5 Lessons From Harriet Tubman to Help You Follow Your Inner Wisdom in Honor of Black History Month

keep-going

“Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”                        -Harriet Tubman

No one knows if Harriet Tubman really uttered these words, but there isn’t any question that she lived them. Harriet was born into slavery and raised in a world with no hope. Still, she dreamed her dreams and did what she had to do. She broke the law of the land by following the North Star to freedom. Where did a woman who was whipped as a child get that kind of courage?

Harriet had a deep and abiding faith that she was being guided. She was steadfast in her conviction that all she had to do was keep going and God would take care of the details. She shepherded over 300 slaves to freedom. If any of her fugitive charges became faint-hearted and wanted to turn around, she threatened to shoot them. Turning back could mean death to them all. She gave them no choice but to keep going. I, too, have been known to buckle and want to backtrack. Somehow the pain of the mundane seems safer than pioneering into new territory. The only way I’m able to move past that kind of paralyzation is to borrow some of Miss Harriet’s grit. She always remembered to ask for direction and then listen for the answer. The way was always made clear.

Studying Harriet Tubman’s life has made me a believer in praying for help. When I first began to follow her example, I had a difficult time discerning the guidance coming my way. I soon realized that Harriet’s unshakable faith was born of desperation. For her, there was no other choice than to pay attention to the “still, small voice within.” She knew those whisperings were from God and had to abandon herself to them or face certain death. Today, most of us don’t live with the kind of urgency she did. We lead busy lives and often times are too distracted to be aware of any inner knowing. Yet it’s still possible for us to learn how to hear and carry out the internal guidance we receive. I make a practice of this and live a life far easier than when I was going it alone. Below are the tools I learned from Harriet on how to accomplish this:

1) While growing up, Harriet began listening to the voice of her Maker to keep herself safe. When working in the fields, there was plenty of time to pray and listen for direction. Today television and electronic devices can keep us so preoccupied that we never give ourselves a chance to communicate with a Higher Power. Making a habit of having periods of quiet throughout the day is a good way to begin developing a working relationship with Him.

2) Gut feelings should never be analyzed by the brain. We can reason any type of inner guidance away with intellect, but logic often is a hinderance.

3) Pay attention to how you feel about opportunities that are presented to you. Doing something out of guilt or fear is a red flag that you’re going in the wrong direction. Something you should move forward with is always accompanied by feelings of peace or joy.

4) Be mindful of your dreams. Harriet was often foretold how to sidestep dangers in hers. Keep a journal beside your bed to write them down.

5) Be aware of physical sensations. It’s no accident that the term “gut feeling” is used to describe intuition. Harriet’s heart would begin beating wildly to warn her when she or someone else were in danger. She could feel trouble deep in her bones. Never discount the gift of these signals.

Take baby steps when you begin following your inner wisdom to test the process out. I did and discovered rather quickly that the God that was there for Harriet watches over us all.

AP0604190283071362855611

This picture of Harriet Tubman was taken between 1860-1875. I love her hat placed on the chair.

 

*Click here to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5×7 print!

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

My Only Valentine

Valentine*750“We got this far, darling, not by luck, but by never turning back.”                                         – Mary Chapin Carpenter

My husband, Bob, and I met through mutual friends when he was 20 and I was 21. We went on our first date the following week. He had just gotten out of a tumultuous relationship and was determined never to fall in love again. After hearing that, I figured I’d better proceed with caution. We tried our best not to fall for each other, but our hearts won over our brains. I made the above illustration, featuring Mae West and W. C. Fields, for Bob after we had been dating a year. As an artist, a handmade Valentine is the only way to declare your love.

Bob and Sue Final_550

When we first met.

One year after we met Bob proposed to me. I said, “yes” but wondered if it was a good idea to tie the knot with the only real boyfriend I ever had. This July it will be 37 years for us. Our commitment to each other has weathered many storms. There was too much drinking on his part and way too much “fixing” on mine. When I finally went and got help for myself, things slowly began to change for the better. Bob got sober and we grew together in a positive direction. That’s not to say it’s been smooth sailing ever since. I’ve always held onto the advice my sister Ann gave me about sticking it out in a marriage. After three husbands, she had come to the conclusion that you should work out your troubles, if you can, because no marriage is problem free.

