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Snapshots from the Frankfurt Book Fair, Munich & Austria

It’s already been three weeks since a remarkable and, in some ways, magical trip to Germany for the Frankfurt Buchmesse. The journey morphed into an unforgettable few days of hiking and sightseeing in Austria, and then returning to my old home in Munich and seeing my dearest friends.

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Martha signs book cards at the Frankfurt Book Fair. She was a big hit with adults and kids alike.

I traveled to Frankfurt last-minute to  support my loving friend (and so much more) of 50 years, Martha Halda, there for the world release of her memoir, A Taste of Eternity, in its German-language version, Der Duft des Engels (The Wings of Angels). Watching Martha  sign autographs for thousands of festival attendees was truly divine, as we spent three years turning A Taste of Eternity from an idea into the life-affirming memoir it is. The same publisher that picked up Martha’s book, sorriso Verlag, also published Just Add Water in German translation — also launched at Frankfurt.2015-10-16 14.41.09

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A moment that warmed the teacher’s heart inside me: Kids hanging in the patio of the Frankfurt Book Fair, sitting in hammocks, reading … refreshing.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is an amazing conglomeration of publishing nations, their authors, and the hands that work the levers behind global publishing. I checked out books and publishers from dozens of countries, including wonderful exhibits at the Indonesia, Vietnam, Ireland, China, and Australia-New Zealand pavilions. (Also had to see When We Were The Boys and Just Add Water in two different booths in the English-language pavilion; that definitely fulfilled a life dream!)

Frankfurt also made a great effort to promote young adult and children’s reading through an outdoor reading area and a weekend nod to Comic-Con. Thousands of kids turned out. The way young reading has gone south in the U.S., I never thought I’d see thousands of teenagers in one place for the sake of books. I didn’t see anywhere near so many at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, whose overall crowd was comparable.

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A few of the earthly treasures at the Antiquarian Book Fair. Most of these titles are older than the U.S.

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One of the books that got Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei into hot water with the Catholic Church. The book was originally written in his hand.

The other highlight was the Antiquarian Book Fair, 48 exhibits and vendors. First of all, “antiquarian” in Europe carries a far different meaning than in the U.S.; jump on the timeline and go back several centuries. The fact that the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg, lived and worked not 10 miles away, added to the intrigue. Books dated back to the mid 15th century, but my favorite was De Systemate Mundi, a book on the planets by Galileo, likely among the volumes that got him booted from the Catholic Church for heresy and placed under house arrest. So much history in these 48 exhibits … I will be writing more on this.

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Mist, light, snow-covered mountains, and tight, steep roads in small mountain resorts… what’s not to love about this part of Europe?

Afterwards, Martha treated me to a huge “thank you” for helping her with her book — some hiking and sightseeing above the gorgeously rustic, small Austrian resort of St. Johann im Pongau, Austria. I’d driven though this town 30 miles south of Salzburg while living in Munich, but not like this: two days of long hikes, culminating with a random visit to Kreistenalm (Christ’s alms), a ski lodge in the Austrian Alps. While I got us around in my very broken German, Martha reveled. Ever seen a grown girl cry during lunch in a ski lodge? The reasons were clear: Her book concerns meeting angels and the Divine after she was pronounced clinically dead in October 1999, she’s coming off a Frankfurt launch (every global author’s dream) in October 2015, we’re in the Alps, and the lodge’s name is the center of her spiritual path. Wonderful, wonderful moment.

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A view of St. Johann im Pongau from the sky box seats (actually, beginning of the steep trail to Kreistenalm)

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The ski lodge that served up a magical moment: KreistenAlm: Hearty Welcome. And, it was.

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50 years to the month after we first saw ‘The Sound of Music’ in Carlsbad, we joined forces again in Salzburg, where most of the movie was filmed.

