To Heaven and Back II: Miracles from Heaven

The Beam family and filmmakers, 2016
Miracles from Heaven. The Beam family and filmmakers, 2016

 

The movie Miracles from Heaven is based on the true story of a young girl, Annabel Beam, who suffered for years with two digestive disorders.  One day while climbing with her sisters, she fell headfirst into the hollow trunk of a tree. While the events that ensued may raise the suspicions of the skeptic, they are just as likely to reaffirm the faith of many–particularly of the film’s intended audience–and perhaps speak to a few of those skeptics as well. 

The Story

Challenges

Annabel Beam is the second of three daughters of Kevin and Christy Beam, who live in the city of Burleson, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth.  At  age four, Annabel began experiencing pain when eating, and at five was diagnosed with two incurable digestive disorders pseudo-obstruction motility disorder and antral hypomotility disorder. Her condition–where coordinated contractions in the intestinal tract become altered and inefficient– impeded the digestion and absorption of nutrients. In addition, her ability to empty the stomach was adversely affected. Digestion became extremely painful. Her stomach was distended, and by 2011, at age nine years old, she was on ten medications and had been hospitalized nine times.  ‘It was a struggle to eat, a struggle to drink large amounts of liquid,’ says her mother. [1]

An April, 2015 article in the Star Telegram, a Fort Worth newspaper, reads: ‘For years, the Burleson girl’s life was defined by near-constant pain, endless hospital visits, invasive testing and marginally effective treatments. At one point, she told her mother she wished she would die so she could go to heaven, where there would be no more pain.’ [2]

One day in 2011, while climbing a large cottonwood tree [3], on the family’s property with her sisters, a branch began to give way.  To get to safety, Annabel scrambled into a nearby hole in the trunk. Unbeknown to the girls, the trunk of the tree was hollow, and Annabel plummeted thirty feet, (about three stories [4]) head first, inside the empty trunk of the tree.

After five hours Annabel was extricated. She was examined and found to have suffered only scratches and bruises. ‘The doctors, after the fall, they said they’d never had anyone fall thirty feet head first and not suffer paralysis or broken bones,’ says Christy Beam.  [5]

Heaven

The day after the fall, Annabel told her mother of her experience while in the tree.  In a radio interview in 2015, mother and daughter related their story.

‘Wat happened when you were inside that tree?’ the interviewer asked.

‘I went to heaven,’ Annabel replied.

‘How do you know?’

‘It was really bright, and I saw my Meme, who had died a couple years back. That’s how I knew I was in heaven. And I sat on Jesus’ lap, and he said  “Annabel, whenever the firefighters get you out, there will be nothing wrong with you.” And I asked him if I could stay, cuz, I wasn’t in any pain, and, it was, like, “can I stay?” and he said “No, Annabel, I have plans for you on earth that you cannot fulfill in heaven.”’ [6]

Annabel also claims to have seen one sister in heaven whom she had never met on earth. Her mother had experienced two miscarriages.  Christy Beam: ‘One of the miscarriages, I want to point out, was never a life created. It’s called a blighted ovum. The other was a life that was miscarried. So I find it intriguing that when Annabel talks about going to heaven, she says she saw a little girl and asked who that girl was. And Jesus told her, “That’s your sister.” I find that interesting because Anna knew I had two miscarriages, but I had never explained that one was a baby and one was not. But Annabel didn’t come back saying, “I saw two little girls.” She says she saw just the one. That made my mouth drop open.’ [7]

After the incident, Annabel stopped experiencing the constant pain she had suffered for five years.  Her doctors described her as asymptomatic.  She no longer requires more medication and has been released from her doctor’s care.

Christy Beam’s memoir about Annabel’s story, Miracles from Heaven: A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven and Her Amazing Story of Healing, was published in April, 2015. The movie rights were acquired by Sony Pictures, and filming began in July of that year.  The movie was released a week before the Easter weekend, 2016. [8]

The Film

The movie stars Jennifer Garner (Alias, Juno) as Christy Beam and Kylie Rogers (Collateral Beauty), in an amazing performance, as Annabel. Martin Henderson, a New Zealand actor with a convincing Texas accent, plays the father, Kevin. Brighton Sharbino and Courtney Fansler play Annabel’s sisters, Abigail and Adelynn. Queen Latifah plays a kind-hearted waitress who befriends Christy and Annabel. Eugenio Derbez, a Mexican actor, plays the highly in-demand Mexican gastroenterologist Dr. Samuel Nurko who treats Annabel.  John Carroll Lynch, who portrays the Beam’s pastor, rounds out the cast.

Patricia Riggen, originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, directed the film. She also helmed The 33, another   movie based on a real-life event—the story of thirty-three Chilean miners trapped half a mile underground for sixty-nine days in 2010. [9]

The producers include industry executive Joseph Roth (Heaven is For Real, Alice in Wonderland), T.D. Jakes (Heaven is for Real, Sparkle) and DeVon Franklin, a preacher, author and film producer, who cut his teeth in the motion picture industry working for Will Smith’s production company. [10]

Miracles from Heaven had a production budget of $13 million (U.S.), and grossed over $73 million worldwide. [11]

Final Thoughts

The report of visiting heaven in Miracles is similar to an account portrayed in Heaven is for Real (which I discussed in an earlier post, To Heaven and Back). In that movie, Colton Burpo, little more than a toddler, suffers a ruptured appendix and is rushed to the hospital. He has a near-death experience, and after he recovers, claims to have gone to heaven, where he met a sister whom he did not even know existed. The audience then learns that his mother had once suffered a miscarriage, an incident that neither she nor anyone else had related to little Colton.

