A Love That Never Sleeps

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

“Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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. 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 little 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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I Love You to the Moon and Back

I Love You  the Moon and Back

My love will always light your path

And guide you to the moon and back.

It greets you at the break of day

And whispers from the milky way.

– Sue Shanahan, Love You to the Moon & Back (2014)

 The first time I heard the phrase, “I love you to the moon and back” was in the 1990’s while watching the Rosie O’Donnell Show. Rosie’s son, Parker, had exclaimed it to her when she was tucking him in bed the night before. She thought it was the cutest thing she’d ever heard and had to share it with the world. I don’t know if this term of endearment originated with her son, but as an artist, I couldn’t get the imagery of it out of my mind.

“I love you to the moon and back.” Hmmm, what would that look like? Would the moon be crescent shaped or full? And how does one get to the moon and back? On an airplane? A rocket ship? Or does one simply sprout wings and fly? And who would go to all of that trouble to declare their love anyway?

Soon the answers began to materialize in my head. It’s wonderful to have an imagination. Right off the bat, I knew a boy should be included in the illustration because I’d first heard the expression from Parker O’Donnell. I adored my great-nephew Matt and thought he’d be the perfect subject to base my art on. As the image in my mind’s eye came into focus, I began to make out a little boy riding on a missile to a wise, retro Man in the Moon. Voila! I couldn’t wait to begin.

When Matt’s mom brought him over for me to photograph, I thought I was prepared. I had my son Brian ready to stand in for the missile by getting down on all fours. His mom would set a pajama clad Matt on his back, and I would snap away. I don’t know what I was thinking. How could I have forgotten what a wild child my great-nephew was? I literally only had time to take one shot of Matt before he insisted (and I do mean insisted) on climbing off of Brian’s back. He was done. But that one shot was all I needed. It turned out to be the perfect photo reference to create the lyrical feel I was looking for in my drawing. The creative process is mystical. It has a mind of its own. When I don’t push but instead allow it to come into being, a thing of wonder always emerges.

Creativity is hard to define but its presence is always felt. It’s no accident that it is a derivative of the word Creator. It accesses an energy field that is part of the Divine. What other force could make something out of nothing?

And it’s the same way with love. Although it’s invisible, its effects are always seen. Love takes the puzzle pieces strewn across the floor and puts them together to make something beautiful and whole. Its spark lights our paths. It fills in the holes and gaps. And it’s what inspires a child to say the words a mother will hold dear all the days of her life.

The glimpse of Matt I caught on film.

The glimpse of Matt I caught on film.

 

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

Home is where the heart is. And the heart never really leaves home.

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The arms of love encompass you with your present, your past, your future, the arms of love gather you together.   -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The concept for my above christmas card, Home for the Holidayssprang from my daughter’s imagination. Fresh from college, Bridget was nannying for a baby named Jack at the time. She was crazy about him and thought up the design so her little muse could be included. My son Brian, found the model for the angel pulling the tree. He knew Marissa’s uncle and thought she was one of most endearing little girls he’d ever met.

I was a little leery about a holiday card that focused on loved ones returning home. What about people separated by miles that for some reason couldn’t make it back? I thought how painful it would be for those who couldn’t  be together because of war or worse yet death. That year when Christmas came my own daughter would be halfway across the country in Idaho. I could already feel the sting.

Difficult as it was, my daughter’s move taught me something. I learned being separated by the miles had little or no baring on our relationship. We were closer than ever. Computers and cell phones brought me to the realization that being with Bridget in person is wonderful but only one aspect of our love. Our hearts were connected even though we were miles apart.

In 2009, when my sister died suddenly, it took that notion to a whole different level. The first Christmas without her was brutal. We were so much a part of one another it felt as if she had been ripped from me. As the years passed, I’ve settled into life without her in the flesh. I’ve adjusted to having a different kind of relationship with her. It took working through the grief to get to this point. Even though we are seemingly apart, we are closer than ever, just like with Bridget.

For awhile our souls inhabit these bodies, but our true selves are connected at a higher level. Real separation from anyone we love is not possible for they are entwined in our hearts. So in this season of joy and throughout the new year, I wish you the luxury of knowing all your loved ones are home. And in fact, they never left.

Angel-Eyed Marissa

My model, angel-eyed Marissa

Bridget and Jack way back when.

Bridget and Jack way back when.

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

Falling Leaves and Letting Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunrise Faith

Sue ShanahanWhenever I have to begin a new illustration, I’m always afraid to start.  I hem and I haw and I haw and I hem. Why? Because there is no earthly reason that I’m capable of bringing forth that kind of beauty.  In my mind, the images are always vague.  I want them to be in perfect focus before I get going.  But it doesn’t work that way. Until I learned the meaning of the phrase Sunrise Faith, I could stay paralyzed for weeks.  It never occurred to me that the same power that calls the sun to rise, lives in me too.  The magic begins when I put my pencil to paper.  That act of trust opens the floodgate for Spirit to flow through and express itself.  As it turns out, I don’t need to know exactly what the end result of my painting will look like. God will fill in the details.

Sunrise Faith is a concept for anyone who has something they want to accomplish.  Divinity plants the seeds of our aspirations in our hearts and grace brings them to fruition.  From creating a masterpiece, to finding the perfect job or house, it’s a benevolent, loving wave we ride.  If you’re trying to figure out exactly where the current is taking you, you’re  resisting the flow.  And that is exactly when we begin to sink.  All we need to get started is to simply begin.  We will be given the next step to take as the process unfolds.

Twenty years ago a dream was planted in my heart.  I wanted to create a picture book.  Over time, it was put on the back burner as “real life” took over. Finally, finally my longing is being realized.  My story Glory in the Morning is finished and is now in the hands of app company extraordinare, Auryn.  They are in the process of transforming my work into a picture book app for tablets and e-readers.  But my dream won’t be in full bloom until there also is a traditional picture book in children’s hands.  I’m not sure how that is going to come about, but I wait in joyful anticipation for it to be revealed.

Being confident that God, who began a good work in you, will carry it to completion.  -Philippians 1:6

What dreams are you and Source bringing to fruition?

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Sue Shanahan

In photoshop I made a book cover for Glory in the Morning and placed it on a picture book. I believe visualization is the beginning of realizing a dream.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

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Born Under a Dancing Star

A Star Danced

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

― William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

http://www.sueshanahan.com

Gently the Snowflakes Fall…

When I am willing to step into the realm of uncertainty and ambiguity I open myself up to infinite possibilities.  – Anita Moorjani

Make plans but be loose with them. Inflexibility can block wonder from unfolding. Be willing to be surprised.

The story behind the making of the above painting illustrates this perfectly. The two little fairies are my nieces Madi and Emma. Originally, I hadn’t planned on the younger one being in the picture. At her age, I didn’t think there was any way Emma would cooperate. While photographing Madi, to her mother’s dismay, Emma jumped in to have some fun with her big sister’s skirt. Luckily, I had my camera in hand to freeze that fleeting moment. Seriously, there is no way I could have orchestrated that event. By staying out of my own way and signaling for their mother to let Emma be, I was able to capture a twinkling of joy. In my world, it doesn’t get better than that.

Trust the flow. It’s the same wave that transports snowflakes dreamily to the ground. Airy, yet with purpose. Even if a gust of wind blows them off course, they still sparkle where they land.

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Emma being Emma.

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Madi practicing her bubble blowing skills.

Emma and her big sister Maddie

Emma and Madi.

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