His daughter tells us that he earned his nickname back when he was a little boy. He lived out in the country then, with aunts and uncles and cousins all within running distance, and he managed to show up for dinner at the home of whoever was serving chili that evening.
I didn’t meet him until many years later. I suppose he was in his 70′s, although I never asked his age. One day he just showed up in a Sunday morning Bible class I was attending, flanked on either side by his grown daughters. Gray-haired, a little pigeon-toed, always in the same spot, he sat there every week with his Bible open before him on the table. I have to admit I was uncomfortable with him there at first. I guess I expected him to fit the stereotype of the disapproving old codger who would insist on doing things as they had always been done, squelching questions and intolerant of conflicting opinions. I had known more than my share of those over the years, and so I waved him aside in my mind, as I would a pesky fly, an intrusion. But, you know, he didn’t leave. Week after week he came. And slowly my preconceptions began to fall away. He didn’t say much at first, just a few words now and again, but there was kindness and humility in his voice. Humor, too, which is what won me over in the end. He never tried to take center stage, but sometimes ended up there anyway, with his self-deprecating jokes and gentle jabs. He listened, too, as though he valued what people said, what we said. Over time, he became a father figure to us all, and we began to depend on his presence with us. If he wasn’t there, we wanted to know why, and we missed what he had to say.
We walked with him as he battled the cancer that began to take over his body. Matter-of-factly, he shared that struggle with us, and we gathered around him in prayer. We asked after him when he underwent various tests, and we knew when he was taking chemo. It made him sick for several days at a time, he said, but he didn’t seem to complain about it really. When another member of our class was faced with a diagnosis of cancer, Chili was there to offer comfort and an understanding word. He endeared himself to us in so many ways: a kiss on the cheek when he saw us on Sundays, a willingness to sit and talk with us, a trust that we would love him back. We understood, then, the devotion his daughters lavished on him. We saw first-hand a father’s tender love. And those of us with hungry hearts caught a glimpse of how it could be between God and us, who are His children.
Chili had another cancer surgery just a few weeks ago. I saw him soon after, and from his hospital bed he told a story about one of his grandchildren, a story filled with hope and faith. We thought he was getting better, and it seemed he was at first, but then his kidneys and liver began to fail. I saw him again this past Saturday, and one of his daughters was with him. He was asleep and taking oxygen, so he may not have even known I was there, but I was still able to hold his hand and tell him that I loved him.
Chili left us yesterday. One of our class members posted this email message to let us know:
2 Tim 4:7-8
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Brothers and Sisters,
Our brother Chili has finished the race and has kept the faith. He died approximately 1:30 this morning.
Chili, dear one, we were honored to call you friend.