Through the Fire by Amy Nicholson  

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

– Matthew 24:35 (NIV)

As I watched Notre Dame Cathedral burn on April 15, 2019, I was nearly sick with grief. I had never seen it in person, and now I never would.

What were my connections with this iconic building an ocean away? I was raised Catholic. I attended Notre Dame Catholic High School in Waterbury, Connecticut. I took nine years of French. I studied the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in school. Our family hosted a French foreign exchange student a few years ago. If I was this saddened by the loss of the cathedral, I can only imagine what it meant to the people of France. And when I heard that the golden altar cross had survived the fire, I felt a new connection to the tragedy. In 1998, we had a fire at our house. Our family lost most of our belongings, but what God preserved would leave a lasting impression on our hearts.


Why is my sister calling us at our friend’s picnic? I remember wondering that day. I can still hear her voice:

“There’s been a little fire at your house.”

My hand shook as I held the phone. “How bad?”

“Well. It’s still standing.”

We were 20 minutes away from home. All I knew of the extent of the damage was that it fell somewhere between a “little fire” and “it’s still standing.” My husband barely stayed within the speed limit as we raced home to whatever was left. Our hearts pounded as we asked each other questions we couldn’t answer. How did this happen? What did she mean, “little”? I don’t remember leaving anything on, do you? No, of course not. I don’t know. I have no idea. What did we lose? What will we do? Where will we go? Wait. We hadn’t been gone from the house that long. Two or three hours? Thank God we weren’t home.

As we arrived at the house, brakes screeching to a halt, things looked pretty normal—other than fire trucks in the road, some charring around the front window, and water streaming down the driveway. A firefighter came out to meet us, his turnout gear dark and smoky, his face serious. Were those tears in his eyes? Leading us around the back of the house, he spoke slowly.

“I’m so sorry.”

I gasped. It was like looking into an open-sided dollhouse. Most of the back of the house was gone, revealing the remains of what had been our home, what was still our home, whatever was left of our home. A few wall studs, our now smoke-stained, water-damaged kitchen, a scorched staircase leading up to our little living room, bedroom, bathroom—what would those look like? Would we have anything left? We had only been married four years. Not long enough to accumulate a lot of stuff, but we had the essentials—each other and a baby to love. And our faith.

Although our family of three was untouched by the fire, we were anxious and scared to find out what had been destroyed, to survey the damage, and to figure out our next step. Not having to open a door because there was no longer one there, the firefighter brought us into the house. I probably would have fainted if I had been able to completely process the moment and the moments that had just occurred. The scene was surreal. Walking into the house was like walking into a black-and-white movie. I stood at the foot of the stairs leading up to the living room. Everything was burned. And quiet. It must have been so loud just moments before. But as I stood there at about dinner time on Memorial Day weekend looking at what was left of the drama of that day, it was silent. No hum of a refrigerator or electric lights. Just the stark reality of the situation staring me in the face.

At the top of the stairs, the living room looked like a Salvador Dalí painting. We had so much plastic in that room—all of our toddler’s plastic toys, his giant football toy box, plastic trucks. The desktop computer monitor and tower were melted as well. “It must have been very hot in here,” I said to the firefighter. As if he didn’t know. Eleven hundred degrees, he replied. How do you know that? I asked. By the rate at which our equipment was melting.

These men had risked their lives trying to save our home and our belongings inside it. Although it’s true that the house itself, the structure, was “still standing,” the fire and the water used to drown it destroyed most of our belongings. Furniture, electronics, clothes, bedding, anything made of fabric, our aquarium and our seven fish. The further we rummaged through the house, the more damage we found. Family photos in a photo box mostly survived but were charred around the edges and had to be pried apart. They had melted together. And we lost a lot of books.

After the investigation, we learned that the fire had originated in the back wall behind a very large, heavy bookcase. Condensation in the meter box on the outside of the house had made its way down the main power cord and shorted out in the wall. It had probably started smoldering the night before, and that day, while we were out, it built up enough pressure to finally blast through the wall, slamming the bookcase to the floor, spilling its contents and invading the room to destroy everything in its wake.

But, as the firefighters remarked to us and we would later confirm, our bibles remained untouched. Amidst all the destruction and extreme temperatures, they had survived. We had nine of them. They were in different places in the house. They were different editions with different bindings, but all were fine. Our other books were unrecoverable: the edges were blackened and sooty, the pages were melted together and water damaged. But not the bibles.

The firefighters made a point of telling us this that day when it looked as if all had been lost. They had been inside the house doing their job. They witnessed the utter chaos of the fire. They had seen many homes and belongings destroyed, but this, this apparently supernatural preservation of the Word of God, definitely left an impression on them. And they told us it was not the first time they had seen bibles survive house fires.

When I picture the drama that unfolded in our home that day, when I play the film out in my mind, I envision those bibles dotted around our place, a protective glow emanating around them, or maybe from them. That day God protected us by bringing us to another place while the fire blazed, while, at the same time, protecting His Word through the flames.

The day after the fire was Sunday. We went to church. The pastor’s wife asked me, “How can you be here today after what happened yesterday?” I told her that was all the more reason for me to be in church that day. We sang the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”: “All I have needed thy hand hath provided.” And saved. And preserved.

Amy Nicholson hopes to encourage and inspire others through her writing. She has been published in Country Woman, The Old Schoolhouse, The Lookout, and other publications. In addition to writing and discovering grace in ordinary places, Amy substitute teaches. Visit her at

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