When Colton Burpo made it through an emergency appendectomy, his family was overjoyed at his miraculous survival. What they weren’t expecting though, was the story that emerged in the months that followed – a story as beautiful as it was extraordinary, detailing their little boy’s trip to heaven and back. Todd Burpo has written the account in his book Heaven is for Real…
I asked Todd Burpo some pertinent questions about his son’s experiences and also how this has affected the whole family.
When Colton became very ill and it looked as though you were going to lose him – can you explain your feelings and emotions and your thoughts at this time? Did you feel angry towards God – did you experience any unbelief? What actually happened within you?
Watching Colton fade away and suffer was the worst experience I have ever been through. It was nothing short of a nightmare. Children are supposed to live to four!
Every terrible feeling one could experience seemed to surface. Terror, anger, pain, loss, regret, and exhaustion were all rolled together into this miserable moment.
I questioned where God was in all of the pain and suffering, and I was desperate for God to intervene. I just didn’t know if He would. I was completely humbled, broken, and pleading with God to help. My faith was definitely precarious. I was a mixture of faith and doubt, but I wasn’t sure which was stronger.
Your son Colton slipped into unconsciousness after a burst appendix. He went to heaven. Can you tell me how Colton described his experiences in heaven?
He described his experiences in bits and pieces. As life would continue we never knew what might trigger a certain memory or moment for Colton to share. He completely governed and led most all of our discussions about heaven. The one thing that never changed was his ‘matter of fact’ and plain account of what he saw. He was absolutely convinced that what he shared was for real, and he never acted as though he was lost or inventing details. If he didn’t know something, he just didn’t talk about it.
After Colton told you of his experiences did you have problems rationalizing this? Did you find it difficult to believe him at first?
We questioned Colton at first, but I couldn’t explain away his descriptions about me. How did he know where I was during his surgery? How did he know what I was doing, and not just me, but his mother as well? If he was making this up, how was he nailing every detail accurately? The only explanation that worked was his, “I was up above you Dad. I could look down and see you.”
In regard to the loss of your daughter due to a misscarriage – Colton said he met her in heaven. How did you perceive this – how emotional was it for you and your wife? Did Colton tell you what she looked like? (This is an important topic to discuss as so many women have lost babies and children and they are looking for answers and some kind of hope).
The most profound experience besides learning from Colton that he had been sitting on Jesus’ lap was learning about our daughter. Sonja miscarried at two months. Next to our time in the hospital, listening to Colton describe meeting his sister in heaven, was our most emotional event. It started very painfully as Colton told his mom that she had a baby die in her tummy. We were stunned and confused! How did he know? But we obviously had only buried the hurt from the loss of this miscarried child. Not only did Colton have our attention, but the tears were flowing.
To discover that she was fine, to hear what she looked like, to know that Colton was hugged by her, and realize that she could see us and was waiting on our arrival to heaven to join her was incredible! The Bible talks about a peace that passes understanding. Sonja and I can truly say that we experienced that special peace that day.
To share that peace with other parents who have lost children, born or unborn, is a wonderful accomplishment. We are constantly thrilled to hear of the healing other parents have found through Colton’s testimony.
In your view, what was the highlight of Colton’s trip to heaven? Does he still have vivid memories of his time with Jesus?
For me, it has to be Colton sitting on Jesus’ lap. When I was scared and screaming for God to do something, He was. He was holding and comforting my son for me. That same love that started Colton’s trip to heaven is what continued through everything else he describes. Colton says it this way, “Dad, in heaven, you can just feel God’s love all the time!”
And yes, his memories of not just Jesus, but God the Father and God the Holy Spirit continue to be vivid.
What is a story about heaven that Colton shared with the family that may not be found in the book you have written?
He likes to talk about Gabriel and Michael. These arch angels are vivid and real individuals to Colton. He also talks about his conversations with each angel. It’s neat to hear that Gabriel is about one and a half times taller than me, but Michael is twice as tall as me. Both are taller than Jesus, but as Colton says, “…but Dad, Jesus is way more powerful than both of them.”
How have Colton’s experiences affected your daughter and younger son? Has this experience brought them closer to God?
Colton’s child-like faith is contagious. And fortunately, both siblings seem to have caught Colton’s faith. As parents, we are extremely grateful. But otherwise, Colton’s relationship to his brother and sister continues to be normal. Some days they get along, and other days they fight. As Cassie shared her suggested title for the book, He’s Back, but He’s No Angel. Colton is not any more perfect than the rest of us. I also think that is a wonderful comfort to know. None of us have to be perfect to experience or receive God’s grace. We just need to turn to Jesus.
How has this affected your life and also your wife’s?
My life and my wife’s lives are hectic at the moment. Foremost, however, we are very adamant that Colton continues to have a regular schedule. We make sure that he attends school and the associated activities he would otherwise be involved with. We also rely heavily on our church family because of the increased travel and responsibilities. They are the ones watching our children and supporting us while we are gone. The second thing that drives us is seeing the healing in people’s lives because of HIFR. We realize that God has given us a platform to talk about Him. We aren’t going to waste this moment. Sacrifices are worth making if you know you are making a difference for God.
Has Colton fully recovered now? Is he speaking about his time in heaven and encouraging other children?
Colton is healthy now. There are no continuing side effects from his medical crisis. And as always, Colton has never been bashful about his heavenly trip. One of his friends was defending Colton recently from critics online. She was very upset that people were attacking Colton. In her own words she explained that the critics didn’t know what they were talking about. She knew what Colton said was true because she could remember Colton explaining everything in the book to her back in second grade.
What messages do you hope non-believers will get from reading your book and hearing about Colton’s experiences?
I hope they know that God can be found by them. Nobody has to live alone or struggle with life’s challenges alone. I also hope that they discover that God has a much better place to take them to if they want to go. Many today might think that bringing God into their lives devalues their life in some way. He might ‘cramp their style’. But for me, Jesus has made and continues to make my life valuable and rewarding.
By Lynn Goldsmith
Christian Woman Summer 2011 issue