She sent me this picture yesterday. My mom, God bless her. She pulled it from a folder of old photos labeled “1970 – 1975.”

I smiled when I saw it. Then, tears.

It was taken Easter Sunday, either 1974 or 1975. My mom and dad, little brother and me. Back when mom made her own dresses and dad sported wide ties and killer polyester pants.

Have mercy.

My memories of Easter, like that one, are no longer crisp and clear. They’ve faded with time, just as the photographs have. But a few things I remember like it was yesterday.

Sitting at the dark brown, laminate kitchen table, the smell of vinegar burning my nose while I dipped hardboiled eggs into large coffee mugs.

How the pink and green dye would stain my fingers, and how I’d wipe them clean underneath the table top when my mama wasn’t looking.

Searching frantically for Easter eggs in the backyard of our Arizona home, and trying to collect far more than my snotty little brother.

Posing for family pictures on the lawn after Sunday morning Easter services at church. Dressed in our finest. Smiling. And holding hands.

Once again, Easter is two days away. As I look at the little girl in the picture, I can’t help but think of how much life has changed in the many Easters since the photo was taken. How much I have changed. Gone is the innocent glee on that little girl’s face. I see her hand, enveloped by her daddy’s. It never occurred to her that someday he’d be gone.

Easter 2015 won’t be the same as all the others. In part because one of us is now missing. In part because these past twelve months have changed me. 

Easter means far more than it did before. It’s no longer about egg hunts and baskets filled with candy, although I’m sure we’ll have plenty of both. It’s not about sitting through well-produced church services or a big Sunday afternoon meal, although we’ll certainly experience each, with great satisfaction.

They say it is the hard things of life that make us appreciate the beauty of it. It is the losses and tears that force us to dig deep to uncover the meaning behind it all. Perhaps that is why, today, this is what Easter means to me: 

Easter means I have a friend who understands long, lonely nights filled with questions. It’s the most sacred part of the Easter story for me. A thirty-three year old Jesus grieving in a dark Garden of Gethsemane. Facing an impending, horrific death with tears. He was desperate for friends to stay close, to help him stay strong. But they couldn’t even stay awake. His was a long night of lonely prayers and tough questions. Oh, how I understand! For all my similar, sleepless nights, I’m reassured I am not alone. He keeps watch with me, as only One who understands can. And He will not fall asleep.

Easter means I have a co-sufferer who knows the agony of physical pain. I can’t describe to you the physical suffering I’ve experienced in these past five months. Far more than I could’ve imagined. At times, I thought it would kill me. Other times, I wished it would. At the same time, I considered the incredible suffering around the world, much of which dwarfs my own. I know this, wrestle with it. My heart can hardly bear it. Easter takes me, crawling, needy to the One who endured a physical suffering so heinous, so inhumane, by choice. Even more profound? He did it for you, for me, so those who suffer would know we’re not alone. When my pain is at its worse, I crawl up to the cross. And He meets me there.

Easter means I have a Savior who faced death so I would no longer need to fear it. It is not an easy thing to face your own mortality. Forty-three year old mamas shouldn’t have to think about death. When fear creeps up on me, tempting me to panic about whether or not I’ll be around to see my children graduate, get married and have children of their own, I remember the One who left heaven for one reason: to kick death in the teeth, once and for all. Yes, death is reality, and every one of us will face it. But Easter means He went first. And Easter means He beat it. Death is no longer the end—it’s just the beginning. No fear, only life. He lives! And my daddy? The one holding my hand in the picture? He lives, too. And I will see him again.

Easter means I have a Father who will never leave, who will hold my hand through whatever may come. Behind every twist and turn in the Easter story, behind the long night in the garden, the horrible trial and death conviction, behind  the walk up the Via Dolorosa and the climb up Golgotha to the nails and the cross, sits one powerful and profound word:

LOVE.

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.  —John 3:16-17 (MSG)

I don’t know what you believe, and maybe Easter means nothing more to you than backyard scavenger hunts and chocolate-covered eggs. That is certainly your choice and I respect it, completely. Everything in me hopes you have the sweetest of celebrations.

But for me, after facing, enduring and overcoming some of life’s ugliest experiences, Easter means something far more real and urgent and beautiful than ever before.

I need more than fluffy bunnies and chocolate-dipped eggs (although a serving of the latter will certainly be welcome).

I need a Savior. One who lived and died and overcame, so I could overcome, too.

Happy Easter, my friends. Whatever Easter means for you, may you find your story wrapped up in the very best Story of all.

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