I have vacillated for months about what to give my parents for Christmas this year. I made them their annual photo calendar, but wanted to give them more. What do you give two people who are on a mission? Two people who have everything they need and don't have room for anything else? I also really like to give gifts that are meaningful rather than of the check-the-box sort. So the last time I was in Utah I brought home their box of old photos and letters to see if there was something I could do with them. We have relatively few photos from our past and the ones there are have been sitting in boxes aging for years.
As I sorted through all the old photos I was flooded with memories of old homes, old friends, fun vacations, etc; but the overwhelming feeling I experienced was love. Emotion for a family and especially parents who created a life where love abounded. Then I began to look through photos of my parents and a love story unfolded; one that began long before I was ever present in those family pictures. The photos of this story have aged and diminished in quality from the years of wear, but the love has done the opposite. It has morphed and expanded and become more beautiful through time. This is a story that needs to be told. Photos and words need to be used to preserve something as rare and unique as the relationship between my parents. Toot and Pap, for Christmas this year I have scanned and edited old photos and written your story. I may get some of the details and timelines wrong, but here is the gist of what I remember.
They grew up in the same small town in California called San Luis Obispo.
My mom was raised by these three people: her mother Joyce (on right), father Sten and grandmother Nellie who lived in a house directly behind the home my mom grew up in. She lived in a strict LDS centered home where there were many rules she was expected to follow. She was the middle child in a family of five. My grandpa owned a small gas station and was a mechanic. They never had very much money, but due to the talent to make things lovely my grandma possessed and the ingenuity of my grandpa to fix anything, they lived a nice life. My grandpa could be demanding, but was fiercely loyal, loving and so fun. My grandma Joyce was kind, gentle, and a good listener. Both were hardworking. My great grandma Nellie was independent, capable and patient. My mom was the combination and culmination of these three role models in her life. In addition, she oozed with a talent for music, was fiercely independent, had a fear of nothing and was a bit of a spit fire!
My dad was born into a devout Catholic home. He was the second child in a family of six boys and two girls. Rules were basically nonexistent and self expression was highly honored. The children ran wild and were known throughout San Luis for their exploits! His father and grandfather owned a sporting good store in Pismo Beach. Like my mom, he grew up in a home where money was sparse. He had a wonderful mother, Ysabel, with wisdom beyond her years, but who lacked in implementation at times. She was a strong woman who taught her sons that women are equals and to be honored. She was an incredible listener and non-judgmental mother. His father Ki, was a workaholic. He was rarely home. My dad went to work with his father and grandfather at an early age at their sporting good store just to have interaction with them. My dad spent his life seeking the approval of his father. My dad was a great athlete, a talented listener, incredibly loyal, wonderfully naive, good to the core and a bit of a ruffian.
My parents first met because my mom liked my dad's younger brother Pete. They didn't really hang out until a later time when my mom needed my dad's help. My mom was at Avila Beach trying to get a guy to leave her alone (she was a babe). She recognized my dad and sought him out for help. She asked him to pretend to be her boyfriend so that the guy would leave her alone. My dad was more than happy to oblige. They spent the day together, then the day after that, then the next day... This was the start of their long love story. My dad was just seventeen and my mom fifteen.
They dated all through high school. My dad went to the Catholic Mission Prep and my mom to San Luis Obispo High. When my dad graduated he went to the local community college, Cuesta, and played baseball and football. When my dad was almost 20, he started to read the Book of Mormon and to meet with the LDS missionaries (this is an amazing story for a different blog post). He joined the church, much to the dismay of his family and friends. After two years at Cuesta he transferred on scholarship to BYU to play football. My mom, a recent high school graduate, went to BYU on a music scholarship. There they continued to date. Well, kind of...
To say they had a perfect relationship and always knew they would one day be married would be a lie; at least for my mom. My dad always knew. He wanted to marry my mom from that first day at the beach. My mom, on the other hand, felt a pressing need to "do her homework" and make sure he was indeed the best option. They dated on and off, but kept in steady contact throughout college. My mom broke my dad's heart time and time again. Yet, he was incessantly forgiving and felt she was his "one" so he kept taking her back. My dad at age 23 and a recent graduate finally decided he should go on a mission. He got on an airplane knowing he was leaving my mom in the arms of another. In fact, she got engaged to Rob Holiday soon after he left. That decision to leave is so telling of the character and faith of my dad. He left my mom, the greatest and most important treasure in his life, to go and serve the only One whom he held more dear than her. This pattern of always trusting in and putting God first has held true throughout his life.
