My Cup Runneth Over—A Eulogy for Kenneth King Brooks
The following sermon was given by The Rev. Canon Frank Logue at King of Peace Episcopal Church
in Kingsland, Georgia on January 22, 2010 for Kenny Brooks’ funeral.
My Cup Runneth Over—A Eulogy for Kenneth King Brooks
Romans 8:14-39, Psalm 23 and John 6:37-40
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
The poetic lines from the 23rd Psalm are words Kenny knew well. Growing up in the 1950s and living a life where your church and your faith are important to you, it’s hard not to pick up the 23rd Psalm. Yet, Kenny knew that just because Jesus was not only your Lord and Savior, but also your shepherd, your guide, did not mean that you would have everything you every wanted. It meant that wouldn’t be in want. As his brother Larry puts it, “We had humble beginnings. Our family did not have a lot of material things. We were fairly poor actually.”
Kenny came to see that God’s promise was not because he would not be in want because someone was going to give him what he needed, but because God had already given him the will and the ability to work for he needed.
Kenny Brooks was industrious. He came by this honest enough. Kenny’s parents were older, his mother was 43, when Kenny her second, and youngest son was born, three years after his brother. His Dad was a hardworking longshoreman. His mother was an entrepreneur before that word was popular. When Kenny was young, she raised chinchillas. When he was young, she found an apartment complex in Fairbanks, Alaska for sale, they sold their house in Lynnwood, Washington, packed their belongings in a trailer and headed north on the Al-Can highway, which was in the early 50s a dusty, dirty six day drive. In Alaska, they learned it was a scam. The seller didn’t even own the apartment house. Back to Washington they went. The chinchillas were gone and they had to fight to get the house back.
Kenny’s Mom bought a blueberry farm and they were farming fruit when Kenny’s father died. Kenny was 12. His Mom did not know how to drive and Kenny’s brother Larry taught himself to drive by playing with the controls and trying the car back and forth in the driveway. At 15, Larry was too young for a license, but old enough to know he had to be the man of the house. Larry began driving their produce to stores to sell. Each year they would prepare the farm, cutting between the plants and fertilizing the bushes. Each June through August, the three would tirelessly harvest and sell their crop.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
Green pastures and still waters. The Psalm describes the sheep getting what they need for sustenance. In those early days with their Mom and the blueberry farm, Kenny and his brother went most every evening to Lake Cassidy to go fishing. They would catch and clean small fish to eat. Being poor, this was a way to make money go farther. Larry recalls, “Our diet consisted of mostly fish and blueberries in those days.”
By the time Kenny was 15, Larry was in the Army. It was his turn to start driving before he was old enough in order to take care of himself and his mother. Kenny was never in want. But it wasn’t because he was given everything. It was because he was willing to work for it. His brother Larry remembers, “Kenny had a paper route. He would mow lawns. He cleaned out barns. He soaked toothpicks in cinnamon oil and sold them to classmates. He saved his money. He didn’t feel secure without some money in his pocket and so he always earned the money.”
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Restoring his soul for Kenny Brooks certainly included reading his Bible, attending church, being involved with his kids when they were in church. But Kenny also has a wild side that kept him restored in a ways that my surprise the Psalmist, but delighted the God that made Kenny who he was.
As Larry puts it, “He didn’t seem to do things in moderation. When he did something, he did it all the way.” He remembers that when Kenny was 5 or 6 years old, it snowed heavily. They were sledding and Kenny didn’t want to come in. Little Kenny just kept at it. In this early memory of his brother, Larry can see Kenny cold and turning blue, not wanting to stop.
He also remembers that there was land cleared with 20-foot saplings on it. We would climb to the top of the trees and rock them back and forth and try to knock each other off. “Kenny was fearless,” Larry Says, “There was nothing he wouldn’t adventure on.”
In recent years, this has led Kenny to enjoy watching drag racing in Gainesville. But an even greater pleasure was riding the rides in amusement parks. As his daughter Sarah puts it, “He was a big kid at heart.” He would take off for Orlando and join his now grown children Ryan and Sarah with wild abandon as they rode ride after rough and wild ride. Co-workers at Trident Refit Facility remember the way he would beam when talking about those more recent trips to go on rides with his kids.
Whether it was staying up late watching movies with family or pulling for the Jaguars as a season ticket holder, Kenny was all in for what he was doing. And he never lost his childlike pleasure at life. His daughter, Sara, talks about going for a walk this Christmas around a lake, they found a tree house in the woods. Her dad was up in the tree house in moments, a kid at heart.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
The Valley of the Shadow of Death. For many men of Kenny’s generation, this came I Vietnam. Kenny volunteered for the Army straight out of high school. He went to Vietnam working to repair helicopter rotors. Not a front-line fighter, Kenny was nevertheless in a war zone as that war was heating up. Larry remembers that when he came back all Kenny had to tell were funny stories about things that happened. That probably surprises no one here today as Kenny had a life-long knack for looking on the bright side. He was always really funny. He was the life of any room he was in. He got along with anyone who knew him.
