The Right to Love and Be Loved

I attended two weddings a week apart last September. Both were beautiful celebrations of each couple’s love. What struck me was the contrast between the two events. Betty and Chris are lesbians and had a Chicago Blackhawks-themed affair. Nick and Jacquie are straight and had a traditional fairytale style wedding (think Cinderella). Both were joyful and life-affirming. It’s wonderful how inclusive we are becoming about what constitutes a marriage in the United States. I couldn’t imagine comparing two occasions like this even five years ago.

Nick and Jacquie

Nick and Jacquie

“Marriage – gay and straight – is a gift to the world because the world needs more not less love, fidelity, commitment, devotion and sacrifice.” ~Rob and Kristen Bell, The Zimzum of Love

There was a time when same-sex marriage was not even a thought in my stratosphere. In my youth, homosexuality was kept so hush, hush I didn’t even know it existed until I was a 19-year-old art student. Getting over the shock that two members of the same sex could be lovers took a while for me. I was raised Catholic and soon learned that being gay was a sin in the eyes of the Church. Many branches of Christianity use scripture to condemn homosexuality. They strictly adhere to the Bible being God’s infallible word. When I realized the Bible accepted slavery, it left an opening for me to question the validity of words written two thousand years ago. I came to the conclusion to trust what my heart knew all along: we have a right to be who we are and to love who we love.

“Make no mistake, I am a Christian and I believe in God and I don’t believe he makes mistakes, so I believe that being gay is not a sin and in fact it’s how you’re made.” ~Kristin Chenowith

I’m a woman who was raised to believe she was flawed. Growing up, I was always larger than the other girls. My mother was disgusted with my pudginess and used it to make me feel “less than.” A body-obsessed society backed up her feelings toward me. Although soul crushing, growing up in that environment is what gave me compassion for gays. I knew homosexuality wasn’t a choice any more than my size was. It didn’t make sense that someone would choose a way of being in the world that would hold them up to ridicule. The bodies we are born into are no accident. Who we are is a gift.

“If God wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.” ~Johann van Goethe

Today is a new day. America is evolving and opening its arms in an ever broader embrace. I see it in the weddings I attend. Betty and Chris’s love was celebrated and as special as Nick and Jacquie’s. As Hillary Rodham Clinton observed, “Gay rights are human rights.” The legalizing of same sex marriage is our reclaiming of the truths written in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Once again, we the people have spoken.

Betty and Chris

Betty and Chris

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 New Year: Ready to Move On

The Heart of Christmas

“No one loves a Christmas tree on January first.” ― Erma Bombeck

Today the holiday season is officially over for me. It’s time to take the decorations down and store them in the attic until next year. Although I love Christmas, I’m always happy to move on. I long for the predictably of a routine in my life again. As an artist, I literally crave getting back to the drawing board. I’m ready to wipe the slate clean and start fresh..

I know many women feel the way I do. After all, we are the magic makers.  We own the task of making memories and are seldom acknowledged for our efforts. We begin December anticipating the cookie baking, decorating and gift buying, but by the time the 25th rolls around, most of us have had our fill.

Although I’m weary of the hype and work surrounding the season, I’m not tired of the celebration’s reason for being. The birth of Christ changed the world. This is the time of year his presence is hard to deny. There is something in the air that makes the world softer and people kinder. Some call it the Christmas Spirit, but I think of it as an energy field of love.

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Each January first, as I take our tree down, I’m reminded to let go of the past to make room for the new. When I pack up a box of vintage ornaments, there is one thing I’m always conscious about not putting on the shelf.  That is the joy that Christmas brings, the heart of the season. Is it possible to carry it with me throughout the new year? Without a doubt. Gratitude is what keeps it alive.

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

The Gift Within the Gift

O Holy Night

“O Holy Night” © Sue Shanahan 2014

“To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth….is potentially to have everything.” ― Joan Didion

”O Holy Night” is my very favorite Christmas song, although, I never gave it much thought until I heard Mariah Carey sing it. Her version was so beautiful a chill traveled up my spine to the top of my head. Her voice made me really listen to the lyrics for the first time. They were stunning, and they made me wonder.

