December 23, 1996 12:00 PM

Guy Martin knew he was taking a risk back in 1988, when, as dean of students at Harvard Divinity School, he proposed teaching a course on angels. “At that time, if you talked about angels at a cocktail party,” says Martin, who later taught the course and is now associate-dean of admissions at Yale Divinity School, “you’d find yourself alone very fast. “How times change. Angels now tread boldly on TV (Touched by an Angel), in the movies (The Preacher’s Wife), on bestseller lists and at scores of Web sites. “People are starving for the spiritual,” says the Rev. William Tully, rector of St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City. “They want to believe they are not alone.”

Though skeptics abound, believers are plentiful, and their belief, strange as it may seem to those who don’t share it, is deep and unshakable. On the following pages are stories of individuals convinced that their lives were transformed by divine intervention. There is no proof. Only the conviction that, as the Rev. Billy Graham once wrote, angels serve as God’s secret agents.

A CALIFORNIA FAMILY RECALLS A TEENAGER’S DEATH FORETOLD

Tara Moore wasn’t always obsessed with angels. The older of two daughters of Kirk Moore, a Laguna Hills, Calif., mortgage broker, and his wife, Sandy, a teacher, Tara, bright and exuberant, “never had her feet on the ground,” says Kirk, 44. “She was flighty but in a good way.”

Then, in December 1991, Tara read Terry Lynn Taylor’s Messengers of Light, a 1990 book about angelic visitations. Gradually, says Sandy, 46, the 15-year-old became very mellow and drew closer to her family. Normally outgoing, she was known at camp the next summer as “the angel girl” because she spent so much time alone in her cabin crafting three ceramic angels—one each for her parents and her sister Deanna, then 12.

The Moores, Religious Science churchgoers, weren’t troubled by Tara’s change. “We just thought she was maturing,” says her mother. Still, Sandy was stunned when, on Aug. 18, as Tara made dinner, she asked, “When you’re finished with your work on this plane of existence, do you think you can go do more important work elsewhere?”

The question would haunt Sandy later that night when Tara, a passenger in a van, died in a crash. Shattered, Sandy says she and Kirk were convinced “there had to be a reason.” That night they found what they came to believe were signs that Tara was still, somehow, with them: first, a single angel-shaped cookie left inexplicably on the kitchen counter, and, later, a song titled “You’re an Angel” lying on the floor of Tara’s room. A year later, Kirk, unbeknownst to his younger daughter, had a dream in which he saw Deanna being comforted by Tara. Days later, Deanna described having an identical dream that same night. “We know she’s here,” says Sandy. “It’s just being open to it.”

Though comforted by the messages, Kirk says the family became “unglued” after Tara’s death. But feeling guided by her love for angels, they decided, says Sandy, that “we should open an angel store and give people hope like we have.” Although neither had any retail experience, the Moores quit their jobs and opened Tara’s Angels in near-by San Juan Capistrano in 1993. The store sells angel cards and clothing, artwork and jewelry (including the angel pins worn by Nicole Brown’s parents, Lou and Juditha, and prosecutor Marcia Clark during the O.J. Simpson trial) and has become a meeting place for angel networkers. The Moores, who now live in Dana Point, Calif., also counsel others who have lost a child. “There will always be a place in my heart that misses Tara,” says Sandy. But, she adds, “I have so much more compassion for life than I ever had. I look at what we’ve gained, and it’s beautiful.”

A MUSICIAN IS HEALED BY A STRANGER’S PRAYERS

For weeks, Marilyn Pallas, 49, a Houston homemaker, had visions of a blond man in need of help. On Feb. 17, 1984, she found him. Heading home from a prayer meeting, she and her friend Bonnie Keith came upon an accident on a Houston freeway. “It felt like my car went into slow motion,” recalls Keith, now a nondenominational Christian minister. “We had to stop.”

At the scene they found guitarist Brooks Maguire hemorrhaging, his legs nearly severed above the knees. Moments earlier, he had been struck by a car after stopping to help a woman change a flat tire. Pallas knelt beside him, held his hands and began to pray. “The moment we touched his legs,” says Keith, “the bleeding stopped. There is no question in my mind it was divine intervention.”

