John Cooper is the lead singer of the band Skillet, one of the 21st century’s most successful rock bands, having received two Grammy nominations and 11 million records sold. John talks about some of the joys and struggles of his early years, and how Jesus became a friend to him through it all.
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today we speak with John Cooper, who is the lead singer of the band Skillet, one of the 21st century’s most successful rock bands, having received two Grammy nominations and 11 million records sold. John talks about some of the joys and struggles of his early years, and how Jesus became a friend to him through it all.
John Cooper of Skillet: A Friend Through Any Struggle – Jesus Calling Podcast Episode 58
John Cooper: My name is John Cooper. I sing and play bass for Skillet. I was raised in a Christian family. I gave my life to Christ when I was a kid; I was five. My story is a little unique in terms that I was raised in a very strict–I’m from Memphis, Tennessee—so kind of a very strict Bible Belt. It was a “No rock-and-roll, no black, no drums” kind of environment which I think is maybe a little ironic for doing what I do now–playing hard–hard rock music.
I grew up in the 80’s, so there was a strange mixture of cultural things happening at the time. It was where you were just really hearing for the first time “you can be anything you want to be.” That was a big motto, I think, for my parents’ generation. “Do anything, be who you want to be, don’t let anybody tell you who you have to be,” but at the same time, there was a very strict, kind of legalist approach to living life, and doing what the Bible said, and things like that. I think that some of the rub came in when those kind of things collided; that “be who you are–be yourself,” but at the same time, I feel like I’m being told who I have to be from my parents.
Music was always a really big fight. My mom was a piano teacher and a voice teacher. I grew up playing classical music and church music. When I first discovered hard rock music, there was this big backlash, especially in the 80’s, there was a massive backlash against rock-n-roll; even Christian music. I discovered a Christian band called Petra that you might know. Petra was a really groundbreaking Christian rock act, so I found there’s Christian rock music and I thought, “certainly my parents are going to love this.” But they were like, “No, they’re wolves in sheep’s clothing–they’re working for the devil.” I think growing up having a real passion for music; being kind of confused about a lot of what I was being taught because it didn’t seem to kind of jibe with what I was reading in the Bible, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. It probably caused a lot of friction there.
Knowing Jesus As A Friend Through The Hardest Time In Your Life
Probably my biggest challenge came when my mom got sick with cancer. I was in sixth grade when she was diagnosed. She battled cancer for about three years. She passed away when I was 14, and my dad got remarried. That kind of began World War Three at our house. That was the hardest time in my life, and I really had to begin to know Jesus as a friend, and that sort of thing.
I definitely felt that my dad didn’t really understand me, and kind of wanted me to be somebody different than I was. I’m in no way putting all the blame on him. You know it takes two, right? I’m sure I was a tough one to live with, of course you know “testosterone teenager” and the whole thing. My mom was the one that kind of more understood who I was, my love for music and people, my personality. My dad was very much the opposite of me in terms of personality, aspirations, sense of humor and all those kind of things.
Of course, I’m older now than my dad was when you know my mom passed away I think that kind of loss–I don’t know how I would handle it. I know it’s a hard time, and I think that also played a role in that forgiveness, understanding. We all go through things. We handle stuff poorly sometimes and that’s just life. We all make mistakes. There has been incredible forgiveness in our family, but it was hard for me.
The Key To Forgiveness
I think that I just knew that God was real, and I knew that mattered to me more than anything. So that whole scripture about drawing near to God and He’ll draw near to you; I really tested that. I remember telling God, “I’ve known you as a Savior and as my Lord. But this whole best friend angle, I need that in my life because I don’t feel it from you. I feel like I have no one to talk to.” I would talk to God about those things, and then He made himself real to me as a friend in those situations.
I think a big key for forgiveness is just realizing that just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean that it’s going to be awesome the next day, and not to feel down. You might forgive someone one day, and then feel really bitter the next and it doesn’t mean that you didn’t actually forgive them. It’s kind of an ongoing process, and it can go for years and years.
