“In the world you will have trouble.” Words Jesus spoke. A promise? A threat? Just a statement of fact? Here is a fact in my life…two knees with degenerative arthritis. Also dealing with a mysterious condition that causes inflammation in my joints and produces “flare ups” that result in pain, weakness and fatigue. This has caused trouble in my life. But, thankfully, diet, exercise, acupuncture, massage, and most importantly, prayer, have made it possible for me to carry on with life most of the time.
It is 2018, and I am just coming off several years of self-inflicted “trouble”. Car accident on way to a series of bookings – one in Pittsburgh (where dear friend Julie lives) and then on to Wisconsin to The Mound – home of the Sinsinawa Dominican sisters. It is also a retreat center. I have been going there since 2001, with just one year off since then. Run into truck blocks from my friend’s house in Pittsburgh. Take significant hit to chest, and after visit to emergency room to check nothing broken. But cannot breathe well or lay down without feeling like chest being crushed. So, hold up at Julie’s house, unable to drive (car still driveable) for five days. Had to cancel the Pittsburgh event the next night, and all three of the programs scheduled at The Mound in Wisconsin. Devastated, I never have to cancel bookings! Takes months to feel better. Finally, back to my “normal”, exercising and other protocol. Then oops! Take a flying fall off step in garage. What breaks my fall? My left knee on the concrete floor and then my chin hits the hood of the car! Several days after that fall, I am lying in bed, with my hand on that knee, praying for healing, and I actually feel like it is healed. I get up, and no pain! Miracle! Not a week later, I am being careless in the garage again, fall over something I had just placed on the floor minutes before. You guessed it - on that left knee again. Boy – it really hurts. No healing this time. Takes months to recover and get back to protocol.
So, I am back to perking along, doing quite well. And I’ve been booked to return to The Mound next spring. Over the years, when God has convicted me to create new characters (new program), I have debuted it at The Mound. It is a friendly place, I know the layout there, and the audience is always excited about it. But, in 2018, I was up to 10 programs, 30 characters, and was NOT looking to go through that creative process again. However, I had entered into collaboration with a gifted Bible teacher. We were using some of my characters and her brilliant teaching, to create retreats. She had suggested that I consider Anna, the Prophetess and Mary of Bethany as characters to develop, as they would fit in well with a retreat she had built. So, when The Mound booked me in early April of 2019, I made the promise to bring a new program. In mid 2018 I started the process of praying, research, reading and imagining.
Now, over the last five years or so my performance schedule has slowed down considerably, but in September October of 2018 I had a few, and then booked again in late March 2019, less than two weeks before my debut in Wisconsin in early April. So, back up to the fall of 2018. It is early October and my left knee decides to misbehave – badly. A friend tells me about an acupuncturist who specializes in arthritis. Problem – he is about an hour away if traffic is light and going around the Washington Beltway – traffic is rarely light! I follow his protocol, and slowly get better. Can fulfill commitments of performances, and then go off to Illinois to help with new grand baby.
Now to the heart of it. Fast forward to late March. I have been working hard since before Thanksgiving and Christmas on Anna and Mary of Bethany. There is lots to figure out. First, doing the research, making myself familiar with the stories. Then there is asking myself: How does this character get into the room? Why is she telling her story? How does she feel? What are her motives? Oh, and costumes, props, music cues, and making sure my clients have everything they need. But now I must shift gears. I have two programs to do before I go to Wisconsin. So, I must focus on those performances, and shelf the work on the new program. One evening I step up on the stool in my close to put away a pair of shoes and WOW!, my left knee ( the problem one) does something weird and I’m in a lot of pain.
Emergency call to acupuncturist (with whom I have continued regular care). But now my need is immediate. I am there almost every day. I hobble through my performances and am so grateful God has helped me do so.
Now comes final push of preparation for new program. Have coaching scheduled with director the week before I leave. Also arranged to rehearse for group of women to help develop timing, discover what is funny, etc. Need daily rehearsal “on my feet” to solidity the program, working with newly delivered costumes, figure out props and make sure blocking (movement on stage) makes sense.
