|You had a rough childhood, didn’t you?|
I lived with my mom—a single mom with six kids. We grew up kinda poor. I got picked on a lot at school. My family always taught me about the Lord, but I dealt with serious depression that started when I was 10. I began questioning how a loving God can let bad things happen the way they do, because I had a 3-year-old cousin who was murdered. That was the year I decided I just didn’t believe anymore.
How did that influence your teen years?
I started going down a really negative path and tended to relate to dark things more. I got deeper into destructive behavior. When I was 16 I felt like I hit a wall and everything was crashing down around me. I was fighting with my mom every day, and I moved to live with my grandparents in Mississippi. I didn’t care about anything. I was a bad kid. I just laughed at everything and everybody and was really hateful.
Talk about how God got your attention in the midst of that.
I didn’t want to wake up anymore, so I planned to commit suicide. After I’d gotten in trouble at school, my grandma told me, "You need to go to church." I didn’t like any of those people who seemed happy all the time, but I said yes just to get her to stop. The preacher started talking about something I wasn’t interested in. Then he stopped and said he was going to change his sermon. He started to describe my life. It was too creepy. He said, "There’s a suicidal spirit in the room." After the service I went to leave, and a man touched my arm and said, "The Lord wanted me to speak to you." He went on about God knowing my pain and wanting to take it from me. He asked if he could pray for me, and when he did it just felt like God wrapped His arms around me.
Your song "Red Sam" seems to allude to suicide before pointing to God as the answer. What would you say to teens struggling with suicidal thoughts or feelings?
Life is hard, and that’s not something that goes away once you get saved. When I die I’ll get to be with Jesus in heaven, and I long for the time when I can join Him there and not have to fall again. But until then, God gives us a wake-up call every day. And every day is a new beginning and a chance to start over. God wakes us up for a purpose, and everything is possible with Him. No matter what you’re going through or how bad or hopeless you feel, He has a plan for your life and won’t disappoint you.
When you’re touring, what issues do teens talk with you about?
A lot of the same things grown-ups wrestle with: politics, sexual issues, relationships. People don’t know how to have relationships. I’ve only just begun to understand that marriage is supposed to be this huge, glorious proof of God’s love for the world. It’s really sad when kids don’t know how valuable they are and how precious their bodies are.
What about young people who wrestle with cutting?
We try to fill ourselves up, not be bored or whatever. Some people go to the height of all these different sensations thinking it’s all about physical experience. Then they go numb because it’s not filling them. They’re unaware that they’ve been created as spiritual beings and need a spiritual connection. So they think once they’ve gone numb that they need to feel something else, and cutting can come out of that need to feel something tangible.
Flyleaf has opened for Seether, Saliva, Staind and other big mainstream acts with dark lyrics. How have bands like that responded to your witness?
A lot of them are excited and interested to see why we are the way we are and why we treat people the way we do. Sometimes they’ll ask about God as a joke, to test us. But that’s OK. I love that because it’s honest and how I used to be. We’ve seen people come to know the Lord and have their lives go in amazing directions afterward. Crew members. Band members. God has a huge heart for these people, too. We toured with Korn, like, three times and prayed for them as a group. I remember once when we had 12 Christians on a bus praying for this band and getting a chance to be a light in a dark place. Then these Christian groups showed up with picket signs saying [the band is] going to hell and that God hates them and all these crazy things. That can ruin everything we’d worked for. I mean, what are you supposed to say to that? How does that affect what we said to them about Jesus all those times?
Do you get to talk to fans about the spiritual themes in your songs?
We do in interviews. We do one-on-one when we can. You can’t always talk about your faith when you’re touring with a band that’s not Christian, but when we’re headlining shows we can do it a lot more.
Many parents have reservations about heavier music like yours. What would you say to that?
It’s cool that they’re interested in what their kids are doing. That’s good. It’s really important that they remember how it was when they were young and their parents didn’t understand their music. It’s like when a child is small and you get down on their level, they listen to you a lot better than when you stand over them. Teenagers need you to come to a place of understanding. Then you can decide for yourself whether it’s really harmful.
Published July 2008