This month sees the UK release of a movie about a real-life miracle that changed the life of a little girl with a life-threatening disease. Joanna Moorhead talks to her mother about how her faith was tested – and how her daughter came to eventually be healed.
In the garden of the Beam family home there’s a tree with a large cross carved into the bark. That tree represents a miracle; and not a miracle from centuries ago, but a miracle that changed the present-day lives of the Beam family and most especially their middle daughter Annabel, now 13.
Because five years ago Annabel, who had been suffering from an incurable chronic disease which sapped all her energy, fell out of a tree; and instead of being killed or horribly injured, as the doctors agreed was what should have happened, she emerged not only unscathed but cured of her terrible illness. Her mum Christy wrote a book about what happened – and it’s now been made into a movie starring Jennifer Garner which is about to open in the UK.
Quite simply, Christy, 43, tells me from their home in Texas, what happened to Annabel was a miracle. ‘I had struggled with my faith, questioning God about where He was in our lives and why he didn’t seem to be hearing us,’ she remembers. But on that day in December 2011 God did hear her – and how. Annabel, who was out playing with her sister in the garden, fell 30 feet from one of the branches into the hollow tree trunk; it took firefighters five hours to rescue her, and they feared she might die before they could reach her.
But after being airlifted to hospital, Annabel was put through a battery of tests that showed she’d escaped without injury. That was one miracle; but the bigger one was to come. When they got home, Christy realised that her daughter, who had been in almost constant pain for four years, didn’t need her medication any more. Annabel was playing and running around and eating normally and behaving just like her sisters Abigail, now 16, and Adelynn, now 11. More hospital tests revealed that her rare medical condition, pseudo obstruction motility disorder, had disappeared. ‘What the doctors told us was that when Annabel hit her head in the fall, the software in her brain was somehow reset – and her condition righted itself,’ says Christy.
It was back in 2006 when Annabel, then aged four, started to suffer with chronic tummy troubles. Medical tests eventually showed an abdominal obstruction and then came the devastating diagnosis. Annabel, her parents Christy and Kevin, 44, were told, could not be cured and would need more and more medicines, and might even die. To give her the best chance of life, Christy and Annabel began to make the long trip by air to see America’s leading specialist on the condition – but to pay for it meant taking out big loans, separating the close-knit family and putting them under enormous strain.
Meanwhile Annabel was suffering terribly. She couldn’t eat normally, and was on ten different medications throughout the day to give her a better quality of life. Any virus or bacterial infection meant a hospital stay and a period when she would have to be fed intravenously so her intestines could rest. At home, she was barely able to do more than lie on the sofa through the day with a heating pad on her stomach to help ease the pain.
Their Christian faith was a big support to the Beam family – although Christy admits she struggled to understand how a loving God could allow them to go through such suffering. ‘Everyone in our church community was so kind, but I did have some big questions,’ she remembers. ‘What I can now see is that I just put my head down and carried on. And what I should have done is to look up and notice how many signs there were of God’s love all around me, because I wasn’t in the dark place I thought I was in – there was light around me, if only I’d noticed.’
The film, which Christy says is broadly true to life, makes clear that although there was one big miracle in Annabel’s story, there were lots of what you might call ‘everyday’ miracles as well; and, says Christy, these were just as important to the happy outcome. ‘There were so many people along the way who supported us and helped us and walked with us,’ she says. One of them is featured in the film – a Boston waitress called Angela who befriends Christy and Annabel when they come to eat in her restaurant, and takes them out sightseeing. ‘She then became a really good friend, and it was so wonderful to have someone in this big city on the other side of the country when we were on our long visits there.’ In the movie others are responsible for more ‘everyday miracles’: an airline employee gives the rest of the family the chance to get on a flight to Boston even though Kevin’s credit card seems to be declined, and a hospital receptionist gets Annabel a consultation with a doctor who’s booked up for months.
All the same, their options were fast running out, and Annabel was weak and in a lot of pain, when in December 2011 she went out to play with her sisters in the garden. For a while Christy thought all was well; then came a commotion, and Abigail ran into the house screaming that Annabel had fallen into the tree. Kevin, who’s a vet, raced home from work and got a ladder so he could peer down into the tree; what he could see was his daughter curled up inside the trunk of the tree.
Firefighters were called and worked for hours to get her out, and she was rushed to hospital where the amazing discovery was made that she was unscathed. And it was when they were on the way home that Annabel told Christy that she had felt she went to heaven when she was trapped in the tree – but that God had told her that her time to die wasn’t yet.
Christy says the big lesson she feels she learned from Annabel’s illness, and miraculous recovery, is always to have faith in God and His plan. ‘If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that God has a plan for everyone’s life,’ she says. ‘God made everyone for a purpose and He has a purpose and a plan for each of us.’
Today, says Christy, Annabel is like her sisters and her schoolmates: an entirely healthy young girl, not on any medication at all, enjoying life and growing up fast. ‘She couldn’t eat normally for four years, so now she jokes she’s making up for lost time,’ says Christy. ‘She’s very strong, very lively, in every way full of life. It’s something that, just a few years ago, we wouldn’t have thought was even possible. And what I hope our story says to others is: never give up hope. However hard life looks, however bad things seem, keep hope alive in your heart.’
Miracles from Heaven, directed by Patricia Riggin, is released in the UK on 10 June. For more information and free resources, including resources designed for church groups, go to www.miracles.damarismedia.com