(my mom, Debbie Magness)
My mama lived her life to the fullest each and every day. She saw beauty in everything, and lived to love and be a giver. She gave with sacrifice and great joy in all that she did. Her life not only left an enormous impact on our family, but it left an impact on friends, the community, and people we barely know, or do not know at all.
This impact has created a ripple effect that we never even imagined. Many lives have been and continue to be impacted by the love she shared. The Lord’s healing power and good work is oh so mighty! He has allowed her legacy to be carried out through our family, and has multiplied it by spreading it beyond our control. Our children will forever have their “Mimi” in their hearts because of the legacy and impact she has left with all of us. The community will forever have Debbie Magness in their hearts because she chose to love beautifully, simply, and with a humble heart.
The days after mom’s accident were crazy, chaotic and are hard to remember. However, the love and support that poured out from friends, family and the community is something that cannot and will not be forgotten. From the time we found out, we had friends surrounding us, taking care of us and most importantly, just loving us. . I believe that just being together brought EVERYONE comfort.
Every morning, we had friends quietly entering my parents’ house bringing in food, setting up breakfast, filling and refilling ice chests, setting up extra tables and seating in the backyard, cleaning, watching our children, doing whatever they could to make things a little easier. They knew we would have floods of people in my parents’ home for days and days. The presence of people, especially when it is a presence of love, can be so powerful. I can’t even begin to describe the amount of love that has poured into our home and our family. It just continues to amaze me! God’s love is everywhere and my mama is right there with Him.
The day of my mom’s service came. We knew we wanted it to be a celebration of her beautiful life. We wanted meaningful and fun music, good stories, and the amazing love that she had for the Lord to be shared. We decided that we would not wear black. Mom would not want it; she would want us to wear colors that brought hope and light, so we decided to wear blue and white. This was her favorite color combination, and wearing it helped us feel a part of her with us.
Everything in her service shined with her presence, and the Presence of the Lord. The first sentence in her obituary on the inside of the service program says, “When Debbie was born the collective intelligence, beauty and joy of the world was immediately lifted.” This statement embodies the legacy and inspiration she left us, and so many others.
We just wanted to be able to make it through the service, and bring honor to all that mom was. We did not realize the impact that this service, and mama’s life would have on so many people. Our family pastor and good friend, Mike Hays, led the service. Our precious friend and Bible study leader, Cathy Jo, spoke of her friendship with mom and the amazing faith and Peace that mom walked in, and shared with the world. My mom’s best friend and my godmother, Jenny Dunning told a lifetime of stories of the shenanigans that she and my mom shared from early childhood until now. Her husband, Rick, shared beautiful words as well. Each person bringing light to the beautiful, fun, peaceful, amazing person that my mom was.
After each person’s precious words, we, as a family, held hands, and walked up on stage. We weren’t sure if anyone was going to talk, but we knew we needed to be there together, to support each other, especially if any of us decided to do so. My husband Russ took the first brave step, and shared about the impact that mom has had on his life. My brother Hunter, courageously stepped forward, as well, and shared about his memories and the love mom shared in every little thing she did for him. He read the letter that she wrote him in his “Love You Forever Book,” and with amazing love, he said, “Mom, ‘I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, your baby I will be.’” We have all treasured that book and those words since mom gave it to each of us, but now, those words will forever resonate in our hearts.
Next, my brother Micah, also with great bravery and courage, stepped up to speak. He spoke about the generosity that my mom shared with others, and how she lived life to be a giver. She always said that there is so much joy found in giving. As each of us have gotten married, mom has given us a copy of one of her favorite books, “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. In the cover of the book, she, of course, wrote us a letter. This letter talks about how in every relationship that we will ever have, there is always a giver and a taker, and her prayer is that we will all be givers. She said, “There is so much blessing in being a giver! It is the things that we always hold, that we will lose someday, but the only things we keep are those we give away.”
