One by one friends and family approached the podium to share thoughts about our long-time family friend Ray Ekenbarger.  Ray passed away after a long battle with complications with diabetes resulting in the amputation of toes and at times facing much worse.  With an opportunity to celebrate Ray’s life the stories flowed – stories of a man that no one remembered having ever complained about anything – big or small, and reflection after reflection about someone who simply looked for ways to help others day in and day out.

Musician Bruce Springsteen stated, “A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man you want to become and start being the man you want to be.”

I am not sure when that time came for Ray but I know it was long before I knew him because it was always obvious to me that he had become the man he was meant to be, someone best known for his love of others, his faithfulness, strong character, and unending willingness to listen.

I have heard it said that we often learn more in times of mourning and pain than we do in times of joy.  After listening to the many stories I understand why – it gives us a chance to re-evaluate what is important and to gain greater insight into whether we are in fact focused on the correct things.  Is our life playing out in a worthwhile manner?

“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he hoped to make it,” shared J.M. Barrie.

I’m not sure what Ray intended to write for a story when he first started out but his philosophy and his actions painted a wonderful picture for so many as to what it means to live a life of love for others.

Eleanor Roosevelt stated, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes.  In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves.  The process never ends until we die.  And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”

Author Stephen Covey goes on to say, “How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to know what matters most.”

That was Ray, a man with a clear picture of what was important to him.  He was a man of few words, but a man of never ending action in the pursuit of helping others.  He had a clear vision of what was important and seemed to live up to Carl Jung’s philosophy, “Your vision will become clear when you look into your heart.  Who looks outside, dreams.  Who looks inside, awakens.”

“Whether you are a success or failure in life has little to do with your circumstances; it has much more to do with your choices,” stated businessman, author, and speaker Nido Qubein.

Businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie offered, “As I grow older I pay less attention to what men say.  I just watch what they do.” Andrew Carnegie would have made a quick read of Ray and I believe would have liked the story.  Ray’s story was simple – he simply chose to get up every morning and look for opportunities to love and serve others.  Story after story was shared of Ray’s willingness to drop everything to help someone with a need, whether it was lending a hand or lending an ear.

Ben Franklin is quoted, “I would rather have it said ‘he lived usefully’ than ‘he died rich.’”  Every day Ben Franklin asked himself in the morning, “What good shall I do today?” and in the evening, “What good have I done today?”  It was that type of mindset that Ray lived his life by.

It is very easy to get caught up in our own needs and wants but it is love for, and service to, others that paves the way to happiness and fulfillment.  Albert Einstein shared, “Only a life lived for others is worthwhile.”

With Ray’s health challenges he had plenty to complain about and feel sorry for himself about.  That never was an option for him – instead he chose to cheer others up.  Novelist Mark Twain observed, “The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer everybody else up.”  Ray knew instinctively that when you help others, you help yourself and he did so during his early days in the Navy to his later days volunteering at the Trafton Senior Citizen Center – and every day in between.

Radio broadcaster Tony Evans says, “If you want a better world, composed of better nations, inhabited by better states, filled with better counties, made up of better cities, comprised of better neighborhoods, illuminated by better churches, populated by better families, then you’ll have to start by becoming a better person.”  And for that Ray’s life set a wonderful example of doing one’s part as you couldn’t find a better person.

Ray’s vision, philosophy, and choices were simple and they all centered on love.  His actions supported James S. Vuocolo’s statement, “Great things happen whenever we stop seeing ourselves as God’s gift to others, and begin seeing others as God’s gift to us.”

On this Veteran’s Day weekend – thanks to all who served, or continue to serve, our country.