Notre Dame Cathedral, my Son-in-law, and cheating death

For everyone who saw the alarming images, and heard the dramatic story of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral in flames on April 15, 2019, there exists an opinion, a personal reflection, or a takeaway lesson.

I’m glad. It means we’re thinking.

We’re contemplating what’s important to us. We’re pondering the timing of the fire coinciding with the Monday of Holy Week. We’re reflecting about what is a treasure, and what is irreplaceable. And we’re thinking about what this particular building means to us, to France, and to the world.

The spire collapsed, as did the roof, but all the statues were removed a week before the fire, to protect them during the restoration process. Photo credit:

First of all, Notre Dame is Our Lady. Our Mother. The Holy Mother! She is the Queen of the Universe! She literally birthed the inspiration for western civilization, Jesus Christ, the Son of God! Our Lady is the number one example of faithfulness for us all. She watched her beloved Son suffer and die on a cruel cross. And she was on the scene to know He had risen as He said. This building, and all of France, is dedicated to her name.

Secondly, this fire draws all eyes to a building dedicated to Our Lady, at the time of year when all people are invited to reflect on our sinful natures, and return to God through Jesus.

Jesus, who enters triumphantly into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and is condemned to death a few days later, deeply loves His Mother on this earth, as He surely honors her in Heaven. She has lots of kids — all of us — the human race. I believe she is intent on seeing us rise from the ashes of sin, and turn to her Son. As any good mother naturally protects and guides her children, and wants the best for them, Notre Dame wants the same for us.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France. Photo credit:

I have not had the privilege of visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral, but I hear that inside, it’s luminous. The light coming through the stained glass windows into the massive stone structure gives an overwhelming sense of transcendence. Visitors are surprised to tears by the heavenly beauty of the place.

I like to think that once we enter into the heart of Mary, Our Lady, we see much light, we see a glimmer Heaven, we understand beauty a bit more. We get a sense of the purposefulness of suffering, and also the value of life.

Which takes me to one year ago today, and an early morning phone call from my daughter in Nebraska.

“Mom, Will coded on the living room floor. He just got taken by ambulance to the Heart Hospital, and I’m scared!” Will has a congenital heart defect, and his replacement valve fails that morning. He needs a new valve to save his life.

My first response is to listen, and then to pray. And then to ask family to pray. Then I drop everything and fly to her. She needs prayer, and to not be alone. Nebraska is the home state of her 30-year young, singer-songwriter husband’s family, and they gather, and care, and worry, and serve, and pray in their own way. She needs someone who will help her do it her way. She needs her Mom. Plus, I can spend time caring for my beautiful toddler granddaughter. It’s not all bad.

If you’ve any experience with heart emergencies, they stabilize the patient by slowly dropping the body temperature to near freezing, and then bring it back up to normal, which takes two full days. Then they wake up the patient and look for positive signs of life. As my son-in-law comes to, he knows who he is, and seems to have some idea of where he is, but then he codes again, twice! The cardiac team rushes him into surgery, hooks up the heart-lung machine, and sets to work to restore his life.

Every action taken for Will is thoughtful, deliberate, and meant to heal and restore. The nursing staff tells us that the heart surgeon is an artist, which gives us comfort when we learn that he’s rejecting the just-installed mechanical valve which he decides doesn’t fit beautifully. He starts again with a tissue valve, lengthening the surgery, but promising a better and longer-lasting outcome for Will.

I admit the unthinkable flashed across my mind. I told the Lord that losing my son-in-law would not be good for my daughter. In the same way, the total loss of Notre Dame Cathedral would not be good for France and the world.

So today, I’m contemplating how precious and invaluable both are. And I’m also thinking about how easy it is to go along in life, surrounded by what matters, but never giving it much thought, until it appears we might have to say goodbye forever.

His healing and rehabilitation now complete, Will takes every opportunity to appreciate life, to savor the simple moments, to love his wife and daughter, and to write songs that make people cry, especially his mother-in-law.

I see a rebirth and healing surrounding Notre Dame Cathedral. Many pledges of help are arriving from all over the world. No lives were lost in the fire. Irreplaceable relics are saved, including the Crown of Thorns. Holy Week will be holy! Roused to action, the people of Paris will celebrate Easter, and rebirth, in a new and beautiful way which they will never forget.

May our thoughts turn to gratitude. May we all rise from ashes in our own way, leading us to contemplate anew the treasure that surrounds us every day. May we think about the Resurrection, and how we have access to that amazing power of overcoming difficult times. Thinking is good. Let’s do more of it.

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