Arts / Entertainment

“It’s Not Our Story—It’s God’s Story”: The Real Family Behind “Miracles from Heaven”

“Jesus must have been with that little girl in that tree,” said the doctor, “because there's nothing wrong with her!”

“It’s Not Our Story—It’s God’s Story”: The Real Family Behind “Miracles from Heaven”

Courtesy of Christy Beam via Ryan Johnson

Annabel Beam was only four years old when she began having what her mother Christy called “tummy trouble”—painful abdominal cramps accompanied by severe bloating. When she was five, her bowel became fully obstructed, requiring the first of several emergency surgeries. Doctors were unable to determine why Annabel’s stomach and intestines didn’t work as they should. Despite taking ten prescription medications, she still couldn’t eat or drink normally and she required a feeding tube.

But then she fell from a tree. And in a cause-and-effect that defies explanation, Annabel was healed.

Christy Beam talked with me by telephone last month, recounting the story of her daughter’s rare illness, her dangerous accident, and her inexplicable healing. “We are so overjoyed,” Christy explained, “so overwhelmed that our story can impact the world, can make a difference. But really, it’s not our story—it’s God’s story. That God would use us to share his story is so overwhelming!”

That incredible tale was first told in a best-selling book, Miracles from Heaven: A Little Girl and Her Amazing Story of Healing. On March 16, Annabel’s story will open in theaters across America, in a new film starring Jennifer Garner (as Christy Beam) and Queen Latifah.

The Quest for a Diagnosis

Concerned that her daughter was continuing to decline and fearful that Annabel could die, Christy Beam refused to accept the diagnoses she received at medical facilities near their Texas home. Local doctors suggested everything from allergies to lactose intolerance; but Christy felt certain that her daughter’s problem was something more serious. Finally, the Beams were referred to nationally renowned pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Samuel Nurko, whose research at Boston Children’s Hospital focused on gastrointestinal motility disorders.

When Christy was unable to get an appointment despite months of phone calls and letters, she took a chance—and she flew with Annabel to Boston, to make her case to the doctor personally. Her persistence paid off, and Dr. Nurko was able to accurately diagnose Annabel’s condition, revealing that Annabel suffered from not one but two painful, incurable life-threatening digestive disorders: pseudo-obstruction motility disorder, a rare condition that simulates the symptoms of a bowel obstruction; and antral hypomotility disorder, in which weak contractions in the antral part of the stomach cause delayed gastric emptying.

Dr. Nurko was able to enroll Annabel in a study which showed promise; but because she was prescribed experimental drugs with potentially serious side effects, Dr. Nurko would need to see her every six weeks. Despite the financial strain on the Beam family, the mother and daughter became frequent air travelers, allowing Dr. Nurko to keep careful watch over his young patient.

An Accident—and a Miracle

When Annabel was eight, returned home after yet another hospitalization, she went outside to play. At the coaxing of her older sister, she climbed a large cottonwood tree in the family’s Texas yard. Without warning, the limb on which she was perched cracked and fell. Annabel had no time to catch herself; she plunged thirty feet into the hollowed core of the cottonwood, landing head-down, deep inside the hollow tree, tightly wedged in the base of the gnarled trunk.

She was unconscious, suspended and trapped for five and a half hours before rescue crews finally succeeded in strapping a harness around her body and raising her to safety.

What happened next is still a mystery to Annabel’s mother. Christy Beam explained that Annabel’s falling into the tree, which could have killed her, instead healed her. She emerged from the tree trunk wet, bruised, and muddy but otherwise quite well. Inexplicably, when Annabel awoke at the hospital, she felt no more pain. Her distended abdomen had returned to its normal size, and she was able to go to the bathroom. For the first time, after months of uncomfortable tube feedings, she could eat regular food. Her doctors began to wean her off of her medications and eventually, she was released from her pediatric gastroenterologist. “Jesus must have been with that little girl in that tree,” said the doctor, “because there’s nothing wrong with her!”

A Child’s View of Heaven

In the days following her unexpected recovery, Annabel shared with her parents what had happened during her hours wedged deep within the cottonwood tree. “Mommy, I went to heaven when I was in that tree,” she said. “I sat on Jesus’ lap. I wanted to stay, but he told me I couldn’t.”

Pressing for more information, her parents learned that Annabel had seen her grandmother “MeeMee,” who had died a few years earlier. “That’s how I knew I was in heaven,” she told them.

“I always thought that being in heaven would be like sitting on clouds; but it’s really like being suspended over the universe. I always thought that God had a big heart, and he does—his heart is so big that it glows. His eyes shine like gold glory reflected in the sun.”

As Christy quoted her daughter’s vivid description of heaven, she marveled that a young child should speak so eloquently. “We didn’t teach her to talk like that,” Christy mused. “We’d always gone to church, but for a nine-year-old to use those terms—well, I knew that something dramatic had happened.”

At the recent Dallas premiere of “Miracles from Heaven,” Annabel added to the description relayed by her mother. “Everything glowed,” she told me. “The light came from everywhere, from the flowers and the plants—even the grass gave off light as you walked on it.”

A Message of Hope and Encouragement

Reflecting on how her life and the life of her family had been changed by the events surrounding Annabel’s illness and miraculous healing, Christy Beam said, “We don’t live our lives differently, because we never lost our faith. Oh, it was hard and I felt challenged at times. I’d ask, ‘Okay, God, do you have a plan? What is your plan?’ But we always felt that God is in control of our lives, even over Annabel’s illness. Now that she’s well, we can stand strong and put an exclamation point behind what we believe.”

“Miracles from Heaven” will open in theaters on Wednesday, March 16.

 

Kathy Schiffer is a freelance writer and speaker, and writes about faith and culture at her blog, Seasons of Grace.