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The Real-Life Inspiration for Miracles From Heaven Opens Up About Her Life-Changing Experience: 'The Angel Winked at Me'

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Jack Thompson

Not everyone has a movie and book based on their real-life saga, but 13-year-old Annabel Beam knows what that feels like.

Sitting on her couch in Cleburne, Texas, she discusses the differences between the upcoming movie Miracles From Heaven, which stars Jennifer Garner, and her mother’s book by the same name.

“At first, I was a little worried about it,” she says of the minor changes. “But now I’m like, ‘You know what? They had to do it, like, dramanational.’ ”

“Dramanational!” laughs big sister Abbie, 16.

“I don’t even know why I said that!” Annabel yells with glee. “I meant to say ‘dramatic license,’ but I was like, ‘dramanational.’ ”

Annabel, whom Abbie calls “the goofiest kid I’ve ever met,” may also be one of the luckiest. In December 2011, after suffering from a chronic intestinal disorder for four years, she fell headfirst 30 feet inside a hollow tree in their yard, somehow emerging without serious injuries. And somehow free of her stomach disorder.

Annabel says she visited heaven while trapped inside the tree.

Asking to stay with Jesus – there was no stomach pain in heaven – she says he told her, “No, Annabel, I have plans for you on Earth that you can’t fulfill in heaven.”

Finding herself back in the tree, she waited for rescuers to send down a harness to pull her up. But she wasn’t alone, she says; a guardian angel was there to keep her company.

“In the tree, the angel winked at me as if they were saying, ‘You’re gonna be all right now,’ ” she tells PEOPLE.

The firefighters who rescued her “kept saying how eerily calm and peaceful Annabel was,” says her mother, Christy Beam. “If anyone was entombed in the base of a tree for five hours, they’d be hysterical. But she never was.”

After Anna told her parents about going to heaven – and after they realized her stomach was suddenly well – “God totally laid it on my heart to write this book,” Christy says. “I literally said, ‘No, God, that’s so cute. I don’t write, but thank you anyway.’ ”

But after more prayer and encouragement by others, “I bought a laptop and just started. It was so cathartic.”

The book wasn’t even on the shelves yet when a movie agreement was made. Starring Garner as Christy, it opens in theaters on March 16.

The Beams know there will be people who don’t believe the movie or the book. Annabel’s stomach condition, called pseudo-obstruction mobility disorder and antral hypo motility disorder, is associated with the nervous system, so some have theorized that it cleared up when she hit her head in the tree.

Abbie says people have approached her and exclaimed, “That’s so amazing! The fall healed her!”

“I’m like, ‘No, what happened after the fall healed her,’ ” she adds.

As for a medical explanation, “the doctors don’t know,” Christy says. “They just say she’s asymptomatic and on zero medications.”

Kevin Beam, Annabel’s father, says there is one thing he knows for sure: “The girl who fell in the tree is not the girl who came out of that tree.”

To those who doubt her story, Annabel has a few words.

“What I want to say is this,” she says. “Believe in it if you want to. We put this out so you could have a stronger faith and probably a better life. But we’re not trying to force it down your throat. So you can believe as you want, but we put this out there to help you, not hurt you.”

Christy, who is working on a children’s version of her book, has more free time these days, now that Annabel’s recurring hospital stays are a thing of the past.

“Sometimes, it’s nice to just sit back and laugh,” she says of her family’s life now. “It’s nice to absorb it and just be grateful.”