Bob and Sue Wedding

On our wedding day, July 28, 1979.

In hindsight, I can see that Bob and I had no business getting married when we were 23. We were way too young. I question the wisdom of conceiving our oldest child six months later too. What was our hurry? I think in Bob’s case it seemed like the right thing to do because he came from a huge Irish/Catholic family. In my case, I adored kids and was certain that love would take care of the details. Thankfully, in the end, it always did.

Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be. – Robert Browning

Yes, there is something to be said for growing old together. Being with someone longer than you’ve been without them brings the kind of comfort that a well worn pair of shoes does. Not exactly a romantic notion, until you consider the discomfort that can come from breaking in a new pair. As we age, our love deepens. Sure, Bob and I still can get on each other’s nerves, but we have the presence of mind to let many of the little annoyances go. We are two separate individuals and have come to respect our differences.

Next June, after forty years at his job as a signal maintainer, Bob will be retiring. I have to admit I do worry about having him around all the time. In my work as an  author and artist, I need solitude to reflect and allow inspiration in. At other times, I am not concerned at all about him invading my space, and am looking forward to adventures with him and our grand babies. One thing is certain, the man I married all those years ago deserves a break. He has worked tirelessly to support his family and his wife’s dream of being an artist. It’s his time to fulfill some dreams of his own.

It looks like Bob and I will be approaching this next phase of our lives much like we did our marriage. Jump in and figure out how to swim later. When you think about it, how much of life can you truly plan anyway? What I do know for sure is the love that has carried us through the early, and middle years is not going to fail us now.

DSC04918 (1)-2

On our 35th wedding anniversary.

*Click here to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5×7 print!

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

The Importance of Magic

Do You Believe in Fairies? black line

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ― W.B. Yeats

I drew this mixed-media illustration of Steven Spielberg back in 1996. He’s been a favorite movie maker of mine since I first saw, ET. In my art I have a young Steven pictured as Peter Pan.  The words “Do you believe in fairies?” come directly from J.M. Barrie’s book Peter Pan and Wendy. In the story, Tinker Bell was dying because she drank poison that was meant for Peter. As she was fading away, she whispered that she thought she could get well again if children believed in fairies. Peter jumped up and shouted to children everywhere, “Do you believe? If you do, clap your hands. Don’t let Tink die!” For those of you who don’t know the story, yes, Tinker Bell pulled through. Believing is a powerful thing.

There is not a doubt in my mind that Mr. Spielberg believes in fairies and all things magical. I do, too. I’ve learned to cultivate enchantment and to be open to being astonished:

I believe in miracles.

I believe that imagination is more important than intelligence.

I believe a child’s capacity for wonder is gold and should be guarded as such.

I believe good always overcomes evil, and if you’re lucky, you may live to see it.

I believe if you can dream it, it can be done.

I believe that someone is going to do it, so why not you?

I believe you are born with all the gifts needed to fulfill your life’s purpose.

I believe all your answers can be found within.

I believe that what you are looking for is looking for you.

I believe you’re never too old manifest your heart’s desire.

I believe that you shouldn’t limit your dreams. Just follow your bliss. What you end up doing may not have even been invented yet.

“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” ― Roald Dahl

Steven Spielberg has joined forces with Disney to bring Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, The BFG (The Big Friendly Giant) to life. It will open in theaters on July 1st. I am already counting the days. The more I feed my sense of wonder, the more possible the impossible seems. Letting ourselves be enchanted, conjures the spark that ignites the flame of possibility. Without hope we would wither away into mundanity. For it’s true, without a little pixie dust, it’s death for most of us.

*Click here to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5×7 print!

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

A New Year – BE TRUE. BE YOU.

“We don’t realize that we are actually perfect just the way we are. We are born perfect, but spend a lifetime trying to be something we are not, and then feel inadequate for failing. Your only purpose is to BE YOURSELF, otherwise you will deprive the universe of who you came here to be.” ~ Anita Moorjani

The other day my son, Brian, told me that he wants our grandson, Cameron, to grow up and do what makes his heart sing. He doesn’t want “who he should be” imposed on his little guy. I found my son’s conviction so heartening. He already knows what’s taken me a whole lifetime to learn. Be who you are.

