About five years ago, Lisa V. Phillips sat rocking her newborn daughter, Jenelle, trying to comfort the colicky infant. The transition from being a mother of two to a mother of three was proving quite a challenge. The house was upside down, at least it felt that way to the tired woman.
Pretty soon, both mother and child were crying. "I was completely overwhelmed," recalled Sister Phillips of the Durham 1st Ward, Durham North Carolina Stake.Continuing, she related how her husband, Victor, approached her and their daughter, looked at them lovingly and gently said: "You know, Sweetheart, just a short time ago, she was in a place of total love. Now she's been thrust into this cold, harsh world. As you nurse her and rock and hold her, you are not only providing a healthy environment for her body, you are also helping her remember those feelings she had before she came here. You are the closest thing to heaven she has."
With this thought, Sister Phillips' feelings of being overwhelmed "just melted away. I realized there is a far greater thing I do than cleaning and changing diapers. This is part of Heavenly Father's plan to help us feel heaven here so we'll be ready to return to Him."
This perspective is what Sister Phillips hopes to convey to other young mothers throughout the country as she serves as the 1996 National Mother of Young Children. She received the honor at a luncheon in Lincoln, Neb., April 27, held by American Mothers Inc, an organization well-known for sponsoring the annual Mother of the Year award, which was also given to an LDS woman this year. (Please see accompanying article.)
Speaking of what she hopes to accomplish during the coming year, Sister Phillips told the Church News during a telephone interview: "The purpose of American Mothers is to strengthen the family and home, and we aim those efforts at mothers. To me, motherhood takes every bit of spiritual, emotional and physical strength I can muster. It's a constant effort. It's very difficult to be a mother, especially because it is so important. Satan focuses much of his attack on the family. We must seek the Lord's help to accomplish this overwhelming task."
Sister Phillips' training for motherhood began when she was a little girl growing up in Hyde Park, Utah, a few miles north of Logan, Utah. The daughter of Sherron W. and Lois Vail, she became familiar early in life with heartache. Her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Although not malignant, the tumor had to be operated on four different times, leaving the mother of seven with mental and emotional side effects.
"She has spent the last 25 years of her life battling mental illness," Sister Phillips explained. "So in large degree, she was not able to mother in the way she hoped to. I honor her and revere her and know it wasn't something she had control over. She has been so courageous in her trials. That example has been wonderful in the lives of all the people around her."
While her mother was battling the illness, Sister Phillips, who was then 8 years old, found a role model in her grandmother, Winona Vail. "She is the personification of Christlike service. She never has had highly visible callings in the Church, but her whole life is just giving service. She has taken care of six or more people, relatives, in her home who have been aged and ill.
"Grandmother's house is home," Sister Phillips said. "We would visit her often, and there was a spirit in her home that made me feel so at peace and so comfortable. That gave me great strength in my teenage years - to be able to feel that constancy of mothering."
Now a mother herself, Sister Phillips is still in close contact with her grandmother, who lives in Hyde Park, while her mother lives in Logan. Her father passed away in December 1995.
Sister Phillips's childhood experiences helped prepare her for marriage to Victor H. Phillips on Sept. 22, 1983, in the Logan Temple. Today, they have three daughters and a son - Melissa, 11; Benjamin, 8; Jenelle, 5; and Hannah, 2.
Together, Brother and Sister Phillips strive to engender a spirit of warmth, security and love in their home - not to mention lots of fun. It's a tradition in the Phillips' household to celebrate as many holidays as possible. On President's Day, the family puts up decorations and has treats; on St. Patrick's Day, they enjoy green food, wear green hats and play Irish games.
The Phillips home is also one founded upon the gospel. Sister Phillips related that her older children made goals of reading the Book of Mormon by themselves before they were baptized - Benjamin being the most recent.
"About a week before he turned 8, he came running up the stairs and yelled,
I did it! I did it!' I knew what he meant. I told him,Moroni promised that when you had finished reading this book, that you could ask God if it is correct, and he would tell you.' My husband and I and Ben knelt right there. As Ben said his prayer, he was crying," Sister Phillips related, her voice choking with emotion. She added that the testimony Ben received fostered in him a "cheerful joy."
"Cheerful" - and loving - are ways to describe the Phillips's marriage. "When you are treated with that much love, all you want to do is give it back," Sister Phillips said.
The word giving is certainly applicable in the Phillips's home.