Keithlee's story . . . week four ~ "Traditions & Blessings"
Thank you for joining us for week four . . . this week's story is a lovely reminder to us here at Lavish the importance of receiving the support of family, friends, . . . and community! A BLESSING to have you join us as we continue to honor "mothers," family and traditions through Keithlee and her "big" beautiful, loving family!
The Christmas season arrived and with it came many questions and emotions. Every first without our mom and wife is extremely hard. The normal everyday things are difficult, but the holidays are special. Christmas is special. Christmas was mom’s favorite holiday. She glowed all the time, but at Christmas, man did she shine. She loved Christmas because she loved being with her family. She loved watching her children and grandchildren light up as they opened every gift. She loved Christmas music, and every year she would turn it on, decorate the tree, talk about every precious ornament from when we were children, sing Christmas songs and just smile with incredible joy.
When we were children we would string popcorn and cranberries to put on the tree every year. We all would create our own patterns and just enjoy being together. When we began having children, mom always made them feel special. She would help them decorate gingerbread houses, make them hot chocolate, help them build the perfect snowman, and shower them with mountains of gifts. She just loved having everyone together. She loved giving, and most of all she loved celebrating the birth of our beautiful, most precious Savior. She loved our sweet Jesus wholeheartedly, and through the many traditions that we still honor today, she never let the true reason for Christmas get lost in the chaos of the season. She let Him shine in everything.
During Thanksgiving, we all discussed how we wanted Christmas to be. We knew that we had to do something because that was what the children were used to; it was what they expected. There were so many emotions during the holiday season without our sweet mama physically present and sometimes it was hard to even think about celebrating without her. I spoke to my sister Blakeley about it at one point, and she told me that she had been feeling guilt for continuing Christmas how we would usually celebrate it with mom. She said she had been praying about it, and she felt the Lord tugging at her heart, and He told her to not feel guilty. Christmas is about the birth of our Savior Jesus, and that is what mom loved most about Christmas. The Lord told Blakeley that she should not have any guilt, but that she should celebrate Christmas BIG, just like mama. Take joy in the birth of Jesus, and honor mom in keeping her Christmas traditions alive. So, we decided that was it, we would make mama proud, we were going to celebrate Christmas BIG, with a lot of meaning, hope and love.
We started with getting out the decorations, boy were there a lot! More than mom ever put out, but there were so many memories in all of them, and we shared in those memories with tears and smiles. Dad set up the tree at his house, and we all met over there one morning, turned on Christmas music and decorated the tree together. This will always be a vivid memory for me. It was hard to hear that music and pull out those sweet ornaments, but doing it together brought joy. We were able to share in the memories of so many ornaments. Every one told a story. There were so many that we made when we were young children, and so many that held a special significance. My mom’s favorite ornaments were a Mary, Joseph and Jesus that are each made from clay and are very old. Every year she would place them in the top center of the tree, right under the star at the top. My sweet nephew Jackson, got to put those ornaments in their special spot this past year and I don’t think it could have been any better. I sit here writing, and just recalling these moments brings tears to my eyes and pain in my heart, but being in those moments, and sharing them together as a family, was such a blessing. Having the strength of family, along with the hope and assurance that mom was right there in the Presence of the Lord, and living in all of these memories, gave me comfort. It gave us a piece of her.
Blakeley took on the major task of getting gifts for all the grandchildren. We have such a large family that we decided, a few years back, that we wanted the gifting focus to be on the grandchildren. After all, there’s nothing better than watching those sweet little faces light up on Christmas morning. Every year, my mom would order matching pajamas for all of us and she would give them to us on Christmas Eve. We wear our matching pajamas all together on Christmas morning. Blakeley, with the help of my sister Colbie and I, ordered all of our pajamas. This was a huge task in itself because of the amount of people. I remember looking at Blakeley when we were looking at options online, late one night, and we both said, “How did mom do all of this, and work, and take care of our every need, and with such grace and ease?” We decided that she had to have had super human powers, or maybe she just let the Peace of the Lord that she declared in her day, every day, just wash right through her. We got those pajamas ordered and then we were on to our next tasks.
I was in charge of another tradition that my mom always upheld. We needed a Christmas card, but not just any typical, cute photo card, it had to be a Debbie Magness style Christmas card. This was harder than it looked, but so many blessings came out of it in the end. My mama’s Christmas cards were very creative and quite humorous, especially to her. Every year, she would find a card with some type of Christmas scene or theme on the front, and then she would make us pose for pictures in whatever crazy position she was planning to place us in the card.
We have pulled sleighs, built snowmen, jumped out of boxes, our children have been dressed up as angels and wise men, and we have even been pictured riding camels. After taking our pictures, mom would carefully hand cut and paste our pictures to the scene of the card just right. She would have them all copied, and then address each one herself, all 250 of them. People loved her cards. They looked forward to the Magness family Christmas card. After her service, we had people writing in the cards they sent, that one of their greatest memories was her Christmas card. So, I set out to find the perfect card that would honor my mama. I found a card with a nativity scene on it that was absolutely perfect. I ran it by my family first, and got suggestions from them as well, and then I got to work. I collected pictures from everyone and my husband helped me size everyone’s faces so they would fit the cards.
