PLP #1 Anita Moorjani

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Porch Light People: Individuals who are fully themselves. They are not influenced by “shoulds” from the culture or other people. They instead live from their inner light.

My first Porch Light Profile is about New York Times best selling author Anita Moorjani. I chose her because her book, Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing, is one of the most compelling memoirs I’ve ever read. The book details the author’s spontaneous healing of stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma after a near-death experience (NDE). As she lay comatose, her organs shutting down, she “crossed over” to an indescribable realm of love and clarity. In Heaven, she was reunited with loved ones who had passed away. From them she learned she had the choice to return to Earth. They told her if she went back, her cancer would rapidly heal. All she had to do was to live her life fearlessly. What that meant was to love herself unconditionally and be who she was moment by moment.

Reading about Anita’s spontaneous remission from cancer was awe inspiring. Even more fascinating to me was what she learned in her visit to the other side and how it played out when she came back to Earth. Before her NDE, Anita didn’t live by her inner light. In fact, she was very much disconnected from that source. Raised in Hong Kong by Indian parents, she learned to deny her true self at an early age to fit in. She had been people pleasing for so long that the first thought that came to her when she was diagnosed with cancer was, “Good, now I have a reason to take care of myself.”

In my phone conversation with Anita, she assured me that if we all listened to our inner voice and did what felt right, our lives would unfold better than we could ever imagine. In her case, sharing her NDE on an internet forum lead to her getting a publishing contract. After her book’s release, Dying to Be Me, quickly hit the New York Times bestseller list. Its has since been translated into 45 languages and has sold over one million copies worldwide. English film director and producer Ridley Scott’s company has optioned the rights to make Dying to Be Me into a full-length feature film.

Anita believes that we are all born connected to an inner guidance system but it gets conditioned out of us. We are taught from a young age to get our validation externally rather than internally. We give our power to people and cultural belief systems that dictate how we should live our lives. If we are constantly trying to be what other people want us to be, we end up not living our own life. Anita’s experience in the heavenly realm set her free from all of that. When she came back, she knew that all she had to do was to be herself and follow her joy. I wondered if living life that way means you never have problems. Anita said that you do, but the problems you attract from following your heart are like a check and balance system to put you back on course. When you resolve them, they take you to the next level of your deepest self.

When I asked Anita if we all had a calling she said, “Yes. We all come here with a destiny, but many of us lose our way.” She believes that not being true to ourselves is a kind of spiritual crisis, and that can lead to conditions like depression, addiction or even cancer, like she had. Our only purpose in life is to be who we are. When we do that, our highest potential unfolds before us. According to Anita, charting your course limits God. Getting out of the way allows life to draw in gifts and solutions that we never dreamed existed.

“We teach best what we most need to learn.” – Richard Bach

There’s good reason for my attraction to Anita’s story. I’ve struggled for years trying to promote my gifts to the world. All my chasing and pursuing has only taken me so far. Reading Dying to Be Me gave me pause to consider that perhaps I’ve been living life backwards. In writing my Porch Light Profiles, I’m trading in industry goals and marketing plans to instead come from my own center. For me, this series is important work. It’s my heart’s longing to know itself. As time goes on, I hope to confirm what Anita learned on the other side. If Porch Light Profiles really are a product of my inner light, then the stories I share will attract readers who need to hear their message. Inspired, they will turn inward and begin to listen.

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*Coming up next: Profile of author/illustrator, Susan Branch

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

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Introducing Porch Light Profiles

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“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ― Howard Thurman

Welcome to Porch Light Profiles. This year I’m shifting the focus of my blog to writing about men and women who allow their light to illuminate the world. What do I mean by that? I mean people who know who they are and express their inner selves to humanity. This expression always brings them joy and manifests itself in their life’s work. I’m discovering that if you follow what most excites you, the right people, resources and opportunities will appear to help you share your gifts with the world.

Although “Porch Light People” are a part of all walks of life, I’m going to begin by focusing on artists. For me, it’s easiest to see this principal in action in them. Growing up they learned the same societal belief most of us did: you must find a career path that will earn you a living. Yet the flame inside urging them to create, burned so brightly it was impossible to ignore. Instead of asking, “How can I support myself?”, they said, “If I don’t do my art, I can’t go on.”

