This is a repost of a piece I published last Easter on my old blog site. However, with just 10 days left until Resurrection Day, I hope it will help us to refocus our attention to the true Star of the show...
I am a bad church mom.
As my first witness, I call to the stand Sunday December 15, 2013. On this particular Sunday morning, Britton (who was two at the time) and I were in a good ole' fashioned Church Clothes Showdown. It was the age-old story of a stubborn two-year-old boy who refused to wear anything other than his pajamas to church, and concurrently insisted that a comb not make an appearance within a foot of his head. It was a battle that I had successfully won every other Sunday of his life, but on this particular Sabbath, I. JUST. COULDN'T. I don't know if it was my sleep-deprived state of simultaneously caring for a newborn, or if there was a part of me that deliriously thought his grey sweatpants and orange cotton long-sleeve shirt didn't necessarily look like pajamas, but either way, I was defeated. Despite my failure, I found peace in knowing that A) we were now running late, so most people would already be in the sanctuary and B) if I walked in the back door of the church, only the nursery workers would see my inappropriately dressed child. Those two facts provided the silver lining that I needed in order to forego a complete and total breakdown before arriving in the church parking lot.
As we snuck in the back door, I hurried Britton toward the nursery in order to evade any judgmental glances, only to find this sign taped to the nursery door: "No nursery today! Your little star will be participating in the Christmas pageant this morning!" My heart stopped. I prayed for the rapture. Oh, sweet heavens. I am the worst. How could I have forgotten that today was the day my precious boy was going to make his debut as a sheep, and was specifically instructed to wear dark pants and a white shirt. I can convince the jury that gray pants are considered dark, but an orange shirt considered white? I plead insanity.
We walked into the sanctuary (late) to find our sweet Children's director ready and waiting for Britton. We hurried up to the front row where I was trying my best to salvage our tardy and unfashionable entrance. As we fumbled to get on his sheep ears and wool vest, I found myself laughing inside. A sheep with an orange shirt? Jesus wouldn't think twice. A boy that's a few months past due on his haircut? Jesus wouldn't bat an eye. The show went on, as it always does, and no one was injured and no one died (except for my pride). Why, then, have I come to believe that my ability to worship God with authenticity (and to have my children do the same) is wrapped up in superficial details like the clothes my kids are wearing to church?
And now, let me call to the stand, my second witness.
Holy Week 2015. On Tuesday of this week, I had a play date with a group of God-fearing mamas that I ADORE. As would be prudent during Holy Week, we began to discuss our plans for Easter. I heard all about the Easter meals being planned, the families that were coming in, and about the flowers and decorations that were being purchased. I heard that Target had great deals on Easter outfits and that the Easter Bunny still had a lot of shopping to do in order to fill those baskets and hide those eggs. I was sitting in a room surrounded by well-intentioned Christian mamas and my head felt like it was going to internally combust. Of all the things that these mamas were doing to prepare for Easter Sunday, I had literally thought about ZERO of them. Easter brunch? Do sandwiches count? Family in town? Not for this transient military family. Flowers and Decorations? Ummm....I still have my Christmas wreath on my door. (Christmas wreath, you can be my 3rd witness.) Easter outfits? We are just going for NOT pajamas, OK? Easter bunny baskets? AHHHH!! I quit. I CAN'T EVEN.
I left that play date feeling the same sense of defeat that I did on the day of the Christmas pageant. I wondered what had happened to me that caused me to fail on my Easter Mama duties, since after all, my own Easter Bunny (my parents) nailed it every year with matching outfits, overflowing baskets and egg hunts that rivaled The Amazing Race. Had I not learned from the best? Why was I so incapable of delivering an Easter experience to be remembered?
And so, while grocery shopping on Thursday, I remembered the conversations about "Easter Brunch." I guiltily thought, "Welllllll, since I'm already here, I guess I'll get a little something special to cook for an Easter meal. It'll make for a special treat! Besides, all of the good moms I know are doing it."
And then, on Friday, Britton and I were out shopping for a friend's birthday present, and the nagging Easter voice snuck in again and said, "You know, Britton doesn't have a legitimate Easter outfit." Ugh. Of course. How did I forget? Fifteen dollars later I felt like I was one step closer to an authentic Easter experience.
And then came Sunday. Today. Resurrection Day. The day that we remember the most significant event in all of human history. We loaded into our car and I realized that I had only fulfilled 1/20th of my Easter Mama responsibilities. The "1 part" being Britton's new outfit. I was wearing the EXACT same dress I wore last year (still not sure if I washed it after last year...oops), Beckett was wearing a hand-me-down Easter outfit (sorry second child, it is your lot in life) and there were precisely zero pieces of evidence that the Easter Bunny had visited our home. (Later today, I might fulfill another part of my responsibilities if I actually cook the ingredients for the meal I bought...TBD).