I was born into a world that already had perimeters and guidelines set into place to mold me. Being Catholic and female, left little room for my song to be sung. Add my parents fearful life-view into the mix, and I was a shell of the gift I was born to be. Needless to say, I felt stifled and unhappy. The harder I tried to fulfill others expectations the more empty I felt. Disillusioned and certain something was wrong with me, I began looking for ways to fix myself. Somehow what I was searching for in self-help books always alluded me. Today I see that what I really was seeking was permission to be myself.

I’ve set the intention to believe it isn’t selfish to love myself in 2016. I am going to stop criticizing my every move and allow myself to be me. I’ve come to the conclusion that loving who you are can only honor the Creator. Your uniqueness is no accident. Without your gifts and quirks there would be a hole in the tapestry of existence. Einstein was known for being a little peculiar but wrapped in his oddness was the ability to see things differently. What if he had stifled himself? The world have been deprived of his genius just like it will be deprived of yours if you keep the “real you” reigned in.

By being ourselves, we allow the Universe to work through us. Some may say, “But how can I do that when I don’t even know who I am?” The easiest way to discover the true you is when you’re making a decision ask yourself, “What would I do if I loved myself?” And then do that. A life lived this way is certain to take you to places you never dreamed of when you were holding yourself back.

This year when presented with a choice I’m going to ask myself, “Is this something that brings me joy or am I doing it out of obligation?” I’m going to check in moment by moment and really listen to how I feel. Once you start practicing this, you’ll be amazed by how many of your choices are not your own. It feels risky to quiet the mind and listen to the heart but doing so yields much joy.

This year, I am going to open myself up to having more fun. Trying to fulfill the world’s expectations is serious business and leaves little room for lightheartedness. I’ve resolved to ban self-help books from my library. I’ve decided I’m going to be reading for enjoyment. I am looking to be entertained not fixed. I will love my body and eat and exercise in ways that feel right to me. I am through with bowing to the standards imposed on women by advertisers and the diet industry.

Truly, the best New Year’s resolutions don’t come from the outside but from within. Many of us have tried for too long to make ourselves into something we’re not. It takes radical trust to believe that God knew what he was doing when he created you.

In working with the dying, palliative nurse Bronnie Ware, found that her patient’s biggest regret was that they wished they had lived a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them. I’m determined to never let that happen to me. When I reach the end of my days, I don’t want to be hit with the realization that I’ve lived someone else’s life. No, from this day forward the life I am living is my own.

*Click here to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5×7 print!

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

Spread Love Around the World

Jaeden's Angel

Jaeden’s Angel

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!”             ~ Hamilton Wright Mabie

This is the first year since 2000 that I haven’t illustrated a Christmas card for the Tim Fix Scholarship Fund. Tim was my sister, Laura, and her husband Bob’s son. He died in a drowning accident in 1996. To give meaning to his passing, his parents formed a scholarship fund in his name. The holiday cards I designed were just one of the ways money was raised for it. My sister was a school social worker in the same district their son grew up in. For years, she sold many cards through her connections in the community. Last May, when Laura retired from her job, we felt like it was time to wind down the Christmas cards, too.

I loved creating the cards in Tim’s memory. I always included an angel in my design. It was also fun selling them. Sales would connect us to people who knew and loved my nephew. The cards always gave us pause to remember him and smile. Knowing that the money collected supported kids we thought Tim would approve of, added to our good feelings.

The absence of a Christmas card for my nephew this year leaves a bit of a hole in my heart. I’ve decided to fill that hole by honoring him in different way. This December, I’m going to give an angel in Tim’s memory to a friend I’ve never met in person and most likely never will. Petrina lives in Malaysia and found me through my blog. She began writing to me because even though we live worlds apart, we still have so much in common. We truly are kindred spirits.

In one email, Petrina confided in me about the loss of her son Jaeden Gabriel. At three years old, her sweet boy was taken from her by a mysterious illness. She sent pictures of him to me. The beauty of her child and the depth of her grief stayed with me. I was pulled to paint a portrait of him. Finding the time for that never happened until I realized that Petrina should be the recipient of Tim’s angel this year. I took a break from a commission to work on a watercolor of Jaeden. It was a joy to paint. In this high holy season of love, I know my portrait will mean so much to her and her family.

