Sojourner’s Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let it Snow – Hercules Couldn’t Keep Me from My Son’s Wedding

Let it Snow

Friday, January third, was my birthday. This year it was to be part of a bigger celebration. My husband Bob, our son Rob, his wife Emily and I were booked on an early morning flight from Chicago to Boston. We were going to attend the wedding rehearsal and dinner for our youngest son Brian and his fiancée Pam that evening. The following afternoon they were to be married at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Kingston, Massachusetts. Rob was Brian’s best man and Emily was one of Pam’s bridesmaids. We had the important task of transporting their wedding bands and my grandmother’s wedding pearls to adorn the bride. Over 20 family members and friends were flying to take part in the festivities. Yes, it was going to be a memorable birthday and a perfect weekend.

Earlier in the week Pam, concerned, texted me about a weather report of a snowstorm hitting Boston on Thursday and Friday. I assured her it was too early to tell. If the weather conditions can’t be accurately predicted for the next day, how can an advance forecast be trusted? I was having none of it. Besides we were flying out early enough that, worse-case scenario, we would get in late Friday night. No matter what, we would be at their wedding on Saturday.

When the snow did begin dumping in Boston on Thursday, I still felt certain we would get out the next day, even if our flight was delayed. Brian called around dinner time to tell us our Friday morning flight had been cancelled. Although we hadn’t been notified by the airlines, a friend of his, taking the same flight, had been. I immediately got on the phone and rebooked our tickets for nine o’clock Friday evening. Our flight cancellation was a little glitch in our plans, that’s all. Sure, we were going to miss the rehearsal and dinner, but what was really important was that we’d make it to the wedding.

Then our Friday evening flight was cancelled. I quickly got on the phone and after a 30 minute hold, learned there were no more flights to Boston out of Chicago. Beginning to panic, I asked if there were any fights available from Chicago to Providence. Lucky for us, there were seven seats left on a nine o’clock flight and we booked four of them. Whew!

Bob, Rob, Emily and I headed to the airport around five o’clock. We wanted to get there as early as we could. At this point, we weren’t taking any chances of missing our flight. When we were 20 minutes away, I got a text from our daughter, Bridget. She and her husband had managed to drive from Vermont to Boston and were at the rehearsal dinner. The message read  simply, “Your flight has been cancelled. I’m so sorry.” Why wasn’t the airline notifying us of this? Minutes later Bridget called to tell us that in spite of what was now being dubbed Winter Storm Hercules, there was a nine o’clock flight from Chicago to Manchester, New Hampshire, available. It was only a couple of hours from Boston.

We sped to the airport. The men dropped Emily and me off before they parked the car so we could try and get us onto the Manchester flight. Our spirits plummeted when we saw the length of the line formed to rebook flights. We would never get to the ticket agent in time to fly to Manchester. It hit me to try and call the airline on my cell phone. After dialing and getting through all the prompts, I was told my wait for an attendant would be 19 to 33 minutes. Oh no! It seemed like there was no way we were going to make it to the wedding. Miraculously, an agent answered the phone in less than a minute and booked us seats on the Manchester flight.

After parking, Bob and Rob raced in to find us standing in a short line waiting to be checked in. After we got our boarding passes, we went through security with 30 minutes to spare before our flight took off. It was smooth sailing from then on. After landing in New Hampshire, we drove to Massachusetts. We checked into our hotel and were curled up in our beds by three o’clock in the morning.

On my birthday I had asked for prayers on Facebook and Twitter to get us to our son’s wedding. That was the only present I wanted. Saturday morning I woke up to an East Coast winter wonderland, knowing I had gotten my wish. I was energized and ready to embrace the day. We were going to our youngest son’s wedding.

The ceremony was more beautiful than my mind could ever have imagined. In spite of 20 guests not being able to make it, the day still overflowed with joy. That evening at the reception, the bride and groom stood up to make an announcement. First they thanked everyone for the great lengths they had gone to to get there. Then Pam said that it was no secret she and Brian were having a baby. A cheer filled the room when we learned they had decided to surprise us all with an unveiling cake. For those who haven’t heard of this, it’s a cake that is either blue or pink on the inside. The gender of the baby is revealed when it’s cut into. When the bride had her last ultrasound, the technician wrote the sex of their baby on a piece of paper and sealed it in an envelope. Pam then mailed it to the baker so she and Brian would be surprised too. It was a such a lovely way to learn that in April we will be welcoming a baby boy, our first grandchild, into the world.

