“It just kind of clicked one day,” Mandi Santos says. “I didn’t feel like I was missing anything anymore, and I was like, ‘Ahhh.’”
Peace had “clicked.”
It was flowing from “knowing Christ, because he brings such a peace,” Santos said.
Peace with God was helping her overcome struggles with anger, bouts with migraine headaches and moments of depression.
In her journal on April 3 of last year (2022), the 25-year-old kindergarten teacher wrote in part:
“Dear God, you are good and worthy. I believe in you and the good that you’ve put in my life. God, I ask that you guide all the good I know you are and be the light that’s been missing. I put my faith and trust in you to show me the best path for me.”
For times of doubt, Santos prayed that “you shed light on the good that you are and how far I have come.”
‘A sign to believe’
Peace, she said in an interview, had become “a sign to believe,” marking a spiritual journey that began strangely in 2019 at a small group she was attending at the behest of a boyfriend who was a Christian.
During a time when the group was praying over each other, “I shut my eyes and I saw this really vivid image of Jesus reaching out his hand to me,” Santos recounted.
“I was freaked out … and opened my eyes really quickly. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, what just happened?’”
Yet it had no immediate impact on her life. An angry streak persisted. “This doesn’t sound great, but I was quick to judge. If you did something to me, I would do it right back to you, just to try to make it worse,” Santos said. In coping with depression, “I would try to fill my unhappiness with material things, so I would shop all the time.” An abusive ex-boyfriend was part of the reason she met with a counselor for a number of months.
A sense of guilt over “generally bad life decisions” heightened. “I started saying in my head, ‘Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.’ It popped up at the most random moments,” even if she hadn’t sinned at the time.
A new friend
In July 2021, Santos made a new friend named Rayna on the social connections Bumble BFF app. “We kind of told each other our stories,” Santos said, “and we had a lot in common.” After meeting in person at a Cincinnati Reds baseball game and at a movie, their friendship took off.
Rayna’s influence helped “bring me to Christ,” Santos said. Early on, when Rayna spoke of her faith and invited her to church, Santos was reticent to say very much because “I had too many questions. And I was like, if I asked this or that question, she might stop being friends with me or judge me.”
Among the questions: How do you have a relationship with God? How do you talk to him? How do you know what he’s trying to tell you or what his plan is? How do you believe in something that you can’t see?
Yet Santos took note of how Rayna “lights up when she talks about the Lord and what he’s done for her. There’s this peace with her.” She could be going through anxious times at work, in her studies and in relationships “and she’s still peaceful about it. She’s not like panicking or anxious or angry. She’s like, ‘Okay, God’s got me.’”
‘Let’s dive deep’
Santos’ first grasp of peace came during a trip to Chicago with some friends last March (2022) when she was battling a headache and went back to the hotel. Compared to her angst over migraines dating back to college, she was “very still, very peaceful — and I think that was when my heart turned and said, Okay, let’s dive deep.”
Back in Cincinnati, Santos started praying, reading the Bible and unpacking her questions to Rayna. “She didn’t judge me for all of my doubtful questions and the dumb questions I had about the Bible because, obviously, I hadn’t read it a lot.” Accepting Rayna’s invitation to Bridge City Church, a new congregation led by Jonathan Howard that began meeting in January, Santos felt “it was great. Everyone was so welcoming. I just clicked immediately with the people there.”
Penning her journal entry last April, Santos had embraced “full-force believing,” as she put it.
She has downloaded a daily Bible verse app and been involved in several Bible studies, including one with Howard’s wife, also named Mandie, using Lysa Terkeurst’s “Uninvited: Living Love When You Feel Less Than, Left Out and Lonely.” Santos also listens to sermons and teaching on the internet – and keeps notes – and is venturing into Christian books, such as J.D. Greear’s “Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary” and Francine Rivers’ novel, “Redeeming Love.” And she was baptized on April 2 of this year (2023).
Musically, her “phases” of country, Disney from her childhood and the 2000s have been replaced by “upbeat” contemporary Christian music. “It just makes me happy, like I can jam to it, I wake up with it, and if I’m driving anywhere, I’ll listen to it,” she said. “It gives me, like, a peace. If someone has really bad road rage, if I’m listening to Christian music, it doesn’t bother me.”
In new birth, her instances of anger and “freak-outs” occur “a lot less frequently, and when I do get overwhelmed, I just handle it a lot better.” She noted that “all of the other reasons I used to get migraines have disappeared and now it’s just weather-based, like when the pressure changes and it might rain.”
“I’m a lot less selfish than I was,” Santos said. “Inside looking out, I would like to believe that I am like a light for people when they’re having a bad day, with even strangers.”