This article was originally featured in 2000.
Francesca began having strange, recurring dreams where she would find herself walking outside and looking skyward. Then the clouds would open to reveal hundreds of beautiful angels. She would look at them and smile, and the angels would smile back at her, but no one spoke.
These dreams continued until January 1995, when she began to see something different. Alejandro Figueroa, a childhood friend from Nicaragua who had died the previous year, came to Francesca with a beautiful gold-bound book.
"What are you doing here, Alejandro?" Francesca asked, surprised. "You're supposed to be dead."
"I know I'm dead, but I've been sent to bring you this book."
"What kind of book is this?" she asked.
"Read the book with me and find out."
Alejandro opened the golden book. It was full of information about angels. Francesca read the following passages:
"Angels are beings of light."
"Angels are messengers of God."
"Angels bring God's love to the world."
She read the entire book in her dream.
Later at breakfast with our two sons, Keith and Kevin, Francesca enthusiastically related her dream.
Kevin, our youngest, who was 13 at the time, shook his head and said, "No, Mom. I don't think so! You can't read in a dream."
Kevin continued. "One side of your brain reads and the other side dreams. You can't do both at the same time. Either you didn't read the book or it wasn't a dream."
Francesca and I stared at each other. We knew Kevin was right but we could not explain what had happened.
"I know I read the book," Francesca said. "I remember what I read."
With that, she again began quoting the things she had read.
"'Angels are messengers of God. They're beings of light. They bring God's love to the world.' I know what I read!"
Later that day we walked down Main Street searching for a site for our proposed thrift store. To our surprise, we found a storefront with a "for lease" sign in the window. The landlord's office was around the corner, so we went there and spoke to his representative. He was anxious to have someone lease the property.
The storefront was in the worst part of downtown Ventura. The awning hung in shreds. Street people who were living in the recessed entrance to the small shop were begging us for money.
Francesca looked at this hopeless mess, this renovation disaster, and announced, "This is perfect. This is where we're supposed to be. We're not supposed to have a thrift shop. We're supposed to have an angel store here. That's what my dream was all about."
I disagreed. "We don't know anything about running a retail gift store," I pointed out. "We don't know where to purchase angel gifts. We don't know how to display angel gifts.
Things from Heaven: An Angel Store
We opened our store April 1, 1995 with little fanfare. The original name of our business was Things from Heaven Food and Gifts. We had no sign, no telephone and we did no advertising. Those were luxuries requiring money we did not have.
We found right away that our customers were not interested in food. They were only interested in our angels. Within several months, we closed out all the food and sold only angel gifts. We also changed our store's name to Things from Heaven: An Angel Store.
Two months later, in June 1995, Monsignor O'Brien from the nearby San Buenaventura Mission came to bless our store. He told us that the land our building occupied had once been the mission gardens. Once the store was blessed, magical things began to occur.
When we placed two photos of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the shelf of an ugly old cabinet, it bloomed into a spontaneous downtown shrine. Visitors to the store began to write messages on little pieces of paper and put them on the cabinet around the pictures.
Today people come from miles away to pray and write notes to God and place them on that shrine. The most important thing to happen, however, was the arrival of Andy Lakey's art in our store.
When I bought our first three Lakey paintings, I faced a major retail challenge. I wanted to sell them but I also needed to keep some on display in order to sell more. Lakey suggested I do what many of his other galleries were doing: commission "spiritual energy" paintings.
"What is a spiritual energy painting?" I naturally asked.
"I have the gift of feeling the energy from spiritual items," he explained. "Whenever I put a meaningful item behind one of my canvases, I pick up its energy and I paint what I receive.
"Spiritual energy is like a lake, I reach in and grab some of it and put it on the canvas. I never know what I am going to paint. Collectors are always amazed by the results."
"What kinds of items can we use?" I wondered.
"It can be almost anything," he said. "It can be a photograph, a letter, a fingerprint, an outline of someone's hand or any other thing that means something to your customer.
Arley commissioned an 8-by-10-inch painting. He gave me a photo of his entire group so Lakey could use its spiritual energy. Arley included a note requesting a painting that would enhance spirituality and healing within the group. I sent the photo and note to Lakey and about six weeks later I received Arley's painting.
It seemed so odd in style and format that I was concerned. It was unlike Lakey's other creations. Seven tiny golden angel figures each had a wavy line under them. They looked to me like small golden bugs surfing on seven wavy little surfboards. The more I studied it, the more concerned I became. I suspected Arley and his group would ask for their money back.
Arley and two assistants arrived on a Saturday morning. I showed them the painting making certain they saw their youth group photo taped behind it. Arley looked at it and then whispered something to one of the others. They passed it back and forth among the three of them. I became more and more concerned.
My worst fears seemed confirmed. Arley and his assistants put their hands over their eyes and began to shake their heads back and forth.
"What did you tell Andy Lakey about our group?" Arley asked as he pointed at me.
Now I was on the defensive.
"All I told him was that you wanted a painting that would help with your group's spirituality and healing. If you're dissatisfied, I'll have Lakey paint you something else."
"But we love this painting!" Arley smiled. "We're totally amazed! We're blown away! How did Andy Lakey know our group's philosophy?" he asked. "Did you tell him?"
"I don't know anything about it. What is this philosophy anyway?" I asked.
"It's right here on our painting," Arley responded. "Don't you see it? We saw it right away"
"No," I said. "I don't see anything special at all."
"Every morning when we start our meeting, we tell our kids the same thing. 'We all walk different paths, but we're all are going to the same place, seven days a week.'"
Then I saw it clearly. There were seven little golden angels next to wavy lines, which represented the paths. They were all going to the same place. All the angels were headed toward the light of heaven.
I have met with Arley several times since. He was so impressed that he commissioned spiritual energy paintings for his two sons and his daughter. He tells me the paintings continue to bring his children and his youth group renewed peace and increased spirituality.