But it’s been good, because I get to write a lot of songs about hope in bad situations. I would say a bulk of Skillet fans are people that are Skillet fans because they relate to the lyrics, and they relate to the stories. You know, when you read Psalms, and you hear David or whoever you wrote a particular psalm, you hear them telling God how bad things really are, like “I feel like you’ve left me, I feel like you’re not with me, you deserted me, and all my enemies are here.”
Crying Out To God In These Hard Times
That kind of intimacy; that openness with God, sometimes, as Christians, we are a bit afraid to be that open with God. There was a sense in my church life at the time, that I couldn’t tell somebody how bad it was going, because then it made it seem like I wasn’t being a good Christian, or I had no faith. There was a little bit of, “hey, just smile. God loves you,” kind of thing. So, I write a lot of songs, and I tell a lot of people that it’s OK to feel like that. It’s OK to tell God that. He already knows you feel that way, he already knows, it’s not like you’re keeping a secret from him. He actually already knows how you feel. You can be honest with him about that.
I think a big key for forgiveness is just realizing that just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean that it’s going to be awesome the next day, and not to feel down.
It’s just like in a marriage or a friendship. When you talk through your problems, sometimes it just helps to get it off your chest. I found in my relationship with God, if I can just tell him how terrible something is, and how I feel, and I feel alone. I find that He’s always with me, but I recognize that He’s with me. So I tell a lot of our fans, it’s OK to have those moments in your life. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that everything’s always going to be awesome. You know like the like the Lego Movie song; “Everything is awesome…” I don’t really think that’s what the Bible teaches. Everything is awesome, but it doesn’t mean it’s not going to be really stinky at certain times.
So when you’re having these bad times, in these hard times, it’s wonderful to cry out to God and tell Him what you’re feeling, and even to confess to your brothers and sisters, because that’s what we’re all here for. Then we need to turn and begin to see truth in the Word; we are more than a conqueror. We are not slaves to sin any longer, and that we do have a new nature and we were crucified with Christ. We no longer live, but Christ lives in us. Therefore, live in victory.
Jesus Calling And The Walk With God
My daughter is 14, and she’s a real Jesus lover, ever since she was a kid. Maybe everybody says that about their kids, which is lovely, but most people that meet her are like, “wow she’s just kind of different.” She’s always been that way, and her mom is that way as well. Thankfully, she got her mother’s depth and passion for Christ. So my daughter is hanging out with her Aunt, and talking to her about the Lord, and saying she’s going back on the road–this was last year–back on the road. And she says “I just find that my relationship with Christ is harder on the road because I’m always around people. I don’t get to go to youth group, and it’s harder on me, and I don’t know what to do.” So, I actually got introduced to Jesus Calling through my daughter’s aunt who basically said, “you need to get this book, it’s going to really help you.” My daughter religiously reads it and talks to us about it. I know most of what I know from my daughter, who has said, “it helps me so much in my walk with God on the road because I feel like it helps me focus.” They’re small, which is really good, because she doesn’t have to sit down for three hours reading theology. She can read something small, and and it really beckons her to go deeper.
The thing I’m probably most passionate about, have always been the most passionate about, has been taking my music to the mainstream world and playing with rock bands. I love playing with Christian rock bands too and I love the Christian market, but I’ve always wanted to do both. I think that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. I feel very at home in that kind of “rock music” world. The fans that come, the people that come, are so broken.
A guy came to me a few weeks ago and said that his wife cheated on him, and ran off with their kid. He went into depression and wanted to kill himself. He tried to kill himself and he was committed to a psych ward. He ends up hearing our song “It’s Not Me, It’s You” and that song made him realize that he was not crazy; that it really was his wife. He went into rehab, he got off of drugs, and here he is five years later—he has sole custody of his kids. He’s clean and he was crying telling me the story. I just thought, I cannot believe that song did that. There’s a lot of broken people out there, and they need to hear these messages, and they’re not going to come to church to hear them. So, we need to go to them. That’s what I’m most excited about.
