By Linda (Medill) MacDonald

The Story Behind the Story
by Linda (Medill) MacDonald
   In the early days when the play Broken Heart first spread across the country, there were many "theories" about the author and the circumstances surrounding its inspiration.   I heard rumors like, "It's a true story written about a girl who wrote this while she was a camper at Malibu" (Young Life's first property to present the play).  Years later, Young Life's Relationships Magazine asked me to tell them the real scoop behind the inspiration of the play.  The version I sent in was too long so they invited Toni Morse to edit  the story to fit the magazine's format.  Here is the story as it appeared in Young Life's  Relationships magazine Fall/Winter 1998, with a couple of adjustments for the sake of proper credit or for privacy concerns.  
[To return to the main Broken Heart Drama page, click HERE.]

Linda's own words:

  This article was published in Young Life's Relationships magazine in 1998.  I later learned that for the Warm Beach YL weekend camp, Tom Jonez had to work hard behind the scenes to change the "usual" Saturday entertainment night to include the play and then have the kids' cabin time small group meetings afterward.  Despite the fact he had never actually seen the play, what he heard gave him confidence this was worth the grief of changing the traditional program that night.  Everyone was blown away by the response of campers after the play.  Many kids made first time commitments to Christ that weekend.

  I remember seeing Pam Gillet at the back of the room, intently watching the play. Not only was she on staff with Young Life at the time, but had studied drama in college.  Pam ended up directing the play at Malibu and at Wild Horse Canyon for many years.  We later became good friends as a result of our connection with the play, as well as attending the same church for a season.

  One of the first summers of producing the play at Malibu, Young Life's resort in British Columbia, a professional actor, Sandy Silverthorne, helped with the program and convincingly played the role of "Satan". I heard many rave reviews about the terrific job he did, along with the other cast members. 

  After Malibu, the play was used at all the Young Life properties across the United States, as part of their summer camping program.  I received hundreds of letters from leaders, cast members, and kids about how the Lord used the play in their lives.

  Over the years, several Young Life properties adjusted the play to make it relevant for their audiences.  Malibu changed Sally's name to "Lisa" and Wild Horse changed her name to "Jesse" to make her a little more gender neutral, as they wanted guys and gals to relate to her as much as possible.  Churches and traveling ministires have included dance, mime, slides, and live music to add to the richness of the production.

  I had the privilege of directing the play and filling the role of "Sally" in a variety of settings, including Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach, California.  They featured the play with original music by Ted Brooks.  After the play, there was stunned silence in the room.  Without thinking, the music leader strummed and led his planned song,  "It's a Happy Day."  I groaned inside.  Not exactly a fitting follow-up to the play.  Gratefully, I overheard pastor Ralph Moore lean over to his associate and whisper, "I think I can bring this thing back," just before he stepped back up to the platform and wisely brought the focus back to what the Holy Spirit seemed to be doing in their midst, allowing for reflection and prayer.  As Pastor Moore recaptured the mood, I could hear people sniffling all over the room.  Several of the cast members fanned out into the audience to pray with people or offer a sympathetic touch on the shoulder as they wept.

  One woman, Barbara Thom, had the vision to revise the play to include a pregnant-out-of-wedlock Sally.  She recruited a cast of converted street kids to put it on at a theater in Everett, Washington, hoping to attract toughened teenagers to attend their production.  They were able to reach kids who would never walk into a church.

  Women's Aglow put on the play in Australia, using an all female women cast.  It still had the same results of people being deeply touched.

  One young woman, Debbie Gronholz, directed and played the role of Sally for a production at King's High School in Edmonds, Washington where her brother taught Bible for nine years.  Although many of the kids came from Christian homes, the students responded positively to the message of the cross.  I never dreamed that one day I would marry her brother, Dan, as part of God's redemption of my own adult broken-heart experience.   I now count Debbie among my dearest friends.

  Due to limited space, the article skimmed the supernatural nature of the inspiration for the play.  If you are interested in a few more details, and don't mind some overlap with the article above, read further:

  Over Presidents' Day weekend, February of 1980, I went forward for communion at a retreat sponsored by a youth organization called "Sought Out".  One of the guest speakers was a youth pastor from Lynden, WA.  When I approached him to take of the bread and juice, he began to pray for me.  Near the end, his prayer took an unexpected turn, "But, like Peter, you've gotta get out of the boat; and if you do, thousands will be affected."   I remember sitting in a chair the rest of the service, pondering what that could possibly mean.  I mentioned it briefly in a journal entry and set it aside.

  A few weeks later I felt the need to get away and be with the Lord.  I drove up to Camano Island to stay at my deceased grandparents' place for some much needed solitude.  I read the story about Peter getting out of the boat and walking on water.  I prayed, asking Christ to open my heart to any spiritual insights the Lord might have for me.  As I wrote in my journal, it struck me that Peter had scrambled out of the boat, without seeing any of his shipmates do the same.  A thought dropped into my mind, as though from the Lord.  I wrote, "Getting out of the boat means stepping out in faith; doing something you don't see anyone else doing.  If you get out of the boat, I will burst my creativity in and through you."

  A few months later, I had that prayer time with "Michelle" for several hours [as mentioned in the article] while she gave up the thorns of bitterness to Jesus for a profound healing in her life.  Two weeks after that, I was preparing to give a talk on dating for a community youth retreat in Eastern Washington.  I figured a skit to address the deeper issues in kids' lives would be more effective than merely a talk on the "do's and don'ts" of dating.  I scribbled down a few ideas, based on my prayer time with Michelle, using thorns of bitterness and negative glasses.  Nothing else seemed to come to mind.  I bowed my head and prayed, "Lord, what would put this all together?"  The Lord instantly dropped the entire outline of the play into my head.  Toys called Nails of Anger, Jealousy, and Illicit Sex - all of which nailed Jesus to the cross. A fireplace poker as a Rod of blame, representing the spear thrust in Jesus' side.  A heart represented by an orange, broken and torn by sorrow, yet healed by the suffering Savior.  I was so overwhelmed at the power of the cross, I wept for some time. 