So for all of those who love Tim, this year his angel lives in the image above. At the same time, my gift of Jaeden and his heavenly companion travels across the miles to Petrina. For just like love, angels were meant to be shared.

Pictured below are the cards that I created over the years in memory of Tim :

2000

2000

2001

2001

2002

2002

2002

2003

2004

2004

2005

2005

2006

2006

2007

2007

2006

2008

2009

2009

2010

2010

2011

2011

2012

2012

2013

2013

2014

2014

*Click here to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5×7 print!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh From Heaven

Fresh From Heaven

What I love about kids is that they come into the world already trailing the breath of the angels. – Oprah Winfrey

I am sure about something. Small children know from whence they came. They are still a part of heaven. That is why one of the easiest ways to feel the presence of the Divine is to connect with a child. When my grandson, Cameron, was around 15 months old his parents began hearing him in his crib having what sounded like a conversation with someone. I believe that angels are everywhere. Maybe Cam was sharing his thoughts with heavenly companions. Why couldn’t he be? To me it makes perfect sense.

Recently, a friend told me a story about a little girl who wanted time alone with her infant brother. Her parents were suspicious of her motives. What if she did something to harm the baby? The big sister was so persistent that her mom and dad finally decided to allow her ten minutes alone with him in his room. After they closed the door, they listened quietly. They felt chills when they heard their daughter say, “Baby tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.”

Do children come into this world bringing memories of a reality they lived before they were born? I think so. Little ones are so fresh from heaven that there hasn’t been time for them to become hypnotized about what is and isn’t possible. Sadly, over time, they become plugged into the world. What they once knew, they soon forget with the help of well meaning adults.

I just put down a book on that subject entitled Memories From Heaven by Dr. Wayne Dyer and Dee Garnes. In it are accounts from all over the world of children’s recollections of their existence before they came to Earth. When I think back, I can recall the connection my children had to the other world. When my firstborn, Rob, was two, he had “imaginary” friends he played with all the time. Today, I wonder if these were relationships that had been forged before he was born. Perhaps he outgrew them in an effort to fit in when he learned they weren’t “real.”

When my daughter, Bridget, was three, my sister Ann lost a baby late in her second trimester. She and her husband were devastated. We all were. One day, when I was overcome with grief, my little girl was having trouble understanding why I was so heartbroken. She asked, “Why are you so sad? Just because Annie’s baby is in heaven doesn’t mean he’s not her baby anymore. He’s still Annie’s baby.” The assuredness with which she said this struck me. Where I saw a loss, she knew there was none.

One of the most beautiful impressions of the afterlife I’ve ever heard came from my great-niece when she was only three. Aine is highly intelligent and so articulate I never questioned the sophistication of her account. Her grandmother, Judy, was so moved by it she wrote it down word for word: “It’s glorious and there are a lot of rainbows up there and beautiful angels.  A tall place over the sky with twinkling lights all over it, a stained glass door. You respect the lifetime you’re having rather than not liking your lifetime on Earth.  Boy, that Earth is beautiful. It’s the best place I bet.”

Heaven

I believe the veil between childhood and heaven is transparent. Of course, there is no way to prove if a young one’s description of eternity is truth or fiction. I’ve come to the conclusion that just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real. After all, no one can actually see electricity, but we do know the benefits of acknowledging its presence. Little ones live with one foot in heaven and the other tethered to earth. I’ve learned so much from listening to them. It’s comforting to know that there are more than the ups and downs we experience on this planet. Behind the scenes, moves a loving Presence that never abandons us. Pay attention. From the mouths of babes often come reminders of that.

*Click here to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5×7 print!

