Today we hear the miraculous true story of one mother’s belief in the power of prayer that not only brought her son back to life, but continues to inspire people around the world in a new inspirational movie called Breakthrough, starring Chrissy Metz from NBC’s This Is Us. On a cold winter’s day in Missouri, John Smith was a 14-year-old boy playing on a frozen lake with two of his best friends. But a carefree day soon grew dire as the ice gave way and boys fell into the lake. While John’s friends were able to escape, John remained underwater for fifteen minutes. And by the time he was pulled out by first responders, he didn’t have a pulse. John’s mother Joyce was summoned to the hospital, and when she saw her son’s lifeless body on the hospital bed, she turned to God for a miracle. Later, we hear how the Smiths’ story traveled from a Missouri hospital room to a Hollywood studio, and how the cast and crew of Breakthrough were able to see God’s hand throughout the creation of the film.
Joyce: It’s such an honor to be able to share the story with the world. I mean, how do you not shout this from the mountaintops, that God gave you your son once, but He also gave him back to you the second time?
Trusting the God of Miracles: the Real-Life Story Behind “Breakthrough” Movie – Episode #143
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today we hear the miraculous true story of one mother’s belief in the power of prayer that not only brought her son back to life, but continues to inspire people around the world in a new inspirational movie called Breakthrough, starring Chrissy Metz from NBC’s This Is Us.
On a cold winter’s day in Missouri, John Smith was a 14-year-old boy playing on a frozen lake with two of his best friends. But a carefree day soon grew dire as the ice gave way and boys fell underwater. While somehow John’s friends were able to escape from under the ice, John remained underwater for fifteen minutes, and by the time he was pulled out by first responders, he didn’t have a pulse. John’s mother Joyce was summoned to the hospital, and when she saw her son’s lifeless body on the hospital bed, she turned to God for a miracle.
Joyce: My name is Joyce Smith, and I am the mother of the young man who drowned and the Lord so graciously brought back to life when I prayed.
It’s just amazing that God would trust you with such a miracle but also to be able to share it with the world.
John: My name is John Smith. I am the boy that was underwater for 15 minutes and was without a pulse for over an hour.
A Day of Fun Grows Dire
John: Me and two of my friends, we were on the same 8th grade basketball team. And let me put it into words on how great we were: we were probably the worst eighth grade team in the state of Missouri. I guarantee you some 4th grade teams probably could beat us pretty bad. We were not good at all.
But this day, we were playing a local high school, and we were excited because we [won] the game. So we decided to go over to one of the boys’ house. We were eating pizza, playing video games. We were just doing normal eighth grade boy things.
But like all young boys, we got bored. So we went up to a local park, where they had a merry-go-round, and we went to see who could throw up the fastest. We didn’t get that far, unfortunately, but we were trying. We were pretty dizzy after the end of all that.
We noticed the lake had frozen over. And here in Missouri, we have a thing called “bipolar weather,” where it’s 60 degrees one day and then 22 degrees the next day. That’s exactly what had happened.
We’re having a good time, but I get a text from my mom asking if I wanted to go to the Rec Plex.
And I said, “Of course. But is Dad going?
And she said, “I don’t know. We’ll figure it out. I love you.”
I said, “I love you too.”
And 8 seconds later, I fell in the lake. The three of us all fell in.
One boy was able to self-rescue because he was close to the dock. Me and my friend were 25 to 50 feet out, fighting for our lives. In that moment, all I can remember [are] the screams. “Call 911. I don’t want to die. Please, God, don’t let me die.”
I was pushing one of my friends up just to stay afloat just a little while longer so the paramedic could have an idea of where we were. In those moments, you think about your family. You think about how this could be it.
[A few weeks] after the accident, the same boy that I was 25 to 50 feet out with, he came over [to my house] and he spent the night and he told me said, “I was expecting you to come back up, but you didn’t.”
At this point, I had drowned and was underwater for 15 minutes.
“I had drowned and was underwater for 15 minutes.” – John Smith
The policemen got there first and, man, were they awesome. They went in, you know, no suits, no gear. They just went on the ice, like, they didn’t take anything off. They had their guns. They had everything. They were just going after us.
