Sovereignty & Suffering: a response from Eric

So, yeah. It’s been quite a while since I’ve actually written anything here. Life is hectic, and often my mind is running a million miles an hour and I don’t even stop to process all that has gone on and all that continues to be our day-to-day life. Other times, I’m so exhausted that my mind can’t muster a single cognitive thought, and I am quick to fall into being numb for a little while. Some days, I wake up so filled with joy that I sit down to write and share all that God is doing, only to have my entire perspective on life flip over something trivial and I spend the rest of my day wallowing in despair. I make notes here and there to myself, knowing that at some point this season of life will be over, and I will find myself overturning any rock just to grab a faint memory of the richness, joy and difficulty of it all. It has been such an extreme whirlwind already, and much of it feels like a blur.

I suppose you have stumbled across the myriad articles, blogs, and forums about my family that seem to be stretched to the far corners of the Internet. What started as me sitting down with a Tennessean reporter for coffee here in East Nashville has blown up into something that I never saw coming. It seems everyone has picked up on Pearl’s story from The Washington Post and Daily Mail UK, to USA Today and probably the most visible being The Huffington Post. There are even a few political forums and atheists’ blogs who’ve felt the urge to chime in on things.

It’s tough to not go and read what others have to say about my family, and I admit to giving in to that urge too much. There are so many assumptions, accusations, and misunderstandings being discussed, and it is a fight to not engage the insults, so I haven’t much.  There’s something strangely sanctifying when your weakness and character (some of which is actual, a lot which is completely untrue) is put in bold letters, all caps, and displayed for anyone in the world to read. It’s humiliating, but not completely in a bad way, when you see that the majority of the 7000+ comments on The Huffington Post are from people who are overwhelmingly unimpressed with you and your decisions. When you get shredded to the degree that we have, you’re left standing naked with nothing left to prove. Which is where we were all along, but never realized it. It’s freeing to know that even if we tried to prove ourselves, our efforts would return void, so we ought not even try.

Instead, we look the other way.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

The amount of darkness seeping in through all these outlets pales in comparison to the amount of beauty and life pouring in through other means. It’s not as though we retreat into our church community or our other friends, but instead we stand alongside of them. We don’t escape into a false reality where nothing stings and suffering doesn’t exist.

We engage actual reality, which is this: God, himself has written a beautiful story. A story that he wrote before he even started building the world. He has an endless reserve of everything that he needs to accomplish his purposes and sustain us in order to fulfill our roles in his story. We can’t exhaust this. He sometimes chooses suffering as a means to accomplish his purposes, and then invites us to enter into that suffering rather than avoiding it. And then he meets us there. He pours himself out for us and fulfills every single promise that he has made to be with his people. He privileges us to participate in this together, as a community and with him. And at some point, we will receive a reward for being given the grace to persevere, and for not losing sight of the One who has actually been carrying us the whole time. How incredible is that? We actually receive a reward for receiving a gift! There’s really not much we bring to the table. It’s all a gift.

So that’s what we dwell on. That’s what sustains us. That’s what makes us not avoid suffering. And that, I believe is what drives others to join us in this. In spite of all appearances, our life is filled with beauty and wonder, and we are sustained by a God who is gracious, patient, and crazy with his love for us.

And this same Creator, who is gracious and crazy in love with us, is also sustaining Pearl. According to every doctor she has, she is not suffering and her seizures aren’t painful for her. They are disorienting, and they are exhausting. However, they have been very much under control for a few weeks now. We constantly revisit and adjust her prescriptions, finding that balance between using enough medication to keep the seizures minimal, but not giving her so much that she is completely disengaged from the rest of the family. Is life hard for her? Yes, it is probably very difficult for her. Though she is not on oxygen and breathes without the help of a machine, breathing is extremely tiring for her. Her nasal passage is abnormally formed in such a way that air does pass through it, but not always easily.

Life is hard for Pearl, but her Maker gives her all that she needs. He is with her, and she belongs to him. He is the Good Shepherd and he looks after her. He opens her eyes when he is ready for her to wake up, and he gives her body rest when he is ready for her to sleep. He makes her to lie down in green pastures and he leads her beside still waters. Pearl is his. He will sustain her long enough to glorify him in living until he is ready for her to glorify him in dying… and she will be with him forever. Those decisions have never been up to us and never will be.

And life is hard for Brennan and Abigail as well. They have made many sacrifices over the last few months. Every time Pearl is readmitted into the hospital, their lives turn upside down. One of us is always there with Pearl, so they are left with only one parent to kiss them at bedtime. Brennan has mentioned more than once that to him, this is the saddest part of Pearl’s hospital visits. They have had to cancel many play dates and trips to the park because of situations that arise with Pearl. Abbey celebrated her 3rd Birthday at the chicken strip shop across the street from Vanderbilt, because Pearl had to be admitted and one of us had to stay with Pearl. They live in the constant tension of knowing that their baby sister will probably not be with us for a long time. So, are they suffering through this? Absolutely. Are they learning and experiencing things as toddlers that many adults never learn? Yes, they are. They are growing in so many beautiful ways. We play ninja swords and change baby doll’s diapers when we can, but it’s not nearly as often as they would like. Brennan is struggling with his identity and his role in the world. He’s down on himself sometimes and at other times, thinks he deserves to be the center of attention in whatever room he just walked into. So what do Ruth and I do as parents? We walk humbly and cautiously. We lean further into Christ asking him to equip us and give us insight into how to best shepherd them. We know this is hard for them, and we never take that lightly. The same God who is sovereign over me, Ruth and Pearl, is also wholly engaged with Brennan and Abigail, and he has their best interests in mind with everything he is doing.

