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Living faith: Parent tells story linking prayer, timing

I had a prior commitment the night of the recent “Heaven is for Real” presentation at the Fargodome, but when a friend offered her extra ticket a couple nights before the event, I rethought my course and agreed to accompany her to the show.

The event was part Christian rock concert, part discussion with Todd and Sonja Burpo, parents of Colton Burpo, the teenager from Nebraska who claims he visited heaven during a near-death experience when he was 4.

My friend and I both went into it with a similar mindset. We wanted to believe Colton’s testimony, but we had some unanswered questions we were hoping would be satisfied that night. We were firm on the hope that no matter the outcome, we’d come away with something valuable.

For me, one of the treasures of the evening was a story Colton’s father, Todd, told about a recent incident while traveling by airplane with his wife.

He described sitting in a triple-seat row with a third passenger squished in next to them. It was a woman, and she had a yellow book in her lap. Turned out it was the best-selling account of his son’s visit to heaven that Todd himself had written.

Sonja nudged him, as if to say, “Well, aren’t you going to do something?” So being the dutiful husband, he asked the woman if she’d like him to sign her book.

“Why?” she asked, and he proceeded to explain he was the author, and Colton’s father. She didn’t believe him, so after a brief discussion, he asked to see the book. Reluctantly, she handed it over, and he proceeded to flip to the pictures in the middle.

Finding one of himself, he put it up next to his face, turned to her and said, “I’m not any better looking in person, I know.”

And then, to his dismay, the woman started to cry. He wouldn’t find out later the full reason for her tears, but in a letter she wrote him after their encounter, all was revealed.

She’d wanted to believe the story, she told him, but she just wasn’t sure. Was God even real, she’d wondered? So she asked him, “God, if you’re real and this is true, let me know somehow.”

The very next day Todd Burpo showed up on the same flight on the same day in a seat right next to her.

Most believers would call this an answered prayer – God revealing his love to one of his creatures through a situation it would be hard to name as simple coincidence.

Some would call it a “God-incidence,” and say there’s something about the timing of it that gives it credibility.

The whole prayer and timing thing first came to my attention a few years back while pursuing an article on faith during flooding.

During one interview, as the subject began sharing different “God-incidences” that had occurred while her home was being encircled by flood waters, I began playing devil’s advocate.

“What makes you feel these were actual answers to prayer?” I pressed. “Couldn’t it have just been the goodness of humanity springing into action? Why give God the credit?”

She paused only a moment then said, “Well, it was the timing.”

She went on to explain that each blessing that had come her way then had been specific to the particular challenge at hand. The way it was resolved, including the person involved – someone who just happened to have what was needed to turn things right, and at the moment it was needed – assured her the divine hand was at work.

For non-believers, this likely would not be enough. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” they’d say. A feeling just won’t do. Where’s the real evidence?

But, as Albert Einstein once remarked, “You can live as if nothing is a miracle, or as if everything is a miracle.”

And the beautiful thing is that we all get to choose. We can look at the darkened, sun-less side of the stained-glass window, or the side reflecting sunshine and the incredible array of colors.

I choose the sun-reflecting-color side, the miracle, the “God-incidence.”

What about you?