Narrator: To find out more about Skillet’s latest music and where they’ll be touring next, visit skillet.com. We’ll be back with more of the Jesus Calling podcast after this brief message from Audible.
As a special offering to you, the listeners of The Jesus Calling podcast, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a free 30-day trial to give you the opportunity to check out their service.
Find your favorite Sarah Young titles, including Jesus Calling and Jesus Always in an audiobook version and get it for free by trying audible.com. Check out a small sample of the Jesus Calling audiobook, featured at the end of this podcast. To download an entire free audiobook today, go to audibletrial.com/JesusCalling. Again, that’s audibletrial.com/JesusCalling for your full, free audiobook. Now, on to the second half of our show.
Narrator: Next on the Jesus Calling podcast, we will be sharing a rebroadcast of a previous episode. Tammy Arnold spent her tender years in an abusive household, abandoned by her mother, then by her father as well. Rejection left her searching for love, and eventually to numbing the pain with drugs and alcohol. At her most desperate, Tammy drew from the tiny spark of faith her grandmother had instilled in her long ago, and began her journey back to the one thing that had never abandoned her; God’s love.
Abandoned By Family
Tammy: My name is Tammy Arnold and I graduated from The Next Door in 2013. I left on May 28th but my graduation was in July. I’m originally from Tallahassee, Florida. I moved around Florida quite a bit when I was young. My mother left when I was just a baby and my grandmother and my grandfather took me in. When my father graduated from college he married a girl that he met in college and they came and took me from my grandparent’s home. He was trying to live up to his responsibility but the woman that he married hated me. She hated me from the first time she ever met me, she hated me.
I spent the next seven years with them. I had tinfoil on my windows so I couldn’t see outside. I wasn’t allowed to play outside with the other children, she would beat me on a regular basis, I still have scars on my legs from where she would beat me with my dad’s belt buckle.
That’s where the issues with my father come in because I’ll never forget one day when he was sitting in his chair watching her do this and I’m screaming, “Daddy help me, daddy help me,” and he didn’t lift a finger to help me. So anyway, when I was 10 my grandmother died. I tried to kill myself at 10 years old. Later that same year, 1978, when I was 10, and my grandmother died on August the 22nd of that year, my father and my stepmother had a child, December the 11th of that year.
I said, “They don’t want me anymore and if you don’t take me they are going to send me to some school or an orphanage.”
My stepmother didn’t want me around her. And by the time I was 12 she gave my father the ultimatum–it was either me or her. We were in a parking lot and they had all my stuff in the trunk. Here I am 12 years old with all my stuff in my father’s trunk of his car, and my aunt and my uncle pull up. They won’t even tell them why they called them to the parking lot to meet us there. So finally, when no one says anything my aunt says, “what is it? What is it?” He didn’t say anything, he just started crying and he’s holding my little sister at the time and I’ll never forget this. And finally, I had to speak up and I said, “They don’t want me anymore and if you don’t take me they are going to send me to some school or an orphanage.”
I spent almost a full year there, and it was probably one of the best years of my life because my aunt let me have some freedom and I did things that I had only dreamed of doing before, and I was actually allowed to be a child. My aunt and my uncle had marital issues. They ended up getting a divorce and the next thing you know I was being sent back to my father’s.
I just cried and cried and cried, and a few days after I was back, my stepmother got my dad’s Winchester 44 out of the closet and was pointing it … She was standing in the hallway pointing it at my head and I turned to look at her and saw the gun pointed at my head and I hit the floor. That was the only time that I remember my dad taking up for me, but he did wrestle her to the ground that day.
By this time, I was turning 13 and I was getting really tired…and one day I got a little courage and she swung that belt at me and I jumped up on top of my bed and I grabbed the belt. When I grabbed the belt, it scared her because I’ve never once fought back ever. It scared her to the point to where she ran out of my room and she got rope and tied my door to the door handle outside so I couldn’t open my door.