Doing what makes your heart sing, seems like a good way to starve in the logical world. We may reason that the only sure way to keep ourselves safe is to follow the cultural rules of survival. Often, that means turning your back on doing what makes you feel alive. Some get so good at suppressing what brings them joy that, sadly, they lose touch with it. They never learn that paying attention to the “still small voice within” is what will help them succeed. Those who have a wide-open connection to that voice are who I’ll be writing about. They know their work flows through them from another source. That doesn’t necessarily mean they take part in a formal religion. What it does mean is they don’t control the process, but let something greater than themselves take the reins.

Here are some questions I hope to answer over the next few months:

Do we all have an inner guidance system that will direct our path if we listen?

Can you make a living by following your heart?

What happens when you give into fear and move away from your passion?

Can following your bliss lead to your life’s work?

Is doing what we love and answering our calling the same thing?

In these profiles, I hope to give evidence that it is safe to share your deepest self with the world. In fact, I believe that is what we are here for. Being who we are and doing what feeds our soul is our life’s work. When we allow ourselves to shine, the world can’t help but be drawn to us. Our life has become a prayer. In that state of being, it doesn’t take a lot of thought or planning to figure out how to share your gift with others. Like moths to a flame they will find you.

*Coming up next: Profile of New York Times best selling author, Anita Moorjani

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

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Rolling in Another’s Skates

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Learning to love myself means learning to love others. I’ve discovered they are both sides of the same coin. To quiet the self-berating voice in my mind, I had to stop finding fault in people. In the bible it says, “Judge not, that you may not be judged.” Growing up, I was taught that verse meant if I were critical of another than I would be judged by God (and thrown into the fires of hell). Today, I believe Christ meant that if we judged others harshly, we will do the same to ourselves. His teachings weren’t about doom and gloom but meant to help free His followers to live in joy.

It’s hard to hold someone’s behavior against them when you realize we all struggle, many of us carrying the baggage of less-than-perfect childhoods and life experiences. That’s not to say that hurtful actions directed at you won’t sting. They do, and the feelings about them shouldn’t be denied. Understanding that we are all born innocent and only do what we’ve learned, makes it easier to trade our resentments in for compassion. I believe that beneath the most obnoxious personality lies a beautiful soul that I am a part of. Truly, we are all one. That is why it’s impossible to pick apart another without doing the same to yourself.

Family systems and societal beliefs have a way of programming us to be fearful. We all want relief from our pain and many lash out at others to unburden themselves. That’s why on a higher level, any kind of attack can be looked at as a call for love. Having empathy for what it would be like to roll in another’s skates, in no way means that you should put yourself in a position to be hurt by wounded people. A good analogy for this lies in an incident that happened to my friend, Gigi, while she was living in Montana. One day out her back door, she spied two adorable bear cubs climbing a tree. Moments later, their mother appeared to help them down. Although Gigi is a wildlife photographer, she didn’t take her camera outside and to try capture the scene. Understanding the protective nature of a mama bear, she knew she could be mauled if she went near them. That bear family was best enjoyed from the safety of her kitchen. In the same way, we have the choice to keep our distance from less than safe people. Like wild animals, some folks are best appreciated from afar.

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A photo of the cubs Gigi was able to snap through her kitchen window.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

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Going With the Flow

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Need to absorb an important life lesson? Get it down on paper. I painted this watercolor to remind myself of the ease that comes with surrendering to the flow of life. For as long as I can remember, I have tried to manipulate events to get what I wanted. Career planning seemed a crucial part of directing my path as an artist. This process seemed to be working until the recession hit eight years ago. At that time, I couldn’t get an art director to look at my portfolio to save my life. Even my portrait commissions dried up. It became clear that all the listing, visualizing and pushing toward my goals wasn’t helping them to materialize.

During that frustrating time, the assurance in Matthew 6:33 came to me. “But you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things shall be added to you.” Translation: the Divine takes care of His children. For this to occur, all that’s required is to draw near to Him. After that, all of our other needs will be met. This was radical thinking for a wheel gripper like me, but I felt defeated enough to try it. Relaxing my hold and shifting my focus meant living where God lives – in the now.

Being in the now, means no longer trying to make things happen. I began letting problems work themselves out. I stopped trying to pry open doors that were nailed shut and began walking through the doors that were open. I discovered allowing God to be in control feels much better than trying to force solutions. To my surprise, my artistry was pulled in a direction that I never conceived of. I began writing (something I’d never done before) and illustrating a blog that now runs in the Huffington Post. My next step is to compile my posts into a book. It’s an undertaking that never would have come to me if I were still clinging to my “five year plan.”

