To Heaven and Back

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I gained much insight.

Mary Neal Describes Her Visit to the Gates of Heaven

As one result of this adventure, I have also had the opportunity of listening to many other people describe their own spiritual encounters and near-death experiences. Do miracles still occur? Are there really angels all around us? Does God keep His promises? Is there sufficient reason to live by faith?

Chase Atlantic - HEAVEN AND BACK (Lyrics)

I lived in a middle-class neighborhood with my parents, Bob and Betty, two brothers, Rob and Bill, one sister, Betsy, and a small dachshund named Trinka. My father was a general surgeon and my mother was a homemaker.

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I enjoyed a pleasant childhood which, in some aspects, was idyllic. I did not always have everything I wanted, but never lacked for what I needed. Most importantly for any child, I always felt loved by my family. The creek flowing through the back of our property offered me great excitement and opportunity.


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I spent many hours in and on that creek; ice skating, boating, fishing, swimming, and exploring. I learned about snails, slugs, and leeches. I learned what happens when a dog eats the bacon from a fishing hook, and I learned not to look a snapping turtle in the eye. My best friend and I built an elaborate fresh-water clam farm, only to find out later that pearls are made by oysters, not clams. It was great fun and it developed my love for being immersed in the outdoor natural world. My family attended the local Presbyterian Church, participating in a denomination in which my grandfather, great-grandfather, and great great grandfather had been ordained ministers.

Our tall, traditional stone church stood proudly on the town square. While the outside was rather formal and not very inviting, its interior arched toward the sky, beautifully displaying large multicolored stained glass windows.

The pews were wellworn and made of a rich and deeply-colored wood. My siblings and I sat through Sunday school and confirmation classes, church services, and the occasional youth group gatherings, but these activities were mechanical and boring to me. Although I willingly attended, these various activities seemed to have little impact on my life. In many ways, however, they did model a Christian life for their children.

Stories of life, death and faith: 'To Heaven and Back'

My mother was loving, always supportive, and was an active volunteer in numerous service organizations. My father showed great compassion for those who were less fortunate in their circumstances and he was selfless in his profession as a surgeon. I would often trail behind my father as he checked on his patients in the hospital or when he was called to the emergency room on weekends. I perceived that his was a life of service, in which he was always kind and respectful to others, was not motivated by money, and always put the feelings and needs of others before his own.

As I approached my teenage years, I became more independent and began to hold my own opinions. I discovered that although my father was good at doing activities together, he was not very good at sharing his feelings with me or discussing topics that I considered meaningful or difficult.

Author | Dr. Mary Neal

I was in the seventh grade and quickly became a confused and angry adolescent. When confronted by their divorce listing in the newspaper, I could no longer deny that my s-esque image of an all-American family had been exploded. During that period, church attendance was one of the few stable aspects of my life. My two older siblings were already in college and my brother and I continued to live with my mother in our childhood home.

Each Sunday morning, my father would drive me to the local greasy spoon for breakfast, then to Church services. Instead, we went to the morning service at the local Episcopal Church. We would usually go for a walk after church then return to his apartment to finish the day with a dinner of baked chicken and green beans: the only dinner he ever knew how to make.

While I recognized his limitations, I still clung to the fantasy of his returning to my home, and of our family returning to the ideal of my remembered childhood. My mother was young, attractive, and interesting, so I should not have begrudged her the desire to date, but I did so anyway and tried to disrupt the process in any way possible.

Mack was the first guy who was serious about my mom after Dad moved out. One evening when I returned home, I discovered that he managed to eat all of the cookies I had just baked none of which had been intended for him and I was furious. I made my opinion clear and I was delighted never to see him again. He was the general manager of the country club where my brothers worked, and they had told him about our mother.

After my brothers persistently nudged him to call, a beautiful courtship developed between George and my mother. He also gave the best and longest back-scratches known to mankind, which, I might add, was a very successful way to break through my hostility! He loved my mom and he loved her children, so when my mom held a family conference about a year after they started dating and asked for our permission to marry George, it was impossible to deny her that happiness.

In my heart, I remained conflicted. George was a decent man, and I thought he would be a reasonable stepfather, but I continued to pray daily for the return of my father and for the return of the life I had known. In my disappointment, I discarded the very notion of praying.

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I was only one very small creature on a planet of more than four billion people; if there really was a God, why should He listen to me or answer my prayers? I was a smart, accomplished, self-confident fifteen-year old young woman. What was unrecognizable to me at that time was how God not only had heard my most desperate plea, but answered it in a way that was greater and more fulfilling than I could ever have imagined. George was supportive and respectful. As a parent, he taught me about joy, friendship, and responsibility. He modeled what a loving, respectful marriage looks like, and he became one of the most important influences in my life.

God promises that He has plans for us to give us hope and a future and He kept this promise. George coming into my life was definitely not the answer I had prayed for. It was better. Did you know what was happening? I was acutely aware of everything that was happening. I knew that my efforts to exit the boat were not working, that I was out of air, and that I was too far from the riverbank for anyone to reach me. I knew that I would probably die. Having grown up with a fear of drowning, I was surprised to find my transition from life to death was seamless, peaceful, and beautiful.

I felt quite wonderful. What was your faith life like before your death? Before my near-death-experience, I believed in God and took my kids to Sunday school but was not particularly religious. Like many accomplished young adults, I felt like I was in control of my life and my future. With my near-death-experience, the truth of God's promises and the reality of eternal life became a part of my every breath.

I am in constant prayer and regardless of what I am doing, I try to reflect God's love and live for His glory. I try not to miss opportunities to uplift or encourage the spiritual life of others, and I live with gratitude and joy, knowing that I never face challenges alone. Why do you think you came back to life? I certainly didn't want to return to Earth, but was given information about some of the work I had yet to complete and wasn't really given a choice.

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Review of To Heaven and Back by Mary C. Neal

I was expected to share my experiences and my story with others, helping transform their faith into compete trust that God keeps His promises. Do you have any regrets about this experience? I have not a hint of regret. In fact, my death and return to life is the greatest gift I have ever received, and I am continually grateful for having had this experience. How do you explain why this happened to you?

I have always been a private person, am not known to be a writer, and do not relish the attention of speaking.