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Jesus and the Bachelor…an Unlikely Duo

Jesus and the Bachelor…an Unlikely Duo

As I sit here on my bed with dozens of my handwritten journals sprawled before me, tears of joy and feelings of complete awe overwhelm my thoughts. In these journals, I have attempted to capture my feelings and the events of the past year. I am filled with a sense of wonder at God’s faithfulness throughout my personal journey. What a year it has been! Never in my life have I felt closer to God as He has revealed His purpose for my life. There are no words to adequately express how God has worked in my life and how He has been teaching me to trust in Him and to wait on Him for direction.

Throughout my life, I have always “trusted” God.  I grew up in church and have always been taught that He would guide me and that He loved me beyond what I could even comprehend. But this year, for the first time, I had to put that knowledge into practice. It was the first time I really, truly had to trust God by fully surrendering and allowing Him to lead me where He wanted me to go.

So let’s back up. This past year, I was one of the contestants on the dating reality TV show, The Bachelor. I know… not exactly the place you would expect to find a passionate, committed Christian. However, as strange as it seems, I knew wholeheartedly that that’s where God was calling me. Through a series of amazing and clear signs from the Lord (story for another time), I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that God had me there for a reason. I was MEANT to be there, and I knew it with my whole being. However, as exciting as that thought was, I was also terrified. I knew this setting would be completely different than my close-knit Christian community at home. I also knew that my story (having never been kissed… something the show has never seen before) would be something that was emphasized and, frankly, made to be a spectacle of disbelief in a world that is so drawn to sexuality. So… all of this swirling through my head, I said yes to an offer to be on the Bachelor and a week and a half later I was thrown into the fire. My prayer going into this adventure and throughout the journey was, “God this is for you. Lead me in any way you want. I am fully yours and trust you 100%.” Then off I went into the unknown trusting that God would lead me along the way.

Throughout the entire process, I grew closer and closer to God every day. I was praying more than I ever had and was seeking guidance from the word of God on a daily basis. In a time when I should have been the most unsure and anxious, God gave me a peace that He was in control and that He was guiding me. Week after week went on, and I had the time of my life because I was so reliant on the Lord and knew that, whatever the outcome, my future was fully in His hands. He instilled a supernatural peace in me that I experienced more powerfully than ever before. It was a peace that didn’t make sense. It was a peace that didn’t align with my situation but aligned with my complete trust in the Lord. I was able to release all my worries and anxieties onto Him because of my confident trust that He was going to work out my situation according to His will. It was Him who had me there, so I knew that He was going to lead me through. Because I knew my purpose so deeply and had experienced the power of my God at work, my fears went away. I was able to trust that, even if I was made to be an absolute fool (at some points this did happen, lol), God was in it and this situation WAS going to be used for His glory, even if I wasn’t aware of what that would look like at the time.

So each passing week, I waited and waited on God to guide me. I told Him to guide my conversations with everyone I encountered, from the girls on the show to the production team. I wanted to show His light to everyone I met and be like Christ to others. My plan was not to be pushy but to let God open doors when He wanted to, because that’s how I got here in the first place. Let me tell you, God had more in store than I expected. I was able to have countless intentional conversations about Jesus, and they weren’t me preaching or planning or being nervous about how I was going to present the gospel. They were raw, vulnerable conversations about life that naturally led to our core belief systems. These conversations were so eye opening because, for the first time, I wasn’t nervous about how or what I was going to say to people and how I was going to convince them to follow Jesus. It was purely a heart to heart conversation with another human being, created in the image of God, and I was fully depending on Him to guide the conversation. The crazy thing was, it took me being in a place where I was fully uncomfortable and out of control to feel free and confident. It seems so counter-intuitive but, for the first time, I felt bold. For the first time, I fully surrendered to God (without a backup plan) and I experienced true freedom.

Today, I am in a season of my life that is so incredible but comes with its own challenges. I feel like God wants to continue to use my situation but, to be honest, I don’t know what that looks like. Yet again I have been in a season of waiting, and I’ve heard God speak that more clearly than ever before. I have been praying and seeking for God to direct and show me exactly what He wants me to do next, but sometimes that answer is just, WAIT. In the waiting, I have caught myself wanting to take back control of my life and do things in my own way and time. I have allowed doubt to creep in, and it started making me question if I was actually hearing God correctly or if I was just making it all up in my head. I had gotten to the point where I was so confused about what I was supposed to do that I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore. I did the only thing I could think of and got in the car (with no music on, quite a rare thing for me) and started crying out to God, “GOD, SPEAK. Just please speak.  Say something.” I turned into the gas station and got out to get a Gatorade (which I never do but felt like I needed to make some purpose out of the drive) and, as I was getting out of the car, I prayed, “Just give me a way to serve you right now in this gas station. That is what I want for my life so please just show me that you’re here with me.” I walked in and picked up trash on my way inside (thinking that could be the way I was serving, lol), got my Gatorade and got in line still thinking something was going to happen. As I stepped in line, I heard a beeeep from the cash register like the credit card wasn’t working for the guy in front of me. In my head I was like “no way this is happening God.” Again he tried and the same beep and then one more time. Literally, I am like “c’mon God this can’t be real! I mean, how often does this happen?  He must have cash on him or another card.” Then the cashier says, “Sorry I don’t know what else to do,” and the guy starts to walk out. I knew that God had heard me and He had given me that moment to serve him by serving others. So, I said, “well, okay, thank you God!  Here I go,” and offered to pay for the man’s items. When I left that gas station, as simple as this was, I knew I had just had an encounter with God and he so specifically showed me that not only was he listening to me but that I was hearing him and walking the path he had for me. I knew that, even though I was confused about God’s plan, He is still guiding me and leading me even now.