The first boy had already self-rescued, so they were working on him and they were trying to get us. But then they realized they had to get off [the ice] because if they would have fallen through, then they would’ve had to save four of us instead of two of us.
A firefighter by the name of Tommy Shine was en route to come get me and to come to the scene. When Tommy Shine got off the truck, he sprinted to the scene and into the water to come look for me.
By now, I have been underwater. I’m still submerged. They get the second boy out of the water, who was 25 to 50 feet out with me. They get him out, and they’re looking for me.
The dive team is on its way to come look for me, because at this point they’re not expecting me to be alive. Or, well, I am dead, but they aren’t expecting to find me, period, I should say.
So Tommy Shine hears a voice saying, “Go two feet to the left.” And to this day, he doesn’t know who it is. We know that it was God, but he doesn’t know.
He stuck his pipe hole down, and he goes, “It might be a tire, might be a boot, but I have to pull something up, if it’s him or whatever it is.” So he pulls it up, and it’s me.
They rushed me to shore, they intubate me, they do CPR, they do everything the right way on the dock. They do everything medically that they’re required to do when there’s a drowning, [everything] they could on the dock. They rushed me to a local hospital, St. Joseph West, where I lay lifeless. They did everything medically, scientifically that they could do.
“I lay lifeless. They did everything medically, scientifically that they could do.” – John Smith
Keith Terry, one of the medical staff, he did CPR on me for over 45 minutes. He’s about 6’7 and 280 lbs. He’s a big boy. They just did everything they possibly could, but nothing worked.
A Mother Intercedes for Her Son
Joyce: I was expecting a telephone call that morning because I was going to go pick John up. We were meeting one of the boys’ moms, and we’re going to exchange kids. And so when I got a telephone call, I was expecting it, but not what she was going to be saying to me.
Just before I got on the telephone call, I had read a devotion on my cell phone that a friend of mine had written on Facebook, and it was talking about what we do in times of crisis. What’s our first go to? Is it God? Do we trust Him? Do we trust Him with the things that goes on in our lives?
It was God preparing me.
Not only that, we’d been doing a Bible study at our church with our women’s group from Beth Moore called “Believing God.” And in our homework on a daily basis, we had something that we would confess every morning, and it said, “I believe God is who He says He is. I believe God can do what He says He can do. And I believe in God.” I mean, this is what I have been doing for three weeks on a daily basis with my homework.
“I believe God is who He says He is. I believe God can do what He says He can do. And I believe in God.” – Joyce Smith
And also I’d grown up with this too, that God is a God of miracles. I’d seen it in my own family. God was putting it together. We call it a “tapestry of miracles,” just how God was weaving this all together.
And so when I got the telephone call, I was upset. I mean, anybody would be when they tell you that they’ve just pulled your son out of the lake and he doesn’t have a heartbeat. Yes, I was upset. But my first go-to was God to pray. That was what I had been prepared to do over the weeks beforehand.
“Anybody would be [upset] when they tell you that you know they’ve just pulled your son out of the lake and he doesn’t have a heartbeat. . . . But my first go-to was God to pray. That was what I had been prepared to do over the weeks beforehand.” – Joyce Smith
All the way to the hospital, I’m praying. We adopted John from Guatemala when he was five and a half months old, and we had prayed for him for 17 years. He was our gift from God. And so I just started interceding. “God, this is Your gift. You gave him to us, Lord. And You say we can come to You with the things going on in our lives, and You’re there to be faithful to us and answer our prayers.” And so I just started interceding for John and for his life and asking God for his life.
“[God], You say we can come to You with the things going on in our lives, and You’re there to be faithful to us and answer our prayers.” – Joyce Smith
I was upset and I was crying, but I knew God was going to take care of it. I just didn’t know how He was going to do it, and sure never dreaming that it was going to be this miraculous.
