Heaven is for real

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014


(Editor’s note: This regular features column is open to all our readers. Tell us about a favorite or not so favorite book and help us nurture a love of reading once more. A 1,000 to 1,200 word essay will do. Email it to sunstar_baguio@yahoo.com or to mayanne.cacdac@gmail.com with your complete details and picture. Subject line: lost between pages. We will be waiting for your contributions!)

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GRANDPA Willy rowed the boat while Mayumi stared at the pine trees reflected on the lake’s glass-like waters.

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Grandpa Willy stops at the middle of the lake, dips his forefinger into it. “Look, Mayumi, there’s your mom. As usual, she’s in the baking supply store. And there’s your lola with Gabby.”

“Lola’s teaching him to write, Lolo!” Mayumi said, delighted.

“Look, there’s Tita Anne, Lolo. She’s on her journal again. She has the same prayer every day.”

Grandpa Willy ruffles Mayumi’s wavy hair and marvels at her long lashes, same lashes as her twin brother, Gabriel. He goes back to watching his daughter at her journal. “Patience, darling, patience,” he thought.

This was my journal entry on April 19, 2012. A lame attempt at short story writing. In retrospect it was an attempt to draw up memories of my father. I never got to finish it. It was too overwhelming. A picture in my mind of my Pops and his granddaughter – Gabriel’s twin – Mayumi, together.

It was what I envision heaven to be. I think of heaven and I think pine trees and a lake where our departed loved ones go to watch us and listen to our prayers.

Before embarking on this book, I first opted to read “Proof of Heaven: A neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife" by Dr. Eben Alexander. Both books dwell on the subject of “near death experience”.

“Proof of Heaven” has been on my reading list for the longest time. But something was holding me back from reading it. I was afraid I wasn’t ready for what I was going to learn. About life and death, heaven and hell.

But I knew I had to read a scientist’s account before I could pick up the account of a 4-year old. The more skeptic one first, I said.
Dr. Alexander’s account floored me. This? This changed me.
Grandpa Willy rowed the boat while Mayumi stared at the pine trees reflected on the lake’s glass-like waters.

Grandpa Willy stops at the middle of the lake, dips his forefinger into it. “Look, Mayumi, there’s your mom. As usual, she’s in the baking supply store. And there’s your lola with Gabby.”

“Lola’s teaching him to write, Lolo!” Mayumi said, delighted.
“Look, there’s Tita Anne, Lolo. She’s on her journal again. She has the same prayer every day.”

Grandpa Willy ruffles Mayumi’s wavy hair and marvels at her long lashes, same lashes as her twin brother, Gabriel. He goes back to watching his daughter at her journal. “Patience, darling, patience,” he thought.

This was my journal entry on April 19, 2012. A lame attempt at short story writing. In retrospect it was an attempt to draw up memories of my father. I never got to finish it. It was too overwhelming. A picture in my mind of my Pops and his granddaughter – Gabriel’s twin – Mayumi, together.

It was what I envision heaven to be. I think of heaven and I think pine trees and a lake where our departed loved ones go to watch us and listen to our prayers.

Before embarking on this book, I first opted to read “Proof of Heaven: A neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife" by Dr. Eben Alexander. Both books dwell on the subject of “near death experience”.

“Proof of Heaven” has been on my reading list for the longest time. But something was holding me back from reading it. I was afraid I wasn’t ready for what I was going to learn. About life and death, heaven and hell.

But I knew I had to read a scientist’s account before I could pick up the account of a 4-year old. The more skeptic one first, I said.
Dr. Alexander’s account floored me. This? This changed me.

Angels sang to me

“Do you remember the hospital, Colton” Sonja said.

“Yes, Mommy, I remember ,” he said. “That’s where the angels sang to me.” “What did they sing to you?” Colton turned his eyes up and to the right, the attitude of remembering. “Well, they sang ‘Jesus Loves me’ and “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho,’” he said earnestly. “I asked them to sing ‘We will, We Will Rock You’ but they wouldn’t sing that.”

Colton Burpo, son of Todd, a pastor, and Sonja, a teacher, was not four years old when he was misdiagnosed for stomach flu which turned out to be a ruptured appendix. Without proper care for his real condition, Colton almost died due to poisoning.

He spent 14 days in the hospital. And according to him, three minutes of which were spent in heaven.

