‘Twas the night before Easter, when all through the kitchen, two freshly bathed and pajama-ed little ones were perched at the table for our yearly tradition.

Ripped pieces of paper displayed the barely legible scribbles of little hands who recently learned to write. Thumbtacks held the bits of paper on two broken tree branches tied together in the shape of a cross with twine. The simple exercise of penning their sins and then pinning them to a handmade cross was powerful and humbling. But that’s not where this activity ends.

While reading “In This House We Will Giggle” by Courtney DeFeo, soon after becoming a single mom, I was eager to establish new traditions for our little family. Her Easter activity immediately caught my eye. 

This hands-on, heart-checking, gratitude-inducing visual representation is a great way to prepare for the celebration of Resurrection Sunday. While the meaning behind it remains consistently significant, the visual outcome has varied greatly over the years. 

The first year, the sheer size of the cross not only tested the stability of the pot that held it but also gave the impression we may have destroyed a small tree in our pursuit. While spending Easter at the beach with family one year, our cross stood in a sand castle bucket full of sand. In the first couple of years, the strips of paper held my handwritten words as dictated to me by children too young to write. As they entered their elementary school years, their adorably unique spellings would push the limits of even the best translators. And ever since the year they were blessed with a carpenter daddy, they decided to build a sturdier version that we simply pull out each Easter.

Putting pen to paper is a big step when it comes to voicing our sins. We can’t confess and seek forgiveness for what we don’t acknowledge. The hearts of my little ones shine through as they name sin after sin without hesitation. Why isn’t it that easy for us adults? Oh, to have the faith of a child . . . and the uncomplicated repentant heart of a child. 

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Over the years, our crosses have held everything from “hitting,” “lying,” and “stiling” to “not being obetynt” and “not reading my Bible.” And then there’s my personal favorite, “killing plants.”

After a great time of discussion and a good night of sleep, they awaken to see a beautiful presentation of transformation. The cross is no longer holding their tattered sin papers but is displaying a variety of brightly colored blossoms. 

Covered by the blood, a new creation. He remembers our transgressions no more. The old has passed away, the new has come. 

In recent years, it was brought to my attention that these precious kids of mine thought that Jesus literally came and replaced their papers with flowers, much like the Easter bunny comes to fill a basket. I smiled and explained that while it was in fact their early-rising mom and dad who made this visual transformation happen, their Jesus has done more than they can ever imagine.

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While the act of carrying out this tradition each year holds a special place in our hearts, it’s what it symbolizes that actually has our hearts. 

Want to start this tradition with your family this Easter? Here’s what we do:

  1. “Build” the cross. I use the term “build” loosely because this step can be as simple as selecting two sticks from the backyard and using twine to hold them together. Or, this can involve wood, hammer, and nails.
  2. Place the cross in a bucket, large tin can, or pot with sand, rocks, or dirt.
  3. Provide the kids with ripped pieces of paper and something to write with, as well as thumbtacks. One year when we didn’t have thumbtacks, we used sticky notes.
  4. As they pin each one on the cross, explain the significance of confessing their sins and asking God for forgiveness.
  5. While they are sleeping, remove each piece of paper from the cross and destroy them. Burn them or shred them, just make sure they are never seen again. Then pull out those hidden grocery store bouquets, or freshly cut stems from the garden if you are green-thumb gifted, and arrange the flowers on the cross. We have often used twine, or even thumbtacks, to secure the stems. 
  6. On Easter morning, while admiring the beauty during breakfast, discuss how Jesus died for each of those sins, as well as the ones we haven’t confessed and even those we’ve yet to commit, and then rose from the dead so that we may have eternal life with Him.

The Easter bunny is cool and all. But his gift baskets just don’t come close to the gift of the cross. Not by miles, not by a hare. 

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Christen McKey

Christen McKey writes, mothers, and joyfully camps, often all at the same time. She shares about the world of camping in her children’s book, The Joyful Camper, available on Amazon. Christen also utilizes her communication skills at a non-profit Christian ministry. When she’s not traveling to state parks with her family and logging camping details for her website VirginiaisforCampers.com, she enjoys time at home in Virginia with her husband, kids, and mountain dog.  @christen.mckey @wordycamper

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