The crazy thing is, now when God says, “wait,” it doesn’t scare me as much. After going through such a crazy experience and seeing how God was so faithful through everything, I have grown in my confidence in Him. I realized that it’s easy to say the almost cliché line, “God has a plan.” but not truly believe it in your heart or not allow God to have so much control of your life that you have to trust Him completely. No no no! God allowed me to go through an experience that caused my whole mindset to shift. I now believe with my full heart that God is in control and, no, that does not mean that everything is going to go my way and if I trust him he is going to lead me into wealth and riches. What it means is that God has a plan for my life that may not look like my own plan, but it is so much better! It may not look better from a worldly standpoint but God knows what we need more than we do, and I fully trust now that if God says wait or no, that He has a plan that is so much better for me and better for His kingdom. I’ve learned to believe that God can do wonderful things with our lives if we just take a risk and give up control to Him. It is not until we fully surrender and trust Him that we will see what is possible only through Him. So right now, God has me in a time of waiting but, you know what? That’s okay. It actually makes me excited! Do I still get frustrated and think my plan is right and wish God would follow my plan?  Of course! But, I always go back to God’s faithfulness and know that I want to be a part of His story, not for Him to be a part of mine.

Even still, I trust you, Lord.

My Prayer for you is this… that you step out of your comfort zone in whatever way God is calling you to in your life and you take that leap of faith to trust God with your whole life. It’s not easy by any means, but I promise when you surrender to God and listen for his guidance, He will lead you into a deeper relationship and reliance on him that brings more joy and peace than you ever thought possible. So live your life for Jesus and wherever he has you, use that place to show His love to the world.

Heather Martin was a contestant on Colton Underwood’s season of the Bachelor. She lives in San Diego, California and in her free time you can catch her at the beach with her friends and her two sisters (who also double as her best friends.) Her main passion in life is to spread the love of Jesus to everyone she meets and to make sure everyone has a friend.

Follow Heather on Instagram @heatherm22

Love. Relationship. Redemption.

Love. Relationship. Redemption.

I am SO excited to announce that I have teamed up with Live Original to create an exclusive study for their online community, LO Fam! The study is all about love, relationships, and redemption and I couldn’t be more hopeful to share about all that God has taught me about Himself through my relationship. Doors are open this week for you to join so I hope to see you there!

But for today, friend, as I was praying about what I wanted to write about for this blog, Jesus put you on my heart. That may sound funny because you may think “you don’t even know my name”, but I believe that’s why Jesus put you on my heart. I felt like He wanted me to remind you today that He knows your name. Yes, it’s that simple and yet we still often forget. The creator of the world, who is also the creator of your heart, knows your name.

In fact, He LOVES your name. He loves getting to hear your name and He loves getting to say it.  He calls you by name.

The reason I think I feel so strongly to remind you of that, is because Jesus has been reminding me of that lately. I’ve been in a place where I’ve desperately needed to hear Him say my name.   Some of you might know already, but I’m engaged and getting married on Dec 15th to Clayton Ray Pickens (insert heart eyes emoji). Although I prayed for my husband as long as I can remember, I truly couldn’t have ever prayed for all the little things about Clayton that drew me to him. I’ve never known someone to love so deeply. His heart is tender and soft before Jesus like I’ve never seen before. I could go on and on about Him, but that leads me back to what I really want to share today.

My relationship with Clayton brings me so much JOY, but Clayton is not my happiness. My relationship with Clayton brings me so much PEACE, but Clayton is not my peace. My relationship with Clayton brings me so much LIFE, but Clayton is not my life. My relationship with Clayton brings me so much CONFIDENCE, but Clayton is not my confidence.

If you don’t already know where I’m going with this, you may be thinking you hope he never reads this blog… and if so it might surprise you that I sent it to him, he read it, and he loved it!   Let me explain why he loved it…

Just like Clayton isn’t my joy, peace, life, and confidence… I’m not his joy, peace, life, and confidence either! Although our relationship is full of all of those things, we both have realized that it’s not US. It must be something and someone greater. It must be supernatural. It must be our first love, Jesus, in one another drawing us to Himself. One of the greatest things I’ve discovered in the last year is that love is consistent no matter where it’s found, if it’s true love.  The world will try to give love many different definitions and attributes, but God defined love once and for all.

Love can never be redefined.

The point I want to make is that Clayton could never fully satisfy me on his own. If I put all of my hope in Clayton’s love for me, although I know it is true, I recognize that he is human. There is a greater love that lives in Clayton. His name is Jesus, and He is the only one who can truly satisfy my soul. I love spending time with Clayton, but what makes spending time with Clayton so sweet is when we both spend time with our Jesus. Our first love. I love hearing Clayton say my name, but I NEED to hear my Father say my name. I need to hear His voice and lean back into His arms. This not only satisfies my soul, but I believe it makes me a better fiancé, and soon to be wife. If I tried to love Clayton out of my own strength and idea of love, I would fail every time.  But is it God’s love and strength that makes loving Clayton effortless.

