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

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 last April. 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.

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

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

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From Me to You

 

Presents

Today’s post is short, sweet, and holds a gift for you.  Sign up for my email list and receive a free, signed 5 x 7 print of The Big Picture. CLICK IMAGE BELOW TO SIGN UP. If you are already on the list and want one, email your request along with your name and address to sue@sueshanahan.com.

The Big Picture

The Big Picture

Click here to read the story behind my painting, The Big Picture.

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

How Could I Write a Book About Myself and Not Know It?

Glory in the Morning Book coverNo matter where you go – there you are” ― Confucius

I shared my picture book, Glory in the Morning with the world today. That is code for saying it’s now available on Amazon. Getting this book into physical form and into the hands of children has been quite an experience. When I wrote and illustrated it, I had no idea it would be a way for me to speak my truth. After all, there was no deep thought required to get the words down on paper. It was just a fairytale that seemed to write itself. Today, I see it as a story that affirms my journey to wholeness. It reminds me of the powerful truths embodied in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I’m curious if the author, Frank L. Baum, figured out that he had been writing about himself, too?

“Just be yourself, there is no one better.” ― Taylor Swift

Glory in the Morning is for anyone who’s ever felt invisible. Growing up under the sharp gaze of a critical mother, I learned it wasn’t safe to be myself. Spontaneity often got me into trouble, so I silenced my free spirit. I devalued my thoughts and feelings. Worst of all, I suppressed my intuition. I used my mind and not my heart to make decisions. Canceling out my “inner guidance” to plug into my mom’s rules, protected me from her wrath. Unfortunately, what kept me safe in childhood, left me the shell of the woman I was born to be.

Nasty old troll

 “With the help of God and true friends, I’ve come to realize, I still have two strong legs, and even wings to fly.” ― Greg Allman

After years of inner work and cultivating a connection to God, I became willing to share the “real me” with others. I knew I had to do that to continue to grow. Opening myself up to trusted friends, helped to heal my brokenness. I began to see myself the way they saw me, not as a mistake but a gift.

Glory in the Morning gives parents a vehicle to share the power of being believed in and the realization that eyes aren’t the only way we see with their children. Kids don’t need my backstory to understand  the underlying message of the book. They naturally intuit the deeper meaning just like we did with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz when we were young.

Jennifer reading to Kendall

It’s hard to know for sure why any of us are born. I’m certain creating Glory in the Morning is part of the reason I’m here. No, I don’t think my picture book will heal the world. But I do believe it’s a drop in a wave of self-acceptance and love that is washing over our planet. In its pages, lives a hero’s journey. A fairy named Glory will disappear unless she finds two people who believe in her before the sun shines high in the sky. Can she do it? Does she do it? Just that I’ve written these words confirms that Glory and I are here to stay. Us invisible? Not a chance.

Ivy meets Glory

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

Art Elevates

Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. -Khalil Gibran

My best friend Gigi and I have deep conversations about where we are going as artists. I am an author/illustrator, she a photographer extraordinaire. One day she asked me why I felt compelled to share my art with the world. I was stumped. I had a vague sense that my talent is here to make the world a more beautiful place. But what’s the use of beauty? It has no worth that can be measured or weighed.

The arts are part of the force that keeps violence and despair in check, that keeps hope alive. -Lynne Taylor – Corbett

Then my mind went back to September 11, 2001. After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, I had the television on constantly. I listened to the media drone on about Homeland Security’s color-coded threat levels while I worked in my studio. I became frightened out of my mind. At my wits end, I walked out the back door and found my husband weeding the garden. He hugged me as I sobbed and told me to turn the TV off. After that I made a conscious decision to put my attention on what is beautiful, to what uplifts.

I began listening to music by George Harrison, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell. Their melodies and lyrics soothed me. I can remember watching movies like, Fried Green Tomatoes and Father of the Bride. I reread To Kill a Mockingbird. I poured over children’s picture books and absorbed their exquisiteness. Gradually, I was brought back into feeling that a source of good exists and watches over us. Me, and those I love were safe.

Since that time I am very careful about the kind of energy I expose myself to. I no longer immerse myself in the news but glance at it. I keep my focus on what brings me to a higher place. Without fail, beauty does that.

