It's rare. It's uplifting. It's inspirational.
There's something unique and something memorable about meeting a person who is absolutely certain of their path in life, a person who exudes an uncommon comfort with themselves and their place in the world. So, this being the season for inspiration, I put in a call to Sister Miriam James Heidland, just to get a reminder of what commitment can mean.
"It's a very beautiful life," Sister Miriam said of her vocation with the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. "It's a life of witness; it's a life of sacrifice; it has a purpose. It's a lifelong, eternal commitment to Christ as his bride. It's a complete and total commitment to Jesus."
Now, you might think that sounds a little nutty. I might think it sounds a little nutty. Heck, not all that long ago, Sister Miriam would have thought it was a little nutty.
You see, Sister Miriam James Heidland used to be Sharon Heidland. She graduated from Woodland High School and went on to be a scholarship volleyball player at the University of Nevada, which competes at the highest level of college athletics. There were boyfriends and there were parties and there was the life of a typical college student. But, to hear Sister Miriam tell it, there also was a profound emptiness.
"I thank God that I don't live the life I used to live — destructive," Heidland said. "Like many people, my idea of success was being famous and having a glamorous life. But by the time I was 21, I was already an alcoholic; I was broken; I was longing for more."
She found it in religious life. Upon graduating with a degree in communications, Heidland chose a life of service and sacrifice. She became an aspirant, took her first vows in 2002 and took her final vows in 2007.
I first met Heidland in 2003, when I wrote a story about how her remarkable career path had led to her coaching volleyball and sharing the Gospel in Dunseith, N.D. I wrote a follow-up a few years later, while she was spending eight years doing God's work at a parish in Seattle. So, when I ran into her a few weeks ago in Vancouver, I thought it was time for an update and made plans to call her.
Sister Miriam is 37, living and working at Christ the King parish in Corpus Christi, Texas. She shares a house with three other Sisters, waking at 6 each morning for Holy Hour followed by Mass. She works as a teacher's aide at the parish school, shares evening prayer and dinner with her housemates, then meditates and peruses Bible readings to prepare for the following day. In the meantime, she's working toward a Master's degree in theology.
Spreading the word
Perhaps most important, Sister Miriam spends much of her time traveling the country for speaking engagements. Being a young, 6-foot-1 Roman Catholic nun is an effective way to draw attention to the word of God.
"There's something about a religious sister," Sister Miriam said. "It does bring hope to people; people come to you and ask for prayer — or share stories. We have moments on earth where we wish this moment would never end. That's a small appetizer of what heaven is."
And still, there are those in our secular society who have difficulty understanding the choices Heidland has made.
"I think the No. 1 comment people used to say is, 'You're wasting your life; you're throwing your life away,'" she said. Or, as she told me years ago: "The two questions my mom gets are, 'Did she ever have a boyfriend?' and 'Why would she want to waste her life?'" Agnes Heidland's reaction at the time: "We were created for one thing — to know and to love and to serve God."
But Heidland's path isn't solely about religion. It's about service and sacrifice. It's about recognizing that there are more important things in this world than our own little cocoons. Those are attributes that can extend to any of life's callings, be it teaching or business or, yes, even journalism. And they are attributes that are inspirational wherever you can find them.