Jennifer Garner Plays Burleson Woman on the Big Screen

Annabel’s Miracle

A cottonwood tree with a carved cross marks the site of a miracle on the Beam family ranch in Burleson.

Cows graze and six dogs romp on a cold, windy January day. Christy and Kevin Beam, and their three daughters, Annabel, Abbie and Adelynn, talked with us about that miracle and the movie adaptation, Miracles From Heaven, to be released March 16.

The film is based on the memoir of the same title written by Christy Beam. It tells the true story of her daughter Annabel’s rare and painful disease and Christy’s unwavering advocacy for her healing. From the age of five, Annabel suffered from chronic intestinal disorders that are considered incurable. She was in near-constant pain and endured endless hospital visits and invasive treatments, often visiting her Boston-based gastroenterologist, Dr. Samuel Nurko. The pain was so bad that Annabel told her mother she wanted to go to heaven and live with Jesus. 

Following a life-threatening accident and a dramatic rescue, a miracle unfolds. While climbing a tree with her sisters on a sunny afternoon in December 2011, a limb cracked and 9-year-old Annabel fell 30 feet, head-first, trapping her in the old, hollowed-out trunk. She survived with no injuries. Annabel later tells her mother that she had gone to heaven, where she met Jesus. With no medical intervention or scientific reason, Annabel was completely cured of her illness.

Miracles From Heaven (Sony Pictures Entertainment) is directed by Patricia Riggen, with a screenplay by Randy Brown and produced by Joe Roth, T.D. Jakes, and DeVon Franklin. The cast includes Jennifer Garner, Martin Henderson, John Carroll Lynch, Kylie Rogers, Eugenio Derbez and Queen Latifah.

The Beam family previewed the film.

“I feel like this movie will inspire people and spread the message,” Christy says. “There are some wonderful things in my book that didn’t make it to the screen, so my heart still lies with the book. There’s a part in the movie that was a very tender moment in my book between Annabel and me. For some reason, they made it kind of a moment of frustration with one another. We never, ever had a moment like that. But, I thought overall they did a great job.”

As for Jennifer Garner’s characterization of her, Christy says, “She showed the frustration and agony I had at that time with a critically ill child. She hit it spot on.”

Christy recalls when her book was released, that people focused only on her, Annabel and Kevin, which made it difficult for their other two daughters.  Nobody wanted to hear from Adelynn and Abbie. “It was especially hard for Abbie because she is the oldest,” Christy says. “We went through this as a family, and it wasn’t fair that they were ignored. We had to work through a lot of ‘Why am I not important to this story?’ I’m happy you’re talking with all of them today.”

Annabel is 13, and she has never wavered from her story, her parents say. “The day I fell, I felt calm,” Annabel says. “That was part of God being with me. I wasn’t afraid or anything like that. That’s part of the miracle.”

Annabel clearly remembers going to heaven. She remembers seeing her great-grandmother. She remembers sitting on Jesus’ lap and talking with him. “Jesus had brown hair and a brown beard and a white robe with a purple sash,” she says. “We spoke back and forth. He said when I got back, I wouldn’t have any pain. I said, ‘Can I stay?’ He said, ‘No, Annabel, I have plans for you on Earth that you cannot fulfill in heaven.’ Then he said, ‘I will send a guardian angel back with you to light the tree.’ In heaven, I didn’t feel any pain, and that’s why I asked if I could stay,” she continues. “I was thinking that if I came back, I would be in pain.” 

She remembers coming back to the tree, and a firefighter trying to pull her out and asking her what she liked to watch on TV. “He said that his girls like to watch Hannah Montana. I said, ‘Hannah has been canceled for like a year.’ That was how he knew I was responding,” Annabel says laughing.

Annabel felt guilty because her dad had to sell his truck and his motorcycle to pay the bills. “Sometimes I would miss my sisters because most of the time I was in Boston. When I was home, I didn’t feel like playing,” Annabel says. “I would tell my mother that I wanted to die and go to live with Jesus where there was no pain. A lot of people are afraid of dying. I don’t know why. Pretty much, you live your life to die, you know? I don’t want other people to be afraid.” 

Abbie is 15 now. She says that she remembered at age 11 worrying about Annabel and having a lot of responsibility for her little sister. “Anytime Annabel was in the hospital, I would be so scared that it would be the last time I would see her. Also, I had to take on the role as the little mom with Adelynn,” she says. “I was with her constantly, and our mom wasn’t able to be with her a lot. I had to grow up fast, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing,” she continues.

Abbie fell into a deep depression after Annabel was healed. “It’s weird that I fell into that after she was better, but I think it was because it was such a life-changing experience, that I finally was able to feel everything. Before, I couldn’t feel because I had to take care of things. I think if I can get out of something like that, and my sister can get out of it, you can get through anything.”

Abbie is excited that all of her friends and family will be able to see the movie. “I want my friends who are not necessarily Christian to see it and start thinking about how it could impact their lives,” she says. “The book and the movie are so different, so I really want people to read the book, too.”

The youngest sister, Adelynn, is 11, and equally as insightful as Abbie and Annabel.

“Oh, I remember tons about when Annabel was sick,” she says. “My mom was never there. I didn’t have anyone to play with. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this, but now, whenever I play games and stuff, I don’t really like playing on my own. I think that’s because for so long, I had no one to play with.” Her friends ask questions about the movie, she says, but not as much as we might think. “They know, and sometimes they ask me, but it’s not like every time a sentence is brought up, it’s about the movie, you know?” Adelynn likes the movie but says it was hard to watch. “To think we went through all of that . . . and my dad sold his motorcycle, and he loved his motorcycle.”

Adelynn hopes the movie will give encouragement and help people believe in heaven and miracles.

Kevin is a veterinarian, hence, the six dogs. He says Annabel’s illness was hard on the entire family. “It wasn’t as if we sat around the table and said, ‘Woe is me,’ and calling attention to it. We all made sacrifices,” Kevin says. “I would much rather the girls remember the sacrifices instead of us having a motorcycle or a nice truck. That’s going to stick with them, I think.”

Christy describes Kevin as a pillar of encouragement through Annabel’s illness and the challenges in writing the book.

“I’m incredibly proud of Christy and this entire creation of the story of what our family went through, that she brought into the world with such detail, skill and passion,” Kevin says. “And I’m proud of the fact that this has resonated with so many people. It hasn’t been easy for her to create a book, to get somebody to listen to her and represent her. To continue even now as she’s in the next process of having to do interviews and have people come with movie cameras . . . she has handled it all with such amazing grace,” he says. “And I think it’s incredible for our girls to see their mother step into a completely different role.”

Watching the movie was an emotionally strange event, Kevin says. “It was exciting, fun, nerve-racking, everything all wrapped up in one. Reliving that period in our life was a cathartic event for Christy. For me, it was the furthest thing I would want to do. I’m glad God put this on her heart.”

Christy says the take-away from her book and the movie is that God is faithful. “No matter how long it takes, God is faithful in the big things and the little things, and oftentimes, when we are waiting on that big thing, we miss those little things,” she says. “I wish someone had told me to look up in the times of trial because I was missing all of those little miracles that were going on all around me, waiting on the big ones. So, look up.” 

Even if you don’t have a miracle, God has a bigger plan, Annabel says. “Don’t lose faith if God doesn’t do what you want when you want it. He is real. He is great. He is there for you.”

To order the book MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN: A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven, and Her Amazing Story of Healing, or learn more about this story, visit christybeam.com.