Most days, music fills our home. It soothes our spirits, teaches our hearts and sets the tone for our day. It has been a joy to discover singer and songwriter Caroline Cobb and it is my absolute honour to share the interview I did with her this month. May you too be touched by her passion for God, His Word and His gift of life in Jesus.
Sure! I’m a stay-at-home mom to Ellie (5), Harrison (3), and Libby (18 months) and a singer-songwriter who loves to write songs that tell stories from scripture. My husband and I grew up in Texas, but we’ve also lived in China and Boston, and we now live in the San Francisco Bay Area where my husband serves on pastoral staff at a church called Garden City. I love Tex Mex (do you guys have that in Australia?), reading nerdy books like Lord of the Rings, and making people laugh by being awkward.
How would you describe your relationship with God?
I started walking with God my junior year of high school; I began to read my Bible and pray every day as a discipline at first, but slowly it became something I needed, even craved. In college, I began to understand and live in the light of God’s missional heart for everyone everywhere to know Him. The missional heart of God has been a driving force behind a lot of the life decisions Nick and I have made. Along the way, God has brought me through different stages: doubt, depression, transitions, and the sanctifying thing that is motherhood. Over and over, He has revealed that I am a bigger sinner than I thought and – most importantly – His grace through Christ’s work on the cross is overwhelmingly bigger than I thought. His gospel is truly good news for me, and I love using music to share it.
What are some ways that you pursue a relationship with God?
I do love studying His Word. I especially love seeing how each story and passage within scripture is part of a bigger narrative. Studying scripture makes me stand in awe of its Author and reminds me of the gospel, because Jesus is all over the place. God in His goodness is teaching me more and more about prayer, about reading scripture devotionally and prayerfully… these are things that come a little less naturally to me, but are so important, especially in the midst of the busy chaos that is being a mom of young ones. Songwriting often helps me put these two things together: I study scripture and begin to understand with my mind and, as I write a song, the truths in those scripture sink into my heart.
How does your relationship with God affect other relationships in your life?
Wow, it is so important – especially as a mom. I find there must be constant prayer (“God, help! Give me supernatural wisdom and patience here!”), constant confession (“Oh God, I lost my temper again. Thank you that you have met the standard and are so patient with me.”), constant trust (“God, you are the one in charge, redeeming my failures, working and moving in their lives.”), constant surrender (“Not my agenda, but yours. Your dreams for me and my family, not my own.”). If I am putting my own agenda first, or if I am living out of my own strength rather than God’s, things don’t go well!
As a mother with littlies, how do you make time for God a priority and reality in your life and why do you think this is important?
I’ll be honest, I have found the stay-at-home-mom-of-littles stage to be a tough one, especially in terms of finding that quiet time and space to spend with God. However, this stage has also proved to be so very sanctifying… God, in His kindness, has used this stage to expose sin and make me fall on His good news over and over again. Even though it’s tougher to find that time with Him, I would say it’s more crucial than ever.
Practically speaking, I try to get up before the kids wake up to read and pray (and drink my coffee!). But, very often one of the three wakes up early and I’m interrupted, or – let’s be honest – I snooze too many times. If this happens, I have a rule to give God “the firstfruits” of my time in the day… often that comes later on, at the very beginning of nap time, even though dishes and laundry and e-mails are waiting. Before children, I would often sit and linger with Him for 45 minutes or an hour, but then go about my day and forget Him. As my pastor said recently, it’s like I was treating my “quiet time” as my phone charger… I’d plug in, charge up, but then kind of unplug for the day. But, He is the vine and we are the branches! We don’t just unplug and go. We abide, we stay connected. This stage is helping me learn how to stay connected with Him throughout the day, in the in-between spaces and mundane moments.
What advice would you give to women, particularly mothers, in allowing God’s Word and his Spirit to shape and define their purpose and focus for life?
This is such a big question, and there is so much to say here. But, one thing I think women and moms struggle with is this constant adding of new items, or “laws”, to the list of “what I have to do to be a godly woman (or mom).” Elyse Fitzgerald talks about this in her book Good News for Weary Women. I’m guilty of this too. “Should I homeschool, public school, private school? Eat organic? Volunteer a certain number of hours at church? Craft with my kids? Spend X or Y number of hours on music and away from my kids?” The Bible doesn’t really talk about these things, and yet so much of our anxiety and guilt and exhaustion and comparison is wrapped up in these issues. If we are soaking in His Word and in His gospel, we would have a clearer vision of what it looks like to follow Him, to trust Him, to shepherd and steward our children toward Jesus. What makes us mad? What makes us feel overwhelmed? What makes us feel guilty? We have to check those things against the good news of God’s sovereignty, His love, His grace for the repentant, His promises of forgiveness, His completed work on the cross. In light of His good news, we will take a lot of things off “the list”!
You’re a singer and songwriter with a particular focus on bringing the stories and words of the Bible to song. How did this passion begin and how has it evolved as you have developed as an artist?
Back in 2010, I realized I was turning 30 on 11/11/11. I thought to myself, “Well, that’s a big birthday! And that’s a cool date too… hmmm…” I decided to give myself a crazy goal of writing a song for every book of the Bible in a year, before I turned 30. I had written a song inspired by a specific passage or story here and there, but I had never tried anything this expansive. Each week, I would really immerse myself in a particular passage… I would try to connect not just with the truths from the passage, but the feel of the passage… the smells, the sounds, the context, the emotions of the characters. In this headspace, I would sit down with my Bible and the guitar and begin to write. I found it really exciting to connect with scripture and with God in this way. I especially loved writing from the Old Testament and seeing Jesus foreshadowed there. I love God’s Story, and writing songs creatively yet faithfully from scripture has become a unique way that I can interact with this Story and share it with others.
