Known for her upbeat and empowering hits like “Good Morning” and “Overcomer,” Grammy Award-winning Christian singer-songwriter Mandisa had every confidence in the world that God would heal her friend Kisha Mitchell of the breast cancer which threatened her life. When that didn’t happen, Mandisa felt betrayed by God and sunk into a pit of despair that resulted in her isolating herself from her family and friends for three years, gaining almost 200 pounds, and even considering suicide.
Today, Mandisa has emerged from her dark night of the soul with a new perspective on life, God, and the power of community.
Mandisa had created a successful career for herself in the Christian music industry since she competed on “American Idol” in 2006. And in light of her lifelong struggle with being overweight, she achieved a personal victory in 2011 after losing 120 pounds. Then, in 2013, the release of the life-affirming anthem “Overcomer” propelled Mandisa to another level and led to her first Grammy win.
Listeners enduring personal struggles related to the song’s upbeat tone and lyrics: “You’re an overcomer / Stay in the fight ’til the final round / You’re not going under / ‘Cause God is holding you right now…”
In fact, “Overcomer” was inspired by Kisha’s cancer battle. Mandisa wanted to give her friend a song – and an album – to keep her focused on healing. But Kisha faced additional challenges.
She was pregnant when she was diagnosed with the disease, so she chose to lessen the intensity of her chemo treatments to save the life of her unborn son, whom she and her husband named Brennon. Kisha lived for another year, but then succumbed to the cancer.
During an interview with me on “Christopher Closeup” about her new album “Out of the Dark,” Mandisa admitted, “It’s not the way that I thought the story was going to end. I really believed that God was going to heal her here on Earth. When she passed away, I was angry at God. I look back on that time, and I did not deal at all with my grief or my anger.”
Part of the reason Mandisa retreated from the world was that she was known for being so positive in public, and now she couldn’t live up to those expectations. But her loved ones never gave up on her. In fact, the first track on “Out of the Dark” isn’t a song at all; it’s a series of voicemails from family and friends expressing their concern for her.
“I wanted people to hear that because I wanted them to know that ‘Out of the Dark’ is not just an album title,” explained Mandisa. “This was my life…I sat on my recliner, watched television, and I ate. I mean, I ate and ate and ate…[But] here’s what I’ve learned. It is a momentary comfort that leaves you feeling so empty in the end.”
That emptiness and isolation allowed the darkest of thoughts to enter Mandisa’s mind, thoughts of taking her own life. While she now sees the error of that mindset, things weren’t so clear at the time.
She said, “If you are somebody who is trying to live a life that is holy and pleasing to the Lord, the enemy’s gonna come harder after us than anybody else…With me, [he said], ‘Mandisa, God does not want you to live in this misery and pain. He says in His word that He wants you to live an abundant life. So, if you were to take your life right now, you could be living in eternity, living that abundant life with Jesus right in this moment.’ And so, it was a little bit of truth, but he twisted it just enough for his perverted purposes. Year one, I probably was quick enough to say, ‘Get behind me, Satan.’ Year three, it was feeling a little more tempting.”
Around that time, Mandisa decided to actually leave her house to go see the Christian film “War Room” because one of her songs was used in the movie. She didn’t like the story, though, because everyone got what they prayed for. “I remember thinking: that is not reality,” she said.
As she left the theater, she was confronted by eight of her friends, who had covered her car with sticky notes containing messages like, “We love you,” “We miss you,” “Come back to us.”
Mandisa recalled, “They had an intervention for me, and they basically forced me to go get counseling. I look back at that, and I feel like God put it on their hearts because I was getting to a bad place. Had that not happened, I don’t know that I would be here today, because I was just starting to contemplate [suicide]. And it was in that moment [that] my friends were the literal hands and feet of Jesus lifting me out of that dark place.”
Not only did counseling lead Mandisa toward healing, so did working on new music: specifically, “Prove Me Wrong,” the first song she co-wrote (with Cindy Morgan) for the album. It’s a hauntingly beautiful track that offers a cry from the heart and soul.
Cindy heard Mandisa say that she was so angry at God, she dared Him to prove her wrong about all the doubts and questions she had. They took that idea and developed it further.
Mandisa said, “To know that God, Who is all powerful, was able to heal but for some reason chose not to – I just hadn’t dealt with that. So, it was cathartic for me writing that song, because it was the first time that I actually dealt with my anger and disappointment. I feel like God taught me a powerful lesson, and that is not to shut out all of that anger that we feel. He actually wants us to bring that to Him, because if we feel it, the safest place to bring that is to Him…’Prove Me Wrong’ began the process of me being honest with the Lord and letting Him shine that light back into my life.”
Another song, “Unfinished,” addresses Mandisa’s feelings of guilt in the aftermath of her struggles. She explained, “I was riddled with so much shame. I thought: how could I have ignored God for three years, how could I have allowed the enemy to take me to such a low place, and make all of these mistakes, and put back all this weight? The message of Philippians 1:6, was a lifeline for me, that I can be confident in this – that God, Who began a good work in me, will finish that work when Jesus returns. That ushered in a sense of grace…It is such a message of hope for people like me, who can look in a mirror and rattle off all of the things that we do not like about ourselves. There’s so much hope in being able to look into the mirror of God’s word and say, ‘This is what God says about me, that I am a masterpiece and I am a work of art, and that I am just unfinished for right now.'”
While Mandisa still wishes Kisha were alive today to enjoy her husband and children, she says that looking at this – and other – tragedies through the lens of eternity has helped her find a level of peace that allows her to “trust in God’s goodness, even when I don’t understand His plan.”
And in keeping with The Christophers’ focus on lighting candles rather than cursing the darkness, Mandisa believes her story and album can do just that. She concludes, “The three ways that God lifted me out of the dark was: 1) the family of God, and knowing we are called to community; 2) focus forward and not stay stuck in the mistakes of the past; and 3) it just takes a flash of light to dispel darkness. For me, those flashes came in the form of my loved ones…We’re called, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to be those flashes of light for other people, because you never know what somebody’s going through. We could be the one that God uses in order to pull somebody out of the dark.”
(To listen to my full interview with Mandisa, click on the podcast link):