Don’t Stop Believing: The Magic of Christmas

This is an excerpt from my book, Simple Mercies, that I wanted to share in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s Feast Day this past Sunday.

During one Christmas season, I was reminded of the power of prayer when I became one of the prayer warriors trying to get a forty-nine-year-old man named Joe out of prison. I know that doesn’t conjure the same feelings of drinking hot cocoa in footed pajamas by the fire like your typical Christmas story does. Still, it’s a powerful reminder of what can happen when we believe – not only in God but in one another.

As one of six boys, Joe grew up next door to my friend, Cecy. Despite having three young kids at home, she worked for years trying to get her childhood friend out of prison. Joe had been arrested for buying cocaine for personal use and was charged and sentenced as a trafficker. His punishment was twenty years with no chance of parole. He had already served thirteen.

Joe had made appeals all the way to the Florida Supreme Court — each one denied. The only hope he had was clemency from the governor to commute his sentence. That’s when the ordinary became extraordinary. Joe was finally granted a clemency hearing. Sadly, his mom passed away less than a month before his hearing. Joe learned of her death from a prison guard and was unable to attend her funeral. The tragedy of it hardly made me think of the word, believe. Yet when his hearing was finally held, I was visiting New York City where over the Macy’s store on 34th Street, a huge sign in brilliant white lights said only one word: Believe. While I wasn’t sure whether I believed our prayers would be answered in the way that we wanted, I was inspired by the people who believed Joe deserved another chance and did something about it. I had faith that no matter what, God would use the situation for good. I had already seen how many people it had united in prayer and I felt the shared hope that a miracle was possible. I very much wanted to believe. Read more

Heaven is for real; Earth is for miracles

You know that big spread in the high school yearbook where the senior superlatives tout the “most attractive,” “most athletic,” “best all around,” etc.?  Well, heaven knows I didn’t get one.

Instead, I was on another page in our yearbook where there were more non-traditional, dubious superlatives assigned. Some were “Eddie Haskell Award,” “Biggest Flirt,” “Most Likely to Burn Down the School,” and “Could Give the Best Dirty Look.”

The one picked for me was “Most Gullible.”

I like to think it was a fancy way of calling me nice. Or, maybe someone just told me that is what it meant and I believed them.

In any case, I have not bought any swamp land, taken any wooden nickels or sent any money to Nigeria, so I think I am doing okay.

Still, when the book, Heaven is for Real came out and I learned the story of Todd Burpo’s son, Colton, who went to heaven during an emergency appendectomy, I believed it.

I believe in God, in miracles and in heaven, so to me none of it is too far-fetched.

Miracles are all around us. I think we just get kind of numb to them. We go to the beach and we forget to marvel at the vastness of the ocean teeming with exotic life. Someone has a baby and we may think to make a casserole, but we don’t stop and think how absolutely phenomenal it is that a man and a woman can create life.

But Colton went to heaven. Heaven.

The Burpo family gave a talk at a nearby church tonight and my family and I attended. I didn’t go as a skeptic, but as a believer.

Burpo talked about how angry he was with God when he thought he was going to lose his son. I loved that he went to God with his anger. I think our inclination is to turn away from God when we feel such rage.

As Burpo tells it, while he was raging on God, his son Colton was sitting in Jesus’s lap. I thought that was such a poignant image to think about. When we feel angry, ignored or betrayed by God, it rarely occurs to us that He is indeed with us, embracing us. We are always in His care.

Burpo, a pastor, spoke about his struggle with faith when he was confronted with his son’s account of heaven. Perhaps, that was what was hardest for me to grasp.

I had no trouble believing, why did he?

But then I think of what it is like before the book, the New York Times Best Seller’s lists, the movie, all of which validated the possibility of this miracle. I thought of the clarity of Colton’s claims, some of which go against traditional church teachings such as animals being in heaven. I thought of Burpo putting his career and reputation on the line to stand up to such an incredulous notion that a child that never even died went to heaven — not came from heaven, but went to heaven; sat on Jesus’s lap; saw the sister who was never born; hung out with some angels and then came back to this reality which is not nearly as pleasant, but that we are all more comfortable believing.

And, I understood his doubt and was left in awe of his faith to work past those doubts, to take the risks that he did and to share his miracle with the world.

One of my most favorite things that I heard Burpo say though was that his son was not special. I believe him. I listened to Colton speak and I listened to him sing. I think he is a great kid. But so are my kids and so are yours and so are the ones in Africa, China and Timbuktu.

I believe in an extraordinary God and I believe in the ordinariness of His people in the sense that none of us are without sin. I believe in equality and although it is lacking on earth, I believe that God loves us all passionately and individually – but not one more than the other. I do not believe that He has favorites. I do not believe He gives out superlatives.

Colton experienced a miracle, and I bet you have too. We need to remember to look for the miracles in our lives because they remind us of God’s enduring love. They strengthen our faith and help us get through times of doubt.

His miracles are never ordinary, but I dare say they are often. Whether they get shared with the world or not, whether you believe in them is up to you.

As for me, “Most Gullible, Class of 1990,” I choose to believe.

If you have experienced a miracle in your life, please share it in the comment section. If you believe in miracles, please share this post with someone. Praying for miracles today and the openness, the willingness to notice them.  To read more about being closer to God: http://larapatangan.com/2018/02/06/stillness-finding-god/ and to read more of the Burpo story https://www.heavenlive.org/