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.

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

Learning From Maya

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou 1928-2014

“When you learn, teach, when you get, give.” ― Maya Angelou

Dr. Maya Angelou passed away peacefully on May 28th. She was a poet, memoirist, performer, educator, activist and mother. In 1982, when she took on a professorship at Wake Forest University, she knew she had come home. To her surprise she discovered she hadn’t become a writer who taught but was now a teacher who wrote. And teach she did. Many of us were introduced to her by Oprah Winfrey. Oprah took joy in sharing the life lessons she learned from her mentor. Today, many of those insights roll off my tongue. Whomever I quote them to invariably thinks I’m brilliant. Of course, I have to confess those wise words didn’t originate with me. I can only accept credit for being smart enough for taking Maya as my own.

We are more alike than we are different” – Maya Angelou

I first read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when I was twenty. Maya was an artist who painted with words. It was the first time I had read such an honest, intimate account of sexual abuse and the struggles of being black and a woman. I was not black or sexually abused, but I am a woman and knew how it felt to be treated as “less than.” I had an immediate connection to the author. On the surface we were nothing a alike and yet she somehow knew my heart. I learned that as a young girl Maya sat in the balcony of a movie theater, reserved for blacks, waiting to grow up and become rich, beautiful and white. Thirty years later, I sat in a theater waiting to become that same woman. It never happened for either of us but watching Maya embrace her unsung beauty gave me, a white girl uncomfortable in her own skin, permission to do the same.

“Love builds up the broken wall and straightens the crooked path. Love keeps the stars in the firmament and imposes rhythm on the ocean tides. Each of us is created of it and I suspect each of us was created for it.” – Maya Angelou

As an adult, Maya boldly never edited who she was. I admired that but didn’t think it was possible for me to be that way until I read an interview with her in O Magazine.  In it Oprah asked her where her confidence came from. I was expecting Dr. Angelou to say it came from being raised by her stable and loving grandmother.  But no, she explained that it sprang from love. She didn’t mean love in a sentimental or romantic sense. What she was talking about was much bigger than that. She was referring to a state of being so large that it’s unconceivable. Knowing of all the strikes that had been against her, assured me that that kind of love is available to everyone. If bidden and allowed, it will hold anyone’s head high and move through them to fulfill their life’s purpose.

“If you have a song to sing, who are you not to open your mouth and sing to the world?” – Maya Angelou

I’m grateful Dr. Angelou had the presence of mind to document her life in books and interviews for all of humankind. Even in death, she will continue to teach. I smile when I think of how God brings greatness out of the most unlikely people. Thanks to Maya’s heeding the call, a six-foot-tall, black woman is no longer considered an unlikely candidate for anything. The concept for the above portrait came to me when I realized the word “angel” is in Dr. Angelou’s last name. I dressed her in the garb I imagined her ancestors wore and placed stargazer lilies in her arms. They’re fitting flowers for her to hold because they mean one who is “high-souled” or spiritually evolved. I find hope in knowing that she didn’t start out that way. From a turbulent childhood, she grew into a seeker of truth and then lived what she learned. She followed the yearnings of her soul and became part of a movement that raised our country’s awareness of social injustice. She was an earth-shaker and a mountain-mover. She left none of her gifts unused. And for that, dear Maya, we thank you.

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Stargazer Lily

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

Coincidences: We Are Never Alone

I see the moon 300 (1)In 2012, while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, I was shopping for a beach read. A little volume, whose cover wore the night sky, caught my eye. Its title, When God Winks: How the Power of Coincidence Guides Your Life, intrigued me. Learning the author, SQuire Rushnell, lived on the island and had signed the book was all I needed. I purchased one. I began reading it that evening and finished it long before we trekked to the ocean the next morning. According to the author, a godwink is a message of reassurance that comes from above in the form of a coincidence. It’s a signpost in our life to let us know we’re going in the right direction. I yearned to feel God’s presence and in the pages of this book was a refreshing way to do just that.

