V E N T U R A, Calif., Oct. 26, 2003 -- Stories of modern-day miracles have captured the attention of both believers and skeptics around the world over the last century.
Among the more recent accounts are the reported sightings of the Virgin Mary in the small village of Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the highly publicized reports of her supposed appearance in a hospital window in Milton, Mass., over the summer.
Since then, Ventura, Calif. — which some might consider an unlikely location for miracles — has made it onto the the radar screen of some true believers. Some say a little gallery and store in the Southern California city holds proof that miracles do exist.
Drug Overdose Turns Spiritual
The story of these so-called miracles goes back to 1985. A man named Andy Lakey says he hit rock bottom that year and thought he'd never come back.
After doing drugs for years, Lakey overdosed one day while free-basing cocaine.
As Lakey lay on the floor of his shower, thinking he was about to die, he says he experienced something out of this world.
"It was almost imprinted in my mind, these seven angels twirling around my feet and spinning toward my chest. And I prayed to God if he'd let me live that I would never do drugs again and I would save the world," Lakey said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.
Lakey said the angels told him he would have to paint angels, lots of them, even though he had never picked up a paintbrush.
"The were gonna guide me, and I would learn how to paint," Lakey said.
Today, 18 years after his experience, Lakey is now well-known for his angelic artwork.
Lakey says his works fuse Renaissance art and the ancient and tribal arts of Egypt and Mesoamerica with themes from the 20th century. His fans say they bring peace to those who see them.
Gallery of Miracles?
Lakey's works are displayed in galleries all over the world. His first work, Angel Number One, hangs on a wall in the Vatican. Things From Heaven, a Ventura gallery that sells his paintings, has become a popular location for those looking for a miracle. People looking for spiritual guidance and help from above have flocked to the spot to touch the paintings Lakey created.
One of Lakey's fans, Janet Haberstich, says she felt as if she had been touched by an angel when she reached out to touch one of Lakey's works.
"I placed my hands on these two bottom angels and I said to myself, 'If there's anything out there, I really need some help,' " she said.
Another Lakey fan says she actually saw something out of this world when she studied that same painting.
"I saw angels flying from out of the painting. I felt an incredible amount of love," said Anette Laborte.
Jennifer Clark said she went looking for Lakey's paintings after her husband died. She says she found peace when she found his paintings.
"I put my hand close to the painting and received a very serene feeling," she said. "I yanked my hand away. I cried and somewhere in that feeling it did radiate that he was OK, and I was gonna be OK, and my newly born son was going to be OK."
'It Is God'
Although Lakey says he puts all of his love and passion into his artwork, the artist says his fans' experiences really have nothing to do with him.
"It's not me doing it. It's another force," Lakey said. "It's God, it's the light, it's something that came through me. I certainly cannot take credit for any of it."
Over the years, the paintings have appeared to have a serious impact on some believers. Walid Abubaker, a medical researcher in Michigan, says he asked 40 patients to sleep with Lakey's paintings under their pillow in order to study the effects. Abubaker says some of them returned interesting and surprising reports to him after sleeping with the paintings.
"Several patients stated that they're not experiencing nightmares like they normally do," Abubaker said.
Abubaker said a few even claimed the paintings improved their health. "Those with diabetes, arthritis, you know, many different medical conditions," he said.
Lakey says he can't explain why some people say they've had unique and spiritual experiences when they touch his artwork.
The artist says the stories have left him fascinated.
"It's interesting that people have these stories of when they touch the art these, these healings happen, these feelings happen, these things happen," Lakey said. "To me it's just a painting on wood."