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In the fall of 2003, Cecil "Cec" Murphey, a professional writer who has written or co-authored more than 100 books, got a call from a Texas Baptist minister named Don Piper. Back in the late 1980s, Piper had been in a horrific auto accident—his Ford Escort was literally run over by a semi truck. His left leg had been pulverized, his right leg broken, his pelvis shattered, and his left arm nearly severed. Yet Piper fought back and learned to walk again—an almost miraculous recovery.

The problem was in writing about another part of Piper's story.

When Texas state troopers arrived at the scene of his accident, they found no pulse, so they covered Piper with a tarp and began clearing traffic. When another Baptist pastor, Dick Onerecker, arrived on the scene, he prayed for Piper and sang several hymns. In the middle of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," Onerecker heard Piper singing along.

During the 90 minutes between the accident and his reawakening, Piper says he went to heaven. He stood before a gate made of pearl and was welcomed by loved ones. Just before passing through the gate, Piper felt snatched back to earth and woke up in his crushed Ford.

Murphey, a former pastor, thought Piper's tale resembled something out of Embraced by the Light and told Piper he couldn't help him write a book about it. But Piper persisted. After praying, Murphey agreed to collaborate on the project. The more he worked on the book, the more he realized its potential.

"I had a gut feeling: It was either going to be a big book or a total flop," Murphey says. He thought a big book was more likely—perhaps even big enough to land Murphey on The New York Times bestseller list for the first time in his long career.

Three years and nearly 1.5 ...

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June 2007

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