It’s been almost a year ago that my family said goodbye to our Mimi. Mimi was my husband’s mom, Betty. She was a wonderful and sweet woman. We continue to miss her. Christmas was harder without her goofy stocking gifts. And while we tried to replicate her famous brisket and baked beans, we all knew they weren’t lovingly prepared by her hands.

One of the books I read shortly after her death was the phenomenally successful, “Heaven Is For Real.” The book has sold millions. Colton Burpo, the subject of the book, has been featured many times on national television. But in the midst of the acclaim, I’ve noticed how the Burpo family has been criticized for exaggerating Colton’s experience or fabricating his story for monetary reward. Can I share some things I learned from the book and about this family?

1. A book about heaven can be the beginning of a faith conversation with an unbeliever. I’ve seen lots of people reading the book in various places. Just ask the simple question, “What do you think”? I promise you’ll get a response. Follow up by asking about their own eternity. This book just might be an opportunity to share the gift of salvation.

2. Public scrutiny can be hard. Why would we be surprised when unbelievers scoff at the story? That’s to be expected. What’s more surprising, is when I hear Christians bashing it. In their attempt to be theologically sound, it just comes off as jealousy or piousness. Besides, who are we to question the experience of someone else? My grandfather had a similar experience, and it changed his life for the better. Sometimes it’s easier to rally around people in their failure than to celebrate their success.

3. Have you had a conversation with the Burpos? I actually have. Why? Because I was encouraged to invite Sonja to speak at our upcoming State Evangelism Conference. Can I share something with you? I invite a lot of speakers to our events. The more “famous” a speaker is, the less likely I actually speak to them. It’s kind of a funny business, so to speak. When I decided to invite Sonja, it actually took me a few weeks to track her down. There was no family website. No official speaking invite. No agent who takes the first 10 percent. I finally did some investigative work through Twitter, tracked her down through the publisher of the book, and left my number. A few days later, I was shopping at Target. It was Saturday morning and I didn’t recognize the number on my caller ID. When I answered, I could hear children in the background and what sounded like a typcial family weekend breakfast. I was shocked when the caller said, “Hi Kelly. This is Sonja Burpo. I’m sorry it’s taken me a few days to call you back.”

After I picked myself off the floor of aisle 7, I stumbled around and began my conversation. I mentioned that the book had encouraged me during the loss of my mother-in-law. I shared with her my invitation to speak at our conference. She seemed hesitant at first, but then she answered. “I’m really not a speaker. I just love children’s ministry and working with kids. I’m not sure why God is doing this in our life and we can’t quite figure out why people have been touched so greatly by Colton’s story.” After a few minutes of conversation, she agreed to come to Oklahoma. I mentioned that our audience would include a lot of ministry wives. She was humbled because she felt like that was a group of women she could relate to. They are like her. They understand.

What I discovered in my short conversation with Sonja Burpo is that she is a woman who is not out to be famous. She was humble. She loves her family. Most importantly, she loves God and wants to share His love with others.

If you want to hear Sonja, she’ll be speaking during the Monday evening general session of the conference. On Tuesday, there will be a special women’s luncheon. She will be the keynote speaker. Tickets to the luncheon MUST be pre-purchased before January 24 and space is limited. For more information, visit the website here. Not only is heaven for real. But so is Sonja Burpo.