Nancy Sullivan is a mom whose faith was strengthened in a way she likely never would have imagined.

As a mom, Sullivan learned plenty of faith lessons along the way, but it was the true story of everlasting love that transformed her life.

That love came from her daughter, Sarah, who was born with Down syndrome.

Sullivan, a speaker and author, shared her story at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church in Redwood Falls as part of the annual New Ulm Diocese Council of Catholic Women convention.

“My Sarah was God’s princess,” said Sullivan.

When Sarah was born the fact that she was born with Down syndrome was not immediately apparent, but when several doctors carrying clipboards walked into Sullivan’s room in the hospital maternity ward she knew something was not quite right.

The family was then told their child had shown tendencies that would lead them to believe she had Down syndrome.

“I remember praying to God and saying ‘God, I believe you have the wrong family,’” said Sullivan, adding she reminded God how often she prayed for her child that it would be happy and healthy. “Then an extraordinary thing happened. I could hear God say to me ‘this child is a gift.’”

The Sullivan family took their child home, and Sullivan said her life as a mom began.

“Sarah smiled all of the time,” said Sullivan, adding her joy spread throughout their home. “There were no terrible twos for us. She was our child who walked, talked, sang, danced and played baseball. Sarah loved fairy tales, and she knew she was God’s princess, a child of the king.”

Sullivan said Sarah knew her mission during the years she lived on this earth, as she shared the light of God to others.

Sullivan recalled a time when her Sarah wrote that she had the perfect life. While what she wrote was not all spelled correctly, what Sarah knew and those who met her learned is that you don’t have to be perfect to have a perfect life.

Sullivan said that perfect life comes in understanding who you are as a child of God and, even though life is beautifully imperfect, how you live each day in it is a reflection of what you believe to be true.

Yes, admitted Sullivan, life was not always easy as the mother of a child with Down syndrome, but when she thinks of Sarah today it is not the hard times she remembers.

Rather she recalls her smile, the times she would come in her bedroom at 5:30 a.m. and wake her up to tell her “life is waiting” and the fact that her life demonstrated God’s love to those who met her. 

Sullivan said she learned many lessons from the time she was able to be Sarah’s mom, adding she learned the blessing of a genuine smile, the value of being a good listener, the importance of making eye contact when talking to people and the necessity of forgiveness.

“Sarah, at times, broke the rules,” said Sullivan. “She had weight issues, and her weakness was Swiss Cake Rolls.”

There were times when Sarah would sneak out in the middle of the night, and Sullivan said she could hear the sound of cellophane. When she was found out, Sarah would always ask “Mom, can you ever forgive me?”

“Forgiveness is non-negotiable,” said Sullivan. “There is no place in the Kingdom of God for resentment, because it keeps you from singing and dancing.”

Sullivan said Sarah wore a crown pretty much every day of her life, adding when people found out how much she loved crowns they became a frequent gift.

“Every person is royalty, because you have a high place in God’s eyes,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan said her daughter Sarah was taken from their family far too soon, but she knows now Sarah is enjoying her time with God and wearing the crown he gave her.

“God has a crown for all of us, because each of us is a son or daughter of a great king,” said Sullivan, adding each of us should be like Sarah and hold our head high because we know who we are in the eyes of God. “Wear your crown proudly.”