My mom took Rob home to California to meet her family. While they were there she quickly realized he was not a fit. Her parents and especially her grandmother did not approve. They loved my dad. They had from the beginning. She broke off the engagement and started to slowly realize just what she had in my dad. She began to write him in earnest. Below are some excerpts from some of the letters she wrote to him on his mission.
“When I got the tape I had to sit there and literally rejoice inside. Only the day before I had sent you a letter containing essentially the same things. I sat in awe when I realized how much the Lord is guiding us both – giving us experiences that lead us in the same directions- preparing us apart for the things we will need together. It just makes me so happy and excited to know the Lord loves us and wants us together – enough to lead us toward the same goals and experiences. Oh Jim, I am just so thankful.”
“Honey, I appreciate you so much. For the righteous desires of your heart – for your determination to succeed at a vital calling: being a father and husband. I cherish the love you have for me. It’s almost sacred to me; something I’ll guard and tend and nurture for all eternity. Honey, only now am I beginning to even comprehend the magnificent opportunity I’m going to have to lose myself in loving and supporting you. It’s not idealistic or unrealistic, I know what it is going to take to achieve it.”
“You mentioned praying about our children – that made me cry. Ever since whenever I pray I ask the Lord to bless them, to give them patience, so that we can prepare our home for them to come to. I want them to know how much we love them and want them eternally.”
“There are three periods of time that hold so much excitement for me: the day you come home to me, the day we are sealed for eternity and the day our first child moves within me. I cannot even comprehend the joy these occasions will bring. I love you so.”
“You make me happier even at 8,000 miles than anyone can even being here. I love you sweetheart. I pray you will know how much. God bless you.”
“Oh dear Jim, how do I tell you all the personal revelations of you I had last night, all the new light and all the new insight into the future I had, all the longings I had filled that I wasn’t even aware of: spiritual needs, a need to communicate and be understood, to have another speak and I comprehend, to be lifted up by the Spirit the way that only you have ever been able to do, To glimpse at all we have, you and I, to look and see the great sacrifice ahead with you, to literally realize the future and know you are vital in it, to understand and be thankful for my strength rather than asking why so much (because I will be doing much alone), to KNOW Jim, I mean to really know we can make it and will make it, to work toward the goal in this life of our calling and election made sure. We can do this honey! The most important revelation of all is within me. Jim I trust you. Can you believe it? I really trust you enough to hand you my spirit and know that you’ll take me back.!”
The rest is history. My dad came home from his mission to my mom who had recently graduated from BYU. Four months later, after 8 years of dating, they got married in the Los Angeles Temple. They moved to San Luis Obispo and had their oldest daughter Jami just 13 months after they were married. Their life has been filled with ups and downs and in betweens. Through all of it they have always had each other. Their love is the constant. They have loved each other almost their entire lives. It is this love that has molded and shaped them into the individuals and couple they are today. It has and will be there for eternity.
When I found the love letters from my mom to my dad on his mission I was blown away by the depth of the love they had even then. I sobbed as I read the past, knowing that the promises that were made years ago had come true. I was born into a home where the power of this committed love was always present. My parents taught and gave me many wonderful experiences and lessons growing up. I always had a home, food, and a faith in God because that was all just part of being a Phillips. As I have grown older and look back on my life and the blessings that have been in abundance throughout it, the one thing that brought me the most daily comfort and assurance was that my parents loved each other. This in turn made it easy for me to feel that they loved me too. I have heard the phrase "Jim and I" so often growing up that the phrase has almost become a single word that sounds like "gemini" when my mom says it. I worried a bit about them going on a mission and being together 24 hours a day. I wondered if they would drive each other crazy. The opposite has been true. Unbelievably, they have grown even closer. Their love has once again expanded and grown more pure. More beautiful. More powerful.
There is such transforming power in the phrase my mom wrote to my dad so many years ago: I cherish the love you have for me. It’s almost sacred to me; something I’ll guard and tend and nurture for all eternity. This is something I have witnessed my entire life. So this love story does not end here...
I have been the recipient of this love for so long, that now I too get to write my own love story. I understand the importance of "guarding," "tending," and "nurturing," the love of a spouse. It is a love I know is possible because I have watched it up close and personal my entire life. The love I share with my own husband is familiar in its power and beauty. I too can give this greatest of gifts to my own children. Because Jake and I first love God, we are able to love each other in a way that transcends our differences. My own children, your grandchildren will grow up with the lingering of your story permeating their own lives.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for loving each other. Your love is such a gift to me, to my children, to their children and on. Thank you for allowing me to be a part your love story. I promise it does not end. Even after you are gone your story will continue in the relationships of your posterity who know that kind of love is possible because it was gifted to them by you. Merry Christmas! I love and adore you both! -love Ashlee