Alone Without Hope
The following day I went to school and I went to see a guidance counselor and I told them I wasn’t going home. Well, they said I had to see somebody about that and I said well, it doesn’t matter, I’m not going home. They said, “well, we’re not giving you permission not to go home” and I said, “I don’t need your permission”, so I never went home. They did, however, put me in Great Oaks Village in Orlando, Florida which was an orphanage.
I ran away from there; I was really messed up by this time. I ran away from there and ended up in a Christian orphanage in Thomasville, Georgia. I ran away from there…I ended up back in an orphanage, my dad came and got me. He had a new girlfriend at the time and it just wasn’t something I was ready for, so I only stayed with them a couple of months and I took off. The next thing you know I was in Northern Virginia.
I was still 13 but I was going to turn 14 that year. I met my daughter’s father, I was pregnant at 14, I had my daughter at 15. She wasn’t three or four months old that I got a job at this, like late-night place as a waitress because her father worked during the day. I went to this bar scene to work in the evenings for extra money, and the next thing you know I was drinking. Her father and I fell out. The next thing you know I was doing drugs. I had to let her father take her.
I started going from man to man looking for somebody to love me because I guess I just couldn’t accept that when somebody did love me, I found it hard to accept that they loved me, and I would try to push them as far as I could push them, in the same way that I did my grandmother. Because my grandmother’s love would never break from me and that was the only love I had to compare to anyone.
I was struggling with a severe mental illness, even though I didn’t realize I was mentally ill. The things that had happened to me through my childhood, which are the most impressionable years, had scarred me beyond recognition of a normal person.
When I was in my 30’s, one of the guys I was dating brought cocaine home and mind you–I had already tried crack when I was about 19, but I managed to get myself off of it at 19. When I was in my 30’s, I tried it again–I did not have the same luck as far as getting myself off of it. I didn’t even try, to be honest with you.
I came from Virginia down to Tennessee with this man, and within a year of being in Alcoa, Tennessee, I was so heavy on alcohol and drugs that I hardly ever left the crack house. This went on for a couple of years. When I did leave I would get arrested. I was arrested many times for paraphernalia but I was never … even though I told my probation officer several times that I would like to get help, they never once offered me help. Of course I was destitute, I had no insurance so I couldn’t get help on my own.
Adored by God
Narrator: Tammy’s journey was about to reach a sharp crossroads. Though she knew she wanted something different for her life, she found herself powerless to change her situation on her own. In her darkest hour, Tammy turned to the only place she knew to turn and recalled the faith that had been instilled in her long ago.
Tammy: Finally, one day I was sitting in the crack house and I had all kinds of drugs around me and everything that an addict would want; but I had really had enough and I begged God. I said, “Lord, please either save me or let me die.” I prayed that prayer a few times and I was serious and I was in tears and the next thing you know I was being arrested for a felony for selling a little bit of those drugs to someone.
I found out about this place, about the Next Door program, while I was in jail. They only gave me a 90-day sentence. They were going to let me right back out on the street with six-years community corrections. I had to beg them, mind you this is the same county that I was in that I was arrested 16 to 20 times for paraphernalia, that never once offered me any help. So while I was sitting there on my 90-day sentence awaiting to be released, I started begging them not to release me. I was calling my public defender on a daily basis, “Please help get some help.” With the help of my attorneys, I was able to get permission to come here before my sentence was up, so I didn’t actually have to go back out. Because I felt that if they let me back out on the street I’d be high within–by that evening and I would be doing six years in prison.
When I got to The Next Door they started treating me. I got here on November the 8th of 2012, and I have never looked back.
I stayed in therapy here for eight months and during that time, I renewed my relationship with Jesus Christ, I set goals for myself, I learned how to play the tape all the way forward; meaning that I thought of consequences before my actions which I had never done in my whole life, ever.