What I’ve found and seen is that God is the source and the key to a love that isn’t of this world.  God’s design for love and relationship is so much better than this world will ever tell us it is. Love is Jesus, and when two people allow Jesus to satisfy their every need, they will experience a satisfying relationship. The world will tell you it’s physical attraction that drives a relationship and to make sure your partner is satisfying all your needs. But as your friend I want to tell you that no person could ever or will ever satisfy all your needs. No person was or is meant to do that.

There was a season of my life when I was in a relationship that I didn’t have peace about, that I discovered this to be true. No matter how hard I tried to create peace, it didn’t work. No matter how much I tried to satisfy, or be satisfied by the relationship, it didn’t work. But the minute I let go and let Jesus satisfy my heart’s desires everything changed. The fruit of His spirit became my new definition of love and my resting place.

When I let go, I thought I was losing everything. But I soon discovered that in letting go, I was gaining everything. His love completely redeemed my understanding of love and relationship. I never knew it could be this good.  I never knew “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control” like this before. Everything became new and every thought had been redeemed.

I want to encourage you friend to listen to Him say your name. Let His voice remind you who you are and whose you are. There is no greater relational status than being loved by Jesus. He is the one we need and the only one that can show us what real love is. Let Him love you today and find yourself wrapped up in His faithfulness! Hear Him say your name and woo you to Himself.  I promise you He’s willing and He’s waiting to be everything You need Him to be.

Laney Redmon is a lover of Jesus who loves sharing about what He has done in her life. Whether it’s through writing blogs, music, or designing clothes, Laney’s prayer is that it would always remind people of how loved they are by HIM.

Check out Laney’s brand new study, available on LO Fam!

Follow Laney on Instagram @LaneyRedmon

Balancing Relationship and Career

Balancing Relationship and Career

Noah and I were married two months ago after dating for two and a half years. We met and became friends a couple months before I signed my record deal. Noah has been by my side as I’ve made a lot of big decisions at the beginning of my career. He has seen a lot of my uncertainty and the not so pretty parts of my job that most people don’t see – the long hours, the days away from home, the number of people involved in every part. Noah has also watched me work really hard, fight nerves, and shine on big stages. It’s been a blessing that we met at the very beginning of my career in Nashville because through all these experiences we have developed a respect for each other for choosing to give God the glory when it feels like we’re flying, and when it feels like we’re just barely hanging on. So our relationship and my career took off about the same time, and both began to escalate really quickly.

In that time, I have grown in my faith because I have moved more and more out of my comfort zone. I’ve battled with worry, fear, and anxiety when faced with decisions that I didn’t know which way to go. But in those moments, I’ve increasingly turned to my faith for strength and the blessing of discernment. So many people are involved in launching a new artist from the label, my management team, my publishing team, the amazing group of musicians I have on the road, and especially my close friends and family who have supported me from the start. I’ve never been good at letting anyone down and making decisions from a place of confidence because I’m using faith as my guidepost has really helped me keep focus.

When I was asked to write about the topic of balancing career and relationship, I sarcastically thought to myself, “I’ve been married two months, so I’ve totally got this right??” Ha!

I became inspired to look outside my own opinions and instead use this as an opportunity to explore faith as a source for wisdom about balancing my life, my relationship with Noah, and my career as an artist/songwriter. Before I knew love with Noah, I knew the phrase “God is love” from the bible. And that simple, straightforward thought continues to influence all my relationships and set the standard of what I wanted my marriage to be.

The truth is you can’t completely prepare for the unknown. However, I took this topic and asked advice from many married couples whom I admire. Of these couples I talked to, some that have been married for a year or two, some 20 years, and some have been married more than 30 years. Some are friends and some are family members— all who travel for work and have had to adapt to the lifestyle that comes along with a career like mine. What I heard over and over was the importance of faith and choosing to believe in something bigger than ourselves and our relationship, or my career. They told me that marriage is not an easy or perfect adventure, but a solid foundation makes a huge difference in figuring out how to maneuver through this lifelong commitment.

After seeking advice from our married friends and turning to faith for inspiration, we have come up with our own strategies for staying connected through intentional communication.

One thing that each couple touched on was how to intentionally communicate with each other while traveling. Especially as a recording artist I’m constantly on the road and it’s easy to get caught up in each day’s events and forget to reach out to Noah. A quick text or call to remind him that I’m thinking of him every day goes a long way while I’m away and keeps us in touch with each other. Even if it’s a completely different time zone or no cell service, sending an email or Facebook message can make a huge difference in his day, and mine.

Prayer helps me feel more connected to Noah when I’m away from home, so praying for Noah is always a part of my morning routine. I thank God for Noah, pray for his heart and mind, and ask that God would take care of him throughout his day. Prayer always makes me feel closer to him somehow and puts my mind more at ease.

Another thing several couples mentioned was the importance of being aware of each other’s “love languages,” and how making an effort to speak each other’s love language during the time we are together can really make up for the lonely times when we are apart. For example, Noah and I both really respond to words of affirmation; and they can really help refill both our empty “love buckets”! For us, simply asking about each other’s day, snuggling on the couch, or doing a chore or two around the house shows how we care for each other. One friend went so far as to advise me to schedule time just for us – even if that means staying at home. It’s worth it to be proactive and schedule the time.

The thing that Noah and I continue to remind each other is that no matter what happens each day, no matter how far apart we are, we have this unique, beautiful relationship with Christ as the anchor. Here are a few verses that have helped me see better how I can live and love in regards to relationship and career.

