Mary, Did You Itch?
Blog post 12/10/2018
I’m allergic to Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, it’s my favorite Holiday, but I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to it. I’ve been itching a lot lately (which has to do with the cancer and step-down of the steroids), but there are always allergies for me to deal with – especially around Christmas time. Evergreen trees are more like “ever-sneeze”, and a Living Nativity always sends me over the allergy edge.
My first pony ride, as a toddler, sent me to the hospital with asthma and allergies. I can’t be around horses, donkeys, camels or sheep without breathing issues and hives and itching – to this very day. And if I had to sit in or around hay? Severe reactions. Sometimes, just looking at a “realistic” creche’ can make me sneeze and start itching. I’ve dealt with allergies all through my life, and I’ve learned the more you are around the allergen, if you build up the exposure to it, or gradually increase the dose with shots, your body should develop a tolerance to the allergy. For example, I’ve been a “dog mom” for many years, so I’m comfortable around most breeds. Cats, however, trigger bad allergic reactions for me. This must be the reason BOTH of my adult children have cats – hmm……
My latest adventure in cholangiocarcinoma involves a head-to-toe, non-stop itch. Pruritis. My liver and bile ducts are doing the best they can right now, but bile salts and other issues have taken the forefront with this non-stop itch. The last time I had an intensive itch (and rash, which I don’t have now) was during my last 3 weeks of pregnancy with my first-born, Ashley. That itch has a name – PUPPPs – or Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy. It immediately ceases when the baby is born. I remember, it felt like a miracle when it disappeared. Now, with this latest “plague”, I wake several times in the night, scratching.
Last night, I had the STRANGEST dream I’ve had in a while. I dreamed I was trapped in a stable in Bethlehem, surrounded by donkeys, horses, cows, sheep and stinky shepherds. I was itching and scratching. One shepherd told me I’d have to wait. The wise men were bringing cream of frankincense and myrrh, but they got lost not using Waze. I woke up thinking if I could just give birth, the itch would go away. It’s eight hours later, as I’m writing this. I’m still itching, but the GOOD NEWS is I didn’t end up with a baby to diaper and swaddle this morning! The dream was that real.
Since I’m already itching (and you probably are, too, just reading this…), let’s look at a manger scene, a typical nativity creche’ in it’s glorified, white-washed plasticity. We see sheep, a shepherd or two, some cows, the tired donkey, Joseph standing in the back, Mary kneeling beside the baby Jesus lying in the center-stage manger with camels and wise men/kings off to one side. There is usually a lit star on the peak of the barn roof, and maybe an angel or two hovering above. This is how we glorify and simplify the reality of God’s human entry to Earth.
So, let’s get real. There was most definitely a stench, and maybe allergic reactions in that real nativity scene. It could NOT have been a Silent Night. Animal noises and poop smells were certainly in the air. Mary, exhausted from a late-term pregnancy, long distance donkey ride AND “natural” childbirth, tries to sleep and is awakened by shepherds and sheep, like night-shift nurses in the hospital who wake you during the night. Angel noises might sound like the din of the visiting family behind the curtain in your semi-private hospital room. You drift back to sleep and the baby wakes and cries to be fed. Or changed. Or held. Do you Hear what I Hear? That music therapist Drummer Boy is next door and you know you’re next… and could someone, ANYONE, please turn off the light from that blasted Star?!
”Mary, Did You Know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you”?* Mary, did you know? Mary, did you hurt? Mary, did you worry? Mary, did you cry and scream? Mary, did you ITCH?!
I think some of us have an allergic reaction to Christmas because we expect perfection. Perfection in the buying and wrapping of gifts and the decorations of our homes. We expect perfection in the behavior of imperfect extended or retracted family togetherness. We expect perfection in the busy-ness of parties, musical events and church services. We expect perfection in the planning and execution of our over-scheduled, end-of-year calendars. I bet Mary had to deal with a lot of this, as well.
Maybe this year we should embrace the Christmas REALITY – the labor pains of Hope, the endurance of Pain, the discomfort of Grief, the smell of Humanity, the itch of a promised Salvation.
It’s ok to scratch that itch – maybe the Wise Men will finally get here with the cream.
