Angel with a Paintbrush

Many people who have near-death experiences report that they encountered angels while in that state. But Andy's life was changed more than most. As a result of being touched by angels, he gained a new life, new faith, even a new career.

Sometimes I think that my life — my real life — didn't begin until the day I saw my angel on New Year's Day of 1986; that so much of what had gone on before in my life was just dissolved into mist, and out of that mist came the real Andy Lakey. Or perhaps it was as though the angel had run a spatula across the still-wet canvas of my life, blurring all the old images and colors, and then began to paint with new, bright, well-defined images and colors on the former surface. In any case, the last few years of my life have been filled with a joy, a happiness, a peace, and sense of purpose I never knew before I saw my angel. I am not the same man I was before my angel touched my life.

What happens to people who have near-death experiences? It's not an uncommon event, from everything I've heard. Whatever brings one to the point of death, whether an illness or an accident, a near-death experience is powerful. In my case, as my spirit hovered between the earthly plane and the heavenly, I sensed the presence of my angel. It's always been hard to describe what I experienced that day, because our senses work differently when we are in between heaven and earth. I don't know if I saw my angel in the same way as I see things around me today. I'm not sure I heard my angel in the same way as I hear music and the sound of my baby daughter laughing. But something in me saw and heard — and remembered.

What did I experience? I felt my angel reach out to me and wrap his (or maybe her or its) arms around me in a gesture that was so protective and loving and caring and understanding I have no words to describe it. And whether or not I actually heard words, my angel communicated to me that I was going to be all right. I felt such reassurance and peace, and I understood that I was in the care of a loving God who had sent the angel as a sign of that love. The immense strength of that angel flowed through me, healing me, restoring me to life. I can't possibly convey what it was like to share in the life energy, the personal strength of the angel. And then the experience softly dissolved, and my spirit was reunited with my body.

I don't know how long the experience lasted, or whether it took any time at all. I don't think time has any relevance on the other side. But in whatever time or timelessness it took for that angel to wrap its arms around me, something deep in my heart changed for the better and forever. When my consciousness was restored, I was different, and I knew I was different.

I remember waking up, and my vision — as well as my insight-was sharper than it had ever been. I looked back at the first twenty-seven years of my life, and I saw how much I had wasted and ruined. And I think the realization would have been totally devastating if it had not been for the sense of utter peace that my angel had left with me as a sign of God's love for me. Not only did I see the need for a complete change in my life, I felt empowered to make those changes, because the strength of my angel was with me, too. I knew that with God's help and the support of my family, I could — and would — try to give back something to God in thanks for my life having been given back to me. And I had a sense that my future was going to be wonderful; I didn't know in what way.

In retrospect, I can see that this was not the first time I had known the help of my angel. There were incidents from my childhood that I can see were stamped with an angelic presence. I remember as a young child playing with my father on the front lawn under the tree. Suddenly, my mother tells me, I simply got up and ran for the front door, for no apparent reason. My father, who had been sitting on the ground, started to crawl after me, thinking, perhaps, that I was still playing a game. Just as he moved away from the area where we had been playing, a squeal of tires in the distance was followed by a car of drunken teenagers out of control, who smashed into the tree where we had been playing. Had I not run for the house, with my father following after, we both would have been killed. Coincidence, some people might say, or synchronicity. I see in it the hand of my angel.

Another incident I recall quite well took place when I was about eight. We were living in Japan at the time, where my stepfather was stationed with the military, and we were visiting a United States base about forty-five minutes from where we lived. It was during a difficult period in Japanese-American relations, and at that time there were constant demonstrations against the presence of the military. American soldiers and their families had been threatened and assaulted by certain radical elements of the population.

Somehow, during the course of our visit, I became separated from my parents. I went back to where we had parked the car, and it was gone. I think I assumed my family had left without me, and I started walking home. I had no idea how to get there, but I saw railroad tracks after a while, and I knew our home was near railroad tracks, so I followed them for hours, crying. I felt so alone, so abandoned. And, although I didn't realize it at the time, I was also in danger from the anti-military factions. In fact, the potential problem from that area was so great that the minute I was reported missing, the whole base went on red alert, with search parties, helicopters, the whole works out looking for me.

As I followed the railroad tracks, I remember a Japanese man came up to me. He didn't speak English, and the only word in Japanese I knew was the name of the town I lived in. But he put me in his truck and, without a word, took me with him all the way to our town and somehow got me to my home. He dropped me off at my front door and just drove away. I never saw him again.

My family arrived very soon thereafter and we were reunited. But I knew that the man who suddenly appeared beside the railroad tracks was my angel sent by God to rescue me. The way he appeared out of nowhere, just when I needed help most, delivered me safely, and then, his mission completed, just slipped away quietly — who else could it have been but an angel?

I thought about a great deal as I recovered my health. First and most important, I came to realize the depth of God's love for me. Although my family had always gone to church when I was young, the message had never sunk in. But now it did. I became a committed Christian, and that commitment has continued in my life ever since.

And I began to draw and paint. I had always enjoyed sketching when I was a boy, but now I began to draw and paint in earnest — and angels were among my favorite topics. I never studied art formally, but my mother is an artist and so was my grandfather, so I just grew up understanding something of art. I even thought of be coming an artist, but the places I sent my first efforts were supremely uninterested in anything I was doing. Still, I continued to sketch and to think about my purpose in life.