Matthew 6:33

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

I love this verse because it’s a simple equation that makes sense. It’s a good springboard for my thought process about the idea of balance.

Many days I wake up feeling out of balance and automatically feel myself battling with stress, worry, anxiety, depression, confusion, or loneliness. But when I remember to seek God first thing when I wake up, He reminds me that He is giving me everything I need right in front of me and my heart and my mind immediately feel lighter. Growing in our faith in Christ isn’t easy – especially with a demanding schedule – it takes practice and tenacity. So, Noah and I carve out time in the mornings to pray and ask God to give us a heart that seeks Him first – not our career, not each other, not our families, not friends, not money, not reputation, not personal gain. Then we talk to God about everything on our hearts. Prayer is a sacred time that we get to share and I’m really thankful for that bond we create through that time while getting to know each other more and getting to know God more.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

In my mind, when I see “To every thing there is a season,” I see “To everything thing there needs to be balance.”

 I was on the phone with Noah’s parents, talking about the balance beam of life, and Noah’s dad — who was the officiant at our marriage – brought up this passage in Ecclesiastes. He talked with me about the image of a man who walks across a tight rope, and how in pictures you can’t see how hard he leans from left to right in order to keep his balance. It’s never just a perfectly balanced walk. I think that’s an amazing picture of how I have to experience balance in my live.

Sometimes my career calls for me to bury my head down and focus on my work whether it be at home or during travel. And sometimes Noah (and our future kids) will need me to be focused on the needs of our family and nurturing our relationship. However, taking the time to communicate when the balance needs to shift is critical. It’s really important that I create a safe space of communication for Noah and vice versa. I want him to feel like he is listened to when he speaks about his feelings and that I care about those feelings, even when it’s not an easy conversation. If I don’t, he will bottle up his feelings or let them build up and spill over in an unhealthy way. I have to choose to let Noah know he can be honest with me when he needs more quality time. This way, when the balance needs to shift between the two of us, he doesn’t feel needy or overbearing, and I don’t feel controlled.

For us, our marriage is a dream come true! This year I released a song called “Enough” that talks about that, and I hope it will be a reminder to us throughout our marriage. Noah and I are so excited to continue to learn about life and share our world with you all throughout the journey.

XO,

Rach

Picked as the only country artist on Entertainment Weekly’s “2019 Artists to Watch” list, Rachel Wammack has a deeply-rooted, classic sound influenced heavily by the rich musical history of her hometown of Muscle Shoals, Ala. Her songs showcase a gifted musician with a confident, soulful soprano earning her early recognition including being named to Rolling Stone’s “10 Best County EPs of 2018” as well as Amazon and NPR’s lists of “Best Music of 2018.” She received “2019 Artist to Watch” acclaim from multiple outlets including AOL, Pandora,  Music Row, Pop Culture, Sounds Like Nashville, and more. She was also selected for CMT’s “Next Women of Country” and Bobby Bones “Class of 2019.”

Follow Rachel on Instagram @rachelwammack

What a Real Relationship Looks Like

What a Real Relationship Looks Like

“We just didn’t love each other anymore.” Those were the words my friend Jeff said to me, as we sat on the back porch of a rustic cabin on a guys weekend. “One day, we woke up, and realized that whatever “this” was, it wasn’t real love. So, we decided to file for divorce.”

I could literally feel the pain that my friend was experiencing. You could feel it through his tone of voice and the expression on his face. Though it had been over two years since his marriage had ended, Jeff still could barley talk about it. He told me that the person he had married, slowly over time, began to vanish. Jeff said that he began to feel like no matter what he did, or how hard they tried as a couple, they just couldn’t “get there.” They couldn’t feel the love that their married friends with “great” marriages seemed to feel with no problem.

Jeff asked me what I thought about his relationship. “Wasn’t your grandpa that famous relationship expert? What would Gary Smalley say.”

I get asked that all the time. “What would your grandpa say?” And, I honestly love that question. Because, I’ve never faced that question without an answer my pops taught me.

What Jeff experienced in his marriage, is something single people like me dread. And, it’s something that terrifies people that are dating or married. What happens when our relationships aren’t what they seemed to be at first? What happens when we’ve slipped inadvertently into the abyss of disfunction?

What happens when my relationship isn’t real?

If you’ve ever found yourself asking that same question. Or, are afraid of asking that question some day. I want to give you a secret. And, this secret has the potential to not only save your marriage before it starts, but can open up a new realm of possibilities in your relationships. I’ve watched this secret create marriages that last a lifetime. And, even spill into relationships with family and friends. And it all has to do with this word… safety.

The relationship ingredient Jeff was missing, and many of us can miss if we’re not careful is safety. Safe relationships are life-giving. Safe relationships give freedom. And, safe relationships are real relationships.

So, what is a safe relationship? How can I make sure my relationship is safe? Or, how do I know when to get out of a un-safe relationship? I’d like to let you in on this special secret with five traits of a real (safe) relationship.

1.  Safe relationships help you be the best you.

In my new book, Real Life Love, I dedicate a full chapter to honor. You see, if you aren’t with someone who honors you for who you are, then you are literally wasting your time. Honoring someone means to value them, and everything about them, like they are the most important things on Earth. So, all of those quirky things you do. Your crazy, outlandish dreams. That thing you do when you’re nervous that everyone else finds annoying. That person honors each of those. If you’re with someone who doesn’t propel you to be the best you, then that person isn’t safe.