“Your children first learn who God is by experiencing you.” – Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

It’s been said that we model our perception of the Divine by our relationship with our parents. That certainly was true in my case. To me a loving Creator was only wishful thinking. My family was riddled with alcoholism and the mechanism’s formed to cope with it. My father often told me he loved me but looked the other way when it came to my mother’s harsh treatment and verbal abuse. As for my mom, I can honestly say I never heard her utter the words “I love you” my whole childhood. I couldn’t help but grow up with the unconscious belief that although God may be there for others, he ignored me and my prayers. There seemed to be an impenetrable wall between us. Reading When God Winks gave me hope that there is a Higher Power who loves his children (me included) unconditionally. The notion that he puts serendipitous events on our paths to lift our spirits was a lovely concept to me. I liked this way of thinking and immediately began watching for winks. I had no trouble finding them again and again.

“Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see.”- Carl Jung

I’ve come to the awareness that my life has been filled with godwinks all along. I missed them because I didn’t know they were there. When reviewing important events of the past, I can see them glimmering throughout. One such scenario took place in 1994. I had a strong inner nudge to draw a portrait of Chelsea Clinton and send it her mother, who was first lady at the time. Mrs. Clinton had been getting such bad press about health care reform, I felt compelled to encourage her. I knew she was partial to angels and wore an angel pin on her shoulder. I had the inspiration to paint her daughter as an angel and send it to her. I’m not in the habit of giving my art away, but it was something I felt a strong call to do. For a woman who had little faith in herself, it was a real leap.

Chelsea Clinton

Chelsea Clinton Portrait

I didn’t realize it then but I now see that godwinks were there to give me hope and point me in the right direction the whole way through.  After I decided to trust my intuition, I came across a wonderful quote to include on the illustration (wink #1). Next, I stumbled upon the perfect photograph of Chelsea’s face to base the portrait on (wink #2). My daughter was close to Chelsea’s age and I was able to photograph her body to work from to create the image (wink #3). I was going to ship the piece to Mrs. Clinton in care of the White House until I stumbled upon the more direct route of sending it to her address at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (wink #4). When the drawing was completed, I wrapped it up and shipped it off to the First Lady. In less than a week, I received the most lovely thank-you note from her. In it she told me I had captured her daughter’s spirit (wink #5). What a confirmation that I should trust my own instincts! Reflecting back, it seems incredulous that I didn’t notice how miraculously everything had fallen into place. But you can’t perceive what you don’t believe exists.

Letter from Hillary Rodham Clinton

Letter from Hillary Rodham Clinton

Godwinks is now a household term in my family. Watching for them has made all of our faith bloom and grow. It’s almost a different form of gratitude. Of course, at times, I still slip back into my old thinking patterns. When I pray for assistance, I’m always given a nod from God that lets me know he hasn’t abandoned me. I’ve found the evidence of his love is everywhere if we only shift our focus and look.

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

The Big Picture: Perspective is Everything

The Big Picture - Version 2“I’m like the painter with his nose to the canvas, fussing over details. Gazing from a distance, the reader sees the big picture.” – Author Steven Saylor

My sister Ann passed away, without warning, on the morning of October 9, 2008. An undiagnosed heart condition, hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, took her life. How could that be? She was only 51! She all but sparkled she was so alive. Her death didn’t seem possible. Being thoroughly devoted to each other, I had no idea how I was going to live without her.

For the first ten years of our marriages, I had the luxury of Ann only living a mile from me. We got to raise our children together and see each other whenever we liked. In 1998, her husband took a job three hours south of where we lived. I felt the sting of our separation even before she moved. When what I dreaded came to pass, I was shocked that our relationship only deepened. Even though we no longer got to be with each other in person, thanks to cell phones, we were connected more than ever.

Ann and I had gotten into the habit of speaking to each other every morning and at times throughout the day, being detached from her was unfathomable to me. What would I do without her to run every aspect of my life by? There was such a hole with her gone. The minute I learned she had departed, I heard a voice say, “It’s time to stretch.” My soul knew it was a chance for me to face the world standing on my own two feet. The comfort of leaning on Ann had run its course.

