Heaven Is Here: An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph, and Everyday Joy
by Stephanie Nielson
Published: April 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover (320 pages)
Stephanie Nielson began sharing her life in 2005 on nieniedialogues.com, drawing readers in with her warmth and candor. She quickly attracted a loyal following that was captivated by the upbeat mother happily raising her young children, madly in love with her husband, Christian (Mr. Nielson to her readers), and filled with gratitude for her blessed life.
However, everything changed in an instant on a sunny day in August 2008, when Stephanie and Christian were in a horrific plane crash. Christian was burned over 40 percent of his body, and Stephanie was on the brink of death, with burns over 80 percent of her body. She would remain in a coma for four months.
What emerges from the wreckage of a tragic accident is a unique perspective on joy, beauty, and overcoming adversity that is as gripping as it is inspirational. Heaven Is Here is a poignant reminder of how faith and family, love and community can bolster us, sustain us, and quite literally, in some cases, save us.
Short and Sweet Review
Surprisingly, her emotional trials of mending her family relationships got to me more than her physical trials did. On some levels Stephanie is not very relatable with her Leave it to Beaver life, but I found myself relating to her a lot when she was going through this trial of surviving burns on 80% of her body because I connected with her honesty, selfishness, guilt, and her eventual resolve to work hard and overcome.
Jessica Thinks Too Much Review
Stephanie Nielson’s life sounds like a 50’s sitcom. I think it was the freckles and apron that tipped me off. I didn’t think it was a bad thing necessarily. Maybe she’s not the most relatable person to read about, but she was certainly interesting to read about since her life was very different from mine. Still, she has a simple love for simple things that was very catching.
I had learned that those doses of quiet joy like that can be brief, but their effects are long lasting and often carried me through the busy and challenging times of running our household.
– Stephanie Nielson, Heaven is Here pg 10
She had a humor and honesty about the small annoyances in life that was fun to read about. My favorite example of this was when she moved into a house and the previous owner said she left some things for her that she thought she would want.
What I believe she meant was that she decided to save time packing only half of her stuff, and leaving the rest for me to worry about. In the bathroom we found an old bar of soap, a razor, toilet paper, women’s personals, and even her deodorant.
– Stephanie Nielson, Heaven is Here pg 60
After reading about her perfect life (which honestly sounded to me more like a nostalgic look back on her lost life instead of bragging), it goes into the tragic plane crash that she survived. Stephanie put this quote in the book as an introduction to part 2 which is all about her surviving and recovering. I love this quote.
“There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.”
– Washington Irving
I don’t know why, but the part where they scrape away the skin on her face makes me so sad. Stephanie suffered burns on 80% of her body – including her face. It’s so hard for me to imagine losing what I look like.
The doctors scraped away my skin to save my life. It was a moment’s consolation to learn that they had paused before they took the knife to my face, before they carved away the tissued that had defined my facial features, before they scraped my beauty away.
– Stephanie Nielson, Heaven is Here pg 104
As hard as it was to live through her physical trials with her, I thought her emotional and family trials were much more difficult and it was those that really got to me. Her fragile hope was heartbreaking. All she wanted was to be a mother and her children were scared of her. One child easily accepted her, one child didn’t recognize her and one child couldn’t be in the same room as her. The parts that made me cry the most were her struggles reconnecting with her kids. The saddest part was hearing her youngest, barely a toddler, pound on the front door and crying for mommy. His aunt had taken care of him for so long that he called her mommy instead of his mom whom he didn’t recognize. I can’t imagine what that would feel like as a mom to hear that. Those moments and others like it yanked on my mommy heart strings.
She went through a near death experience. I’m not usually a fan of those, but it was interesting reading about hers. It’s brief in the book and it helped me see what she was going through and how close she was to dying more than once.
Her guilt was so raw and real. Every mom experiences guilt and I could relate to her feeling guilty even though it wasn’t her fault. She says that “I had done something awful–unforgiveable–to my sweet and innocent children (pg. 122).” It seems ridiculous to feel that way, but as a parent I know my kids need me all the time for everything and being gone from my kids for 3 months, no matter the reason, would feel like an awful betrayal.
She was brutally honest about her feelings of selfishness and I admired that honesty. Selfishness is definitely not accepted in our society but this experience made me wonder if maybe she needed to be that way to heal emotionally and physically. Is there a right amount of selfishness?
On some level I realized how selfish it was to keep him out of my room. I knew I was ignoring his needs and his emotional pain. I was sorry for that, but not sorry enough to change my mind.
– Stephanie Nielson, Heaven is Here pg 125
Stephanie and her husband, who was also burned, seemed to have a magical love story. When she was in a coma, her heart kept racing when her husband came in the room. It was something straight out of a fairy tale. Then later, when she is crying about going home because she literally can’t do anything and was worrying about who would cook dinner and fold the clothes, her husband says that he will do it. He seems happy about it, too. Just as long as they’re together it doesn’t matter who is doing what. What a Prince Charming.
I was touched by the story of her husband being haunted by nightmares so their three-year-old son would come sleep in the room with his dad and the nightmares would go away. It was such a bittersweet role reversal. I loved her son Ollie’s forwardness, openness, and acceptance. He’s the child that accepted her right away and I found him very endearing. One of my favorite stories is of Ollie loudly telling people in the restaurant to stop staring at his mommy.
One of the inspiring things about Stephanie was when she realized that even though she had hit rock bottom and couldn’t even control her own body, she could control how hard she worked. Hard work was all she had left. Instead of refusing to do things, she didn’t give up. Reading her blog now is inspiring in little ways to me. I came across a post where she was doing a craft for Easter and you could see pictures of her burned hands. It looked like it was difficult and painful for her to do the small details of it. The thing that inspires me is not Easter crafts (I loathe crafting) but the fact that she decided to go back to doing the things she loved doing before her accident despite the fact that it was now much harder.
When she wants to have another baby, I couldn’t help but think “Hasn’t your body been through enough?!” But I went to her blog and saw posts of her baby daughter’s 3rd birthday and how grateful they were to have her, I couldn’t help but be impressed that she continued to not just survive but to work hard for the things that she wanted. I would like to hope that I would be that way, too.
I went back and read her blog posts about her pregnancy and the unique challenges she faced because of her burns. At the end when she expereienced swelling, her skin on her legs couldn’t stretch and so the swelling went inwards and she said it felt like “like thousands of needles poking my skin all day“. Reading honesty like that makes me feel grateful for things I had never thought to be grateful for. I am so grateful right now for skin that can stretch on my body.
Content Rating: Everyone, clean read.
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