They finally let me back to where John was. They had held off calling Time of Death until I got there, which is unusual because usually they want to do that before the family gets there. But again, God [was] in there, putting His spin on this. At any time, He could’ve jump started John’s heart. But this is what I really feel about that. He had set about 25 to 30 professionals in that room to show them something so powerful that none of them would ever forget [it].
When I got there, they let me sit for a couple minutes. And then finally Dr. Sutterer walked over to me and said, “You can go and talk to John,” which I thought was kind of strange because in my mind, John was not going to die. I mean, that was my mindset.
So I got up to the end of the bed, and I felt his feet. They were cold and they were gray. It was flat line on the heart monitor, and in my head, I heard what I had heard all my life: “The Holy Spirit, who raised Christ Jesus from the dead.”
And so I just said, “Holy Spirit, please come and bring me back my son.” And I’ve been told—I didn’t think I was speaking that loud—but I was told that everyone in the emergency room area could hear me pray.
“Holy Spirit, please come and bring me back my son.” – Joyce Smith
But immediately as soon as I said that prayer, John’s heart started beating. And to me, at that point in time, to me the work was done. The rest just had to catch up with it. I knew God had answered my prayer and was going to be faithful to the things that I’d asked Him for.
John’s Road to Recovery
John: When she prayed, something so powerful rushed up my body that it pushed three nurses searching for a pulse physically back, and they can’t explain it.
“When [Mom] prayed, something so powerful rushed up my body that it pushed three nurses searching for a pulse physically back, and they can’t explain it.” – John Smith
Joyce: In fact, Alex Giddens, who was a nurse that had told us when I prayed, something so powerful moved up [John’s] body that it was pushing them back, she said, “For 27 minutes I’d had my finger on his pulse, and Iwas getting nothing. Then when it started, I was so stunned.” And you could hear it in her voice, she goes, “I have a pulse. I have a pulse. I have a pulse!” She could not believe that after all that they had done, finally, when we prayed, God gave him back a pulse.
Just to have this happen is mind boggling.
John: So they get me alive, but I am not, I am not out of the woods. Shortly after I am flown to Cardinal Glennon in the city of St. Louis.
Joyce: Even after we got him over to Cardinal Glennon, the doctor, Dr. Garrett, came in and after examining John, he sat down and he was very straight with us. He said, “John only has rudimentary brain function. Really, he is brain dead. We’re giving him stuff to keep his heart beating. We’ve got him on a lung machine. He can’t breathe on his own. How far do you want us to go? Because he’s not going to live through the night. And even if he lives through the night, after being deprived of oxygen for over an hour, he’s going to have brain damage.”
And so to hear those things, it really hit me hard. I thought to myself, You don’t know what you’re talking about because my God has healed my son. I have that assurance, and that’s what’s going on in my head.
So I stood up and I kind of got over close by him. And I said, “Here’s the deal. We’re not going to have any kind of this talk here. That will not go on in his room. I’ve heard that you’re the best. You do your job, and then God will take care of the rest of it.” And I walked out of the room.
It wasn’t till after John got out of the hospital on a month or so later, when we had our First Responders Sunday, that I even heard all the things that were going wrong in John’s body and why he shouldn’t be alive. He was in catastrophic organ failure. They were having to give him medication to keep his heart going. All of these things—he should not be alive. And it’s just amazing to sit back and look at that when you’re in those circumstances and they’re telling you that, “This is not possible,” yet God’s saying, “I’m the final word on this, and it is possible.”
John woke up on the third day, recognizing people. He couldn’t talk because he was intubated, yet he could answer with thumbs up, thumbs down, shaking his head yes or no.
The doctors couldn’t believe he had that kind of thought. They gave him a really difficult test. It was funny because John wouldn’t react to the doctor when he first came in. He was reacting to us, but he wouldn’t—and so finally our pastor said to [the doctor], “Ask him about basketball.” And so he asked John about Michael Jordan and LeBron James and all the questions, you know, Who had the most rings?” And John was answering all those questions appropriately.
When he got finished, he looked at John and he said, “Do you know what a miracle is?”
John shook his head yes.
And he said, “Son, you’re a miracle.”
