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 :

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2003

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2005

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2008

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2012

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2014

2014

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Ryan Cruz Saldana

Don't Lose Heart

On May 2, 2014 Jacqui and Dan Saldana lost their three-year-old son, Ryan. Although I never met him, a piece of my heart broke off when he died. I learned about Ryan, while he still graced the planet, from my niece Molly. For a time, she worked with his mother at the Madewell store in Santa Monica, California. I began reading Jacqui’s blog, Baby Boy Bakery and following her on Instagram where she shared recipes and the adventures of being Ryan’s mom. His adorableness, wrapped in red curls, was irresistible.

Last May, Ryan was struck and killed by a truck while playing outside of his cousin’s home in Alta Loma. An unfathomable loss that no parent should ever have to face. Ryan’s death sparked a social media outpouring of love and support for his family. The well wishes were posted with the hashtag #RedBalloonsForRyan, which was begun by family friends. Red balloons were chosen as a symbol for Ryan because he loved red and balloons. His parents planned to release them heavenward during their little boy’s funeral service.

Since that time, Jacqui has shared her journey of healing and hope on her blog and Instagram. After learning about what the Saldana’s where going through last December, Ellen Degeneres had Jacqui on her show to help get them through the holidays. The talk show host told Jacqui,“I know what you’ve lost is something you can’t ever explain or imagine. Know that you are helping a lot of people with your blog. Continue writing your blog and continue knowing I’m sending you love all the time.”

After seeing Jacqui on The Ellen Show, I felt inspired to send her love in a tangible way. What if I did a watercolor of Ryan as a gift for his parents? But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get in touch with them. Still I felt called to do it. The whisperings of Ryan urged me on. Why not paint his portrait anyway? I could have it published with an essay about the anniversary of his death. I knew somehow it would get to Jacqui and Dan. When a parent loses a child, their greatest fear is that the world will move on and forget about their son or daughter. I wanted to make sure they knew that wasn’t going to happen to Ryan Cruz Saldana.

So today, you are seeing and reading my remembrance of Jacqui and Dan’s little angel. Believe me when I say I didn’t create this alone.

Don’t Lose Heart

Remember…

I am not gone.

I am closer than ever

I watch you every day.

It takes time to heal.

I can feel your love.

I smile when you smile.

I laugh when you laugh

Balloons are love notes from me. 

I will be your “little man” forever. 

Remember, I have what you always wanted for me.  

I am happy. 

I am free.

I am whole.

Remember, I love you.

*Join the outpouring of love and support for Ryan on social media with the hashtag #RedBalloonsForRyan

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This story also appeared on MariaShriver.com — THE most inspiring place on the web.

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

Calling Out My Angel

Maggie

Maggie

Every visible thing in this world is in the charge of an angel. – Saint Augustine 

I have to begin this post with a disclaimer: I know what comes next may sound crazy. Even so, it is my truth. Some months ago, my guardian angel was introduced to me in a dream. The image I saw was so vivid, it’s stayed with me ever since. I began toying with the idea of having her likeness made into a figure by a fine art doll-maker I came across on Etsy. Vilma is from Lithuania and her one-of-a-kind creations speak to me. I contacted her with my request and a description of the angel. In her reply she asked me to send her a sketch. For me, that’s not as easy as it sounds.

As an artist, my illustrations always stem from life, meaning I use photographic references. I may add magical elements to the piece, but they are always based on photos. I need to do that to get the realism that my muse demands. I was a little leery about drawing an image that lived only in my mind, but I decided to give it a shot.

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. – Michelangelo

Maggie Sketch

When my pencil rendering was finished, I posted it on my FaceBook fan page. I was surprised by how much interest it received. Quite a few of my followers said they were excited about seeing the finished art. Today is “ta-da” day, the day I’m sharing my angel with the world. I know the anatomy isn’t perfect but I’m satisfied that I’ve captured her essence.

Many people are curious about what I learned from my angelic encounter. First off. my guardian’s name is Margaret but I call her Maggie (which is fine with her). She has green eyes and auburn hair (that may explain my mini obsession with drawing and painting redheads).  As you can see, her robes are pink and coral, colors I would have never chosen on my own. Did you notice the star on the top of her head? She told me she wears it for special occasions such as Christmas, my birthday and the birthdays of those I love. I learned from Maggie that I share her with others in my life at times. By that, she meant if I’m concerned about someone she will do what she can to help. She also said that if I loved myself more it would make her job so much easier. That surprised me and has made me really work on how I treat myself. The most important thing she imparted to me is the more I invoke her help the freer she is to be a part of my life.

