Sister shares heartbreaking story to lead youths closer to God

IMAGE: CNS photo/Natalie Hoefer, The Criterion

By John Shaughnessy

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — It wasn’t the story that the 20,000
Catholic youths were expecting to hear from a religious sister.

And the
audience of young people inside Lucas Oil Stadium on the morning of Nov. 17
became more quiet and riveted as Sister Miriam James Heidland shared the hard,
heartbreaking chapters of her life story.

told participants at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis that
she was sexually assaulted when she was 11. She began drinking alcohol on her
12th birthday. She was raped when she was 13 and she was an alcoholic by the
age of 21.

woke up one morning when I was 21, and I remembered two things,” recalled
Sister Miriam, a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. “Number
one, I remembered what I had done the night before, and it was awful. Secondly,
I remember something that was so much deeper in the area of shame.

remembered I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to do that anymore. At
that moment, I realized I couldn’t stop, that I was sick. I crawled up in a
ball on the floor of my room in college, and I just wished for death. And I
didn’t know what to do.”

did, she told the crowd of young people.

started sending people into my life to speak the truth to me,” she said as
walked across the stage set up in the middle of the stadium floor.

One of
the people God sent to her was a priest who challenged her to change her life.

would say, ‘You’re called for more. What are you doing with your life? I know
you want more. You have a great destiny for your life. Have you thought about
saying ‘yes’ to it?’

man loved Christ, and he let Christ try to re-form him to the core of his
being. And one of the reasons I’m here before you is because of the power of
one person who said ‘yes’ to Christ. And how often do you and I think we can’t
make a difference? But your ‘yes’ matters. Your life matters. When you say ‘yes,’
the world is changed.”

So has
the life of Sister Miriam.

been sober for many years now, through a lot of people’s love for me and a lot
of grace,” she said, adding that wherever young people in the audience are
today: “It’s not the end of the story. Jesus is already waiting for you.
He’s waiting for you in the areas that are incredibly painful for you. He’s
waiting for you in the areas of your deepest dreams and your deepest desires.”

also told the story of two choices that continue to define her life.

biological parents were high school students, 17 years old, obviously not
married,” she said.  “To this
day, I’ve never seen her face, but I have a deep intuition that at one point my
mother thought of aborting me, but she didn’t. And I stand here before you
today because a scared 17-year-old girl said ‘yes’ to life and to the child in
her womb.”

there was the choice of the couple who became her mother and father when they
adopted her.

of the first pictures my parents have of me was at Christmas time. My mom put
me under the Christmas tree and said I was the gift to the family that year.”

told the audience that God also offers people the gift of his love.

don’t understand his heart for us. We don’t understand his love for us,”
she said, emphasizing that “God longs to heal you because you are made for
more. He looks at you, and he just loves you.”

has no other ulterior motive,” she told the youths, “than for you to
share in his own beautiful life.”

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is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of

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