In our youth, sleep comes easily. Those precious minutes after our heads hit the pillows and before we drift off to sleep were frequently filled with joyous imaginations and rosy possibilities—"What new excitement will tomorrow bring?"
Yet, for one little 8-year-old, each night was just a harbinger of another awful morning to come. One night in second grade, he asked God to take his life.
Heaven Must Be Real
Artist Russell Ricks was born with complete agenesis of the corpus callosum (CACC)—a neurological disorder in which the nerve bundle connecting the left and right hemispheres of the brain is completely missing. Though Ricks’s brain compensated by creating other pathways to transmit information, he still had difficulties with social and mental processing.
Due to this condition, Ricks struggled in school and was looked down upon by his peers. He was frequently bullied and beaten. In a time when learning disabilities were not understood, all his parents could tell him was, “You’ve just got to toughen up and deal with it.”
“When kids were picking teams to play, everyone would say, ‘No, I don’t want Russell!’ So, when I wasn’t physically beaten, I was emotionally beaten. Nobody wanted to be my friend. They called me a retard and tease me on and on,” Ricks recounted on the podcast Round Trip Death.
As he lay in bed that night, terrified of the school year to come, Ricks thought about his baptism a week prior. He had felt the presence of God—"a special feeling that was comfortable, good, peaceful, and calm.”
Then, his mind drifted further back, to the single clear memory of his babyhood.
Ricks’s mother had been a gifted soprano and was on the verge of signing with The Warner Brothers when she decided to give up her career and raise a family.
“She raised seven kids and would sing to us every day. For a period of time, whenever she sang, I saw people dressed in white come into our home and surround her. They’d linger for a while and after a few songs they would leave,” Ricks said.
“I remembered being frustrated with my family because they couldn’t see what I saw. I was too young to talk but I wanted to ask, ‘Who are these people?’ After a while, I just decided that they were relatives who had passed on but came to visit because they enjoyed my mom’s music.”
In that line of thought Ricks reasoned, “If what I felt at my baptism was God, and those people dressed in white came from heaven—then God must be real!” Therefore, if anyone can end the bullying, it would be God.
Ricks fell onto his knees and begged.
“Heavenly Father, I need your help, I can’t face another day like this. So, either you’ve got to take this away or take me away.”
In Ricks’s mind, he had just been baptized, so his slate was clean. If there ever was a perfect time to die, this would be it.
He said to God, “I know it’s wrong for me to take my life but if you do it—then it’s okay. I’m begging you to end my mission on earth and let me go to a place where I’ll be safe, loved, and not have to face the abuse.”
After his prayers, little Ricks climbed back into bed and cried. Then, just as he was giving in to sleep, the room began to spin.
A Realm of Colors and Lights
Ricks thought he was going to black out. Suddenly, he felt a separation—like he was being pulled in multiple directions. When he finally looked down, he saw his body on the bed below.
“I thought I was having a conscious dream because how can I be in two places at once? Above me was this tiny, bright light and I felt incredible love emanating from it. It was like a magnet—I was being pulled toward that light.”
Ricks floated past the ceiling, through the rafters, and into the starry night sky before being pulled onto a planet surrounded by a sea of clouds. He was set down in a clearing amidst the aspen grove on a mountaintop.
“I sensed that I was in a spiritual realm that’s not on earth. I still felt a connection to my body, so I knew my experience in this beautiful world was temporary and I would have to go back. Yet, my prayers had been answered,” Ricks said.
In that world, each blossom, each blade of grass, the birds, the trickling brook, the trees—all vibrated with their own unique frequency, and together, it translated into an incredible and heavenly piece of music.
“Everything was alive and praising God, even the light was praising God.”
Connected As One
Ricks looked around as he walked through the clearing and was drawn to a particularly large aspen. For him, it represented life and the love of God.
“God could have answered [my prayers] in any other way but he chose to give me this experience. He gave me what I needed to feel loved and to feel assured.”
During his experience, Ricks also felt connected to all his ancestors from generations past.
He would later learn that Pando, the one-tree aspen forest in Utah, is the world’s largest living organism. Its 40,000 trees shared a communal root system—so, even if a tree is chopped down, it will not die because all other trees in the forest will pitch in to provide vital nutrients through their shared roots.
“The root system was symbolic of my ancestors—they were expressing their love, their concern, and their support for me. I sensed that they were there even though I didn’t see them.”
A Meeting With His Savior
As Ricks lifted his leg to step out of the clearing, a voice stopped him. “If you take one more step, that’s the point of no return. But you have no choice, you must return to mortality.”
Ricks broke down and sobbed.
“I knew I would [have to go back] but I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to go,” he said. “A few moments later, I felt a touch on my shoulder and a gentle voice asking, ‘What’s the matter? Why are you crying?’”
Ricks turned and saw a being floating a few inches off the ground, dressed in a white robe. His beard and hair were snowy.
“His eyes enthralled me. They were so bright they appeared to be on fire. I would see shades of blue, then they would flash with a golden glow. I saw eternity in his eyes,” Ricks described.
“He looked into my soul with complete love, mercy, and no judgment. I allowed him to look—I trusted him completely. He could read my soul, my pain, and my fear.”
When the being reached down to scoop the boy into his arms, Ricks recognized instinctively that this was Jesus Christ.
“[His embrace] felt similar to being held in my mother’s arms. You feel safe and secure—a warmth from deep inside that was magnified 10,000 times.”
Together, they left the aspen grove through the clouds and into a city of light. The buildings, the walls around the city, and even the streets were paved with gold.
Sitting on a bench, Ricks told Jesus all his fears. “I told him how afraid I was to face life outside of my home and of having to return to school. I said, ‘This is my home, why can’t I stay?’” Ricks recounted.
To which Jesus replied, “Russell, you have things to do, so you need to go back. But because of what you’ve done here, you are blessed.” He also mentioned that it was important for Ricks to return, because he would become a father and have other missions to fulfill.
Looking back, Ricks said it was like déjà vu, he felt each one of us had an interview with Christ prior to being born onto Earth to assure us of our roles. His experience felt like a replay of what had transpired long ago.
When Ricks expressed his fear of making mistakes in the human world and losing his chance to return to heaven, Jesus chuckled lightly and said that was all taken care of.
“All you have to do is just follow me and be a good boy. Everything will be fine and I’ll see you again. Are you ready?” Jesus asked.
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
When Ricks next opened his eyes, the sun was streaming through the window and he was back in bed.
Right before Ricks was sent back to his body, Christ promised the boy that he will always know of God’s presence.
“I’ve had so many experiences to let me know that the Lord is here. I know can count on him. When I fail, I can repent, and he will still love me. Looking back, despite my struggles, I became a stronger person.”For many years after, Ricks attempted to paint this realm—full of colors he’d never seen before—with limited success.
Now, Ricks gladly shares his story with anyone willing to listen. A few years back, he received a message from a girl in her 20s also struggling with CACC and wondering if life was worth living.
Ricks’s story gave her hope to continue.
“All of us, we all have a disability—none of us are perfect. Whether you’re struggling with something visible that everyone can see or something invisible like ACC—life is worth it,” Ricks said.
“I’m not angry at God for creating me this way. There was a purpose. Even if my book helped just that one person, it was well worth it. My story needed to be told because more people out there need to know that there is hope. Life is good, God is aware of us, and he loves us very, very much.”