This was the first thing they ever gave me was my Jesus Calling book. It’s dated November the 8th right inside, and this has gotten me through. As you can see, it’s a little worn because I still use it today.
My life is completely, completely different. If you knew me even four years ago, and knowing me today, I’m not at all the same person. What’s amazing about that, is that I was that same person for over 40 years, and in a matter of eight months they turned me–helped me turn my life around into the person that I should have been 30 years ago. Everything that I wish I would have done many years ago or had the opportunity to do, I’m doing it now and you know, the Bible verse that says the Lord will restore … He said He will restore the years the locusts have eaten, and He did.
If you knew me even four years ago, and knowing me today, I’m not at all the same person.
Narrator: With a new start and fresh possibilities, Tammy views the future from a whole new perspective. With the help of The Next Door and her ongoing spiritual renewal, Tammy has been able to successfully work through mental illness, addiction, and her personal pain. She is a shining example that no matter what you’ve been through, it is never too late for new beginnings.
Tammy: Since I graduated The Next Door, I immediately enrolled in college and I am now a proud college graduate. I graduated with my Associates of Arts Degree from Nashville State. Last year I graduated summa cum laude. I will be graduating Tennessee State University next fall with my bachelors of Science and Social Work.
I still have a 4.0 GPA and I still read my Jesus Calling every day and the reason I choose social work was because I was inspired by the women here at The Next Door. I want to do for some else what has been done for me.
My whole life is different now, I feel like I’m on the path that I was meant to be on and that everything that ever happened to me in my life has brought me to this point because there’s going to be someone that God needs me to help.
My advice to anyone who’s struggling with either mental illness or addiction or abuse or any issue that you feel you need help with, I would go to TheNextDoor.org. On that website you can find their phone number. I recommend The Next Door above anywhere else because it is a faith-based organization and if there’s one person that can help you is Jesus Christ, and you will find Him here.
Thanks to my belief in God that my grandmother instilled in me all those years ago that I never ever, ever gave up on, even though I may not have lived like it. I knew He was there. I always, always knew He was there and I think somehow I always knew He was going to save me. Because He let me know in ways that He thought I was worthy even if no one else did.
Narrator: If you or someone you know is on their own journey to recovery, please download the FREE “Jesus Calling Addiction Recovery Discussion Guide” that contains 52 weeks of questions to enhance your personal or group study of Jesus Calling. If you need help to start your recovery, please reach out to the Next Door online at TheNextDoor.org or by calling (855) 205-4493. That’s (855) 205-4493.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak singer songwriter Ginny Owens and new author Shauna Shanks. Ginny is a Dove Award-winning musician known for her earnest, faith-based approach to pop. At an early age, she suffered from a degenerative eye condition that left her blind by the age of 3. Ginny recognizes the challenges being without sight brings, but navigates them with grace, humor and transparency. Here’s a preview of our interview with Ginny:
Ginny: I remember discovering this verse that Paul wrote to the Philippians from prison, which is super interesting to me, because all of Philippians is very much about joy, finding peace, being gentle–he’s in prison. I just think I would not write that from prison. He says “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry; whether living in plenty or in want.” It goes on to say the verse we all know; “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”
Narrator: Our featured passage for today’s show comes from the November 8th entry of the Jesus Calling audiobook.
Learn to appreciate difficult days. Be stimulated by the challenges you encounter along your way. As you journey through rough terrain with Me, gain confidence from your knowledge that together we can handle anything. This knowledge is comprised of three parts: your relationship with Me, promises in the Bible, and past experiences of coping successfully during hard times.
Look back at your life, and see how I have helped you through difficult days. If you are tempted to think, “Yes, but that was then, and this is now,” remember who I Am! Although you and your circumstances may change dramatically, I remain the same throughout time and eternity. This is the basis of your confidence. In My Presence you live and move and have your being.
Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.