“O holy night the stars are brightly shining.

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Until He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Before the birth of Christ, the world muddled along in darkness. Humanity didn’t have the awareness or power to live any other way. Yet their hearts longed for more. The line, “Until He appeared and the soul felt its worth” connects the Nativity to the realization of who we are. We were valuable enough to have the son of God incarnate on our behalf. Mankind had been given a twofold gift. With the birth of Jesus came a power and energy like the planet had never seen. On top of that, we were given the grace to know we were worthy to receive it. The cage door had been flung open, and we had the self-worth to reach and take the hand offered to us. We needed a Savior and the world has never been the same since the day He appeared.

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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

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

Something is Missing Without You

Ostrich and Girl

“What do you want to be?”
“Just a me.” – My answer to a friend’s question at age sixteen.

I did a little cliff jumping this weekend. I took a trip to Colorado to visit my best friend, Gigi, and went to a workshop on past-life regression. A little woo-woo sounding I know, but fascinating. Mira Kelley uses hypnosis to lead her clients into recoverIng memories of previous incarnations. If you can connect your current fears to a past life, those fears will often disappear. I was first introduced to her in a book by Dr. Wayne Dyer. When I learned that he was writing the forward for her book, Beyond Past Lives, I pre-ordered it. The day it appeared on my Kindle, I began reading it. Dr. Dyer gave a glowing account of the healing quality of Mira’s work in his own life. That pulled me in. I found her book sometimes hard to grasp but most times extremely enlightening. Gigi felt the same way so we signed up for her workshop to learn more. It’s a little scary for me to write about this because it is not mainstream, but I’ve made a pact with myself to be who I am in this blog. So there it is.

Sue and Mira Kelley

Me with Mira Kelley

I took another leap while I was in Colorado. I decided to invest in some David Smith watercolor paints and brushes. They are touted as the crème de la crème of watercolors, but in the past, I wouldn’t allow myself the luxury. They are rather pricey, and watercolor is a medium that has a mind of its own. They force the artist to be flexible with what they intend to get down on paper. To buy them meant I would have to paint with spontaneity (not always an easy thing for me). Listening to my heart, I purchased them. $350.00 later I am ready to paint with abandon. Sounds like fun doesn’t it?

I'm ready to paint with abandon.

I’m ready to paint with abandon.

“Be yourself- not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.”
― Henry David Thoreau

I imagine humanity as being like an intricate, beautiful, stained glass window. Each piece of glass is lovingly chosen for its color, texture and amount of transparency. Next, they’re cut and ground to fit together perfectly, like puzzle pieces on board. Collectively, they form a masterpiece. A broken or lost fragment of glass will unsettle and disrupt the whole. In the same way, when we don’t allow ourselves to be who we are, a disservice is done to the rest of the world. Humanity needs your song to be sung. How you think, look and feel are no accident. It’s time to be who you are. Without you something’s missing.

Flying Hearts

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

Being Open to Magic

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

Magic is everywhere. Like in my painting it’s right outside your window looking in, frequently unnoticed. It’s not that we don’t believe that anything is possible. Often we are blind to miracles because we have tunnel vision. We are so locked into our limited perception we can’t see what’s smiling at us through the porthole on the ship we’re sailing. It’s good to have dreams and plans but not to map out how they are to be manifested.

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” Robertson Davies

Last week while babysitting my grandson, the concept of “seeing only what my mind is prepared to comprehend,” was brought to my attention. While Cameron was napping, I went to the refrigerator to get a bottle knowing that he would be waking soon. When I opened the door, I couldn’t  find the blue carrying case his parents brought his bottles in. From top to bottom, I searched the refrigerator for that case. I looked everywhere, even in the freezer. Eventually, I put on rubber gloves and rooted through the garbage, to make sure I hadn’t thrown it out by accident. No luck. I was comforted that I had discovered a bottle of frozen breast milk in my search but didn’t know what I was going to do for the rest of the day. Finally, it came to me that I should surrender the situation to God and ask for help. And so I did.

