Visions Becoming: Our Lady and The Children
My story begins in 1990 when I resigned from my job as Director of Subud USA, a little known spiritual group with membership in many countries around the world. I enjoyed my job, got to travel to Asia and many cities in North America meeting wonderful, kind people doing interesting things for humanity. However, I felt that I was destined to do something else. But I didn’t know what it was yet going to be.
First I went to New Zealand to visit my cousins on their organic avocado ranch. I hitchhiked around the country, met interesting people and even bungee jumped at Skippers Canyon on the South Island. In the bus from Queenstown to the bungee jump bridge we laughed and joked, then fell completely silent when we saw the bridge and the 2 foot deep river over 200 feet down from the jumping point. When I jumped I felt like something changed inside me. I had jumped from a plane with a parachute but had never attempted anything that took this much courage. It was a rite of passage of sorts, from a young man to a more mature man, able to face more difficult challenges with courage and dignity.
After I returned to Seattle I was walking down the street with a group of friends on New Year’s Eve on the way to a party when I slipped on the icy sidewalk and fell on my butt. I picked myself right up and thought I was fine. But over the next few days pain grew to the point I could not get out of bed. Eventually I was diagnosed with torn ligaments, a serious back injury. I spent several weeks and months healing. This was a very humbling and contemplative time for me. I cried when I left the apartment after being home bound for several weeks. As I was beginning to recover a friend of mine who ran a local foundation for children and families affected by HIV/AIDS asked my partner and I to help at their annual rummage sale. I had made tie-dyed shirts and slippers the year before to raise money for the foundation. I was able to attend and helped out at the desk. When it was over I began to think about the idea of opening a thrift store so that the foundation could have a source of funds for their ongoing work. I dismissed the idea when I realized I couldn’t lift or carry anything and also had no capital to open up a business.
That evening, just before bed, I felt a presence in the room and a change of energy overcame me. It brings tears to my eyes now thinking of it because it was so real, so loving, so soft and graceful, yet very strong and knowing. I saw an image of Our Lady, the Blessed Mother Mary as Catholics say, in my mind. She emanated a feeling of safety and peace. She told me I was to open this store for the children and that she would open the way. All I had to do was follow her guidance and it would be. It was not a command, but a choice for me. When I reflected on this I thought that this was what I was meant to do.
Our Lady showed me where to go to look for a vacant store. I went there the next day and took down a phone number. I asked one of the other tenants if they thought the landlord might be open to renting the space at below market rent since we had no money for a thrift store to help children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. They told me he was a millionaire and a hard driving businessman so they didn’t think it was likely. I pondered that but Our Lady told me to just go ahead and contact him. I mustered up some courage, phoned him and set up a meeting. I told him what we were thinking of doing. He sat there and listened quietly, and then just said, absolutely yes. We could use the storefront, in a prime business location, for 1/3 the market rent, payable after we got the store running. We could use it for at least a year but after that if he found a tenant to pay full market rent, we would have to relocate.
I was stunned. It had happened just as Our Lady had shown me it would. This gave me confidence in my experience. I had experienced dreams and visions before but never anything that had manifested in the world so easily. But now that we had been given a space I wondered what to do next. How do you open a thrift store with no money and nothing to put in it? Our Lady told me not to worry. I called my friend who ran the foundation and told her the news about the store. She said she would spread the word and see what she could come up with. I spoke with the neighboring tenant who ran a bookstore and told her the landlord had approved our using the space. Without asking for anything she said she would be happy to give us shelving to use in the store. I had an icon of Jesus that I had picked up in a souvenir shop in Greece when I took a year off of college to travel in Greece, Israel and England. I took a bottle of white-out and painted “Hi” coming from the mouth of Jesus, like they do in comic books. I didn’t mean it to be sacrilegious and many people had positive comments about the “friendly Jesus”. To welcome people I hung the icon in the front window of the new store.
My partner had experience in retail and said he would help run the store. A local charity had an old van. They donated it to us to pick up donations. Someone else had a cash register they weren’t using and gave it to us. Another person had tables for displays. Pretty soon we had all the basics, but nothing to put in the store and it was due to open in less than a week. I just surrendered it to “the Universe”. The foundation director phoned her network of friends. A woman donated an antique baby carriage that we placed in the window with a sign to announce the opening of the store and that we were seeking donations of goods. The community just opened their hearts. We filled the store within 2 days with donations of art, clothing and household goods. A group of interior designers picked up our cause and gave us high quality wares to sell. I was in awe and so grateful for the outpouring of love. It was just as Our Lady had shown me and I felt the peace and presence of her as things came to fruition.
We were up and running. My partner and I decided to co-manage the store. He was good with merchandise, knowing the value of things and he could also carry heavy donations. I was good with managing people and taking care of money and paperwork. We had many volunteers from all walks of life willing to help us in the store. It was hard work but there was such grace. Before long the foundation had a monthly source of income and we were able to pay the bills to run the store. For me it was a peak experience of sorts, in that the store combined business, recycling, charity, and human effort and love all touched by a humble grace and divine presence. Money from the store helped expand the foundation’s programs and to run a summer camp for the kids.
