Today I lost a good friend of mine. I feel so selfish saying that…like he was my friend and no one else’s. It goes beyond the fact that I don’t know what our church and our bus ministry are going to do without him. In a lot of ways, I don’t know what I’m going to do without him. There are volunteers. Then there are people that become your foundation. He was like that personally to me.
You see, I don’t know that I’d still have my job today if it weren’t for him. There’s something about ministry that really wears on you sometimes…actually often. And you don’t get much thanks or appreciation for what you do. You wear yourself thin and everyone’s always asking for more. There’s always more to be done and everything you just did could have been done better. Then there are people like Ralph who come in and time stops for about 10 minutes with one of those healing hugs and words of encouragement. “You know you’re important, and I know that people don’t tell you that very often. You have a lot on your shoulders and for your age, it’s not really fair. You handle it well. I’m proud of you and I love you. If you ever need to talk about anything, frustrations or tears or anything, please call me. I’m not just saying that. I mean it, call me.” That was March 26th. Yes, I remember that day.
He would call me to ask me how I’m doing. When he reached out to help someone, he was the type to stay in their lives for the long haul, through thick and thin. And his life had a lot of thick. But like the champion of the faith he was, he focused his eyes on his Savior and the struggles of the people around him above his own.
One of the most noticeable things about him were his eyes. One look into his eyes and you knew that he wasn’t like everyone else asking how you were doing. He really wanted to know and he wouldn’t leave until he did. For those moments, you were the only person in the entire world. We say that about a lot of people, but it was more true of him than I’ve ever known before. He took the time. Nothing else on his agenda mattered.
He was my strength when I was really struggling with my health. I still do a little bit, but I went through a serious emotional battle with it for a while. He held me when I cried and went out of his way to find out how I was doing every chance he got. I don’t remember ever seeing him without a smile. Even when he was frustrated, he still had a smile. Maybe he’d done it so much that his face stuck that way, I don’t know. Or maybe whenever I saw him, my heart smiled. Something like that.
He lived his life to encourage people. I don’t remember ever hearing him say anything degrading about anyone. He spoke the truth, but he spoke the truth in love. Sometimes I was sure I saw an extra bounce in his step from the joy that overflowed inside of him when he had the chance to encourage someone. It was like he was floating or something. He taught me so much about how to make your time count for others. He chose to focus on bringing out the best in everyone he came into contact with. The world could use a lot more Ralphs.
I want to be like my friend Ralph someday. I want a smile that lights up the room. I want a joy that spills over. I want to live to encourage and build others up. Ralph was the type that didn’t let his right hand know what his left hand was doing. He gave when he didn’t have, and he didn’t want anyone to know about it. He is close to the top of my list of people that I have known that were most like Jesus. His life will be a life that will be remembered.