The four of us walked into our church home with eyes aglow. It is a safe place for us, a place we love, a place we feel loved and a place we experience God's love. It is full of some of the most faithful servants of God I know, people who study scripture and learn from each other. I say all of this to ensure you know that these are good, good well-intentioned people. On this beautiful Easter Sunday, many people from our church came to greet us (as they do, because they are GOOD PEOPLE) and a total of seven of them turned to Britton and asked this question, "Did the Easter Bunny come visit you?"
When Britton received this question the first time, my mama guilt started to bubble up inside of me. Another Mom fail. Throughout the day, I got better at intercepting the question before Britton even had time to answer and threw out excuse after excuse: "Ah, I didn't want to spend the money" or "It's totally wasted on a 3 year-old" or "I just didn't have time this year" (as if I had been a successful Easter Bunny in years past. Ha!) Britton wasn't even phased by the questioning and I said a quiet prayer of thanksgiving that his world was not ending due to the fact that the Easter Bunny had forgotten his house.
I am by no means "Anti-Easter Bunny". I think the Easter Bunny is fun and entertaining, but he just wasn't on my mind this week. Instead, I tried to listen to the little voice in my head that said, Don't worry about the Easter shenanigans, McKinley, just teach your kids about Jesus. And so, while the Easter Bunnies were shopping I was reading the book Lily's Easter Party and playing with Britton's homemade Resurrection Eggs. We were making Resurrection Rolls and talking about the Easter story. I was trying so hard to teach my child about one of the most gruesome, gory, and painful stories, Jesus' Death, in order to show Britton the love, forgiveness and redemption that comes with His resurrection. Y'all. That is really hard to do when your child is THREE. Consequently, it didn't allow me much time for other Easter Mama responsibilities.
Even though I walked into church feeling like a "Good Church Mom," I walked out feeling somewhat defeated. I was excited for Britton to go share what he remembered about the Easter story. His favorite parts being that "Jesus rode a donkey and donkey's say 'hee-haw'" and "Jesus moved that big stone to go to heaven" (Sure, we'll go with that). I imagined our church friends would say things like, "He is risen!", to which we had taught Britton to say, "He is Risen Indeed!" But apart from Children's Church, Britton left church without a single congregant asking him anything about the Easter story.
I came home and cried today for our church. Not just my little church, God's Church. During this entire Holy Week, I heard more about the Easter "things" and less about the Easter "message" from my closest Christian friends. And to be fair, I was right there beside my fellow believers, trying my best to focus on the cross, but finding my eyes turning to the Easter "things" of this world. I left church clinging to our preacher's words as he challenged us in the same way the angel challenged the Marys, "Go, tell the disciples that He is risen." If we, as Christians, can walk into an Easter service and leave unchanged, unmoved, uncompelled to GO AND TELL, then we are missing the biggest part of the Resurrection. If we leave church on Easter Sunday and are only compelled to go eat brunch with our family and take afternoon naps, then we are simply MISSING THE POINT. It is not enough to put on our nicest outfits, and cook delicious meals for our families, and spend hours eating our weight in chocolate bunnies. My sweet friends, we must GO and we must TELL.
To add salt in the wound, I scrolled through my Facebook News Feed after church only to see overflowing Easter baskets, questions about appropriate Easter attire, beautifully dressed children, and picture-perfect families. These are precious, beloved snapshots, and they should be cherished. However, they must not be the end of the story. Christ's resurrection was not the end of the story, it was the beginning - the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the start of the Christian church. Our family Easter picture should serve as a launching pad each and every year. It should remind us to take that precious family into the world to serve those in need, pray for the lost and give of ourselves until it hurts. The preparations for Easter must not end with the resurrection, they must instead create the path for our family to go out in the world and be His disciples.
Maybe next year you'll look at your family pic from Easter 2015 and say, that was the year we made a commitment to volunteer at the soup kitchen each month as a family. You'll look at your Easter 2016 picture and say, that was the year we started to tithe consistently. And in 2017 say, that was the year we decided to take our family on a mission trip together. Let your Easter picture be the catalyst. Let it remind you of how truly blessed you are and simultaneously remind you of God's call to go love and serve His people.
Which is why today, I thought about Jen Hatmaker's church who spends every Easter outside of the church walls serving the homeless community in Austin. They know that the Easter story isn't only meant for those who are already blessed, it is meant to bless those who have yet to find God's redemptive healing in their lives. I left church today feeling changed and compelled to Go and Tell, not because of the perfection I found in church, but because of the brokenness.
As I recount my "church mom fails" I am blatantly reminded that authenticity in a church has as much to do with the clothes on our backs as it has to do with the color of the sky. It is irrelevant. God's church is for E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E and does not concern itself with Easter outfits and brunches and bunnies. It's only concern on Easter is to restore broken hearts by leading people to the cross, which can only happen, sweet friends, if we as His disciples put down the baskets, and take our families outside our church walls to Go and Tell.
I am a lover of people, a child of God, and a laugher at jokes. I write words, cry tears and smile at strangers.