Every once in awhile you hear a story that changes everything…
One of the most powerful stories I’ve ever heard was performed and written by a friend of mine. Joanie Burnside.
Her story impressed me so much, I included it in my book, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World: Finding Intimacy With God in the Busyness of Life.
Several weeks ago, at the Florida Salvation Army Women’s Conference I spoke at, their creative art team opened Saturday evening’s session with their rendition of the story.
It was so powerful and moving, I wanted to share it with you as well. Please take time to watch the movie and stick around for the last half – it’s incredible!! I was in tears.
Jesus came to set us free. Truly and completely free. Free from the dark shroud of doing things our way. Free from the mere shell we so often settle for.
When we give Him our life, God helps us leave our hard hearts behind so that we can become all He intends us to be.
Beautiful, radiant beings. Reflecting His glory.
A Story of Transformation
As told in Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World:
Joanie Burnside glows. Brown, cropped hair frames a beaming forty-something face as wire-rimmed glasses magnify blue dancing eyes. Joanie is also a talented actress, and I had the privilege of watching her perform a monologue one Palm Sunday at Mount Hermon, a Christian conference center.
The pre-Easter service at Mount Hermon is always poignant. I inevitably go away shaken at the immensity of Christ’s work on the cross. But Joanie’s presentation that year reminded me of not only what Jesus did, but what he longs to do in you and me.
You see, Jesus didn’t come to make bad people better. He came to transform us into something entirely new.
My words can’t paint the power behind the images I saw that morning, but with Joanie’s permission, I’d like to try. Imagine with me an old woman, center stage, clothed in a dark coat and carrying a dingy laundry-type bag over her shoulder. She clings tightly to an out-of-date purse. Dirty rags cover her feet. Stooped and bent over a cane, the old woman’s face is twisted with suspicion, her voice sharp and brittle as she begins her story.
Listen closely. Now and then, I hear Martha speaking. Now and then, I hear me.
“I’ve come to tell you the story of a butterﬂy,” the woman begins. Her only props are the clothes that she wears and a simple wooden cross that stands behind her. “She started out as all others, a lowly caterpillar, one who would have grown but never changed. Her life would have become old, ugly, and embittered had it not been for the grace of the Creator.
“This is what she would have become,” the old woman says, pointing at her twisted, decrepit form.
“Here was her scarf, which covered her head, her precious brain, her above-average intelligence. The universities and degrees were hers to obtain, to ﬂaunt and impress…to shrink others down to her size.
“The hair, the crown that should have been, was merely a reﬂection of the anxieties that riddled her life, for she was prematurely gray. She worried about everything—her future, her past, her mistakes, her dreams.
“Her teeth…” The old woman bites down for emphasis. “The guardians of her mouth, one of her most vicious weapons, were ever ready to bite, to cut others to the quick with sarcasm and barbs. For out of the overﬂow of the heart speaks the tongue. Sometimes it was as seemingly innocent as gossip, other times judgment, and at times, outright lies as she assassinated the characters of others.
“Her purse was her security, for it housed her beloved checkbook. She was born into afﬂuence, and as long as there was money in the bank to protect her, she was safe. No one could touch her, no one could reach her. She walled herself in with material goods—none of them evil in and of themselves, but all of them evil when worshiped and adored instead of him.
“Her cane she used like a ﬁnger, to point accusingly at the sins of herself that she saw in others. It became a wonderful crutch, this overdeveloped superego, for whenever she felt bad about herself, she could easily ﬁnd bad in the lives of others around her.
“Her shoes covered one of her saddest features, her feet. Those poor, beaten stubs. She had spent a lifetime wandering aimlessly. She had no purpose, no one to follow, nowhere to go. Each day meant only another twenty-four hours of hopelessness.”
The woman shifts a large sack she carries on her shoulder, then points at it. “Here was her burden, the sin she bore that weighted her down, every year getting heavier and heavier. She stuffed those sins in her sack, hoping no one else would notice what was so obvious to all. Her life had become grotesque with the weight, her sins disﬁguring the beauty she was meant to be.
Pantomiming the movement, the woman takes a small, stony heart out of her chest and holds it between two ﬁngers. “It was hard and unrelenting, not letting any love in…not letting any love out…protected from intruders by her head, her mouth, her purse, and her cane.
“Then one day this woman met some friends who had lives of sweet purity. They offered her the Living Water, and when she could bear the thirst no longer, she took a taste…just a taste, mind you, for she wasn’t ready to really drink yet. But that taste was so sweet, and it made her thirst beyond compare. She took, and drank, and that Living Water ﬁlled her and satisﬁed her from her crown to her toes.”
The face of the woman onstage now glows with the memory of that water and the new life she’s received. Piece by piece she begins to remove the unnecessary articles of clothing that once bound her.
“The scarf was removed and her knowledge used for his glory. Her thoughts became his thoughts as she surrendered to his Spirit.” The woman unties the scarf and drops it to the ﬂoor.
“The hair, once gray with concern was made new again, for the joy that was his was now hers.” The woman rufﬂes her hair with glee.
“The mouth that had cut down others now began to build them up, to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…to seek ways to soothe hurts rather than cause them.
“The purse became a tool, as a sheath is to a sword. It carried something of great power. Her moneys were used to advance his kingdom rather than protect her own,” the woman says as she lifts the purse for all to see.
“The cane was no longer needed as her urge to judge faded in the light of his grace. She gave it to others that needed to be held up, as she sought to come alongside and bear others’ burdens.
“Aaaah…” The woman pauses, smiling as she shakes her ﬁnger. “And her feet? At ﬁrst they began to walk, then run, skip, leap, and dance with joy, for ﬁnally she had a reason to live. A Master to follow. A path that he prepared speciﬁcally for her. Such joy she’d never known.
“The burden of her sins he took,” the woman says, her voice becoming stronger and younger sounding. Her posture straightens as she drapes her things over the Cross. “How, she would never really understand, other than he said that he’d died for the right to do so.
“Her heart of stone was transformed into a new, vital, living heart.” With trembling hands she lifts the small, imaginary heart heavenward, receiving a large, beating one in exchange. With her face uplifted, her eyes ﬁlled with wonder, the woman pantomimes the act of placing the new heart inside her chest.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,” she whispers, “and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, KJV).
The words are soft, pleading, and thankful as they drift across the quiet auditorium. The moment is holy as David’s prayer echoes through each one of us.
“Thank you for hearing my tale,” the woman says ﬁnally. Her voice is low and tender as she unbuttons her coat. “For as you see…I am the butterﬂy.”
She sheds the cloak, revealing a splendid purple leotard with ﬂowing multicolored wings. Sparkling and shimmering in the morning light, the costume is beautiful. Exquisite.
With arms extended, the woman exits reborn. Floating, dancing, skipping. Leaving all of her earthly garments behind. Inviting each one of us to do the same.
And all for the price of being teachable.
As I’ve surrendered my life to Jesus’ teaching, even his rebukes, I’ve learned the value of God’s tender discipline. It is only when we struggle to break free from the chrysalises of our lower nature that the true beauty of the new life Christ offers can truly be known.
So don’t be afraid to shed the familiarity of old patterns and old clothes.
Jesus, remember, came to make all things new.
So hear him and obey. Receive his discipline.
And then…get ready to ﬂy.
I’d love to hear from you…What do you need to shed in order to fly?