After the shock of her passing lifted, the grief settled in. I went from deep sadness to despair. Worse than my loss was witnessing what her husband and children were going through. Their broken-heartedness pulled me even further into misery.

As the months moved on, slowly, slowly, I began to heal. I still remember the first day that went by where I wasn’t consumed with sorrow. As I lay in bed that night, a little pang of guilt pulled me back. Did my happiness mean I was being disloyal?  And what about Ann’s children? I began to feel what I imagined their anguish to be. I was sinking.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances.”- William Shakespeare

And then she came to me. Ann was in the form of an angel with wings. She reached down, lifted me by the hand and deposited me on a cloud next to her. If my body didn’t literally feel the whoosh of being pulled upward, I would have thought I was dreaming. As we sat, she put her arm around me and pointed down to Earth. She told me that whenever I felt myself slipping to look at the big picture. I knew exactly what she meant. I shouldn’t let myself become absorbed in the drama on our planet. In the big picture, nothing had changed. She had never left any of her loved ones’ sides. It was time for her to move on, but nothing could keep us from her love. She indicated to me that life would be so much easier if I wore my trials like a loose garment and didn’t allow myself to become engrossed in them. When looked at from a higher perspective, the sufferings we go through don’t seem so overwhelming. Ann’s insight was a gift from one who knew me so well. It proved to be the missing link in the healing of my many of struggles. That experience marked the beginning of my acceptance of what I had considered a loss. Sometimes I still ache for the physicality of Ann being with me, but I no longer resist these feelings. I simply let them move through me. They are part of being human. When I get to the other side of them, I realize nothing has changed…..not really.

Marianne and Kate

My cousin’s Marianne and Kate modeled to help bring my vision to life.

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

 

 

 

 

Let it Snow – Hercules Couldn’t Keep Me from My Son’s Wedding

Let it Snow

Friday, January third, was my birthday. This year it was to be part of a bigger celebration. My husband Bob, our son Rob, his wife Emily and I were booked on an early morning flight from Chicago to Boston. We were going to attend the wedding rehearsal and dinner for our youngest son Brian and his fiancée Pam that evening. The following afternoon they were to be married at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Kingston, Massachusetts. Rob was Brian’s best man and Emily was one of Pam’s bridesmaids. We had the important task of transporting their wedding bands and my grandmother’s wedding pearls to adorn the bride. Over 20 family members and friends were flying to take part in the festivities. Yes, it was going to be a memorable birthday and a perfect weekend.

Earlier in the week Pam, concerned, texted me about a weather report of a snowstorm hitting Boston on Thursday and Friday. I assured her it was too early to tell. If the weather conditions can’t be accurately predicted for the next day, how can an advance forecast be trusted? I was having none of it. Besides we were flying out early enough that, worse-case scenario, we would get in late Friday night. No matter what, we would be at their wedding on Saturday.

When the snow did begin dumping in Boston on Thursday, I still felt certain we would get out the next day, even if our flight was delayed. Brian called around dinner time to tell us our Friday morning flight had been cancelled. Although we hadn’t been notified by the airlines, a friend of his, taking the same flight, had been. I immediately got on the phone and rebooked our tickets for nine o’clock Friday evening. Our flight cancellation was a little glitch in our plans, that’s all. Sure, we were going to miss the rehearsal and dinner, but what was really important was that we’d make it to the wedding.

Then our Friday evening flight was cancelled. I quickly got on the phone and after a 30 minute hold, learned there were no more flights to Boston out of Chicago. Beginning to panic, I asked if there were any fights available from Chicago to Providence. Lucky for us, there were seven seats left on a nine o’clock flight and we booked four of them. Whew!