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

It’s Picture Book Month: Give the Gift of Wonder

mabel-rose-version-2

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents —Emilie Buchwald

November is National Picture Book Month. It’s a gentle reminder of the importance of reading printed picture books to the children in our lives. I wish I could tell you what being read to, nestled in my mother’s arms, meant to me, but I didn’t have that kind of mom. What I can impart is the experience of reading to my own kids. It was routine for me to enjoy books with them before they fell asleep. The books I picked out helped them get to know me, and the ones they chose showed me who they were. Our eldest, Rob, was a big fan of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express. To this day, no one enjoys the magic of Christmas more than him. One of his sister Bridget’s favorite books was Tales for the Perfect Child by Florence Parry Heide. It was funny, and I suspect Bridget identified with the book’s theme of using brain power to outsmart others to get out of doing chores. Our youngest, Brian, was lulled to sleep nearly every night while I read Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon to him. Of course, Good Night Moon was the first book he thought of buying when his son was born. Picture books fueled my children’s capacity to dream and wonder. Pouring over them together was our time to bond.

Isn’t it love that keeps us breathing? Isn’t it love we’re sent here for?—Bonnie Raitt, You

As a young mother, I knew I wanted to illustrate picture books but had no idea one day I would write them too. If I had known that, I would’ve written Love You to the Moon and Back for my kids. Instead, I will be able to read it to my grandchildren. It’s now available on Amazon. Getting the book into print is a dream come true for me. I wrote it so parents and grandparents would have a tangible way to give their little ones a sense of their all encompassing love. It’s message will reassure them throughout their lives. Knowing we are loved is what opens up doors and windows to let the heart fly free. It’s the only lasting gift we can ever give our children.

Love You to the Moon and Back

My daughter-in-law reading “Love you to the Moon and Back” to my grandson

*Click here to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5×7 print!

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

The Magic of Creativity

Snuggle Bunny

“Listen to the music inside. Can’t you hear what it says to you?” – Van Morrison

As an artist, I try to honor the muse that guides me. Over time, I’ve gotten better at paying attention and following its lead. Years before I was a grandmother, an idea took residence in my heart. I could clearly see a blue-eyed, blond haired baby, around six months old, being hugged by his mama. Around them were written the words, “Snuggle bunny, you’re my honey.” I neatly folded and tucked this concept away to be brought to life when I had a grandchild.

I became a grandmother for the first time in the spring of 2014. Shortly after my son, Brian, and his wife, Pam, announced they were having a boy, I began my search for the perfect bunny outfit for him to wear in my “Snuggle Bunny” illustration. One thing was certain, I did not want my grandson wearing a costume in which he could be mistaken for a girl. After combing the internet, I came across a darling grey, hooded sweater with bunny ears. Perfect. I was all set to photograph my grandbaby wearing it when the time was right. Now all I had to do was be patient and let the rest of the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

Cameron John Shanahan was welcomed into the world on April 8th. I was over the moon for him. I couldn’t wait for my grandson to be six months old so I could draw him as my “Snuggle Bunny.”

When Cam was around three months old, Pam sent me the most endearing selfie she had taken of them together. In it there was something so enchanting about the look of wonder on my grandchild’s face. They reminded me of sea creatures looking through a porthole. Because Pam is enamored with the ocean, I had envisioned painting a watercolor of her and Cam as mermaids, but not until he was a toddler. Seeing that selfie changed all of that. Bam, my creative juices were flowing now! I began working on a mermaid portrait based on that image. It would be the perfect Christmas present for their little family.

Pam and Cam selfie

Pam and Cam selfie

Meanwhile, on November 17th, our oldest son, Rob, and his wife, Emily, gave birth to our second grandchild, Logan James. My husband and I were overwhelmed with joy. I couldn’t wait to capture our newest grandchild’s essence in a painting. I was certain the perfect scenario to place him in would be revealed after I got to know him.

Humming in the background, was my quest to get the perfect picture of Cameron in the rabbit sweater. He was already past the age I had envisioned for the baby in my bunny illustration. One day in December, I asked his mom to bring the bunny sweater over with Cameron, so I could photograph him in it. I had decided to move forward without having her in the illustration, as she had already been included in the mermaid portrait with her little guy. At one point, I thought that maybe Logan was the baby I’d seen in my mind’s eye, but quickly dismissed the thought. No, I had bought the sweater for Cam before he was even born. I felt bound to my original plan.

After Cameron arrived, I began trying to make him smile for the camera, but he would have none of it. He sat stone-faced as I tried to make him laugh. I gave up. Letting go of my inflexibility opened the door for Logan to come through. I came to the realization that he was the baby I had envisioned all along. With his blue eyes, blond hair and chubbiness, he was the snuggle bunny I had visualized!

