“Maybe what you’re looking for in all these other things, maybe you’ll find it in Jesus Christ.”
These words pierced my heart like a sword as I sat before the beloved priest who delivered this message with intensity and invitation.
I knew he was right, and God used that one simple sentence to convict me of my deepest desires and reveal my call to become the bride of Christ as a religious sister. Authentic love changed the course of my life and continues to do so to this very day.
Like many of us, I grew up Catholic and my family went to Mass every Sunday. My mom and dad were faithful Catholics, and my brother and I received the sacraments and spent our early years at CCD, parish picnics, and coffee and doughnuts after Mass.
But for all the time I spent in church, I had never fallen in love with God, nor did I ever have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ as the living Lord who seeks us, knows us, heals us and desires to become one with us.
I did, however, fall in love with sports and school and other things that quickly overshadowed any attachment I had to God or to an understanding of who I truly was in his sight.
I also had sustained massive trauma in my life by the time I was 13 and my interior life shattered in secret as I carried on with what appeared to be a “normal” life.
When I was a senior in high school, I was offered a full scholarship to play volleyball at a Division I university near the West Coast and I signed that scholarship thinking that all of my dreams were about to come true and that, at last, I could live however I wanted to and be happy.
I had aspirations of working for ESPN or some other high-powered career and finally “making it” in the world. The reality, though, was quite different.
While sports and school were going reasonably well, my personal and spiritual life were catastrophically crumbling. My mom and dad were not around to make sure I attended Mass so I stopped going regularly.
I had no roots to ground me in the endless choices that university life presented and my moral life continued to fracture; this was revealed in my addictions and brokenness that surged overwhelmingly to the surface of my life.
Time after time as my faux freedom brought me bitter suffering, I wondered if there was more to life than the small, shallow world in which I had found myself. I was looking for love and wholeness. I wanted contentment and peace. I wanted to live a life that truly mattered.
Right in the middle of it all, God deeply intervened into my life in the form of a beloved priest and the desperate prayers of my mother. The priest that God sent into my life was a man who was holy, wise, radiant and captivatingly in love with Jesus Christ.
I had never been in the presence of someone who loved so deeply and who transmitted God’s mercy and power so palpably. I remember being 21 years old, addicted and broken, and yet desiring such excellence and greatness, and thirsting for the authentic life with Jesus that priest emanated from his very presence.
During this same time, my mother had expressed her deep disappointment in the life that I was living and had financially cut me off and threatened to disown me.
Undeterred by her dismay, I continued down the path upon which I was headed. When my dad finally mentioned to her the depth of his own sorrow over my life, my mom’s heart finally broke completely.
In the basement of our house, we have a beautiful statue of Mary and that night my mom knelt before her in tears. My sorrowful mother entrusted me to Our Lady and gave me away to the mother of Jesus to be her daughter.
As a final and continual reminder of that encounter, my mom began to fast and pray that one day I would become a nun. And here I am.
I entered the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) in 1998 after the words of that beloved priest pierced my heart and I heard Jesus call me to be his bride. My mother’s tears and prayers were efficacious in breaking my heart open just enough to hear the voice of God.
Authentic love and grace saved me at that time and I know it will never end! These past 20 years with Christ have been the most incredible years of my life to date. I have laughed, I have cried, I have been broken and I have risen again in him.
The healing and restoration that Jesus has done in my life from addiction, abuse and trauma has been remarkable and it is an ongoing journey of honesty, hope and redemption. I am beyond grateful. God is so beautiful. He never leaves us nor forsakes us.
I believe in the power of authentic love. I believe in the healing and restorative mercy of God. I believe that the most powerful gospel we will ever preach is how we live our daily lives. Your life matters. Your story matters. You matter. Where is God revealing his love to you today?
— By Sister Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, Catholic News Service
Sister Miriam James Heidland is a former Division I athlete who joined the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity in 1998. She holds a master’s degree in theology from the Augustine Institute. Sister Miriam’s podcast, “Abiding Together,” can be found on iTunes and she is the author of the book “Loved as I Am.” She tweets at @onegroovynun.