Bob, Rob, Emily and I headed to the airport around five o’clock. We wanted to get there as early as we could. At this point, we weren’t taking any chances of missing our flight. When we were 20 minutes away, I got a text from our daughter, Bridget. She and her husband had managed to drive from Vermont to Boston and were at the rehearsal dinner. The message read  simply, “Your flight has been cancelled. I’m so sorry.” Why wasn’t the airline notifying us of this? Minutes later Bridget called to tell us that in spite of what was now being dubbed Winter Storm Hercules, there was a nine o’clock flight from Chicago to Manchester, New Hampshire, available. It was only a couple of hours from Boston.

We sped to the airport. The men dropped Emily and me off before they parked the car so we could try and get us onto the Manchester flight. Our spirits plummeted when we saw the length of the line formed to rebook flights. We would never get to the ticket agent in time to fly to Manchester. It hit me to try and call the airline on my cell phone. After dialing and getting through all the prompts, I was told my wait for an attendant would be 19 to 33 minutes. Oh no! It seemed like there was no way we were going to make it to the wedding. Miraculously, an agent answered the phone in less than a minute and booked us seats on the Manchester flight.

After parking, Bob and Rob raced in to find us standing in a short line waiting to be checked in. After we got our boarding passes, we went through security with 30 minutes to spare before our flight took off. It was smooth sailing from then on. After landing in New Hampshire, we drove to Massachusetts. We checked into our hotel and were curled up in our beds by three o’clock in the morning.

On my birthday I had asked for prayers on Facebook and Twitter to get us to our son’s wedding. That was the only present I wanted. Saturday morning I woke up to an East Coast winter wonderland, knowing I had gotten my wish. I was energized and ready to embrace the day. We were going to our youngest son’s wedding.

The ceremony was more beautiful than my mind could ever have imagined. In spite of 20 guests not being able to make it, the day still overflowed with joy. That evening at the reception, the bride and groom stood up to make an announcement. First they thanked everyone for the great lengths they had gone to to get there. Then Pam said that it was no secret she and Brian were having a baby. A cheer filled the room when we learned they had decided to surprise us all with an unveiling cake. For those who haven’t heard of this, it’s a cake that is either blue or pink on the inside. The gender of the baby is revealed when it’s cut into. When the bride had her last ultrasound, the technician wrote the sex of their baby on a piece of paper and sealed it in an envelope. Pam then mailed it to the baker so she and Brian would be surprised too. It was a such a lovely way to learn that in April we will be welcoming a baby boy, our first grandchild, into the world.

Mrs. and Mr. Brian Shanahan

It's a boy!

It’s a boy!

That night as we lay in bed, Bob and I wondered and worried about our flight back home the next day. The weather was clear and mild in Boston but now Chicago was in the middle of a snowstorm, to be followed by subarctic temperatures.  My husband was quite certain I should have booked an earlier flight. Would our late afternoon flight be cancelled? Me, I truthfully didn’t care. We had made it to Brian and Pam’s wedding.

 Comin’ in on a wing and a prayer. – Harold Adamson

The next morning we learned that all of those scheduled for the eight o’clock flight had gotten out successfully. After that, all the flights were cancelled – all accept ours. We have no idea why.

And so we took off and arrived in Chicago on time that evening. Our airplane landed on a snow-packed runway amidst a winter storm. As we descended, through the snow that blew past my window, I swear I saw an angel glowing on the wing of our plane.

Getting to Brian and Pam’s wedding was the best birthday gift I’ve ever received. How the events played out confirmed the power of prayer to me. It solidified my faith in a benevolent presence that oversees every aspect of our lives. In spite of newscasts and friends calling to tell us we’d probably not make it to Boston, we never gave up hope. If we had listened to them and thrown in the towel, we would not have gotten there. Things may look bleak on the surface, but you never know what’s working in your favor behind-the-scenes. The circumstances in our lives aren’t happening to us, they are happening for us. It’s not necessary for me to try and unravel the mystery of how or why we got to our son’s wedding. I am just happy knowing that for a few days, we lived inside a miracle.