I began to cut and paste each one of our faces to the card. Everyone was either a shepherd or a wise man, my dad was Joseph and my sister Blakeley was Mary. We all decided that we wanted mom in the card, so we made her the North Star shining over the stable with Ellie, her dog, as a star right next to her. It was perfect! She was and had always been our North Star. She led each of us to our Savior and now she was shining brightly alongside Him. We also wanted to have something in the card that reminded people of the Giving Tree and would highlight who our mom was, something that would honor her. My sweet, amazingly creative God sister, Camden Dunning, was so gracious and made us some inserts for our Christmas card. On one side she had a picture of the Giving Tree book cover, with a quote from the letter our mom wrote on the inside cover of the book. On the other side, she placed a precious picture of our sweet mama with her favorite Bible verse.
Camden, (my God-sister), did such a beautiful job, and helped us so much. After all the cards were printed, and we made it to Oklahoma City for Christmas, everyone helped get the cards addressed and mailed by Christmas day. Creating these cards became such a blessing for me. It allowed me to share in something that was so special to my mama, something that made her laugh and I could feel her with me through the process. Upon arriving in Oklahoma City, we were welcomed with an invite to dinner at the house of some of our precious friends, the Hodges family. They have a large family like us with lots of grandchildren, and along with many others, have helped take our family under their wing.
Sheri Hodges, who was one of my mom’s closest friends presented my dad with a precious gift, a painting of a snowy day with cardinals all throughout the picture. The reason this gift is so special is that Sheri had bought the picture a while back and never really even noticed the cardinals. After mom’s passing, we began seeing cardinals everywhere. Two or three would just show up in my parents’ backyard and sit for long periods of time. They would show up when we were having meaningful conversations outside and one would always land at just the right time. My brother Micah, shortly after the accident, had been praying, asking God for a sign that Mom was there with us and with the Lord. He looked out the window and a cardinal perched on a tree right in front of him and sat as though it was looking at Micah. This was a sign, a sign that Mom was and is always here. She loved cardinals. They were her favorite bird. So, the Hodges painting, had so much significance. Sheri saw the cardinals and knew that my mom was with her.
The overwhelming response from friends is incredible. I can’t even begin to describe the way my mom’s friends have taken us in as if we were their own.Christmas morning arrived. We all gathered together in our matching pajamas and dad made our traditional Christmas morning breakfast. We ate delicious food and enjoyed being together. Even our sweet friend, Cathy Jo, joined us for breakfast and came bearing gifts with lots of love and meaning in each one. Blakeley did an amazing job with gifts for all the grandchildren. She made my mom smile big that morning. She made it magical for our sweet kids; it was like Mimi was right there.
The house looked like a Christmas wonderland. We opened our stockings and told our “giving” stories. We then noticed a letter placed in mom’s stocking. My dad had quietly slipped a letter to our mama, his wife, in her stocking. He graciously allowed us to hear his sweet words and then continued to surprise us with more blessings that only he could give. I am so proud of my dad in so many ways. He is a precious man, husband and dad, with a huge heart. As we shared our “giving” stories and watched the kids run around and play with their gifts, every one of us felt blessed to be right where we were. There were many tears shed that morning, but there was also great love and joy shared in each moment of the day.
It’s amazing how God quietly moves through every moment of your grief and places little nuggets of His Peace, comfort and joy all around you. Our mama was in every part of that Christmas day, and I know she was right there celebrating with us. I think that Christmas will always be different, it will always be hard, but I do know that when we come together as a family, and honor our mama through continuing her legacy in her traditions and love, this is where we find our mama’s spirit with us, and we can see the beauty of the Lord in everything. Our eyes are opened to His hope, His love and His glory.
I am thankful that the Lord has allowed us to have so many signs of our mama’s presence with us. My sister, Blakeley sent me a picture of our mama’s bench that her sweet friends had given to my dad.
(bench when still in the box)
He had placed the bench in the front garden of their house, and just as spring was approaching, daffodils began to pop up around the bench. No one had ever seen those daffodils there before. My mama loved daffodils, along with many other flowers, so she could have planted the bulbs a while back, but they had never come up until now. They were only around the bench, nowhere else. When she sent me this picture, I felt the urge to look up the symbolism of a daffodil. It was right before Easter and I knew it had to mean something. After looking at several sites on Google, they all said that the daffodil’s primary symbolism is that of rebirth and new beginnings. Some other common meanings are creativity, inspiration, renewal and vitality, awareness and inner reflection, memory, and forgiveness. I believe all of the latter meanings intertwine and flow into the meaning of rebirth and new beginnings.
As I read the symbolism, my entire body got chills and tears filled my eyes. The Lord, right along with our mama, had a hand in making those daffodils bloom at that time. They were a sign, a sign from the Lord and our sweet mama. Blakeley had sent this picture to me when I was on my way to the Renewing Life Center for grief counseling. It was at a time where I was feeling heavy grief and my counselor had shown me that this stage wouldn’t last, the scale goes back up to feeling hope and healing again. These flowers were whispers of this hope. They were whispers from our sweet Jesus that we will have new life just as we do in Him. I believe that when my mom passed, our entire family felt a part of ourselves pass away too. But, even though we are all forever changed, every one of us has been given new life. We will always grieve, we will always remember, but Jesus, with our mom right by His side, has called us to renewal, to beauty, to live in faith, hope and love, and to shine brightly in the light of His Presence; just as our sweet mama lived. This is how we will bring glory to Him. This is how we will honor our mama.
(mama & my brother Hunter)
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