Some have dubbed her the Erma Bombeck of the evangelical world. Barbara Johnson is a best-selling author of numerous books, including Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy and Living Somewhere Between Estrogen and Death. Her writing is laced with wit and personal tragedy. Her first book, Where Does a Mother Go To Resign?, was written 25 years ago after the tragic loss of two sons, a serious automobile accident involving her husband, and a third sonÕs announcement that he was gay. Recent books have chronicled JohnsonÕs battle with cancer.
Johnson is a former Women of Faith conference speaker and the founder of Spatula Ministries, an organization dedicated to helping Christian parents of gay children. She spoke with Staff Writer Christina Quick about her life and faith — and what keeps her laughing.
PE: Were there ever times when you felt like giving up?
JOHNSON: Many times I was ready to throw in the sponge, but I didnÕt know where to throw it. When our son told us he was gay and then disappeared from our lives, that was about the lowest IÕve ever felt. But I knew that God would bring him back. After 11 years he came home and asked us to forgive him.
Four years ago I had brain cancer and they had to operate. Last year my husband died within five weeks of being diagnosed with cancer. Last week they said my cancer is growing again and I have to have more chemotherapy. IÕve been at the bottom so many times, but God has always given me the resilience to stand back and say, ÒGodÕs going to get me through this.Ó
PE: Where do you get your humor?
JOHNSON: You need a sense of humor to get through life. If you donÕt have one, youÕd better borrow, beg or steal one. IÕve been blessed to find humor in many things that most people wouldnÕt, and it has made such a difference in getting me through. People tell me the humor in my books has saved their lives.
PE: How did you get started writing?
JOHNSON: I never wrote a word until I was 50 and we found out our son was homosexual. That book flowed out of my pain. Nobody really changed it. It has been out for 25 years and has sold more than half a million copies. The other day I got a platinum thing for having sold a million copies of Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy. WhatÕs funny about that one is the publisher said, ÒNobodyÕs going to buy a book about a geranium. ThatÕs a dumb title.Ó But I insisted on it, they did it, and it worked.
PE: Have you been surprised by the success of your books?
JOHNSON: It has been amazing because I donÕt know anything about writing or English. My readers are ordinary people who arenÕt necessarily looking for intellectual material. TheyÕre just mothers like me who have problems. They write me, and I read every letter. I still get about 30 phone calls a day and 20 letters a day.
PE: What advice do you give hurting people?
JOHNSON: I encourage them to hang in there. You canÕt resign from life. When you reach the end of your rope, you tie a knot and climb back up.
PE: Will you ever write another book?
JOHNSON: I think so. I donÕt have a title yet, but I think it will be about prodigals who come home.
PE: How would you like to be remembered?
JOHNSON: As someone who found happiness in unhappy situations — a person who brought cheer to cheerless people and some laughter to lives that donÕt have any laughs.
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