She flittered down the hallway to me with a sparkle in her eye that rivaled the ones on her tutu, SO proud to show me her new dance. Once in the kitchen, she hit first position with more grace than I had yet seen in her 4-year-old body. I willed myself away from stirring the spaghetti sauce on the stove to watch her 30-second performance. I thought it would be much like the many others I had seen, but something caught my eye this time that blew cute off the charts. Her toe. It was sticking out of her stained and tattered tights, and it owned me. As if her stature and lack of experience hadn’t already given it away that maybe she wasn’t quite the elegant ballerina that danced in her head, her toe certainly did. And if I didn’t already think she was the most adorable human in the world — and the most fantastic ballerina that had ever graced the earth — I did now.
Even though I’ve seen dozens of performances since then, that one still stands out to me. Not simply because of how endearing it was, but because of how much I am like my bitty ballerina. I’m so proud of the days that feel like my hard work has finally paid off, the moments where I seem to have it all together. But inevitably, something always pops out that screams otherwise. Before I became a mom, I was a little better at appearing like I had a handle on life. Sleep and makeup go far! But now? Just last week my kids’ principal hugged me when I dropped the kids off at school, and I cringed because I wasn’t sure that I had brushed my teeth yet. As a friend and new mom recently said about her daughter, “In a few short weeks, Homegirl has wrecked us. Straight up”. My 9-, 8-, and 6-year-olds are still wrecking me. Straight up.
Becoming a mom has meant the death of so much — sleep, time, money, pre-baby body, appearing to “have it all together”– the list goes on and on. But it has also been the birth of a love I didn’t know I could have. It is that deep, unconditional love that has made every bit of everything lost, worth it.
I think we are given this dramatic experience in motherhood as a reflection of what could potentially take place in our hearts when we are confronted with the labor pains of this season, Easter. The same death and birth that takes place when we become Mom is waiting for us at the symbol for this day, the cross. Ironically, living in the South (the Bible Belt!) sometimes confuses things. I mean, we buy special clothes just for this day! We do our best to have it all together — perfect clothes, shiny shoes, and happy smiles for the camera … and heaven forbid, no holes in our tights!
Several years ago, I was a nanny for a family with young children. I’ll never forget when the mom asked me for help with talking about such a brutal holiday with her kids. I was surprised. Growing up in a Southern Christian home I had heard the Easter story in detail my whole life. The lashings, the nails, the cross … I likely sang songs about it all as a toddler! But just a few years later when I had a little one of my own, I found myself in her shoes, stumbling over my words.
As much as I do want my children to understand the physical pain that was suffered, I now realize that the first Easter morning was about far more. Jesus’s greatest pain was not the nails, but “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). His darkest hour was when his Father turned his face away as his Son wore the sin of the world. The heartbreak for both of them in that moment is the crux of what Easter is all about. God turned his back on his Son, so that he would never, ever have to turn his back on us.
So as I read and craft and talk about this holiday with my children, I want them to know more than all else that Easter is about freedom. Because of what both the Father and the Son did that day, we can always approach God just as we are, with no fear that He will turn his back on us (or ignore us and continue stirring the sauce on the stove…). We can come to him on our good days and our bad. We can scream, we can cry, we can dance. No fancy clothes needed. Tattered tights welcome.