Our culture tends to toss around the word "miracle" far too easy. We use it for great moments in military history (Miracle at Dunkirk) and sports history (Miracle on Ice), and we even slap it on our favorite condiments (Miracle Whip).
Then there are true miracles.
For example: the moment several years back when a 9-year-old girl, suffering from a painful and incurable abdominal disorder, fell 30 from a tree and was feared dead, only to survive and discover that her body had been healed — not just from the fall but from the abdominal condition. Doctors had no explanation for it, other than to suggest that perhaps the sudden jolt of the impact had somehow triggered her brain and digestive system to begin functioning normal.
It's a true story that is the focus of "Miracles from Heaven" (PG), a movie that opens in theaters this week and recounts the amazing and inspirational journey of young Annabel Beam (Kylie Rogers), an energetic girl whose childhood was upended when she began having vomiting fits. Doctors at first couldn't determine what was wrong but eventually pegged it as pseudo-obstruction motility disorder, a rare condition in which food is unable to digest due to nerve and muscle problems. Annabel was put on feeding tubes, but her severe pain continued.
"I want to die," she says in the movie, laying in a hospital bed and squirming with discomfort. "I want to go to heaven where there is no pain."
Her parents, though, refused to give up and kept looking for a medical cure — even going so far as flying from their home state of Texas to Boston to meet with a renowned doctor, despite the fact they didn't even have an appointment. Jennifer Garner plays the determined mom, Christy Beam, who crashes through every roadblock that doctors put in her way as she searches for anything that will help Annabel. Along the way, she also encounters spiritual roadblocks.
"Why do you think God hasn't healed me?" Annabel asks her mom.
"There's so many things I don't know," the mom responds. "But I know God loves you."
Quietly, though, Christy Beam is struggling.
"Are you there?" she asks God during a moment alone. "… I don't hear You."
Ironically, of course, the family's turning point came during the very moment they were rock bottom – a dark moment in which they thought Annabel might be dead. But while they were praying simply for her survival, God was at work healing her body of a debilitating condition — performing a miracle that likely wasn't on anyone's mind.
"Miracles from Heaven" is an uplifting film that does a nice job of tackling several theological issues surrounding the issue of miracles.
First, God does still heal today. We can debate the nuances of it, but to label what happened to Annabel anything but a miracle seems silly.
Second, not everyone is healed — as the on-screen Christy Beam humbly acknowledges in a closing scene.
And third, sickness isn't tied to sin (at least not every single time). This teaching is prominent in some strains of Christianity and can be incredibly damaging to a person's walk with Christ. The movie deals with it head-on.
Garner and Rogers are phenomenal in their roles as a mother and daughter searching for medical and spiritual answers, and on more than one occasion left me in tears. I suspect parents of young children will have the same reaction.
The real-world Christy Beam told me she had a rollercoaster of emotions when she screened the movie.
"It was so hard to watch it. It was so hard to relieve it again. But Jennifer and Kylie did such a brilliant job. It was just like being there again," she said.
Fans of contemporary Christian music will enjoy an appearance in the movie by Mac Powell, who plays the role of the music leader at the Beams' church and sings some of Third Day's more popular songs.
Mainstream singer Queen Latifah also is in the film, turning in a nice performance in the role of a restaurant worker who befriends the Beams and takes them on a tour of Boston.
Entertainment rating: 4.5 out of 5. Family friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5.
"Miracles from Heaven" is rated PG for thematic elements. It has no sexuality, violence or coarse language.
Post-movie discussion topics: healing — are modern-day miracles different from ones in the Bible?; sin and sickness — is there ever a relationship?; prayer — what specifically should we pray for when someone is sick?
This review first appeared at the ChristianExaminer.