This is the fourth installment in a series of monthly-ish interviews between myself and various writers and members of the Mockingbird community. These posts will explore some aspects of each individual’s personal story and some aspects of Mockingbird’s larger story and ministry as we celebrate its 10th Anniversary. Additional interviews in this series can be found herehere, and here.

Charlotte Donlon

Before I do an interview I Google the name of the person I’ll be talking with. There are a lot of very accomplished Stephanie Phillipses out there. How do you handle that kind of pressure?

Stephanie Phillips

I haven’t Googled “Stephanie Phillips” in a while, but before I got married I Googled Stephanie Strickland, which is my maiden name, and I found a poet named Stephanie Strickland. She published a book called True North, and I was really jealous when I found that out. Well, she’s a poet and I’m not, and I’m jealous of poets. But also, I really think that’s a cool title and a great concept for a book, and she got to it first.

CD

Since this is an interview for Mockingbird’s 10th anniversary, I’ll steer my questions toward that topic now instead of the Stephanies on Google. How did you find Mockingbird?

SP

Jason (my husband) reminded me of this the other day because I had forgotten. I was looking for a devotional that we could do as a family a few years ago when my son James was really young, and I started Googling “reformed devotionals” and Mockingbird popped up in the results. So I went to the website to see what they were about, and I felt like the “about” section or the “who we are” was the mothership calling me home. It was everything I had been thinking and feeling about faith but had not yet articulated. So I started reading the website constantly and discovered something I had been longing for but didn’t know I had been missing until I found it.

CD

How has Mockingbird’s community and message impacted you?

SP

It’s sort of a version of home for me. It’s a group of people who believe what they believe and it’s not going to change because grace doesn’t change. They’re shouting that message and writing that message and speaking that message. And I know however much bad theology I hear, or however many counter-Christian messages I hear, this is a place I can go and hear the truth. Mockingbird reminds me that I’m not crazy for thinking the gospel isn’t about law. When I lived in the South, I felt like I was surrounded by the message that behavior modification is what’s important with regard to faith. Here in Australia, faith is a lot less common and not really spoken about. So I’ve been around these two extremes but there sits Mockingbird, which is home and truth for me, and it reminds me that grace is real and here is a group of people who are never going to get tired of talking about it.

CD

What are some of your favorite Mockingbird moments?

SP

The first would be when I started writing for them. I wrote a piece about the TV show Nashville, and it didn’t seem appropriate for my blog, but there was a significant faith component in it so I sent it to Mockingbird to see if it might be a good fit there. Dave responded and told me I really nailed the tone of Mockingbird, and that was such a gift for me to hear him say that. Up until that point, Mockingbird had felt like a home to me and now there was some mutual recognition that these could be my people.

Another one would be when I spoke at the conference last year. This was my first time to speak there—well, to speak publicly anywhere almost—and I was sick and terrified because I could potentially crap my pants or throw up in front of this huge crowd of people. It ended up being really wonderful. The sickness kind of destroyed any energy I would’ve had to be anxious about how I might present myself. Everyone was great, and it was a picture of grace. What started off as this horrible moment of wondering if I’m even going to get to go became a really unifying moment of community. It made me feel even more embedded in grace and in the gospel message and the Mockingbird community.

I also love the little moments of reading other people’s pieces and engaging with their words and the commonalities we all find through our writing, and the encouragement we give and receive on a regular basis is life-giving. Mockingbird’s message strips down any pretense and helps us get down to the gritty truth with each other.

CD

You write with transparency and honesty about motherhood. How did you embrace that willingness to be so open?

SP

It started for me back in my mid-to-late 20s. I went through a couple of years where this identity I had constructed for myself was falling apart. I was always the good girl, the sweet girl, the good student, but during my dental residency it just crumbled. And in my personal life I engaged in some things that were not “good Christian things.” So I began to realize I had been trying to be the person I thought people wanted me to be. I built up years of anger and resentment because of that because I wasn’t being who I really was. I was afraid the real me wouldn’t be accepted and loved. That kicked off my move to New York because I wanted to get away. And, this season was when I first really heard about grace. Maybe grace had been preached to me before—maybe not. Either way, this was the first time I heard grace and began to understand it.

I began writing around this time. I started blogging when I was in New York, and I started telling the truth. I had years of practice of that before becoming a mom. And then when James was diagnosed on the spectrum, and even before that, when he went through spinal surgery and a year and a half of trying to figure out what was going on with him and why his head was tilted and everything, I realized over time that I could keep it all quiet and pray about it and deal with it privately, or I could be public about it. The choice was a no-brainer because God had been taking me down this path of ‘you’re going to write’ and ‘you’re going to tell the truth and this is what that looks like. And this is what not hiding looks like.’ So I try to turn away from anything that feels like hiding.

Because I try to be open and tell the truth, I’ve been able to see others be more open and tell the truth. It’s like it makes space for others to do the same. I receive emails and Facebook messages from people who don’t want to hide either. Being truthful about the realities of life is freedom for me. I do think more now about how much to share. I need to consider my husband and our kids and their privacy. I have the privilege of telling my kids’ stories until they’re old enough to do it themselves. Wth James, especially, I want to tell the truest version of his story instead of what the medical files or diagnoses say.

CD

What are your favorite wines?

SP

Pretty much any wine works for me. My sister makes fun of me because she says I’ll buy anything. And she’s right. I’ll buy anything. I’m developing the ability to tell the difference between good and bad wine. When I lived in the US, I went to Total Wine and I had my favorites there. I prefer cavas and Cabernets. I don’t remember the names but I remember the labels. And I always buy in the $10-$12 range, so it’s never anything real fancy. Here in Australia we don’t have Total Wine, sadly, but I’m sticking mainly to Australian Shiraz and wines from New Zealand. I’m trying new things. Generally my favorite wines are full-bodied reds and sparkling wines. When we moved here it was summer so I drank a lot of rosé. I’m starting to drink more reds now that it’s getting colder. It is fun trying new things that are more local, but I still stick to my main guideline which is nothing too expensive.

CD

What is something God has reminded you of recently?

SP

Well, since we just got back from our trip to the States, which was two weeks ago, God has been reminding me that all is gift, that whatever comes from Him is a gift. Sydney is a really practical and tangible reminder of that right now. When we landed, James visibly relaxed. Being here has been the biggest blessing for him. He was the main reason I was concerned about moving here. I was worried about how it would affect him, but it really has been wonderful for him. So God has been reminding me through our neighborhood and through the people we interact with that our time here is a season of rest for us. God wants to give us rest. He wants to give us gifts. His gifts aren’t always what I would choose, and sometimes I feel slighted by that. I know that’s childish and silly, but that reaction is because of my lack of faith that God loves me. But He’s reminding me He is good and His gifts are good.