By Joshua Maloni
What if there’s more to the saying, “Why do bad things happen to good people”?
Like, say, “What if bad things happen to good people … but set them up for even better things”?
Rebecca St. James is proof we might be shortchanging this adage.
As an award-winning singer in her 20s, St. James had fame, fortune and movie star good looks. Drugs, alcohol, wild parties, men – whatever she wanted could be hers at the snap of her fingers.
Instead, in 2000, St. James released “Transform,” and the single “Wait for Me,” unapologetically declaring she would practice abstinence until marriage.
For the next eight years, she spent her youth serving others.
Ministering to emotionally scarred youth.
Loving her family.
Talking about the Bible.
Not exactly a night at the Viper Room.
She was the textbook definition of a “good person.”
And yet, eight years later, St. James was swimming in “bad things.”
She was single, her career was in flux, and the only constant was getting another year older.
Of course, myriad people are looking for love – but not many (if any) have to go on stage night after night and proclaim, “I am waiting for/Praying for you, darling/Wait for me, too.”
In a 2020 interview, St. James shared, “I think my goal has always been that, when God brought my husband, that I would sing and start having kids. That would be just very clean and tidy, and that was my plan. And, as every year went by and I'm still singing ‘Wait for Me’ and talking about this man that I pray will come – but there’s no guarantees in life that things will turn out the way that we want. … The Bible says, ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick,’ and I think in some ways my heart was sick.
“There’s also panic attacks happening on stage where, depending on how emotionally exhausted I was that day, would depend on how much I could breathe on stage – or not breathe on stage. … I think music just became increasingly more threatening.”
At the time, it seemed as if St. James was called to “retreat” to California.
It was the day the music died; the singer having wasted her time singing that song so many times, and with nothing to show for it.
The Bible says faith is the assurance of things hoped – the evidence of things not seen.
This wasn’t the end of St. James’ story, but a divinely crafted reboot.
Not long after landing on the West Coast, St. James was introduced to Foster the People bassist/film producer Jacob “Cubbie” Fink – and wouldn’t you know it – the words of “Wait for Me” began to come to fruition. Instead of latching on to anyone, St. James found the one.
St. James and Fink wed and, today, are the proud parents of three young children.
But that wasn’t all.
With St. James taking time off, her brothers, Joel and Luke Smallbone, took up the family trade and formed for KING & COUNTRY. They quickly became one of the top acts in all of music, selling out shows around the world while finding placements on national talk and awards shows.
About four years ago, fKC asked big sister to collaborate on a new album, “burn the ships.” More unexpectedly, they asked her to come out on stage during a show in Alaska and join them on vocals. St. James fought off her fears, overcame the nerves, and pressed forward into God’s new plan for her life.
What followed was a record deal with Bethel Music; a 2020 EP, “Dawn”; and a podcast, titled “Rebecca St. James Friends & Family.”
She was a single girl who struggled to catch her breath.
Now she’s a married woman with, of all things, a talk show.
It would seem, then, that if bad things happen to good people, there’s something better for those who endure – who wait and believe.
St. James’ musical comeback is complete this week with the release of “Kingdom Come,” her first full-length record in 11 years.
“I just feel so thankful to God that I'm living my dreams,” St. James said Thursday. “This is what I've always wanted. And it's really sweet to be able to be on the road, too, and see it through the kids’ eyes, and the adventure of it for them. They love it. …
“I feel very thankful.”
The singer, author, actor, speaker, wife and mother chatted with NFP. An edited Q&A follows.
Rebecca St. James has successfully returned to the stage. (Photo courtesy of Smallbone Management)
Q: What was the deciding factor in saying, “You know what, this is the right time, this is what I want to do. I'm ready for this. Let's go forward”?
Rebecca St. James: Well, definitely when I signed with Bethel’s Heritage label … that was definitely the plan, was a full-length album. And then COVID happened. And we kind of delayed the rest of it, and decided to put it out in two parts, really.
But the album was very kind of autobiographical, really, because it talks a lot about the redemption that God has brought in my life. It talks a lot about pain and winter seasons, and kind of alluding to miscarriages and my husband's loss of a job in one season, and just heavy, heavy stuff; some burnout that I was dealing with. And then the redemption that God has brought to our lives in these areas, and how much hope we've seen him bring, and just seen him bring a new day to our lives.
