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Lauren Akins values faith, family over fame

The 'Live in Love' author and wife of country superstar Thomas Rhett opens up about life in the spotlight.

Lauren Akins does not want to be called Laura.

If you search for her on Instagram and mistakenly type Laura Akins, you’ll find me. And many have.

In the fall of 2015, I saw a spike in friend requests from strangers. This was unusual for me, so I did a bit of sleuthing.

Lauren Akins and her husband, Thomas Rhett, hosted ABC's "CMA Country Christmas" on Nov. 30.

Lauren Akins and her husband, Thomas Rhett, hosted ABC’s “CMA Country Christmas” on Nov. 30.

I realized these strangers weren’t looking for me but for Lauren Akins, wife of country music singer-songwriter Thomas Rhett. I assume that when I denied their requests, they eventually found her page, along with 2.4 million other followers.

But before that surge, the fame stopped with her husband.

In 2013, the newly wed and newly famous Thomas Rhett Akins Jr. began releasing music videos for his chart-topping songs with one rule: He would not touch any other girl or let them touch him.

In his video “It Goes Like This,” it appears that Thomas Rhett is holding the hand of the video’s love interest. In reality, the actress is holding the director’s hand.

While many thought he was being overly dramatic about hand-holding, Thomas Rhett stuck to his rules to keep his marriage sacred.

So when it was time to make a music video for “Die a Happy Man,” his 2015 hit written about Lauren, Thomas Rhett said there was no way he would sing it to anyone other than her.

But there was a problem: She did not want to be in the spotlight — and still doesn’t. Spoiler: Thomas Rhett eventually persuaded her, and they filmed the video with a small, three-person crew.

A few months later, Lauren left for a medical mission trip to Haiti while her husband toured the circuit — “Good Morning America,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” — to promote his music. That same week, he released their intimate “Die a Happy Man” video. And overnight, everyone was searching for her on social media.

Lauren Akins, with husband Thomas Rhett and their three daughters, celebrates the release of her book “Live in Love.”

Though Lauren Akins, wife of country superstar Thomas Rhett, has walked many red carpets, she feels most comfortable surrounded by the people who know her best. That includes her daughters: Willa Gray, 5; Ada James, 3; and Lennon Love, 11 months.

And thus began the Lauren-Laura intersection — at least for me. I’ve kept up with her through the years and was thrilled in August when she released her memoir, “Live in Love: Growing Together Through Life’s Changes.”

Her book is simple and honest. She shares the best parts of her life and doesn’t shy away from the darkest, loneliest parts. She talks about the spotlight, her roots in Churches of Christ and her humanitarian work.

I’ll be honest, when I read that her parents met at my alma mater, Abilene Christian University in Texas, it was decided.

I just had to talk to her.

The couple embrace during a win for Thomas Rhett’s music.

The couple embrace during a win for Thomas Rhett’s music.

Boundaries in the spotlight

Lauren and I talked on the phone for 75 minutes — 55 more than her assistant set aside for us and 70 more than I thought I’d get.

Why did we talk so long? Because that’s just who she is. She is warm and kind and loves people.

Before we spoke, my 13-year-old daughter gave me a list of questions to ask her. Surprisingly, Reese wanted to know how Lauren keeps her faith centered, despite the blue checkmark next to her socials.


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My daughter admires Lauren — not because she’s TikTok-famous or wearing the latest fashion — but because she radiates joy and she’s confident in who she is. In fact, she rarely wears makeup. She is unabashedly herself, despite being in the public eye. Thanks to her upbringing, she is humble, not self-seeking and exactly who I want my daughter to follow.

But Lauren acknowledges that, if she’s not careful, she tends to give too much of herself to the world.

“I had no intention of getting any kind of famous. It just happened. I’m still trying to figure out how to live a life in the spotlight but still be who I feel like I am deep down.”

“One of my close friends sat me down a year and a half ago, and she was like, ‘I can see your light dimming. I can see it going out. I think you are giving the world too much of yourself, and it’s taking a lot from you,’” Lauren said. “I was in a dark place and didn’t realize it.

“I had no intention of getting any kind of famous. It just happened. I’m still trying to figure out how to live a life in the spotlight but still be who I feel like I am deep down.”

If you don’t follow country music, you may not know just how “in the spotlight” Thomas Rhett and Lauren Akins are.