Seven days after that, after he woke up, they took his vent out. Seven days after that, he walked out of the hospital bouncing a basketball.
And 40 days from the day he woke up, all the doctors released him, and he was back in school two weeks later.
Narrator: Stay tuned to learn how John and Joyce’s story traveled from a Missouri hospital room to a Hollywood movie studio after a brief message about a free offer from Jesus Calling!
Are you looking for a way to keep track of your daily prayers along with Jesus Calling? The Jesus Calling family prayer calendar goes right along with your daily readings from Jesus Calling. Each day begins with a guided reflection, followed by a space for you to fill in your prayers of thanksgiving and special requests. You can get your free Jesus Calling Family Prayer calendar by visiting, JesusCalling.com/offer
From a Hospital Room to a Hollywood Studio
Narrator: As John began recuperating, news of his miraculous recovery spread like wildfire, and eventually hit the national media. Joyce recalls the unlikely way her family’s story found a path to a major motion picture.
Joyce: That’s another God thing.
When this accident happened, Pastor Sam Rodriguez, who is executive producer of the movie, he was on an airplane. He saw [a news alert] about John’s story, and secular media was declaring it a miracle. That really caught his attention, so he started talking about it at his church service, and then on these TV programs.
My brother-in-law happened to see it, and he called me and he said, “Do you know Sam Rodriguez is?”
And I said, “Well, yeah I do.”
He said, “You need to get a hold of him and tell him the whole story.”
I’m thinking, I have no idea how to get ahold of him.
I found him on Facebook, and I sent him a message. I said, “I’m John Smith’s mom. I hear you’re talking about my son’s story. Would you like to hear the whole story?” thinking I’m never going to hear from him.
The very next day, I get a note back from him on Facebook, and it said, “Yes, I want to hear the story. You want to come and share it on TBN?”
Okay, fast forward a whole year.
We get out to Orange County to TBN’s studio. We’re going in, and this very nice young man comes out starts talking to us. We thought he was the greenroom host because this is just the kind of person this young man is.
So we go in and we talk to him, and Pastor Sam comes in. He says to the young man, “Wait till you hear their story. It’s phenomenal.”
And [the young man] finally says to us, “I don’t know if you know who I am or not, but I’m DeVon Franklin. I just finished producing the movie Miracles From Heaven. I think I’d like for this to be my next movie.”
I about fell out of my chair.
So that’s how it came about. I didn’t set out to write a book. I didn’t set out to have a movie. This was just God ordained from the very beginning.
They asked Chrissy Metz to come in and to play me in the movie. I mean, the lineup of people that are in this movie is just a Godsend.
Narrator: As the cast and crew set to the task of creating the Breakthrough film, they were able to see God’s hand in the process—including the producer and director of the film, DeVon Franklin and Roxann Dawson.
Roxann: I’m Roxann Dawson, and I directed Breakthrough.
DeVon: I’m DeVon Franklin, and I produced Breakthrough.
Roxann: Ultimately, the story spoke to us throughout, even once we shot it and into editing, as we began to distill the story down to this two-hour format. It really did keep telling us where it needed to be and how it could reach people.
DeVon: Absolutely. Our screenwriter, Grant Nieporte, he did a brilliant job on not only writing the script, but he did a lot of research with the family, with the real Tommy Shine. So many of the details have to do with him really investing a lot of time making sure that it was authentic and accurate.
You know, I’m drawn to stories about miracles because they give me hope. And I think that one of the reasons why I’m in entertainment is to bring hope and inspiration, and stories like this, like Breakthrough, do that.
We’re reminded we matter, and I think that we can’t put that message in the world enough. And I think when people get it and they receive it, it really is emotional because we spend so much of life feeling that we don’t.
Chrissy: Hi, I’m Chrissy Metz. I’m an actress, probably best known as Kate Pearson from This Is Us.
I think that everything comes into our lives for reasons that we don’t even know necessarily. I always ask for God for signs. I’m like, “In ways that I will understand, tell me.” I was attached to another project at the time, and miraculously, it fell through and then it completely freed up this. And, well, now I know why.
