Linda Stewart’s journey to understand God began in the rugged environment of a Texas childhood that was filled with “rattlesnakes, tornadoes, and hellfire-and-damnation.” Her early concept of God was molded by the pervasive, extremist religious community of the Bible Belt exemplified by the Southern Baptist Religion practiced by her parents. The wrathful, vengeful God, as taught by her religion, instilled in Linda a deep fear of God, death and the afterlife. Her lifelong search for a loving God and release from the paralyzing fear of death culminated in a brief journey to heaven after a debilitating illness. The near-death experience transformed Linda, showing her that God is only a loving God, who does not judge and punish. She came to understand the Oneness of all existence which permeated her life with peace and the unfaltering knowledge of God’s goodness. Her near-death experience was published in Kevin Williams’ NDE book entitled, Nothing Better Than Death.
When I finally gave up my will to live, relinquishing my life unto death was sublimely easy after my long illness and loss of everything that had made life worthwhile for me. The decision to leave this world hung suspended in an extended moment of absolute quiet. Passionless, I watched my spirit leave my body as a feeling of “otherness” engulfed me. I felt a strange detachment from my physical body and the life I had created. I was no longer connected to a pitiful, suffering mass of flesh. I was not that body and yet, I still existed but in a new state of being. Gone was the wrenching pain that had accompanied my every waking moment. The strain of expanding my lungs to gasp for air had disappeared. Fatigue, which had weighted my life for years, had lifted. Depression no longer drained my mind of hope. Sight and sounds did not sear my head with pain, leaving me emotionally bereft. And yet, I still existed. I felt weightless and calm.
Although I knew I was not in the lifeless body lying on my bed, and that the eyes and brain I had previously identified as mine, were in that inanimate object with which I no longer identified, I was still aware of sight and thoughts and sensations. I observed my new reality with tranquility. Slowly I looked around and below me I saw a vast, endless blackness. Like a void or black hole, I was irresistibly drawn toward the darkness. Gradually, I felt myself sinking toward it. I thought, without fear or any emotional reaction, “Isn’t that strange?” I had been so afraid I was going to be judged and sent to either heaven or hell. But it appeared I would simply disappear into the dark nothingness. As even my new awareness waned, I yielded to the heaviness overtaking me as darkness filled my mind. My vision became obscured as I began to merge into the blackness.
Offering no resistance, I released my hold on any remaining shred of consciousness and personal identity. At the very moment I felt the last of me disappearing into nothingness, I was suddenly buffeted by a powerful, energetic force that swooped beneath and lifted me, carrying me upward.
Barely conscious, my only awareness was a sensation of rising. I seemed to be traveling upward at an unimaginable speed. A clean sensation of wind rushed over my face and body with tremendous force and yet there was no discomfort. Vast distances seemed to fly by me and the higher I rose, the more my head cleared. I became aware of a deep sense of peace and warmth that permeated my senses. Confused, because the energy that had enveloped me had a definite presence, I tried to see what was happening and who was carrying me; who or what cared so deeply for me? I felt peaceful and loved immeasurably. I knew I was in the arms of a being who cherished me with perfect love and carried me from the dark void into a new reality.
As my mind cleared, scoured of the remnants of mortal, past associations, I was finally able to open my being fully to spirit and my vision cleared.
With the eyes of my soul body, I looked to see what held me in such love and I beheld a radiant, Spirit being, so magnificent and full of love that I knew I would never again feel the sense of loss. I have no way of explaining how, but I knew the Spirit was Christ. It was not a belief, perception or understanding, but my recognition of Christ came from my new perspective of spirit.
I did not see the Spirit as I had seen Jesus of Nazareth depicted in paintings, but the innate knowing of my heart remembered and acknowledged Christ. The radiant Spirit was Christ, the manifestation and expression of pure love. Because of my Christian education, I knew no other name to call what I felt as I looked at him.
Others might have called him Buddha, or Yahweh, or Great Spirit in the Sky, but the naming did not matter, only the recognition of absolute love and truth was important. Safe in the gentle yet powerful embrace of his love, I rested, secure that everything was okay, exactly as it was supposed to be.
Ascending ever farther, I lifted my eyes to see a great light in the vast distance. With Christ as my guide, I rapidly approached the light. Ecstasy filled my soul as I looked at the radiance, many-fold brighter than a sun.
The light was everywhere and everything, the brightest I had ever seen and dazzling beyond description. Brilliant enough to blind or burn, yet I was not harmed.
The light moved over and through me, washing every hidden place of my heart, removing all hurt and fear, transforming my very being into a song of joy. I had thought the love I felt from Christ was complete, yet, the light toward which we were soaring was the fulfillment of my search, the loving Source of all that exists, the God of truth and unconditional love, the origin of creation.