Here’s a quick snapshot: “Die a Happy Man” became Thomas Rhett’s first No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot Country chart. It sold over a million copies, went five times platinum and even hit No. 1 on the country charts in Canada. In 2016, the song won the Academy of Country Music Awards’ Single Record of the Year. He went on to win the ACM Male Vocalist of the Year in 2017 and 2019 and, more recently, tied for the ACM Entertainer of the Year with Carrie Underwood in 2020.

But before Thomas Rhett’s trophy case was crammed full, there were hurdles the couple had to handle: Like the powerful people in the music industry who advised them not to get married. Or the female fans who would comment about Lauren online, “Who’s this chick?” and “Hands off my man!”

No one relates more than Lauren’s mother-in-law and Thomas Rhett’s mom, Paige Lankford, née Braswell, who married singer Rhett Akins before he made it big.

“Those bars and shows can be a rough place for the wife to be,” said Lankford, remembering her early days as a musician’s wife and young mom. “They didn’t want Rhett to appear married. They wanted him to take his ring off. So I made the choice to stay out of it.

“But I told Lauren to be visible,” she added. “And I fully believe Thomas Rhett is who he is in the country music world because of his and Lauren’s relationship. I don’t feel like he’d be where he is without her as his wife.”

So Lauren plants herself front and center — where she is least comfortable — to protect her marriage every step of the way.

“It’s hard to live in this world where I feel like the Lord put us —to be who we are and to share his love and talk about his name. But we have to be careful.”

The couple set up physical boundaries for Thomas Rhett: No touching other women in videos, no allowing women on his tour bus or backstage unless they were married to or seriously dating someone in his crew. And Lauren set up strict parameters to protect her mental health and the safety of their daughters: Willa Gray, 5, Ada James, 3, and Lennon Love, 11 months.

“It’s hard to live in this world where I feel like the Lord put us —to be who we are and to share his love and talk about his name. But we have to be careful,” the 31-year-old mother said. “So I’ve learned over the last year to distance myself from my socials. If I have to do something on them, I’ll get on to post and get right back off,” because “with all the attention comes a false sense of being known.

“Which is exactly what the enemy wants. He wants us to pursue the false truth of the world. Fame and success and social media are a big playground where he’s feasting on anyone looking for anything other than Jesus.”

So they look to their only true compass: their faith.

Church of Christ roots

Lauren’s parents, Steve and Lisa Gregory, met on a Wednesday night at the University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, during Lisa’s freshman year at ACU. Steve was drawn to Lisa and determined to take her on a date. Soon after, they were inseparable. When Steve moved home to Nashville the following year, Lisa followed and finished her degree in social work at Lipscomb University.

Thomas Rhett’s mother, Paige, grew up in the Church of Christ and attended services every Sunday and Wednesday. “We didn’t miss unless we had a fever,” she said.

She, too, graduated from Lipscomb and went on to marry Rhett Akins, whose biggest hit, “That Ain’t My Truck,” made it to No. 1 on the country charts in 1995. The couple has since divorced, and each has remarried.

Once the Akinses and Gregorys began having kids, their lives intersected in every possible way.

Thomas Rhett and Lauren met in first grade at Goodpasture Christian School in Madison, Tenn. (They still come back from time to time to show their support for the school, which is associated with Churches of Christ.)

Willa Gray and Ada James cheer for their uncle Tyler, Thomas Rhett’s stepbrother, at his Goodpasture Christian School football game in 2019.

Willa Gray and Ada James cheer for their uncle Tyler, Thomas Rhett’s stepbrother, at his Goodpasture Christian School football game in 2019.

They also both attended the Madison Church of Christ, but they didn’t really become close until the summer before sixth grade when their friendship ignited at Valley View Camp in Greenbrier, Tenn. The pair became inseparable and went on to date briefly when they were 15.

Thomas Rhett was heavily involved with his youth group at Madison, even starting and leading a weekly Sunday night worship.

“He didn’t particularly want to be a youth group leader,” said Shana Lee, youth and college minister at Madison from 1996 to 2010. “He got roped in to leading the thing at my house because of his friends. But Thomas Rhett was the natural leader: funny, talented, smart; people drew to him. He led not by position but personality.”

After high school, Lauren went to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville to study nursing, and Thomas Rhett followed his mom’s path and went to Lipscomb to study communications. During this time, he and Lauren began seriously dating. And his music took off.

On the rare Sunday they could attend Madison, “everyone would flip out because of his success,” said Lee. “But from the time they walked in the door, they wouldn’t talk about themselves. They would ask everyone about what they were up to. They were so interested in loving other people.”

But eventually, perhaps inevitably and much to his mother’s dismay, Thomas Rhett decided to drop out midway through college to pursue a music career full time.

