The story of Todd and Sonja Burpo's son Colton making a trip to heaven and back had an enormous impact on their lives. Their son's story came at a time when things were tough and the parents discovered that beliving in heaven can make all the difference. Here's an excerpt.
One: Heaven — We’re Not There Yet
For my family, the July Fourth weekend of 2003 was a big deal...My wife, Sonja, and I had planned to take the kids to visit Sonja’s brother, Steve, and his family in Sioux Falls, South Dakota…It would be our first chance to meet our nephew, Bennett, born two months earlier...this would be the first time we’d left our hometown of Imperial, Nebraska, since a family trip to Greeley, Colorado, in March had turned into the worst nightmare of our lives.
To put it bluntly, the last time we had taken a family trip, one of our children almost died. Call us crazy, but we were a little apprehensive this time, almost to the point of not wanting to go. Now as a pastor I’m not a believer in superstition. Still, some weird, unsettled part of me felt that if we just hunkered down close to home, we’d be safe.
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–Heaven Is For Real, XVII
Maybe you’re like me and wonder sometimes, as your feet hit the floor, Is it going to be a good day or a bad day? Wouldn’t we all like to know the answer to that question? Then we could just stay in bed some mornings and avoid the calamity awaiting us.Story: ‘Heaven Is for Real’: One boy’s astonishing account
Maybe, like me, you’ve gone through some kind of gut-wrenching experience or some heartbreaking loss that makes you apprehensive as you begin each day now. Enduring a life-altering trauma can make you want to play the turtle and go inside your shell.
After seventeen days of watching my toddler suffer, I’d managed only about five nights of sleep. My life had been so painful during that time and I had been wounded so deeply that it took almost four months after Colton’s hospitalization before I could really function again. There was no doubt that my faith in God — and even more, my faith in myself — had been stretched to the limits. The last thing on my to-do list was to repeat anything like I’d just endured.
But you have to go on living. You have to get out of bed in the morning. The question is, how?
Jesus said in this world we’re going to have trouble. (Do I hear a big “Amen!” out there?) He spent time here on earth and endured the worst trouble anyone could imagine. So he knows better than anyone that this isn’t heaven. But he also knows there’s a place where there’s no suffering and no trouble, and he’s inviting us to join him there.
Today, people are looking for peace in the midst of trouble. But peace is an elusive thing. Looking for peace in worldly sources, many people become addicted to drugs or sex or other harmful substances or behaviors. Then Jesus comes along and makes this incredible claim: If youtrust me, I will give you peace. One way we gain that peace is by believing his promise that, no matter how bad things get here on earth, we’re headed for a better place: heaven.
Where do you find peace? How about looking for it in the Creator of the universe? In the One who said, “Yeah, in this world, you’re gonna have trouble. But you can relax. I’ve overcome all that stuff. I’ll help you get through it. And then someday I’ll take you back to my place, where life’s hurts don’t exist. I know things are bad now, but heaven’s ahead. And you’re gonna love it."
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How would you live your life differently today if you knew, without a doubt, that no matter what happens, everything is going to be okay, even wonderful, in the end?
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
—John 16:33 niv
Two: Missing the Miracles
I noticed we were passing through the traffic light where, if we turned left, we’d wind up at the Great Plains Regional Medical Center. That was where we’d spent fifteen nightmarish days in March, much of it on our knees, praying for God to spare Colton’s life. . . .
Sometimes laughter is the only way to process tough times, so as we passed the turnoff, I decided to rib Colton a little.
“Hey, Colton, if we turn here, we can go back to the hospital,” I said. “Do you wanna go back to the hospital?"
–Heaven Is For Real, XVII
God is sovereign. The way he orchestrates the tiniest details in our lives to carry out his will for us is simply beyond our understanding. I believe God is involved in every part of our lives, in both little decisions and the monumental matters.
Consider this one: late one night, on a long cross-country drive to visit relatives, I jokingly asked our four-year-old son if he wanted to go back to the hospital where he had almost died a few months earlier. His casual answer would change our lives forever. Talking about the hospital, Colton told Sonja and me, “That’s where the angels sang to me.”
Over the next few weeks and months, other details of Colton’s miraculous visit to heaven would gradually trickle out. But if I hadn’t asked that question that night, who knows when — or if — we would ever have known about it?
God is constantly at work in our lives in ways both small and miraculous that we might not even realize.Video: Boy who ‘saw heaven’ shares story with kids (on this page)
Consider this: God’s Son’s first miracle on earth occurred when he attended a big wedding party where the wine ran out. Jesus instructed the servants to fill the containers with water, and then he turned that water into wine. One thing a lot of people miss in that story is that the bridegroom and bride didn’t know they had run out of wine. In fact, they never knew! So they never knew that Jesus had turned the water into wine. God did a miracle for this couple, and they didn’t even know he’d done it.
It makes me ask: How many miracles has God done for us and we didn’t even know he was at work? How many times has God directed us to turn left or turn right at an intersection and that turn kept us from an accident or brought us to encounter someone at exactly the right time so we could help or encourage him or her at exactly the right moment? How many times has he prompted us to reach out to someone, to ask a question that made a difference and we didn’t even recognize his hand at work in that moment?
We don’t often have problems bringing the big stuff to God, but remember, there is nothing too small for God to be involved with in our lives—whether or not we realize it at the time.
When’s the last time you noticed God at work in your life? If you need a little help, check out George Strait’s song, “I Saw God Today.”
The master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.
—John 2:9 niv
Excerpted from Heaven Changes Everything. Copyright (c) 2012 by Todd and Sonja Burpo. Reprinted by arrangement with Thomas Nelson.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive