January 11, 2011
Heaven Is For Real w/Rev. Todd Burpo
When Colton Burpo made it through an emergency appendectomy his family was overjoyed at his miraculous survival. What they were not expecting, however, was the story that emerged in the months that followed. A story as beautiful as it is extraordinary.
Welcome to Haven Today. I’m Charles Morris sharing the great story that’s all about Jesus and this is the beginning of a series called “Heaven is for Real”. In a few moments we’re going to be traveling to Imperial, Nebraska and we’re going to be talking to a small church pastor in a very small town, Todd Burpo and he’s going to be sharing with us the story of his son Colton who almost died but then lived and then tells a most amazing story of what happened after. And if you’ll just listen to the next few minutes I’m pretty certain you’re going to want a copy of a brand new book called “Heaven is for Real”. Or you might want it on the audio version that comes on CDs. You can go to our website and learn more at haventoday.org. You can call us after the program at 1-800-654-2836. I’ll repeat all that information just a little bit later. Jeremy Camp opens this Haven Today, “There Will be a Day”.
Song: There Will Be a Day
Performed by: Jeremy Camp
Welcome to Haven Today and from Southern California we are going to Imperial, Nebraska in the southwest corner. A three hour drive from Denver and on the line with us is a pastor and a brother in the Lord, Reverend Todd Burpo. Welcome for the very first time to Haven Today Todd.
TB: I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
CM: Hey I got a phone call just before Christmas, one of our board members told me, “You’ve got to read this book.” So I went out the next day and I found it. I read it on Christmas Eve and I must say, I was very, very blessed. “Heaven is for Real” is the name of the book and really it’s a book about the life of your family and doing ministry in a small Nebraska town but it’s also the life of your son Colton, who was 4 years old who had a medical emergency. We might as well just get into the story here. How long ago did this medical emergency happen in your son Colton’s life?
TB: Well this story started for us just a little over 7 years ago, about 7 and a half years now. Colton was not quite 4 years old, he was just 2 months shy of his 4th birthday. And he all of a sudden got a really high fever, about 105. At that time there was like a flu going around town that was really, a lot of the kids were getting it and so that led to the first misdiagnosis. As a matter of fact, his sister got sick and we kind of talk about this, at one moment we had one child throwing up in the toilet in the motel and one in the tub, both of them were sick.
CM: You weren’t even at home when this first hit you.
TB: No, we were on this trip when he started showing symptoms. But now he’d gone to the doctor before and the doctor gave him some antibiotics, his fever went down and we thought, OK, he can still come on this trip. The problem is, big sister got better and he didn’t. He just kept getting worse and worse and so finally, after almost 48 hours non-stop, we’re getting really concerned, we come back to the clinic and even a friend had suggested that, could this be appendicitis? And as we looked at that, again the doctors thought it wasn’t and so they put him in the hospital to try and hydrate him and try to get him some, you know, antibiotics that way and get fluids back in his system but he continued to throw up, he continued to get worse and his little body just continued to waste away.
CM: Todd you and your wife Sonia, you must have been, well beside yourselves at this point.
TB: Well, after 4 or 5 days of seeing your child just convulsing and heaving and just being in misery, and you want to do something. And Mom was basically crying most of the time, you know, and I’m trying to be the strong one trying to be Dad, trying to go, “OK, what do we do? What do we do?”
TB: And listen to the doctor’s advice but finally after 2 days of being in the hospital then, he’d started getting sick on Saturday, we’re now at a Wednesday morning. Finally it’s like, we’ve got to do something else. And we asked for his medical tests, x-rays they’d taken and at that point in time we decided to take our son to the pediatrician up by the North Platte Regional Medical Center.
CM: And that’s how long away from Imperial?
TB: It’s a hundred miles away. So we get all our records, we take him with us and every time he has to throw up I remember pulling over, letting him do it, getting back in and keep going to North Platte. And in that trip we’re just looking at ourselves going, you know, what are we going to do? He just looks terrible. We got to the pediatrician, they did a CAT scan and that’s when we got the news that his appendix had ruptured.
TB: Now I know hindsight’s 20/20 but at that point in time the doctor’s pretty well thought Saturday, when he seemed to get better for that little bit of time, his fever went down, is probably when his appendix ruptured.
Cm: It’s kind of the eye of the storm, isn’t it? You get better for a little while but then, of course, that serious infection from a ruptured appendix begins.
TB: Yeah. Five days probably, or so, he has had his body being poisoned. And I remember the black circles around his eyes, his eyes sinking back into his head and that, that scared us more than anything. We’ve had people saying, “Well, do you have pictures of Colton at this time?” it’s like, “No Way!” I mean we never took pictures at that time because he, he scared us. And eventually, at this hospital they said we had to do emergency surgery and they had to get him in for surgery and try to clean him out. I think that the procedure, I don’t know what the medical terms are but in layman’s terms it’s kind of like an intestinal clean out, is what they did for Colton. And we were, at that time, very concerned, “Is our son going to make it?” And we of course, felt responsible. We felt like we’d made bad decisions. We’re beating up on ourselves, we’re looking at each other. We’re not pointing the fingers at each other but we’re both pointing the fingers at ourselves, you know. We, we both kind of thought we’d just blown it bad.
CM: And you, of course, you’re a pastor. You’ve seen death. You’ve been in the room with death, you can see it coming in the air. You saw death coming to your own son, didn’t you?
TB: You know, I’ve been as a pastor, beside people’s bedsides. You see them have trouble breathing, you see them start shrinking, you see the eyes kind of get set back further in their heads and all that has happened. I don’t remember Colton having trouble breathing but I just see him just getting so tired that his body – here’s my little 3 year old who just bounces and jumps – not even moving. And I remember Mom trying to hold him and he’s just laying there like a bunch of rags, not even moving. That’s one of the scariest memories I have. When they told us his appendix had ruptured and they had to do emergency surgery, we were in a hallway and she’s holding my lifeless son almost. And I wish I could forget. So we don’t have pictures. It’s been our life and dream that we could forget that. And as you can tell, we haven’t. I’ll never forget those moments and that fear, that anger, that frustration.
CM: Dad couldn’t fix it.
TB: No, I couldn’t fix anything. And to make everything worse, when they were taking him back for surgery, the person he’s screaming for is me. “Daddy, don’t let them do this to me! Daddy, don’t let them take me! Daddy! Daddy!” And you could hear his screams down the hospital, down the corridors and he’s screaming for me to stop it. I can’t do anything. I can’t, you can’t explain to a 3 year old why he needs surgery.
TB: He just doesn’t understand why his parents are letting people poke him and try to put needles in him and hurt him and I was just furious.
CM: Todd, you’ve spent your adult life as a pastor praying for people, you’ve prayed with people before surgery, you’ve prayed with family after their loved one has died. How did you and Sonia commit your son to the Lord going into surgery?
TB: One of the nurses suggested that they would take us to the waiting room. And then Sonia went that way and she started using her cell phone to call friends at church to ask people to pray with us and I had a moment to go back and get our stuff out of the pre-op room that we were in before they took Colton to surgery, the few belongings we had with us at the time. And I went in there and I remember closing the door and then I just lost it. I told God how I felt. I was trying to be strong in front of my wife, I was definitely not trying to show my fear in front of my son. I remember even asking the question, you know, “Does it pay to be a pastor? I mean I’ve made all these sacrifices for you, I’ve had a terrible year and now you’re going to take my son?” And I’ll be honest, I was, it was my lowest of the low, I was made, I was upset and probably for, I don’t know, 10 to 15 minutes there all that came out. And I thought no one was watching and no one was listening because I felt I finally had that alone spot, you know. Well, once I got done praying and kind of got that moment off my chest I picked up our stuff, went back out, rejoined my wife and then I got on my cell phone too and started to try and call as many friends as I could. As a matter of fact, I remember her battery was just about out and then she switched to my phone too because, you know just trying to call people and we were just trying to sound the alarm and tell people will you please pray with us for our son. And that’s what we were doing next.
CM: Let me just mention, if you have just joined us yes this is Haven Today. I’m Charles Morris and on with us from Imperial, Nebraska is Reverend Todd Burpo who has written a delightful, more than that, an inspiring book called “Heaven is for Real: A little boy’s astounding story of his trip to Heaven and back”. Todd, here you’ve got your son going into surgery, emergency surgery, his appendix has ruptured, you didn’t even know it had ruptured days before probably. His life is on the line, you’re crying out to the Lord but there had been a season of issues in your life as well the prior months, hadn’t there?
TB: yeah, for a person who’s normally healthy, the last time I had been in the hospital that I can remember was at age 19, which had been a lot of years before this year 7 years ago. And that prior few months I had an accident playing softball. I broke my leg very badly, had 2 spiral breaks, had to have 2 surgical procedures to set my leg and they were back to back months. And then the next month I had kidney stones and I don’t know if you’ve ever had those but they’re way more painful than breaking your leg in 2 pieces I can tell you that.
TB: And after that I had a cancer scare. We had had a biopsy and tests came back, I had to have a mastectomy. And I remember when the doctor said I’d have to have this surgery it was like, “I’m a guy! You know, this is a lady’s surgery you know?”
TB: And he’s like, “Well, no 5% of all mastectomies are performed on men and you’re going to be one of the 5.” And so I went through that in November so, August, September, October, November and so gradually, but I still had this problem. I had this cast from my ankle to my hip. I couldn’t climb ladders, I couldn’t work and it was really endangering our financial situation tremendously, you know. So I went back to rehabilitation, tried to learn how to walk again and just towards the end of February got the cast off but I was just now starting to being able to walk, just starting to be able to work again finally and my wife just looked at me and said, “You need to get away. You need a break. Let’s go celebrate the time, the end of our testing.” And we were actually on this trip to take a weekend away to celebrate the end of our trials when Colton got sick.
CM: And your daughter as well got sick but she got well.
CM: And if somebody’s listening and they’ve heard me referring to you as a pastor and you’re talking about the life of a pastor, they’re saying, “what is this, ‘get back to work’?” You’ve been a bi-vocational pastor. Explain that to us. You’re in Imperial, Nebraska pastoring the Wesleyan Church there. Tell us a little bit about that.
TB: Well, when I first got to Imperial, I really felt God wanted me here. But the church at the time had maybe a dozen people and that was it and that many people can’t afford to support a pastor and so I felt God led me to start an overhead door business, which I did. And that was the lion’s share of my income to support my family. And over the years God’s blessed and the church has grown but especially in those early years my business was very important to us as far as paying the bills. We’ve, we’ve felt it’s been a great thing. Actually I’m one person, I like being a bi-vocational pastor. I know a lot of pastors are full time and that’s great for them but I guess, this has been my calling and it’s worked very well in Imperial for us.
CM: And needless to say in Imperial, Nebraska there’s not a mega-church. You don’t pastor a mega-church, do you?
TB: No, Imperial, it’s a great town but there’s like 1800 people in the city limits of Imperial. And I know there’s a lot of towns smaller than that but when you walk into a mega church, yeah, 10 times the size of Imperial, the whole town.
CM: right, that’s right. Todd, let’s go back to that day in North Platte, and I know everybody in North Platte and surrounding areas listening to you today on KJLT describe this where Haven Today is on the air every day. Colton is in surgery but he makes it through surgery and what happens next?
TB: I remember this nurse coming through the doors, coming out into the waiting area saying, “Is Colton’s daddy out here?” And of course, you jump up quick.
CM: Yeah, what’s the news? You’ve been waiting and praying.
TB: She says these words, “Well, if you’re Colton’s daddy he keeps screaming for you. He’s woke up from recovery and he just keeps screaming for his daddy. Will you come back to us so you can help us calm him down?” This time I was grateful to hear his voice. The last time he’d left me –
CM: That meant he was alive of course!
TB: Yeah, exactly. So, I go back. I see them start to wheel him out. He’s upset, you can see he’s still wondering where I’m at. I get there, I come along side him and he calms down. Then they take us up to his room. I remember, again, they put us in a room and I think Mom steps outside to sign some more papers or call people on the phone and while we’re in the room I think Colton looks at me and it’s just us and he says, “Dad, you know I almost died?” And boy, I wasn’t ready for that. I didn’t know if he’d overheard a nurse when they thought he was under anesthesia or sedated or whatever and maybe had said that in his presence. But I wasn’t ready to have that conversation with my son so I turned him aside I said, “Colton, you need to get better. We’re going to pray, you’re going to get over this, we’re going to get out of here.” I changed the subject. I wouldn’t let him talk to me. I can remember another time in the hospital when we were alone, here’s my 3 year old and 10 months saying, “Dad, do you know I almost died?” And again it scared me to death. I was not prepared to talk to my son about dying.