At the hospital, Maguire underwent 12 hours of surgery to repair his crushed arteries. But infections set in and doctors asked permission to amputate both legs. As Maguire agonized over the decision, Pallas arrived to pray with him. “Don’t listen to the doctors,” she said, then told him of a vision she had had of him walking on his own. Hours later, when doctors checked Maguire’s wounds, the infection had begun to heal. “The doctor said, ‘You may be making a liar out of all of us,’ ” says Brooks, 41. “I said, ‘It’s not me. It’s God.’ ”

Released in hip-high casts four months later, Maguire was running 8-minute miles within two years. “None of this would have been possible without Marilyn’s relationship with God,” says Maguire. “Yet she never took credit for it.”

Maguire never saw Pallas again after he moved in 1987 to Maui, where he eventually married Kelly, 26, a veterinary technician. Last summer, Pallas died of colon cancer. Beth Stephenson, 41, one of her four children, says her mother was just too busy to keep in touch with everyone she helped. “God used her all the time to pray for people,” says Stephenson. Her example still inspires Maguire. “We humans put God in a box,” he says. “But my experience blew out every boundary of what God could do or was willing to do—especially for someone like me.”

A DROWING YACHTSMAN GETS A LIFESAVING BOOST

Don Spann remembers too well the moment he fell off his yacht into the choppy, 67-degree waters of the Atlantic. On April 25, 1993, Spann, then 58, a Greenville, S.C., manufacturer of medical equipment, was sailing his 46-foot Sea Ray, Perseverance, to Fort Lauderdale. Feeling seasick, he sat down as first mate John Thomson took the helm. Then, rising shakily, Spann lost his balance. “Suddenly,” he says, “I’m looking at the sky between my legs.”

Bobbing to the surface, Spann flailed in the boat’s wake, 20 miles out at sea. (Thomson didn’t realize that his skipper was missing until 15 minutes later.) “I knew I was in trouble,” Spann says. “My life jacket was on the boat.” He knew the feeding habits of sharks and marlins. “I began thinking about my family [wife Beejay and their two children] having a memorial service with no body parts,” he says. A former Marine, he also feared hypothermia. Clad in shorts and a T-shirt, he says, “I knew I would go into a coma when my body

got to 90 degrees.” So he began to pray.

After 40 minutes of treading water, Spann, spent and barely conscious, was floating on his back when he heard someone calling his name. Defying the odds, Thomson had found Spann. Throwing him a rope, Thomson pulled him in. But as Spann tried to grab the yacht’s swim platform, he sank underwater. “I’m about 8 or 10 feet down,” he recalls. “Then it was like, kapoosh! I thought John dove in. I feel this firm grip on my biceps, then a grip on my other arm. We’re 15 feet from the boat, and we go straight to the boat in one second. The swim ladder is there, and I’m on it, like a magnet.”

Thomson dragged him onboard, and 40 minutes later a Coast Guard copter took Spann to a Jacksonville hospital. That same day the two men had an emotional reunion. Spann thanked his first mate for jumping into the water to rescue him. Baffled, Thomson told him: “I never went in the water.” Now a Charleston, S.C., tugboat captain, he says Spann swam to the ladder unaided. For his part, Spann is convinced “a guardian angel” helped him. Now a devout Presbyterian, Spann says his rescue “was transforming. There was no flash of light, but the blessing to me has been having my eyes opened.”

A VISION TRANSFORMS AN ADDICT INTO AN ARTIST

But for the intervention of angels, Andy Lakey believes Dec. 31, 1986, might have been the last night of his life. A drug user since he was 11 years old, Lakey, then 27, was ringing in the New Year by freebasing cocaine in a friend’s apartment in National City, a San Diego suburb. Suddenly feeling ill, he staggered downstairs to his own apartment and crawled into the shower, hoping the cold water would revive him. “For the first time since I was 8 years old, I prayed,” he says. “I told God, ‘If you let me live, I’ll never do drugs again.’ ”

Almost instantly, “I saw seven angels twirling around my feet,” he says. “Eventually they came together as one angel, its arms wrapped around me. I fell to the bottom of the shower, but I was in another space.” Found unconscious in the shower by his friend, Lakey awoke in a hospital feeling totally free of his drug dependency. Still, says Lakey, who has never used drugs again, “I didn’t tell anybody about my experience with angels for another four years.” Instead he began to draw them, and in 1989 quit his $85,000-a-year job as a car salesman to become a full-time artist. There was just one problem. “I didn’t know how to paint,” he says.

