by Brianna Wheeler
Between receiving her master’s degree at Hollins University in 2002 and starting on her doctorate at the University of Utah in 2004, Sheets spent time with the Peace Corps in the Republic of Moldova.
“If you don’t know what to do with your life, the Peace Corps’s pretty good,” Sheets said. “It’s not a bad life choice. It’s a great way to get out of the country.”
While she was there she was the only native English speaker in the language department.
“I felt kind of like a rock star because everyone wanted to talk to me,” Sheets said. “I was kind of a curiosity, like their pet American.”
Sheets said the people were very kind to her in general.
“People without much disposable income were very generous to me,” she said.
She recounted how her guitar teacher brought her a lilac branch one day as a gift, and how another woman lent her a coat because the woman knew Sheets didn’t have anything yet for when it got cold.
Her host mother even offered to allow Sheets to build a hut in her garden if she ever wanted to move back.
“It is always good to have options,” Sheets said.
She first came west during her years as an undergraduate at West Virginia University with Campus Crusades for Christ as a summer project in Yellowstone. Sheets said she learned a lot on that trip aside from a love for the West. Her first experience leading a Bible study made her come to the realization that she was good at teaching. However, it was also a turning point in her faith.
“That’s when I figured out I was not an evangelical Christian,” Sheets said. “It’s been an amicable break-up. I experienced a lot of love there and I still try to make my yearly showing.”
Of course, that is not to say she ceased being a Christian. After a lot of searching she has been attending Episcopal services for the past ten years.
“Maybe it’s just the writer in me that is drawn to the Episcopal Church,” Sheets said. “There is a lot of the Bible read and there’s just a lot of words. It is really beautiful.”
She said she has come to realize the aesthetics of the service matter to her, and it isn’t shallow to value them. More than that, she said she finds the open invitation to communion has beautiful implications.
“If they are seeking God enough to want to take communion,” Sheets said, “the table is open to everyone, which I’m still trying to get my head around. I like it.”
She also said it was hard in her past church for women to take any sort of leadership. Some even worried about teaching Sunday school for the older children because of tensions over the idea of women in power over men.
“In my church, women couldn’t even take offering, or wear pants,” Sheets said. “I really like having lady priests. It seems odd to me that gender would be the deciding factor in who gets to serve the church.”
Sheets said she is still searching, still questioning. When she came to Whitworth, she said she was glad to find it to be a place where that was OK. Whitworth first came on her radar when a writer friend sent her the job ad.
“It was kind of like dating. I liked their ad and they liked my initial materials so we wanted to see more. So there was a Skype interview and then a campus visit,” Sheets said. “I was interested in the variety of courses. I was also impressed that writing was such a priority in this department.”
She likes to teach a variety of classes and levels.
“I like meeting the freshmen, in Writing I, who are new to college, and I also like working with writers at the 300 and 400 level who’ve been writing for some time,“ Sheets said. “The nonfiction workshop is the closest to what I do in my own writing, so I guess if I have to pick, that is probably my favorite.”
Today, along with her teaching and research, Sheets has begun trying to publish her dissertation, a collection of personal essays. She said she has only sent out a couple copies and received one rejection but she takes it in stride.
“A personal rejection is almost like an acceptance, because a real humanoid read it,” Sheets said.
Sheets said she is interested in travel writing and spiritual writing and has been blogging for a women’s travel writing site (wanderlustandlipstick.com) as WanderChic.
“It’s supposed to be about travel and style,” Sheets said.
However, she said she usually just writes what she likes and it works out pretty well since her attention span holds for roughly the length of a blog post anyway. Her last post, after a visit to Las Vegas, was on pinball.
Sheets says in her own writing she tends to get really drawn into the details of what she is working on.
Contact Brianna Wheeler at email@example.com.