Today the original “Going With the Flow” painting hangs in my studio.  It calls to mind the acronym for FROG – Fully Relying On God. I need to be reminded daily of the power of surrender. My little frog rider illustrates that truth perfectly. Like me, she has learned that it’s a waste of time to try and redirect the energy of life. Not only is the present moment missed but you’re too preoccupied to notice the gifts that lie around the bend. Relax and enjoy the ride. The current will take you to places that struggle never could.

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My friend Karli was happy to model for the fairy in my painting.

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The frog is based on this photograph by Gigi Embrechts.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

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Don’t Have a Fairy Godmother? Borrow One

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Elli Stassinopoulos and her daughter, Agapi

“Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.” -Anna Freud

I’ve made a practice of gleaning wisdom and support from women I admire. Because my mom was not the “in your corner” type, I learned to do this at a young age. Growing up under her tutelage forced me to figure out ways to get my need for nurturing met. My search led me to reading books with omniscient mother figures and happy endings. It’s no accident that as a child Cinderella was a favorite story of mine. That evil stepmom may have been in control for a time, but she was no match for the powers of a fairy godmother. By fifth grade, I had graduated to being utterly taken with Marmee, the mother of the March sisters, in Little Women. Her steadfast devotion to her girls was the launching pad for them to live their dreams. Somehow reading about the security of unconditional love was healing to me.

In my twenties, I discovered how author Maya Angelo mothered Oprah Winfrey. Her love and wise council helped Oprah to become her “best self.” I began studying other strong women who pointed their daughters in the right direction. I embraced the relationships of Eunice Shriver and her daughter, Maria, Dorothy Howell Rodham and her daughter, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and finally Elli Stassinopoulos and her daughters, Agapi Stassinopoulos and Arianna Huffington. All of these mothers inspired me and gave me a lead to follow. Since I considered them as more than mentors, I christened them fairy godmothers. Remember the sparkle Cinderella’s fairy godmother brought to her life? She gave the added magic needed to help Cinderella leave behind the cinders she made her bed in. That’s what these mothers I admire did for me.

One of my favorite of the godmothers is Elli Stassinopoulos.  In my painting above, she’s pictured with her daughter Agapi on Agapi’s 16th birthday. I first read about Elli in Agapi’s book, Unbinding the Heart. Elli was a remarkable woman. She was not accomplished by the world’s standards and yet gave much to the world. Her daughters are living proof of that. Elli knew what was important in life. It was people not things that mattered. There was no hierarchy in her world. She treated a government official and a plumber with the same warmth and generosity. She never allowed her daughters to feel “less than.” She knew that both of them were born with the gifts needed to fulfill their life’s purpose and she stood in support of that. Reading about Elli made me think of how much easier my life would have been if I were raised by a mom like her. My soul would have known its worth, instead of having to fight for it every step of the way. Getting to know Elli helped soothe what I lacked.

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The Photo I based my painting on.

I reached out to Agapi for permission to work from the photograph I based my watercolor on. Elli reminded me of the fairy godmother in Disney’s Cinderella in the picture. Agapi was kind enough to grant her consent and even gave her thoughts on the art in progress. All along she was pleased that I was capturing her mom’s spirit. What she was having trouble with, was my portrayal of herself. We both knew something was off. Was it her eyes? Or her smile? She could not pinpoint it and in my revisions neither could I. Finally, in frustration, I thought to ask Elli for help. I reasoned that since she had passed away in 2000 she would have the clarity of a higher vantage point. As soon as I sent out my request, I got the distinct feeling to have a glass of red wine and stop trying so hard. I should just relax and enjoy the process. I did just that and had fun tweaking the piece. In a flash, I was done and satisfied with the results. When I sent a file of it to Agapi, she responded,“It’s great!” I smiled as I wondered why I hadn’t called on Elli sooner. Of course she would want me to do justice to her girl.

In my life, I’ve found that within every hardship there are always blessings. I believe I was given the perfect mother to help me become who I was born to be. Without the difficulty of being raised by her, I don’t think I’d have the insight and compassion I do today.  Plus, I may have never discovered the wisdom of these beautiful women I call fairy godmothers. I’ve studied and absorbed how they moved through life. Their philosophies have become my philosophies. Today, I’m happy to say I share their wise council with others who’ve been gifted with moms similar to mine. In this way, even though my fairy godmothers no longer grace the planet, their magic goes on and continues to break the spells that others live under.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

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A Love That Never Sleeps

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In preparation for the birth of their baby, my daughter-in-law, Pam, asked me to make an image to hang in our new grandchild’s bedroom. She wanted the prayer Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep with a moon. After reading the prayer, Pam emailed to me I was happy it wasn’t the version I learned in my childhood:

“Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

I discovered that variation came to the American Colonies via the New England-Primer, first published in the late 1600’s. For seventeenth century New Englanders, who had no knowledge of antibiotics, bacteria, or even simple hand washing, losing a child was a very real possibility. Parents were entrenched in the fear of hellfire and damnation so an invocation of protection for their children must have seemed like the prudent thing to do.

