Kathleen and Shawn Burns - Cincinnati, OH, USA
CHOOSING LIFE SAVED MINE
— KATHLEEN —
“When I went to McAuley [a Catholic school for girls]…I was 15 and found out that I was pregnant. He [the father] was African American and I am white. Those things made us worry about how people would treat us and our child if we were to have it…’cause at that time it wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. I had to have faith that God was saying, ‘That’s not your choice to do that [have an abortion], that’s not for you, that’s not what you’re meant to do.’ I had to block out what everybody I knew, everybody I loved, said to me and just say, ‘That’s not what He’s telling me to do.’ Like there’s a voice that said that’s not what I’m supposed to do.
So that was the first time I feel like I had faith because I had to just trust that that voice was right and everybody else was wrong.”
— SHAWN —
“My mom had me when she was really young. She was 15 when she got pregnant and had me at 16. And they split up. He left when I was around, say, 4. That kind of stung, but I got through it. My mom said I used to cry a lot when I was little about it but I don’t remember any of those days and nights when she said I used to cry myself to sleep. I mean, I’m happy I have a relationship with my dad now. It’s good. My mom is a strong woman. She—I don’t tell her very often—but she is, she’s pretty cool. She works hard for me to go to school. I know it’s hard sometimes and I don’t think I thank her enough. But she’s the one that’s pushed me to keep going when it’s hard.
God was this big guy [who] always had so much power. I was scared when I was little cause I didn’t want to go to hell. I just thought of hell and dying. But now it’s more ‘live your life and help others.’
He always loves you but helping others is His main thing to me. Serve others and you will go to heaven. I don’t believe certain religions. It doesn’t matter what you practice on Earth as long as God believes you are a good person.”
Katie (Kathleen) Burns and I worked together side- by-side for 12 years at Procter & Gamble. To say that she was an angel sent from on high would be an understatement. Katie has been a constant source of spiritual guidance for me in my life ever since our paths came together. She reminds me that there is a God and a Spirit of the Universe far greater than us who showers us with love. Katie was also responsible for many parts of Portraits in Faith—both for the travel plans that enabled it, and choosing the “selects” for each person’s portrait.
I admire so deeply how Katie had the courage and the clarity to give birth to her son Shawn when she was only 16 and to raise him into the loving young man he is today. Katie had to listen deep within herself and go against the advice many others were giving her to get an abortion or give Shawn up for adoption. I remember the first time I met Katie as she showed me a picture of her and her dad standing back to back when she was pregnant and his belly was almost bigger than hers—she shared that he ‘had her back’ when she got pregnant.
Katie shared with me that she is certain she would have died from drugs or alcohol had she not had Shawn. Many friends of hers suffered that fate and it was only Shawn’s birth that caused Katie to take a different direction in life. That is why she says, “choosing life saved mine.”
The portrait of Katie and Shawn means so much to me—how similar they look despite Katie being white and Shawn being multiracial, how their holding each other’s hands symbolizes unity and eternal connectedness, how their eyes signal the loving kindness for others they both possess.
Katie and I often talk about our “Africa moments” which is when we want to chuck everything and move to Africa to do relief work. And yet, what I have learned from Katie is that “Africa” is wherever we are and wherever help is needed. I’ve never met someone so sensitive to the needs of others as Katie, especially the hungry and unsheltered. I trust her instincts so much that she is one of four members of the board of directors of the new Portraits in Faith Foundation.
I went back to interview both Katie and Shawn on video some 10 years after their portrait was taken, when Shawn was a sophomore at Ohio State University. And now he just earned his doctorate in physical therapy from Ohio University. I thank God for Katie Burns and the love and healing she and her son Shawn brought into my life.