“He sat me down, as a junior at Lipscomb, and said, ‘Mom, I’m going to drop out of college.’ I said, ‘No, you are going to finish college and then get on with the rest of it.’ I cried and tried to stop it,” Lankford said. “I was against it completely because I had lived it. It can be a dirty business.”

Kingdom focused

But Thomas Rhett keeps it clean.

“Some of his songs mention beer. As he looks back on that, he doesn’t really love that he did that,” the country singer’s mom said of an early song, “Beer with Jesus.” But he’s evolving.

Now that Thomas Rhett is a dad, his goal is to write good, clean lyrics that his daughters can sing, too.

Lauren Akins, with husband Thomas Rhett and their three daughters, celebrates the release of her book “Live in Love.”

Lauren Akins, with husband Thomas Rhett and their three daughters, celebrates the release of her book “Live in Love.”

And those lyrics — often about Lauren and their family — have, surprisingly, propelled him to the top of the charts. As he gained success, Lauren asked Lee “to pray that God will never let Thomas Rhett be more successful than our faith can handle.”

“So every time I heard him on the radio, I stopped and prayed for them,” she said. “Many months ago I had to break that commitment.”

She determined, she added with a laugh, that she couldn’t “pray without ceasing for him.”

“Saying ‘yes’ to Jesus has been the greatest decision of my life. We aren’t perfect, but it’s a fun life following him and walking through those doors, no matter how scary.”

Another family goal: Do as much as they can for the kingdom.

“Saying ‘yes’ to Jesus has been the greatest decision of my life,” said Lauren. “We aren’t perfect, but it’s a fun life following him and walking through those doors, no matter how scary.”

One of those scary doors was adopting their oldest daughter through Lauren’s medical mission work with Love One International, originally co-founded by Suzanne Mayernick in 2009 as 147 Million Orphans. While using her medical training in Uganda, Lauren walked right past an infant covered in red dirt, lying on the cement. That baby was Willa Gray, whom the Akins brought home in May 2017 when Lauren was seven months pregnant with their second daughter, Ada James.

Another hard “yes” was changing churches. Thomas Rhett and Lauren sought a “more modern, spirit-led” church early in their marriage. They settled at a Nashville church that doesn’t label itself a Church of Christ but is founded on those values (and Lauren admits her dad is not a huge fan of the move).

Despite the friction, they say the church is their safe place in Nashville. “We are known there for who we are and not what we do,” she said. “We are Lauren and Thomas Rhett Akins and not the Akinses who are famous.”

“In non-pandemic times, we went every Sunday,” said Lauren, who wishes to keep the church name private. “We had our daughter Lennon on a Monday, and we were in church that following Sunday.”

Lauren’s parents, Steve and Lisa Gregory, bring Willa Gray home from Uganda after her adoption by Thomas Rhett and Lauren was finalized in May 2017.

Lauren’s parents, Steve and Lisa Gregory, bring Willa Gray home from Uganda after her adoption by Thomas Rhett and Lauren was finalized in May 2017.

Sharing faith and a last name

“Same,” I excitedly replied to almost everything Lauren told me.

I, too, birthed babies and brought them to church at the next appointed worship time. I, too, connected with my now-husband, Travis Akins, at church camp. I, too, get annoyed when people say “Adkins” or “Atkins.”

But we never would have gotten the chance to connect if it weren’t for our names.

“It’s a running joke in our family: We call Lauren ‘Laura’ all the time, and it just drives her crazy,” Lankford said. “So when I got a message from you, I was like, ‘Oh, who is this, thinking she’s Lauren?’”

Thankfully, my name was just similar enough to pique her interest and grant me an interview. And she’s not the only family member I confused.  Lauren’s mom said now that I’m in her phone, I can expect the occasional  accidental text from her. I’m looking forward to it.


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And I’m also looking forward to new Thomas Rhett music in 2021.

The country star spent his unexpected year at home writing songs and posting them — upside-down — on his social media accounts. (He’s not too proud to admit he can’t figure out how to post video images the right way.)

And although he’s only hinted about releasing a new record, Lauren confirmed that he’s got one coming soon. Her favorite song on it is “Ya Heard,” in which he sings about the prayers God has answered in his life.

As for Lauren, she has enjoyed promoting her book, but she’s excited to slow down and get back to her dream job — being a mom.

LAURA AKINS is Features Editor for The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected].


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January 2021 print edition front page

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Filed under: celebrities country music entertainment Lauren Akins Live in Love Nashville National People Reviews Tennessee Thomas Rhett Top Stories

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