Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com
Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com
I have a young friend, Andrea, who inspires the heck out of me. One day she told me how happy she was with the direction her life had been going. She said, “Things are going so good, I don’t want to let go of the glow.” Don’t let go of the glow. I really liked that. It’s so easy to let negativity creep in and take over. That’s why it’s important to watch our thoughts and steer them in the direction of gratitude when they begin to get off course.
I’ve learned that I absorb the message of whatever I illustrate so I promptly rustled up a couple of models (Andrea’s son Adrian being one of them) and got this drawing down on paper. The next week when Andrea mentioned she was intent on “keeping the glow going,” I thought, “oh no, get me some paper. Here we go again.”
*By the way, I am looking for a little asian girl, around age four, (my model in the above art is now too old) to base the “Keep the Glow Going” illustration on. I see her walking along a path carrying a paper lantern. That image has lived in my mind’s eye since I first wrote this post a couple of years ago. If you know of a little one that fits my description, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com
America did not invent human rights. Human rights invented America. – Jimmy Carter
When the founders of our nation landed on the shores of Cape Cod, it was with the pursuit of religious freedom. All the other truths we’ve fought for since that time, stemmed from this same quest. The belief that no one has the right to define God or how we worship, has opened the door for an all-inclusive loving God to walk through. With no religious dogma, no one is excluded. We are free to be who we are. In 1955, Rosa Parks claimed that freedom when she refused to move to the back of the bus and began the Civil Rights movement. Eunice Shriver was certain of it when she fought for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities and helped form the Special Olympics. Last week gay couples felt it when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country, giving them the identical federal rights as heterosexual couples. It doesn’t matter what we look like, if we are handicapped, or who we love, we are all welcomed into the fold. The Creator delights in us exactly as we are. And why shouldn’t he? We are his handiwork.
I am deeply grateful to be born in the land of liberty. Our freedom is sacred and worth defending. July 4th is a day to celebrate this gift and remember all who have fought and died for it. As fireworks light up the sky, we watch with hands over our hearts, in awe of our servicemen and women. Without them our independence would not exist.
The American dream is not that every man must be level with every other man. The American dream is that every man must be free to become whatever God intends he should become. – Ronald Reagan
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose
And most times you choose between the two.” – Carole King, Sweet Seasons
I love my sister, Laura. After 34 years as a school social worker, she’s finally retired. Part of her bucket list is to attend the annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair in late August. Previously, this wasn’t possible because she always had to be back at school in the early part of that month. This year our families’ summer trip to the island will include experiencing the charm of the Ag Fair for the first time.
Last March, when Laura read about the Ag Fair poster contest, she urged me to enter. If I won, it would be so much fun to see posters, featuring my art, hanging all over the island to advertise the fair. I was already envisioning how cute my grandsons would look wearing t-shirts displaying my design. The best part of all would be giving the framed original to my sister as a retirement gift.
I worked around the clock on my illustration to get it to the judges before the April 1st deadline. I was pleased with what I came up with and felt I had a real chance of winning.
On April 7th, I got a call letting me know that although my entry was a runner up, it wasn’t chosen to represent the fair. At first, the news stung more than a little bit. After awhile, it came to me that this was not a loss. Granted my poster won’t be showcased around the island, but who cares? The important thing is the original art would be hanging on Laura’s wall. I knew all the hours spent creating it would make it even more special to her. As for the t-shirts? There was nothing stopping me from having them made for my favorite people, so I did.
Today, I’m even more sure that even though the poster competition didn’t go my way, it still worked out perfectly. None of our efforts in life are ever wasted. We can’t always see the reverberations of good intent, but they ripple forever outward just the same. Doing something out of love for another is no small thing. Winning and losing are all a matter of perception.
The above painting, captures the innocence of childhood and my love of Martha’s Vineyard. I have traveled to the island every summer for the last 17 years. It’s hard to write about its splendor without sounding cliche. Although there is much that is upscale on MV, there is also raw beauty woven throughout. All I can say is the President and his family vacation there for a reason. Illustrating a child worn out from play, slumbering on the beach, is my way of bottling the island’s magic. Just looking at this picture, brings me right back to the warm sand and soothing sound of the sea.
Beach Dreams was an illustration commission for a poem. I was given free reign on how I depicted it, so I drew from my own experience. Dreaming has always been such a big factor in my life. The little girl sleeping is my way of saying the more you relax into your dreams, the more you allow them to come to you. If given a chance, dreams take care of themselves.
Below Beach Dreams from conception to final art.
“I’ve trusted the still, small voice of intuition my entire life. And the only time I’ve made mistakes is when I didn’t listen.” -Oprah Winfrey
I’m working on listening to my heart. Trusting my inner guidance has been an ongoing process. One morning last August, I prayed to be shown how to listen and act on what I know to be true. I have trouble paying heed to the small voice attempting to guide me. It’s hard to hear it over the clatter in my brain, trying to figure everything out.
