Lauren Nelson may be best known for holding the elite title of Miss America in 2007 at the age of 20. While this beauty queen is undoubtedly gorgeous, it’s her depth of character and inner beauty that are perhaps most striking. Besides being an accomplished singer and performer, Lauren has also been active in helping numerous organizations and charitable campaigns. One of which, Be NetSmart, rallied a nationwide effort to improve Internet safety. Currently, Lauren can be found co-hosting First at Four, a segment for Oklahoma’s News 9. While working toward an undergraduate degree in public relations at the University of Central Oklahoma, Lauren and her husband, Randy, teach Sunday school and lead worship at their local church.
Lauren’s latest project is her upcoming book, God, Girls, and Growing Up, which is set to be released in January 2012. She and co-author, Robin Marsh, hope that this book will speak to the hearts of girls everywhere as they tackle pertinent topics ranging from sexual purity to social media, all while sharing God’s truth. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Lauren about her upcoming book as well as her own personal journey through life.
Start Marriage Right: Most girls dream of being Miss America, and yet, that is an elite title that you have held. You are obviously a beautiful, talented, and confident woman with a lot to offer. Many women, however, struggle with self-confidence. What would you say to them?
Lauren Nelson: My advice has always been to be the best you that you can be. You know, God made each of us special and unique in our own way. I think it’s when we start comparing ourselves to other people that it gets really hard personally, especially with teenage girls and their self-confidence, self-esteem, and body image. In the world of Miss America, you start asking, “Who’s your competition?” You’re pretty much being judged on looks at some point during the competition, and I think it’s really important to encourage girls to be happy with who they are and not to compare themselves to another girl or woman. There is no joy you can find in comparison.
SMR: Do you think a lack of self-confidence can negatively affect girls or guys in their pursuit of a husband or wife? Why?
Lauren: I definitely think that it can. If you are too focused on yourself, even if it’s bad talk about yourself, it’s still about you, you, you, you, you. If you are so focused on yourself, you’re not looking at the people around you to really focus on who they are and their attributes and assets. So, I think that makes it really hard when it comes to finding a husband or wife because if you’re only thinking about yourself, you don’t have time to think about the needs, wants, and attributes of the other person.
SMR: Having been in pageants and eventually holding the title of Miss America in 2007, what challenges did you experience while navigating the dating scene? What helped you overcome those obstacles?
Lauren: While I was Miss America, I was in a relationship that was really unhealthy, and I think part of the reason that I stayed in that relationship was because that was my one link to a normal life. You know, at the age of 20, to take on the job and the responsibility of being Miss America was a dream come true, but despite everything looking great on the outside, behind the scenes it was a really, really lonely time in my life. I think that I stayed in that relationship because I was lonely.
After that relationship was over and I finished being Miss America, I moved back home to Oklahoma and was really wary of making relationships. I was making sure that I wasn’t going to date somebody that wanted to date me because I was Miss America. You know that’s one of the reasons why the job of Miss America is lonely: because a lot of people want to meet Miss America, but they don’t want to meet the actual person. I think when it came back to dating and diving back into that world, it was really important for me to find somebody that I connected with on a spiritual level and that we were equally yoked in every way. Not just physically, emotionally, but spiritually, and that’s the most important part. It was really important to me to find someone who was real, honest, and a godly man. That’s what I found in my husband, so I feel really, really blessed.
SMR: I’m sure that it would be difficult feeling like someone might be is pursuing you for your title rather than who you really are. And, that’s another great point: that it’s important to connect on all levels, especially spiritually. I think people kind of forget about that one.
Lauren: Absolutely! I think especially with teenage girls, when you talk about dating, the first thing they think about is, “Oh, is he cute?” “What does he look like?” or “What does he have?” That’s the least important part about dating, I think. It’s important to be physically attracted too, but I think you have to be equally yoked on other levels that are more important.
SMR: Having been through the process of finding a husband, what would your advice be to those who are still single but desire a spouse?
