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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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Home from Vacation: Paying Witness to a Most Inspiring Achievement

When a man dressed in tux and tails rolls his baby grand piano into a meadow, and plays classical music for passing runners while the sun rises to herald a 55-degree morning in Southwestern Montana, you know it’s going to be a good day for a half marathon.

Loading onto the buses at 5 a.m.

Loading onto the buses at 5 a.m.

Somehow, this very unusual sight made perfect sense for a day that could have been a real bummer, but turned out to be one of the more memorable feel-good experiences I can recall.

This past weekend, we were in Missoula, home of the University of Montana, to celebrate my return to the Boston Marathon. So I thought. Missoula was my qualifying race, and as of a month ago, I was primed to run around 3 hours, 20 minutes, easily below the 3:30 standard for 26.2 miles that I needed to get into my fourth Boston. All I had to do was stick to the workouts, rest and recover, taper down, avoid injury …

Avoid injury. Like a runner in Missoula told me Saturday, “that’s half the battle to get to the starting line, isn’t it?” Well, I didn’t avoid injury. I developed a sore heel, Achilles tendinitis, and a strained calf muscle. That erased my final five weeks of training, so I had to watch fellow competitors cross the line to the cheers of thousands. What a major, demoralizing disappointment …

Only, it wasn’t.

I switched focus to the positive, and was it ever positive. I watched my sweetheart, Martha Halda, add another notch to her ongoing legacy of life, which she is chronicling in her memoir, A Taste of Eternity, now being reviewed for publication. Martha entered the Missoula Half-Marathon, a miracle in itself when you consider that in a 1999 car accident, the impetus of A Taste of Eternity, she broke her pelvis and hips in many places (among many grievous injuries) after her Ford Expedition landed on top of her. She’d overcome a “you won’t walk again” diagnosis to walk the Dublin Marathon in 2003. Now, ten years later, she was trying the long stuff again … only this time, she would walk much faster, and do more than walk.

While Martha made her way around the picturesque 13.1-mile course that wound into the Norman Rockwell-like neighborhoods

Half marathon race leaders at 7-mile mark

Half marathon race leaders at 7-mile mark

of South Missoula, my job was to cheer her on and shoot photos. I’ve ‘caddied’ for others before, joining Martha in a 5K last Thanksgiving Day, course-hopping like a jacked-up rabbit to urge on the Union County High cross-country teams I coached, and helping my friend and former UCHS cross-country coach Jeff Brosman complete the Evansville Half Marathon in 2008.

This was different. First of all, I’m not 100% healed yet, so just getting onto the course played into the day. Four days before, while hiking in stunning Glacier National Park, I’d felt my calf twinge during a steady uphill climb, which forced our party of four (my high school running coach Brad Roy, his wife Susan, Martha and me) to take an easier, flatter route. It was by no means a safe bet that I would do anything but sit at the finish for three hours and wait.

I mapped out a shortcut from the finish to the halfway point, and ran five easy miles to get there. All good: no pain in the ankle or calf.  A police officer saw me heading west with my Missoula Marathon shirt on (they gave full and half runners different colored shirts), and she cracked, “You’re going the wrong way!” I heard that more than once …

After arriving, I shot photos for awhile, cheered on passing runners, and waited for Martha.

Martha pushes ahead of the pack at the halfway point

Martha pushes ahead of the pack at the halfway point

She wanted to power walk at 14-minute mile pace, which is a little more than 4 mph – a very fast walk. Since I was sitting at the 6.5-mile mark, I expected to see her 85 to 90 minutes into the race. I talked with spectators, fumbled around with my iPhone camera, stretched my legs, soaked in the tall field grasses, oaks, cottonwoods and blue spruce …

She charged around the corner. Running, not walking. I looked at my watch: 78 minutes. Already well ahead of goal pace! I scrambled to get ahead of her and shoot photos as she ran past. The glow on her face was sublime; happiness and joy never wore a more beautiful expression.

For the next four miles, we ran-walked the course together (the wonderful Missoula staff and volunteers were incredibly nice about letting ‘caddies’ amble alongside their racers for short periods of time). Martha kept pushing and throwing short running intervals between her walk segments. I was surprised, because a week before, we’d nearly argued while on a long walk together, due to my analytical breakdown of paces and finishing times. Or, as Martha would say (and did), “ANAL-ytical”. You know, “If you average 14 minutes per mile, you’ll finish in 3 hours, 4 minutes.” When you’re walking the backside of Oceanside Harbor on a sweet summer morning, seagulls and boats bobbing in the still, warm water to your right, it’s best not to go scientific on your loved one!

