I met my friend Sherri Burgess when we were both speaking at a women’s conference. We instantly connected and her strong faith and unstoppable joy in the midst of tragedy inspired me and I thought it would encourage you as well. We are so blessed to have Sherri on the blog today.— Marian Jordan Ellis
Q: Your book is named after your youngest son. Tell us a little bit about Bronner and his short life on earth.
Bronner was the baby of the family, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, and we adored him. He knew it too. Bronner kind of had that air about him like he knew he was a big deal. He was so much fun and super snuggly. He was like a cookie right out of the oven, and every morning was like Christmas morning with him. I couldn’t wait to unwrap each day with him. He was a two-and-a-half-year-old baby boy. You’d be hard-pressed to find much in the world better than that! He was curious, playful, spunky, loving, fun, precious and beautiful, and life with him was amazing. He was sunshine and a cool breeze kissing my face with life, and when I lost him I was utterly crushed and completely devastated. But God picked me up and gave me peace through understanding and hope for the things of the Spirit — things such as eternity, Heaven, God Himself and ultimately a greater understanding of who God is and why He allows such great suffering in the world.
Q: You write about the inexplicable moment of peace you experienced at the hospital shortly before you learned there was no hope for Bronner. Could you tell us about that experience?
I fell on my face in prayer as soon as we entered the emergency room, begging for Bronner’s life. I had been praying nonstop almost the same thing over and over and over again. “Please, God, don’t take him. Please give him back. Please, God. Please, please give him back to me.” I would look up at the heart monitor to see if they had gotten a pulse, then I would bow my head again to pray. That last time I looked up hoping for anything but that straight line, and then I bowed over a chair. I remember a nurse taking my hand and an instantaneous exchange with our eyes that seemed to contain all the grief and hurt and sympathy one woman could muster for another. As I closed my eyes again, I felt something rising up from deep within me. It was like I was hearing it in my mind, but I consciously said it. “Lord, not my will, but thine, O Lord, be done.” A peace came over me that transcends understanding. I stood up, looked at the doctor in charge and heard him say, “We’re going to have to stop.” I nodded my head and said OK. I’ve known from the beginning this was God’s will because that was what the Holy Spirit had prayed for and through me, but what took me a long time to figure out was why. Why would God will this? That is what my book is about.
Q: Do you find your thoughts about Heaven have changed since Bronner went there?
What has changed is that I think about it at all. We don’t think much about Heaven until we have someone there we love with every fiber of our being. But now that Bronner’s there, I think about it all the time. I wonder what he’s doing, whom he’s talking to, what it must feel like to look upon the face of God. I wonder about the angels and all the other people who are there, people such as Abraham Lincoln, Queen Esther, Noah and George Washington. There are cool people to meet in Heaven. It makes me so excited to go there, especially knowing Bronner’s there. At first I wanted to go to Heaven simply because I wanted Bronner, but over time I realized the best part about being in Heaven is God. Jesus is our treasure awaiting us in Heaven. He’s our inheritance, our prize, our very life. Everything else is extra, and there are going to be a million extra things to celebrate when we finally get to Heaven.
Q: How has your marriage been impacted by your loss?
It’s given it weight. Our marriage is ultimately more important than it ever had been before. I needed Rick like I needed water. He was our rock, and he knew it. He had to hold it together so he could hold us all up. There’s a myth that has been debunked that the death of a child causes divorce. That is completely opposite of the truth. Studies show that people who have lost children divorce at significantly lower rates than the average. That’s because shared pain between two people bonds them like nothing else can. I remember that night in the hospital waiting on Rick to arrive. He was speaking at a youth retreat in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, when it happened. We had friends who flew him home as quickly as possible. My pastor, my music minister and his wife, and three other friends waited with me at the hospital, and they were ready with answers for me. I had lots of questions, but what I remember most about that wait was the uneasiness in the room. We were all distraught, but when Rick finally walked through those doors, calmness walked in with him. His presence put everyone at ease, especially me. His eyes went immediately to me, and he walked over and wrapped me up in his arms. I felt safe with him.
Q: How did you walk your other children through the loss of their brother? What advice would you offer to parents going through a similar situation right now?
We walked them through it Biblically. We taught them everything God was teaching us: the truth that even though bad things happen in this world now, it won’t always be like this. Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more. My children know they’re going to see their brother again. They know an eternity with God is far better than any pain or suffering or hurt they have to endure in this life. They know their pain will end and a reward is coming that surpasses anything they’ve ever experienced before. My children know love never ends and Bronner loves them now just as much as he ever did. He remembers them just like they remember him. They look forward to that time just as Rick and I do.
Q: When you had the pool installed in your backyard, you prayed God would not allow anyone to drown there and that He would use it for His glory. In what way did God answer that prayer differently?
Early on in this journey, as I was trying to understand God’s purpose behind the pain, I was desperately crying out for Him to tell me, “Why the children?” I said to God, “There is nothing worse than losing a child. I know You lost your Son, but You got Him back after three days! Three days!” I heard that still, small voice answer in my spirit, “But what about the others? They’re all mine. You’re going to get this glorious reunion with your child, but I won’t get that with all of mine.” I understood in that moment that God was using my temporary separation from Bronner to bring some of His wandering children back to Him forever. Maybe for the first time ever, I had compassion for God. God doesn’t delight in death — not real death, the kind that sends souls away from their maker forever. I decided I could do this for Him because I love Him and because I know what it’s like to lose a child. If I can help bring one, just one, back to Him, then I will. I know I’m not the only brokenhearted parent in this equation. My heavenly Father is a brokenhearted parent too, and He longs to bring all of us home. There’s room for us all in our Father’s heart. That’s why He waits. He’s gathering His children and creating for Himself a people who choose the good portion, the bread and living water, the Lord.
Q: After all your family has been through, do you still believe God is good?
I know Him to be. He was good before. He was amazing in the midst of it, and He is my constant and closest friend, my desire, my hope, my everything right now, today and forevermore. He changed me for the good by taking my son. I’m no longer in love with the world, and that is freeing. I’m unchained from the world with half my heart already in Heaven, and a person like that doesn’t live any longer for the shiny things the world has to offer. Instead a person like that lives for the will of God, for His delight and approval. I seek His joy, not my own. I live to make Him smile. That’s why I wrote this book: to please Him, to bring Him glory and to help people see His goodness and His purpose behind it all. People look around and see how bleak things can get on earth and wonder, “Where is God in all of this?” I’ll tell you where He is. He’s right in the middle of it. He stands with outstretched hands, waiting and saying, “Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest. I will never leave you nor forsake you. Trust me. It won’t always be like this.”
Q: What do you want people to remember most about Bronner and his story?
I want you to remember that God loves you even when it doesn’t seem like He does. Reach out for Him. If you take just one step toward the Father, He’ll run to you with outstretched arms celebrating you with great joy. God is real, and the door is wide open to Him. Sin must be dealt with, but God did that by sending His son, Jesus, to pay the price for our sin on the cross. All we have to do is believe it. Our faith in Jesus Christ saves us, not from pain and suffering, but from an eternity separated from God. God is everything that is good in life. He is light, life, joy, peace and love. In Him, there is no darkness at all. I can’t stand to think of anyone separated from that wellspring of life for all eternity. Take His hand right now and walk through the gate. Jesus is the gate to the Father. I’m asking you to believe in Him. That is Bronner’s legacy: faith that has been tested and has proven itself genuine. In the sight of God, that is very, very precious.
Sherri Burgess’ online home at burgessministries.com