Nancy Jo Sullivan is an inspirational author and speaker. She has published with Random House, Guideposts, Readers Digest, and the Huffington Post.
In her newest book, Small Mercies, Sullivan writes about God’s presence in her life through motherhood, family, and love. Through poignant reflections, she recalls how she found God even in her darkest moments, such as during her divorce and in the months that followed the death of her Down syndrome daughter. She reminds the reader that God is present in “every mess, burden, and blessing.”
The mother of two grown daughters, Nancy Jo resides in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She loves hanging out with her daughters, teaching writing classes to kids with special needs, jogging, drinking spinach smoothies, and writing about all her imperfect stories.
When I was a little girl, I used to get up early each morning—way before my 8 other siblings—and join my father at the kitchen table. While I ate my Rice Krispies, my broad-shouldered father began telling me stories about a maiden who bore the same nickname as mine.
According to my father, “Ko-cheeze” was a Native American princess who lived along the Mississippi river in the 1800s. As Dad described the thick forests that framed the waters, I could almost see Ko-cheeze canoeing through the waves, her long hair blowing in the breeze. “She wore moccasins and a buckskin skirt. She was a free spirit,” Dad explained.
Often, Ko-cheeze would stop to search for precious jewels along the shoreline. I would imagine her dancing around a tribal campfire as Dad tapped his hands on the table like a drum. “Close your eyes—can you see her?” Dad would say.
As I grew, I came to cherish those early-morning moments with my father, because, when evening came, everything changed. At 5:15 pm, when Dad arrived home from his job at an insurance company, he would always be carrying a paper bag that held an eight-pack of beer. Making his way to an upstairs den, he would quietly close the door, sealing himself off. In that dimly lit room, he would watch Wheel of Fortune and begin to drink in solitude.
We never knocked on the door. None of us knew the person who drank in darkness.
“Why does Dad drink?” I asked my mother one night as I did my homework at the kitchen table. “Your father has many regrets,” she said. She talked about the untimely death of his father and how Dad quit Notre Dame Law School in his mid twenties. “He keeps everything bottled up inside,” she told me.
When I was 19, our family tried doing an intervention with Dad, but he never showed up.
The night after the intervention that never happened, I opened the door of the den and sat down on the chair right next to him. We sat together in the shadows, facing his silent television.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his eyes misting.
“I know Dad…”
My father died 10 years later at the age of 55, the age I am now.
I suppose at this stage in my life I could easily call myself a victim or be angry that I grew up in an alcoholic home. But I believe that my father loved me and each member of our family. I’ve chosen to forgive him for succumbing to a disease that ultimately robbed him of life. The truth is, the best part of Dad lives on in me and in the stories I am now called to share.
In every family, there are hurts that linger and sins that we are called to forgive.
While forgiveness can be difficult, especially when loved ones refuse our help, the Scriptures provide us with these encouraging words: “Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8).
Perhaps a family member has closed a door on you. Maybe your child has become defiant or your spouse has betrayed you or a parent has let you down. If so, let God give you the grace to forgive them. Love them intensely. Rest assured that love—yours and God’s—will cover a multitude of sins.
By Nancy Jo, NancyJoSullivan.com
Giveaway: To enter to win a copy of Small Mercies, answer, How have you been called to share the intense love of God?
I wish to thank my mother, Mary Heiztman, for giving me permission to share this story.
Photo by Rachel Arguelles.
Loyola Press has created a coupon code just for (in)courage readers, good for 30% off the cover price! Just purchase your copy here, with the code “Mercies.” Valid through August 31.
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I am single mother to 4. I have been called to share His love by adopting 3 kids from a family member. The hurt is deep and furious. I daily fight for their healing, but also for the healing of my bio son whose dad has chosen to not be part of his life. It feels like too much sometimes.
Brittnie (A Joy Renewed) says
I have been called my God to share my life story – recovering from anorexia and walking through infertility. God has been SO faithful and I know He had me walk this specific path for a reason.
I would love to win this book. I have a husband who struggles with an addiction to alcohol and we are going on 11 years with baby number 4 on the way. He is a loving man but can’t seem to get over this addiction. I believe I am called to love him intensely with God’s love and I know he will choose to let God soften his heart and deliver him. 🙂 Thanks for your story!
How have you been called to share the intense love of God?
I’ve been covered by the intense love of my parents & my God! Struggling with
the addictions related to money caused some of the greatest pain I could have ever put my family through but due simply to God’s grace & forgiveness I’ve found the
godly way to live in victory!
I feel that I am called to share this love and I am searching and seeking His will to determine exactly how WHAT I should do next.
