From Heaven To
“90 Minutes in Heaven” is a true story that covers 15 years of Don Piper’s life and is best described as a tragedy with an unusual twist. We know what is happening in Don’s life now and where his journey eventually ends.
What is surprising is the beginning.
Traveling home from a church conference, Don’s car is met head-on by an eighteen-wheeler. The car was totaled and so was Don, at least for the better part of two hours.
Don was trapped in his car with all four limbs broken, those on the left side mangled. Pronounced dead by medical personnel, he remained in his car for 90 minutes (hence the name of the book) while traffic was being cleared.
Though glum it wasn’t all bad. Don, while dead, found himself in heaven experiencing what he confesses is difficult to put into words:
- Being met by a host of friends and family who seemed to know he was coming.
- Being enveloped by a light the brilliance of which was beyond earthly comprehension.
- The ravages of old age, slumped postures and wrinkles, gone.
- Time had no meaning.
- Joy pulsating through him.
- An array of colors not known on earth.
- Celestial tunes that surpassed anything he had ever heard.
But, for whatever reason, after experiencing a taste of heavenly bliss, God sent Don back to earth. . .and excruciating pain. His dream was countered with a nightmare.
Confined to a bed for over a year and living with constant pain, he longed for death – his return ticket to heaven.
Initially the pain was so severe and constant, sleep only came when he passed out.
Stories of Near Death Experiences (NDE’s) are often viewed skeptically, and interestingly, that is also true for Don Piper. In his words he was and still is “fascinated but…highly skeptical” when hearing others describe their experience. To him, they generally seem “too rehearsed and disturbingly similar.”
That may be one of the reasons it was a full year and a half before he reluctantly shared his visit to heaven with a close friend. It was even longer before he shared full disclosure publicly. For him the experience was too personal and sacred to expose to public scrutiny.
But as Don slowly began to share his story he learned that people were reassured by his experience. Long before the book was in print, Don’s experience was shared through recordings and we won’t know until we get to heaven how many others are there because of it.
Heaven, though the center piece, is only a part of the story. His treatment and recovery is the other side of the coin.
Don’s injuries were treated with a relatively new device, the Ilizarov fixator. Though effective, the treatment usually sends the patient into severe depression. In Don’s case, having previously been to heaven made the effects of this treatment even worse.
Confinement is so long and the pain so unrelenting that when possible, candidates go through six months of psychological preparation before hand. Don didn’t have that luxury. Nor do many others and Don has on several occasions been an encouragement to those going through the experience.
Though limited by his injuries, Don is not idle. He writes a weekly newspaper column and speaks regularly throughout the United States and abroad.
Don also endorsed “Heaven Is For Real,” the true life story of Colton Burpo’s visit to heaven while undergoing an appendectomy. The stories are similar and different in interesting ways:
- At 38 Don had many friends and family members already in heaven, all of whom greeted him on his arrival. He recognized them immediately and enjoyed a short reunion.
Colton, on the other hand, was not quite four years old so there weren’t a large number of acquaintances to greet him. People knew him but he wasn’t aware of them before his visit to heaven.
- Most people wonder why Don didn’t see Jesus and Colton did. Colton’s testimony may give us the answer.
One of the prominent aspects of his experience was how much Jesus loved children. He was greeted by Jesus on arrival and sat on His lap. Since there was no one else to greet Colton, at least ones he knew, Jesus made sure to be there for him. A fantastic thought! Not only does it fit well with descriptions of how Jesus related to children in the Bible it also further substantiates Colton’s story.
- Don’s accident was followed by a long drawn out convalescence which really never ended. Over time Don has ministered to thousands.
Colton’s recovery was made difficult by the extent to which his condition worsened before surgery but it was short by comparison and only involved standard procedures. Colton’s story has impacted many but we have yet to tell how much greater the impact will be.
- Don was pronounced dead, Colton wasn’t.
- The exact details of the things they reported from their visit don’t match up perfectly but both describe an atmosphere of happiness and security. They both felt loved and comfortable in their surroundings.
- Colton was in heaven for 4 minutes Don was there for 90. On the surface that seems to be a difference. The truth is 4 minutes wouldn’t be enough time for Colton to do everything he did in heaven and it wouldn’t take 90 minutes for Don to do what he did. The truth? Heaven is eternal and not affected by time. As Don put it, time didn’t seem to matter.
- Neither shared their stories immediately. There is no grand standing or sensationalism. Colton shared the details as they came to mind, Don only after being encouraged to do so by friends and family.
- The descriptions by both are vivid, Colton in the language of a small child and Don in the language of a mature individual but both spontaneously as if describing personal experience. Nothing contrived.
- It is much more prominent in Don’s experience but recovery for both was accompanied by much prayer. A few months into Don’s recovery his first remarks in a public setting were, “you prayed, I’m here!”
- Both report the absence of any evidence of old age in heaven.
- The survival of both is miraculous.
- The recovery of both was overwhelmingly supported by church family and friends.
Discussion questions for “Heaven Is For Real” can be found here.
And there’s more. Hope you enjoy the reads:
- 90 Minutes in Heaven
- Heaven Is For Real. For a review go here.
- Discussion questions for “Heaven Is For Real” can be found here.
Heaven Is For Real now has a DVD-Based Conversation Kit which is great for families or small groups. It includes five sessions lasting 10 to 18 minutes each featuring Colton and his parents, Todd and Sonja, answering FAQ’s about heaven and their experiences.
You can buy Heaven Is For Real inexpensively here.
A great companion book is “The Shack,” a fictional story of one man’s experience with tragedy and God’s compassionate response. The book is theological in a very down to earth way.
These are books to read more than once and discuss with family and friends.