Lauren: I think wait on God’s timing. I know sometimes it’s hard. I mean I met my husband when I was 21, but I had older friends who were already married and that kind of stuff. When you see people around you getting married, it makes you want to be married just because they are. So, my advice would be to wait for God to show you the right person because if you jump into something without seeking God’s face and His will for you, then you might end up with somebody that’s not God’s best. It’s just so important to wait and see what God reveals to you.
It was a time in my life when I had decided that I was not going to date, that I was going to be single, when I met my husband, Randy. So, you know, you have to get to that point where you’ve given it all to God. I mean, I remember praying and asking God, “Will you just be my boyfriend until you can reveal the right guy to me?” Then the next week I met Randy. So, I think it’s important to wait and to just hand it all over to God. We do it in every other aspect of our lives, but it’s hard sometimes to give over that relationship area.
SMR: What do you think was the best part about being engaged? The hardest part?
Lauren Well, I have to give you a little background about my husband and me. I knew that I was going to marry him on our first date. So, it was hard to get engaged because I knew it was going to happen, but it was that waiting time. It was just that patience that I kind of lacked in that area. I think that the best part about being engaged is actually taking that next step with somebody, and it kind of makes it real that you’re going to spend your life with your best friend. The reality of knowing that God has blessed you with the very best is awesome.
I think that the hard part for us was that we waited for sexual intimacy until our wedding night, and so, I think it was harder once we get engaged because we were one step closer. You know, it made it harder to not be intimate. We got to the point where we didn’t even kiss because we knew if we kissed, it might go further. That was hard because you are one step closer to that commitment, and you already know that you’re going to make the commitment. I think that mentally it makes it harder.
SMR: You are now married to your husband, Randy. What has been the biggest lesson you have learned about marriage since tying the knot?
Lauren: I think the biggest lesson, and we’re still trying to successfully do this, is learning to say, “No,” to people and learning to make your marriage a priority. I thought once we got married and got back from the honeymoon it was going to be this easy-going, not busy-at-all kind of life, but when you take two people’s lives and combine them, you don’t get less busy. So, you have to be really conscious and make a conscious effort to make the two of you and your relationship a priority over anything else.
Spending time together just the two of you is so important, especially in the beginning of a marriage, to lay that foundation. I’m a firm believer in spending that time together so that one day when we have kids, we had time just the two of us. It’s so important to lay that foundation, that strong foundation, and make each other and your marriage a priority because life can get out of control really quickly. You just get busy. It’s busy with good things, but you’re still busy.
It’s not bad things we’re busy with. It’s great things. It’s ministry things. You have to remember that if your marriage is suffering, if you’re too busy to spend time together, then your ministry is going to suffer as well. You have to make your marriage a priority first because it’s going to make your ministry better anyway.
SMR: Both you and your husband are outspoken advocates for pre-marital sexual purity. In fact, that is a major point of emphasis in your upcoming book God, Girls & Growing Up. Why do you think this is such an important topic to address?
Lauren: Well, I think before you even get married, you lay a foundation for a strong marriage if you committed to not being sexually active. I’m going to be honest, I made mistakes in earlier relationships, but as soon as Randy and I met, we knew that we were going to stay true to what God had set for us. God has high standards when it comes to sexual purity, and it’s important that we realize those and live up to them because it’s only for our best interest. I will say that the fact that Randy and I did not engage in premarital sex before we got married has made, not just marriage, but even our life intimately, that much better and more special.
SMR: In your experience, what have been the benefits of saving yourself for marriage?
Lauren: I think the number one benefit is that you get to experience something together for the first time, and it makes that wedding night so much more special because you’re experiencing it for the first time together. That’s a bond that you can’t get back. It’s really important that young, teenage girls, and this is one of the things we’re going to cover in our book, realize that it’s a choice that we can make. I’m not going to lie; it’s hard – absolutely, it’s hard. But, it’s a choice worth making. The fact is that even if you make mistakes you can start fresh today, and you can make good choices from now on. I’ve seen that personally in my life, and in the life of Robin Marsh, who’s my friend, and we’re writing the book together. We both experienced this. We all make mistakes, but we can start living the right life today by God’s standards.