My husband, son and I used to live with my parents, grandparents and my brother and his family under one roof. During that time, my brother and his gf would get into huge fights and he would hit her. I tried to intercede but I did not succeed and instead I was told it was “none of my business”. So I grew to have this hatred towards my brother and even his gf for not leaving him. I just couldn’t understand how she could put herself through it. Since then I became a part of a small women’s group and we met to have bible study. Well we were studying 1 John and came to chapter 4 verse 20 “20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. ” God used this verse to allow me to share with the other ladies what I have been feeling towards my own brother. After sharing, I felt a burden being lifted and I knew then that I needed to forgive my brother and his gf and with whatever they go through that I needed to share with them the intense love of God no matter what, especially with my niece. Ever since then I continued to pray for them and invited them to church, and eventually my brother and his gf would have the courage to go on their own. Even though they still have their fights, I will continue to pray for them. No matter what I know the intense love of God will continue to transform their lives.
You are doing exactly what God has called you to do. You are praying for the intense love of God to transform their lives. I know that you have probably learned that there are some things that you cannot “fix.” It sounds like you have surrendered your need to change this couple and also your anger about the situation. Now, your heart can be open to God’s will. Through your prayers, God will do great things.
I was so touched by the story with your dad. My dad was like two different people too.
I shared God’s intense love while raising my granddaughter. Eventually she left to go live with her mom and neither speak to us ever, BUT God who is good and faithful used that situation as part of removing walls and revealing to me the tender heart he had given me. Now I get to pray and share with others about Abba’s love for us all.
I am happy that you identified with the story. It’s clear from your comments that you have the tender heart of a loving Grandma. Keep sharing “Abba’s Love!”
Due to the situation, I can’t share who I currently feel called to love intensely to show God’s love, but I am trying to show love each week when I see this person.
Robin in New Jersey says
I am in tears. My dad did the same thing, he was present physically, but mentally he shut himself off from us. He died at the age of 64, an alcoholic. My mom tried so hard to help him and to get him help, to no avail.
I have been called to love someone who betrayed me in a way I never thought would happen. It has not been easy, but I know it’s the right thing to do.
Dear Robin in New Jersey,
Im so sorry that your Dad wasn’t able to get the help he needed. Your mother sounds like she did everything she could. And I’m sorry that you were betrayed by a loved one. The best advice I can offer is this: Surrender your anger to God. Let the Lord fill your heart with love for those who have hurt you. Then, resolve to do something beautiful with your life.
Thank you for opening your heart. Your story touched my heart and gave me hope.
May the hope of Christ be with you today and always.
This article has given me much to think about forgiving my dad who caused us untold grief due to his alcoholism. I need to forgive him and love him though he is no longer with us. Thank you for sharing this!
It’s never too late to forgive your Dad. Be Free!
Praying that my Mom’s soul would be made whole through the love of Christ – the great physician. I can hear her drinking on the other end of the phone on many occasions. She is a widow who struggles with depression, alcoholism and a victim mentality. I love her so much and trust that God is healing her in small ways every day!
It must be so difficult to have a phone conversation with your mother, knowing that she is drinking. You are such a good daughter! Keep trusting that God is healing your mom, as you say, “in small ways.”
And don’t forget that God has heard ALL your prayers.
Here’s a verse for you from the Psalms:
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have saved all my tears in your bottle.”
Praying that my Mom’s soul would be made whole through the love of Christ – the great physician. I can hear her drinking on the other end of the phone on many occasions. She is a widow who struggles with depression, alcoholism and a victim mentality. I love her so much and trust that God is healing her in small ways every day-
I think I am called to share God’s love by sharing my story – recovering from emotional trauma and perfection. I also plan to become a licensed Christian counselor so that I can extend to others the acceptance that God has extended to me.
My Dad is who he is, non communicative dark and scarey I think due to childhood issues with his family. I am 53 and youngest of 4. He was hospitalised 2 weeks ago. I flew from Sydney to Cairns where my Mum & Dad live and as I have assisted my Mum with his care back at home over this 2 weeks my love for this stern unapproachable man (A Christian) has deepened to a level I never thought would be possible. As I left them to fly home late yesterday I hugged hi in the car and told him how much I loved him. For the first time I know, tears flowed down his cheeks and it was so hard to turn and catch that plane home. The timing of reading Nancy Jo’s journey is perfect – thank you!!
Those tears of your father are a great gift, one I’m sure you will remember for the rest of your life. Blessings.
