The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Pastor Phillips leaves his mark in Cathlamet


January 31, 2019

Diana Zimmerman

After 11 years, Pastor Mark Phillips is moving on from his post at the Cathlamet Assembly of God.

After nearly 12 years of serving at the River of Life Assembly of God in Cathlamet, Pastor Mark Phillips has retired.

"My plans were to pastor this church until I was 72," Phillips said, "but the pain caught up with me."

He is 63 and for the past 10 years, he has been living with something called New Daily Persistent Headache.

"The easiest way to explain it is that you wake up one day with a headache that never goes away," Phillips said. "It's usually people that have little to no history of headaches before that."

Another neurologist recently diagnosed it as chronic migraine, but Phillips seemed to think the first diagnosis, NDPH, was probably right.

"Very few chronic migraine cases are day in, day out," he said, explaining that someone with a chronic migraine diagnosis might have anywhere from five to 10 migraines a month.

Phillips has a headache every single day, 24/7. On a scale of 1-10 for pain, he's named it a seven.

"NDPH is the most resistant to treatment of all the headache diagnoses," Phillips said. "We've thrown everything at it. I was on morphine for about five years. I thought I wanted to try it without the opioids and went off of it at the end of 2016. I think the pain level is about a half to a whole degree higher on the 1-10 scale, but I'd rather have that than essentially think of being lifelong on opioids."

Mornings are hardest on Phillips. On Friday, it took three tries to get out of bed.

"Once I get into something, once I'm focused and I know there is an end to it, then the pain is in the background," he said. "Once I'm done, the pain moves to the forefront again."

Chronic pain is enough, really, but it comes with some equally frustrating byproducts: It affects not only the mental health of people who live with it, but it also affects energy levels. Suddenly those levels are finite and suddenly, all the little things a person does in a day become infinitely more taxing.

Phillips explained with a story about spoons.

"Suppose that people with chronic pain start the day with 12 spoons," he said. "Each spoon represents the energy to do some thing. Getting out of bed might cost one spoon, or getting ready for the day might be another. Eventually through so many activities, you begin to run out of spoons. Someone without chronic pain may have 120 spoons, but a person with chronic pain doesn't have that many."

"That's been really difficult to deal with," Phillips added. "In every other way I'm healthy. If I didn't have the headache I could be out playing tennis or working 10 hour days like I used to work, which maybe wasn't all that healthy either."

"This church has been kind enough to walk through it with me and they would have continued, but I finally got to the point where my health became more important than trying to push through," he said.

Phillips and his wife Patti are moving to Dallas, but they will be back.

Why? They bought a house in Cathlamet.

In the meantime, they are headed south to be near Phillips' sister. Patti hopes to find a full time position while they continue to pay off their home and Phillips is waiting to hear if he qualifies for disability.

"I don't expect a change in the headache pain," Phillips said, "but I can deal with the headache if I don't have the stress of having to get up and accomplish something. I want to work on doing some more writing, I'm taking my guitar and mandolin with me and I want to work on some music, I suppose."

"My sister is also disabled and it will be good for her to have the two of us together," he added. "This is hard. This is the hardest thing I've ever done. When we've left a church before, we were going to another church. For all intents and purposes I won't pastor a church again. We're kind of stepping out into nothing. You do those things in your twenties."

Phillips has been in ministry for almost 40 years.

"The sweetest thing that's happened here is that we have so many children," Phillips said. "We run the van on Sunday morning and pick up 15-17 kids. I don't think they have any parents that come. They are getting up on their own, wanting to go to church."

"Sunday morning is my happiest time," he added. "I'm an introvert that needs relationship. For me what really fills my joy bucket is the kids. I think I visit with them to the detriment of the adults a lot of times on Sunday morning because they are so delightful."

"We absolutely love this church, the people in it. We call them our family," Phillips added. "As pastor you go through all the stages of life. Weddings, funerals. You can't go through those things without being bonded with people."

After all these years, Jesus has never lost his allure, says Phillips. He's just become more precious.

"We rally around Jesus, the other stuff is peripheral," Phillips said. "If I was doing it over again, I would ask these questions every Sunday: How are we doing on loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength? How are we doing on loving our neighbor as ourself, reminding ourself that our neighbor is anyone that is not me? Finally, how can we do better?"


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