The last time I spoke with Jaci Velasquez, in the summer of 2005, the popular singer—with millions of album sales in both the Christian and Latin markets—had just released a new CD called Beauty Has Grace. The cover image, a close-up of her face, nicely captured both words—a beautiful visage that had graced dozens of magazine covers, and yet one that here was barely airbrushed; her freckles and slightly messy hair brought some earthy simplicity to her beauty.

When that album released in May 2005, fans had no clue what Velasquez was going through. Three months later, she revealed that her two-year marriage had just ended in divorce, and that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At the time, Velasquez said she had never "felt such pain before. My heart felt like it was breaking in half."

Fast forward six years, and it's a very different story. Velasquez is a ridiculously happy wife and mother of two precious children. She has been married for five years to Nic Gonzales, frontman for Christian Latin band Salvador, and they're the proud parents of two boys—Zealand, 4, and Soren, almost 3. And the bipolar disorder? All gone; apparently it was a misdiagnosis.

All of that life experience—the better and parts and the worse parts—has shaped the songs of her new album, Diamond, which releases today on Inpop Records, the label she signed with last August. As Velasquez tells it, the precious gems have to go through a difficult refining process, and even the finished products usually have flaws. But, she accentuates, they nonetheless sparkle—sometimes even more so because of those flaws.

We caught up with a positive sparkling Velasquez recently to talk about the new album, her family, and what she has learned along the way.

What's behind the album's title?

I called it Diamond because it's the idea of beauty from ashes—that God refined something that the world has tossed away and turned into something beautiful. And diamonds with flaws in them are the ones that sparkle most. That's kind of how my life feels now—the whole idea that sometimes you have to go through tough things to get to the place God has designed for you.

You were going through some of those tough things when we talked six years ago. You had just gone through a divorce, your parents had divorced, you had just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and …

Apparently that was a misdiagnosis. They said that it was a situational thing, a result of me going through so much at that time. That is definitely not an issue anymore. But you know, it was a part of the journey. And what's that saying? There's always story before the glory. I believe that.

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There's a lyric on the new song "Stay" that goes, "The birds are singing outside, but my heart is still breaking inside." What's that about?

It's about Soren. When he was 1 year old, we were watching Dora the Explorer, and in this particular episode, they all wished upon a star and said [to viewers], "Okay, everybody make a wish." I asked the boys, "Are you guys making wishes?" And they just looked at me like, Mom, you're a nerd. But I leaned into Soren's ear and said, "My wish is that you'll never grow up and you'll stay a baby forever. Stay with Mommy and never leave." So I wrote that song with the realization that they are only babies once, and the day will come that he will stand at the door and leave me for a beautiful woman. I know that I'll be saying, "I love you," but inside in the deepest part of my heart I will have a broken heart because he'll be gone.

How has married life and motherhood affected you as a songwriter?

It's affected me in every way, shape, and form imaginable. Some of the new songs are about my kids. Some of them are about my own mommy guilt; I struggle with it on a daily basis. Am I putting enough time and attention into each and every aspect of their lives? And then at what point do I focus on what I like to do? Playing cars and trains is awesome, but at some point, you know, what does Jaci like to do again? It's very easy to forget those things. I'm just trying to do the best I can, trying to honor God in everything, and knowing fully well that I fail in so many aspects. But the incredible thing is that God and my husband and my kids love me anyway.

A picture of grace and forgiveness.

Yes, and it started when Zealand was born. In that moment, he instantly taught me more than I could teach him in a lifetime.

How so?

I was overwhelmed with thoughts of, How could I love somebody so much and I don't even know who this person is? It was much like the grace and forgiveness and love that God has for us. He doesn't have to put up with us but he does, and he does with love and grace. But when Zealand was born, I realized that I'd never been this crazy in love before—and he was in love with me. He's the first man in my life that I didn't have to wear the right outfit for him to love me.

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Velasquez and hubby Nic Gonzales

Velasquez and hubby Nic Gonzales

Hopefully he was the second. I'm guessing Nic was the first!

Well, think about it. When Nic and I were dating, I wanted to look cute. I had to say the right things. I had to finagle him to love me. Where this little man was born and it was instant love. He didn't have to fall in love with me. It was just, "You're Mom, I love you. I've been hearing your voice for nine months. It sooths me and cradles me." Same way with Soren. So my husband he gave me the greatest gift with those little boys, and he'll never be able to top it. Nic is wonderful. He makes everybody around him a better person.

How does he do that for you?

He challenges me in good ways. He continuously reminds me to focus. We spend time together. We'll never look back at our lives and think, Gosh, I wish I would have worked more. We'll look back and think, I wish I would have spent more time with each other. Together we've grown so much as human beings, as a couple, and as parents. Nic just encompasses all the good things that I'm blessed to have in my life. He's the greatest father that I've ever seen. He's superman.

Speaking of Nic, what about Salvador? Are they still alive and well?

Yes, and they're working on a new album. They're amazing. People think I say this just because I'm married to Nic, but bar none Salvador is the best live band that has ever been. There never will be a band that can compare with them, and not just in the Christian market. I'm talking general market and everything.

You were just 15 when you hit it big with your first album. As you look back on those teenage years, what do you remember most?

So much of it is a blur because it happened so fast. But one of my fondest memories was the 1997 Billy Graham crusade in San Antonio, Texas, that I got to do when I was 17; I can still see it and run the experience through my mind. Another great memory was when I got to sing with Gloria Estefan and people from the Latin market, people I was just enamored with. But there were some tough times as well. I was 15 or 16, waking up at 4 a.m. and trying to do my schoolwork on the plane and falling asleep, and never getting it done in time.

Were there times when you wished you could just be a regular high school kid?

Only when prom time came around. I really wanted to go to prom.

Often when people hit the spotlight so young, they grow jaded or cynical as they get older, or sometimes even engage in self-destructive behavior. Did you go through any kind of phase like that?

No. I think maybe I matured a lot later than a lot of other people in the same line of work—for them it's work, but for me, it was always ministry, and I was naïve enough to think there was no business side to it for so long.

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So your naivety sort of protected you?

Yes, it did actually. I may have hit some of those cynical moments when I was about 21 or 22, some moments where I just didn't care as much anymore where you're like, "Whatever." But it was never intense like Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears's stuff. No kind of meltdown or anything. Thankfully I've always had God in my life.

As you look back over your career, is there a certain time that you point to and say that was the best time in my life?

When you're talking my career, that's different than life. The best time of my life is now. Best time in my career, that's a different thing. There is such a separation between the two, in so many ways possible. My ministry, my career, it is very important to me, but number one is God, number two is Nic, number three are my kids, and then everything else follows after that. But the greatest time in my career when I had the most fun ever was probably the Crystal Clear tour [around 2000-01]. That was a great time. We were all a bunch of kids, just goofing off and playing pranks on each other all the time. But the best time in my life is every day right now.