  When I finally pulled myself together, fear struck my heart.  "No one does skits with nails and sticks and oranges!"  I felt foolish for considering a skit with such unusual props.  I nearly gave up on the whole notion of the play, when the Lord reminded me of the youth pastor's words, "But you've gotta get out of the boat."  I argued with God.  "But what if they laugh?"  The words from my weekend away returned,  "Getting out of the boat means stepping out in faith;  even if you don't see anyone else doing it."  

  The weekend of the retreat, I brought a bare-bones outline of what the cast needed to do and when.  We practiced for 90 minutes until everyone basically had their parts down.  I remember the look in Becky Folsom's eyes, one of our team members who watched us rehearse.  I asked her if she thought it was dumb. She shook her head, and said, "Oh, no!  It is really good."  Her response kept us encouraged.  However, none of us could have anticipated what was to come. 

  I played "Sally."  Dave Nystrom played "Satan".  Brian Stevens played both "Jesus" and "Macho Mike."  Sharon Rahill was the narrator.  We winged it through our parts as best we could.  At the end of the play, when Jesus hugged Sally, we played Evie Tourquist's newly popular song, "Give Them All."

     Here is the best job I can do to remember some of the lyrics:
  Are you tired of chasing pretty rainbows? 
Are you tired of spinning round and round? 
Pack up all the shattered dreams of your life,
and at the feet of Jesus lay them down.

Chorus: Give them all, Give them all, Give them all to Jesus. 
Shattered dreams, wounded hearts, broken toys. 
Give them all, Give them all, Give them all to Jesus --
and He will turn your sorrows into joy.

Verse two ends with:
And at the feet of Jesus lay them down...

  The moment we turned that song on, kids began to cry.  Some allowed silent tears to flow, others wept aloud.  A couple of kids were so overwhelmed with emotion, they burst out the door to cry alone.  The cast and other team members went out among the kids to comfort, pray or just be with kids.  We had not counted on this. 

  Amazingly, the kids were having the same internal response as I did when the Lord revealed the outline of the play.  It hit me hard that Jesus wants us to give him the hurtful toys we use to cope with the pains of life, and he has the means to free us through what he suffered on the cross. 

  Fortunately, I tape recorded this first meager version of the play as the actors ad libbed most of their parts.  This recording became the basis for the first typed version of the script.

  When my pastor, Lee Bennett, heard about the play, he asked me to put together a team to do it for the Sunday morning service.  I figured if the first cast could put it together in 90 minutes, so could a new team.  However, people found that learning their parts was not as easy as I imagined.  Everyone was unbelievably nervous.  So was I.  I asked Jeryl Bangs to sing and play the song for us, live.  I warned pastor Lee to be sure to have boxes of kleenex available. 

  Somehow, by the Lord's grace, we pulled it off.  Everyone, for the most part, remembered their cues and their basic lines.  The new cast was grateful.  By the time Jeryl sang, the 300 plus church attendees were spell-bound.  Then the tears began to fall. The Lord's presence seemed near.

  Much of the rest is recorded in the article. 

    Several years passed before I re-read my journal entries from those pivotal months in 1980 in the lead up to the play.  I thought to myself How fitting that the inspiration for a play regarding the impact of the cross began at a communion service.  And that God would lead that Lynden youth pastor to use the picture of Peter stepping out of the boat -- "but you've gotta get out of the boat!" -- just the words I would need to step out in faith for that first, experimental production.                                                                                                            
Ron DiMiglio, played one of the first "Macho Mikes"
Linda as "Sally" for the Young Life retreat at Warm Beach Camp
Kevin Stevens as "Jesus"

  Then, my heart stopped.  I read the words, "and if you do, thousands will be affected."   Wow. I had completely forgotten that part. I felt chills as I reflected on the way the play had been viewed by thousands of teenagers at Young Life properties, youth retreats, and churches all over the country.  I felt like John Wayne as the Roman guard in The Greatest Story Ever Told, when he said, "Truly this was the Son of God."  There is no other explanation than that for me.

    Many years have passed since the Lord first dropped the notion of the play in my single, 28-year-old heart.  Since then, I've experienced more hurts than I thought a person could feel and still live to tell about it.  In my bleakest moments of doubting God and his power, or his love for me, all I need to do is reflect back on the way he blessed me with the revelation of the play, and I can know, "That was God."  He is real.  He is powerful.  He cares.

   Somehow, he knew that down the road I, too, would need the message of Broken Heart.  That, no matter how great the wound, how deep the grief, how unjust the betrayal -- I dare not hold onto seemingly protective "toys" of anger, bitterness or blame, or they will eat me alive and harm my soul. 

   I trust that those of you who have either watched the play, or been cast members in a production, or musicians, that you will continue to remember Broken Heart's message of heartbreak and redemption.  To not forget that God is always reaching out to you, intimately acquainted with our bitterest grief. My greatest hope is that no matter what life, or human beings throw your way, you will continue to surrender your defensive coping strategies to Jesus and trust him  to mend your heart, your mind, your soul.  And leave all the injustices in his hands to deal with, in his way and in his time.

With Love and Blessings to all of you,
~~Linda (Medill) MacDonald  
"The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."  Ps. 34:18