Heaven Is for Real: Timeline of Events From the Book

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Heaven Is For Real" by Todd Burpo. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the Heaven Is for Real timeline of events? What happened to Colton Burpo? Why does Colton claim he went to Heaven?

The book Heaven Is for Real was written by pastor Todd Burpo about his young son’s visit to heaven. Here is a chronological timeline of the Heaven Is for Real events from Colton’s sickness in 2003 to the writing of the book in 2007.

Continue on for the Heaven Is for Real timeline.

The Heaven Is for Real Timeline

In Heaven is for Real, pastor Todd Burpo relates the story of how, following a severe illness, his young son Colton claimed that he’d visited heaven and met Jesus. Here’s a timeline of the main events in Colton’s story:


February 27th: The Heaven Is for Real timeline begins in winter of 2003. Shortly before a planned family trip to Colorado, Colton—then aged 3 years and 10 months—becomes sick. A local doctor diagnoses him with stomach flu.

February 28th: Colton recovers enough to make the trip to Colorado. 

March 1st to 2nd: Colton’s illness returns. He begins to vomit frequently and complains of pain in his abdomen. A family friend suggests that Colton may have appendicitis.

March 3rd to 4th: Todd and his wife, Sonja, decide to take Colton home to Imperial, Nebraska, and check him into a hospital there. An X-ray reveals multiple masses in Colton’s abdomen. The doctors are unsure what’s causing the masses but, based on Colton’s blood tests, don’t believe it’s appendicitis. Colton’s condition worsens as he fails to respond to any treatment.

March 5th: Todd and Sonja become frustrated with the doctors’ lack of progress and decide to transfer Colton to Great Plains Regional Medical Center in North Platte, Nebraska. The doctors there quickly establish that Colton has a ruptured appendix, leaving toxins leaking into his body. 

Colton undergoes emergency surgery to remove the toxins and save his life. During the surgery, Sonja sits in the hospital waiting room, calling friends and family to update them on her son’s condition. Meanwhile, Todd finds a quiet room and prays. 

March 6th to 12th: Colton recovers from his surgery. 

March 13th: It appears that Colton is well enough to be discharged. However, at the last minute, the doctors discover that Colton has developed new areas of infection in his abdomen. Not only does Colton have to remain in hospital, but he has to undergo surgery again.

March 14th to 16th: In the wake of Colton’s second surgery, his bowels stop functioning: He can’t pass any gas or feces.

March 17th: The doctors at Great Plains conclude there’s nothing more they can do for Colton. They suggest transferring him to a specialist children’s hospital in Denver. However, before the transfer can take place, a freak snowstorm hits North Platte, trapping the Burpos there.

Back in Imperial, Todd’s congregation comes together to pray. They ask God to either make the snowstorm pass or make Colton’s constipation pass. Within an hour, Colton’s condition begins to improve. By that evening, his constipation has cleared.

March 18th: Colton is practically back to his usual self, astounding his doctors. 

March 19th: Colton is finally discharged.

July 3rd: The Burpos are on a road trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when they drive past the turn to Great Plains Regional Medical Center. Sonja asks Colton if he remembers the hospital. Colton replies that he does: It’s the place where the angels sang to him.

Todd and Sonja are stunned: Colton has never mentioned angels singing to him before. They stop the car and question Colton about the experience. Colton reveals that while he was having his first operation, he met not only angels, but also Jesus. He adds that he’d been with Jesus and the angels while Sonja had been on the phone in the hospital waiting room, and while Todd had been praying alone in a room. 

The Burpos wonder how Colton had known what his parents were doing during the operation, and question whether the experience Colton is describing was a dream or real. 

Around July 10th: Todd questions Colton further about his experience. Colton explains that he met Jesus and the angels while visiting heaven. He gives a description of Jesus that matches both passages in the Bible and the depiction of Jesus on crucifixes—but Todd notes that Colton hasn’t encountered crucifixes or those sections of the Bible yet. He begins to contemplate the idea that his son is describing a real experience.