It is Monday – I am scheduled to leave for my trip to Wisconsin Sunday, stopping in Pittsburgh to stay with Julie, then 11 hours to The Mound on Monday. And my week is packed with the “to do” list: Director meeting rehearsal with audience, daily “on feet” rehearsals. Costumes had been delivered Monday morning. So, I was trying them on, thinking of props needed, etc. Head upstairs to get a basket. Turn to come back down the stairs, and NO….NO…NO….my right knee does something crazy, and literally, I cannot put my foot down, too painful. I do the butt bump down the stairs. Thinking “I just need to get to my bedroom – Anna uses a cane, that will help.” Somehow, I get there, but the cane is worthless. Thankfully my son was at our house, but at the other end. I call his cell phone, and he comes rescue me. There is an old walker in the attic. He fetches it and then takes me to previously scheduled acupuncture appointment (still trying to get the left knee better). I cannot drive, and even being delivered to the door of the office building – it was still quite difficult to get into the building and up to the office with walker. Boy, do I have more compassion now for those struggling with immobility.
I get home and realize I am in trouble. But I also recall how I was healed before and am hoping for another miracle. But it does not come. Tuesday morning, I am a mess and have a little melt down with God. I feel compelled to remind him that a week from tomorrow I am debuting a new program (Anna and Mary of Bethany), and I have LOTS of work to do. I also figured out that the director meeting was out and so was the rehearsal with the audience. Not to mention that any “on my feet” rehearsal was impossible. I was incapacitated, down for the count. Blah, blah, blah!
But then God reveals his graciousness. During this time of despair, God stops me in the midst of my blathering and brings to mind a scene from Anna. She is the Prophetess who has spent most of her life at the temple in Jerusalem praying, fasting, serving others and waiting with great hope and anticipation for the arrival of the “consolation of Jerusalem…. Messiah”. She and old Simeon finally are rewarded for their dedication when they see Joseph and Mary crossing the Court of the Women, heading to one of the trumpets (offering vessel) to make their offering. In Mary’s arms is a baby. They know immediately who it is. Simeon is beside himself and approaches them, asking to take the baby from Mary’s arms. He makes a proclamation over the baby, then says to Mary “and a sword will pierce your soul too!”. I pondered that a lot, seeing the scene, wondering how a mother might feel hearing those words spoken to her. It certainly implies that the sword will pierce someone else first – her son? So, it is my choice to have Anna respond to it with a tap on Simeon’s leg with her cane. “Simeon, give the baby back to his mother, you are frightening her.” Then she turns to Mary with tenderness and tells her how Simeon and she are just so excited because of their long wait, and they understand who she is holding…..Messiah? Then I choose to have Anna console Mary with scripture – certainly she would be quite familiar with it. She touches Mary’s arm and says: “Remember God’s word to his people: Do not be afraid for I am with you. Do not be discouraged for I am your God. I will strengthen and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10). After that scene sort of runs in my head, it dawns on me – if Anna can speak those words of encouragement found in scripture to Mary – can I not speak them to myself? And so, I did – I clung to them.
The next day - back for more acupuncture – but the miraculous healing I had hoped for did not come. It was time to clue my client (Janice) at The Mound into the situation. I was loathed to do so, since I had already had to cancel the three Lenten programs after the car accident. But I had to make the call. I explained that it was very unlikely I was going to be physically able to come to Wisconsin, but I wanted to see what God might do in the next few days before we decided to cancel. She agreed and said, “I will get the Sisters praying.” I was all for that, and I had some friends around me doing the same. Sunday morning was the deadline for the decision, as that was the day I would have to start my drive.
Thursday’s appointment was better – still couldn’t drive, but I only needed a cane. Friday, I drove myself and made the walk from car to building, etc. (very slowly). When I got home, I called Janice. Told her I was prepared to make the trip, acknowledging that I was physically compromised and that I did not feel prepared to debut the program – but I was trusting God would be with me. Requested a motorized wheelchair and lots of help with toting and hauling all my stuff, as I was unable to do it. Janice said, “no problem”.
Sunday morning my husband and I went to church. I cried through the service. I had no idea how I was going to get myself to Wisconsin. We bid a tearful farewell in the parking lot, and I started my trek. Only went as far as Pittsburgh (scene of accident) and stayed with dear Julie.
Early next morning made eleven-hour drive to The Mound. Spent a whole lot of time running lines for Anna and Mary of Bethany – but I knew no matter how many times I ran the lines, and how well I knew them, it was going to be way different when I got on my feet in the huge auditorium at The Mound, and had costumes, props and blocking to work out.
Janice and her team of amazing women met me, and we got my personal stuff unloaded (the rest could wait till morning). I was introduced to my wheelchair, and off I went (banging into a few walls on my way).
