I remember the first time I saw her.
It was back in high school at a “Christ In Youth” conference in Missouri. They were having auditions for high school students to sing specials during the worship services, and my youth group encouraged me to try out. I agreed to it only because Sara was going to do sign language to the song with me.
I walked into the room and there she was. Jet black hair, piercing blue eyes, and as much makeup on as me. I liked her INSTANTLY.
Then I started hearing the whisperings in the room.
“She’s already got a song on the radio.” “She’s a REAL singer who wrote her first song and got it recorded.”
That song was called “A Baby’s Cry.”
And that girl was Amanda Pate (now Fessant).
As you guys well know, I’m not opposed to walking up to ANYONE, regardless of their level of fame, and talking to them. Amanda was no exception. And I’m forever thankful I did.
She and I became fast friends, especially after we heard each other sing. There was an instant respect between us regarding talent. We spent the majority of the conference hanging out together, talking about things like music, our body images, and our dreams for the future. The real bonus was we lived less than an hour away from each other.
That friendship continued for several years. She would come to Danville for a concert or a game, and we would meet at the Monicals Pizza. I’d go over to her house in Paris for the weekend, and we’d spend time raiding her mom’s ivy decorated kitchen, singing and talking about Jesus and boys. And she was the FIRST person to introduce me to tiramisu.
The fact that Manda-May was singing professionally never got in the way of our friendship. I was always so proud of what she was doing, and the ministry she had started. Perhaps at times there were twinges of jealousy, but it was never because I wanted HER life. I just wished I was as sure of what God wanted from me as she was. Me and God had this prodigal daughter routine going. Mandy was as steady as the rock of Gibraltar.
After we graduated from high school, our feisty little friendship continued. We spent weekends together, running all over Illinois and Indiana. I wrote my first real song at her house. On her bedroom floor. And to date, it’s still my favorite song I’ve written. “Alabaster Jars” And I’ve never performed it. But one day I will.
Mandy had a friend in the band “All Star United” (and it was no secret that there was major crushage going on there, on one side for sure, and perhaps on the other) and she had been mailed a demo copy of their not yet released album, with 4 songs on it. We listened to the song “Drive” over and over again the whole night, dissecting the lyrics and trying to decide if it was written for her or not. That was one of my FAVORITE nights with her. (And I’m listening to that song as I’m writing this.)
Then Mandy decided she was going to move to Nashville, TN to really pursue her music career. It was hard to be so far from her, but one weekend, she called and asked if I wanted to spend the week with her in Nashville. She had to work, but she knew I had written a few country songs and wanted to give a shot at getting them sold. I had ONE music contact, so I made an appointment on Friday, and on Sunday afternoon, Manda-May and I began the roadtrip to Nashville.
I SWEAR ON ALL THAT IS HOLY- Mandy had a lead foot that terrified me. We were in her dinky little car, and she was going AT LEAST 100 mph. Every hour I had to make her stop so I could pee and smoke, just to calm down from the fear of almost meeting Jesus on the interstate from her driving. If Mandy hadn’t been so good natured about the whole thing, I would have felt bad. Cause I kept yelling for her to slow down or she’d kill us both. She just laughed and said “God’s got things for us to do. We aren’t going anywhere.” Like that helped me unclutch my white cramped knuckles from the O.S. bar on her car’s interior roof…
Up until that trip, I thought I knew how my life was going to go down. I’d become a Nashville fixture as a country songwriter, and we would continue our friendship as we always had. I’d make a bundle from royalties (back in the day when people actually bought cassette tapes and CDs) and I’d work to become a Christian vocalist.
But that didn’t happen. The one contact I had didn’t like my songs, because they weren’t recorded. She encouraged me to make a demo tape (but a really good one, which means expensive in music speak) and come back. But I never did. That one rejection was enough to make me lose my nerve.
That was the first time Mandy and I ever fought. I was broken hearted, but she was used to the rejection. “That’s the music business. You have got to be thick skinned!”