Later that week, both Todd and Sonja ask Colton questions about heaven. He states that:

  • Jesus was his “teacher” while he was in heaven, and he had to do “homework” along with many other children.
  • Everyone in heaven had wings that they used to fly, except Jesus, who could fly without wings.
  • Everyone in heaven had light shining above their heads.
  • He only spent three minutes in heaven (although Todd concedes that, since Colton can’t tell the time yet, what he thinks of as three minutes may be much longer).

Todd believes that much of what Colton is describing matches the descriptions of Jesus and heaven in the Bible, again strengthening his belief that Colton is telling the truth.

August: Colton reveals that while in heaven, he met Todd’s late grandfather, Pop, and says he was very nice. He also states that Jesus had described reaching out to Todd and telling him to be a pastor. Todd is astounded, as this matches his experience of deciding to become a pastor: He’d felt that someone or something had been calling him to do so, and now knew that it was Jesus. 

October: Colton tells his parents that while he was in heaven, he met his sister who’d passed away in the womb. Todd and Sonja are shocked, since they did suffer a miscarriage before Colton’s birth, but had never told him about it. It comforts them to know that one day, they’ll reunite with their late daughter in heaven.

December: Todd asks Colton whether he saw God’s throne while in heaven. Colton confirms that he did, and that it was huge. He states that Jesus also had a throne, on the right-hand side of God’s. This makes sense to Todd, as it matches the description of the heavenly thrones in the Bible. 

By this point, Todd almost entirely believes that Colton went to heaven. However, he wants to give Colton one last test to check he’s telling the truth. So, Todd asks Colton what he did when it got dark in heaven, knowing full well that, according to the Bible, heaven is actually bathed in perpetual light. Colton passes the test, telling his father that it never gets dark in heaven because God and Jesus create its light.

Later Events

Late April 2004: The Heaven Is for Real timeline continues a year after it began. Colton gets in trouble for running out into the parking lot at a fast-food restaurant. Todd warns Colton that if he’s not careful, he’ll get hit by a car and killed. Colton responds that this would be a good thing since he’d get to go back to heaven.

Fall 2004: One night, Sonja encourages Colton to pray for Todd to get lots of study time in preparation for his sermon that Sunday. In response, Colton states that in the past, he’d seen Jesus “shoot power down” to Todd when he spoke in church. When Todd asks Colton what this “power” is, Colton replies that it’s the Holy Spirit.

2005: Colton tells his babysitter, Ali, about his experience in heaven. He also tells her that he misses his late sister. Subsequently, Ali tells the Burpos that not only did she believe Colton, but that hearing about his experience strengthened her Christian faith.

Early 2006: Colton reveals that people have swords in heaven to protect them from Satan, who isn’t yet stuck in hell. He also states that he saw Satan while in heaven, but refuses to describe him or talk about him any further.

Later in 2006: Out of nowhere, Colton warns his father that a holy war is coming. He says that while in heaven, he foresaw a battle in which Jesus and his supporters (including Todd) fought Satan and his monsters. He states that this battle will eventually bring about the end of the world, although the forces of good will ultimately prevail. Todd realizes that Colton is describing the battle of Armageddon.

January 2007: The Heaven Is for Real timeline ends in 2007. Todd speaks about Colton’s experience publicly for the first time, during a church service in Sioux Falls. 
At the time Todd finished writing Heaven is for Real, Colton was about to turn 11. He hadn’t experienced any more major health struggles and hadn’t revisited heaven. However, he remembered his first trip in great detail, and he was still adamant that heaven is for real.

Heaven Is for Real: Timeline of Events From the Book

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Todd Burpo's "Heaven Is For Real" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Heaven Is For Real summary :

  • Why 4-year-old Colton Burpo believed he had visited Heaven
  • What Burpo saw during his time in Heaven, including proof it was real
  • How the experience strengthened the faith of the Burpo family

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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