The Season of Renewal

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All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.

– Attributed to Cecil F. Alexander

For now, the church has lost me. Confirmed allegations of sexual abuse from a priest in my parish makes it impossible for me to attend. Fortunately, my bond with God is intact. He is with me everywhere. I’ve claimed the outdoors as my cathedral. It’s hard not to feel the Creator’s presence in its beauty. Every bird, every tree has his signature on it. There is no dogma in nature and man never thinks of ways to improve it. All is well under the great blue dome.

Spring is a sign of hope and renewal. It’s the counterpart to the reawakening of humanity. I’m comforted that the darkness in the church is being rooted out. Pope Francis gives me grounds for believing that one day it may again feel like home to me. Until then, the wonder found in my own backyard refreshes my soul.

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

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

keep-going

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

My Only Valentine

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

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

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When we first met.

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

Bob and Sue Wedding

On our wedding day, July 28, 1979.

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

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

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

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

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

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On our 35th wedding anniversary.

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

The Importance of Magic

Do You Believe in Fairies? black line

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

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

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

I believe in miracles.

I believe that imagination is more important than intelligence.

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

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

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

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

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

I believe all your answers can be found within.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Year – BE TRUE. BE YOU.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spread Love Around the World

Jaeden's Angel

Jaeden’s Angel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh From Heaven

Fresh From Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heaven

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

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

Let Freedom Ring for All

Let freedom ring final (1)

“America did not invent human rights.  Human rights invented America.” – Jimmy Carter

When the founders of our nation landed on the shores of Cape Cod, it was with the pursuit of religious freedom. All the other truths we’ve fought for since that time, stemmed from this same quest. The belief that no one has the right to define God or how we worship, has opened the door for an all-inclusive loving God to walk through. With no religious dogma, no one is excluded. We are free to be who we are.  In 1955, Rosa Parks claimed that freedom when she refused to move to the back of the bus and began the Civil Rights movement. Eunice Shriver was certain of it when she fought for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities and helped form the Special Olympics.  In June 2015 gay couples felt it when the Supreme Court legalized same sex-marriage across the country, giving them the identical federal rights as heterosexual couples. It doesn’t matter what we look like, if we are handicapped, or who we love, we are all welcomed into the fold. The Creator delights in us exactly as we are. And why shouldn’t he? We are his handiwork.

I am deeply grateful to be born in the land of liberty. Our freedom is sacred and worth defending. July 4th is a day to celebrate this gift and remember all who have fought and died for it. As fireworks light up the sky, we watch with hands over our hearts, in awe of our servicemen and women. Without them our independence would not exist.

“The American dream is not that every man must be level with every other man. The American dream is that every man must be free to become whatever God intends he should become.” – Ronald Reagan

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

Dreams Take Care of Themselves

 

Click to purchase signed prints of  "Beach Dreams"

Click to purchase signed prints of “Beach Dreams

The above painting, captures the innocence of childhood and my love of Martha’s Vineyard. I have traveled to the island every summer for the last 17 years. It’s hard to write about its splendor without sounding cliche. Although there is much that is upscale on MV, there is also raw beauty woven throughout. All I can say is the President and his family vacation there for a reason. Illustrating a child worn out from play, slumbering on the beach, is my way of bottling the island’s magic. Just looking at this picture, brings me right back to the warm sand and soothing sound of the sea.

Beach Dreams was an illustration commission for a poem. I was given free reign on how I depicted it, so I drew from my own experience. Dreaming has always been such a big factor in my life. The little girl sleeping is my way of saying the more you relax into your dreams, the more you allow them to come to you. If given a chance, dreams take care of themselves.

Below Beach Dreams from conception to final art.

My model "sleeping"

My model “sleeping”

Preliminary sketch

Preliminary sketch

Watercolor wash

Watercolor wash

Adding the details

Adding the details

Final art

Final art

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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