*”Mary, Did You Know”? lyrics ©Warner/Chappell Music Inc., Capitol Christian Music Group. Songwriters, Buddy Greene and Mark Lowry
“You have NO idea”……I was in my Richmond Oncology waiting room this morning (Virginia Cancer Institute – Reynolds Crossing, for those of you keeping score), and a man sitting across from me SCARED me with these words. I was deeply engrossed on my phone – checking Facebook, etc., when I looked up and he was smiling at me. He said, “You’re Susan, right”? I hesitantly said, “yes…” then he told me he had been to my show a week ago at Firehouse Theatre. I said “thank you so much for coming”, and then he paused and said the scary words, “You have NO idea, do you”?.. Of course my southern-“i-dot” response was “’bout whut?” He laughed and said, “you have no idea how many lives you’ve touched and what your message and your joy means to us – to all of us”. The man sitting next to him told me he was there, too. He had fought and beat lung cancer years ago, and the day after my show was newly diagnosed with prostate cancer and was there to meet his new doctor this morning. He told me they both had been thinking of the things I said and songs I sang and that was keeping them encouraged.
Yesterday, in the Dallas airport there were 3 women, about my age, I’d guess, who were talking about some other women in the Bible study group they went to. I couldn’t help that my ears picked up their conversation because they started sounding – and acting like cats. The tone of voice, and the conversation was rather ‘catty’. Even the way one lady was using her left hand when she talked, looked as if she was ‘clawing’ the air. Of course, my brain goes into overdrive and starts sketching out a new musical – “Cats – the Church Ladies”… They had NO idea that their cattiness was ‘turning people off’ to the idea of Bible study, or even church, for that matter. I’m sure they “have NO idea” of the musical idea in my warped brain because of their not-so-private conversation at DFW this past Sunday morning…..
I think “You have NO idea…” is a very scary thought. I have no idea what my blood labs will show today – recent developments for me include Steroid Induced Diabetic Mellitus, AND a lymph node that is growing fast and suspiciously like a metastasis. Depending on the labs today, I may start a new treatment Wednesday of Xeloda (chemo pills – 8 a day) on top of my systemic every 2 week chemo. The side effects of Xeloda are a little scary – mostly hand and foot burning blisters – but the truth about treatment is this, “You have NO idea….” Again, a little scary, especially since I’m traveling this weekend to do the show in Texarkana, Texas.
Thinking back to this morning, I’m sure I met those two men following the show, but didn’t remember or recognize them this morning. But when someone says “you have NO idea…” it’s a scary thing because it’s true. We have no idea how a simple smile or a kind word can be that one light in the darkness that might keep someone going that day.
Instead of being ‘scared’ of what I ‘have NO idea’ about, I’m going to also remember lyrics to one of my songs to get me through this week…. [from “Heal Me”]…. ” …when the waves of doubt wash over me, just hold me to Your heart so close that there is NO ROOM for any FEAR. As long as You are near, You Heal Me.”
Say something positive to someone. Build up, don’t tear down. There’s NO time for Negativity. Don’t be pre-cast in my upcoming headmusical, “Cats – the Church Ladies” 😉
“You have NO idea…”what great things can happen because you choose to share joy and love with those around you – even, and especially to those you don’t know.
I was incredibly blessed the weekend of Sept. 7 – 8 with three opportunities to meet and sing for old friends and new ones, too. Saturday night, at Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church, I was overwhelmed to see and minister to SO many friends from ALL corners of my 13 years living in Roanoke. That was the icing on the cake of the weekend. And I LOVE icing!!!!
Friday was one of the most emotional days I’ve had in a long time. I want to tell you about Friday.
Friday, at 4 pm, I shared a small portion of my show for the Rally at the Rescue Mission of Roanoke with the men and women who are in their residential Recovery program. I worked several years at the Rescue Mission as their Director of Industry, running the thrift store and retail operations, and also taught a class for the Recovery program when we lived in Roanoke. I was so thrilled to see and hear how the recovery program is running stronger than ever and still changing lives, one day and one person at a time.