I decided to poor a cup of coffee and relax until my little charge awoke. When I reached into the fridge for the creamer, to my surprise, I saw four baby bottles of milk grouped on the bottom shelf. How could I have missed them? I’ll tell you how. I was so fixated on locating the blue case I couldn’t see anything else. Surrendering helped me to loosen the grip on my perception and opened me up to what was right in front of me. It made me wonder how many other things I’ve missed in my life.

“That is certainly one way to look at the matter. There are others.” Patricia C. Wrede

In my mermaid image lives the perfect reminder of why I must stay loose with what I think I know. It’s good to have a vision but let a higher source fine tune it. That is the formula that brought my porthole painting into being. The figures in it are my daughter-in-law and grandson, Cameron. Pam grew up near Boston and spent her summers by the ocean. She has what we like to call saltwater in her veins. When I found out she was pregnant, I immediately began seeing her as a mermaid, stretched out on a rock, holding a shell to her merbaby’s ear. When Cam was born, I prepared for the illustration, by photographing the perfect “mermaid rock” for them to be sunbathing on. Now all I had to do was get photo references of my two muses. That had to be put on hold until Cam was old enough for his mom to hold him while he listened to the sound of the sea in a shell.

The mermaid rock I came across on Lucy Vincent Beach in Martha's Vineyard.

The mermaid rock I came across on Lucy Vincent Beach in Martha’s Vineyard.

One day last July, the plan for my illustration took on a new direction when Pam texted me a selfie of her and Cam. In the photo, Pam’s hair flowed across a pillow and her little guy, laying next to her, had a look of pure wonder on his face. It was magical. I knew the moment I saw it that it was the photo I would base my art on. I’m so grateful I was open enough to see that the sea creatures I wanted to bring to life weren’t sunbathing, but looking through a porthole, right into my soul.

The selfie that pointed my imagination in another direction.

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

Plastic Has No Heart

Keeping it real: Three Friends in a Hammock © Sue Shanahan 2000

Keeping it real: Three Friends in a Hammock © 2014 Sue Shanahan

“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.” – Amy Bloom

Lately, I’ve been conscious of a trend that makes my heart jump for joy. Have you noticed that more and more ordinary people are on TV and in the movies? For too long there’s only been room for Hollywood glamour. That standard was allowed to exist by a world that sought happiness from the external. As a young girl, I was indoctrinated and blindly aligned myself to that belief system. But not anymore. I, along with many others, have outgrown that life-view. Welcome tall, short, fat, thin, young, old and every color. Welcome me. Welcome you.

It’s hard to believe that when I began my career as an illustrator, I couldn’t find work because the people in my drawings looked too “real.” I was advised to stylize my children like the Gerber Baby because more women would relate to it. Can you believe that? I was exasperated by the assumption that only blue-eyed Caucasian babies were relatable. There was and is a place in the world for every mother’s child.

© 2014 Sue Shanahan

© 2014 Sue Shanahan

Fast forward to today. My illustrations, featuring children of all shapes, sizes and colors, are viewed as politically correct and affirming. Plastic surgery and the coloring of grey hair are being reconsidered by strong women in the limelight. The doors for self-love and self-worth are now open wide enough for everyone to fit through. We are fine just the way we are.

“When you’re always trying to conform to the norm, you lose your uniqueness, which can be the foundation of your greatness.” – Dale Archer

I would go so far as to say that embracing “who we are” is what helped launch Pharrell Williams’ song, Happy, into the stratosphere. That tune went nowhere until its video was released showing people of all ages, ethnicities, and body types dancing to it. To add to the explosion Pharrell’s fans posted videos from across the globe grooving to his song. Happy became a celebration of life and the beauty of humanity.

And what about Colbie Caillat’s song, Try? Its video blasts Photoshop and the unrealistic beauty standards put on women and girls. During the film, Colbie removes her hair extensions and her make-up bit-by-bit. At the end, what’s left is someone we can connect to. You see it’s nearly impossible relating to someone who’s body is decorated and molded. There is no heart in plastic. Being who we are is where our power lies.

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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