Divine guidance arrived again, he says, in the form of three robed, bearded men who appeared one day, along with an intense beam of light, in his garage studio. According to Lakey, “They said, ‘We want you to paint 2,000 angel paintings by the year 2000. We will give you the knowledge.’ ” Then they vanished. Within five weeks he had completed six canvases, three of which were displayed at a local bank. Impressed by Lakey’s style and three-dimensional paint application, an art consultant suggested he create paintings for the blind. She tipped off a local TV news crew about his talent, and Lakey’s career took off. Peter Jennings obtained and donated one of Lakey’s first paintings to New York City’s The Lighthouse Inc., a nonprofit organization for the visually impaired. Other fans include Ray Charles, former President Reagan and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Warren Moon. In a book about Lakey published this year, Shari Belafonte said that after first touching one of his paintings, she felt “this sensation up my arm, whoo-oo-oo, like a burst of energy. And I remember thinking, ‘That’s what’s really special about this artist.’ ”

Since Lakey, 37, the married father of four, went public about his original vision on a 1993 Oprah Winfrey Show, some have speculated it was merely a drug-induced hallucination. “A valid point,” concedes the artist, who has completed his 1,678th angel painting. “But it made such a profound difference in my life, it couldn’t have been anything but a miraculous experience.”

A WRITER IS CONVINCED: ANIMALS ARE ANGELS TOO

Growing up in Osage County, Okla., the third of four children, Lou Dean had a knack for forming friendships with her family’s farm animals—Princess the horse, Old Mott the cow, even Mr. Grunt the pig. “I was alone most of the day,” explains Dean, 48, whose father worked as a night railroad switchman and whose mother drank excessively. “They became my family.” Her tightest bond, though, was with Shorty, a terrier pup she was given on her fifth birthday. “When I went away to college it was real hard,” says Dean. “Both of us knew it was goodbye because Shorty was getting old.”

Though Shorty died in 1973, his spirit, Dean believes, carried on. On June 23, 1993, Dean, a freelance writer who lives with her son Scott, now 25, and third husband Bob Williams, 66, in Vernal, Utah, was riding alone on her all-terrain vehicle when it nipped over on an isolated stretch of their 750-acre ranch. Pinned beneath the 500-pound machine, she knew her only hope was Jake, Williams’s German shorthaired pointer who always ran alongside the ATV when she drove it. “I put my glove in his mouth and shouted, ‘Kennel, Jake!’ ” she says, giving him the command to go home. But he wouldn’t leave. “When I started to choke on the blood and mucus in my mouth,” Dean recalls, “he cleaned my face with his tongue so I could breathe.”

Four hours passed as she drifted in and out of consciousness. “I was on the edge of dying,” says Dean, whose father had died in an eerily similar accident when his tractor overturned in 1982. But as Jake continued licking, Dean suddenly sensed Shorty’s presence. “Somehow, Jake and Shorty had become the same dog,” she says. She yelled, “Go for help, Shorty!” and Jake raced home, returning with a ranch hand. At the hospital, doctors told Dean that had she been under the ATV another hour, her legs would have had to be amputated.

Sadly, two months later, Jake was struck and killed by a truck. Despondent, Dean retreated to her cabin in Blue Mountain, Colo. “Losing him just about finished me off,” she says. “I wanted to die.” Then one day, Dean suddenly felt drawn to Jake’s grave at the ranch. Spotting paw prints in the mud, she turned around. There, in the open meadow, she says, she saw Jake, Shorty and “every horse, sheep, pig, cow, mule and bird that I’d ever loved. It was not a vision—they were real,” she says. “It completely changed my outlook on life.”

So inspired was Dean that last year she published a book about her dogs, Angels in Disguise. To date it has sold 15,000 copies. “People don’t have a hard time believing me,” she says. “There are human angels, so why not dogs, horses or cats? They go to heaven too.”

MICHAEL A. LIPTON and JANICE MIN with reports by LUCHINA FISHER, CATHY FREE, STU GLAUBERMAN, LAUREL BRUBAKER CALKINS and GAIL WESCOTT

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