SMR: How did you and your husband handle the challenges associated with saving yourselves sexually for marriage?”
Lauren: When we first started dating, our college ministry at our church started a sexual purity Bible study. One of the things that we learned in that Bible study was you have that line that you’re not going to cross or that you say you’re not going to cross. The guy that led the Bible study said, “Set a line before that line because if you go all the way to the line that you don’t want to cross, you’re probably going to cross it.” So, if you set a boundary before that line that you definitely don’t want to cross, if you happen to cross it, you’re still not crossing the line you don’t want to cross.
You have to be really careful. Like I said, when Randy and I were engaged, we didn’t kiss for our engagement because we knew how hard it was going to be. We kissed on the cheek, but we didn’t go any further than that because we knew how easy it would be to go one step further and then to break that rule and break the next one and the next one. So, it’s just easier if you set a boundary before that line because then you’ve got double security.
SMR: What advice would you give the individual or couple who feels the tension between wanting to save themselves for marriage and experiencing immense pressure to give into that sexual temptation?
Lauren: You have to hide God’s Word in your heart. Ephesians 5 says to be an imitator of God. You can’t be an imitator of God if you don’t know who God is and His Word. It’s especially true in talking about sexual purity because it is around us. We are inundated with sex on the TV, in magazines, on the internet, and everywhere we go. It’s easy to think that because the world’s message is to go ahead and do it, we should, but God holds us as believers to a higher standard. I think you draw power from God’s Word, and you commit to holding each other accountable in that area.
I remember when Randy and I were dating and even when we were engaged, we said, “Here’s the deal: some nights I’ll be the strong one, and some nights you’ll be the strong one, but one of us is going to have to be strong at all times.” I think it’s important in a relationship to make commitments to each to be strong for the other individual.
SMR: What do you recommend for individuals who have already fallen into sexual temptation but want a “fresh start”?
Lauren: God’s love letter to us is redemption, forgiveness, and salvation. You can start today no matter how many times you’ve messed up already. You can start living the right way today – the way that God wants you to live. The most important thing is to first ask God for forgiveness and hand it over to Him. Just let go of it so that you’re not stuck thinking about it, and you’re not stuck in that time. Because once you move on past it, you can continue to live how God wants you to live. I think the first step is to ask for forgiveness, and then go from there.
SMR: Switching gears a little bit, you helped launch a nationwide effort for Internet safety called Be NetSmart, how do you think that the Internet adversely affects relationships and marriages today?
Lauren: Social media, like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and all that stuff is great for communication, but I think in marriage it can be a sticky situation. People find you on Facebook from high school or your past, and I think sometimes it opens doors. A little crack is all the Devil needs to work. Something like Facebook and reconnecting with things from your past can open up dangerous areas for marriages and relationships. People think it’s innocent, and it can be. You just have to be on guard and aware of the pitfalls and dangers that come along with it.
SMR: How can couples take preventative measures to protect themselves against the dangers presented by Internet usage?
Lauren: Transparency is key. My husband knows my Facebook and email passwords, and I know his. I think that transparency is super important. Not that I feel the need to go and check my husband’s Facebook, text messages, or whatever, but the fact that he is honest enough to give me access shows that he doesn’t have anything to hide. That’s important in marriage. Honesty is one of the foundations of a marriage. It’s important to be transparent and keep each other abreast with what’s going on.
SMR: If there was one piece of advice you could give to the following groups of people, what would it be? Engaged (men/women)? Married (men/women)?
Lauren: One piece of advice for engaged men and women is going back to sexual purity: how important it is, how good it is if you wait, and how that just sets your marriage off on the right foot. It really does, and that would be my best advice for engaged couples.
For married couples, be open and honest about everything going on in life. Take time for each other, not just with a huge group of people. Yeah, you might be together, but take time to spend just the two of you, so you can work to be on the same level spiritually, emotionally, physically, and all those important areas of marriage.
A huge, “Thank you!” to Lauren for sharing with us! For more information about Lauren and Robin’s upcoming book God, Girls, and Growing up, visit their website.