A eulogy, as delivered (more or less) on December 27, 2016.
I had to write down what I wanted to say today. I knew there was no chance that I would be able think clearly enough, standing up here, to adequately cover the 32 years I’ve known Leonard Francis Jenkins.
It remains to be seen whether I will be able to read.
There is never enough that can be said to feel like I’ve said enough about Dad. To celebrate his life and his legacy. But to borrow a thought from something I recently read, I’ll offer this.
In his memoir, The Making of an Ordinary Saint, author Nathan Foster proposes that upon his own passing, he would like his epitaph to simply read, “He loved well.” We are created by a God who is love in every depth of its meaning, so this is perhaps the greatest legacy any of us can hope to leave. Nathan Foster shares in his story what that legacy should look like in his own life, but I think it’s more than sufficient to reflect on what it looked like, from my vantage, in Dad’s life.
Dad loved by simply loving. He loved by telling us he loved us. He loved by protecting and providing. He loved by showing patience beyond ordinary patience – far beyond the patience I have often demonstrated for my own children, it would seem. He loved by spending time with us and talking with us. By never passing up an opportunity for a hug and a kiss, or to make a silly face at his grandkids, or to teach one of them how to give herself a wet willy from a thousand miles away. But maybe most lastingly, Dad loved by teaching.
He taught us the lessons we have carried, and will carry, through life. He never stopped teaching, leading, guiding. Not only his children, but anyone whose life he had an opportunity to improve by sharing the things he had learned in his years. He never failed to seize a teaching moment – to whoever was nearby to benefit from it at the time. I have been fortunate to benefit from Dad’s teaching moments consistently, over the course of an entire lifetime.
Dad taught me, as a good dad does, how to live. He taught me what it means to be loved, secure, protected, provided for. He taught me how to make good choices – starting with how to hold a pencil, when I asked him which hand I was supposed to use – and he taught me how to live with the consequences of the bad choices I would inevitably make from time to time. Dad taught me how to be an optimist, how to swing a hammer, and how to drive a car, even if my husband may say that last one is debatable. He taught me how to fold a paper wallet, and how to make myself absolutely no fun at all to pick on. In doing so, he taught me how to protect myself because he knew one day he would have to resign from his position as my protector.
Dad taught me that it was okay to by shy and sensitive – just like he was, and he taught me how to overcome the challenges that would arise. Not just today, but every day. Every challenge. He taught this by example.
He also taught me how to spell his name L-E-O-N-D-A-D.
But my daddy didn’t just teach me how to get by in life. He taught me how to embrace life – the good and the bad. Dad taught me to smile – a lesson he taught without ever needing to say it.
This is what he lived:
Smile every day. Smile at everyone. Smile when you’re happy. Smile when you’re sad. Smile to cheer someone up, and wear your smile until you can barely be recognized without it. Share your smile with everyone you meet.
I’ve been told once or twice that Dad even gave me his smile to share with everyone I meet.
Dad spent a lifetime preparing his kids to go out into the world and live, even when that meant letting go – giving away his baby girl to a young man who happens to be an awful lot like him, or excitedly and wholeheartedly supporting God’s call on our life to move to a tiny college town out in the middle of rural Kansas.
Now it is Dad’s turn to rest, to stop fighting and overcoming, to be held and comforted, and to live not with choosing joy every day, but with joy unshakable. The brave teacher, smiler, protector, supporter, optimist, and overcomer. It is his turn to rest in the arms of the One who overcame death so that Leonard Francis Jenkins could enter into His eternal paradise. While I selfishly don’t want to accept that my daddy can no longer be found on this earth to welcome a hug and kiss, to smile at me, or to make a silly pun. While I hope and pray that I won’t ever lose the sound of his voice in my head saying, “okay, Laino,” or still calling me his baby girl, I can’t help but imagine our Heavenly Father during this whole earthly ordeal.
I imagine Him having excitedly counted down every one of the 22,526 days since He put Leonard Francis Jenkins into his earthly body. I imagine the thrill of a loving Father, as December 21, 2016 drew near, that He could, at long last, hold His baby boy in His arms again.
While this day, this season, is by far the hardest of my life to date, it is immeasurably the greatest, the most worthy to be celebrated, for the man who gave me this life. As we celebrate his life and his legacy, we remember to celebrate Dad’s saying goodbye to his broken and dying earthly body, the broken earthly life that Dad chose to live with joy, and we celebrate his new life of smiling and hugging and loving face-to-face with Jesus.
So today we say goodbye to the first man I ever loved. Leonard Francis Jenkins. Len, Lenny, Uncle Lenny, Mr. Jenkins – and sometimes Mr. Pokey, Friend, brother, Grandpa, Daddy. Dad.
Goodbye for now, Dad.
You loved well.
June 1981 – Dad in his first year as “Dad”
July 2016 – Dad in Kansas 🙂