My understanding of love was forever changed. The majesty and glory of that vision was an ineffable moment that defined forever more, the direction of my new truth. I was home and I wanted nothing more than to remain in the light of God. Christ had delivered me into the light and I stood in the presence of God. I was filled with complete knowing: The light was love and love was God. Waves of consummate love which emanated from the light obliterated every burden I carried and every thought that kept me from knowing God. I was made aware of my purity. With new clarity, I realized I had been walking through life ghostlike, wrapped in a shroud of fear, huddled against illusions. I stood like a lover, open to the liquid flow of golden light that filled my empty shell to overflowing.
There was no limit to the outpouring as I came to the rapturous awareness of the infinite nature of God’s love. There was no place that God did not exist and I was within God. I am an inseparable part of the light. The truth of who I am, indeed, who we all are, is perfect love as a creation of God. All of God’s creation is one creation and I am one with creation. God and I are one, Creator and created.
I had spent a lifetime of fear of judgment and now, standing with God, I had been known completely and found faultless. I knew God regarded me as perfect. God loved me because love is the totality of God. God loves without limit. Finally it all made sense. God could only love me because God is only love, nothing other than love. The only reality is God; there cannot be another and GOD IS LOVE.
I had reached my true home. I turned to Christ and said, “This is beautiful. I am home. This is where I want to be. I want to stay.” And Christ answered, “You can stay for a little while and then you must return.”
I couldn’t believe I had to come back to physical reality. After a lifetime of confusion and fear, I had stood in the presence of an open, receptive, non-judging, totally loving God. I wanted nothing more than to remain in that presence but was told I had to return.
Another aspect of the dramatic change in my life after my near-death experience is that I no longer have a fear of death. In fact, death became my favorite subject overnight. Where I had once forbidden even speaking the dreadful word in my home, now my family and friends couldn’t get me to stop talking about my amazing experience.
Surprisingly, I was sad and angry, even defiant. I was confounded that after my lifetime of fear, I had made it to heaven and then had been sent back. “Why?” I asked, “Was I too little a fish, or what!”
For almost a year, often I would lie in my bed at night crying, sobbing and begging God to let me come home. I was not one of those lucky persons who experienced a spontaneous remission of their illness with their near-death experience. I was still very sick and I didn’t understand the point of my having to remain on Earth when I could make no contributions and had barely any interactions with my family or other people. I found myself whining, questioning, and begging God. “Please, please, please, PLEASE let me come home.”
Bargaining with God, I urged, “If I have to stay here, why can’t you cure me so I can do something?” Pleading with God, I cried, “If you aren’t going to cure me outright, what if you let me be just well enough to paint even just an hour a day? If I can’t do anything, why can’t there be some way I can be around people? I’M LONELY!”
Although I felt waves of love wash over me constantly when I stopped complaining long enough to remember my experience, I never got the answers to my pleas. At least not the answers I wanted.
After about a year I prayed a new prayer from the sincerest depths of my heart. Once again I relinquished my will and efforts to direct my own life, as completely as the night I gave up my hold on life and died. I said to God, “My dear God, I give up. I do not know what is right for me. I don’t know what I am supposed to do, who I am to see, or what I should say. I don’t even know what to think. I am always requesting what I think would be best for me. God, I don’t know what is best for me. My life is yours.
Whatever you want for me is fine. If I am to lie here in this bed, sick and disabled for the rest of my life, whether it is twenty minutes or twenty years, that’s fine. Whatever happens is fine. I know you love me.” And then I added, “I make one request, however. Please, if I am to live, let me be useful in some way – for YOU.”
A curious manifestation after my near-death experience was that I began seeing a white glow and glint of lights around people and objects. Because I had had so many physical anomalies during my illness, I assumed the “lights” were another, optical side effect of the illness. I was later shown that the lights were far more than that.
As my health had slowly improved, I occasionally drove myself short distances to appointments. One day as I was driving down a busy street, I stopped at a red light and watched an odd scene unfold before me. A delivery truck had parked on the right side of the street about a half-block ahead. The truck was one that opened from the sides rather than the back. I watched as the driver walked around to the traffic side of his truck and began unloading his cargo with oncoming traffic approaching. Inside my car, I said out loud in my little southern voice, “Oh honey, you shouldn’t do that, it’s dangerous.”
On this notable day, I watched, stunned, as the familiar dancing lights around the delivery man swirled, quickly coalescing into the form of a breath-taking, translucent, beautiful woman-spirit, glowing with light.
Perhaps it was because I had sent a loving and concerned thought about the delivery mans’ well-being that the spirit turned her loving gaze on me. For a brief moment, our eyes met. She smiled at me, then, hovering over the unsuspecting man, returned her attention to her charge who was oblivious to the heavenly presence and was busily going about his business. I was thunderstruck.