When I was in college, I dated this girl who was awesome. She was funny, and was extremely intelligent. Until one night. I remember telling her that one of my dreams was to someday be a host on NBC News. She looked at me, and shot back with, “let’s be honest, the only thing you’re honestly capable of is cleaning the bathrooms at NBC.”

I know. Brutal, but true. Let’s just say I quickly realized that I was never safe to truly be who I was around her, and who I wanted to be in that relationship. That girl was more focused on her putting her best on center stage of our relationships, and I was supposed to be in the wings.

Real relationships honor everything about you. And, they never put you in the wings of your own life. You deserve someone who thinks of you as highly valuable, and allows you the freedom to be your best.

2.  Safe relationships want you to have good relationships with other people.

One of my best friends recently started dating this girl. And, before we all knew it. Not only was he dating this girl, he was only seeing this girl. As in, every waking moment of every waking day. Our friend group would text him, and it was always the same thing.

“Hey, thanks for the invite. But, I’m hanging with Jamie tonight.”

Every night. Every day. Every weekend. It was always Jamie.

One day, I decided to ask my friend. Why in the world was he spending so much time with this girl? I mean, I get it! You’re in love! But, did that mean he had to sacrifice his friendships for his romantic relationship.

It turns out, Jamie put tremendous demands on my buddy’s time. And, she didn’t want him to have any other strong relationships, that was stronger than theirs. While, I will agree that our romantic relationships are important. They aren’t the only relationships that we have. If someone isn’t willing to allow you to build quality relationships with others, which only brings more fulfillment in your life, then they aren’t worth being in a relationship with.

At some point, they need to trust you that you are doing the right thing.

3.  Safe relationships point you back to your relationship with Jesus.

Jefferson Bethke is this author and speaker who lives in Maui. He’s super popular for doing cool videos on YouTube and a book he wrote called Jesus>Religion. A few years ago, he released another book called Love That Lasts. It’s about relationship secrets him and his wife used to build a healthy marriage. He recently posted a photo on Instagram of this book someone bought from a used book store, and in the book, there was a list this girl wrote called “10 Reasons I Need to Break Up with Jordan.”

I read the list hurting for this girl. She wasn’t in a real, safe relationship. And, several times on the list pointed to the fact that Jordan wasn’t challenging her spiritually. Not only that, he wasn’t really interested in following Jesus.

I’ve seen so many of my friends walk into relationships with someone who wasn’t a Christian. And, I’ve never seen any of them work out for the best. If you think that someone is going to change because of how strong your faith is, I have bad news for you. It’s not going to happen. Because Jesus is the only one that changes hearts.

Instead, invest in a relationship with someone who is excited about their faith. Invest in a relationship with someone who isn’t afraid to pray over decisions. Who wakes you up for church in a Sunday. Who is genuinely interested in reading God’s word. Who is spiritually wise.

Trust me, the other way only leads to pain. Be with someone who will sharpen you!

4.  Safe relationships are judgement free zones.

Let’s go back to my friend Jeff. When he told me him and his wife couldn’t ever get “there,” I asked what he meant. “Well, I guess I feel like nothing I ever did was good enough,” he said. “Nothing was ever right. Nothing was ever the way she wanted it. I guess I just wasn’t good enough.”

Once I heard him say that, I realized that he probably wasn’t in a safe relationship from the beginning. Jeff was with someone who was quick to judge. She critiqued and criticized even the small stuff. The way he would chew his food. The fact that he wanted to start a company, and be an entrepreneur over being a doctor like she (and her mom) wanted.

Safe relationships can’t be judgmental, because people who want safe relationships say goodbye to their role of critic.

Jeff’s ex-wife was like a food critic that couldn’t get over what Jeff was wanting to serve. Jeff could make the meal of his life, and she would still give it just one star.

Safe relationships appreciate, and celebrate everything. The good. The losses. The joyful. And, the ugly.

5. Safe relationships are quick to seek forgiveness

In the book Real Life Love, I talk about how forgiveness is the healer of all wounds. The stark reality is that when people mess up in relationships, they refuse to seek forgiveness. They cast all the blame on the other person, and hold onto those angry feelings for years to come.

The true mark of a safe relationship is when someone messes up, they immediately seek forgiveness. The don’t let the grass grow under their apology. They understand that the other person is so much more important than “winning.” Real life love wins, when both people win. And, sometimes, that win starts with the words, “will you forgive me.”

Michael Gibson writes and speaks about relationships. He’s the author of Real Life Love: Saying Goodbye to the Fairytale and Hello to True Relationships. A book about the seven secrets his grandpa, the world-famous marriage and family expert, Gary Smalley. He lives in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri.

Clarity

Clarity

When I dated girls in college, I confused every single one of them. I was not sure how to express my feelings. Heck, I wasn’t even sure what my feelings were! Though the women I knew were all amazing, the relationships all ended up in a complete dumpster fire of pain and confusion. I finally had to take a break from romantic relationships all together. I had to get “me” sorted out a bit more before I could try to get a “we” off the ground! But when I met my wife-to-be, Donna, things had changed. I felt more confident in the Lord’s leadership of my life, and more comfortable with myself. With that sense of comfort and confidence I was able to give her the gift that is lacking in much of the dating world today: clarity. 

