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American Cemetery, Omaha Beach

Every American should visit the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, France. It memorializes the 25,000 American soldiers who were killed in Normandy during 1944.

Ours is not the only foreign cemetery on French soil. There are 26 other Allied cemeteries scattered around the country. During the invasion 110,000 Allied soldiers from 27 nations lost their lives.

It is impossible to walk the grounds of the Omaha Beach memorial without shedding tears. Over the rocky coast there is an ocean of white marble crosses and stars of David. Each of these graves contains the remains of someone’s son or daughter – and many of the deceased were only teenagers. Both French and foreign visitors walk the cemetery in respectful silence. And you find yourself grateful that there are no gift shops or salespeople hawking souvenirs.

A quote on the wall of the Welcome Center by General Mark Clark, Chair of the American Battle Monuments Commission, made me especially proud. It reads: “If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: enough soil in which to bury our gallant dead.”

America is the first liberating nation in the history of the world to resist the temptation to stay as an occupier. That makes me proud to be an American.

Hall of Mirrors, Versailles Palace

One of the most famous rooms in the France’s Versailles Palace is the Hall of Mirrors. It is a long, rectangular, and ornate room with large mirrors covering the walls.

That room reminds me of the people I know that live in an emotional hall of mirrors. They constantly think about themselves: How do I look? How an I coming across? How do people view me? Sadly these people’s internal well-being is determined by the answers to these questions. Likewise their decisions are dictated by the expectations of others. People who live in an emotional hall of mirrors end up being shallow, self-centered, outwardly-directed folks.

Thankfully, I know other people who live in an emotional window-filled room. The primary focus of these people is others. Their room contains a single mirror – one that gives them an accurate view of themselves.

When Christians look into their emotional mirror they are supposed to see Jesus, not themselves. The New Testament teaches that in spite of our flaws God does not condemn us. When looking at ourselves produces guilt and shame instead of gratitude for God’s grace, spiritual intervention is needed. We need guidance to discover that we are spiritually “in Jesus” and “Jesus is in us.”   So that when God looks at us he sees Jesus.

When we live in a room of windows and we have a Christ-oriented mirror, we become compassionate people whose decisions are governed internally rather than by other people’s responses and expectations.

Gothic Basilica of St. Denis, France

The Gothic Basilica of St. Denis is north of Paris. A church was first built there in the fifth century over the grave of St. Denis, the patron saint of France who was decapitated in 250. All the Kings and Queens, princes and princesses of France have been buried in the Basilica since the eleventh century.

The Church’s altar area is filled with life-sized marble likenesses of these regal personages. All but four of the marble statues are in repose, as though asleep on a bed. The images of Francis I and Claude de France, Henry II and Catherine de Medici, and Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne are quite different. They are shown in a two-tiered monument, in the nude below and kneeling in prayer above.

The monuments of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who were murdered during the French Revolution, are shown only kneeling. By the way, Marie Antoinette was a beautiful lady!)

Somehow it seems appropriate that the three most famous and successful French Kings and Queens should be shown in the nude. Job was right: we come into the world naked, and we go out with nothing. Death is the great equalizer.

Mont Saint Michel, Normandy

From a distance Mont Saint Michel, on the coast of Normandy, France, looks more like the City of God than anything I have ever seen. Surrounded by the North Sea until low tide, this ancient city brings to mind the Holy City mentioned in the Book of the Revelation which one day will descend from above.

But as one gets closer to Mont Saint Michel and the crowds, the repair work, and the venders come into full view and the mind shifts back to realism. There is no such thing as a City of God on earth. There are only cities. Paul insists that we can see spiritual realities like the City of God, but only dimly and through an imperfect looking glass. In other words, Mont Saint Michel can remind me of the City of God but it can never measure up to what Heaven will be like.

The truth is that the people, things, or institutions we idolize will only prove to be disappointments. The majestic mountaintop we see from a distance is only a pile of rocks once you ascend to the peak. And from the mountaintop the real beauty ends up being the valley from which you began the hike.

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