Barely breathing for fear the vision would leave, and mesmerized by the vision, I was reluctant to take my eyes off the beauty of the scene; however, from my peripheral vision, I became aware of even more compelling lights. When I was able to tear myself away from the spirit, I glanced slowly at the vista around me and everywhere I looked, every single person in my view had beautiful, loving spirits attending them. People walking nonchalantly down the sidewalk were accompanied by spirits. From within cars, unfettered by physical barriers, I could see the glow and form of beings around the occupants. I saw joggers with flutters of light streaking behind them as their spirit kept pace. As people entered and left buildings, light beings followed. The view before me was filled with brilliant, white light.
From the limited understanding of my human mind, I struggled to comprehend the meaning of what I saw. I knew the lights were connected to the individual people, although more of them, than with them, almost as if they were an extension of their existence – a light connection to an aspect of their Higher Self. The lights, a connection to the humans, which were glinting off the beings were so bright and expansive, they interconnected, forming a sort of light grid. I remembered reports in books on the near-death experience of people seeing grids on the other side that they didn’t know how to explain.
As I looked at the network of light before me and felt the immense outpouring of love coming from the beings, I realized the connection of human beings to the Beings of Light was through love and that the love itself was connected through this grid.
The metaphor represented by the image I saw and perceived was absolutely clear and I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that WE ARE ALL ONE. I comprehended that our oneness is interconnected by love and is an available, much higher level, and means of communication than we normally use but to which we have access. This love is available to anyone who is willing to do the hard spiritual work that will allow us to open our hearts and minds and eyes to Spirit. I remembered the love I had felt in the presence of God and experienced a total sense of love for all existence as an interconnected oneness and a manifestation of God.
Over and over this single truth was being driven home to me. Only God exists, God is everything. All that I gaze upon is a representation of God; not the physical mirage but rather, the shining brilliance behind the mask.
I was startled back to everyday awareness by the blasting of a horn. I looked down at my speedometer and realized I was barely creeping forward in the car. With sheets of tears streaming down my face and all but blind with emotion, I pulled to the side of the road until I could take in all that I had witnessed and regain my composure. I don’t know how long I sat, taking in the wonder of that event but I couldn’t move until the spectacular vision slowly dissipated, returning to the more familiar form of lights around the bodies of the people I watched.
I was reluctant to leave because I hoped the angels would return, and I called them angels because I didn’t know what else to say. But when I gathered my senses enough to drive, I made my way home. Anxious to tell my husband, still, I wondered what he would think. Would he think I was hallucinating, getting sick again, or perhaps, even losing my mind? Much to his credit, he listened with open ears to my tale. In fact, after I told my story, his response was, “Can you see anything around me?” Looking deeply into the lights around him, I discovered that by focusing on the glinting lights, a form emerged, taking the appearance of a beautiful spirit. When I described his spirit attendant, he was thrilled.
Encouraged by Ed’s response, I told my story to my children and friends and they related the information to their friends. That initiated the sometimes timid and skeptical, but always curious inquiries from the friends. They too, asked if I would mind telling them if they had beings around them.
Would I mind? It was my joy to share the love I felt coming from the exquisite inhabitants of a dimension where love reigns. Eagerly, I shared with anyone who wanted to know if they, too, had angels around them.
Eventually, news of my ability to see the angelic realm spread via a newspaper article, television appearances, college lectures and, most significantly, word-of-mouth. Today, I devote my time to readings, counseling and lectures. As I talked to more and more people, I garnered new insights. In the beginning I called what I saw angels because I didn’t have any other word to explain what I saw. The beings were always loving, luminous and had an other-worldly presence and beauty. Curiously, as my ability to discern spirits progressed, I began to see a different type of spirit hovering around people, and they compelled my attention. I felt responsible to describe exactly what I saw and only what I saw around the people who requested a reading, even if their spirits did not look like the stereotypical angel which they expected.
For instance: I once told a woman of an older man with ears that stuck out, wearing little round spectacles and with a goofy smile that revealed teeth that had spaces between them. The woman looked amazed and with tears in her eyes, she said, “Oh, my gosh, I recognize him. That’s my uncle who was killed. I’ve always wondered if he was okay.” The spirit grinned and related telepathically with me. I was able to let his niece, whom he still loved, know that he was fine and had been with this unsuspecting woman all the time. The first time this sort of thing happened, I was taken by surprise. Confused and with a knot of apprehension in the pit of my stomach, I thought, “Oh great, now I’m seeing ‘dead’ people!” If I had not had my near-death experience, I might have thought I was going crazy. But I did have a near-death experience. I could now see angels, and evidently I could also see the spirits of people who had died.
There is no death, but I could report on the presences from the other realms where spirits reside after leaving their mortal existence. I also discovered I could, on occasion, see the spirit form of people who are still alive on the Earth realm. I quickly resolved my apprehension about this ability when I saw the happiness and comfort it gave people to hear the encouraging stories of love beyond the grave.