She was one of the first—if not the first—person asked to speak at the brand-new event that would become Women of Faith. By that time Barbara Johnson had already blessed millions of women through her books with eye-catching titles like Splashes of Joy in the Cesspools of Life and Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy (which led to her becoming known as “The Geranium Lady”).
But it was her first book, Where Does a Mother Go to Resign? that told her personal story and broke an unwritten code of silence. Barbara’s husband suffered a debilitating accident, one son died in Vietnam, and a second son was killed in an auto accident. Then a third son announced he was gay. “I thought this couldn’t happen in Christian families…” Barbara said. “I didn’t know anybody who had a homosexual child.” Barbara, by her own admission, did not take the news well—with the result that her son disowned his family, changed his name, and disappeared.
Still reeling, Barbara founded Spatula Ministries for parents of homosexual children to “peel [them] off the ceiling with a spatula of love and begin them on the road to recovery.” And eleven years after Barbara’s son disappeared he was reunited with his family, the relationship restored.
Although she was a wildly best-selling author, “She would stand at a podium and read her message.” Mary Graham recalls. It didn’t matter: women loved her honesty, her humor, and her courage to speak out about things that, at the time, were only whispered in many church circles.
Even though she was on the Women of Faith tour for just six years before being sidelined by a brain tumor, there are many “Barbara stories” to be told… like the time she met a homeless woman hiding in the arena where a Women of Faith event was being held. “She sent somebody to get clean clothes and put the woman in the shower,” Luci Swindoll remembers, “then she asked ‘Is there anybody anywhere who loves you?’ When the woman told her about an aunt in another state, Barbara bought her a bus ticket to get there.”
In an interview not long before Barbara’s death in 2007, Mary Graham asked her, “If you suddenly found yourself back on the platform at Women of Faith, what would you say to the audience now?” Her response still carries great advice for us today:
“I would encourage them that no matter how bad things get, there is always a way through. Someone said the other day: pray for a miracle and paddle like heck to get to the shore… I want to encourage people that if they’re going through a hurting time, they need to get out and help somebody else… as you do that it will lift your spirits.
I would tell people to look for places to find joy. If your husband is not much fun, well, don’t get rid of him, but find some friends that will give you some joy. Or join a support group. So many women say, ’My husband is so boring, he’s this or that.’ You can’t depend on him to bring you the joy. God has to send the joy into your life. You get down and ask the Lord to bring you the bubble of joy you need.”
See Barbara—plus all the original speakers, and much, much, more—in the movie, Women of Faith: An Amazing Joyful Journey.