Except I didn’t know how to do that. So I started to pull away from Amanda, because her success reminded me of my own failure. And I couldn’t bear it.
Mandy was always ministry minded. God driven. She wanted to change the world. Love people.
I however, was “me-nistry” minded. Idol driven. I wanted to change my world. Make people love ME.
When you get into a position where you share your life with others, be it in relationships, on a stage, from a pulpit, or even on a blog- you learn quickly that people are messy. They are opinionated. They feel justified in saying things about you that break your heart. And I wasn’t ready for that when I was 19. I wanted to run around, party, and be irresponsible. She had met her darling husband BJ, and was getting ready to be married. She asked me to be a part of her wedding. I knew Mandy didn’t approve of my chosen lifestyle. Nor should she have. I was being stupid, making dangerous choices, and would soon pay the price for my indulgent ignorance. I didn’t go to her wedding, because I was afraid she would see right through me, and call me out on my behavior. I wasn’t ready to give it up.
After I met the first husband, I was pregnant 6 weeks later. Long before we were ever husband and wife. I found out a few months later Mandy was pregnant too. When I brought Amy home from Phoenix for her first Illinois visit, I met up with Mandy, her mom, and her new baby son. They talked about how HIS Ministry was growing. How God was changing things. Me? I was a mom now, but now struggled even more with who I was.
After all the kids were born, we reconnected a few more times, but our friendship was never the same. I was always running from ministry. Mandy hoped I would get there one day, yet I don’t think she was holding her breath. Our friendship suffered because of ME. My utter denial that I could ever be a leader in this messed up world.
I mourn that we never really got to make things right before she died. But I know she sees me now, and I hope she understands. I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready. Until now. And it’s not too late.
After years of running, I find myself smack dab in the middle of a ministry I had no idea I would be in.
I know that every word I speak on here isn’t about God. Sometimes it’s about periods and boobs. Sometimes it’s about my frustration with Dominos. Other times it’s about my friends who support me. Or my feelings. My hurts. My burdens.
But in everything I do, I want you to know one thing.
In all that I have done wrong in this world, I have been forgiven. My blessings supersede my previous behavior. I hope that I bring you a not-pushy message about what a woman with a little drop of faith can accomplish. I refuse to become one of those people who slap scriptures on every item in my house. Sometimes, life doesn’t necessarily have a spiritual point. If it doesn’t, I don’t make one up. It’s just a story, an experience. But when there is a point, I feel compelled to share it. And I pray that my humble words bring you peace and inspire you to keep seeking good things in your life.
My “ministry” will never look like Mandy’s. The reach God allowed her to have is amazing. She was well loved all over the world. When she found out about her cancer, more people were praying for her than live in both our hometowns put together. Her heart’s cry was “If all the people who said they were praying for me would talk to Jesus and get a real relationship with him, I would go through this all over again.” I bet she had an amazing homecoming when she passed into the next part of her life. Her life was a beautiful testament to God’s love.
As for me?
What is my ministry?
I have learned that I don’t want to be famous around the world. I want to hug people and walk through fires next to them. I want to show you that we can live normal lives and have hope. Have joy. We can laugh. We can fight alongside one another, even if the common enemy is the scale. I want to embrace joy whenever I can, and share that joy with you. Even if it’s about peeing my pants.
I want to encourage you that no matter what your faith is, you should never give up hope of conquering your struggles. My opinion of you doesn’t change if you are a Christian or not. If you are fat or not. If you are living a questionable life. I don’t care about your “whats.” I care about the “WHO.”
YOU ARE A PERSON WORTHY OF LOVE.
YOU DESERVE GRACE.
TO BE HUGGED.
TO BE LOVED UNCONDITIONALLY, just as I once was.
That is my ministry, the point of impact I hope to have in the world.
I pray I will do you justice.
And now, it’s time get ready to say goodbye to my friend.
I love you. I always have. And I can’t wait to see you in heaven. Thank goodness we don’t have to drive to get there. I'm dustin' off my boots as we speak.