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Mandisa: an example of praise

Mandisa: an example of praise

I first met Mandisa over breakfast in the fall of 2020. I had gotten the job to help her write her memoir, “Out of the Dark,” and I was incredibly nervous. She immediately put me at ease with her megawatt smile and funny personality. She was friendly and personable with our server (who had no idea who she was), which she talked about incessantly her Tennessee Titans football team, and pulled out her phone to show me pictures of her Havanese puppy, Kiya. (“When I met her, she raised her paws and I said, ‘She’s a praise puppy!’”)

Over the next two days I heard Mandisa’s incredible story about her life. I discovered that she had experienced many tragedies, including the death of her best friend, Kisha, in 2014. Although I saw her as a superstar of contemporary Christian music, she did not feel like she was a success. She seemed oblivious to the thousands of people she had inspired, both in her personal life and through radio songs like “Stronger” and “Overcomer.”

As a fan of her music, I had especially seen her highlights: forgiving Simon Cowell on national television during season five of “American Idol,” having multiple number one songs on the radio and winning a Grammy for best album . But I discovered that Mandisa had also traversed many valleys: losing her friend, battling depression and food addiction, and grappling with the isolation of a global pandemic.

Coming home unexpectedly

On April 18, 2024, Mandisa died unexpectedly at the age of 47. Her death shocked her family, friends and the world. No one would have thought that the vibrant voice and larger-than-life personality would leave this earth so quickly. Over the past few weeks, as I have reflected on my time with Mandisa and the experience of helping her write her book, I have reflected on many things I learned through her example. Although I could name a dozen, here are my top three:

God uses those who struggle. Mandisa’s story had ups and downs. She was predicted to be the winner of season five of ‘American Idol’ but finished in ninth place. She lost 100 pounds and gained it all back. She lost her best friend to cancer. She testified that God brought her “out of darkness,” and yet she fought daily to stay in the light of God’s truth. Her struggle did not stop her from speaking out about her great God; In fact, she used her weakness as a platform to proclaim His power.

Through her example, I have learned that those who struggle can still be powerfully used by God. In the early days of the pandemic, Mandisa was active on social media, using ‘Mornings with Mandisa’ to encourage people who were feeling isolated. She also recorded the podcast ‘Out of the Dark’ to discuss mental health issues. The music she has released in recent years has encouraged thousands. In the midst of her own emotional struggles, she reached out to people and offered hope. As I helped Mandisa write about her life, I saw clearly how God had used her as His instrument even in her darkest days.

God invites us to have a real relationship with Him. I soon discovered that Mandisa was a woman of the Word. She quoted an impressive amount of Bible texts, but especially she repeatedly quoted the Psalms. She resonated with David’s honest questions and “tantrums” toward God. She admitted to having “tough” conversations with the Lord after Kisha, a young mother of two, died of cancer. She expressed these feelings in her song ‘Prove Me Wrong’. And yet, despite her questions and doubts, her faith remained steadfast.

Mandisa has taught me that true healing happens when we can be honest with God while recognizing His goodness and sovereignty. He is our best helper in times of need. In her pain, Mandisa had raw conversations with Jesus, but she also took refuge in His love. And in turn, she loved Him very much. It was the fruit of her consistent, authentic – sometimes hard-won – relationship with Him.

We need other people in our lives. I interviewed Mandisa in 2020, when most of the world felt isolated and disconnected during a pandemic. A theme that emerged repeatedly was the need for community. As a single woman, Mandisa had discovered that her community was crucial to her mental, emotional and spiritual health. At one point, when she was in a period of deep depression, her community intervened and made it clear that they would not let her go. She wasn’t the only one. They urged her to seek professional help, which she did.

“We need each other,” she told me. “The enemy wants to divide and isolate us – but that is where he gains a foothold. God does beautiful things in the context of community.” During the livestream of her celebration of life, which lasted over three hours, I heard each of those inner circle friends talk about what Mandisa had meant to them – how she had changed their lives and inspired them.

Choosing to praise

It’s been over three years since I spent time with Mandisa and uncovered her life story. I have the funny memories – like when I had sushi delivered to us for lunch, but accidentally had it delivered to the house across the street. She laughed uproariously as we took the food off her neighbor’s porch and wondered what they would think when they checked their Ring camera. And she couldn’t stop talking about how much she loved the TV series ‘The Chosen’, and she even gave me a set of DVDs.

The lighthearted moments mixed with her somber thoughts about the pain she had experienced in her life… and the ways God had been good. Since our interviews, I have walked through several dark valleys myself and have reflected on Mandisa’s example of praising God despite the pain.

“Every time I encounter a valley in my life, I have a choice,” she wrote in her memoir. “I can withdraw from God or I can choose to praise Him. Praise is powerful because it reminds me who is really in charge: the Supreme Lord, who is both righteous and good.” During her concerts she often urged: ‘Don’t wait until the battle is over. Praise Him right now!” She understood that compliments are a weapon that helps us overcome life’s challenges.

The tribute to “American Idol” featured fellow “Idol” alumni Colton Dixon, Melinda Doolittle and Danny Gokey singing “Shackles (Praise You),” a song Mandisa performed on the “American Idol” stage in 2006. After the song, Dixon summarized his feelings about his friend. “I think she came in with praise; I think she left with praise. We will miss her…but our loss is a heavenly gain.” I completely agree. Thank you, Mandisa, for teaching us the power of praise.

Copyright 2024 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.