We had one more surprise, this belonging to our lifelong friendship. We spent a day in Salzburg, which I knew from having played tour guide to family and friends while living in Munich. Martha waxed nostalgic, and wanted to go on the Sound of Music bus tour. My idea of a tourist bus tour is to get to a destination, put on my pack, jump off at a random stop, and do my thing. Especially in a European city with a strong musical connection — outside America, Salzburg is revered not for Julie Andrews, but for Mozart, who grew up and began performing there. This time, I played nice. The reason? You’re going to accuse me of being a creative fiction writer, which I am, but follow this very true bouncing ball:

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Our ‘Sound of Music’ tour guide was brash, Austrian, and filled with the spirit of the tour. This is the gazebo where the love scene between Maria and Col. Von Trapp was shot.

Fifty years ago, in 1965, The Sound of Music opened and toured select theaters nationwide, among the last blockbuster movies to be roadhoused before chains and massive screen openings took over. A month after first grade began, in October 1965, Martha and I joined a class field trip to see the movie at San Diego’s Loma Theatre. Now, exactly 50 years later, we were touring the movie’s sets, both inside and outside Salzburg, after watching the film again to reacquaint. Let’s just say more than a few people were blown away when they heard this.

Afterwards, we did see a Mozart chamber concert, in one of the chamber rooms in which Mozart performed fairly often at the Festung Hohensalzburg, the 1,300-year-old white fortress atop Salzburg. The Sound of Music is awesome, but there is nothing like hearing a maestro’s music where he performed and conducted. The walls really do start talking…

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A quick return to my old Munich home on Oberlanderstrasse (yellow section, bottom 2 floors of windows).

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The Rathaus in Munich, one of the world’s most amazing buildings.

Finally, my friend Tobias Groeber, the director of the massive ispo trade fair (which I served as U.S. communications liaison for six years), and my closest friend in Germany, magazine publisher Wolfgang Greiner, threw a barbecue in Munich never to be forgotten. We feasted on fishes and meats from Spain, Turkey, and Germany, cuisine from a few other countries, first class all the way.

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How to keep a 6-foot-tall blonde with German blood happy: Bier und obatzda mit brez’l!

What amazed me, though, was talking about Just Add Water with 13-year-old surfing twins. Nothing unusual, except this: they were German surfers, locals who rode those frigid (but sometimes good) northwest swells in the North Sea. Chilling. Impressive. These hearty souls had no trouble connecting tall, blonde, California girl Martha with a place to stay on the Southern California coast. Smart kids!

Enjoy the photos and pictures … and get ready for an incredible next blog, an interview with British author and novelist Ann Morgan. Her book, The World Between Two Covers, may well change the way you read and regard world literature. Her novel, Beside Myself, is equally amazing. We’ll let her take it from there, in this special preview of a longer interview we will be publishing in The Hummingbird Review next summer.

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‘Love is the Beauty That Gives Color to Life’: A Taste of Eternity author Martha Halda

When Martha Halda sweeps into a room, people notice — immediately. If you don’t notice her long, rangy presence, then her smile will light you up. Her laughter shakes the edge off the toughest moments, and her closest friends often find themselves on the receiving end of lips, hearts, winks, sun-faces and other emoticons during texting sessions.

Martha Halda, taking in a Himalayan waterfall

Martha Halda, taking in a Himalayan waterfall

There is definitely a playful, childlike side to the author of the riveting new memoir A Taste of Eternity, one that visibly brightens the worlds of others. Imagine the most loving, vivacious, adventurous playmate popping into your house and hauling you outside, only this playmate has kids that are 30 and 27. Her playfulness is a lesson to us all not to take life too seriously; her ability to brighten hearts and souls comes from more than that.

It has been almost sixteen years since Martha’s life ended, revived, ended, revived, ended… and changed forever. On October 8, 1999, a car accident left her for dead… and then took her away. Before the night was over, she had been officially pronounced dead three times. Her ensuing Near Death Experiences (NDEs) brought her face to face with the Divine in a vivid way she recounts in A Taste of Eternity. More importantly, they changed her life, and how to handle its challenges while constantly seeking to bring out the greatness in others — definitely the dance of an angel.

The world is about to share Martha’ s journey. A Taste of Eternity will be published in Fall 2015 by Sorriso Verlag in Germany. It is scheduled to be presented at the prestigious Frankfurt Book Fair, one of the world’s five largest. Negotiations continue with American publishers, with a 2016 publishing date.

