In the film Heaven is for Real and the book by the same name, 4-year old Colton Burpo says heaven is definitely a real place because he's been there. That's what 72-year old Ernie French will tell you too.
"I'd left my body and I was at the top of the room," Ernie said when he talked with me about his perspective of the scene. "I was observing all kinds of people trying to resuscitate me, force a tube down my throat. I heard my doctor say, 'Oh no, I think we've lost him!' That's when I was transported to heaven."
For five days, the patient lay in the specialized Intensive Care Unit, his vitals maintained by life support. Pneumonia, kidney failure and congestive heart failure had taken their toll.
"Every day, they asked if we should unhook him," daughter Shelley Wood remembered of the grim days and nights in March 2013. "I'd lay my head on his chest and pray," recalling numerous friends who were praying, also.
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Five days. No brain activity. A case that appeared hopeless. Then on the fifth day of vigilance and prayer, a miracle happened.
"All of a sudden his eyes opened and they were crystal blue," said Shelley as she cried, " 'Dad, you've seen the Lord!' " in awe of the look on his face. "He kept trying to talk, trying to write gibberish and kept trying to breathe on his own," while alerted hospital personnel rushed to remove his respirator.
For an ordinary guy, former Tri-City property owner and retired Washington insurance agent Ernie French of Atascadero, Calif., has an extraordinary story to tell. According to him, he has been to heaven and back.
What Ernie experienced there is difficult for him to describe -- the brilliance, the pervading love, the communication between he and God, all without words. Yet, he feels compelled to tell the multi-dimensional story in language that seems to him, flat.
"The gate looked like the Eiffel tower, without the tower," Ernie said about his entry into heaven where he wasn't constrained by time or space. "It was filled with emeralds, rubies, diamonds and precious stones that were reflecting the tremendous light -- so mind-blowing and breathtaking."
As the new arrival took steps beyond the gate, he became aware of the transparency of the golden multi-tiered street where other beings -- all perfect 10s -- moved below, clothed in white gowns.
Ernie said he didn't see anyone he knew in what seemed like a brief moment because his attention was drawn to an immediate hand reaching for his. Suddenly, he was face to face with Jesus Christ -- and then his Savior called him by name.
"His eyes were a beautiful blue, eyes of such compassion," Ernie said with conviction. "And right then I knew I was forgiven." The believer paused with emotion, "... the feeling and the euphoria of knowing that love."
It was alluring to stay forever, to bask in the "liquid love" he felt in the depths of his being. But as quickly as Ernie had been transported to heaven five days earlier, he experienced a transition once again. That's when he woke up.
Nowadays, the vigorous senior citizen spreads his "heavenly news" through church services -- or wherever he finds a listening ear.
"When I experienced the love of God so marvelously, you can't help but want to give it away," said Ernie. "Heaven is such a beautiful place and heaven is for real."
Ernie French spent five days there, but for him it wasn't nearly long enough.
-- Lucy Luginbill writes an inspirational column at www.tricityherald.com/light-notes and is a member of Columbia Community Church (3C) in Richland. She can be reached in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.