My mother went through a medical emergency, and almost to the word, verbatim, were the words that I said to my mother’s doctors that Joyce said to John’s doctors.
How can I choose one quality to replicate of Joyce Smith? She is unwaveringly, like, just so unwavering in her faith, in her love for her son, for her family. And it’s really hard to be that one person believing in something that literally is impossible. So I think that I would like to take away the consistency of her unwavering faith.
You know, sometimes I start to question and [say], “Maybe this isn’t right.” I ask for understanding and for the willingness to to do what it is that I am supposed to do and not what Chrissy wants to do.
Narrator: Chrissy’s prayer to God for understanding and for willingness to do His will was answered as the opportunity came for her to play the role of Joyce Smith, and help depict this story of unwavering faith to the world. Chrissy reflects on this blessing as she reads from the December 21st passage of Jesus Calling.
My plan for your life is unfolding before you. Sometimes the road you are traveling seems blocked, or it opens up so painfully slowly that you must hold yourself back. Then, when the time is right, the way before you suddenly clears—through no effort of your own. What you have longed for and worked for I present to you freely, as pure gift. You feel awed by the ease with which I operate in the world, and you glimpse My Power and My Glory.
Do not fear your weakness, for it is the stage on which My Power and Glory perform most brilliantly. As you persevere along the path I have prepared for you, depending on My strength to sustain you, expect to see miracles—and you will. Miracles are not always visible to the naked eye, but those who live by faith can see them clearly. Living by faith, rather than sight, enables you to see My Glory.
God Will Take Care of Us
Narrator: Joyce reflects further on the power of trusting God’s promises and believing that He can and will answer prayer. She too goes on to share a passage from Jesus Calling and how the devotion has impacted her life personally.
Joyce: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up that book, and it speaks to me that day for what is going on in my life.
I love [Sarah Young’s] synopses of the scriptures and how she puts [them] together to speak over your life. One of the things that we carried through this whole thing with John was the power of life and death is in the tongue, Proverbs 18:2. And I feel like that’s what she does in this, is she speaks these things over to your life.
Because God is omnipotent, and we are created in His image, our words have potency to them, they have power. And that’s what I like about her is the things that she speaks, the scriptures, they don’t lose their potency. God gave them to us. They’re are promises, and that’s what we stand by.
Find Me in the midst of the maelstrom. Sometimes events whirl around you so quickly that they become a blur. Whisper My Name in recognition that I am still with you. Without skipping a beat in the activities that occupy you, you find strength and Peace through praying My Name. Later, when the happenings have run their course, you can talk with Me more fully.
Accept each day just as it comes to you. Do not waste your time and energy wishing for a different set of circumstances. Instead, trust Me enough to yield to My design and purposes. Remember that nothing can separate you from My loving Presence; you are Mine.
That is so profound. What she says here is encompassed in Psalms 91, when it says when we walk in the shadow of the Most High, we are covered by Him. We’re not going to stumble and fall because He’s going to be there with us when pestilence come against us. He’s still there. And I think that’s exactly what she’s saying here.
“Because God is omnipotent, and we are created in His image, our words have potency to them, they have power.” – Joyce Smith
There’s nothing that goes on in our life that God is not aware of. He’s aware of every detail. It doesn’t take Him by surprise. And if we’ll just trust Him, He’s there to take care of everything that we need.
Narrator: Breakthrough is now in theaters nationwide. To find a theater showing the film near you, visit breakthroughmovie.com. You can find the paperback edition of Joyce’s book Breakthrough wherever books are sold.
If you enjoyed this episode about this inspirational story set to film, check out our interview with Tim Tebow talking about his faith-based movie Run the Race.
Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we talk with philanthropist and author Melinda Gates. Melinda is chairwoman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an organization that works to empower women and children around the world. Melinda is driven by her faith to do good in the world, and encourages all of us to find inspiration to affect change, whether big or small.
Melinda Gates: It’s that faith in action, to me, that actually changes the world. And sometimes we think that the acts we do are small acts, but they’re not. Those small acts add up to very, very large things.