That evening at 6:30, I was honored to lead the Chapel service they offer every evening to the men and women who come off the streets for a dinner, shower and a cozy place to sleep. Chapel is a mandatory part of the evening, and even with the many years I worked there, I never participated in the evening services. I know now that I truly missed a lifetime of blessing by missing those services. I encourage ALL of you in Roanoke or nearby to attend or lead at least one of these services. I “preached” on Paul and his “secret” to being content. Philippians 4:12 -13. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned THE SECRET of BEING CONTENT in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” That’s powerful stuff right there! That’s also a tough room to preach that truth in. [any who want the copy of the mini-sermon or notes on this, let me know, I’ll send it to you] Basically, I wrap up with stating that “to be content is to choose to rest in the TRUTH, to choose to see the JOY in whatever situation, with the strength and vision God gives. Like Paul, I was blind, but now I see. I have made my choice to be content like Paul. To choose to laugh, love and live.” Then the song…. “I Choose to Live”… It was a well-received message and many came forward for prayer and I was able to take with me a handful of their written requests to pray over. It was an amazing time to be in a room full of God’s children and know God was really there, too.
After that service (we ended at 7:15 pm) it was still daylight. I felt a strong urge to go to our old neighborhood, and see if Rick and Margie, our neighbors were sitting out on their front porch drinking a can or glass with the other neighbors, just like the days when we lived there. Bill and I drove out there, saw their car in the driveway, but no one on the porch. Lights on, so we knocked on the door. Margie came out and broke the news that Rick had died – just 3 hours earlier. Massive coronary. Had just started mowing the front yard. Ambulance took him to the hospital, but he didn’t make it. And, in a remarkable Roanoke way, One of the EMT’s came back and finished mowing their yard.
That afternoon, I knew I needed to see and hug Margie. I didn’t know why. I look back at how I was sharing my story of looking death straight in the eye and not allowing fear to interfere – of being content in every situation, every condition. Later, realizing how sudden death can be so shocking, I had to pull myself together emotionally to share my “funny show about living (and dying) with cancer” with a sanctuary full of friends and people who came to receive a word of hope because they or someone they love is walking on this scary cancer path with me.
I gave and received so many powerful hugs that weekend, but the 2 most powerful ones were given to me by Margie and God. I can only hope and pray that God is hugging Margie now.
Hi, Star City friends! I’ll be back in Roanoke NEXT weekend (not Labor Day weekend), September 8th to do the show, “Because I Can, Sir!” at Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church. 7:30 p.m. I’m also scheduled for 2 shorter spots at the Rescue Mission on Friday at 4 for Rally, and 6:30 for the Chapel service that evening. I hope to see many of you while Bill and I are in town. The big show is free Saturday night, no tickets issued. There will be a love offering taken, half of which will be donated to the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation. Here’s the poster. Share this, and bring your friends. We are all touched by cancer in some way. Please come. I’m eager to share my journey with you all.
Tomorrow’s show at St. James’s Episcopal in Richmond is in final prep stages. I’m printing programs as I write this. I’m also “fluffing” the tablecloths I use for the wig song in the dryer – which is handily located in my tiny office. 🙂
I have been blessed in the last couple of months to be able to ‘book’ my show in several locations, so I thought I’d compile a list. If you see one in a location near you, please know I’d love for you to come. If you DON’T see one in a location near you, AND you’d like to….. please contact me for info on how to book this show. I’m really cheap…. but never in the ‘easy’ sense. HA! 🙂
Here’s the schedule:
July 25th – Richmond, Virginia St. James’s Episcopal Church. 7:00pm
September 7th – Roanoke, Virginia – the Rescue Mission of Roanoke 4:00 and 6:30 and Sept. 8th, Our Lady of Nazareth 7:30 pm
((POSTPONED TO SPRING ’19)) October 14th – Washington, DC – the Peoples Congregational Church
October 21 and 22 – Richmond, Virginia – Firehouse Theatre (Sunday 21, 4 pm, Monday 22, 7:30 pm) Tickets at http://www.firehousetheatre.org through brown paper tickets. $15 in advance, $20 at door.
November 4th – (near) Texarkana, TX – First Baptist, Wake Village, Texas
January 23rd, 2019 – Richmond, Virginia – The Woman’s Club (Bolling-Haxall House)
We change the ‘show’ a little each time we do it. Sometimes, it’s 45 minutes in length, other times, it’s up to 90 minutes long. Some of these will include “talk-backs” afterward. Some will have more comedy and even improv included. All include audience participation with sing-along opportunities.
Well, the tablecloths are done. Why not iron them, you ask? It’s a health hazard – having nothing to do with cancer. I’m just dangerously clutzy with HOT things. And SHARP things. [[insert your own joke about my husband here….]] Love you, Babe! 🙂
Guess I better go practice now…. Hope to see many of you tomorrow night at 7 in Richmond.