2.13.2013

Julie Ferguson: My Beloved, Bride, and Blessing



Julie, my beloved wife, how can I even begin to describe how grateful I am that the Lord gave us one another to navigate this life together? Further, how can I begin to tell you how much I have needed you in this journey called ministry? I cannot help but think of how the Creator God “made [Adam] a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18b). This is exactly what the Lord did when He hand-crafted you, preparing you not only for His love and for His purposes, but also to be a helper to me as He works His loving will in me and in our family. 

I know you generally do not like the spotlight, but I could not pass up the opportunity to brag on you. About a week ago, I saw a blog post by Christine Hoover, called “We’re In This Together.” In it, she had this to say: “On Valentine’s Day, I will be posting love letters from pastors, church planters, and regular ol’ husbands to their wives, in which they express how vital their wives are to their lives and ministries.”

Thus began “Operation: Write an Epic Love Letter to My Indescribably Wonderful Wife.”

Seriously, the heart behind it was this. I read at the end of the Proverbs that the natural response to the life of a godly woman is to: “Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:31). Her life is so rich in beautiful labor that news of it reached the city gates, a central hub of life and social and commercial traffic. Everyone knew about her. I am even (hopefully) inclined to think that the husband helped this process along, considering he would have spent a considerable amount of time there (Boaz in Ruth 4:1ff). I hope to do the same.

Since I lack the creativity to think in any other way than sequentially, I will attempt this by writing through each “season” we have experienced. By the grace of God, may the following words express to you how truly vital you are to the life of our family and ministry together:

For starters, I didn’t know what to expect when we got married. All I knew is that, though first-and-foremost made for God, you and I were also made for each other. I just had no idea how true this was. But, it wouldn’t take long to find out.

In Colorado, the Lord led us to a difficult context. Not only were my jobs incredibly taxing on me, so was the endeavor to teach college students. The Bible study times were difficult and often discouraging. No matter what, you were there to provide encouragement and remind me that the Lord was indeed at work. It was in this work that I also got to see you minster to other women (up close) for the first time. It was beautiful to see how much the Lord’s love poured out of you and into those students. In another realm, you were there to point me to the fact that the Lord would provide for all of our needs, despite our financial struggles, and that we had no need to fear. You helped me to remain committed to giving Him our first fruits in all things. When the Lord surprised us by calling us to pursue overseas ministry, you were ready to put your “yes” on the table. And, when Benjamin was born, I got to see the beautiful bloom of your passion to be a wife and mother.

In Texas, with our acceptance and transition into overseas service pending, your patient endurance was a testimony of trust in the Lord. I know that you enjoyed the season and all of the relational connections we made, but it was also very clear that it was a difficult time for you personally. You cried a lot. Nevertheless, in the time of silence, I watched you exhibit the courage to wait. I am often not a patient man, and this challenged me in so many ways. You allowed yourself to be stretched and disciplined by Him. You allowed the Lord to teach you that we are not truly “at home” in this life, but we are always seeking a better country. Little did we know, the sojourn was only just beginning.

In Virginia, our time was short. We were in transition. We were in training. We were also led into a valley of grief. We met and said goodbye to Jonathan that September. Together, we saw the Lord reach into the deepest places of a broken heart, and give healing. As we cried together, we knew that everything would be okay. The Lord was with us. We didn’t understand it, but we knew He wasn’t out-of-control. I saw a resolve grow in you during that short season. No matter what, Christ would be your Bedrock. That resolve would be deeply tested.

