An Open Letter to Mandisa

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I feel God leading me to write another open letter to a celebrity that has impacted my life.  I wrote one a few years ago to Michael W. Smith about the way he eased a difficult time in my life.  Now, I need to write another…

 

Dear Mandisa,

First, let me say that I have been a fan since seeing you on one of the few seasons of American Idol that I actually watched.  I have cheered on Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and you.

The main reason I am writing is to say thank you.  Your music pulled me through a very dark time in my life.  I have written on my blog about my depression, but I have never thanked you personally.

I had known I would be a teacher in some form my entire life.  My sister found something I wrote in the first grade saying I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up.  Generations of my mother’s family before me had been teachers.  Unfortunately, my mother passed away exactly one year before I began my first teaching job.  She did not get to see me graduate with my Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education with honors from her alma mater.  She did not get to help me set up my first classroom.  She did not get to help me pick out my first day of school outfit.  However, I still felt her with me each year.  One small way I knew she was there was that each year I have had some form of the name Catherine in my class – Mom’s first name.

Fourteen years into my career, things got turned upside down.  I was told I was a terrible teacher by an administrator.  I was the only full-time income in my house since my husband was staying home with our then two-year-old twin daughters.  Our 10-year-old son was a student at the school where I taught.  In hindsight, I was probably still dealing with post-partum depression that had turned into general depression and daily panic attacks.  However, I was devastated and terrified of not being able to provide for my family.

Then the real blow happened.  An administrator told me that my students “deserved better.”  She meant that they deserved better than my depressed state and was trying to encourage me to seek help.  However, in my mental state at the time, I took it to mean that they deserved better than me.  The next morning, in the midst of a severe panic attack, Satan took that phrase and convinced me that my husband and children also deserved better.  In fact, my brain told me, they would all be better off if you were not here, so just end your life.

The blessing was that Jesus gave me the clarity to call my best friend.  She talked to me while I got ready for work and the entire drive in.  When I told her I was in my classroom and she knew I would be fine, she hung up with me and called my husband to let him know what had happened.  By the time I got home that afternoon he had scheduled an appointment with a Christian counselor.

The rest of that school year was an hour by hour fight with my depression and, it felt to me, for my sanity.  During this very dark time I would listen to your music all the way in to school and until my first class arrived.  I would listen again during my lunch time.  Your music gave me hope and the strength to make it through a few more hours.  Mostly, I listened to your Overcomer CD.  I would literally turn on the CD, put my head on my desk, cry and pray “Help me, Jesus.”

Three years later, I am seven weeks from finishing my seventeenth year teaching.  My daughters are now in school with me and my son is finishing middle school.  New administration values my teaching experience and expertise.  My depression and anxiety are pretty well controlled with counseling and medication.  However, your music still holds a very special place in my heart.  Satan sometimes creeps back into my head with thoughts of how things would be easier if I would just end my life, but I quote Scripture, and some Mandisa lyrics!

A few weeks ago my daughters and I were driving to school when you came on the J93.3 The Joy FM in Atlanta.  My girls recognized your name and started singing Overcomer!  I was shocked to hear that you had also been battling depression, and even during the time I had been battling the same thing!  Knowing that, I felt it was time to tell you how much your music had helped me through.

Mandisa, God used your music to pull me away from the edge of suicide.  Looking at my children, both personal and in my classroom, it saddens me to realize how close I was to that terrible mistake.  Thank you for the part you played in my endurance and healing.  Thank you for letting God use you and your amazing talent.  Thank you for being so open about your struggles and your humanity.  I am here today partially due to your willingness to be used.

Sincerely,

A. Leavitt

Living with anxiety

An open letter to Michael W. Smith

 

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An open letter to Michael W. Smith

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I know these open letters are very trendy right now, but I feel very compelled to jump on this bandwagon.

Dear Mr. Smith,

You don’t know me.  I am a long time fan of your music – of all genres.  I am of the generation that grew up singing Place In This World and Friends. I can mark my childhood by your albums.

On March 6, I surprised my husband with tickets to your concert at Mill Town Music Hall in Bremen, GA.  We were celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary.

However, our paths have crossed once before.  In July 1999, we met in Stone Mountain, GA.  You were performing at AtlantaFest that year.  Money was not plentiful with my family, so vacations were a luxury that we did not splurge on.  Our summer vacations became AtlantaFest.  My mother, brother, sister and myself would purchase 4 day passes and feast on concerts all week.  My mother would begin “mentally preparing” weeks in advance – playing the music of all the artists.  She would study the schedules, planning when we would eat, what concerts we would attend and when we should be at which stage.  She did the study of someone planning a week at Disney World.

However, 1999 was different.  Painfully different.  Mom was fighting cancer for the third time.  This time felt different.  My dad decided to do something special.  He wrote to the organizers of AtlantaFest asking if they could arrange for Mom to meet one of the performers she adored.  We received a letter describing arrangements to meet an artist – Michael W. Smith.

Mom was walking on air!  She was counting the days!  She could not wait to shake your hand.  She played your music and planned her questions for you.

Things didn’t work out as planned. The week of AtlantaFest found Mom in the hospital.  She was devastated.  But she insisted that we attend without her.

So you met us instead.  I was 21, my brother was 16 and my sister was 14.  You were gracious and friendly.  I was astonished by a celebrity who climbed off a tour bus and immediately wrapped us in a hug.  You proudly introduced us to your son who was touring with you that summer.  You prayed for my mother with us and autographed a poster for us to take to Mom.  I remember delivering that poster.  She cried and insisted that it be hung on her hospital wall.  She told everyone who would listen about how you had met her children and given that to her.  I still have that poster.

Mom’s cancer was much worse this time.  She passed away on August 8, 1999.  Receiving your poster was the last big event of her life here on Earth.

Thank you, Mr. Smith.  Thank you for following your calling and your Creator.  Thank you for caring about a stranger in Georgia and her three children who desperately needed a bright spot in their lives at that time.  Thank you.

Sincerely,

A. Leavitt