Notre Dame de Paris and Legacies at Easter

Notre Dame de Paris and  Legacies at Easter

Photo by Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash

On Monday, April 15, when the very first sparks caught deep in the forest of Notre Dame Cathedral’s 800-year old oak beams, my husband and I were singing the closing hymn, “On Eagle’s Wings,” at the funeral of a beloved man. His name was Jim, and he was the father of one of our dearest friends.

The church was packed, full of people whose lives had been touched by this husband of 51 years, father of 4, grandfather of 11, friend to hundreds, and volunteer whose time and contributions touched the lives of thousands through a long list of organizations within his community.

During the homily, the priest told a story about visiting the grave of Christopher Wren (1632-1723), the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the first person entombed within it. Wren’s gravestone reads, in Latin: “Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you.”

Wren’s monument was the entire building. Spectacular, of course, but buildings do fall down.

Jim’s legacy is one of love and connection. It is a baton that has been passed on – and will be – for generations to come.

I was so grateful for the priest’s reminder as I drove home, thinking about people I love – people very close to me – who are currently suffering. Some have been fighting health battles for months with no end in sight. Others are dealing with very emotional issues – facing new realities, changed expectations, and daunting unknowns.

Like a devastating fire, suffering leaves marks on us and changes the way we move forward in our lives.

The temptation is to believe that a happy ending requires that we – like Notre Dame – be restored to some version of a former glory.

We think that with enough rest, medicine, good food, positive words, and advice from experts and well-meaning friends we can shore up our mental and physical strength and proceed as if nothing ever happened.

But what if we’re not supposed to? What if suffering – in all its forms – has a larger purpose?

What if it is supposed to change us forever?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction….” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Our suffering is allowed so that we might be brought closer to God’s face and then, in turn, use our experience to boost others on their journeys.

We are to pass the baton of Love.

So Jim’s life becomes a message of hope to us, just as Jesus’s resurrection – which we celebrate this weekend on Easter – is the tangible sign that with God, even death is not an end but an entryway.

Perhaps the Cathedral of Notre Dame will be rebuilt, but it can never be the same. The story must go on and be fashioned anew.

On Monday, we sat with our grieving friends and remembered that Jim was a man who gave generously of himself. He was beloved, because humans are attracted to the image of God reflected in a kind person.

Easter is coming. Suffering will end.

May Love be our guide to build legacies that last.

Rock Steady Dad

Rock Steady Dad

It was like I had been kicked in the gut by a World Cup player. My abdomen was screaming and I couldn’t turn in any direction.

I felt cold (why are hospitals always cold?), and must have mentioned it to someone in the room, because the 49-year old man at the end of the bed was gently putting socks on my feet and tucking blankets around my legs while telling me a story in his soft bass voice – that one voice that always soothed me more than any other.

I don’t know what he was talking about, exactly. My eyes were growing heavy. But I was faintly aware of a smile on my face.

“Jim – I don’t think she’s following you,” said my mom.

“That’s ok,” said Dad, looking away from me for just long enough to give Mom a grin and a nod. He continued in a lilting sing-song way. “It’s not the words that I say that matter. I’ll go on talking like this for as long as I need to.”

It was January 1995 and I was lying in New York University Hospital after an emergency appendectomy. I was 22 years old, 8 months out of college, and living in New York City when I was gripped with acute stomach pain that mystified doctors for three days because I failed to have the normal appendicitis symptoms. (That’s a whole ‘nother story. Since NYU is a learning hospital, let’s just say we all still wonder if they’re keeping my appendix in a jar somewhere, filed under ‘bizarre cases.’)

My folks had been divorced for more than a decade. Mom had driven 100 mph from Philadelphia the day before and Dad came up by train from Washington, D.C. that morning when I was in surgery. I will always be grateful that after their divorce they could come together gracefully whenever necessary for the sake of my sister and me.

I can count on my dad to be a voice of calm when I’m upset, fearful, or hurting. He is like a shelter in the storm – a steady presence who knows that a willingness to listen and sympathize is most often the first thing people need to make it through a tough time.

Dad and me. New Orleans, 1991.
Dad and me. New Orleans, 1991.

He’s ready to serve – ready to help – and in the most self-effacing kind of way. He’ll happily do whatever is needed for whomever asks. I’ve seen him spend hours patiently fixing broken appliances, detangling necklaces, and running small errands because he knows it will make life easier for the family he loves. He doesn’t need the flashy job that would garner applause from others; he’ll do the one that’s most necessary, no matter how unglamorous it is. And he’ll do it with a grateful, loving heart.

And that’s really the point of this post.

Today is my dad’s 70th birthday. I knew it was his birthday when I woke up this morning. I mailed his gift to Texas earlier this week, and I plan to talk with him today. But he isn’t a guy who demands attention in any sort of way. He’d never in a million years ask you to throw him a party. And we’ll hopefully be getting together in the next couple months.

So – to be totally honest, I forgot this birthday was a milestone.