In Central Asia, you walked into a world where women are seen as second-class citizens. They are property. And, their value and significance is dependent entirely on their ability to perform, namely domestically and in child-bearing. This performance-based significance went against everything that Christ did in your heart to lead you out of past oppression. Ever since your adoption into God’s family, your heart has broken for women who did not understand their value and significance as: (1) creations in-the-image-of-God and (2) those for whom Christ died. This season would test that more than ever before. You struggled with the spiritual heaviness of these lands. You struggled to see women try and be “invisible,” as culture expected them to be. In the face of all of this, I saw God’s grace flow through you. As I would tell your dad a couple of years later, “To this day, I am grieved that y'all never got to see Central Asia with your own eyes. I wish you could have seen how much the women loved Julie. Some told her that she had a ‘glow’ to her. Suffice it to say, Jesus shined like the sun through her. It was beautiful.” God used you that year to be a light to women. And, this is to say nothing of your growth in hospitality, language learning, and so much more. This time overseas began to draw to a close when Abigail was born. Though it was certainly there before, it was then that I really began to see how far a wife and mother would go to love and serve her family. I know it was not easy to balance a new member of the family, while also processing the unique elements and needs involved with Abigail’s medical condition. That whole year, you were pushed to the limits.

Back in Texas, life seemed to slow down substantially. It seemed to revolve around the seminary and the hospital. That’s about it. However, it would get complicated as reverse culture-shock would set in. We both dealt with it pretty handily, especially as we were looking for a church to covenant with. To add, we continued to deal with being never-ending sojourners. [At this point, the count was: 13 cities, 3 states, and 3 countries in 4 years.] This also began a long season of personal struggle for me. Though my identity is in Christ, I began to see that I had lost a bit of my “vocational identity.” After all, the very thing we thought we were called to for the remainder of our lives was no longer an option. Being in school helped, because I certainly felt like I was preparing for the next step, but the struggle was definitely there. This began what I consider to be one of the longest and most significant ministries you have had towards me since we have been married. You encouraged me in my studies, waited patiently as I tried to maintain a healthy and God-honoring balance, and continued to hope that the Lord would show us what was next. I wasn’t so hopeful. By this point, you were no stranger to my apparently chronic faint-heartedness. Yet, you didn’t get frustrated and give up. To this day, I cannot recall a moment when you became frustrated and said, “You know what, Keith. This is getting old. Can you please snap out of it?” For years now, you have proved to be a very patient woman. And, praise God for it. The next season would require it more than any before.

Which bring us to Kansas, our newest home. It is the longest place we have ever lived. It is the longest I have ever been in one role. It is the place where we bought our first home. We welcomed our little fireball, Lillian, into the world here. [Also, now expecting our next little boy, of course.] We have been navigating the enormously odd and frustrating—though entirely rewarding—world of Western church and youth-ministry. Yeah, this is when your ministry to me as a wife would kick into a gear that can only be explained by the indelible grace and mercy of God. But, before I brag on that, one of the things that I have enjoyed most in this season is how you have embraced personal commitment in your personal devotion with the Lord. I have enjoyed watching you grow in your love for the Word of God over the past 2+ years. Now, back to my issues. I have been to some pretty dark places personally in this season, and have taken heaping amounts of encouragement from the simple fact that you have been there for me and have “believed in me,” so-to-speak; that is, the grace of God working in me. For someone who claims to hold that God is sovereign, I have been tossed and turned by the winds of my circumstances and doubt and anger towards Him. But, you have faithfully prayed for me, encouraged me, challenged me, exhorted me, and more. Needless to say, in this season, one of the things I am most grateful for is how much the friendship component of our marriage has grown. You have been a living-and-breathing example of the fact that God is my “faithful friend.” You have affirmed areas of growth in my life, when I find it hard to cease my self-depreciating ways. This has turned my heart to be mindful that the Lord is indeed at work and to thank Him for it. I have enjoyed holding your hand as we daydream and pray together about the vision the Lord has for our family. I have been blessed as you have shown patience and given me room to grow as a spiritual leader and head of our home. On and on and on it goes.  

Did I mention, yet, that I am thankful to God for you?

It is no wonder that news of the Proverbs 31 woman reaches the gate. It cannot be contained even in her own home: “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all’” (Proverbs 31:28-29).  

I cannot say it any better myself, Julie. Though many women have truly done excellently, in my eyes, you far-and-away surpass them all. I love you. I am blessed by you. And—to the eternally gracious Creator, gift-Giver, and King—I am grateful for you. Jesus is the unquestionable first love of my life, seeing as He first loved me and gave Himself up for me. However, He has graciously given me an every-day reminder of that love in you.

Now… may news of you reach the gates.