Getting Maggie’s likeness down on paper has made her real to me. It’s a comfort to feel her presence. I try and remember to ask her for guidance because she sees the big picture. I’m sure some who read this will believe I was given a gift while others will think I’m delusional. Sure, it’s occurred to me that my dream sprung from an overactive imagination. Then again, I just may have taken a peek into eternity. Whatever the cause for my guardian angel’s materialization, I’m going to go with it. Believing we are all watched over and guided makes life so much easier.

There exists another world, an invisible world, real as our own, it is all around us: it is peopled with angels: they travel with you and play a part in your lives. – Pope Pius XII

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

The Comfort of Angels

Gloria

“Everyone has only one guardian angel and this angel is with them from before their birth until after they die. This angel never ever leaves them, not even for one moment.” —Lorna Byrne, Irish Mystic

I learned about guardian angels as a girl. Having my own heavenly helper is a notion that has comforted me many times over the years. I have never believed in the angelic more strongly then when my grandson Logan arrived. I could feel a presence in the hospital room when I met him for the first time. Nothing that can be proven scientifically, of course. It’s just a knowing that lives in the heart of a grandmother and others who pay attention to such things.

On November 17, 2014, Logan James Shanahan was born into a world full of love. He has fabulous parents and is surrounded by aunties, uncles and grandparents who adore him. He will move through life with the certainty of one who is cherished. Being seen and accepted for who you are is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. And it’s a gift that was bestowed on Logan before he was even born (his in utero kicking was a force to be reckoned with).

Less than 24 hours old, baby Logan with his parent’s Emily and Rob.

“God’s in His heaven—All’s right with the world!” —Robert Browning

I’ve heard other grandparents click their tongues and say, “The way the world is today I  wouldn’t want the task of raising a child. What will it be like twenty years from now? I worry about my grandkids.” That’s one way to look at it. I choose to focus on the good. There is so much of it, you know. Any fear I have over Logan’s future dissipates when I consider all who are watching over him, seen and unseen. Knowing that my grandchildren are cared for is one of the best things about being a grandparent. That keen sense of responsibility I felt at the birth of my own kids is gone. All that’s left for me to do is to love them. Yes, God’s in his heaven and all is right with the world.

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

American Hope

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“Children are hopes” – Novalis

I began work on the above illustration in 1999 through the advice of my then agent. It was all over the news at the time, that an immigrant family had named their newborn “America” in hopes of not being deported. The baby’s parents desperately wanted to give their child a better life than the one they had fled. My rep thought it would be a great way to capitalize on the event and draw attention to my art. I am a follower of directions and immediately began work on the illustration. Shortly after that, I parted ways with my rep, realizing we didn’t share the same vision for marketing my work. I didn’t abandon my drawing, though. I finished it knowing the baby wrapped in the flag wasn’t specific to one child but symbolized all of America’s children.

“See, there’s the land of America…which you have to defend. But there’s also the idea of America. America is more than just a country, it’s an idea.” – Bono

True, our nation’s physical beauty is vast. And although magnificent, it’s not what makes America, America. My ancestors didn’t leave County Cork, Ireland, during the potato famine to find a more striking landscape. What brought them here were the intangibles. They were under the thumb of English landlords and came to a new world that promised freedom for their families. Freedom meant opportunity and most of all hope. And like their sons and daughters, it must be cherished and protected at all costs.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”Ronald Reagan

On June 9, 2014 a boy from the village of Mokena, Illinois, where I live, was killed in Afghanistan. Private Aaron Toppen was only nineteen and died serving the country he loved. He left behind a mother, sisters, a girlfriend and countless others. With him he took a piece of all our hearts. He was laid to rest in a casket wrapped in stars, stripes and the love of our community. In my mind’s eye, I can see Aaron’s spirit joining the ranks of a heavenly guard appointed to keep watch over our children. Once a soldier, always a soldier.

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Aaron Toppen’s mother adjusts a medal before her son’s Turning Blue Ceremony.

Mokena honors Aaron Toppen

Mokena welcomes Aaron home.

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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

 

 

 

 

Sojourner’s Truth

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“Every time God’s children have thrown away fear in the pursuit of honesty, trying to communicate, understood or not – miracles have happened.” – Duke Ellington

Whenever I think about the life of Sojourner Truth I’m inspired and amazed. She was a steadfast woman who spoke what was in her heart, no matter what. She knew she was disadvantaged but also knew she had a power greater than herself at her fingertips. She trusted in that power and accessed it to help spread a message that was the beginning of turning our country (as she would say) right side up.