Now that she’s finished the long process of writing such a poignant memoir, Martha sat down to discuss her journey, and what comes next. As usual, the conversation was spiced with equal parts reflection, wisdom, laughter, and direct honesty.

"A Taste of Eternity" author Martha Halda

“A Taste of Eternity” author Martha Halda

WJ: Congratulations on finishing A Taste of Eternity. You were at it for quite awhile; must feel in a way like they’ve finally wheeled you out of the delivery room.

Martha Halda: That only takes nine months and a few hours of hard pushing! (laughs). Thank you. When I was in Heaven, I’d promised God I would write about my experiences there, and that was in 1999. A lot has happened since, but finally, I was able to sit down, put one story in front of the other, and get to this point.

WJ: What was the greatest joy — and struggle — you had with this book?

MH: Reliving it. I had difficulty trying to write down feelings and finding words for what I experienced; words became incredibly limiting. I just couldn’t get the stuff down. (At my life review in Heaven), trying to share my soul’s trials and tribulations from hurting someone… not an easy thing, because at some point, we have to admit our mistakes and face your faults. It’s hard to find the correct words.

One of the ways around this was, I shared a lot of my review with Study groups, friends, to my love. As a writer, he helped me fine-tune the words. He fortunately — and also unfortunately — got to see me when it was overwhelming, when I smiled with joy, but also when a memory came back so strongly I would cry uncontrollably and not be able to explain why.

WJ: The first part of A Taste of Eternity reads like otherworldly writing… because it is. What surprised you most about your Heavenly journey while your body lay on the road?

MH: What surprised me the most… not an easy thing to answer. I was caught off guard that God was not a larger-than-life Herculean figure, full of fire and brimstone, sitting upon a throne. He wasn’t looking to condemn me for all my faults and misdeeds. I had a few of those. This is hard to explain, but he did not have the appearance I expected, and yet I instantly perceived him as The Trinity — Father-Son-Holy Ghost. I do not have “enough words” to describe what I saw and felt. He has no name, no image, I recognized him instantly but still he was merely a sphere, a sphere of energy of the utmost Pure Love – God is Love.

WJ: One of the things we hear about is the ‘life review,’ essentially a high speed playback of our actions, good or bad. Could you describe that experience, and why it became the thematic building block both for A Taste of Eternity and the rest of your life?

MH: I learned that we must treat others the way we want to be treated. Eventually we will feel any hurt we place on others, whether it is intentional or not. I learned no one is better than any other person, not because they run farther, surf better, are more creatively gifted or more financially well off. We are each special in our own way. When our life is done, our relationships and memories are really all we get to take with us to heaven; the rest stays here.

Love and forgiveness are the strongest traits of the soul, because the heart governs the soul. It is a pure expression of God and what a wonderful thing to share. I am never ashamed or feel shy or embarrassed when I express my love for someone. Love is the beauty that gives the color to life, both here and in heaven.

WJ: There might be the most beautiful sentence we’ve seen in a long time. You’ve spoken to groups of some true skeptics, yet when you’ve made comments like this and shared your stories, everyone walks away saying, ‘She really was in heaven.’ But their skepticism was well founded: some NDE stories have proven to be anything but.

MH: You’re right, and that really bothers me. I really want to be careful here, because any experience authentic and profound enough to be written about is something we should look at. However, I don’t understand why anyone would want to willingly and purposefully write a book on NDE if it wasn’t a truthful experience. To write on this subject for me came strictly from my promise to God that “I would tell of his love”. Other than that promise, this would not have been a choice subject. I am sometimes greeted with less than open arms, and sometimes I receive cruel comments like, ‘Oh, so you think you’ve been to Heaven…’ Now that is hurtful.

WJ: One reason people will buy A Taste of Eternity is because their souls yearn for something greater than they experience on earth — and you paint a vivid picture of that ‘something greater’. Why are we so fascinated?

MH: I believe people want to know they matter, that their life wasn’t some fleeting moment with no meaning. They may receive a second chance to correct life screw-ups, and it’s important to know the value of doing so. I felt that was one of my obligations in writing this book. I, for one, want to believe our trials and tribulations are there for some greater good, to use as a marker in our life, or to be there for someone else to learn from.