Can you tell us a little about what you are up to at the moment including your latest album and your past project “The Scripture to Music Collective”?
The latest album, The Blood + the Breath, tells the story of redemption from scripture, from creation to the cross to Jesus’ return. Each song “parachutes” the listener into different moments in the redemption narrative – the call of Abraham, the Passover, Ezekiel’s dry bones, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s resurrection, Pentecost and more. My hope and prayer is that this album would remind people of the gospel, and of the great Story that brings meaning to their own. It excites me that people can listen to these songs and this Story in the everyday moments – in the carpool line or on their way to work or with their children.
These days, I am continuing to write and perform. I love concerts where I can play through the album in its entirety in order to tell the Story and give more biblical context for each song. I also have time set aside each week to write songs, and I have been working on a bunch of new songs! Hopefully, I’ll be able to record a new album exploring more themes and truths of scripture soon.
The Scripture to Music Collective is something I am really passionate about, but had to put down for a while after having my second child. Via The Scripture to Music Collective site, I would catalog and curate songs written from specific passages of scripture, all in order to build up the Church. In general, I’m really passionate about encouraging songwriters to write from scripture. I want songwriters to get excited about writing from scripture in the same way that more and more are excited about “re-tuning” old hymns these days. One day I hope I’ll be able to pick up the mantle for The Scripture to Music Collective again!
For people who haven’t ever listened to your music- how would you describe your style?
I would say it’s typical of the “singer-songwriter” genre, with elements of folk and pop and even blues at times. People have compared me to Sandra McCracken, Rich Mullins and John Mark McMillan.
As you have toured and sung in a range of situations, how do you see music as a tool for people in both private and corporate settings to help them in their pursuit of God?
Music engages both our minds and our hearts, and helps us to connect with God on both levels. Music, whether we’ll admit to it or not, is always teaching something, saying something. It also affects us and moves us to feel certain things. This combination can be really powerful, especially when we combine music with truths about God. Suddenly, that story or that passage hits us in a fresh way… we see and feel the story in our hearts, we don’t just know about it in our heads. Songs can also provide us with words for that emotion we’ve been carrying around and we can then turn around and sing those words to God. Music teaches us about God, stirs our affections for God and provides us with a vocabulary to use when we interact with God.
Music in a church setting often seems to be something everyone has an opinion on. In your time in churches around the States and the world, what have you learnt and experienced about ‘church music’?
What we sing in church is so important because it shapes what we think about God. As worship leader Matt Papa says, “A song is a sermon people remember. People forget a sermon in a couple of weeks. They remember a song forever.” In other words, what we are singing about God gets ingrained in our hearts much more quickly than what we hear in a sermon. Because of this, we have to be really careful about the songs we choose. I think it’s important to sing not just the newest, most popular songs but also the old, rich-with-truth hymns and the psalms. That said, I love some of the songs that are coming out of the modern worship movement. It’s important to have a canon of songs that are both new and old, simple and complex; it’s also important to have songs that hit on all kinds of themes and emotions – the atonement, lament, suffering, joy, the second coming, the kingdom, mission, holiness, love, etc.
I love that you combine creativity and beautiful music with lyrics that are true to the Word of God. As someone who has played piano in church settings for a number of years, I am often frustrated that there are so many Christian songs that seem to only achieve one of these things- they either have great words and compromise melodically, or have weak lyrics with great music. How important do you think both are and how have you learnt to combine the two?
I am definitely more of a lyrics person, in that I always want the melodies I write to serve the lyrics rather than vice versa. While I love a good melody, I tend to think it should be a vehicle for the story I want to tell or the truths I want to come across. However, without a good, solid melody that people enjoy and remember, the truths in a song will be totally lost! I want my melodies to be catchy because I want people to “catch” the truths in the songs. As far as combining the two, I’m really not sure! I’ve written quite a few bad songs that no one has ever heard 🙂 My motto is just to keep on writing.
Finally, you are a woman of many gifts- you are a wife, mother, singer and songwriter and have also contributed articles to ‘The Gospel Coalition’; how do you manage your time and prioritise how to use your time and gifts for God’s glory?
Honestly, I am always learning here and I don’t think I’ll ever quite figure it out! Once I had coffee with Jill Phillips, an amazing singer-songwriter who is also a mom. She told me to “do the small thing right in front of you to do” and I’ve tried to hold onto that wisdom. In both motherhood and music, I need to be careful to distinguish between God’s voice about what my small, faithful steps should be and the voice of culture (even Christian culture!). These other voices can quickly give me a long list of things I need to do to be a good mom or a good musician or a good… whatever. Man, I fall short of that “list” every time and I end up feeling very frustrated. In the end, I think God is very clear with me on a few things: “Love and serve your children and husband toward Me, be faithful to write and sing songs that tell My Story, and lean hard into Me along the way.” What that looks like day to day and season to season changes. I can’t define success by the way I’m stacking up against other moms or other singer-songwriters. I can only define success by a faithful falling on God for strength and grace for the work He has for me each day.
Right now, my schedule looks like getting childcare for about 4 hours a week, specifically so that I can spend time working on music. The rest of the time, I’m in full-time mom mode. But you know, I never really “turn off” the mom in me or the songwriter in me, really. I am both of these things all of the time. At the end of the day, I’m a follower of Christ, sustained in every role only by His grace.
Keen to listen to her music?
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