In “The Giving Tree,” there is a tree and a boy, and the tree tells the boy to swing on her branches, pick and eat the apples, and use her leaves for play. As the boy grows older, the tree continues to give to him. She gives her apples to sell, her branches to build a house, and eventually her trunk for the boy to build a boat. Every time the tree gives to the boy, the book states, “And the tree was happy.” At the end, all that is left of the tree is a stump. The boy comes to the tree and just wants a place to sit, so the tree tells him to sit on the stump. “And the tree was happy.” Micah spoke of how mom lived in just this way and she was happy. She gave sacrificially, and “she was happy.” He then went on to speak of a “Giving” tradition that mom began with our family, and we carry out this tradition every Thanksgiving.
Each Thanksgiving, mom would give every family member a certain amount of money. She would tell us to take the money, keep it with us, pray about it, and when we felt led to bless someone, we were to give them the money. We would then come back together every Christmas morning, at breakfast, and tell our stories of blessings.
This tradition became a way of life, and the joy that was shared in our stories was amazing. Micah told the congregation at the service, that mom would want each and every person in that church to take this tradition and multiply it, to be a blessing to someone else. Just with that statement, God’s Presence began to move and it moved powerfully. Mom’s legacy was unfolding in a big way. My dad, so bravely, spoke the last words, and as we prepared for the end of the service, we heard mom’s favorite Beach Boys song, “Don’t Worry Baby.” It was like she was speaking to each of us. She was telling us that she was more happy than ever. She was right there with us, and we had no reason to worry.
After the service, we welcomed people over to my parents’ house. It was a packed house, but a loved house. Some close family friends, The Hectors, surprised us with bracelets that they had made. The bracelets each had WWDD, “What Would Debbie Do,” imprinted on them. These bracelets brought so much joy that day. We have passed them out to any who have wanted them, we all still wear them, and they are now a reminder of the wise and joyful woman that mom was. I, myself, actually often ask this very question, when faced with difficult decisions, because I know that whatever mom would do, it would be a decision that came from prayer, peace and one that would bring joy wherever she was at.
As the house began to quiet down, we began to hear stories of mom’s impact. People were texting, sending Facebook messages, of how her life, and the words in her service had changed their lives. So many people said that they felt something different in that service than they had ever felt. There was a presence, a powerful, glorious Presence. The Lord was there, and so was my mama. The weight of their glory was mighty!
There were people that we barely knew texting and saying that they were beginning the “Giving Tradition” with their families. A man that just docked his boat next to my brother, who had only met our mother as an acquaintance, text Hunter, and said that he went to the service and now his life is changed. He was impacted by the way mom lived.
At Thanksgiving this year, my mom’s side of the family, most are in Arizona, and some in California, decided to implement mom’s “Giving Tradition” with their entire family. They took a picture of all of them together, grandparents, parents, children, and posted it on Facebook with a note that described the tradition and placed it in honor of my mama. People were taking this tradition and carrying it out left and right, with story after story. People from high school, that I had only had a very small acquaintance with were contacting me and telling me of the impact that my mom’s love and kindness had on them. Friends were having divine experiences where they knew my mom was with the Lord and helping lead them to hope and a new found peace. There were signs of her presence with the Lord everywhere. This was hope, this was healing, this honored my mother and brought glory to what the Lord had done in her life.
It is so hard sometimes to even want to keep going when something like this happens. It hits you out of nowhere and places you flat on your face. But, I know that my mom would not want us to shut down, or stop moving. She wants us to rise up in our faith, to live in love and joy, and walk in the Peace of the Lord.
(the grandkids . . .)
I will cry for my mama for a long, long time, but I know that when we, our family, carries out the things that she enjoyed most, when we share in those memories and traditions, we all find joy and laughter together, we find comfort in knowing that she lives on in all of us. “Don’t worry, be happy,” is what she would tell us. So simple, so true and exactly how she lived.
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Thank you to the Magness & Dunning families for their generosity & partnership!