Later that day, I took our dog, Quigley, outside with me to check the mail. As we walked toward the mailbox, he darted to the side of the house. He frantically began searching for something in the bushes. As I rushed over, my instincts screamed to get him out of there. Then the thought hit me. My husband, Bob, would say to leave Quigley alone because he was after the vole that had been eating the roots of our plants. What did I do? Against my higher judgement, I stood by and watched. I could hear the critter rustling and then came a loud hiss. Quigley sprang back. To my horror I saw a yellow glob of goo oozing down the top of head, into his eye. I didn’t know what to make of it until an acrid smell hit my nostrils. Quigley had been sprayed by a skunk!
Removing the stench off of him was quite a process. After bathing him daily for a week, he still had to be confined to the basement. It was a whole month before the unmistakable smell was completely gone. If I had only listened to what my intuition told me, I wouldn’t have had to deal with the foul odor that relentlessly clung to my dog.
If earth is a school, the class I must be taking is Trust Your Gut 101. Our inner guidance is an illuminated lantern to help us from stumbling on our path. I’ve heard it said that the universe talks to us first in a whisper and then gets louder and louder until we get the message. The way that whisper was amped up on that morning last summer makes me laugh. It’s nice to know God has a sense of humor. There is nothing like the smell of skunk to drive home a point.
On May 2, 2014 Jacqui and Dan Saldana lost their three-year-old son, Ryan. Although I never met him, a piece of my heart broke off when he died. I learned about Ryan, while he still graced the planet, from my niece Molly. For a time, she worked with his mother at the Madewell store in Santa Monica, California. I began reading Jacqui’s blog, Baby Boy Bakery and following her on Instagram where she shared recipes and the adventures of being Ryan’s mom. His adorableness, wrapped in red curls, was irresistible.
Last May, Ryan was struck and killed by a truck while playing outside of his cousin’s home in Alta Loma. An unfathomable loss that no parent should ever have to face. Ryan’s death sparked a social media outpouring of love and support for his family. The well wishes were posted with the hashtag #RedBalloonsForRyan, which was begun by family friends. Red balloons were chosen as a symbol for Ryan because he loved red and balloons. His parents planned to release them heavenward during their little boy’s funeral service.
Since that time, Jacqui has shared her journey of healing and hope on her blog and Instagram. After learning about what the Saldana’s where going through last December, Ellen Degeneres had Jacqui on her show to help get them through the holidays. The talk show host told Jacqui,“I know what you’ve lost is something you can’t ever explain or imagine. Know that you are helping a lot of people with your blog. Continue writing your blog and continue knowing I’m sending you love all the time.”
After seeing Jacqui on The Ellen Show, I felt inspired to send her love in a tangible way. What if I did a watercolor of Ryan as a gift for his parents? But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get in touch with them. Still I felt called to do it. The whisperings of Ryan urged me on. Why not paint his portrait anyway? I could have it published with an essay about the anniversary of his death. I knew somehow it would get to Jacqui and Dan. When a parent loses a child, their greatest fear is that the world will move on and forget about their son or daughter. I wanted to make sure they knew that wasn’t going to happen to Ryan Cruz Saldana.
So today, you are seeing and reading my remembrance of Jacqui and Dan’s little angel. Believe me when I say I didn’t create this alone.
Don’t Lose Heart
I am not gone.
I am closer than ever
I watch you every day.
It takes time to heal.
I can feel your love.
I smile when you smile.
I laugh when you laugh
Balloons are love notes from me.
I will be your “little man” forever.
Remember, I have what you always wanted for me.
I am happy.
I am free.
I am whole.
Remember, I love you.
*Join the outpouring of love and support for Ryan on social media with the hashtag #RedBalloonsForRyan
This story also appeared on MariaShriver.com — THE most inspiring place on the web.
“Everyone is different: different shapes, sizes, colors, beliefs, personalities, and you have to celebrate those differences.” – Kelly Clarkson
Over the years, I have learned so much from Oprah Winfrey. I felt a kinship with her from the day she began her show in Chicago in 1986. She was so real. Plus, she was a woman of size (like me). She was someone who was approachable, not above me. I could relate to her love of books, spiritual matters and the desire to be thin. I shared her anguish about not being a size six. I went on every diet she did. It was hard not to notice Oprah’s weight yo-yo during the reign of her talk show. If she wasn’t pointing out her failures, the media was.
After the Oprah Winfrey Show ended in 2011, whether she was fat or thin went under the radar. Without being on T.V. Monday through Friday, it was hard to know what shape Oprah was in, which was fine with me. I had been doing some serious soul searching about my size. I needed a break from constantly monitoring my eating and exercising. It was robbing me of the joy of living in the now. It didn’t do any good long term anyway. I wondered if I was fighting nature? Could I have been born this way?
Last December, I watched a once again curvy Oprah being interviewed by Barbara Walters on her “Ten Most Fascinating People of 2014” special. Oprah may not be at her “best self” weight, but she is as beautiful as ever in my eyes. Barbara asked her to complete this sentence, “Before I leave this earth I will not be satisfied until I…”
Oprah responded with, “Until I make peace with the whole weight thing.”
