by Dianna Lightfoot
Betty Lightfoot-Phillips, wife of the late Dr. John Phillips, is my mother. They were married in 1998, and what a team they made! He often said, “Your mother is one of the best things that ever happened to me.” John was quiet with a dry sense of humor, while my mother is vivacious, intelligent, and outgoing---they worked well together as he traveled the country speaking and working with the faith community.
As a tribute for Mother’s Day, I would like to tell the story of how God works in mysterious ways, bringing good from bad, and how He guided my mother down a long, often difficult path to the happiest and most fulfilled time in her life; her years with John Phillips.
From childhood on, one indelible memory about my mother stands out. Each morning, she could be found at the kitchen table, Bible open, studying God’s Word. As a child, and moving forward into adulthood, her consistent focus on the “Guidebook for life,” grew from a vague curiosity for her children, into an understanding of how her steadfast trust in God’s promises would become an anchor of security for us throughout our lives.
What family doesn’t have its share of difficulties, dramas and disasters? Those who say they haven’t, are likely to experience them just around the corner. My family has had many deeply disturbing dilemmas to deal with, and without fail, the one place we turned to for guidance and support was our mother.
Night or day, even though we are now adult “children,” in our darkest moments, and the most seemingly hopeless situations of our lives, we have all reached for the phone to call our mom. And always, our hearts and minds would be encouraged and calmed by the voice of a woman who understood that impossible situations are God’s best opportunities to show that nothing is impossible with Him. She would remind us that “My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor or my ways your ways declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8), and that in His time, we could be sure a door would open, and an answer would come. Charles Spurgeon once said that “As we become one with Christ, we stop asking for things, and begin to expect and accept that what He allows into our lives has a purpose, and can become an asset if we are willing to trust Him.”
Some believe we are in essence chess pieces on a "celestial board;" that God moves us if and when He chooses. However, my mother reinforced the concept of free will, so that we would understood that we could choose to listen and obey, or refuse and find our own way through difficulties. We began to learn that in life’s uncharted waters, with unpredictable destinations and outcomes, a heavenly Guide is always preferable and more productive than trial and error.
My mother is the middle child of an amazing kind, encouraging mother, and a charming, but alcoholic father; so she grew up experiencing the see-saws of life, with its many challenges. Yet what she remembers most is her mother’s strength and positive outlook. After a divorce because of her father’s alcoholism, the family was poor, sometimes to the point of not having 25 cents to buy block ice for the refrigerator. One winter the oldest sister Ruby had no shoes, and often the shoes they did have were lined with cardboard. But when my mother asked if they were poor, her mother hesitated only a moment before saying, “We’re not rich or poor, we’re just right.”
Married at 16 and a mother at 18, life was not easy for my mother. She married a good looking, fun loving man whose high school yearbook motto was, “pleasure before business.” He decided to become a minister, pastored a few small churches, and then moved my family to California so he could attend Golden Gate Seminary. It was there he met some Chinese Christians, and subsequently, for more than 30 years, led a ministry to the Chinese community in the San Francisco Bay Area.
God did a miraculous work through these intelligent, professional and faith-focused Chinese people. But as all too often happens, great blessings can blind the eyes of those who do not stay on His path, and instead, allow success to intoxicate them into believing they are above His law. As the years went by, self-indulgence began to define my biological father, until one day, there was a great fall, damaging many people, and the heart of the church. This damage would take years to repair.
In short, through no fault of her own, my mother lost almost everything. For many people this would have spelled the end of their faith and hope--if not their lives. Yet through it all, I vividly remember her still sitting at that kitchen table, focused on the Word, leaning hard on her God for strength and direction. Through many tears, she told us, “Never depend on what you have, it can be gone in an instant, instead depend of the only One who can support you through any of life’s hurricanes.” And she did just that, once again becoming a living example of spiritual strength for her children—and for many others.
Sometime after my father’s “fall from grace,” and his desertion of my mother, she began communicating with Dr. John Phillips. He had spoken at the Chinese Bible Church, and his wife Jean had become friends with my mother. Unfortunately, his wife had died of cancer, and he was reaching out to comfort my mother because she had also experienced a recent tragedy. Over time, their communication developed into a relationship, and then marriage. In fact, amazingly, as she realized her life was near its end, Jean Phillips told John one day, “If you marry again, I hope its Betty.” And so he did.
John Phillips brought healing and joy to my mother as well as our whole family. With his death in 2010, my mother put her energies toward his often repeated request, “Please don’t let my work die when I do.” She is now the heart of John Phillips Ministries International, working through this website, with the goal of translating his books and messages into as many languages as financially possible. As you can see, with her perseverance and guidance, and the support of a wonderful board, we’ve achieved a great deal toward that goal over the past five plus years.
I cannot end without saying what an honor and blessing it has been to have a mother whose life has consistently reflected the love of God. Without her support, none of her children would be as successful and well-balanced as I believe we all are. Thank you Mom and thank you God! Your children really do “rise up and call you blessed.”