Because it was Lent, there was a Taize Service Monday evening. I always love to go to that service if I am at The Mound, so despite how tired I was, I set off to the Chapel (forgetting it was now held in the Gathering Place). The Chapel is a beautiful space, a huge high-ceiling circular space with beautiful stained-glass windows all around the sides. Wooden choir chairs face each other, and the center aisle leads to a large simple stone altar. It was odd, no one was there upon my arrival, the place was barely lit. But wasn’t thinking about any of that, I needed to do something. I got myself out of the wheelchair, and standing outside the chapel, I prayed:
“Lord I need your help - physically and spiritually. I do not feel like I really grasp these new characters. I am especially having trouble with staging Mary of Bethany, since I have not had enough time to physically work it out. And, Lord, I have Anna talking about the first time she comes into the temple as a little girl with her parents, and how she felt your presence there. Lord, when I walk into the Chapel, , could I please feel how Anna felt that first time in the temple
I took a breath and I hobbled into the Chapel. I stood there, and I cannot adequately explain what happened. But I can tell you that even now as I write this down, six weeks after it happened, my eyes are filling with tears. I felt the presence of God in such a powerful way. I had to sit down in one of those choir chairs, and I just wept.
Janice came and found me – the Taize Service had started in the Gathering Place. We went, and I pretty much had the “ugly cry” all the way through that beautiful service. I was just so overwhelmed with the moment. God had me right where I needed to be – helpless ---completely dependent on Him.
Usually when I debut new work, I am a mess, don’t sleep, sick to my stomach – the works. That night I slept – not like someone physically impaired and ill prepared, but someone at peace.
We spent the next day unloading everything and setting up and I spent a lot of time figuring out how I was going to manage the blocking with my limitations. And the amazing team of women became my hands and feet, taking care of all my needs.
I fussed with set and pros, and how to stage everything. The auditorium is huge, there are steps to get up to the stage, long aisle through the audience, dressing area a bit of a hike (my choice not to change backstage). But we adapted, adjusted. And the whole time I was feeling like I was being prompted “it is OK Anita; you can do more than you think you can.
Slept again Tuesday night like I didn’t have a trouble in the world. But I did do some more research on Mary of Bethany. Learned that when someone die - a few things happen. Don’t change closes, only eat food delivered to them, and that they sit on the floor or very low stool barefooted. What – get on the floor! I already had to do that once with Mary, but now another time when Lazarus dies – really! But I said to myself, OK Lord, if that is what is necessary, I am all in.
Wednesday morning was the School Assembly. Hundreds of children arrived, and I did the program for them (not the debut of the new program). It went so well. To my amazement, I was able to do way more than I thought possible. I reevaluated the blocking for the debut of the new program that evening.
Wednesday evening debuted What Was, What Is, What Will Be (Anna and Mary of Bethany) and did my personal testimony – 90 minutes being on stage. I did Anna – loved her, and then it was on to Mary of Bethany – way more physical than Anna. But I was able to do everything necessary. Sat at the feet of Jesus, got up with no problem. Fell to the ground in grief when Lazarus dies, and got up again. It was a hit. Thursday afternoon did it all again, and this time challenged with microphone issues – but the story prevailed. God’s power was indeed made perfect in my weakness. God was with me, he had strengthened me and held me up I had nothing to fear and no need to despair.
So packed up Thursday afternoon, and started my trip home Friday morning. In the car I was basking in God’s goodness and greatness, and I am singing, praising and thanking Him.
I was trying to get home by Saturday afternoon – I had a date with my husband that night to be at a Gala to celebrate something that was near and dear to his heart. I love to dance, especially with my husband, and there is dancing at the Gala. But I was still quite compromised. But I remembered another character – Sarah. She is asked “is anything too wonderful for God?” I asked myself that same question – then I lifted up a prayer to God (eyes open – I was driving) “Lord, you have been so good, and I’m so grateful, but may I be bold and make one more request….could I please dance with my husband tomorrow night”.
I made it home Saturday afternoon in time to get ready for the evening. After dinner the band started playing. I went to my husband and grabbed him by the hand “honey, let’s dance.” He looked at me in surprise “Anita, is that a good idea?”. I told him had prayed about it, and I was ready. And we danced and danced – OK not like I usually dance – to every song, kind of like a crazy girl. But we danced – and it has never been sweeter.
So, nothing is impossible with God, and I felt him lift me up in his victorious right hand.
Praise you God…. thank you…. thank you. Amen