For me, being born in the 1950’s, the likelihood of not seeing a child reach adulthood was no longer a major threat. Yet many of us were still taught a prayer with instructions for God to take our souls in case we didn’t wake up in the morning. I never thought how menacing that prayer was until Pam sent over the newer version.

Today I’m happy to say many of us no longer have room in our lives for a harsh, punishing God. We believe our children and grandchildren are made in Love and will come into a world surrounded by a Love that never sleeps. It is good to evolve.

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My son Brian, and his wife Pam with there firstborn. Cameron is sharing his sucker with the new baby.

*Click to purchase a signed print of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

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1 + 1 + 1 = Love

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Meet Patrick, Cooper, and Bridget, one of the most endearing families I’ve ever met. Cooper is Patrick’s son from a previous relationship, but you’d never know it. When spending time with them, I’m always struck by the love they have for each other. The only thing that would tip one off that Bridget isn’t Cooper’s biological mom is that he calls her, “Babe,” a term of endearment that he picked up from his father.

To create my portrait paintings I work from reference photos. For this watercolor, I ended up combining two group-shots. It can be tricky to get three people (especially when one is a child) to all look their best in one image. I asked Pat to take off his hat mid photo shoot because his face was in shadow. Removing it, left him with a clear case of hat-hair. I knew that I could change that in the artwork by working from a photograph of Pat with his hair gelled and combed. It comes in handy having a brain that fuses and alters images like Photoshop.

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I felt like I’d won the lottery when I was commissioned to paint this piece. Getting paid to do what makes your heart sing is a gift. Plus, the fact that Pat and company are some of the nicest (not to mention beautiful) people around made it a dream job.

In September, this family by choice, will deepen their bond when Pat and Bridget are married. 1+1+1 = Love is Patrick’s love letter, painted through me, to the two most important people in his life. I’m wishing them all the best as they set sail on their happily ever after.1+1=1=Love_detail_edited-red

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

 

 

 

 

Painting with Abandon

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“In art and dream may you proceed with abandon.” – Patti Smith

Last month I finished up the second of two very detailed portrait commissions. I’d been working on them since before the first of the year. In my artistic process, I lay down a wash of watercolor on paper and then alternate layers of colored pencil and paint until I feel like the image is totally in focus. I end up with stunning results, but I was beginning to avoid my drawing table and had to figure out why.  After some reflection, I realized that my painting style had become so tedious I was beginning to resist it. I had to figure out a way too work faster. I was ready to create something for fun.

I determined I needed to let go of my perfectionism and decided to explore only using watercolor in my next piece. In a very real way, that medium can’t be controlled. Trying to rework a watercolor can be the ruin of it. You have to work fast knowing that you can’t always direct the pigment’s course.

“The making of art is no different than prayer “- Rainn Wilson

The above image is the result of my “painting with abandon experiment.” It’s based on the daughter of an artist I know. I purposely worked from photographs of poor quality, so that I wouldn’t be able to labor over the details. I was forcing myself to fill in the blanks with my imagination. In my watercolor, I began by painting the night sky. I loaded my brush with water and soaked the paper. Next, I laid down the color and watched it flow and pool. Then I sprinkled salt on the wet pigment, so it would crystallized and texture the sky. I loved how the watercolor paints had a life of their own. I was exhilarated with the results. I knew something higher was painting through me. I could feel the presence of the Divine.

I remember painting like this as a child. The joy of expectancy that I felt back then was akin to prayer. It was the physical act of “letting go and letting God.” I was never certain what I was going to end up with, but I knew it was going to be good.

I decided to call my painting, “Dancing with the Moon,” because of the magic I found in painting my subject without restraint. I have to admit that I ended up using some colored pencil to refine the details on the image. Even so, the painting took only four days to complete, verses the six weeks my last piece did.

