Rev. Christy Thomas: Of suffering and sacrifice

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Last Friday night I was eyeing my swollen and throbbing finger in some frustration. A painful wasp sting had just put a crimp in the plans for the evening.

Idly, I checked the news and heard to my horror that Oklahoma City was just at that moment being besieged again with tornadoes and driving rains so heavy that the reporters said it was more like a hurricane than a tornado. Definitely interrupted evening plans for them.

I logged into Facebook and mentioned that I was watching the situation. Several people contacted me privately, admitting their fears about relatives there. They asked for my prayers.

Of course I complied — and then immediately said something like this to God: “Do you have any idea what you are doing?

I, too, this somewhat sophisticated theologian, immediately blamed God for this. After all, “the whole world is in his hands.” Not doing such a great job, are you?

The suffering, fear and destruction — even from a distance — threatened to engulf my emotional reserves.

Then I began to think of my friend, Goldie, and the world she introduced me to more than 20 years ago. Goldie had been brought up in an Orthodox Jewish home but had embraced Christianity a number of years before I met her. Such a move definitely caused estrangement by her family, but they had reconciled by then.

Goldie and I experienced one of those “Jonathan and David” moments when we met — our hearts were knit and we formed a rich friendship.

She introduced me to the Holocaust. I’d known about it, naturally, but not this way. Her parents, David and Sarah, were Polish Jews. They married in December 1941. A few days later, David was carted off to the first of several concentration camps he would inhabit. Sarah was sent to the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, Poland, and later to a camp.

They survived, although most of their larger family were killed or died from starvation or some other privation. Somehow, David and Sarah found each other after the war. Sarah was eight months pregnant with Goldie’s older sister when they, speaking no English, landed at Ellis Island in New York hoping to rebuild their lives.

I learned about suffering from them. David, seeing the power of my friendship with Goldie, embraced me as his own daughter. He spoke little about his years in the camps. However, I knew this: He never had a moment without excruciating pain.

At one point, a friend of his was called forth for a beating by the Nazis. David, stronger, stepped up to take the beating for his friend, who was too weak to survive the expected brutality. David ended up with irreparable nerve damage in his lower back. He suffered the rest of his life.

I accompanied the family to a 50th-year Holocaust memorial. I wept with them over their pain. The meaninglessness of their suffering. The unending nature of it. The losses that can never be recovered.

They cried out to God in their memories and in their ongoing broken hearts. I cried with them.

I hate suffering, despite being refined by my own. I long for the days when every tear shall be wiped from our eyes.

We do not live in that time.

I ache over further loss, over sufferings that are invisible to me but which permeate human existence. I also know that there are countless acts of sacrifice being made every moment of the day, just as David did in the camps.

In our sufferings — physical, emotional, spiritual — Christ is present. Fully. He weeps over the losses, binds up the brokenhearted and sustains those who will step up and offer healing hands, a cup of cold water, a blanket and hope.

The hands and feet of Jesus: they are all over the place. Even in my “How dare you’s” that I offer to God in my anguish.

THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. She can be reached at 940-482-3482 or christy@krumumc.org.

 


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