Before his stint at the hospital, Todd had to be operated on for breaking a leg during a baseball game and had a mastectomy. By the time Colton got out of the hospital the Burpos have accumulated bills which were beyond what a pastor and teacher could pay for.

“Dad, Jesus used Dr. O’Holleran to help fix me,” he said, standing at the end of the counter with his hands on his hips. “You need to pay him.”

“By the end of the week, our mailbox was full again – but with gifts, not bills. Church members, close friends, and even people who only knew us from a distance responded to our need without our even asking.”

It is those candid statements during the unguarded moments, which drove me to finish the book in record time (two hours).

Jesus has markers

Being the only one among my cousins who did not finish her schooling in a Catholic School, I never heard Bible stories growing up. My pops, who I never considered as religious but who held on to his faith in a different manner, told me stories off the American classic novels instead.

And so I always had questions about the Resurrection. Or how Jesus truly looked like when He appeared before his disciples before “ascending into heaven.”

“Hey, Colton, can I ask you something else about Jesus?” He nodded but didn’t look up from his devastating attack on a little pile of X-Men.

Abruptly, Colton put down his toys and looked up at me. “Jesus has markers.” “What?” “Markers, Daddy…Jesus has markers. And he has brown hair and he has hair on his face,” he said. “And his eyes…oh, Dad, his eyes are so pretty!” “Colton, where are Jesus’ markers?” Without hesitation, he stood to his feet. He held out his right hand, palm up and pointed to the center of it with his left. Then he held out his left palm and pointed with his right hand. Finally Colton bent over and pointed to the tops of both his feet. “That’s where Jesus’ markers are, Daddy,” he said.

He was answering your prayer

Is there a wrong and right way to pray?

I have always asked myself this. Those times I believed I was praying fervently for something but seemed to be unanswered I always asked myself, was I praying the wrong way? Do I have to learn the rosary by heart? Do I have to kneel in prayer? Do I have to say my prayers aloud? Alone? In church?

“Daddy, remember when I yelled for you in the hospital when I waked up?” How could I forget? It was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. “Of course, I do,” I said. “Well, the reason I was yelling was that Jesus came to get me. He said I had to go back because he was answering your prayer. That’s how come I was yelling for you.” Suddenly, my knees felt weak underneath me. I flashed back to my prayers alone, raging at God, and my prayers in the waiting room, quiet and desperate. I remembered how scared I was, agonizing over whether Colton would hang on through the surgery, whether he’d live long enough for me to see his precious face again. Those were the longest, darkest ninety minutes of my life.

And Jesus answered my prayer? Personally? After I had yelled at God, chastising him, questioning his wisdom and his faithfulness? Why would God even answer a prayer like that? And how did I deserve his mercy?

Pop and I have two sisters

Ever wondered if our departed loved ones actually meet each other in heaven?

I have. I wondered desperately as to who welcomed my Pops in the afterlife. His father? His younger brother? My fallen pilot, Ramon? See, my father was always very sociable. He loved being surrounded by family and friends.

This desperation grew when my older sister’s daughter, Mayumi, Gabriel’s twin, died 14 days after they were prematurely born at 6 months. Was pops there to meet her?

“Dad, you had a grandpa named Pop, didn’t you?” “Yes, sure did,” I said. Colton smiled. “He’s really nice.” “So you saw Pop,” I said. “Yeah, I got to stay with him in heaven.” “Mommy, I have two sisters,” Colton said. “I have two sisters. You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?” Just a few seconds before, Colton had been trying unsuccessfully to get his mom to listen to him. Now, even from the kitchen table I could see that he had her undivided attention. “Who told you I had a baby die in my tummy?” Sonja said, her tone serious. “She did, Mommy.” “It’s okay, Mommy,” he said. “She’s okay. God adopted her.”

Someday

I don’t think I will get around to finishing my short story about Pops and Mayumi looking down on us from heaven anytime soon. But I can picture them vividly. Or maybe these are memories of me and my father.

Todd Burpo’s account of his son’s extraordinary experience did not answer all the questions I have about death, suffering, illness, loss and grief. Their family said this, too.

"We still don’t have all the answers – not even close. But now we have a picture in our minds, a picture we can look at and say, ‘Wow’."

I love the way my mom sums it up: “Ever since this happened,” she told me, “I think more about what it might really be like in heaven. I accepted the idea of heaven before, but now I visualize it. Before, I’d heard, but now I know that someday I’m going to see.”

However, this is what I have taken away from this book – to someday see.

I pray we all someday see.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on June 05, 2014.

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