Hungry for a little comedy? Traditional southern fare (heavily seasoned with Holy Capital Letters and football references), "Miracles From Heaven" by author Christy Wilson Beam won't disappoint even those with the most discerning tastes. Get your country-fried words here, and all the down-home schmaltzy gravy you can stomach.
Right off the bat, she sets the stage for her good ol' country lifestyle. “When my husband and I settled down to start a family, we prayed for the ordinary miracles: healthy children, a peaceful home, a late-model pickup truck with good AC, and well-timed rain that fell plentifully on the flower beds but never on Friday night football.” Because pickup trucks and weather rate right up there with Jesus toast (and, apparently, healing the sick).
Little Annabel was born with two debilitating disorders, making it nearly impossible to eat, drink, or be merry. Like many mothers trying to navigate the health system with a sick child in tow, Ms. Beam struggled to find a doctor who would take her daughter's symptoms seriously. At one point, she was accused of having Munchausen by proxy syndrome, a mental disorder in which a caregiver causes symptoms of an illness in a dependant in order to gain attention for themselves, and even had to suffer the indignity of an investigation by Child Protective Services.
THAT'S story-worthy. That's heroic stuff. Readers can relate to a woman like Ms. Beam: a stalwart mom perseveres and manages to get a real diagnosis for real problems against all odds. But that's not what this book is really about. The story of her illness dovetails with the story of parental negligence, and praise God because Jesus and angels and so on.
Annabel climbs thirty feet into a tree without adult supervision and falls. Not only that, she falls into the tree trunk, all the way to ground level, suffers a concussion, blacks out, and is stuck. It falls on her older sister Abbie to be the grown-up and try to recruit the adults to rescue her; immediately after alerting her mentally absent mother, Abbie understands that establishing contact with her sister is crucial and refuses to leave her. When Ms. Beam is brought from the house to take charge of the emergency, she calls her husband rather than 911 and awaits his further instructions. He helps by telling her to wait even longer to call the first responders - she is to do nothing until he gets home from work and tries to play hero with a ladder himself. This is not great parenting, and Ms. Beam must have known it:
“I knew he was only a few minutes away, but those few minutes were agony.” Why, oh why, didn’t she call the emergency responders? Because her husband told her to wait? What a good little Christian wife she is to obey him.
Neighbors came to offer help. Annabel wasn’t responding. Abbie, who for some reason was allowed to shimmy back up those thirty feet of untrustworthy tree trunk, calls out from her perch, “...I don’t think she can breathe.”
At this point, Ms. Beam calls her husband again instead of 911, who tells her to “sit tight”, and once more, she obeys. When he does finally arrive, he insists that he can get her out with a flashlight, a ladder, a rope, and plenty of prayer. Finally, when this proves fruitless, he instructs his wife to call emergency.
Hours after she fell, Annabel is rescued by the volunteer fire department. The family praises Jesus. So does Annabel - she believes she went to heaven and sat on his lap while trapped in the tree.
“He has brown hair and a brown beard and a long white robe,” she coos. “I sat on his lap and told him I wanted to stay with him, but he said I had work to fulfill on earth.” When she returned to earth, she explained, there would be nothing wrong with her, because Jesus had promised. Never mind that she had a concussion. Never mind that she could have been oxygen-deprived and hallucinating. She saw Jesus!
Annabel was air-lifted to Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, out of which she was checked early (against medical advice) by her father - because good ol’ family holiday lovin’ and a host of angels prayin’ is better than a doctor’s care and observation. When they arrived, one of the grandmothers (Maw Maw or Gran Jan or Nonny or some other absurdly named person) was enthralled by the heaven story. “...when He said there would be nothing wrong with her, then...that means she’s healed.” Praise God, power of prayer, and all the rest.
According to the book, Annabel’s symptoms have not returned. Her digestive problems are gone and she has not resumed taking any medications to relieve symptoms. And that’s wonderful - but here’s the thing: becoming asymptomatic does not mean she is cured. “We are learning more and more that the GI system has a complex interconnection with the brain,” says Selina Burt, doctor of osteopathic medicine. “A sudden adrenaline burst could somehow influence the nervous system of the GI tract. Then there’s the placebo effect,” she adds. “At any rate, I’m betting she has a return of her GI problems.”
The book smacks of scandal. It seems to be the quick fix for the recent “Heaven Is For Real” Christian publishing nightmare, and will even be released as a film in 2016.
Perhaps we should end on a note of prayer ourselves:
Thank you for allowing Annabel to be ignored by her parents and left to climb dangerously high into a tree. Thank you for kicking her out of the tree and left to suffer inside the hollow trunk, concussed, ill, and exposed to creepy-crawly things. Thank you for focusing on curing her non-life threatening digestive disorders instead of cancer. And thank you for taking all the credit for her rescue instead of giving it to the first responders and medical staff.