So there you go. Life is hard. And beautiful.  And filled with awe. And wonder. And suffering. And peace. God is sovereign over all of my family and there is not one particle of dust on our living room fan that he isn’t in control over. He is the Good Shepherd, and we trust him. He is here with us, and sometimes he ordains that we suffer, all the while we know that it is for our good and his glory. If he didn’t spare his only Son from suffering, but rather ordained it, why would he spare us from all suffering? I’ve got to be honest…I read ahead and I already know how the story ends. Jaws are going to hit the floor. Actually, knees will hit the floor as well. All of this suffering, which is true suffering, seems quite temporal in light of what’s to come, and what’s already here.

by Eric Brown


69 thoughts on “Sovereignty & Suffering: a response from Eric

  1. Beautiful. Your family is beautiful. Your words are beautiful. Those who are spiritually blind and enslaved to self and flesh will never understand that you have simply obeyed your Lord. How could you have chosen anything other than to bring Pearl Joy into the world? They will never understand until they too are redeemed. Your family is a light shining in a dark world. I will pray for you, for Pearl Joy, for your other precious children. I will pray for the Lord to protect you as I am sure you are under spiritual attack for the stand you have taken and the ambassador you have been. In the end it will be worth it all. For all of eternity your family will be together praising God Who makes NO MISTAKES! Galations 1:10

  2. Your beautiful family is glorifying God through your trials. Pearl is a miracle, and her parents are blessed. Keep on standing firm; the enemy hates to see people like you praising the Redeemer. Praying for you all!

  3. That was absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for not only being faithful, but having open eyes to see God’s mercy and love. Your insight makes me long to see the ways God is working in my life’s circumstances as well. Your family and Pearl will be in my prayers.

  4. Don’t ever give up. Every tiny step Pearl takes is gigantic. As for the hateful HuffPo commenters…well, I’m assuming you were already aware that many of our fellow human inhabitants are complete a——s. Pay them no mind. It’s not you and your family against the world; we’re part of the world and you have more people pulling for Pearl and for you than you can possibly comprehend.

  5. Amen! We have two beautiful healthy boys. The delivery was very hard on both, cesarians. God made the pain seem like a small scratch. He is so amazingly faithful! Miss Pearl is beautiful!

  6. This is one of the most touching things I have ever read regarding suffering. I am praying for you all and please be assured that our Lord will comfort you and little Pearl. We lost our youngest to Trisomy 18 after nine days and I relate to every word you have written and I can feel your pain and paradoxically the joy of following the will of God. You are on the road to Calvary with your whole family and I will ask our little saint to help you with your heavy cross.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story, your journey. May God bless you and Pearl. And remember, He choose her family. He selected you as parents, and placed her with the perfect for her siblings. And above all, that is the safest place to be, in God’s hands.

  8. I really enjoyed reading your words. You speak with such wisdom and honesty, that it moves off the page and into my heart. Your little pearl is so beautiful, and so are Brennan and Abigail. I have a three year old boy and I know that this age can be trying. Ruth is such a beautiful and bold woman of God, you have a treasure in her! Your sweet family is in my prayers, hoenstly. Thank you for letting the Lord speak through you and I am excited to follow your journey.

  9. Your family is a beautiful light in the culture of death. Pearl is truly beautiful – a “pearl” of great price! Wishing you many blessings! ❤

  10. I stumbled upon your story after reading about a family whose baby was terminated after an HPE diagnosis. God bless you for allowing your sweet girl a chance at life and not taking away from her something that only God should take – her earthly life. I’m sorry you’ve encountered criticism, but I wanted to take a minute to write in support of you, your family, your daughter.

  11. We are reading a book in our prayer group called “I Believe in Love,” a retreat given by Father Jean C.J. d’Elbee back in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. I hope you will have a chance to read it some day. Complete abandonment to God, complete trust in Him, humble and unwavering confidence in Him: this is the essence of the book. “The Cross, taken up hesitantly, is crushing; taken smilingly, by free will, and with love, it will carry you much more than you carry it.” You seem to have figured this out, and I commend you for it. What a blessing and an inspiration you are to others!

  12. Beautifully written. Wow. Your family is in my prayers. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Heb. 10:23

  13. I want you to know that you have supporters in our town and I am personally gathering prayer warriors. Here is a sermon from our pastor that I believe will encourage you greatly and will teach you something that you’ll need to know: Stay strong and seek the Lord. “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9…that’s a promise! God bless!!!

  14. I just stumbled upon your story via a video on God Vine – I know…living under a rock, right?! What a beautiful blessed baby girl. I searched for your blog and just finished reading this post. I loved reading your words and I will pray for your family and Pearl. Pearl belongs to God but it is obvious to me that God chose the absolute perfect people to tend to his precious child while she is here. May your family continue to have strength and peace.

  15. Thank you for sharing. You and your wife are so brave and I am so encouraged by you loving your child and your family so well. The road of selfishness is so much easier, but the road you have chosen, to love your daughter and care for her is so, so much harder but also so life-giving. What a witness. My father is disabled and ill and through his illness I have learned so much about how the world only values those who are fit and strong. But God loves ALL of us, disabled/sick or not. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us.

    • Thanks for sharing Amy. I have worked with special needs children for years. They never cease to amaze me and teach me the deeper things of life. God is the great transformer who uses ALL our difficulties and challenges for our good and His glory. He wastes none of our suffering. For this, I am immensely grateful professionally and especially personally.

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