In 1797, she was born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree in Ulster county, New York. She grew up working from dawn until dusk for her master. She slept on a cellar floor and at age 9 was sold with a flock of sheep for $100.00. She suffered all the indignities of being owned by someone until one day in 1827, she walked out the door never to return.

When Isabella was 46, she felt a calling to spread God’s truth so strongly she couldn’t resist. To do this she would have to travel across the land, so she thought it fitting to change her name to Sojourner. While in bondage, she had been sold four different times. With each new master came a new last name. As a free woman, she decided to choose her own. Knowing she was God’s child, she took on the name Truth. And thus began Sojourner Truth’s public life.

She began preaching to predominantly white audiences on the evils of slavery. She would not, could not be hushed. She spoke with authority when sharing the humiliation and abuse slaves endured. She was close to six feet tall and stood erect and dignified. As soon as she grasped that in many ways women were as oppressed as slaves, she became an advocate for women’s rights. She could see that when her people were freed she would then be under the black man’s domination, just as white women were with their husbands.

Although she couldn’t read or write, she had a fine mind and a sharp wit. Sojourner saw her blackness, being female and uneducated not as deficiencies but the perfect traits needed to bring about God’s plan to change the world. Her illiteracy made her memorize scripture and forced her to go within for her answers. She knew she wasn’t capable of writing a speech. Her only hope was to ask her Father in heaven to speak through her. At the beginning of one lecture she confided to her audience, “Children, I come like the rest of you to hear what I have to say.”

In 1851, Sojourner attended a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio. Where without preparation, she delivered her most famous speech, Ain’t I a Woman? While standing at the podium, she addressed a man in the crowd who had shouted that women shouldn’t have as many rights as men because Christ wasn’t a woman. She answered him, “You say Jesus was a man, so that means God favors men over women. Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with him.” After she concluded her thoughts, applause filed the room. Sojourner Truth had stopped the naysayers in their tracks. Her words burned like fire. She was a wonder to behold.

Sojourner went on to meet presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant. She developed a friendship with fellow human rights activist Harriet Tubman. She tried to vote on two occasions, but was turned away both times. She died in 1883 at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan.

When her death was imminent Sojourner said, “I’m not going to die, I’m going home like a shooting star.” Today that star still hangs in the sky to illuminate the way for women everywhere. At that the end of her Ohio speech, she informed her audience, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.” Amen.

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A portrait that Sojourner Truth sold to finance her speaking tours in the 1860s.

Click here to see a moving reenactment of Sojourner Truth’s speech, Ain’t I a Women? by actress Alfre Woodard.

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

Don’t Waste the Miracle

Love Came DownThere’s a spiritual energy that covers the earth during the holiday season. It’s that undefinable “something” that makes people more selfless, more friendly and kind when December rolls around. As a child I learned it was called the Christmas spirit. Wise people tap into it and carry it with them throughout the new year.

We all hunger for a spiritual connection. It’s occurred to me that’s what all the frantic shopping and gift giving are about. Remember when you were little, the exhilaration you felt when you found what Santa left for you under the tree? And as adults there’s nothing better than watching a loved one open the “perfect” gift you’ve bought for them. The presents we buy, are our way of trying to capture the joy we’ve learned to associate with the season. A feeling, I believe, we can get long term by having a relationship with the Divine. During the holidays, we’re given an opportunity to discover or renew that connection. By consciously immersing ourselves in that love, we are transformed. All things become new. We feel the wonder of a child again.

Irish mystic, Lorna Byrne, says special angels visit the earth during the December festivities. They come to join us for the celebrations that happen across all the different beliefs and religions. She sees thousands of angels flying over houses and buildings. Lorna explains, “The angels are dropping balls of light to help us adults reconnect with the joy and innocence we felt as children. After the angels have fulfilled their task they head heavenward and disappear.” For me, this explains the mechanics behind the surge of good will I feel this time of year. I’ve learned the easiest way to connect to that energy field is to simply ask the Creator for help. Then, in the quietness of the now, awe will settle upon you.

This year our family is taking a hiatus from gift giving. With our youngest’s wedding January 4 and our first grandchild due in the spring, we thought the break would take the pressure off of everyone. Happily, the Christmas spirit is still intact and stronger than ever in my husband and me. All of our children and their spouses will be home for the holidays. Who could ask for more?

Love still comes down at Christmas. Grab hold of it. Plug into it….don’t waste the miracle.

Me unwrapping the joy on Christmas morning 1963

Me unwrapping the joy on Christmas morning 1963

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