Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Book Review: Heaven is for Real

The last couple weeks of my life have been consumed with caring for sick children.  Of course, in a household of multiples, sickness doesn't usually occur all at once, but rather it drags out slowly - one feverish, sometimes whiny, drippy-nosed child at a time.

Experience has shown me that holding a sick baby or toddler on my lap while trying to tap away on my laptop is difficult to do.  Reading a book while tending to babies is not as complicated. I resolved to do some extra pleasure reading during my temporary "time off" from writing and I had the perfect book in mind.

A couple weeks ago, my mom surprised me by ordering and having delivered to my home Heaven is for Real, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent.  Thanks for a great read mom!  Friday night I began reading it and I finished it up Monday. 

Heaven is for Real is the true story of a three-year-old boy's experience of going to Heaven.  The first half of the book describes how Todd and Sonja Burpo almost lost their precious son, Colton, to a life-threatening case of appendicitis.  Todd Burpo's description of his child's sickness leaves readers on the edge of their seat. While doctors initially struggle to figure out what's wrong with their child, Burpo very heart-wrenchingly captures the emotion of a parent whose child is dying right before their eyes.  The pain, frustration, anger, and helplessness he and Sonja felt during that period of their lives was described in such a way that any loving parent could to relate to it.    

The remainder of the book was a description of the period of years following that traumatic experience.  Colton's account of going to Heaven casually emerged in honest conversations with his parents.  He revealed personal family and Biblical facts that no one had ever shared with him or that he couldn't possibly have known otherwise.

A prime example of this occurred when he offhandedly mentioned to his mother that he met his sister in Heaven.  This was the baby Sonja had miscarried one year prior to giving birth to Colton.  Because he was only three, they never shared that loss with him, and because Sonja was only two months along in that pregnancy, they never even knew the sex.  Imagine their surprise when their three-year-old son says he met her.     

Colton shocked his parents time and again with his simple expressions of what he learned, things he saw and the people he met in Heaven.  He shared details that matched scripture on the simplistic level of a child.  Although at times overwhelming to Todd and Sonja, details like what Jesus and Heaven look like, and who else was up in Heaven filled them with wonder and amazement.

"It dawned on me that maybe we'd been given a gift and our job was to unwrap it, slowly, carefully and see what was inside," said Todd when he realized that Colton's experience was not just the wild imaginings of a creative three-year-old.   

My Thoughts:

Overall, I think Heaven is for Real is a memorable read for both Christians and seekers alike who want to catch a glimpse into Heaven.  Really, who among us has never wondered what it would be like to look into the loving eyes of Christ, or even daydreamed about whether the streets of Heaven really are paved in gold?  I remember wondering about those things when I was a very little girl. 

One of my favorite passages takes place in the chapter where Colton describes what Jesus looks like.  Colton talks of his hair color and mentions a beard, and then says, "...And his eyes...oh, Dad, his eyes are so pretty." 

I can only think that all the love in Jesus' heart must have been conveyed through the beauty of his eyes to that small child.  It only makes sense.  After all, it was Jesus who said, "The eyes are the window to the soul." Matthew 6:22.  Whose soul could be more pure or perfect than that of Jesus? 

Don't get me wrong though.  I didn't exactly read this book with an open mind all the way through.  After finishing the first half (which I felt was very compelling), I began to feel some amount of skepticism as I then read about Colton's experience in the second half.  Questions popped into my head like are the Burpo's feeding this information to their child in order to make a capital gain?  Are they twisting it ever-so-slightly to suit the needs of the story and what would their motivation be to share this story with us? 

Forgive me for my "humanness."  Even as a believer, it's sometimes difficult to understand all the questions I have about God and Heaven.  Blind faith is hard.  Faith is not tangible.  It can't be seen, touched, smelled or experienced through any of the senses.  But all that aside, for me, it still makes sense.  God is in the small stuff - in the miracles that surround us, the birth of a baby, the budding of new life in spring- and the big stuff, like as in Colton's survival and experience. 

But to answer my questions above, I really believe the answers are no, no, and for question number three, the Burpo's motivation seems genuine.  Their desire is to give others - those who believe and those who still seek - a sense of security that there really is a God, and as the name suggests, Heaven is for Real.



Matt Keegan said...

What a nice review, Lisa. And, thank you for sharing your skepticism. I have felt it at times and I only read about Colton's account through other sources.

Deep down, I believe Colton's account is valid. Enoch and Elijah were taken up and Paul had an encounter in the 7th heaven that he was forbidden from telling in detail. Certainly, a child may not be able to offer such comprehensive details, but then that experience was for him primarily and the rest of us secondarily.

BTW, you managed to read this book faster than I usually do and you had children in your lap or by your side much of the time. You're Wonder Woman!

Lisa Vella said...


Well, I wouldn't say Wonder Woman for sure! LOL! But thank you.

Actually, when you read the book, you will understand how I got through it so quickly. It was a short book - I don't have it right here in front of me, but I think a little over 160 pages. So not too much to wade through.

I believe Colton's account to be valid too. There were just too many "coincidences" and even when I compare his insights to those of my own three-year-old daughter, I just don't think he could have come up with these ideas without some sort of divine intervention.

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I'm always glad to read your comments and insights.

Hope you are having a very Blessed day!

Irreverent Freelancer said...

This sounds like a wonderful book, Lisa. I think I'm going to read it even though I have some of the same skepticism you did. I've read reviews where readers complained that because the book was written by an adult (the father, I think, whom if I recall correctly is also a pastor?) that it was more the elder's viewpoint than the youth's. I'll go into it with an open mind, understanding that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Lisa Vella said...

It is a good book, Kathy. I hope you enjoy it.

I did have reservations, especially knowing the father is a pastor, but I believe in the good of man and I'm choosing to believe he wrote this account as accurately as he could.

Keeping an open mind while reading it is definitely the way to get something positive out of Colton's experience.

Have a nice day!

Betsy Henning said...

Excellent write up. I'm hooked, and I want to decide for myself -- with my own wide-open skeptical mind. So, on my next trip to town I'll head up Route 86 and come knocking on your door. Keep that book handy for me :)

(I'll call first.)

Theresa said...

Lisa, Would you please have it waiting for me instead? Ok- I may not get to it until right after school is done sooooooo- I guess, I can let Betsy have it first. LOL.

Lisa Vella said...

You got it, Theresa! You can have it whenever you're ready for it! Hope to talk with you soon, Lady!