’d have to scramble to find a pen and write it down right then,” he says. “Or I would talk into my phone recorder and save them like that.”

His most powerful writing lesson occurred when his final draft was completed: He wouldn’t accept “no” from Leafwood Publishers, part of Abilene Christian University Press.

“They have a history with the Church of Christ, and their books always look good, are high quality,” he says. “So I submitted it to them. Submitted it again. Called them. Submitted it again. Nothing,” he says.

He finally sent it to several other publishers and received three firm offers.

“I called Leafwood again,” he says. “I said, ‘I can do this book with someone else, but y’all really are my first choice.’ The editor called me back and said he was swamped but to send it to him and give him a week to look over it.”

They soon struck a deal.

“I don’t even remember it, but Becki says I told her when were dating that I wanted to become an author,” says Ferguson, who already is working on a second book that will begin with his first date with Becki. “And I guess I am, though it feels sorta strange.

“But I had some new business cards made up. They list me as ‘Les Ferguson, minister/author.’ I like the sound of that.”

___

Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com


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