When Colton recalled his experience in the hospital, I was sure it was evidence of the afterlife.
Feb 25, 2011
The Fourth of July holiday calls up memories of patriotic parades, the savory scents of smoky barbecue, sweet corn, and night skies bursting with showers of light. But for my family, the July Fourth weekend of 2003 was a big deal for other reasons.
My wife, Sonja, and I had planned to take the kids to visit Sonja’s brother, Steve, and his family in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It would be our first chance to meet our nephew, Bennett. But the biggest deal of all was this: this trip would be the first time we’d left our hometown of Imperial, Nebraska, since a family trip to Greeley, Colorado, in March had turned into the worst nightmare of our lives.
To put it bluntly, the last time we had taken a family trip, one of our children almost died. But we packed up a weekend’s worth of paraphernalia in our blue Ford Expedition and got our family ready to head north. Cassie, age six, and Colton, four, were excited.
It wasn’t quite 10 p.m. when we pulled onto Jeffers Street in North Platte and I noticed we were passing through the traffic light where, if we turned left, we’d wind up at the Great Plains Regional Medical Center. That was where we’d spent fifteen nightmarish days in March, much of it on our knees, praying for God to spare Colton’s life.
“Do you remember the hospital, Colton?” Sonja said.
“Yes, Mommy, I remember,” he said. “That’s where the angels sang to me.”
Inside the Expedition, time froze. Sonja and I looked at each other, passing a silent message: Did he just say what I think he said?
Sonja leaned over and whispered, “Has he talked to you about angels before?” I shook my head. “You?” She shook her head.
I spotted an Arby’s, pulled into the parking lot, and switched off the engine. Twisting in my seat, I peered back at Colton. In that moment, I was struck by his smallness, his little boyness. He was really just a little guy who still spoke with an endearing (and sometimes embarrassing) call-it-like-you-see-it innocence.
Finally, I plunged in: “Colton, you said that angels sang to you while you were at the hospital?”
He nodded his head vigorously.
“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.”
As Cassie giggled softly, I noticed that Colton’s answer had been quick and matter-of-fact, without a hint of hesitation.
Sonja and I exchanged glances again. What’s going on? Did he have a dream in the hospital?
And one more unspoken question: What do we say now?
A natural question popped into my head: “Colton, what did the angels look like?”
He chuckled at what seemed to be a memory. “Well, one of them looked like Grandpa Dennis, but it wasn’t him, ’cause Grandpa Dennis has glasses.”
Then he grew serious. “Dad, Jesus had the angels sing to me because I was so scared. They made me feel better.”
I glanced at Sonja again and saw that her mouth had dropped open. I turned back to Colton. “You mean Jesus was there?”
My little boy nodded as though reporting nothing more remarkable than seeing a ladybug in the front yard. “Yeah, Jesus was there.”
“Well, where was Jesus?”
Colton looked me right in the eye. “I was sitting in Jesus’ lap.”
If there are Stop buttons on conversations, that was one of them right there.
I ventured another question. “Colton, where were you when you saw Jesus?”
He looked at me as if to say, Didn’t we just talk about this? “At the hospital. You know, when Dr. O’Holleran was working on me.”
“Well, Dr. O’Holleran worked on you a couple of times, remember?” I said. Colton had both an emergency appendectomy and then an abdominal clean-out. “Are you sure it was at the hospital?”
Colton nodded. “Yeah, at the hospital. When I was with Jesus, you were praying, and Mommy was talking on the phone.”
That definitely meant he was talking about the hospital. But how in the world did he know where we had been?
“But you were in the operating room, Colton,” I said. “How could you know what we were doing?”
“’Cause I could see you,” Colton said matter-of-factly. “I went up out of my body and I was looking down and I could see the doctor working on my body. And I saw you and Mommy. You were in a little room by yourself, praying; and Mommy was in a different room, and she was praying and talking on the phone.”
Colton’s words rocked me to my core. Sonja’s eyes were wider than ever, but she said nothing, just stared at me and absently bit into her sandwich.
That was all the information I could handle at that point. I started the engine, steered the Expedition back onto the street, and pointed us toward South Dakota. Our little boy had said some pretty incredible stuff—and he had backed it up with credible information, things there was no way he could have known. We had not told him what we were doing while he was in surgery, under anesthesia, apparently unconscious.
Over and over, I kept asking myself, How could he have known? But by the time we rolled across the South Dakota state line, I had another question: Could this be real?