Jenny, at Mama Needs Coffee, is hosting a link-up of personal stories relating to Saint John Paul II while she is in Rome for the canonization. I knew as soon as I saw this link up that I had to write his story, my story, our story of how a man I never knew gave me hope. Here goes!
My first memories of John Paul II are of family members talking about him being too old and needing to "retire." I somewhat agreed with them because every time they showed him on t.v. he looked old, like really old. When I was a sophomore in college I started attending the Catholic Newman Center on campus and was introduced to the book The Good News About Sex and Marriage. It's a laymen's guide to Theology of the Body which was written by John Paul himself. Theology of the Body is actually based on a series of talks the Pope gave in Rome to open audiences on the beauty and mystery of sex. I was shocked when I read these finds! Not only were they revolutionary, they were coming from a celibate pope! I had grown up Catholic and always been told things like "no sex before marriage" and "no birth control," but I had never been told the "why" behind any of that. John Paul II's teachings on this subject changed how I viewed relationships, myself, and others. Needless to say I started paying a little more attention to this "old" Pope.
But then he died. I don't remember feeling overly sad but just somewhat scared like who will lead us now? I had come to see JP II as a grandfather figure guiding the Catholic Church. As the years went on I became a FOCUS missionary where we read and studied many of the writings of JPII. I learned so much about this man through his teachings and felt like he was guiding me in so many aspects of my life. JP II loved the young people and he spent so much of his pontificate reaching out the young. His New Evangelization inspired me and changed the way I saw myself in the big scheme of life. When Nathan and I began dating we entrusted our courtship to JPII knowing that if anyone could help lead us to our vocation it would be him.
Once we were married we continued to pray to JP II for guidance and we kept a picture of him on our nightstand. During lent of 2011 Nathan said it had been on his heart to read more about JP II's life in his biography, Witness to Hope. I reluctantly agreed ( I was 7 months pregnant and working full time and TIRED and the book is LONG!) with the exception that I would listen to it on tape instead of read it. Each day on my drive to work I would listen to more and more about this boy from Poland and what his life was like. I was continuously shocked at how hard his life was-his sister dies as a baby, mom dies, brother dies, Nazis invade Poland and he become a refugee, his dad dies, he gets run over by a car driven by the Nazis, then Communist take over Poland once the Nazis leave, as Pope he has an assassination attempt on his life , and then suffers physically from Parkinson's during his last years on Earth. Through it all he remained not only faithful but hopeful! He was a witness to hope is there ever were one. We continued on with reading his biography all the way towards the end of lent. We had no idea then what a foreshadowing his life would be for the trial we were about to face.
The week before Easter and 10 days before my due date we found out that our first child whom I was carrying did not have a heartbeat. As we packed our things to head to the hospital for the most horrific birth we could imagine-a stillborn baby-we packed JP II's picture with us and moaned out a prayer to John Paul to please, just help us, please. When we showed up to the hospital we had to wait for the elevators. As I glanced up I saw this picture:
Its of JP II standing with arms wide open against the backdrop of death?demons? Not sure, but I felt instant peace and even smiled. The name of the painting- "Threshold of Hope!"Everything was going to be alright because John Paul was here. I instantly thought of everything he went through in his life and how he continued to hold out hope. I knew that if he could do it, we could do it. The cross we had been handed was big but we were not alone. John Paul was with us and his words of "Be Not Afraid," rang constantly in my mind as we checked into the hospital.
His picture spent the next 3 days in the hospital room while we labored and then delivered our firstborn son.
It then traveled with us to our son's funeral.
John Paul was with us in our darkest trial and he continues to be with us today. I often repeat the phrase he so often proclaimed, "we are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song," over and over in my heart when grief overcomes me. He is a witness to hope if there ever was one. He has taught me how to have hope even in the face of death. John Paul II, we love you and will celebrate as you become the saint you were always meant to be.
Saint John Paul II-Pray for us!!!!!