tara-leigh-cobble"Fear, regret, control, manipulation, shame-- those are all just manifestations of unbelief."

With seven albums and three books to her name, Tara-Leigh Cobble loves to engage hearts and minds with honest encouragement and intimate dialogue. Since college, Tara Leigh has been speaking and touring heavily around the world and across the United States. In her third book, Orange Jumpsuit: Letters to the God of Freedom, she continues to unfold the story of her remarkable journey and the lessons God has taught her.

The Phantom Tollbooth corresponded with Tara-Leigh via e-mail about her latest publication.

Tollbooth: This is one of the most vulnerable books I've ever read. How did you overcome the fear of being so open with your audience about your struggles in faith, love, and life? What made you decide to leave most of the messy details in?

Tara-Leigh Cobble: The vulnerable tone is established early in my process. When I'm plotting the book, I use journal entries as guideposts. They're so bare, and it feels like lying to try to alter them. I try to be really in touch with my own feelings, thoughts, and motives, as well as everyone else's. So I just write those out as plainly as I can. I think that's one reason why people come away from the book saying things like, "You describe what I've always felt but have never known how to articulate."

If I kept things surface level, it wouldn't serve the reader. And the people in my story were very gracious about letting me share bits of their lives as well, from the agnostic to the broken to the recovering to the rebellious. The purpose of it was not to write some kind of tell-all, but to show God's love through the way He pieced our lives together.


Tollbooth: What made you choose to write Orange Jumpsuit the way you did, traveling from city to city? Would you ever write a book in that way again?

Cobble:  Part of it was selfish and part of it was for discipline. On every tour, I end up wanting to stay in the cities for longer than my schedule allows. In the spring, I did a national tour in support of my album Morning's War, which is kind of the soundtrack to this book, and blew through so many great cities. So when summer came and it was time for me to write this book, and I knew people would be going on vacation and leaving their homes empty, it seemed like a good excuse to ask to stay in their empty homes.

The other part--the discipline part--was that I needed to isolate myself in order to get this book out. This was a journey I needed to take only with God. So He and I traveled 8,000 miles over nearly 2 months. And there were days when I neither saw nor spoke to another human being. I loved the whole process. Maybe next time I'll write in Europe.

Tollbooth: Throughout the book, you talk about our orange jumpsuits (the things we lean into that keep us from experiencing full fellowship with God). As a single woman, what do you think are some of the orange jumpsuits that single people in the Church struggle with? What's the best remedy?

Cobble:  As a single person, a typical orange jumpsuit may be something like promiscuity or dating unbelievers or fear that you'll never get married. One thing I've noticed lately among single women is an angry lashing out at men for not being what they're supposed to be, as if everything would be perfect if a man would just hold a door open. The root issue underneath that is probably the enemy whispering in her ear, telling her no one will ever care about her or protect her. She doesn't want to believe the enemy--she wants to prove him wrong, so she tries to fix it. But that just taps into her own control issues. It's a cycle. The only way to shake off the jumpsuit and rest free of that burden is to trust God with your future.

Unbelief is the biggest jumpsuit of all. Fear, regret, control, manipulation, shame--those are all just manifestations of unbelief. John Piper has an incredible sermon series called "Battling Unbelief" that I try to listen to every six months. The remedy for unbelief is belief. Belief comes through knowing God. And knowing God comes through spending time with Him in His Word and in prayer and even in community.

Tollbooth: How could honesty (like the kind you display in the book) help those of us in the Church to build better relationships? How important is honesty in a Christian's life?

Cobble:  Without honesty, we're all just trying to impress people and protect ourselves. No one likes that guy. No one admires that girl once they see past it. Under the surface, it's controlling behavior. I'm not saying we should always say everything we're thinking or use honesty as an excuse to wound others. Philippians 4:8-9 is a good measure for what is important in our conversations. I'm trying to ask myself, "What did I offer that conversation? How did I leave the other person better off or show them Christ through my words?"

And how important is it? It's vital--on both a practical and spiritual level. Practically, without being honest, you'll invest years in relationships that never grow beyond the surface. And you won't have friends who understand you. And your prayers will become thin because you aren't practicing vulnerability with people, and you'll forget how to be honest with anyone, even God. Speaking the truth in love is one way we can imitate Christ and reveal Him to the world. That's our whole purpose.

Tollbooth: Who would best benefit from reading this book? Who did you have in mind when you wrote it?

Cobble: I thought I was writing a book for women. My readers have proven me wrong. I'm getting just as much feedback from men on this one, and even from married women and men. I'm grateful that God is using it across gender barriers and marital status.

Tollbooth: What's next for you in terms of writing projects?

Cobble:  In Orange Jumpsuit, I talk about the Discipleship Groups (D-Groups) I lead. A lot of people have expressed interest in learning what specific steps I've taken to help those grow successfully. So I'm working on a very short handbook called Mile Deep: A Practical Guide to Discipleship Groups. I'm hoping to release it in January 2012, and it will probably be something we only sell on my website in PDF form. It feels odd to go from writing something so emotionally bare (Orange Jumpsuit) to writing something so utilitarian. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go on a trip to write this one. I was hoping for Hawaii.

For all things Tara-Leigh Cobble, including booking and how to purchase her new book Orange Jumpsuit, visit her website at www.taraleighcobble.com.

Author photo courtesy of Jeremy Cowart

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