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.
What does a perfect life look like?
When I ponder this question, thoughts of Sarah come to mind.
She was born on a snowy Minnesota evening, over two decades ago. She was our first, a beautiful newborn with auburn hair and a dimpled smile. But within an hour of her birth, the doctors began gathering around my bedside. We believe your baby has Down’s syndrome…
Questions, all of them unanswerable, filled me. Why this baby? Why our family? What did the future hold? I had prayed for a healthy child. Now, it was clear that her disability was non-negotiable.
But as the first months and years of her life passed, I fell in love with this amazing child. As an infant she smiled, always. She never went through her terrible twos, threes, and fours. She was too busy defying her disability, grinning widely as she slowly learned to walk, talk, sing, and dance.
Sarah loved fairy tales; all the timeworn stories of princesses and true love. One afternoon, I was reading her Snow White, along with her two younger sisters. With a crown on her head, Sarah pointed to a picture of a regal princess in a sparkling gown.
“Mom…That’s…that’s….mmme,” she stuttered. She got up and began dancing around the room. “I’m…I’m…loved.”
I never was sure if it was Sarah’s disability or her innate goodness that rendered her incapable of bitterness or resentment. Yes, she was vulnerable, unable to defend herself in a world that was often cruel. Nonetheless, her life was a song of kindness, one that she taught all of us to sing.
As Sarah moved into her teenage years, she began penning her thoughts on the inside covers of her fairy tale books. Each afternoon, she would write at her desk wearing a tiara and dress up gown.
Sometimes, as I passed by her room with a laundry basket, I would take a peek at her misspelled messages: My nme is prncess Sarah. God livs in my hart. Someday my prnce wll come.
One day, she wrote, I have a pirfect life. I patted her on the back and went back to my work, grinning.
During her twenty-three years on earth, Sarah never once lamented about what she couldn’t do. Instead, she read love stories. She wrote beautiful messages. She dressed up on ordinary afternoons. She danced. She smiled. She treasured each of her days.
Were there times when her disability was hard on me? Did I have moments when I wished everything was different? Of course.
But now that she is safe in God’s arms, I can’t recall the hard days.
In the world’s eyes, Sarah’s life was far from perfect. She bore the slanted eyes and low muscle tone of a Down-syndrome child. She functioned at the level of a first grader. She wasn’t wealthy, powerful, or famous.
But Sarah’s disabilities did not define her. On the contrary, she saw herself as royalty. The Lord of true love lived in her heart. His light shimmered from her eyes and radiated from the irrepressible joy she shared. She was a princess, God’s beloved.
These days, I love to remember Sarah wearing her crown—and think of myself wearing one too, as she taught me. We are all princes and princesses. We need not be perfect to win the affection of our heavenly King. Even if we are disabled by many fears and failings, we cannot be stripped of our royal identity.
So today, put on your crown.
Defy your disabilities and dance for joy.
Your pirfect life is waiting to be lived.
By Nancy Jo, NancyJoSullivan.com
Giveaway: To enter to win a copy of Small Mercies, answer, Who has led you to the Lord of true love?
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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