“Before long, I knew what he was saying. And the room spun.”
That was the day Kyle Ferguson’s life took a turn he wishes never happened. But he says he always wants to remember, though his story often feels like a sucker punch right in the gut.
Kyle’s story starts with the Ferguson boys; Kyle’s the oldest, and he has three younger brothers. Cole, the brother closest in age to Kyle, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy shortly after he was born. And to be honest, Cole had a pretty rough go. He had several surgeries to lengthen his leg tendons and only spent a few years walking without the help of walkers or canes or a wheelchair. His intelligence and thinking processes were affected, too. He did not live an easy life.
As his older brother burdened for Cole, Kyle often prayed that Cole would understand and know God’s presence in whatever ways he could, although, Kyle knew he might never know whether or how God would answer that prayer. (Hold on to that—it will become important later.)
Kyle’s dad was a pastor, and their church family had always been helpful in caring for their family. Kyle has warm memories of his friends who would come over, not just to hang out with Kyle, but to play video games or watch movies with Cole, too. Those buddies befriended and loved someone society had labeled unlovely, and in this way they cared for Cole’s entire family. But, the Fergusons found out in one of the worst ways possible that not everyone in the church family had Cole’s best interest in mind.
Sadly, people with developmental challenges are often targeted for sexual abuse. Abusers take advantage of their vulnerability—mind, strength, or both. It is a sad reality the Fergusons know all too well.
An older man, a member of their church family, had skillfully, disturbingly, planted himself in the Ferguson family as a helper. His assistance poked great from the outside, but on the inside he was spiritually sick, perverted and devastatingly corrupt. He would go to their house to help Kyle’s mom so she could run errands or get time out of the house. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to anyone, he would drug and rape Cole andy threaten to kill his family and church members if he told anyone. The abuse left Cole terrified and effectively helpless.
Cole was finally able to tell someone what had been happening, and the man was arrested. But, aided by a church member who believed Cole’s story to be incredulous, the man managed to post bail and got off without a trial, sentence, or any true justice.
Here’s where you think something or someone comes in and saves the day, throws the guy in jail and gets Cole and his family the healing they need. But, unfortunately for the Fergusons, that doesn’t happen.
Into the Valley
On the day of Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson’s 24th wedding anniversary, Kyle got a call from his dad who told him to sit down. Kyle and his wife Karissa, who were involved in campus ministry at the time, had been on campus in meetings, and Kyle had missed several calls from his family. He was just about to return them when his dad called to deliver the crushing news that his mom and brother, Cole, were gone. At first, Kyle wasn’t sure what he meant. But then he felt the weight of what his dad was telling him.
“Before long, I knew what he was saying. And the room spun,” Kyle remembers.
Earlier that day, the man who had abused Cole, the man who had been freed of his crimes and punishment, had marched into the Ferguson house with two deadly weapons.
Kyle’s mom and brothers, Cole and 5-year-old Casey, were the only ones home, so the family doesn’t know exactly what happened. From what they can gather from Casey’s explanation, he watched a struggle between his mom and the man. He ran to get help but didn’t find any until he came to the third house down. When help reached the Ferguon’s house, his mom, bloodied from the fight, was in a headlock with a gun to her head. She yelled for them to get Casey to safety, so they ran out again to call 911.
Before they made it to the end of the driveway, they heard gunshots—enough to ensure the deaths of Cole and Mom.
The police later found the man dead in his shower. He had taken his own life, too.
The hush of sorrow fell on what was left of the Ferguson household. This was more than disaster, more than tragedy, more than catastrophe. This was the valley of the shadow of death.
And at the very bottom of the valley, you can’t even imagine a way out.
The Promises of God in the Valley
“The ripples of this event threatened in so many ways to tear my family apart,” says Kyle. “It is as deep into the valley of the shadow of death as I have ever been. And I admit that I certainly did fear evil.”
No, this isn’t Hollywood, and there isn’t a happy ending for the Ferguson family. No pretty little package tied up with a bow for the Fergusons. No answers. No sigh of relief. No miraculous survival. No waking from a nightmare. Only the promises of God. Most days, the promises of God are enough. But sometimes, Kyle admits, they’re not.
Kyle felt the reality of two of God’s promises shortly after the event—God’s presence and His goodness in the midst of pain.
Sometime before the tragedy, Kyle’s mom told him something Cole had shared with her before they were killed. Cole said Jesus had spoken to him, and He said that Cole was going to die soon but that everything was going to be okay. While that’s not something anyone wants to hear from their son or their little brother, Kyle took it as an answer to the prayer he had been praying for Cole: that he would feel God’s presence clearly. The promises of God.
Just a few days after the tragedy, as Kyle was leafing through his mom’s Bible, he found a note she had scribbled in the front pages. Immediately, he felt it was a message just for him. It read, “God is at work even in our pain.”
His mom had already been through so much: raising a family, caring for a special-needs child and the heartbreak of Cole’s abuse. Yet in her heart, she knew this promise of God: He is at work even in our pain. She couldn’t have known what pain was ahead for her family or how that short, simple sentence would speak to her hurting son. But she wrote it there as an evidence of her faith and rest in God.
When Kyle found her note, he knew she was right, and he hasn’t let go of that truth since that day. He clings to the truth that nothing is too broken for redemption, and God is always at work. The promises of God.
There’s one more promise of God Kyle is working on in his life—God’s presence and comfort in the midst of confusion and anger. And some days are better than others because you can’t just flip the switch one day and be peachy with your life or with God after you go through something like his family did.
Let’s be honest. The promises of God aren’t always what we want them to be. We ask for safety in traveling and through dangerous weather. We ask for healthy pregnancies and long lives. We ask for job security and a healthy bank account. But what Kyle and his family know all too well is that God’s promises don’t necessarily cover all of those things. But God does promise His presence in everything good and bad.
“And in the moments I can accept that, God is pleased,” says Kyle. “But in the moments when I just can’t stomach that, and it’s not enough for me, when I want more promises, He invites me into His arms and holds me while I scream and cry and yell and beat on His chest because He is my Father, and He loves me.”
Kyle and his family know easy isn’t always part of the picture. There’s not always going to be a rainbow or a perfect package. But they’re still telling their story; they’re still letting their story be an intimate part of their lives. Their story, however much it makes your heart wince or your stomach drop, points you toward God and His promises.
Their story is not something they’re trying to forget but, rather, trying to remember. They remember how Cole would ask to listen to “Jesus songs” and sing with them at the top of his lungs even in the midst of difficult circumstances. They remember his simple faith and genuine praise. They remember. Because as much as it hurts to recall what they’ve ben through, it pulls them closer into the promises of God, closer to the arms that hold them tight, closer to the chest they beat on and closer to the heart that loves them through it all, no matter what.
God IS In The Valley
Yes, every word of Kyle’s story feels like a sucker punch to the gut. It’s not an easy one to read, and though Kyle’s story gives us hope for the valley, it doesn’t make enduring the darkest moments of the valley of the shadow of death any easier. Easy isn’t in this equation. But God never promised easy. He promised Himself.
Sometimes, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, a way out that is pleasantly surprising, a way up that can only be described as a miracle. And God is clearly in those moments.
But sometimes there’s not a way out. Sometimes there is nothing you can do but lie face down in the swampy mess of the valley. Sometimes there’s nowhere to go, and there’s no one to pull you up.
And, Kyle says, God is there, too.