I’m delighted to introduce a new member of my “sheros” group–Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Her memoir, My Beloved World, tells of growing up in a supportive Puerto Rican immigrant family in the Bronx and the unplanned but inspired path that eventually lead to her appointment to the Supreme Court.

Diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at seven years old, Sonia’s strength of character and commitment to community service were forged through early adversity–including her illness, the death of her alcoholic father and childhood encounters with racism and social inequity. She faced her challenges with realism, empathy and intuitive common sense. In my lingo, she lived from within, listened to her inner wisdom and respectfully considered other people’s views but didn’t let them define her.

Among the many bits of wisdom gleaned thus far, this statement about the importance of mentors strikes home. She writes,

When a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become–whether lawyer, scientist, artist, or leader in any realm–her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than an inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have have every reason to doubt, saying “Yes, someone like me can do this.” (My Beloved World, p. 178)

But their presence alone is not enough. Sonia also learned from an early age to ask for help. Having been a good, but not outstanding student, Sonia determined as a fifth grader that she wanted to be at the top of the class. She asked one of the top students, not a close friend but someone she admired, to help her learn how to study. That tenacious pursuit of learning from others would follow her throughout her academic career and pave the way for her professional success.

Joan Borysenko became a mentor to me long before I ever met her in person. The author of a NY Times bestseller and 13 other books, Joan is a pioneer in mind-body medicine. I discovered her work on female psycho-social-spiritual development, A Women’s Book of Life, while perusing the shelves of a used book store.  That lead me to A Women’s Journey to God and many other books. By the time I met Joan in person at a book signing, I was an avid follower and student of her work. She was a living inspiration of my commitment to integrate a bio-psycho-social-spiritual understanding of female development within a Christ-centered perspective.

A year later I enrolled in her spiritual mentor training program, pursuing that more direct influence that Sonia writes about.  As the program drew to a close I asked Joan if she would continue to mentor me in some informal way. I didn’t know what that meant or what it would look like, but I knew I wanted an on-going relationship. I faced my fear of rejection and asked. She said she didn’t know what it might look like either, but that one way or another, we’d be in each other’s lives and she’d be delighted to see what unfolded as we moved forward.

Five years of shared meals, phone calls, walks in the dessert and getting lost wandering around various convention centers, Joan’s presence as friend, mentor and soul sister has been an important “Yes” to my vocation, especially when things don’t materialize the way I expect.

Jesus’ teaching about prayer conveys perennial wisdom applicable to mentoring: “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” Not everyone I’ve sought out for support has been as responsive as Joan. But perhaps if some of those connections had solidified, I wouldn’t have kept searching, and never connected with Joan. Like prayer itself, we ask not knowing the outcome, but trusting that in the care of a providential God, our needs will be met one way or another.

Who are your sheros, either remote or proximate?

Who are your mentors? Who have you extended yourself to as a mentor?

Is there someone you want to be mentored by but are afraid to ask?

What will you do today to open your heart and be the remarkable woman or man you are?