Proverbs 29:18 declares, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The word “perish” there can also be translated, “unrestrained” or “disturbed” or “out of control.” This is modern dating. When there is no clear direction, both men and women feel out of control, disturbed and anxious. Much of the anguish in modern dating could be alleviated if we mustered the courage to graciously tell one another what we think, how we feel, and what we would like to do. It is a lack of leadership that is killing the joy in dating. Ephesians 4 states that the people of Jesus “speak the truth in love.” Proverbs 24:26 declares that an honest answer is a kiss on the lips. It is a sign of both kindness and respect to graciously tell someone the truth. In the world of dating and relationships, ambiguity is the seedbed of anxiety. What the world needs now is some clarity. 

We need clarity in initiation. This continues to be a challenge and responsibility borne in large part by men. In 2012 a national survey of all women indicated that only 12% of American women asked anyone out the previous year. So whatever you believe about male-female roles in relationships, the data continues to suggest that women want men to initiate. Now does this mean that women cannot tell men that they are interested? No! Read the Old Testament book of Ruth. Boaz was a good man who was not going to make a move. So Ruth, a righteous woman, asked him “What’s the deal here, Boaz? Are we doing this?” (Rough translation). It’s not wrong! Yet Proverbs states that a man who finds a wife finds a good thing. I do believe that it is good for men to initiate and hope more will do so and do it with clarity!

I met Donna at a ministry function where we were both serving, and ran into her a few times after that in large group settings. I watched the way she treated people. She was gracious. She was kind. She was fun. I thought to myself, “I think I am attracted to this girl.” A large group of our mutual friends were going out to a movie, so I approached her and asked if she would like to join us. She agreed. So we went and I made sure I sat by her. It was not a date, but it provided a great opportunity for us to spend a little more time together. 

After that I called her and said, “Hey, my brother is in town. He’s got this New Year’s Eve thing he’s going to. He invited me to join him and I need a date. Would you like to come with me?” I felt like this was a way to get some more time with just her and I, away from our social spheres, but also provide her the comfort of knowing there would be other people there. She said yes. We had a great time. At the end of the night, before she got out of the car, I told her, “Tonight was fun. Can I call you again?” I said this to her because I did not want her to get out of the car and then have a few days of wondering whether or not I had a good time, whether or not I would ever talk to her again, asking herself if should she reach out, or if should she wait to hear from me. I had been around enough women by this time in my life to know how uncomfortable that ambiguity is. I wanted to leave her with some clarity. He had fun. He will call. There is less to analyze and nothing to plan. He has given me clarity on what comes next. 

We also need clarity in the process. As our dating life continued, I tried to always end every evening with something along the lines of these two sentences: “This was fun. I will call you.” That way she was never left guessing on what would happen next. Then, every few weeks, before she got out of the car after an evening together, I would initiate a longer conversation. It usually consisted of me saying something like, “I just want you to know, I am really enjoying getting to know you and would like to continue spending time with you. I am not in a place where I am trying to get married in the next six months, but I am also not simply wasting your time either. I could see this relationship going further. So I would like to keep calling you if you are interested.” She told me later how much she appreciated this. “I always knew where I stood.” We can give one another the gift of freedom from anxiety through the simple act of providing clarity.

Ladies, this applies to you as well. As often as I talked with young women who were confused about the lack of clarity in the process of dating, I spoke to just as many men who described the anxiety of not knowing if a girl liked them or not. Don’t just freeze a guy out and never respond to his text. Give him the courtesy of a response, even if it feels potentially awkward. If you aren’t interested, say something like, “You know, you seem like a great guy, but I just can’t see this going anywhere. But thank you for the invitation.” 

I talked with a young man who told me that a girl he had asked out said those exact words to him. As he told the story to a group of men and women, we were all dying to know how that kind of honesty felt! He said, “It was such a relief. Sure, I was disappointed, but I did not have to waste time guessing what she thought.” She honored him with by providing him a gracious, honest response. 

In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul declares, “God is not a god of confusion, but a God of peace.” We are meant to be like this as well. When we give people clarity, we give them peace. How do we give them clarity? When John tried to succinctly describe Jesus, he kept coming back to the refrain that He was “full of grace and truth.” We should all strive for this: graciously speaking the truth to one another. Why? In the passage from Ephesians I quoted earlier, it goes on to say, “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow…” When we decide to be gracious and honest, we do our part to create an environment where people can grow. As we work up the courage to be clear in the world of dating and relationships, we can know that it is the most loving way to help each other be all that we are meant to be under God. Truly, one of the greatest gifts we can give one another is clarity!

Ben Stuart is the pastor of Passion City Church, Washington D.C, and author of Single, Dating, Engaged, Married. Prior to joining Passion City Church, Ben served for eleven years as the executive director of Breakaway Ministries, a weekly Bible study attended by thousands of college students on the campus of Texas A&M. Ben earned a master’s degree in historical theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Ben and his wife, Donna, live to inspire and equip people to walk with God for a lifetime.

Our Engagement: His Story

Our Engagement: His Story

If you haven’t read Laney’s side of our engagement story and the start of our life together, I encourage you to. She carries herself with such wisdom and awareness, so much so that she was very close to calling out my many, small bluffs about her birth-day turned engagement-day. She reads my every word and facial expression, and understands my heart better than anyone else. Similarly to my Father, Laney knows me fully and loves me fully – something that has changed my life and brought peace to my heart.

