At 21, Mary Helen Hensley had a near-death experience in which she not only saw a play-by-play review of her current life, but she suddenly remembered all the lives she’d lived before. As the daughter of a Baptist minister, she didn’t even have reincarnation on her radar. But there it was, portrayed in heaven as a reality.
There are so many things to love about Hensley’s memoir Promised by Heaven, but for me its most valuable quality is its humility. Hensley leads an extraordinary life, but the story she tells is one of constant struggle to understand the meaning of the events she encounters. Raised with a certain set of religious beliefs, she had to wrestle with experiences that repeatedly challenged them. She not only confronted memories of past lives, she also had to deal with out-of-body experiences, prophetic dreams, visitations from the dead, and her increasingly insistent gift for metaphysical healing. And yet Hensley admits that, despite all of her otherworldly experiences, she still had frequent moments of skepticism and doubt. How do you integrate into your daily life events that are not explainable by society’s going conception of the universe? I think the only answer can be, with a giant dose of humility.
And that is what we see throughout Hensley’s book. And also on her brief YouTube videos, which I highly recommend. In the videos, she tells short anecdotes about her crazy, psychic life. The stories themselves are impressive enough, but I love hearing them from someone with a down-to-earth, quintessentially Southern personality. Like me, Hensley grew up in Virginia, and as politically incorrect as it is to admit it, it’s a lot easier to believe crazy stories when they come from someone who seems a lot like yourself.
But I feel a deeper kinship with Hensley than simply sharing a Virginia Baptist background would suggest. I identify strongly with her feeling that she now “walks between two worlds.” Anyone who has had even a minor encounter with psychic or otherworldly phenomena knows how it can throw you for a loop, but that you can get thrown for a loop again when you have to keep going about your daily life and no one around you acknowledges that other dimension of existence. You find yourself constantly second-guessing yourself, constantly wrestling with the meaning of what you’ve experienced. Which is probably part of the plan. To help us see with our hearts, not just our eyes. And it’s comforting to me that even someone with as many extraordinary experiences as Mary Helen Hensley still struggles with balancing those perspectives.
I should add this, however. There is one thing about which Hensley professes no doubt. She writes in her memoir, “It’s not too often that I emphatically state anything without following up with ‘in my perception’ or ‘in my opinion.’ In this case, I simply can’t do lip service. … I will emphatically profess, without any reservation, we have lived before.” Or, as she writes earlier in the same paragraph, “Reincarnation is a fact.”
We don’t have to hang our hats solely on Hensley’s word, of course. There is hard research as well as many other people’s experiences backing her up on this topic. But her story, Promised by Heaven, is a particularly well-written one, packed full of heart and insight. I unreservedly recommend it.