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

Home is where the heart is. And the heart never really leaves home.

home-for-the-holidays-blue-line

The arms of love encompass you with your present, your past, your future, the arms of love gather you together.   -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The concept for my above christmas card, Home for the Holidayssprang from my daughter’s imagination. Fresh from college, Bridget was nannying for a baby named Jack at the time. She was crazy about him and thought up the design so her little muse could be included. My son Brian, found the model for the angel pulling the tree. He knew Marissa’s uncle and thought she was one of most endearing little girls he’d ever met.

I was a little leery about a holiday card that focused on loved ones returning home. What about people separated by miles that for some reason couldn’t make it back? I thought how painful it would be for those who couldn’t  be together because of war or worse yet death. That year when Christmas came my own daughter would be halfway across the country in Idaho. I could already feel the sting.

Difficult as it was, my daughter’s move taught me something. I learned being separated by the miles had little or no baring on our relationship. We were closer than ever. Computers and cell phones brought me to the realization that being with Bridget in person is wonderful but only one aspect of our love. Our hearts were connected even though we were miles apart.

In 2009, when my sister died suddenly, it took that notion to a whole different level. The first Christmas without her was brutal. We were so much a part of one another it felt as if she had been ripped from me. As the years passed, I’ve settled into life without her in the flesh. I’ve adjusted to having a different kind of relationship with her. It took working through the grief to get to this point. Even though we are seemingly apart, we are closer than ever, just like with Bridget.

For awhile our souls inhabit these bodies, but our true selves are connected at a higher level. Real separation from anyone we love is not possible for they are entwined in our hearts. So in this season of joy and throughout the new year, I wish you the luxury of knowing all your loved ones are home. And in fact, they never left.

Angel-Eyed Marissa

My model, angel-eyed Marissa

Bridget and Jack way back when.

Bridget and Jack way back when.

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

Joy to the World

Joy filled to the top and spilling over, that’s what the holiday season brings. Since 2000, I’ve tried to capture that joy in a Christmas card I create in memory of my nephew. TJ, short for Timothy James, was so full of life anything less would dishonor him. Snatched from us without warning, he died 17 years ago when he was only 23.

The holiday cards are sold to raise money for a scholarship fund formed in my nephew’s name. To date over $150,000. has been dispersed to kids his parents believe their son would have chosen. Like TJ, many of the recipients have been wrestlers or students who’ve had to work at their studies harder than most. TJ had more than his share of learning problems but took them on and overcame them with heart.

A child of the foster care system, when TJ was 10 he came to my sister Laura and her husband Bob seemingly by accident. Laura, a social worker, was called by TJ’s caseworker to see if they could take him for the weekend on emergency. They did, and his stay stretched from weeks to months until they knew he was there for good. TJ had come home.

TJ struggled in school. He had profound hearing loss in his left ear and a learning disability that made it difficult to read. Laura shared her love of books by reading to him every night. That, along with exceptional teachers, helped TJ to blossom in his school studies. By the time he reached high school, he was an accomplished athlete. He excelled in football and wrestling. When it was time for college, TJ went to Eastern Illinois University on a wrestling scholarship.

In 1996, his senior year of college, TJ and his friends had gathered at a park to celebrate completing their final exams. A warm spring day, some of the kids decided to brave the swirling river and jump in. The water was especially treacherous that year because of an abundance of rain in the previous weeks. My nephew, always a lover of risk, was able to jump in and get back out. On his second try, the current pulled TJ to the spillway while he struggled to keep his head above water. His friend Joe attempted to save him, but they were both pulled under. By all accounts the boys perished around 4:00 PM that day.

At the same time my sister Laura was driving TJ’s little sisters Molly (5) and Elyse (7) home from school. Suddenly Elyse pointed to the sky and said, “Look Mama at the two angels! Can’t you see them? Right there in the clouds.” As hard as she looked Laura could see nothing but billowing sky. Later my sister told me her daughter’s assuredness of what she saw sent a small wave of fear through her. Could the angels mean something horrible had happened? Only later, when the shock began to fade, were Laura and Bob able to connect the time of their son’s passing with the angelic appearance.

