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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