Kids cheering on runners with their signs

Kids cheering on runners with their signs

One of the many Victorians on the course route

One of the many Victorians on the course route

As we ticked off miles, I watched her stride, body alignment, and the looks on her face. The coach in me. She talked with others as they passed or she passed them, kept her eyes focused straight ahead, smiled and enjoyed the amazing old Victorian homes, and kids offering gummi bears, lemonade, smiles, and cute signs. I marveled at the turnout. In all my years of racing, I’ve never seen a bigger on-course crowd for a race in a small city. It exceeded many big-city races as well. Nor have I seen greater enthusiasm, with the possible exception of Boston. It was obvious why Runner’s World magazine anointed Missoula the nation’s top marathon (in 2009).

Martha looked strong. Very strong, in spite of the fact her hips were hurting, and she grimaced every time she slowed from a running interval.

Refueling on gummi bears at mile 10

Refueling on gummi bears at mile 10

Still, she wouldn’t change her strategy. She smiled, lengthened her long stride to compensate for a slight slowing down of pace, and moved forward. One thing I know about this girl: She will finish what she sets her mind to do. Whenever possible, she’ll do so with the same ‘I love life’ smile on her face as she wore on the Missoula streets.

As we passed 10 miles, it was almost time for me to leave the course for my next task: Shortcutting to the finish line, across the bridge from Clark River (named for William Clark of Lewis & Clark fame), to shoot photos of her finish. Her pace had slowed, but she’d gained more than enough time earlier “to do something very special,” I told her. “Just hold this pace for three more miles, stay out of the aid station traffic jams, and even if you don’t run anymore, you’ve got it.”

We kissed and I headed off, but not before texting Brad and Susan Roy, who were following Martha’s progress through my text messages. “She’s on 2:55-56 pace. Looking strong. She’s got it,” I texted.

“WOW! Fantastic!” Brad texted back. That’s where I learned my supportive, ever-positive coaching philosophy from … the Master.

The ambiance of Missoula, including throwback ice cream walk-ups

The ambiance of Missoula, including throwback ice cream walk-ups

A few minutes later, I immersed into the pandemonium of the finish line. Crowds were lined four deep from the tape to the start of the bridge, a good 200 meters away. Every time a runner charged across the bridge, the PA announcer called the name and the fans cheered. Every time.

Soon enough, Martha reached the bridge and broke into a finishing kick. As a former collegiate 800-meter runner, she knew how to kick. She was between two packs of runners, each 20 meters away. She ran alone, which lit up the PA announcers – and the fans. As they cheered her across, I felt shivers in my spine. If only they knew her story, I thought. But they will, when her book comes out.

Martha pushes for home in front of large crowds on the Clark River Bridge

Martha kicks for home in front of large crowds on the Clark Fork River Bridge

I shot photos as pride and joy surged through my heart. As she hit the tape, I looked at the clock time: 2:58. Her actual chip time would probably be a couple of minutes faster, since it takes two or three minutes to get to the starting line when you’re amongst a field of 3,500. “I think you ran 2:56,” I told her. An achievement-filled, adrenalin-aided smile broke across her face.

Martha’s goal was to finish the half marathon in 14-minute pace, or 3:04. Her official time was 2:56:00.7. By anyone’s measure, that’s busting the doors down.

Since I run for time and place in these races, and usually finish in the top 5 of

Finished!

Finished!

my age division, I never see what happens in the middle of the pack. This entire experience took place in the middle, and opened my eyes to the whole point of tackling a challenge, or a goal: to see if you can do it, and then to push yourself to exceed expectations. I’ve always recommended that serious racers jump into the pack to support someone who’s out there because they want to cross the finish line of a half marathon. For me, it’s a reminder of the joy of running.

In this case, it turned what otherwise would have been a disappointing morning into one of the greatest days of my running life. The best part? I get to experience the afterglow of accomplishment as it shines from Martha’s face every day – even though she winces every time she has to walk downstairs or downhill. Ah, the exquisite agony of sore muscles after a long race well-run …

How sweet it is!

How sweet it is!

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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.

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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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