Something sacred, that’s it. It’s a word that we should be able to use, but people would take it the wrong way. You want to be able to say a painting is as it is, with its capacity to move us, because it is as though it were touched by God. -Pablo Picasso

Whenever I sit down to draw I’m always at a loss. I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. Understanding the responsibility of sharing my gifts makes it even worse. After I finally put my pencil to paper, something begins working through me. Some people call it creativity but I call it God. As skilled as an artisan as I am, without his energy guiding my hand my illustrations would be flat. A collaboration with the Creator is always a sure-fire way to bring forth the amazing.

I heard in an interview with Pharrell Williams that, like me, he wants to use his gifts to lift people up. He was asked, “Are you afraid if you give yourself too much credit, it would all go away?”

“For sure,” he said. “You see people spin out of control like that all the time. I mean, those are the most tragic stories, the most gifted people who start to believe it’s really all them. It’s not all you. It can’t be all you. Just like you need air to fly a kite, it’s not the kite. It’s the air.” Listening to his song, “Happy,” makes me want to catch that same breeze.

Grass Is Greener

Beauty is alive and well in the fine-art photography of Gigi Embrechts.

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

Hope Lives in Books

Bookworm

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book. –Marcel Proust

The drawing above is one of my favorites. It illustrates a scene from a children’s book my sister Laura wrote about author, Lillian Hellman. In her memoir, An Unfinished Woman, Lilly tells of how at age eight she would ditch school unnoticed and hideout in a fig tree next to her home. She rigged a pulley rope for her lunch basket, and made a sling to hold her schoolbooks. To keep her dress and shoes neat she hung them on a nail. It would never do to raise suspicion of her whereabouts. The finishing touch was a comfortable pillow to sink into. She did this once or twice a week. It was here that Lilly learned to read and found refuge from the adults in her life. The fig tree was her sanctuary where she fell into the holy, wonder of the written word.

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” — Madeleine L’Engle

My sister and I loved that anecdote about Lilly. Being avid readers and tree-climbers in our youth, we understood the haven she had created in those branches. It was her way of having power in a world where she was powerless.

As girls books gave us that same kind of comfort. We not only read to be entertained but unknowingly used it to work out the anguish we lived with. Books were one of the bright spots in a bleak childhood. Our mother didn’t have what it took nurture us. She was a product of the societal expectations of the 1950’s. After marrying our father, she quit the job she loved as a newspaper society editor when she became pregnant. She had a child every year for the next four years. Frustrated and ill-equipped to run a household, she directed her rage at us. She was a dead ringer for the wicked queen in the copy of Snow White she had given me. It became a favorite story of mine and I absorbed its message. In its pages lived the hope that despite being under the thumb of an evil queen, there was still room for a happy ending.

Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light. –Vera Nazarian

My mom passed away ten years ago. Today I look at her with kinder eyes. I’m certain she did the best she could with what she had. Although there were many things she was not, she did share her passion for reading with us. She was generous with books. And despite being trapped in a life of anguish, I think she now smiles with the knowledge of what she left behind. Inside the books she gave us were placed the keys to freedom.

My Dad and Mom walking over the threshold of high expectations on their wedding day.

My Dad and Mom walking over the threshold of high expectations on their wedding day in 1953.

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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

Grandchildren: A Shift in Focus

Joy on EarthMy first grandchild, Cameron John Shanahan, was born on April 8, 2014. I was looking forward to his arrival from the moment my son, Brian, and his wife, Pam, told me they were expecting. In fact, I jumped up and down and whooped like I had won the lottery when I heard the news. Now he is finally here, and I am a grandma. His birth has brought out unencumbered tenderness in me. Gone is the overwhelming sense of responsibility I felt with the birth of each of my children. It’s not my job to make sure he moves through the world safely. I can relax because Cam is in the most excellent of hands. Knowing that leaves me free to just love him.

Brian, Pam and Cam on Easter Sunday 2014

Brian, Pam and Cam on Easter Sunday 2014

Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children. ~Alex Haley

I had two marvelous grandmothers. Grandma Fahrner and Grandma Ragen were a stable presence in my life. They were interested in me and loved me for who I was. They were like the fairy godmother in Sleeping Beauty who used her magic to tone down the curse a wicked fairy had put on the newborn princess. My grandmas didn’t have the power to break the spell of being raised by maladjusted parents, but they could soften the blow. And soften the blow they did. Without them, I don’t know how I would have survived my upbringing.

