Many years ago, my sister and I took a summer holiday on the North Carolina Outer Banks. While we were there, I had an experience that I will never forget. It was a long drive from our home to the beach and when we finally arrived, we were so tired that we decided to retire early for the evening.

We made a quick dinner, unpacked, and headed to bed with reading material After thumbing through several magazines, I realized that I was too restless to go to sleep. I got dressed and decided to take an evening stroll along the beach. Before leaving, I looked in on my sister to tell her that I was going for a walk, but she was sound asleep. I quickly scribbled off a note, letting her know that I was out for a walk. I jotted down the time of my departure and left the note on the kitchen counter.

The evening was soft and sweet, with a full moon that touched the ocean with gentle light. Lost in thought, I covered several miles before being overcome with exhaustion. I sat down on a sand dune to rest. Suddenly, my senses were filled with the fragrance of lilies and roses. Curious, I turned to look behind me and, over the high dunes, I noticed an open gateway that led to a summer mansion.

My legs propelled me toward the gate for a better look, and it was then that I noticed a lady standing on the wide veranda of the mansion beside the sea. She wore a long blue chiffon gown that drifted about her in the breeze, giving her the look of a Greek goddess. She lifted one lovely arm to wave before walking down the marble steps to greet me.

“My dear, you look totally exhausted! Come up and have some lemonade with me,” she said, taking me by the arm and leading me to the charming veranda overlooking the ocean.

Her heart-shaped face was framed by loose, wind-blown curls. She seemed very familiar, but we had never met. She led me to a round, marble table with an umbrella and I sat down while she poured two glasses of very fragrant and delicious lemonade. I sipped slowly while we chatted sporadically, with immense gaps of satisfying silence between our sentences. She said that she loved the Outer Banks and had lived there, beside the sea, for many years. I noticed that she wore a silver heart-shaped locket around her neck, and I remarked that it was very lovely. She smiled brightly, telling me that it was a birthday gift from her sister.

My father had died only a few months earlier, and I soon found myself telling her all about his recent death, along with the grief I was experiencing. She seemed to understand and told me not to worry because I would see my dad again someday.

“Heaven is only a slight dimension away from earth,” she said. “Think of it as a gateway or portal that your father has crossed through. He can see you from that portal even though you may not see him.”

Her words seemed so genuine and true that I found myself nodding in agreement, knowing that she had touched upon something that I needed to know.

Just then, I heard the sound of a baby crying. The woman gracefully rose from her seat and hurried into the house. A few minutes later, she reappeared carrying a baby girl with lovely dark curls. As she fed the baby, I once more felt the tug of familiarity, or déjà vu, as though I knew both the lovely lady and her baby girl. Yet we had only just met. After a while, the baby fell asleep and a nurse wearing a white uniform came out on the veranda to take her back into the house. I looked at my watch, surprised to see that it was almost 2 am! I felt perfectly refreshed and rested, and as I rose to leave the stately mansion by the sea, I asked the lady if I might visit her again.

“Indeed, we will meet again,” she smiled, taking both of my hands. “Just remember what I told you about the portal.”

I nodded with only partial understanding, and then walked down the lovely trail lined in lilies and roses, back to the sandy shores that would lead me to the beach house where my sister and I were staying. The sky was filled with beautiful stars and I walked close to the ocean’s edge with warm waves licking at my feet.

When I returned to the beach house, I was glad I’d left the porch light on. I glanced at my watch; it was a few minutes past 3 am. I hadn’t meant to stay away so long and, even though I’d left her a note, I hoped that my sister had not awoke while I was away. To my relief, the note was still on the counter. I took a quick shower and changed into my pajamas before going into the kitchen for some cookies and milk.

As I sat down at the table, I did a double-take at the clock. The hands were still positioned at 9 pm, the exact time that I had left for my walk! I hurried into the living room to check the time on the mantle and it was exactly the same. Thinking the power had failed, I quickly looked at my wrist watch. 9 pm—the same exact time I had walked out the door. How could that be? When I’d looked at my watch a few minutes earlier on the porch, it was after 3 am.

The following day, I told my sister about meeting the lovely lady and we decided to walk up the beach so that she could catch a glimpse of the beautiful mansion beside the sea and meet my new friend. We walked all the way to the end of the island and could not find the huge mansion anywhere! At last, we gave up, but later that evening I took another walk, carefully retracing my steps. Still, it was nowhere to be found. I was puzzled by the entire situation, yet there was a spark of hope as I remembered her words about my father being on the other side of the portal. I never forgot the meeting with the lovely lady, knowing full well that I had not imagined her or the strange incident with the time!

A few years later, when I was expecting my first child, I had a very difficult pregnancy. My doctor put me on complete bed rest for two weeks and, during that time period, I had an interesting dream about the lovely lady whom I’d met on the beach.

“I know that you are worried about the possibility of losing this child,” she said, placing her hand on my arm. “But I want you to know that I am watching over you and your child. All will be well,” she smiled.

I awoke with a feeling of peace. The following week, I was feeling much better and the doctor took me off of complete bed rest. Then one Saturday afternoon when visiting with my mother, I mentioned the dream to her, describing the lovely lady and telling her about my experience at the beach. My mother’s eyes widened with surprise.

“I want to show you something,” she said quietly.

I followed her into the den and she took out a large photo album from beneath the coffee table and began flipping through the pages with determination. At last, she came to a group of photographs and handed me the album.

“Is this the lady?” she asked.

My eyes grew wide with disbelief as I looked at the picture. The same silver locket was around her neck and the same loose black curls surrounded her sweet, heart-shaped face.

“Yes,��� I whispered. “This is the same lady in the dream and at the beach house. Who is she?” I asked.

“She was my older sister, your Aunt Orla,” my mother said. “She died before you were born. Orla was pregnant at the time of her death and they were unable to save the child, so they were buried together. Orla always wanted a house beside the ocean,” she added wistfully. “I gave her the locket she was wearing, in the picture, for her birthday.”

“The baby--it was with her,” I choked, “a baby girl with dark curls! And [Orla] was wearing the locket!”

My mother’s eyes filled with tears as she took my hand, listening carefully as I described to her the lovely blue chiffon dress and the lemonade that she had given me.

“She loved lemonade, and blue was her favorite color,” Mother said. “In fact, she was buried in a dress very similar to the one that you described.”

For the remainder of my pregnancy, all was well and I had a healthy baby boy. I felt the presence of Aunt Orla was all around me, extending a tranquility that I could never describe. Even now, I often think about my vision of Aunt Orla at her beach house and the message that she brought to me in a dream.

As to how I managed to walk into that portal, that lovely stage set in a mansion by the sea, with the rhythm of waves and soft moonlight to accompany our conversation, I may never know. I do know the portal is very real, and the spirits of those that we love are watching and guiding us along the path that leads to eternal life.

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