Let me take that idea of knowing someone a step further, and bring all you Enneagram people into the mix. I’m a 3 – an Achiever: the success-driven, image conscious, never let a chink in the armor show-type. Throughout my life, my pursuit of what I believe is best has actually led to success, albeit short-sighted and often times lesser than what I know the Father delights to give me as his son. But let me get back to the topic at hand, and hopefully I can give more insight into why I had such peace about asking Laney to marry me.

I woke up on June 28th having slept a little, and planned a lot. It was 5:45 AM on Friday morning, I was in my truck on the way to work, Chris Lane’s “Big, Big Plans” playing over bluetooth with Toby Mac’s “Lose My Soul” queued  for the next jam.

Yes, my taste in music is unmatched, Laney tells me that often.

Anyway, I pressed pause and a prayer full of thanksgiving and for continued peace came over the now quiet ride into downtown Nashville. I started to think back on the previous weeks of conversations with my dad, Big Daddy (aka Laney’s father Terry), best friends and a few trusted mentors. Until this morning, my mind and heart had been relatively calm and unnerved considering the typical whirlwind of emotions that comes with life-altering decisions and choices. I attribute this peace fully to Jesus’ touch on my heart.

The process of proposing was different than I imagined. Why? The main reason is that for many months I have been confident that Laney Redmon is who God has molded for me, an adopted prayer from my earthly father to his Heavenly Father that I have tried to consistently pray for years. Talk about a “peace that surpasses all understanding,” I’ve felt it continue to carry it in my spirit. So, the big build up of: “Is this the one?” definitely came, but it came many months before actually going through the formalities of asking her that four-word question. In my mind, I told her I wanted to marry her when I told her that I loved her…

We had been dating for three months, and I was making a fifty mile roundtrip to Franklin, TN every day to see this girl that was unlike any other. One afternoon we were driving through country roads outside Nashville, and I pulled over to tell her how much she meant to me. Of course that was my plan until I got really nervous, and she said “Do I need to say it first?” The first of many mind-readings that she’s so gifted at. After which I gained enough courage to say “I love you” (before she did) and many others in a desperate attempt to relay what my heart was feeling in that moment.

Back to the story, I was back in that place again, ready to relay just how committed I am to her, and how excited I am to begin our “official” life together. My timeline is not His timeline, this was an all-too-familiar and recurring realization over the past year. Marriage was not an unspoken subject for Laney and me, but each time it came into conversation, I met it head-on with a determined “No, not for years.” LOL. Do boyfriends/fiances/husbands ever get what they expect? Thankfully, I didn’t. My timeline was set for a Christmas season proposal, and I was sticking to it. Until, I got really weary of waiting, so I began praying for a moment to ask Big Daddy for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

Of course, calling him “Big Daddy” seemed a little risky in that moment, so I went for another nickname…

“TR, I have a question for you…” His reply as we sat around the breakfast table: “Really? I’m in my pajamas.” He was definitely impressed by my impeccable timing. I continued the convo with confidence. Hear me out, we were in Dallas (Lane’s hometown) for a short weekend trip, and one-on-one time with her dad was cut to a half-hour before going to church on Sunday, June 2nd. Thankfully, it was enough. And after a few (hundred) tears from me, I had what I came for –  mission accomplished, Big Daddy was on board for an early August proposal. A conversation that I truly will never forget. I was humbled and honored. Later that afternoon I told Mama Redmon (aka Laney’s mother Rhonda), and she slipped me a ring that had been on her hand for years. I want to stop here and note how much I love the idea of Laney wearing a stone that has heard many wise words spoken by its owner, and been worn by an incredibly faithful woman. That in itself gave me double peace. I took it back to Nashville that next day, praying over the commitment it would represent and began taking that next step of planning to get it re-sized and re-set.

Again, back to the real story-the day of- yes, all these thoughts and more were running through my mind while driving to work. Fast forward to leaving work around 3:30 that afternoon. (trying to avoid a novel here) Laney’s parents had flown from Dallas to Nashville that afternoon, and we met downtown for coffee. I was excited, and very nervous now. We talked strategy, how to lie to Laney for a few more hours about our whereabouts and what we were doing to, how to set the scene and make it (buzz word) “cute”. Lane’s roommates, special people to say the least, were taking her to the spa for her birthday. Following that, Lane and I were going to dinner at a nice restaurant in Nashville for gifts and to celebrate the big two-five. Yes, I fell in love with an older woman. Apparently I’m an old soul. The plan was for our parents and my sister to setup Laney’s back porch with candles, lights, flowers, etc. while we went to dinner. After dinner and a few birthday gifts to distract her, we would go back to the house, I would ask her THAT question, and hope for a “yes” or “sure”. Plan in place, Mama Redmon prayed over me, totally putting my heart at peace once more, and I left the two of them to collect my thoughts and get ready for dinner.

One more flashback to get the full picture of the engagement month…

Lane was able to go look at a few jewelry stores with her Mom and just happened to try on a few rings (thinking an engagement was still six months away). My man Derrick at the store hooked me up, and my father and I stopped by to pick up the center stone, now set in a gold band with eight small diamonds on either side of the stone. (This complicated scheme of getting the ring was a back-and-forth email chain with myself and Mama Redmon called “Project Platinum”, giving you all the details.) Laney doesn’t miss much, for all her joking and being silly, she’s incredibly intelligent and can always read the crowd and often times, me. In the weeks before the proposal, she knew I was hiding my phone, which is abnormal for me. She also knew I had asked for time to be alone one Sunday (so I could call her parents to get them to Nashville, once again my timeline was moving up – December, August, now June 28th), so all these things and a few others were making her question something, but I don’t think she knew what to make of it all.