Cameron

Cameron being very unsmiley indeed.

I immediately began making plans to photograph Logan with his mom when he was six months old. I pictured the background of the painting being a wash of yellow— sunny like Logan and Emily. I would ask his mother to wear blue to match Logan’s eyes. Relaxing my grip allowed for the realization that the sweater had to go too. Instead, I found the softest, plushest, bunny-eared bath blanket to wrap Logan’s chubbiness in. I began to “see” him with a carrot rattle in his hand. I googled “carrot rattles” and to my surprise, I easily found one. Finally getting the concept on paper was a full-circle moment for me. The image was a gift that had been given to me to pass on to my son and his family. As I type this, “Snuggle Bunny” is getting matted and framed. It will be wrapped and placed under our tree to be opened by Rob and Emily on Christmas morning. Shhhhhh.

The two photos I taped together to base my art on.

The two photos I taped together to base my portrait on.

“I am not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.” – Ray Bradbury

I continue to be in awe of the creative process. Bringing forth art works best when I don’t try to force it, but get quiet and listen. The muse always makes its wishes known. Step by step, following its directions never disappoints. Creating a masterpiece from thin air is a simple process. It’s all in the allowing.

*Click here to sign up for email updates from my studio

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

Bluebirds from Heaven

Looking back at this illustration of Ann and my son Rob, must be where my bluebird connection with her first began.

My 1984 illustration of Ann and my son Rob must be where my bluebird connection with her first began.

“I’m always looking for cosmic rhymes.” – Bono

Today is the anniversary of my younger sister Ann’s death. She died suddenly, of an undetected heart condition on October 9, 2008. It hardy seems possible that she’s been gone for seven years. When she made her transition she left a huge hole in my life. We spoke every day and spent as much time together as we could. The two youngest of unstable parents, we clung to each other growing up. Survivors of a shipwreck of a childhood, there was no one who nurtured and supported my recovery more than her.

Life without Ann was hard. It’s not that I didn’t believe she was in a better place. I just missed our daily connection. I yearned for proof that she was still near me. The summer after she left, my heart ached as I packed for my family’s annual vacation to Martha’s Vineyard. Truthfully, I didn’t much feel like going. A friend had told me about seeing a red cardinal after her father passed in times of trouble or when she missed him. She believed they were sent by her dad to let her know all was well. To give my trip a sense of purpose I asked Ann to send me a bluebird when I was there to let me know she was alright. Although they inhabit the island, I had never seen one. If a bluebird crossed my path while I was there, I decided it would be a sign that she was near.

When we arrived on the island, even its beauty couldn’t fully cheer me up. Everywhere we went my eyes scanned the trees for bluebirds without any luck. When my sister Laura brought me to her friend, folk artist Ashley Medowski’s gallery, I began to rethink the perimeters of how my bluebird would show up. On the gallery wall, with a red sold sticker on it, hung the most enchanting piece of art with a little bluebird on it. It was entitled, The Family Tree. A box with a door, made from a victorian photo album, opened up to a tree. Hanging stairs were attached to it to symbolize our assent to heaven and the rejoining of the loved ones who went before us. Laura knew how much I missed Ann and bought it for me. That gift opened me up to being flexible as to how the bluebird was going to manifest on my trip. Real or fashioned by a human hand, it didn’t matter. I accepted it as an assurance from Ann.

The Family Tree

The Family Tree

Later that week, I went to visit my friend, artist, Margot Datz. She wanted me to see an image she had painted with me in mind. Inspired by the profundity of my loss she had named it, My Blue Heart. I couldn’t believe when I saw a bluebird holding a heart in its beak at the center of its design. Margot knew about my younger sister’s death but not about my quest for bluebird signs. I’ve glossed over many coincidences in my life, but it was hard for me to believe this was just happenstance. It had to come from Ann, through Margot’s paintbrush, to me. Today the painting hangs in my studio next to my drawing table.

My Blue Heart

My Blue Heart

Me with Margo that summer.

Me with Margot that summer.