CM: and as a pastor it’s one thing to talk to someone in their 70s or 80s or whatever about, “the end is here, the cancer has reached its finality” but you’re talking about your 3 year old son.
TB: Well, I felt that if we talked about it I would somehow give him permission to quit fighting and I was wrong. And I look back at that and I was wrong but that’s what I did. I can’t, I can’t make it something that it isn’t. We ended up staying at the North Platte hospital for another 15 days. I think, I look back I had 5 nights of sleep. And we were exhausted. My wife just fell apart. She was like, “I can’t do this anymore.” And my church family got together and invited people in town to pray. That night God touched my son and the same doctor that said, “We’re going to have to send him to Children’s Hospital, somewhere, you’re going to have to make a decision,” came back in the next morning and looked at our son, it’s kind of like, “What happened?” Our son was back. Here’s this bouncing kid up and around, moving around and the next day they just sent us home! So we, we left the hospital knowing that God had answered our church’s prayers.
Cm: You know who intervened.
TB: But we had no clue, yeah, about my son’s message that he was trying to get to me that he almost died at that point in time. We hadn’t let him talk. And we didn’t really hear from him and really catch what he was trying to say until 4 months later.
CM: And Todd, we’re going to talk about that on Haven Today tomorrow. The title of your book is “Heaven is for Real” and we’re going to hear what Colton had to say 4 months later when you finally did let him talk and he –
TB: Well, he finally grabbed our attention anyway.
CM: That’s right, that’s right. Yeah, not that he had a problem talking. But let me just pray for you and our listeners. I’m going to have you pray tomorrow but can we just pray?
Father, thank you for looking after your children, sometimes the outcome isn’t like the outcome that the Burpo family experienced but Lord we know that you still love us and your love was certainly present on this occasion at the hospital in North Platte, Nebraska. Lord, just as listeners come back again tomorrow and they hear the story that Colton has to tell, we want to pray that all of us would see Jesus and would experience the reality of Jesus Christ in our lives, and our need for Jesus Christ in our lives. And I pray this now in the name of Christ Jesus, amen.
Todd Burpo thanks for joining me. Come back again tomorrow, alright?
TB: I’m planning on it.
Song: I Will Rise
Performed by: Chris Tomlin
Chris Tomlin here on Haven Today, “I Will Rise”. Wasn’t that a most amazing time that we had with Todd Burpo in Imperial, Nebraska? He’s going to be back with us on the program and I hope you’ll join me for that again tomorrow. Let me tell you how I heard about “Heaven is For Real: A little boy’s astounding story of his trip to Heaven and back”. One of our board members at Haven Today gave me a call just a few days before Christmas. A friend of his who owns a chain of Christian bookstores in the southwest United States called him and said, “You’ve got to have this book.” So he went out and he was going to be driving for several hours so he got the audio version. And he called me up about halfway through and he said, “Charles, you’ve got to hear or read this book, ‘Heaven is for Real’. It will thrill your heart.” Well, I read it on Christmas Eve, just before heading off to a Christmas Eve service. It warmed my heart and I think it will yours as well. We have “Heaven is for Real: A little boy’s astounding story of his trip to Heaven and back”. We’ve got the book version, we have the audio version. You can find out more if you just go to our website, haventoday.org or you can give us a call in a moment at 1-800-654-2836. So online at haventoday.org or by calling us at 1-800-654-2836. And if you were encouraged by the last few minutes, you might want to send this program on to a friend. Just go to haventoday.org, you’ll see a place where you can type in your friend’s email address and a little note from yourself and, zoom! It’ll be on it’s way. I’m Charles Morris. Thanks for joining me. Would you come back again tomorrow when again we’re sharing this great story together? It’s all about Jesus here on Haven Today.
Heaven Is For Real
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A young boy emerges from life-saving surgery with remarkable stories of his visit to heaven.Heaven Is for Real is the true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who, during emergency surgery, slips from consciousness and enters heaven....
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