Mrs. and Mr. Brian Shanahan

It's a boy!

It’s a boy!

That night as we lay in bed, Bob and I wondered and worried about our flight back home the next day. The weather was clear and mild in Boston but now Chicago was in the middle of a snowstorm, to be followed by subarctic temperatures.  My husband was quite certain I should have booked an earlier flight. Would our late afternoon flight be cancelled? Me, I truthfully didn’t care. We had made it to Brian and Pam’s wedding.

 Comin’ in on a wing and a prayer. – Harold Adamson

The next morning we learned that all of those scheduled for the eight o’clock flight had gotten out successfully. After that, all the flights were cancelled – all accept ours. We have no idea why.

And so we took off and arrived in Chicago on time that evening. Our airplane landed on a snow-packed runway amidst a winter storm. As we descended, through the snow that blew past my window, I swear I saw an angel glowing on the wing of our plane.

Getting to Brian and Pam’s wedding was the best birthday gift I’ve ever received. How the events played out confirmed the power of prayer to me. It solidified my faith in a benevolent presence that oversees every aspect of our lives. In spite of newscasts and friends calling to tell us we’d probably not make it to Boston, we never gave up hope. If we had listened to them and thrown in the towel, we would not have gotten there. Things may look bleak on the surface, but you never know what’s working in your favor behind-the-scenes. The circumstances in our lives aren’t happening to us, they are happening for us. It’s not necessary for me to try and unravel the mystery of how or why we got to our son’s wedding. I am just happy knowing that for a few days, we lived inside a miracle.

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

Divine Calling

It is in by believing in roses that one brings them to bloom. – French proverb

We all have a divine calling, a purpose we were born to fulfill. Afraid to let nature take its course with our dreams, we roll up our sleeves and map out our future. Step by step we’re determined to make it happen. There’s a serious flaw in this type of thinking. Rather than moving us to our heart’s song, it keeps us stuck.

How can that be? Because in believing you have to make your passion happen, you’re limited to only what you’re capable of imagining. A more certain way to reach your goal is by envisioning what your life would be like if your longings were already realized. Indulge yourself. Start acting as if you’re already there by finding a place of trust within, a place where you know your dream is being brought to fruition. Live as if it’s already happening, and the physical world just has to catch up. Opportunities to transport you will unfold without your “help.” They will materialize as if by magic. And all you have to do is let go and dream.

Stay in the now. Work on an aspect of your heart’s desire daily. For me, today, it would be sharing my art by writing this blog. For my nephew’s wife Jamie, it’s about being the best mother she can be to baby Calvin. For Harriet Tubman, it was saying, “yes” to her calling to guide slaves to freedom in the north. She didn’t worry about unforeseen dangers on her journey. She relied on moment-to-moment guidance from her maker. By believing in our dreams, without agonizing over how to bring them to pass, we leave room for the divine to work out the details. That’s my interruption of the idiom, “God is in the details.”

In Linda Ronstadt’s new memoir, Simple Dreams it’s clear all she ever wanted to do was sing. How her gift was shared with the world wasn’t something she was consumed with. By keeping her focus on the joy of singing, her heart’s desire materialized, in a big way. Not many of us clammer for that kind recognition. But what we all do share is the desire to bring the rose we are born with to bloom. By loving that rose and leaving the particulars of its flowering to God, we leave the door open for him to out dream us. And out dream us he always does.

My nieces Collette and Andi were happy to pose  as  Degas ballerinas for me.

My nieces Collette and Andi were happy to pose as Degas ballerinas for me.

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

Keep Going: Harriet Tubman’s Legacy

keep-going_edited-1Don’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 70 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. What stands between me and that kind of guidance? Remembering to ask. harriet-tubman-wanted-poster_edited-1
Harriet’s life has been a beacon to many. In Hillary Clinton’s 2008 speech for the Democratic convention, she shared my admiration.

There are many books written about this remarkable woman’s life. One of my favorites is Courage to Run by my friend, Wendy Lawton.

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