Both Miracles from Heaven and Heaven is for Real were brought to the screen by the same producers, Joseph Roth and T.D. Jakes. Like Miracles, Heaven is for Real did well at the box office, making $101 million worldwide, on a $12 million budget. [12]

Another story about a near-death experience, of going to heaven and returning to earth, 90 Minutes in Heaven, did not do well with audiences. It is a considerably darker film, more of a character study. A pastor is involved in a horrific car accident. He is pronounced dead at the scene. He too experiences heaven but comes back to life after ninety minutes.  He recuperates for months, but is angry and depressed because he has been forced to return and suffer the pain of his injuries. Budgeted at $5 million, it grossed only $4.7 million at the box office on its release in 2015. [13]

What do the successes and failures of these films say about their audiences? What does it say about the afterlife?   What does it say that both Colton Burpo and Annabel Beam say they saw Jesus? Would people, particularly children of other cultures and of other faiths, who die and then return, say that they too saw Jesus, or would their experiences be different?  Do atheists have similar experiences?  The answer, at least for one extremely influential atheist and thinker, is ‘not quite’.  The esteemed British philosopher and atheist, Sir A. J. Ayer, [14] wrote about his own near-death experience.  His account, at least from the way it is reported, contains significant differences from the Heaven movies [15]. For instance, instead of experiencing a bright white light, love and peacefulness, a place where one does not want to leave, Ayer ‘was confronted by a red light, exceedingly bright, and also very painful even when I turned away from it. I was aware that this light was responsible for the government of the universe. Among its ministers were two creatures who had been put in charge of space. These ministers periodically inspected space and had recently carried out such an inspection. They had, however, failed to do their work properly, with the result that space, like a badly fitting jigsaw puzzle, was slightly out of joint.’ [16]

The extent to which the heavenly experiences reported by Annabel and Colton are shared throughout different cultures, and among peoples with different beliefs, is a truly intriguing idea, one which I intend to explore in future posts.

© 2017, Weldon Turner, All Rights Reserved

Next Month

For Higher Power. Two men who would not compromise their faith, and risked everything for their beliefs.

Image

HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 09: Kevin Beam, Christy Beam, Abigail Beam, Adelynn Beam, Anabel Beam, actress Jennifer Garner and producer DeVon Franklin attend the Premiere Of Columbia Pictures’ ‘Miracles From Heaven’ – Red Carpet at ArcLight Hollywood on March 9, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images)

Editorial Rights Secured.

References

[1] Foxnews.com, http://video.foxnews.com/v/4172535684001/?#sp=show-clips , accessed February 25, 2017

[2] Foxnews.com, http://www.star-telegram.com/living/religion/article18229301.html#storylink=cpy, accessed February 25, 2017

[3] Miracles from Heaven DVD, Special Features, ‘Bearing Witness’, Columbia Pictures, 2016.

[4] Reference.com, https://www.reference.com/art-literature/many-feet-story-a1c08b30db9a4cf9, accessed February 25, 2017

[5] Foxnews.com, http://video.foxnews.com/v/4172535684001/?#sp=show-clips, accessed February 25, 2017

[6] Foxnews.com, http://video.foxnews.com/v/4172535684001/?#sp=show-clips, accessed February 25, 2017

[7] Star Telegraph, http://www.star-telegram.com/living/religion/article18229301.html, accessed February 25, 2017

[8] IMDB.com, https://pro-labs.imdb.com/title/tt4257926/details?ref_=tt_nav_dtl_rel, accessed February 25, 2017

[9] NYTimes.com, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/02/world/americas/inquiry-on-mine-collapse-in-chile-ends-with-no-charges.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FChile%20Mining%20Accident%20(2010)&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection, accessed February 25, 2017

[10] Youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7PnSUEB9dk, accessed February 25, 2017

[11] Boxofficemojo.com, http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=miraclesfromheaven.htm, accessed February 25, 2017

[12] IMDB.com,  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1929263/business?ref_=tt_dt_bus, accessed February 25, 2017

[13] IMDB.com, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4337690/business?ref_=tt_dt_bus, accessed February 25, 2017

[14] Britannica.com, https://www.britannica.com/biography/A-J-Ayer, accessed February 25, 2017

[15] Philospher.eu, http://www.philosopher.eu/others-writings/a-j-ayer-what-i-saw-when-i-was-dead/, accessed February 25, 2017

[16] Philospher.eu,  http://www.philosopher.eu/others-writings/a-j-ayer-what-i-saw-when-i-was-dead/, accessed February 25, 2017

Video

Miracles from Heaven, Columbia Pictures, a Sony Company, 2016.

Links

Foxnews.com, http://video.foxnews.com/v/4172535684001/?#sp=show-clips

Reference.com, https://www.reference.com/art-literature/many-feet-story-a1c08b30db9a4cf9

Star Telegraph, http://www.star-telegram.com/living/religion/article18229301.html

IMDB.com, https://pro-labs.imdb.com/title/tt4257926/details?ref_=tt_nav_dtl_rel

NYTimes.com, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/02/world/americas/inquiry-on-mine-collapse-in-chile-ends-with-no-charges.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FChile%20Mining%20Accident%20(2010)&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection

Youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7PnSUEB9dk

Boxofficemojo.com, http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=miraclesfromheaven.htm

IMDB.com,  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1929263/business?ref_=tt_dt_bus

Britannica.com, https://www.britannica.com/biography/A-J-Ayer

Philospher.eu,  http://www.philosopher.eu/others-writings/a-j-ayer-what-i-saw-when-i-was-dead/,

 

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