And so, I think when I was first writing these songs, I had no idea that there was a pandemic around the corner, and that people were going to be so desperate for this kind of hope, or this kind of language about there being a dawn, or there being a sunrise; we just had no idea. But I feel thankful that God has been able to use my pain, and really offer hope to people – not only through the music, but my testimony. When I'm doing shows, I'm able to share the story of God making my dreams come true as a wife and mom – I'm living that now. And I was holding on for so many years, so publicly for that. And then also just redeeming some of these other challenges and bringing us into a new day and a new time.
I think people really need to hear these messages; and I'm just glad that here, real soon, people can kind of have the whole picture of this album, “Kingdom Come,” not just half of it.
Q: So, five new songs; seven that you put out with “Dawn,” and five new for the full-length. Of course, with some of these new songs, you have collaborations. You talked about thematically what people can expect. But sonically, does it follow the same pattern as “Dawn”? What can you tell us about these new songs?
Rebecca St. James: I would think people will feel that there's a lot of symmetry with those earlier songs from “Dawn.”
You know, I don't know if it's my Australian roots – and Aussies, I mean, we began as convicts, and we were survivors really. My ancestors were free settlers from England, but there's almost a sense of, like, we're fighters – and almost like a commitment to doing things a little differently. And not being cookie-cutter.
And so, I think, even with my approach to this album. I know that it's a worship album. And I know that there's a kind of worship sound that is a bit more of an accepted sound when it comes to worship. And we didn't do that. We did something a little bit more. A lot of people do modern sounds, too, when it comes to worship, but I didn't really play into what I consider to be the accepted worship sound.
I created an album that I would enjoy listening to, not that I do listen to my music or choose to listen to it at home (laughs), unless I'm working on a mix or the song’s evolving. But I made an album that is a style that I enjoy. And, you know, there is a rhetoric around, like, creativity that “Make something that you like,” because you're much more likely to have people that also like it, that are listening. If you make something that you don't like, it's hard to actually have anybody else enjoy it, either. So, I made an album that I feel was true, authentically, to me, lyrically, as well as musically, and hopefully other people will be blessed and enjoy it in the same way.
Q: You also recently restarted the podcast. How has that been going, and what continues to excite you and challenge you about that opportunity?
Rebecca St. James: We're in season three, and just launched our first one of season three last week. What I continue to love about it – but I've loved from day one – is that I'm a very naturally curious person. And so, I love being able to learn from people. And just kind of draw from this story, like just draw out what are those nuggets of truth that God has taught this friend, or this family member, or this person that I respect, that I can learn from in my life, whether it's in the area of parenting, or marriage, or faith.
And so, what I love is that I'm learning every single time from these people. And then I'm able to bring an audience along with me.
This season, I think I've interviewed people or had people on the podcast that are maybe a little bit more intimidating to me (laughs) then the first few seasons. I had Michael W. Smith on the podcast this season. I've known his music since I was a small, small child growing up in Australia. So, you know, I've definitely had to cling to God and not be intimidated, I suppose, by some of the guests that I've had. But it's been a nice, like, stretching experience for me to be able to have some of these people on that I maybe just alone would be intimidated by. But, you know, God gives me the strength each time, and the ideas, I think, to draw from, to draw out these guests. And that's a sweet privilege.
Q: You’re appearing at Kingdom Bound. We're excited to have you back out this way this summer. We've seen you over the years. As you said, you've had ups, you've had downs. But every time you've come, you've given your all, and you've been such a blessing to us and that event. What continues to be special about coming to Kingdom Bound, and performing for the folks out here in Western New York?
Rebecca St. James: I mean, for me, there's just so many amazing memories. I think Kingdom Bound was either the first festival that I ever played, or, like one of the first that first couple years that I was even doing music in the mid-’90s. And so, I mean, I just remember riding the rollercoasters there, and having my band and playing in the middle of the park at one point, and then doing the seminars in the grove area.
Just so many memories. And I think that that's just very sweet to have that kind of history. And a lot of things change in life, a lot of things they go away; you know, they just don't exist anymore. And to have something that is so iconic, like Kingdom Bound, have some of these same people behind the scenes that I’ve known all these years – that have kind of seen me grow up – it's just very special.
Find more about Rebecca St. James – her music, ministry and podcast – online at https://www.rebeccastjames.com/.
Rebecca St. James with her brothers, Luke and Joel Smallbone of for KING & COUNTRY. (Photo courtesy of Smallbone Management)