A Love That Never Sleeps

Now I Lay Me_low res_edited-1

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

“Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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

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 his 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

 

Falling Leaves and Letting Go

“When I was willing to let go of what I wanted, I received what was truly mine. I’ve  realized the latter is always the greater gift. – Anita Moorjani

Autumn is here, my favorite time of year. I love how the leaves burn with color and the bite of Canadian air. Listen closely and you can almost hear the laughter of fairies twirling in leaves carried by the wind. In one week, I fly from Chicago to visit my daughter in Vermont. Since girlhood I’ve dreamt of seeing the changing colors of fall in New England. A dream I cling to so tightly, I’m filled with anxiety. What if I miss it like I did three years ago? On that visit the leaves had barely begun to change and rain dumped gloom on every day. For the last two weeks, I’ve been panicking as I watch the foliage in my neighborhood become more colorful each day. What if all the leaves have blown off the trees by the time I get out East? That’s when the thought, “frustration comes from thinking things should be different when they’re already perfect,” hit me. It stopped me in my tracks. The only way to see that perfection is to loosen my grip and be in the now. By worrying about how the trees are going to look next week, I miss how they look right now, in my own back yard.

I’m reminded of the new PC I bought ten years ago, which I thought was a disaster at the time. After having to call customer service over ten times in three weeks, about one malfunction after another, I was certain I had a lemon. I wanted a new computer but was told I only had a two week warranty. What? I couldn’t believe it. To add to my frustration customer service was in a different part of the world. Each time I called I talked to a different operator who had no real authority to help me. With persistence I finally was able to connect with someone in management who agreed to allow me to return my computer. I shipped it back that day. After that the only thing for me to do was buy a Mac, something I had resisted for years. I vaguely knew my way around Windows and the thought of learning a new operating system overwhelmed me. As it turns out the way my brain and a Mac works are simpatico. Purchasing that dysfunctional PC turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me in my career as an artist. All the support and guidance I’ve gotten from the trainers at the Apple Store opened up my world and the floodgates of creativity. What seemed like a tragedy, in reality, was perfection unfolding.

It’s safe to trust the flow of life. Circumstances may not always seem ideal. Be open to perfect looking different than you imagined. Incidentally, my previously wash-out trip to Vermont held tons of beauty. I suspect I would have been aware of so much more if I hadn’t been so attached to my agenda and resistant to the flow of life. And as American mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.” And what lies in wait is always a gift.

The models who helped bring the above illustration to life. We had so much fun that day.

The models I photographed who helped bring the above illustration to life. We had so much fun that day.

A photo from my previous trip to Vermont. I was so sure the fall colors were a bust.

A shot from my previous trip to Vermont. I was so sure the autumn colors were a complete bust but my photograph tells a different story.

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

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Silencing the Critic

“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”  ― C.G. Jung

Being considerate to others is encouraged. But what about being kind to ourselves? Somewhere along the way most of us learned self-compassion is self-indulgence. If we don’t constantly reprimand ourselves, a monster will be unleashed. We will become slothful, greedy egomaniacs who run their lives into the ground. That’s where the inner critic comes in.  Always humming in the background, its voice judges our every move, keeping us in line.

In truth, self-abasement keeps us stuck. I’ve learned trying to corral yourself with constant criticism blocks the whisper of God. To quiet that internal voice for one day is frightening but ends up feeling like heaven. The more you try to control, the more you remain in your head and not your heart and soul. Being exceedingly gentle with yourself clears the channel and allows guidance to flow through. Somehow with self-acceptance the need to judge everyone else vanishes too. Giving to ourselves and giving to others are one and the same. Wrapping a blanket of kindness around yourself, ends up engulfing the whole world, muffling the drone of the fault-finder forever.

My nephew Matt lets his puppy Nate lick peanut butter off of a lint roller used to simulate an ice cream cone.

My nephew Matt lets his puppy Nate lick peanut butter off of a lint roller used to simulate an ice cream cone.

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

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Ready to Let Go

And why are children the most beautiful flowers of all? Because they allow themselves to be who they are. Without agendas, they flourish in the now. Whether the sun shines or buckets of rain pour, it’s a good day. We are all born with a sense of wonder,  but it soon fades. We learn not to trust our own nature. It happens to some earlier than others, but it’s rarely escaped. This lack of trust is the root of why we think we have to control every aspect of our lives. It’s not only self-defeating but futile. I’ve spent years praying for my hands to unclasp the control I hold so tightly. I have come a long way. I’ve discovered that I don’t know what is best for others or myself. I am open to what life brings me – most times.

 An area I’ve found impossible to loosen my grip on is my creative process. I have a schedule in my mind that I’m never able to adhere to. Always pushing, I resist any interruption in my work flow. When something does get me off track, the wheels of reprimand begin turning in my brain. Why do I hold on so tightly? Because my creativity burns like a fire in me. I’ve guarded and protected it my whole life. I’m afraid to let it run its own course. If I do that, will it eventually die away?

 Matthew 6:34 reads, “Therefore do not worry for tomorrow; for tomorrow will look after its own.” Does that mean if I let go, my commissions will be completed in perfect timing? Have my attempts to direct the flow actually interfered with the Creator’s plan? Why am I so insistent that illustrating is a 9 to 5 job anyway? My attempts to manage only seem to bring frustration.

 I am ready to take a leap of faith and live like a child. That means being immersed in the now and turning my creative undertakings completely over to God. I’ve done that in other areas of my life. Remembering the peace of being guided makes this leap less scary. I’ve learned life works itself out and to count on the missing pieces coming to me. Stress is a sure sign I’ve taken control back. What spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle shared in a lecture makes good sense to me, “Enjoy the doing in the now. With the enjoyment of the doing also comes the power that flows into it. Enjoy the energy that flows into the doing and it becomes empowered. And then the goal looks after itself.”

 Yes, I’m ready to let go. If flowers and children blossom at exactly the right time, then my paintings will too.

 Is there anything you cling too?

Aine, my little muse.

Aine, my little muse.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

 www.sueshanahan.com

Born Under a Dancing Star

A Star Danced

“A star danced, and under that was I born. ”

― William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

I love children. They move through life unabashedly, celebrating exactly who they are. Try asking a kid under the age of eight, if they think they’re cute. Anytime I have, I’ve  always been answered with a resounding “yes.” Each child could barely contain their good fortune at being born. Few of us are lucky enough to carry this joy of existence into adulthood. At what point did we become blind to our exquisiteness? Perhaps this lack of vision contributed to Peter Pan’s decision to never grow up.

It’s true, we each have our own beauty and peculiarity’s. I am encouraged by the trend to love who we are, both inside and out. It’s refreshing to know that we don’t all need to fit into the same box. Moreover, we were born not to. Woven together we make up the tapestry of our perfectly, imperfect world. The contrast of our uniqueness is what gives depth and vibrancy to life. Children know what medieval artisans knew when they purposely left a mistake in their tapestry – perfection is boring. Idiosyncrasies are what make life interesting. Thank goodness, because we all have them.

Today is the perfect day to begin viewing life like a child again. Love yourself because of your flaws, not in spite of them. They may well be God’s gift to you.

My cousin’s daughter Kenna showing me what “Ta Da” looks like.

Kenna all grown up. Born under a dancing star, indeed.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

http://www.sueshanahan.com

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.