Revelations column: Jesus and chocolate-covered bunnies
For the past few months, I've been doing a bit of traveling. I spent a couple days in New Orleans with a girlfriend considering law school at Tulane. A few weeks later, I spent four days in Las Vegas for my birthday.
Last weekend, however, I traveled to Atlanta, then Layfayette, Ind., to meet my new niece, Vivian Lee, and spend time with my nephews: Ethan, 4, and 2-year-old Luke (Wukie).
When I booked the flight several weeks ago, however, I didn't realize I'd be traveling to see them on Easter weekend.
It simply didn't occur to me when I scheduled the trip that I'd be seeing them during the holiest time of year. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I glanced at the calendar and made the connection.
Easter has always been, for me, one of the most enjoyable times of year. I admit, when I was younger, Easter caught my fancy because it came with gifts and candy. My mother always made Easter into a holiday extravaganza: buying me and my sister new dresses and gloves and oversized hats; dying and hiding a bazillion Easter eggs; cooking an ungodly amount of food for our annual extended-family dinners, and - if the calendar permitted - organizing Easter-themed birthday parties.
But as I grew up, Easter lost its luster.
For a while, during high school and college, it held no significance at all. Then, when I became a Christian in my early 20s, the holiday took on a serious tone, rather than a chocolate-covered bunny and frilly-hats tone.
As an ever-stumbling follower of Christ, I now recognize the solemnity of the holiday. And these days, I focus on honoring God during Easter, and reflecting on his death and resurrection.
But I admit, this year, I was excited to infantilize the holiday with Ethan, Wukie and Vivian. I may be a rusty egg-dyer, but I knew I could churn out some Easter fun for the kiddos.
On Friday night, Good Friday, my sister-in-law, Stacey, told the boys they had to be well-behaved because there was a surprise for them later that evening.
"Ethan, guess what? Daddy and Aunt Jenny are going to take you to a play tonight."
"A p-way?" Ethan asked. "Whut's a p-way?"
Stacie explained the "p-way" was like a movie, but there were live people and music acting out the scenes. I'm not sure Ethan understood, but he was curious enough to find out.
So was I.
"What play are we going to see? A passion play?" I asked - clearly out of the loop.
My brother, Michael, had tickets to their church's Passion Play, and he wanted to take me and Ethan to watch it for Easter weekend. Stacey would stay home with Wukie, and baby-sit for another couple from their church who also wanted to attend the play on Good Friday.
As my brother and I walked Ethan to theater, I could see the excitement building on his little face. He looked in all directions as the orchestra warmed up inside the pit and crowds rushed to find their seats.
Throughout the performance, Ethan was captivated by the songs about Jesus, and the scenes that portrayed his death and resurrection.
He funnily expressed his excitement throughout the show with loud questions and finger pointing - usually during moments of silence and darkness in the auditorium.
Me and my brother were thankful the row in front of us snickered at Ethan's remarks, and even pulled my brother aside after the show to express their amusement.
As I walked Ethan to the car after the show, holding his tiny hand in mine, a woman approached him on the street and handed him an Easter pencil and Jelly Beans.
"Daddy, I got a pencil!"
Thrilled with his new pencil, Ethan skipped across the sidewalk and shouted, "It's Easter time!"
There it was - pure Easter excitement. And that's what I remember about Easter, growing up.
And even though I spent the weekend with the boys playing games, swimming, eating ice cream, dying eggs, making Easter egg baskets and watching them find obviously-hidden Easter eggs in the yard, I noticed there was something markedly different about my nephews' Easter experience to the one I had growing up.
Michael and Stacey were making sure to explain the significance of the holiday to the boys, beyond Easter bunnies and chocolate-covered eggs.
Both Michael and Stacey are grounded Christians (my brother, a late convert like myself), so it's not unusual they would choose to raise their children with Christian principles.
But as I watched them engage the boys in conversations about Jesus' death, and watched my nephews eagerly ask questions about the "Pha-wasees" who wanted to crucify Jesus, I realized how well-rounded their Easter experience was going to be. And how I missed out on some of that as a kid. I thought about all the years I lost in my life, struggling to fight God, and remain unlearned about who he was. I wanted the celebration without understanding the significance.
I was proud of Michael and Stacey for choosing to teach their children at a young age to appreciate the story of Jesus, who he was, and most importantly, why he died.
With any luck, my nephews will grow up firm in their faith, and know later in life, how to enjoy Easter with a healthy balance of Jesus and chocolate-covered bunnies.
It took me a long time, but I think the boys finally helped me find both.
Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.