I’ll never forget one boy at the foundation’s summer camp, Michael, who was 8 years old. All he wanted to do was be a normal kid and play baseball. He knew that he did not have long to live but faced his destiny with such courage, wisdom and peace. The look and strength in Michael’s eyes has given me pause whenever I have faced difficulties in my own life. He was wiser and stronger than any adult I have ever met. He was able to play baseball that day at camp. He passed away just a few weeks later. He was a hemophiliac child. HIV/AIDS ravaged the hemophiliac community in the early days of AIDS.
One donor was a peanut butter heiress who had started an orphanage and school in Indonesia. She had a couple storage units filled with family belongings she had been holding onto for years. She called me one day and said it was time to let them go. It took a team of 5 people an entire day to go through all her stuff. The heiress kept us well fed and entertained with stories of her family and travels while we sorted her belongings. It was a great windfall to the store and the foundation.
The thrift store was in the bohemian neighborhood of Capitol Hill in Seattle. Sort of a gay/Goth/grunge mixture of diversity blended into an older working class community. Our store volunteers included a psychic, intuitive and loving woman whose husband was among the “disappeared” in Egypt. Her health was not good and we dressed up in costumes on Halloween to visit her one day in the hospital. Another woman was a very sweet, firecracker sharp, red haired, chain smoking New Yorker with a gay son. She could manage anything and always stunned me with how much she could do and then asked for more to do.
One intern was a young man who was a rich kid who lived like a pauper in rebellion to his father who had no time for his kids. Yet he was patient, reliable and kind to everyone, even though he was usually high from smoking marijuana. The music scene was just beginning to boom in Seattle and young people were arriving every day. For a few weeks, we had a homeless young man who had graduated from a prestigious East Coast college live in the back of the store in exchange for working in the store. A kind woman who I knew passed away and left us many of her possessions including some valuable Eames chairs. Our homeless volunteer recognized the value of the chairs and wanted one although he could not pay for it. We let him carry around one chair in his car for several weeks before he finally realized the absurdity of this and he gave the chair back to us to sell for the kids.
One of my friends for a brief period before my back injury was Tim Brown. He was HIV positive, led a typical Seattle bohemian lifestyle and also had a good hearted, kind generosity that accompanied his self described, slightly decadent side. I lost touch with him when he moved to Barcelona and later, Berlin. Many years later I saw him on television as the first person who had been cured of HIV after an experimental bone marrow transplant. I was so happy for him and a chill raised the hairs on my neck thinking that perhaps Our Lady had intervened in his behalf.
After a year of running the thrift store, living on a minimal but adequate income, working 6 days a week, I was nearing exhaustion. I began to question how I could continue. Our Lady came to me again and gave me the message “Seek Ye Refuge in the Garden, Restored”. I didn’t know what it meant at the time. There are many meanings really — rest in the beauty of nature, but later I also realized it meant to rest in the Heavenly Garden, restored to Grace. This was a profound message that touches me deeply to this day.
I arranged to finally take a break from running the store and retreated to Orcas Island, near Seattle, for rest, contemplation and relaxation. I returned after a few days much more balanced and refreshed. I knew that I needed to take more time for meditation but I wasn’t sure how to do that with all my responsibilities. Again I just carried on and let life unfold.
A few weeks later we received news from the landlord that he had found a tenant and we would have to move unless we were willing to pay full market rent. The thrift store’s revenues were modest and we could not afford to pay the full rent and support the foundation. We looked for another location but nothing seemed suitable or affordable. I meditated and asked Our Lady “what should we do?” A few days later I felt her quiet presence come to me again. She said that it was done, our work was complete and we should just let it go. I was sad but I knew it was true. She said our store had been given life for a brief time, similar to the brief but beautiful life that a child with AIDS experienced at that time. She also said that there was another message she wished to tell me and she would visit me again.
In the final days before the store closed we were still attempting to find another location to carry on the work. I knew inwardly it was unlikely but there were many people involved and they did not receive the same message I did. It did not seem appropriate for me to share the message I had received, that it was best just to go through the experience. One evening, again just before bedtime, Our Lady filled the room and my being with her presence. I became still and filled with peace, tears welling in my eyes.
Her message was “Lay Down Your Weapons”. I understood this to mean to just surrender and let the store close, do not make any further efforts to continue. Once I understood this she said there was more.
I was shown a vision of what “Lay Down Your Weapons” meant for the world. Our Lady appeared all around the world, in various forms, speaking in many languages, touching the souls of children of all cultures conveying the message that it was time to “Lay Down Your Weapons”. Children knew that it was time to end war and they were drawn together through this miraculous appearance to make this happen. With the power and grace of Our Lady I knew that it was possible. I asked her if this time was now and she said “not now” but I would know when if I listened to my soul. I also understood that to “lay down one’s weapons” was more than just weapons of war, but all things human beings use as weapons to harm one another. Laying down the weapons of war was the first stage of human beings learning to lay down the other weapons such as the hoarding of money, food, water, resources, etc. It was a step to healing and uniting mankind to a next level of living.
I have often wondered when or if her final vision would occur. The message is simple really. How do you stop war? Lay down your weapons. It is common sense. We are all brothers and sisters living on this planet. War is family abuse on a massive scale. The family can be healed. There is hope.