With the dad and mom Cam is blessed with, he doesn’t need me to be his port in the storm. What I will give him is my time. I will answer his questions and look into his eyes when he talks to me. I will nurture his creativity and read to him. I will share with him what the world was like when I grew up and connect him to his ancestors. I will believe in his dreams. He will know I love him by the way my eyes light up when he enters the room.

My Grandma Fahrner, my brother Steve, me, and my Grandma Ragen on Mother's Day, 1958

My Grandma Fahrner, my brother Steve, me, and my Grandma Ragen on Mother’s Day, 1958

In Arianna Huffington’s wonderful book Thrive she writes of how Americans stress and obsess over the trivial things in their lives. She believes most people will only shift their focus to what is truly important when a crisis hits. A death or serious illness usually does it. I have decided I don’t need a catastrophe to let go of the inessential and pay attention to what really matters. I have a grandson.

My Grandson, Cameron John

My Grandson, Cameron John

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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

 

 

 

 

Over the Rainbow: Your Life’s Purpose

An illustration I did for a notecard as a gift for Maria Shriver's 50th  birthday.

This illustration graced notecards I did as a gift for Maria Shriver’s 50th birthday.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

Everyone’s life has a calling. We all come here to fulfill a sacred duty. I am an artist. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been creating things. My aunt recalls me, at age three, playing with a handkerchief for hours. I would fold and form it into different props for my land of make-believe. Although I came here with special talents, I now know they’re not the reason for my existence. My artistic ability is woven through the fabric of my soul to support and help manifest why I was born.

What is a calling? It is different from your talents? Your gifts, personality, and brain power are all part of the intricacies of your soul, set in place to help support your life’s purpose. In the Bhagavad Gita this purpose is referred to as your dharma. It is our soul’s mission, the reason we were born. How do we find our vocation? One thing is certain, although clues may come from the outside, the concrete knowing always come from within.

For a good portion of my life, I assumed my mission was to be an artist. Didn’t the skills I brought to Earth clearly indicate that? But after reading Stephen Cope’s illuminating book, The Great Work of Your Life, I discovered that my gifts are only a finger pointing to my dharma.  He explains, “If you bring forth what is within you it will save you. If you do not it will destroy you.” Reading that set me on the path of digging deeper to uncover what I am here to fulfill. I knew I had a talent for capturing the spirit of children in my drawings and paintings.  I love the whole process. But upon further examination, I came to the conclusion that this just scratches the surface of my true lifework.

A portrait where I was able to capture my subject’s beauty and essence. Clare is a favorite  painting of mine.

A portrait where I was able to capture my subject’s beauty and essence. “Clare” is a favorite painting of mine.

In an email from singer/song writer Rodney Crowell, I found my answer, “I notice things in your work I love about Renoir’s. Seeing soft beauty in the commonplace. Heaven on Earth if you will.” That’s it! I see the allure in the ordinary and reflect it back to my subjects and the world. I do that in my writing, too. We are all here on earth with the longing to be validated. There is not a heart that doesn’t yearn to be seen and loved for itself. In a society saturated with celebrity glitz and glam, my creations celebrate the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Does everyone have a calling that includes an obvious talent? I don’t think so. My sister Ann owned a cleaning business. And no, she didn’t have a passion for cleaning. Over the years, she discovered what filled her cup was to be of service. Explaining the new found contentment in her job she told me, “I clean toilets for a living. I had to figure out a way to find meaning in that. I realized my cleaning and organizational skills were a gift to my clients. When I began focusing on helping others, everything flipped.” Ann had claimed and named her dharma. After her epiphany she couldn’t satisfy all the requests she garnered for her services.

Not in Kansas Anymore

We are all put on this planet with a mission to actualize. I suspect every heart is heavy that has a song in it that’s left unsung. With all of our culture’s frenzy it is easy to overlook our unique gifts and what they were given to help us manifest. Once we answer the call of our life’s purpose, there is no going back. We feel more alive. We go from the mundane to Technicolor. Like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, we realize that we no longer live in the grey of Kansas but have landed in a world of living color. And along with challenges, we discover a place of truth and beauty.

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