CINCINNATI -- Tillery Phillips, age 15 months, has had a lot of ups and downs since she was diagnosed with a brain tumor on Sept. 30.
Through it all, the angelic little girl’s family can be certain of one thing, as the Facebook page and T-shirt created in her support attest: Tillery is loved.
“It’s a testament of how great it is to be United Methodist,” said the Rev. Joe Phillips, Tillery’s father and pastor at Daisy United Methodist Church in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.
Since Oct. 1, Tillery has been treated at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, enduring surgery, a blood clot, chemotherapy, feeding problems, and more recently, an accident that caused brain bleeding and additional surgery.
Several churches and individuals have reached out to the Phillips family after learning about what they were going through. They’ve sent money, gift cards, pajamas, balloons, candy, toys, blankets, and promises of prayer. On Facebook, supporters have posted photos of themselves wearing “Tillery is Loved” shirts and funny videos to make the sick little girl (and her parents) laugh.
The Rev. Clair Sauer stopped by Cincinnati on a visit through the area and left a prayer shawl made by women from her church, Fairview United Methodist in Hixson, Tenn. Joe Phillips’ district superintendent, the Rev. Joe Green and his wife Beth, drove all the way from Cleveland, Tenn., to Cincinnati to say a prayer, then drove right back home. Congregations from other states have sent their prayers, photos and love gifts, too.
The congregation at Daisy UMC has worked hard to keep the church active while their pastor spends part of his week in Ohio, a seven-hour drive away, said Joe Phillips. “It’s impressive, because a lot of churches would have used this as an excuse to just stop.”
On the weekend of Nov. 15-16, five church members went a step further to show their support, with the blessings of fellow congregants. They rented an SUV and drove to Cincinnati. The Graham family (Tom, Rita, and Anna) and the Howard family (Dennis and Brenda) visited their pastor’s family at Ronald McDonald House of Greater Cincinnati, where they are currently living, and later shared a hamburger supper on the town.
“They need all the support they can get, and we wanted to bring a little taste of Chattanooga with us,” said Rita Graham, who brought Moon Pies to share with other sick children and their families staying at Ronald McDonald House.
Late on that Saturday night, Tillery was injured when she fell off the bed and had to have emergency surgery. Joe Phillips and his wife, Alana, were thankful their church family was still in Cincinnati. Rita Graham brought Tillery’s older brother, three-year-old Luke, back to the hotel to care for him.
On the following Sunday morning, the original plan was for the Phillips family to join the Graham and Howard families at nearby Immanuel United Methodist Church for worship. Through a series of coincidental connections, the pastors and members at the church in Lakeside Park, Ky., had reached out to the Phillips family during their Cincinnati stay. Alana and Tillery had attended worship and Wednesday-night activities at Immanuel. The congregation had also offered free child care for Luke.
After Tillery’s emergency surgery, however, the Phillips family had to stay close to the hospital. “The best thing you can do for us is to go ahead and worship,” a sad Joe Phillips told his guests.
Before saying goodbye, the visitors prayed over their pastor. They attended Immanuel UMC, where the worship service included a prayer for Tillery. Then they returned home to Soddy-Daisy.
Since then, Tillery’s health has improved and the number of followers on her Facebook page has swelled to more than 1,100.
“Thank you to so many amazing friends,” Alana Phillips said. “Friends who pray without ceasing, friends willing to drop everything to help, friends who are true friends. In this trial, I see blessings surrounding us.”
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.