After I returned from Martha’s Vineyard, bluebirds were on my radar. It seemed like everywhere I looked I saw one and was reminded of Ann. I had let go of any hope of ever seeing a real eastern bluebird in my suburb of Chicago. Like me, no one I knew had ever seen one in our area.

That all changed Sept. 29, 2014. That day I was feeling discouraged about launching my children’s books and said a prayer for help. Not a minute later, I glanced out the window and saw what looked like an eastern bluebird! I couldn’t believe it. I went and grabbed binoculars to make sure it wasn’t just wishful thinking. Looking through them, I could clearly see a small cobalt blue bird with an orange breast eating seeds under our bird feeder. Then, as if to clarify my vision, it flew toward my window and soared away. Ann, one of my biggest supporters, had to let me know that everything was going to be all right.

Of course there is no way to prove my bluebird assurances scientifically. Some may say my sightings are a product of an overactive imagination, but I know what I know. As the years move on, I no longer yearn for Ann like I did. Over time, other relationships in my life have deepened. The hole has been filled. I am at peace. I’ve found that no matter how much faith you have there is always an adjustment period when someone you love dies. Missing their physical presence takes time to come to terms with and be healed.

“Death is just life’s next big adventure.” – J. K. Rowling

Today, I’m happy for Ann. She is still with me, behind the scenes, supporting my journey. I know she is experiencing a world my mind can’t even begin to comprehend. I wish her Godspeed on the new adventures she traverses. She never was one for sitting still.

*Click here to sign up for email updates from my studio

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

Knowing When to Unfriend a Friend

Troll. ogre, fairy, giant

“When you don’t know when you have been spit on, it does not matter too much what else you think you know.” -Ruth Shays

It’s taken me far too long to comprehend when a friend isn’t truly a friend. I’ve accepted camouflaged, insulting behavior for many years. Being raised by an emotionally abusive mother was a setup to tolerate abuse, however subtle. Her outright cruelty made it hard to recognize covert mistreatment. Growing up that way made me a ready target for people who didn’t honor me. For example, in the past I had a friend who I thought of as a sister. Most times when we were together I felt so understood and supported. Yet there were times when she turned on me, pointing out my flaws “for my own good.” I felt the distinct “ouch” of being stung even though she spoke to me in a benign voice. It was so confusing. At least in dealing with my mom, her delivery left no mistaking that she meant me harm. Digging deep, I saw that even though my friend’s actions were hurtful I was getting something out of them. Part of the gain was the safety of familiarity, but an even bigger part was that it was comfortable for me to play small. Living that way is so undemanding. I got the security of not having to stretch by accepting the role I was assigned to as a child.

Friends who don’t honor you are a reflection of what you believe about yourself. Having the courage to no longer accept another’s unkindness says you’re ready to claim your power. But what if by doing so your bond disintegrates? In the past, I clung to harmful relationships out of the fear of abandonment. Today I know that when I no longer allow myself to be treated poorly, the connection shifts. I may lose a friend. Indeed, that’s exactly what came to pass in my example above. It’s true that when you assert yourself there may be a hole in your life, but not for long. Love abhors a vacuum. By no longer putting up with being treated as “less than,” we make room for real friends to enter. And enter they always do.

One thing is for certain, it’s not my job to figure out why the perpetrator feels the need to put me down. I’ve spent way too much energy analyzing why people do what they do. That somehow made their bad behavior OK and kept me stuck in an unhealthy situation. The watercolor above illustrates this in a fun way. Like with a troll, it’s futile for the fairy to figure out why she angered him. Could it be she was flying too low and disturbed his sleep? Or did he, once upon a time, have his heart broken by a fairy? Perhaps he was raised to believe her kind are just nasty pests. Most likely he was just doing what miserable ogres do when someone gets too close to them. In the end it’s not important what provoked him. All that matters is getting away from him. It’s up to you to keep yourself safe from brutes no matter how nice they appear to be on the surface. Be mindful of your surroundings. Sleepwalkers disturb bees or worse yet, get in the way of trolls. 

Recognizing that I’m the fairy in the painting makes me smile. Even though she has wings, she cowers clearly immobilized. How in the world did she forget that she can fly?

Flying Fairy

*Click here to sign up for email updates from my studio

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