WJ: That’s a yearning people often don’t share for fear of ridicule — but you’re bringing out into the open.

MH: People have been fascinated by this question for centuries. They just might be more open to showing it now. For centuries, one wouldn’t consider letting anyone know they wondered about the soul’s journey; in many places, this could mean being condemned, or worse.

WJ: To close, you have a wonderful little affirmation that seems to describe both you and A Taste of Eternity. Take it away…

MH: I can, I shall, I will, dance in the spotlight of God’s love.

With that, Martha left — but not before texting out a few hearts, stars, angels and smiling faces. In a sense, heaven-sent.

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A Higher Purpose: Not Fearing Death Part 2 of Interview with ‘A Taste of Eternity’ Author Martha Halda

How do life-changing or transforming events affect our life purpose? And how do we integrate everything we do into that purpose – and then share it with others?

Martha Halda has found her way: By writing A Taste of Eternity, a forthcoming memoir about how one afternoon reshaped her outlook on life, and the way she chooses to live it.

On October 8, 1999, Martha suffered a horrific car accident, after which she was pronounced clinically dead three caa18c26a173d0dd5e52ba7e572fad9atimes. She remains the only person in the 50-year history of Palomar Pomerado Hospital (North San Diego County) to survive after scoring 0 on her CRAM (Clinical Risk Assessment and Management). Those who score 0 to 1 almost always die, or live in a paralyzed and/or persistent vegetative state. She recovered fully – even completing the 2002 Dublin Marathon.

During her passing over, she had a profound near death experience. How that experience transformed and shifted her life, and how she carried it forward, is covered in A Taste of Eternity, now making its rounds among major publishers through literary agent Dana Newman.

Martha also offers behind-the-chapters stories pertaining to the book at her blog, http://atasteofeternity.wordpress.com.

This is the second of a touching, life-affirming two-part interview with Martha, which comes at a most fitting time, as millions begin to celebrate Easter or Passover.

Word Journeys: Why do so many people find it hard to believe someone can have a near death experience, taste eternity, or have direct perception of God?

Martha Halda: I feel it’s because we are too busy judging.  Judgment causes the unbearable fear of non-acceptance.  Think about it, from our first day on the playground, all we want is to be accepted, to be part of the group, invited in.  Some people can’t accept what they haven’t seen, touched or felt themselves. Some need science to prove anything or everything before they will accept it, Often, people are afraid that society will think them odd or mentally off.  To talk about this, I needed the faith that comes from knowing that what I experienced was 100% real.   Faith can go a long way, but first we must to get out of our own way. We need to remove the mighty ego.  Many people still need society to accept it, before they are willing.

WJ: That’s a great point – and leads to my next question. A Taste of Eternity crosses all religious lines – and goes beyond them. When I read it, I saw how you touched and experienced the unifying point behind ALL religions. Could you speak to the essence of spirit, based on your experience?

MH: For me, the essence of spirit is sharing, caring, love, a unity of all things.  I mean all things: everything is energy, it is all particles or atoms or cells, and they are all part of each other.  During my experience, at one point, I had a mental vision or thought that a waterfall would be nice; suddenly, particles from all over a meadow came together and re-formed as a waterfall.  It was as if everything existed to bring pleasure.

img_1293WJ: Three years after your accident, after being told you would never walk again, you completed the Dublin Marathon. How did the marathon intensify your desire to live life to the max, without fear of what may or may not happen next?  

MH: I know that any day could be my last. When it’s my time, then it’s my time, I have no fear of death; in fact, I welcome the day.  I won’t do anything to bring it on myself, because I want to be sure I get to go to Heaven again, and I don’t want to feel the hurt I would cause my friends.

WJ: How does your family view your experience now, compared with how they first responded to it?

MH: They don’t really view it differently at all.  We don’t talk about it much.  It may have changed their views of life indirectly, but it is a personal thing.  I feel they have a beauty inside their souls knowing that God is there for each of us, and there is no reason to fear death.