Barbara sounded shocked when she said, “What? That’s still on your mind? I was expecting something deeply profound.” Oprah assured her that yes, she had to make peace with the “ whole weight thing.”
What petite Ms. Walters didn’t understand was Oprah’s wish is deeply profound. As a woman who has struggled to be thin her whole life, it would be such a gift to me if she accepted herself. Maybe Oprah and I, along with countless others aren’t meant to be a size six. What if we are fine the way we are? Maybe the bodies our souls inhabit aren’t what the culture has deemed desirable, but does that make them wrong?
Today, at 59, I have still not won the war with fat and am waking up to the notion that maybe this is who I am. There is more and more scientific evidence that says being fat doesn’t necessarily mean one is unhealthy. Maybe the media and the fashion police are wrong. After all there was a time in our country’s history when people were made to feel less than because of the color of their skin. Looking at nature I see that there are all different shapes and sizes in the animal world. Could human beings be made the same way?
“If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world ablaze.” – St. Catherine of Siena
Oprah’s continual references to her issue with her weight has only helped to make her a target by mean spirited people. The distress she feels adds fuel to the shame women carry about their bodies. Think about celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg. I find it interesting that the press never remarks about her size. I have a pretty good idea why. Whoopi knows she has it going on. She knows her light shines from the inside out so it’s a waste of time to try to mold herself into a standard dictated by fools. Because her body isn’t an issue with her it’s not an issue with anyone else. I think it is time for women to embrace their bodies. I don’t want to waste another minute rejecting what I was born into. My body is a temple, and the same goes for you, Oprah Winfrey. What would the world do without you? You have a big purpose and your soul lives in the perfect house to manifest it. If you accept yourself, just as you are, you will give permission to womankind to do the same. That would be a gift passed down from generation to generation. And what do your sisters think about your body inching above your “goal weight”? It’s the better to hug us with, my dear.
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
– Attributed to Cecil F. Alexander
For now, the church has lost me. Confirmed allegations of sexual abuse from a priest in my parish makes it impossible for me to attend. Fortunately, my bond with God is closer than ever. He is with me everywhere. I have claimed the outdoors as my cathedral. There’s no argument that it’s exquisite beauty has been fashioned by the Creator. Every bird, every tree has his signature on it. There is no dogma in nature and man never thinks of ways to improve it. The only thing to do under the great blue dome is to relax into its beauty.
Spring is a sign of renewal and rebirth. It’s the counterpart to the reawakening of humanity. I am comforted that the darkness in the church is being rooted out. I still have hope that one day it will again feel like home to me. Until then, the beauty found in my own backyard refreshes my soul.
I attended two weddings a week apart last September. Both were beautiful celebrations of each couple’s love. What struck me was the contrast between the two events. Betty and Chris are lesbians and had a Chicago Blackhawks-themed affair. Nick and Jacquie are straight and had a traditional fairytale style wedding (think Cinderella). Both were joyful and life-affirming. It’s wonderful how inclusive we are becoming about what constitutes a marriage in the United States. I couldn’t imagine comparing two occasions like this even five years ago.
“Marriage – gay and straight – is a gift to the world because the world needs more not less love, fidelity, commitment, devotion and sacrifice.” ~Rob and Kristen Bell, The Zimzum of Love
There was a time when same-sex marriage was not even a thought in my stratosphere. In my youth, homosexuality was kept so hush, hush I didn’t even know it existed until I was a 19-year-old art student. Getting over the shock that two members of the same sex could be lovers took a while for me. I was raised Catholic and soon learned that being gay was a sin in the eyes of the Church. Many branches of Christianity use scripture to condemn homosexuality. They strictly adhere to the Bible being God’s infallible word. When I realized the Bible accepted slavery, it left an opening for me to question the validity of words written two thousand years ago. I came to the conclusion to trust what my heart knew all along: we have a right to be who we are and to love who we love.
“Make no mistake, I am a Christian and I believe in God and I don’t believe he makes mistakes, so I believe that being gay is not a sin and in fact it’s how you’re made.” ~Kristin Chenowith
I’m a woman who was raised to believe she was flawed. Growing up, I was always larger than the other girls. My mother was disgusted with my pudginess and used it to make me feel “less than.” A body-obsessed society backed up her feelings toward me. Although soul crushing, growing up in that environment is what gave me compassion for gays. I knew homosexuality wasn’t a choice any more than my size was. It didn’t make sense that someone would choose a way of being in the world that would hold them up to ridicule. The bodies we are born into are no accident. Who we are is a gift.
“If God wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.” ~Johann van Goethe
Today is a new day. America is evolving and opening its arms in an ever broader embrace. I see it in the weddings I attend. Betty and Chris’s love was celebrated and as special as Nick and Jacquie’s. As Hillary Rodham Clinton observed, “Gay rights are human rights.” The legalizing of same sex marriage is our reclaiming of the truths written in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Once again, we the people have spoken.