Christmas was Barbara’s favorite! The fun, family, and festivities embodied who she was throughout the entire year.
Deana, Barbara’s daughter, describes her mama as the life of the party, the joke at even her own expense, and full of care and concern for others. If Deana could dream of a better childhood, it would be a mighty feat, because at the center of her life is what she remembers to be the perfect mom, a loving role-model, and Wonder Woman all rolled into one. Barbara was a woman so dedicated to her children that she became the high school lunch lady just to be near them. Deana also remembers a loving wife to the same man for 29 years who provided a stable, warm, and protected childhood where her boat remained firmly “unrocked.”
Deana’s security remained intact throughout her college years and into the beginning stages of her own marriage when things began to unravel and rock her proverbial boat. Her mama’s diagnosis of stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer was the wave that crashed into Deana. The year 2007 was a battle for their family and Barbara as she went through chemotherapy for 4 months, a double mastectomy at Thanksgiving, and 6 months of radiation. Her remission was cut short by the devastating news of the cancer spreading to her pelvic bone, then to her spinal cord, and ultimately to her brain stem. In September 2010, the doctor gave Barbara 6 months to live – a prophetic prognosis.
With her family surrounding her, Barbara Ann Davis went home to meet her Lord and Savior on March 23, 2011. Deana, who was 10 weeks pregnant when her mom passed, felt at peace – for awhile. It was comforting for her to know that her mama was home with Jesus, and Deana looked forward to the day that she would be with her again. But something was wrong inside, and Deana, who became consumed with all things baby, did not take the time to investigate the storm beginning to rage within her.
After suffering a bout of postpartum depression with her first born child, Deana thought it wise to prevent an emotional breakdown after their son’s birth, so she talked with her doctor about prescribing something to ensure a healthy transition with adding their second child to the family. Upon delivering her son, she began taking Zoloft, and for the first couple of months Deana described herself as unwaveringly happy-go-lucky. Nothing really bothered her, and it appeared she had it all together. But she did not feel like she was herself; rather, she felt like a fake version.
Soon after Deana’s son was born, the family’s first holiday season without Barbara was upon them. Wanting to continue with the holidays and “do it up” just like her mom would have done, she cooked the same family recipes, put up the decorations, and had the whole family over. The scene around the table that Thanksgiving was somber as no one said a word, choking down their meals despite the tears constricting their throats. In her memory, that day ended up being “devastatingly weird and depressing.” Hoping to avoid a scene like that during Christmas, the family packed up and did a completely non-traditional Christmas trip to Gatlinburg, TN. No one discussed their feelings; no one brought forward hope or help; and no one knew what the other was thinking.
Not wanting to depend on medication long-term, Deana started weaning herself off of the medication. That is when her world began to cave in as she was confronted with raw emotions fighting to overtake her. She became very angry, distant, and unhappy with everyone in her life including God, her husband Adam, and her kids. She described the state of her heart as “deep, dark, junk just filling [her] soul.” She never talked about her emotions or her struggles with anyone, not even Adam.
Deana, a Southern Baptist girl from the heart of the Bible Belt, wanted nothing to do with church, small group, religion, Jesus, or anything other than her mama. She blamed God for taking away her best friend – after all, He knew how much she needed her mom. She felt helpless and hopeless. She measured herself against her mom and found herself lacking in every way. She felt like a failure as a mother, daughter, wife, and Christian, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask for help or let others in. It was her pain, and she almost wanted to keep it to herself. Her heart grew colder and darker with each day of winter, but it was not meant to stay that way. God heard her prayers and began working in His way to bring about the heart change that Deana so desperately needed.
It was March, springtime in Alabama, and on a day when Deana should have been outside basking in the warm sun, she was on her bedroom floor huddled next to the bed where her husband found her. He was shocked to hear Deana finally cry out, “There’s something wrong with me!” Previously oblivious to the real darkness in Deana’s soul, he held his wife as she finally let him in. She described her feelings of failure and loneliness, and then, to his dismay, she described the desire to end it all. Broken and battered, he held her and cried while praying, “Heal her God, Don’t let her go.”
The Lord’s answer started with her husband. Then He brought in the small group. A sweet friend set Deana up in a room surrounded by candles, music, pillows, pen, paper, and a Bible, then told her to just stay there and be silent, listen to God’s voice, and don’t come out until she had poured it ALL out to the Lord. After telling the Lord about every bit of anger, fear, resentment, loneliness, and sadness, after crying her eyes out, after writing down her prayers and her thoughts, and after just resting, she walked out of that room feeling an immediate release.
For the first time in a long time, she felt refreshed, renewed, and excited. She felt loved and grateful. She felt like a new person. She felt hope for the future even though she knew that there was still quite a journey on the path to healing. She was still sad and missed her mama, but she also knew that she was not alone. This was not just her secret burden to carry – God had surrounded her with family and friends to hold her and help her along the way. All she had to do was to ask them to come in.
In that room, she also came to a very deep and personal understanding of the Gospel of God for the first time. She finally grasped that His grace is sufficient and that it is not dependent on anything that she says or does. Deana shared, “Until you get to the breaking point, there is no way to truly understand what the cross and resurrection means or the significance it has on our lives. I could truly recognize what grace is. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that even with the terrible, messed up person that I was, God gave me everything when I deserved nothing.” It was during these moments that she began to find her identity in God as opposed to in her husband, her mama, or her kids. She started to realize the power that a relationship with Christ had to offer her.
After coming to the complete and utter end of herself, she realized that any feeling of control or strength to handle the depression on her own was merely a façade and that God is a great, gracious, good, and glorious God who had already known her need and had planned a response that was waiting for her when she was ready to receive it. A smile crosses her face as Deana describes the freedom that comes from knowing that you simply cannot do it on your own – that we’re not made to, but God can! “It’s just life changing!” she says.
While Deana still struggles with the deep sadness and loneliness of losing her mom, she remains hopeful that the Lord will carry her through to brighter and brighter tomorrows. With the holidays, previously depressing and avoided, once again upon her, she is reservedly excited – wanting this Christmas to be a time of celebration. She wants her children to grow up knowing joy and excitement in the holidays. She wants to reflect on and remember her mom with her family. She wants to focus on others who are less fortunate. She does this all with a greater appreciation for what the season means – a time for rebirth, rising from the ashes, and embracing the renewed joy, quiet spirit, and excitement that comes with the realization of what the birth of that little baby Jesus in the manger meant to the world so many years ago and what it means to us today – freedom and hope from what oppresses us all, now and for eternity.