WJ: How did your life purpose change from your experience?

MH: Today, I don’t know if I really have one, in the traditional way. I used to have a very clear purpose as a mother. Now, it is just to see life in all things with joy. I want to understand how and why religions say their way is the only right way; the loving embrace of the God I met was not that condemning.  I feel if people would open their hearts and minds to another’s way, they would see the commonality in our beliefs, customs, and lifestyles, and not the differences.

WJ: You came back with heightened senses, one of which is a particular affinity with animals, which you discuss in the book. Could you elaborate?

MH: I just look into the eyes of birds, dogs, cats, birds or deer and can tell if they are happy and well or not.  They don’t fear me, and some will become very assertive toward me in a good way. They know they are safe with me.  That’s all.  When you bring this up, I get the opportunity to feel the way some of the people in my life felt about me talking about my near death experience – shoosh! someone might hear you. (laughs)

WJ: When people read books like A Taste of Eternity, or talk with you about it, what would you like them to take away from the experience?

MH: Simply the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you.  To give, share, and express love; it’s the most important thing we have to offer! Love is the only Eternal possession we have. When we die, the only thing we take is the love we shared, the memories we make, and our integrity. Everything else stays here.  No U-Hauls in Heaven.

WJ: Finally, last year on your birthday, you did something not a lot of 50-somethings would do: jumped off a 50-foot cliff into the Ganges River near Varanasi, India – not once, but several times.

MH: Well, I was also the only high school girl skateboarder in the mid-1970s who bombed the steep La Costa hills in Carlsbad (Calif.), where I grew up! So it’s not that much of a departure for me. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I’d been white-water rafting all morning with two young ladies from Scotland who were also go-for-it women. I saw the cliffs, told our guide to beach the raft, walked past some Indian men who were thinking about it but were afraid to jump … and I stepped in front of them and jumped. I laugh every time I close my eyes and see the looks on their faces! It was one of those extraordinary moments. I’m always ready for them.

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Tasting Eternity: Interview with Memoirist Martha Halda

For the past 15 years, I have enjoyed the distinct privilege of editing many compelling and even life-changing memoirs, novels and non-fiction books. Few, if any, can match Martha Halda’s story.

On October 8, 1999, Martha suffered a horrific car accident. She was pronounced clinically dead three times. So dire was her condition that her sons, Aaron

"A Taste of Eternity" author Martha Halda

“A Taste of Eternity” author Martha Halda

(then 14) and Nathan (then 11), were brought into her room to say goodbye. Martha remains the only person in the 50-year history of Palomar Pomerado Hospital (North San Diego County) to survive after scoring 0 on her CRAM (Clinical Risk Assessment and Management). Those who score 0 to 1 almost always die; those who score 2 to 3 typically die, or live in a vegetative or severely impaired state. She recovered fully – even completing the 2002 Dublin Marathon – and to embarking on a life purpose that informs everything she does: giving and receiving love, and experiencing each moment to its fullest.

VISIT ‘A TASTE OF ETERNITY’ HOME BLOG

During her passing over, she had a profound near death experience that expanded the deeper purpose and meaning of her Christian walk and life, as well as giving her a much more clear understanding of once vague notions of heaven. That experience, how it blessed, transformed and shifted her life, and how she carried it forward, is covered in her memoir, A Taste of Eternity, now making the rounds among major publishers through literary agent Dana Newman.

This is the first of a two-part interview with Martha. During this Easter and Passover season, enjoy one of the most transformative and life-affirming interviews you may ever read.

Word Journeys: What two or three things from your near death experience stand out, because of the way they impacted your life moving forward?

Martha Halda: I’d shout it from every mountaintop if need be; We are to share love, to all God’s people and creatures.  I was shown love is the most important thing to give. I have a tendency to tell people, “I love you”. Unfortunately, in our society, this can come off odd (laughs), but love to me is not only physical. I want to take the opportunity to tell the people I care about; it may be my last chance.  Another thing I saw is that all life is connected. There are no accidents in life, only providential events. That has helped me during the more difficult stages.  It is up to us, to choose which way we direct our life, according to events.