70 years. Seventy decades of being the rock that so many people who love him rely on, and KNOW they can rely on because he is the most dependable, good-hearted guy around. The kind of guy who deserves a standing ovation, and is probably the least likely to get one.

Dad – today I just want to thank you. For being the father I could always count on. For being there. For doing what was necessary, whenever necessary, for me. For being someone who loves without limits. May your reward in heaven be spectacular, because God knows we all fall short of loving you enough here on earth.

Scene from a Ballpark

Scene from a Ballpark

Orioles' Adam Jones - 2nd Image by Keith Allison - Creative Commons
Orioles’ Adam Jones – 2nd Image by Keith Allison – Creative Commons

The father and son walked a bit ahead of me as we exited Camden Yards on the second night in August. At first I didn’t realize they were together, because the father was white and the son was black. But then I saw their hands.

They were holding hands. To stay together in the crowd.

This wouldn’t have been notable, except that the son was about 13. I know because I have a son that age who is also nearly as tall as me.

As I got closer, I expected to hear a conversation I’d hear in my own house, but it wasn’t like that at all.

This boy was slurring his speech, and when he turned his head, I could see that it took effort for him to form words. But he was joyful in his attempts. And he was saying hello to every person who passed him.

A few returned his greeting.

Most glanced in his direction and then moved away.

Then one man struck up a brief conversation with him, asking him if he’d enjoyed the game.

My heart gave thanks for this generous soul, because the moment he engaged the boy, both he and his father turned toward the man and gave huge welcoming smiles.

The boy named a couple things he’d liked – the four home runs, cotton candy – and then something he didn’t. And the banter that ensued was typical Northeast stuff – a repartee of “no-way-c’mon-yeah right-don’t gimme that.” And for a bright moment, the boy was not “special needs.” He was just a kid at the ballpark with his dad.

Valuing a person means recognizing the sacred within – the holy that comes from beyond the boundaries of time, space, body, gender, race, or ability. Thank God for those who know true beauty when they see it.

A Good Time to Thank a Husband

image
DC Metro (fisheye) by ChrisDag https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisdag/

The 10 a.m. Metro train had just pulled out of New Carrollton station and my friend Marcia* and I – stay-at-home moms – were standing in the aisle, holding on tight to our kids – 7 total between the two of us. On this temperate July day in 2010, we had decided to take them into DC to the Hirshhorn Museum. My husband was already at work in the district, and hers was in Eastern Europe on business.

Initially, I didn’t give it much thought when Marcia’s phone rang. But I could soon tell from the lilt and excitement in her voice that her husband was calling, and I remembered it had been several days since they had been able to talk. I was amazed by what happened next.

Handing the phone to her kids, she said, “Daddy’s calling! And he can’t talk long, but tell him thank you for working so hard and for making it possible for us to enjoy this special day.”

In turn, each one of her four kids greeted their dad with enthusiasm, thanks, and a happy, brief recounting of what was going on in their lives.

The entire conversation lasted about 5 minutes. And as we slid into the underground tunnel, I was gobsmacked by the deep conviction I felt.

When was the last time I had thanked my husband for his hard work and for making our lives at home so comfortable?

There is an acceptable and shameful practice in our society today of badmouthing men. It’s often subtle. You know how it goes. “My husband just doesn’t know how to _________,” or “Men just don’t get it” – whatever the ‘it’ of that moment is. These conversations are always tinged with an air of female superiority, and you don’t have to know much about the nature of God to know He wouldn’t approve.

God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.

– Genesis 1:27

I’m as guilty as any woman of this. I’ve made sexist comments about men that I wholeheartedly regret. Especially now that I have two sons who are among the greatest treasures of my life, and I rely on my husband night and day to help me understand the way these boys think!

But the larger issue here is that the insidiousness of ingratitude threatens to tear apart the foundation of marriages. This works both ways of course, but a woman’s affirmations to and thanksgiving for her husband can go a long way toward bridging a gap that might be gradually growing between them.

And saying, “thank you,” when we don’t feel like it, or when we also want to be acknowledged for our contributions is hard, yes. But divine help is offered to us.

In her book, The Power of a Praying Wife, Stormie Omartian says, “You have to know that whatever has crept into your relationship so silently and stealthily as to not even be perceived as a threat until it is clearly present–such as making idols of your career, your dreams, your kids, or your selfish desires–can be removed. You have to trust that God is big enough to accomplish all this and more.” (p. 19-20)

So what are my idols? Comfort? Free time? Fear and worry? A desire for recognition or accomplishment? Books, TV, Facebook, etc. – entertainment of any sort?

An idol is anything that I prioritize ahead of honoring God. And I know from experience that if I’m not putting my relationship with God first, then my marriage – which is a blessing from God – will suffer.

I see most clearly when I regain the right perspective: God is the Maker, Sustainer, and Giver of all good things. And when I listen to Him and give Him thanks, my heart is transformed from stone to flesh, and I can be the loving wife I want to be.

*Not her real name.