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” – Vincent Van Gogh

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Last week my niece, Andi, and I visited the Chicago Art Institute to see the Van Gogh exhibit. The experience filled our artist souls and reminded me of how I used to paint with vibrant colors. In my early twenties, I poured over Van Gogh’s paintings in my huge coffee table book that cataloged his works. My eyes drank in the vivid pigments he used. I began painting with bold complimentary colors like he had learned to. Over the years, my devotion to color was lost in my pursuit of mastering the minutia of realism. I wondered if my decision to paint with less restraint meant that all those years I had spent on meticulous detail were a waste of time? Andi looked at me and said, “I think you had to perfect your technique before you could be loose with it. You couldn’t have the latter without the former.”

Her words reminded me that we are always on course. Our best efforts are never wasted on God’s good, green Earth. And now it was time for me to begin painting with abandon, in brilliant color…

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Blessings From Heaven

 

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Last September my friend Nancy, got in touch to tell me of the death of her beloved daughter. I was saddened to hear the details of Meghan’s passing. Nancy explained that she wanted to commission me to create the cover art for a book she was writing about Megs. She then went on to tell me of a lucid dream her brother, Charles, experienced after her daughter had passed. In it he envisioned his niece moments after her death. No longer was Megs a 35-year-old woman consumed with cancer, but a healthy nine-year-old. She bounded through the door of Chirup, their summer cottage, and raised her arms in delight as she overlooked the lake. When she realized she had crossed the threshold to the afterlife her joy couldn’t be contained. That’s the image Meghan’s mom wanted illustrated for the cover of her book, Blessings from Heaven. Nancy planned to include all the details of her brother’s heavenly encounter with his niece.

Some may dismiss Charles’s vision as a broken heart trying to heal itself, but I knew better. From what I’ve witnessed, along with sorrow, death always brings miracles. Through her uncle’s dream Meghan’s soul made sure her family knew her suffering was over and that she is free.

I accepted the commission and began gathering details for my illustration. Meghan’s mom had to find photos of her daughter as a child and of Chirup for me to work from. Getting the details of the cottage right were almost as important as getting Megs right. She had such a connection to the vacation dwelling that it was her heart’s desire to spend her final days there.

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Megs around age nine.

I felt a little apprehensive about making the book cover. I knew what I was doing was important work and wanted it to be perfect. Nancy turned out to be a fabulous art director. When she saw my preliminary sketch, she knew I had to thin and elongate Meghan’s body. She was able to supply me with the minutest of details to make Chirup authentic. She even gave me images of wildflowers that grow in the area to incorporate into the painting. She told me that I had artistic license to place them around the cottage in abundance even though they weren’t there in actuality. The illustration was of heaven after all.

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Chirup

The final art took months to complete. Every day that I sat down to paint, I put on the cancer bracelet that Meghan’s family wore to support her. Having it on my wrist somehow solidified the connection I felt with her. I could feel her vibrant energy. I knew she was doing what she could to help me make the cover of her mom’s book a masterpiece.

When I finally put the finishing touches on the art, I appraised all the detail in the plants around the cottage. I’d spent hours and hours painting those flowers. I found my antique flower dictionary to look up the definitions of the blooms Nancy wanted in the illustration. When I complete a portrait commission if flowers are included, I like to read the meanings behind them. The definitions always somehow tie into my subject’s personalities, struggles and gifts.

I was in awe when I read what the wildflowers Meghan’s mom chose meant:

*The orange day-lilies represent beauty. They describe Nancy’s daughter far beyond the physical.

*Daisies mean simplicity. Megs never was one for too much fuss in her attire or surroundings. She drew much comfort from nature.

*Black-Eyed-Susan’s mean justice. To Meghan’s family and friends her passing seemed so unfair, but in the tapestry of life she left in perfect timing. So many gifts will materialize that wouldn’t have if she had stayed. Megs now has the power to help her loved ones from behind the scenes in ways she never could have while on Earth.

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My 1843 flower dictionary.

*The final flowers Nancy requested are purple phlox. I got chills when I read that their definition is, ”our souls are united.” It was a clear cut message for Meghan’s family, especially for her son, Tyler. Death could never be strong enough to separate them from her love.

Discovering what the flowers I had painstaking painted symbolized gave me a new understanding of the aphorism “God is in the details.” As I closed my Victorian flower dictionary, I was reminded, once again, how Divine love is woven through everything.

When Nancy learned I’d scheduled my essay to run today, she was thrilled. You see today is her birthday. I had no idea. No one can convince either of us that this isn’t a gift to her, through me, from Meghan. Happy birthday, Nancy.

*Click here to purchase a copy of Blessings from Heaven

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

 

The Season of Renewal

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All things bright and beautiful,

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.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

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