Some may say the heavenly visitors appeared at the exact time of TJ’s passing by Divine appointment. What better way to help ease his little sisters’ pain then by letting them know their brother and his friend were in heaven? Bob looked at it more as TJ personally reaching out to Molly and Elyse. He was glad his son had thought of the girls and made the effort to connect with them as he passed from this world to the next. Every year I incorporate an angel in my card design to remind us that although no longer in the physical, TJ is always with us. Death isn’t strong enough to extinguish his bright light.

TJ brought much joy to the world. He was smart and loving and creative and kind. Yet, at the same time, he could be moody and selfish and inconsiderate. After he died, found among his things was a list he compiled to inspire himself in his goal to be an All-American wrestler. At the bottom of the page he wrote, “It is not where you start. It is where you finish.” As a child he endeared much sadness and neglect before he landed with my sister and her husband. From a rocky start, he accomplished much. He was perfectly imperfect in his humanity. And anyone who was lucky enough to know him wouldn’t have wanted to change a thing.

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The last picture of TJ with Molly and Elyse. Taken after  an EIU Senior Night wresting meet.

The last picture of TJ with Molly and Elyse. Taken after an EIU Senior Night wresting meet.

I converted Sayla playing with her slime (last year's favorite Christmas gift) into an angel pouring snowflakes from a jar.

I converted a snapshot of my model Sayla playing with her “slime” (last year’s favorite Christmas gift) into an angel pouring snowflakes from a jar.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. http://www.sueshanahan.com

Your Children Are Not Your Children

So valuable is the dignity of the human soul, that every member of the human race has a guardian from the moment the person is born.” – Saint Jerome

At first glance, one would think the above painting is an artist’s hope that guardian angels exist and guide our children. What if I told you it illustrates an actual event to the smallest detail?

Twelve years ago an old friend tracked me down after coming across a lithograph of mine. In it angels were pictured playing in the clouds, blowing stars to one another. Even though the signature on the piece was different from when I was in high school, Clare recognized my art and felt compelled to find me. She thought anyone who can paint angels like I do, must believe in them. After meeting for coffee, she confided the event that made her search me out. Two years earlier she had stood in court looking on as her ex-husband was sentenced for sexually abusing her daughter. What had taken place shook her family to its core. In the depths of their despair, an angel came to little Emma and helped her come to terms with what had happened. The angelic presence not only healed her but healed her mother and siblings too.

The events with her stepfather left Emma in deep emotional pain. She had loved him dearly and even called him dad. How could he betray her like this? How could she miss someone who had hurt her so much? One night, as she neared her breaking point, she climbed out of bed to get a tissue to dry her tears. When she returned, sitting next to her bed was a woman with wings and light radiating around her. She introduced herself as Sarah. She told Emma she was there to help. She knew that Emma missed her stepfather but promised her everything would be alright. The heavenly being assured her that she had done the right thing by revealing her secret to her mother. That was the beginning of an extraordinary relationship. Emma’s guardian angel stayed by her side during the process of pressing charges against her abuser. She always knew exactly what Emma needed to hear to soothe her.

As Clare and I rekindled our friendship, of course, I pondered the hugeness of her story. I wanted to believe her. Who wouldn’t want the comfort of knowing that our children are watched over when we can’t protect them? After meeting her kids, I was convinced something incredible had indeed taken place. I came to believe my friend’s daughter had been given a gift, through a tangible presence that had found her shattered and left her whole.