I was doing quite well by 1989 when I turned thirty a good job, making great money, a healthy life-style, lots of interests. I really thanked God and the angels for helping to make it possible. But it wasn't enough. When I turned thirty it was as if my angel tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You're doing fine, Andy; now please just make a sharp right turn here on the highway of life."

I knew that what I really wanted — and needed — to do in life was to become an artist, to turn all that I was feeling inside, all the peace and strength from God, all the happiness and positive outlook that I had, into tangible forms that people could understand.

So I left my job and turned my garage into an art studio, and I began to paint. Friends told me I was crazy, that it was one of those crises people sometimes have when they turn thirty. But I knew deep in my heart that I was being called to do this-it was anything but a whim. And in an amazingly short time, I realized that I would be successful as an artist-it was what I had been called by God to do all along.

It was natural that my artistic endeavors should turn to angels. I could still see in my mind's eye the angel that had wrapped his arms around me to comfort and reassure me three years before, and I wanted, needed, to share that sense of peace and strength with others. And I wanted to give witness to the God who sends angels into our lives. I decided to paint two thousand angels by the year 2000 — one angel for each year since Jesus was born. And it seemed right that the angel I painted be the one who had comforted me in my near-death experience.

As I began this effort, I knew that the angels were helping me in very strong ways. When an angel theme came to mind, I found I could sketch it out in a matter of minutes, whereas when I created a piece on some other theme it might take me hours and hours to do a preliminary sketch.

And when I began the painting, I could feel that the inspiration came from deep within my heart and soul, from the angels themselves. It's still the same today-I feel a power come out of me. It's as though I am tapping into the universe, tapping into God. I call my talent "on loan from God." I can feel my angel with his arms around me, helping to put the angels' message on canvas. We have a partnership, and our aim is to produce paintings of angels that will help people realize how wonderful God is.

People who see my paintings for the first time are often surprised. The figure of my angel is far from traditional — a mere outline of a figure with no features at all. And I never change that, because that is what I saw. It's the size of the angel, the number of figures, and the nature of the background that help produce the whole effect. I surround the angel with moving lines and shapes of paint that reflect the kinds of movement, the energy, the life force I sense in the angels. Each new painting gets closer and closer to what I feel my angel really looks like, even though the angel doesn't change, and the moving shapes become more and more refined.

What I'm trying to do is communicate something about how angels move and act in the heavenly sphere, to be a bridge for people to be able to look into heaven and sense the love and peace, to touch the angels, even if we can't see them.

When I first began my two thousand angels series, I knew they would be helping me to translate their essence into art. And I even had an idea that they would help me reach people. But interest has grown far beyond my early understanding of where my inspired art was going. The first angel I painted in the series now hangs in the Vatican, the second is in the Riverside Art Museum; the third belongs to former President Jimmy Carter. Dozens of others are in the homes of entertainers like Lee Meriwether, Ed Asner, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and Quincy Jones. And even more are hanging in hospitals and clinics, and centers for blind people.

"Blind people?" I'm sometimes asked. "Blind people can't see artwork. Doesn't that strike you as strange that so many of your angels are in such locations?"

"Well, no it doesn't," I answer, "because my angels are mostly three-dimensional paintings, and I've deliberately done them that way." When I say that through my paintings people can touch the angels, I mean it quite literally. My paint is laid on in such a thick way that anyone can actually feel the painting and trace the outlines, the textures, the brush strokes and sense the whole design, whether they are visually impaired or have normal sight. In fact, my angel paintings are often purchased just to be donated. Peter Jennings has donated one to The Lighthouse, Ed Asner to the Jules Stein Eye Institute, Lee Meriwether has given one to the Blind Children's Center, and former President Gerald Ford and Betty Ford have donated one of my paintings to the Betty Ford Clinic.

I want people to be more aware of angels. I want them to look at and touch my angels and feel the energy, the life force, the constant movement that the angels have shown me how to put into them.

Almost 90 percent of my art today is centered on the angels. It's where I should be. And I have seen how powerfully the paintings affect people, and I know it's not me who's doing it — it's the angels. People tell me they feel power, the presence of God, warmth, hope, and goodness when they see my angels, and that makes me feel so happy.

But my life is not limited to my art. Since my angel came to help me change my life, I married the most wonderful woman in the world. Her story is in this book, too. And we have the most beautiful baby girl in the world. I want her to grow up loving the angels.

Children have become very important to me. I want them to know that they can grow up in love and strength, that gangs and drugs and violence don't need to be part of their lives. I go into schools a lot and talk to the kids about staying on the positive side of life. And they write me back, and it's such a wonderful experience reading their letters.

Today, as my life continues to take on shape and focus, I know that my angels are leading me in the direction God wants me to go in. I believe that I have many angels who pass through my life, and especially my own guardian angel who watches over the others. And I pray that I'll be able to continue to move ahead and grow closer to God and help bring peace and joy into the lives of others, to wrap my arms around them all in some way as my angel did to me, and help them feel the peace and the love that comes from following on the path.

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