Loving intensely when you have been wrong is not only difficult it’s almost impossible.. But God gives us grace…. When we realize that although we too have wrong others including God… We are able to show Gods love to all.
“…I could easily call myself a victim or be angry….In every family, there are hurts that linger and sins that we are called to forgive.”
Excellent post! For me, it was my mother. You speak the truth and core of the gospel.
We are all called to share his love each day with all the hurting people we meet. Thankful that God gives us another chance when we blow it big time and he uses our history to enable us to reach others in their circumstances of abuse and single parenthood. He has also called us to the foreign mission field to speak for him.
I am learning to love others intentionally because God’s Word tells me to. It is hard, but He has been faithful to love & forgive me of so much I must share this LOVE with others.
Thank you for sharing your story.
Amy Hunt says
Two things are remarkable about you. One, you encourage “intensity” with loving. And secondly, you asked your mother’s permission to share. You honor story. It’s beautiful worship. And your telling it brings me to my knees, weeping for grace.
(You’ve challenged me to seize that intensity…for my father who surrendered me.)
I am humbled by your kind words. So beatifully written. Thank you.
I am being called to share God’s intense love at this moment in my life in a way that is shaking me to the core. Last October, my brother disappeared for two days, and when he was found he had tried to commit suicide. It then came out that he was a person of interest in a computer crime case and that he had committed a sex crime. Since then, I have had to try to be there for my brother and show God’s unconditional love to him, despite my personal feelings of shock, anger, and revulsion. This past week my brother was arrested and incarcerated for this crime, and now he faces an uncertain future and several years in prison. I am praying constantly for God to show me how to help him, and again, for God’s help to overcome my feelings of confusion, anxiety, depression, and, still–anger. And I am also pleading with God to teach me how to show His love to my sister-in-law and their two little girls, my nieces, who have lost their father. I am trying to seek God’s help in showing love to the rest of our family, who are also confused, hurt, angry, disappointed. And I am on my knees asking Him to help me to put aside worry, fear, and dismay to show His intense love to my own husband and children. It is an extremely difficult time, but every time I close my eyes and breath His name, I feel God’s love wrap around me, and every time I open His word I am assured of His constant and intense love, not only for me, but for my family, and also my brother, even after all of this. Thank you for the entry about your dad; I can really relate.
Thank you for sharing your story. Even amid so much confusion, anxiety and anger, I see the image of you, a woman of tremendous hope and faith, “breathing in His (Gods’) name…”
The beatuiful light of Christ shines from your heart Anna…It’s a light that is so much brighter than the darkness in your brothers life. Keep breathing in God’s name. Keep praying that the light and love of Christ will cover your family at this time. God is “close to the brokenhearted.”
mary mann says
Sharing. . . Not sure I’m there yet. Still trying to wrap my head around it myself. Perhaps it is in the way I talk to my granddaughter about her mother and how beautiful she was. Or remind her that God and mommy are watching and with her every step of the way. Sometimes I have say it to myself. Think I’ll be buying your book.
In your note, i hear the voice of a very beautiful mother and grandmother. I don’t know your whole story, but I sense you are grieving the loss of your daughter. I’m so sorry.
As you share your time and treasured memories with your granddaughter, the intense love of God will be with you. He will hold you in the palm of his hand.
I will be praying for you.
Beth Williams says
I’m trying to be intentional about showing His love to everyone. When my job changed last fall I got angry & upset. Lately God has been showing me how to pray about it & for everyone at the office.
I am called to treasure the love of God in my heart, letting beauty and grace flow from it’s presence there. As the mother of one small baby my corner of the world can feel insignificant, yet I cling to the truth that the world needs beautiful words and grace offered to strangers, that a kind smile can make a difference.
Sometimes a shared smile from a stranger can alter the course of someone’s day!
Keep smiling Cynthia!
Jessica Mumford says
I have been called to share God’s intense love to our two children we are adopting from Ethiopia! God adopted all of us into His family and loves us more than we can fathom.
Michelle Montano says
My mother died when I was five and I was raised by my father, and for a while by my stepmother. My put clothes on our backs, food in our mouths, and a roof over our heads. He took us on road trips every year and camping our whole lives, but we did not have a relationship with him. He was/is a very negative person who speaks darkness before he speaks light. It has taken me 27 years to realize how much his negativity has rubbed off on me and how poisonous it is. I am in the process of unlearning all of the negative attitudes and thought patterns and it is the most difficult to do. And the worst thing about it is that he is feeding the same poison to my 14 year old nephew whom he is raising. I have tried talking to him about his words and his ways and he will not listen. So, I keep him and my nephew in prayer and allow God to do his work.