ARCADIA - - Many would agree that we live life with the knowledge that life as we know it can change at any moment. For Dr. Mary Neal, the day her life was forever changed was in January 1999 during a kayaking trip on the Fuy River in the remote Los Rios region in South America.
After dropping down a waterfall, her boat became lodged between another boat and rocks at the bottom of a waterfall, where she was hidden and pinned under torrents of water. The power of the water did not allow her an escape, though she tried to release herself from her boat.
As she came to the realization that there would be no escape for her, she asked God that His will be done in her life. She states that she had always believed that she was loved of God, and that He had a plan for her life. As she asked for His intervention, she felt an all encompassing peace, a calmness and the tangible sense of being held and comforted by someone, and that with certainty she knew it was Jesus. Her comforter took her on a journey back through events of her life from the perspective of how every human interaction she had affected the bigger world as a whole.
Dr. Neal states she was greeted in Heaven with overwhelming joy by a group of souls. While she could not personally identify anyone she met, she stated she knew they were from God. She states that her vocabulary is extremely limited when it comes to trying to describe Heaven and her experience there. While traveling down a path to a bright hall in Heaven, she could sense a pure and unconditional love. She could look back to earth at her body and her companions calling her name and begging her to breath and to come back to them as they continued CPR.
She sensed an unwillingness to return, a longing to remain and a feeling that she was home. She states her spiritual hosts explained to her that it was not her time and with great regret and protest on her part they escorted her back to the river bank, where her spirit was reunited with her body. (Her children in later years would tease her about being kicked out of Heaven).
The area where they had ventured was very remote, there were no roads, thick forestry, no cell towers; there was no way to call for help. She describes events that without reservation she calls miracles. Two Chilean men suddenly appeared out of nowhere and guided the kayaking guides and party through the thick brush of the wilderness for many hours, while carrying her until they reached a dirt road where an ambulance was waiting for them. No one had called, no one knew the party was in distress and in need of help, she was experiencing no pain, and she had an overwhelming sense that everything was fine.
Dr. Neal and her husband, Bill, flew back to Jackson Hole, Wyo., where she is a practicing orthopedic surgeon, and where her injuries were treated and a long recovery began. During the weeks of recovery from her physical wounds, she states that on several occasions her spirit left her and journeyed to a field where she sat on a rock talking with Jesus for what seemed like hours. It was during these conversations she gained the knowledge and understanding of important questions, like “What happens when you die?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and that Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 13, “that of faith, hope and love, the greatest is love.” It is also where she gained the unimpeachable knowledge that “God has a plan for each of us, a plan to prosper and not harm you, a plan to give you hope for the future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).
She states during these conversations she was also given a number of mandates, two of these mandates she is willing to discuss, the others she will keep to herself until the time is appropriate to reveal.
Her first mandate was to tell her story and to tell others that God indeed loves us and has an individual plan for each human being. Her eldest son Willie’s approaching death was revealed to her along with expectations of her during the days and weeks after his death, to help her family through the trauma. She states the greatest joy in her new life was nearly 10 years later; the day she decided to be obedient to the first mandate. She wrote her book "To Heaven and Back", with great urgency, and with great release of burden. Several weeks later her 19-year-old son Willie was killed in an accident.
Dr. Neal states that during her recovery and for a great time later, she tried to figure out what had happened to her that day back in 1999. In reviewing the rescue accounts and her medical records she learned that she was dead for over half an hour, yet she suffered no brain damage or long term affects that would impede her ability to eventually resume her surgical career.
The facts of her rescue and her experience were hard for her to reconcile. She states she has reviewed over 400 other accounts of after life experiences, most have similar aspects as those she experienced and after life experiences are more common that one might think.
She believes with understanding comes responsibility. If you believe God has a plan for your life you are accountable for every unloving word and every unloving action toward another human being. Dr. Neal explains she is in constant prayer and that she looks at everything that happens with the beauty which it was intended, regardless of the circumstance. She believes in the power of prayer, and that God is willing to make a difference in your life if you allow Him. She added, “It is not my job to make you believe my story, it is my job to tell my story, and to tell you that God has a plan for your life.”