WJ: How does that work on a daily basis?

MH: I now try to take better notice of things when they are occurring, knowing there is a lesson I want to learn from them the first time. That way, they won’t have to be presented again, which usually is much harder lesson.

WJ: What are a couple of misconceptions that people who haven’t been through a near death experience carry about them?

MH (chuckles): There are a few. I’ll break them out:

1. Some doctors insist it is only a neurochemical reaction to the dying brain. That amuses me. In my experience, the doctors that think this way are ones dealing with death often, such as oncologists. I feel it is a form of denial or emotional protection.  Others say it’s caused by electrical charges of the neutrons misfiring while people die, similar to the side effects of drugs like peyote, psilocybin, or an LSD trip. I certainly don’t want to suggest this pertains to the majority of doctors; for me it was the exception.

2. That you cannot die and come back. I have been treated as if I were working on the side of evil by sharing this experience.  Some church people do follow an approach that basically says a near death experience would never be a possibility for a follower of Christ.  I am a Christian, I did have that experience, and many Christians find comfort in what I share.

3. Some people are either out of touch, or narrow-minded. My first rehab hospital nurse was this way. When I reviewed my injuries with her, I told her, “I went to Heaven.”  She gripped my arm and said, “never tell anyone, or they will never let you out of here.”  To her, I was crazy.

images-22WJ: You write very specifically and deeply about your near death experience, showing how the concept of time doesn’t exist in heaven. Could you elaborate on how you moved from one place to another, one realm to another, without the feeling of time?

MH: Time had no relevance.  The truly powerful currency came from what was I to learn, the knowledge, and life’s lessons.  My entire forty years of life (as of 1999) was shown to me via imagery, a type of ESP, which included all the human senses.  I felt all the feelings I gave someone, received, or caused a person to have.  My angel and I traveled from one place to another drifting, floating, like watching a butterfly or hummingbird.  We just sort of up and went, gliding to the next place of my review, divinely guided.

WJ: Right after your near death experience, you were put into a medically induced coma. Were you able to absorb your experience while in a comatose state?

MH: Many people think that coma patients are not aware of their surroundings, that you are not receptive, but you actually are. I could hear much of what was taking place and comprehend what was being said.

During my coma, I was also able to reflect on Heaven.  I had more visits from my Angel.  When I became distressed or my pastor was doing laying-on-of-hands healing, she was there; it was like looking out a window to her. She offered me peace, comforting me, reminding me that I would be all right, that God loved me and was looking over me.  The veil of Heaven had been lifted. I had seen the other side, the sweetness, the love, the way in which we are a portion of each other, the way God had intended our lives to be.

WJ: What happened when you first came out of the coma?

MH: When the doctors began lifting me out, the first thing that struck me the wrong way was a country music CD playing; it sounded like a sad woman wailing.  Then the TV …  it seemed evil to me. I remember asking a nurse through eye movement, tears streaming down my face, to turn it off.  The news was so depressing … you can imagine what I thought of daytime TV dramas! (laughs)

WJ: What brought you back to this life – when medical indications, and your own feelings while in eternity, made it seem you would not come back?

MH: My boys, Aaron and Nathan. At first, I didn’t accept that I was to return to life. I begged and bartered to stay in Heaven; it was so lovely, I wanted to stay forever.  As part of my barter, I was shown by God the Father, The Trinity, The Omniscient One, The Ultimate Power, Divine Source, The Absolute, Cosmic Creator – whatever you choose to call it – what would come in my life if I returned … or if I stayed. I saw many horrific things would happen to my boy’s lives, how negatively their personalities would be affected by my death.

Then I was shown my life if I came back, the negatives that would happen. It would not be easy. I saw trials, and heartbreaks. I was given a choice, which way to go. After weighing the two, and seeing the future of my sons, I instantly chose to come back. I wanted to be there for my babies, to love them.

I made a promise to God, if he let me return to my boys, I would tell of his great love, and hence A Taste of Eternity.  It was my choice, but it combined my defiance, some reverse psychology, and the presence of parental wisdom.

To read Part 2 of the interview with Martha Halda

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