I picked her up at the spa, and yes, I was playing that country tune again, talking proposal and marriage. We drove to dinner and kept the conversation about our day and the weekend ahead. For the most part, dinner was normal as well. Lane has a way of bringing joy into any scenario and situation, so much so that it makes otherwise stressful thoughts disappear. Until of course she mentions that her mom’s location is off, and precedes to ask me why. When I say “ask” I really mean interrogate, “20 Questions” style. Lane is persistent, and I normally would dive into her questions with responses. At this moment though, I tried to redirect to opening her birthday gifts instead. And for a while, she played along – probably because she loves gifts and knew she could get an answer out of me whenever she wanted. With special occasions, we often write each other letters. It has always been a great way for us to communicate. Laney Rene is a gifted writer; she can paint a picture of her heart and the heart of Jesus, and from the first time she gave me one of those well-written letters to this day, I look forward to receiving “Laney letters”. For me, it’s much easier to transcribe what I feel rather than perfectly say everything my mind is occupied with; however, this one time, to throw her off, I wrote a shorter, kind of “sweet” card. She didn’t mention it, but I’m positive she was slightly disappointed – this being her 25th birthday and all. Let’s speed up the story…

We left dinner and headed back to her house, having got the “go ahead” text from my parents that all was ready on the back porch. Before we got out of the truck at her house, I asked her to remove her shoes for one last surprise and gave her a letter to read. Like I mentioned earlier, words sometimes fail me, so to try and give Lane another look into the depth of my love for her and commitment to her, I planned to wash her feet before asking her to spend the rest of her life with me.

She probably wished I would simply wash my own…we all have our flaws.

Why wash her feet? I find Jesus’ final meal with his best friends quite revealing. From the first day with them until the last, he served. He sacrificed. And, simply put, he loved. The first two don’t happen without the foundation of the last. A friend of mine advised me to not worry so much about the details of the day or the exact time of the proposal. Though the time is important, the moment is the real treasure. After walking through that evening and the weeks prior to it, I believe and have seen that to be true. In that moment, after washing her feet, my wife-to-be began to laugh. She laughed with such freedom and with such joy. Joyful freedom is the constant state of her spirit, and she laughed through the entire conversation and question of “Will you marry me?”

Laney Redmon’s smile is real, and it flows from the heart that Jesus has made new. I mean COMPLETELY new. Mama Redmon recently reminded me that when He restores and heals, it is never incomplete or partially done. As you can imagine, the next moments are a mixture of emotions – relief, joy, thankfulness, etc. We finished the evening like so many others, with three big scoops of ice cream and around our best friends and families. The family members that weren’t able to be there, we quickly called or texted. And as we sat on the couch later that evening, I have to be honest, I fell asleep as Lane was talking about everything – best fiancé award hands down.

*A letter to the Gentlemen:

Whether you find yourself newly single, walking in relationship with someone, or having never been entitled “boyfriend”, know that the Father leads perfectly. Yes, we are called to lead, but that leading flows out of following another wholeheartedly – the perfect example of love: Jesus. Too often, the Enemy wants us to forget who truly owns our lives and holds our hearts and directs our steps. The enemy sends messages through culture that suggest the best ways to be in relationship or live independently, but those promises don’t prove true. Look no further than the promise of grace in the midst of failure, peace in the midst of pressures, and love unending. These truths, these promises I forget, too. At times, I look to earthly accomplishments or Laney or my friends to fulfill and bring joy, but these fail. They are human, not divine. Do they deliver insight and point to Jesus? Without a doubt, yes, but they must not be placed before Him.

Psalm 37:4

Delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

This verse has taken over my mind and spirit. He laid it on my heart when I met Laney. I imperfectly pursued the Father and continue to, and he has gifted my imperfections in my walk with more goodness than I can imagine, and much more than I tell myself I deserve. He continues to give what I need, before I realize I need it, and more perfectly than I could ever strive to obtain “it.”

Our family members each received a word for this year: 2019. My spirit heard HEALING, and while I have witnessed this in many facets of life, one is ever-present. Realizing that I can’t earn anything has healed my heart. Knowing, being convinced by faith, that I can’t give anything that I haven’t first received has healed my heart. I cannot give grace if I refuse to receive it. I cannot honestly love if I don’t trust and receive that honest, unending, reckless love from Him. I cannot…He can and has for me and through me.

Hear this open, honest reflection of my own walk over the past year. I pray you receive it for yourself…

You are a Son of the King. You have a perfect Father, even and especially when your earthly one is imperfect. Lead with love in every relationship. He will take care of the rest, BUT first receive the love that He freely gives you each morning. You are forgiven for every failure. Any shame, impurity, guilt, fear, resentment is paid for and erased by Jesus, your best friend and brother. Walk confidently in the truth that death has no grip on you, you are free to walk in his provision for your life.

Thanks for taking the time to read…

In Him,

Clayton

Clayton is a follower of Jesus. A native of Nashville, Clayton will graduate from Lipscomb University in December of 2019 and begin working in January 2020. He is passionate about building relationships with young men through sports and in church communities, loves family travel of any kind, and enjoys spending time outside in the woods or on the beach. On June 28, Clayton proposed to Laney Redmon. They plan to marry in the Spring of 2020.

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