Scott Moore, who was Kenny’s good friend and as well as his boss at Trident Refit Facility for 21 years told of one example of this natural optimism. Scott remembers a job in June in St. Pete. They were in a parking lot at the Coast Guard station. It was blazing hot already, the parking lot amplified the heat. If that were not enough, they wore protective suits as they were working with fiberglass. They pulled 10-12 hour days of this, day after day. To make it worse, there was a boat next to them having its decks ground with heavy sanders that made an excruciatingly loud noise. Like they say on TV commercials, “But wait, there’s more.” They were working next to sun-baked porta-potties whose pungent smell added to the whole effect. Kenny laughed saying, “Can any other senses be effected? Why 12 hours, can’t we work 14 or 16?” The whole time he was smiling and laughing. You could not get him down. Scott says, “He was always upbeat and positive.”
Timmy Moulton, another good friend and co-worker from Shop 57-A said, “There was no quit in him.” Timmy adds, “He would always help anybody—family, friends, whoever—he was there for them. If you needed a hand, you didn’t need to ask twice. He was just a good guy, who was there for you when you needed it.”
Well beyond family and co-workers, Kenny had a giving heart. Sara remembers of her childhood, “All our friends could come over and feel at home. Our house was always lively and fun.” She and Ryan both talk lovingly about how involved their parents were with their lives. They were always there for them from Ryan’s work in the drama department to Sara’s Girl Scouts and on and on. Sara recalls, “One of my favorite times was when I was in Girl Scouts. My Dad was known for telling amazing ghost stories. He had one story of the one armed man he would tell with his arm in his shirt. He made it so scary every time, running around and acting it out.”
This care for others continued, of course, after the kids were grown. Mary Jane and Kenny supervised the Sugarmill Teen Swim nights all summer with Mike Rickenberg of Isaiah 6:8 Missions. Kenny was excited about Mike’s new program for local teens called “Bold Vision”. Kenny had begun pulling certain boys aside and talking to them about various issues such as dropping out of school in one case or talking with a young man arrested for marijuana in another. Kenny was very interested in helping with this program. As Mary Janes says, “Kenny had a hard childhood and his father passed away when he was young so this outreach was right up Kenny’s alley.”
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Sara says, “My parents gave the greatest example of how to live a great life. You don’t need much, you just need love around you.” In this, Kenny Brooks cup was running over. Kenny was loved, deeply loved, by his wife, his children, his co-workers, his friends and neighbors. When it came to love, Kenny was never in want.
“My parents had the classic love story, Sara says, “We come from one of the few unbroken homes these days.”
Mary Jane puts it like this, “As a little girl, I dreamed that I would marry my ‘Ken Doll’…have a little girl and little boy and live in a yellow house with white trim.” Then she adds, “all my dreams came true!”
Mary Jane and Kenny lived that fairy tale life. Their dream together before they were married was a happy home, not with everything, but with enough of what they needed and with more than enough love. Mary Jane said Kenny told her on their first date, long before they thought of marrying one another, that what he wanted when he married was to really be there for his kids, to make sure that they were taken care of in a way he hadn’t been. This helped her to fall in love with him, and that dream came true too in a wonderful way.
Yes, we are here to gather in grief at Kenny’s dying far too soon. The grief is so strong not because of regret filled with thoughts of what could have been. Our grief is strong because Kenny’s life was so full, so overflowing with joy, that our lives are the less now that he has died. Kenny leaves a big whole that will not be filled by anything other than the love of God.
Sara said, “A piece of my heart is missing. He was such a part of my life.” In this, her relationship with him was unique, but that sense of loss is something shared by many of us here this afternoon.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Kenny does now dwell in the house of the Lord forever. He has passed from life through death to the life eternal. Kenny’s hope was set on rock solid faith in God through his son Jesus Christ. Goodness and mercy did follow him all the days of his life. But this was not because nothing bad happened to Kenny. Instead, Kenny shared an optimism is God’s way of looking at the world. Kenny saw the good in people and the good in situations. This positive way of seeing any person or situation was his great gift from God and others were transformed by it.
Paul writes in Romans, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Kenny did not let anything separate him from the love of Christ. Not starting out poor and having to work hard. Not anyone trying to get him down. Nothing. Kenny stayed up beat. Positive. It was who he was in all situations. His death does hurt. But even this loss does not have to separate us from God. Paul writes, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We gather in grief, but not without hope. We know that Kenny died suddenly, but not unprepared. Or Kenny new life as easy as putting his faith in Jesus Christ and his passing was as easy as falling asleep to wake up with his Lord. We are left with an excellent example of a Christ-like life. Not from some idealized saint who is hard to imagine, but in the life of a regular, hardworking, loving man who did right by his family and friends and all he could help.
The Lord was his shepherd; so he might have worked hard for what he got, but was never in want. His cup was overflowing with love. Goodness and mercy followed him all the days of my life, and now he dwells in the house of the Lord forever.