What Dr. Mary Neal thought was going to be a simple kayaking vacation turned into an incredible spiritual journey that would change her forever.
Mary, who is an orthopedic surgeon, was on a kayaking trip in Chile with her husband and several friends. The group decided to brave a treacherous stretch of river known for its waterfalls that drop fifteen to twenty feet.
The doctor recalls going over one of the main drops in her kayak and seeing the tremendous waterfall turbulence below her. Within seconds, she plummeted over the edge, and the front of her boat was pinned down and completely submerged, trapping Mary underneath it.
Realizing she was trapped, Mary turned to God, praying that His will would be done in the situation.
"I very sincerely asked that God's will be done. And I meant it. I didn't say "oh please come and save me." I really meant it."
The doctor says the moment she spoke those words, she felt an overwhelming sense of calm wash over her.
"I had a very physical sensation of being held and comforted and reassured that everything was fine, that my husband would be fine, that my four young children would be fine regardless of whether I lived or died. And I believe that Christ was holding me when I was still in the boat and was the one reassuring me," she continued.
After several minutes of searching, the group members realized she was stuck. Although they kept trying to pull the boat free, the force and volume of the water was too intense. The group soon realized that it was turning into a body recovery search, as Mary had been underwater for nearly ten minutes.
But Mary's experience was anything but terrifying.
"I wasn't screaming, didn't have pain, I didn't have fear, I didn't have that sense of air hunger. I know I've been underwater too long to be alive, yet I feel more alive than I've ever felt, and this is more real than I've ever experienced. As my body broke free from my boat I felt my spirit break free from my body and I rose up and out on the river," she recalls.
Mary says she left her physical body, and was met by a group of heavenly beings who greeted her with delight.
"They were overjoyed to see me and greet me, and I them. I knew that they had known me and loved me as long as I had existed, and I knew that I had known them and loved them. I knew they were sent by God."
She describes seeing heaven for the first time and being dazzled by its immense beauty.
"[The heavenly beings] took me toward this great dome structure of sorts that was...exploding with the love of God that was beyond anything I could ever describe or ever truly explain. And I could hardly wait. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the sensation of being home, of being where I belonged."
To Mary's disappointment, the heavenly beings told her it wasn't her time, and that she needed to return to earth to complete her work.
She recalls seeing her body being pulled back to shore by her team members and one of them started CPR. Within minutes, she opened her eyes and reunited with her earthly friends. By this time, she had been gone for fifteen minutes-a survival that medical science cannot explain.
Dr. Mary Neal wrote a book called "To Heaven and Back" to document her journey and to reveal how the reality of God's love changed her for eternity.
"All of the promises of God are true," she said. "God loves each and every one of us and is there working in each and every one of our lives. That love is everything. If we truly could accept that-it changes everything. It changes the way you view every moment of every day. The fact that there really is life after death changes the way you approach every moment."