When my son was little, I bought a Jesus doll for him that had sixteen recorded scriptures in it. It looked like a giant Jesus G.I. Joe. There was a button on the back that, instead of delivering a karate chop, played recorded scripture in an overly enthusiastic male voice. My husband, Ellis, thought it was “in extremely poor taste” and “definitely NOT appropriate for OUR children,” so instead of letting me give it to our son, he took it to work.
Ellis was an architect who designed churches. There was a lot of heavy religious stuff going on in his office every day, but the Jesus doll would have none of that. Most days he sat on the shelf holding a Life Saver candy in his hand, but sometimes Jesus would show up on the steering wheel of a coworker’s car (as in, “Jesus take the wheel”), at a desk designing a church, or in odd places here and there. He was the original Elf on the Shelf, but with much more authority.
When Ellis became sick with colon cancer, he started working from home while his toys stayed at the office and collected dust. Left alone at the office were nunzilla, a wind up toy nun that walked and shot sparks out of her mouth; the reindeer that pooped jellybeans; a bin of LEGO toys; a Mike figurine from Monsters Inc; lots of Darth Vader memorabilia; and, of course, G.I. Jesus. They were all but forgotten as Ellis’s cancer spread.
Months later, when we checked into the Levine & Dickson Hospice House at Southminster, some friends from the office remembered the toys and brought a box full of them to cheer Ellis, but by the time they arrived he was already unconscious. The Jesus doll was in the box, but he never showed up on a shelf, or on a nurse’s cart, or at the foot of the bed. Jesus was still and quiet as Ellis lay dying for the next twelve hours. We heard nothing from him as we as we cried out during Ellis’s last breath.
That night, after Ellis passed, we packed up his things and put them on a cart to take to the car. Our hearts were heavy as we trudged out of the room, each passing by and touching Ellis’s cold hand for the last time. The quiet hallway was thick with grief as his parents, his sisters, my mom, and the kids and I paused to hug each other one more time before leaving the building.
Then suddenly, piercing the silence, with no warning at all, G.I. Jesus went off inside the box. “John 3:16! For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that we can have eternal life!”
And we laughed.
We would all live through this…even Ellis.