As time went on, Emma’s angel began to fade into the background but never entirely left. Today all grown up and a mother herself, she continues to be one of the most well-adjusted young ladies I’ve ever met. It’s impossible not to feel a remnant of the celestial when in her presence. Until now, her encounter with Sarah has only been disclosed to a trusted few. The way I see it, Emma’s gift is a healing balm that should be shared with the world. Her mother agrees and is now expanding her journals about her daughter’s experience into a book. As a parent, I feel privileged to have been able to tuck Emma’s visitation in my heart all these years. It’s been such a source of comfort to me while watching my children scale some very rocky terrain. In lyrics penned by Van Morrison we are assured, “You know the obstacles along the way, sometimes might feel so tremendous. There are guides and spirits all along the way, who will befriend us.” Our loved ones are watched over and cared for even when we can’t be with them. Just knowing that helps me sleep better at night.

So what about you? I would love to hear any experiences you’ve had with the angelic.

*The names were changed in the post to protect the privacy of all involved.

Dream Catchers is the image Clare came across and compelled her to find me.

Dream Catchers is the image Clare came across and compelled her to find me.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

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Take Joy!

Take Joy As awful as this may sound, I’ve had to stop watching the coverage of the Sandy Hook School shootings. It’s not because of a “that’s them not me attitude.” It’s just that at a certain point my heart could no longer bear the loss and horror of it all. I could feel myself sinking into darkness as I immersed myself in the unfolding details.

In my gloom, I remembered A Letter to a Friend by Fra Giovanni. Years ago, I was so overwhelmed by its beauty I used it as a concept for a Christmas card. The premise behind the reading is that we can choose joy over despair. It’s there for the taking. I’m not suggesting we should swallow our grief. No, but after it’s run its course, we should not linger there. It serves no one to poke and prod at the details of our sorrow.

Today, the only thing many of us can do for those affected by the shootings is to pray. At some point, that may change. But for now, I believe prayers sent to heaven from joy-filled hearts is no small thing.

Below is Fra Giovanni’s letter from Christmas Eve, 1510:

TAKE JOY!

I salute you!  There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much that, while I cannot give, you can take.  No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today.  Take Heaven.  No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant.  Take Peace. The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it yet, within our reach, is joy.  Take joy.  And so, at this Christmas, time I greet you with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.

Flee away finalThe 100 year old gateway to the Maplewood Cemetery in New Lenox, IL. Allie (1)The little angel from my illustration in the flesh. Allie with the laughing eyes.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

Home is where the heart is. And the heart never really leaves home.

home-for-the-holidays-blue-lineThe arms of love encompass you with your present, your past, your future, the arms of love gather you together.   –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The concept for my above christmas card, Home for the Holidays sprang from my daughter’s imagination. Fresh from college, Bridget was nannying for a baby named Jack at the time. She was crazy about him and thought up the design so her little muse could be included. My son Brian, found the model for the angel pulling the tree. He knew Marissa’s uncle and thought she was one of most endearing little girls he’d ever met.

I was a little leery about a holiday card that focused on loved ones returning home. What about people separated by miles that for some reason couldn’t make it back? I thought how painful it would be for those who couldn’t  be together because of war or worse yet death. That year when Christmas came my own daughter would be halfway across the country in Idaho. I could already feel the sting.

Difficult as it was, my daughter’s move taught me something. I learned being separated by the miles had little or no baring on our relationship. We were closer than ever. Computers and cell phones brought me to the realization that being with Bridget in person is wonderful but only one aspect of our love. Our hearts were connected even though we were miles apart.

In 2009, when my sister died suddenly, it took that notion to a whole different level. The first Christmas without her was brutal. We were so much a part of one another it felt as if she had been ripped from me. As the years passed, I’ve settled into life without her in the flesh. I’ve adjusted to having a different kind of relationship with her. It took working through the grief to get to this point. Even though we are seemingly apart, we are closer than ever, just like with Bridget.

For awhile our souls inhabit these bodies, but our true selves are connected at a higher level. Real separation from anyone we love is not possible for they are entwined in our hearts. So in this season of joy and throughout the new year, I wish you the luxury of knowing all your loved ones are home. And in fact, they never left. 

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Angel-eyed Marissa

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Bridget and Jack way-back-when

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All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.