Christy Sutherland and Matt Dudney are a Nashville fairy tale come true. But when you hear their story, you will soon realize it had nothing to do with fairies and everything to do with God.
Christy Sutherland is a singer/songwriter who began her musical career in a Texas church and dreaming of a country stage in Tennessee. Her singing and songwriting led her to a record contract and the Grand Old Opry. But an unexpected chapter in her story found her under the lights at a department store, selling makeup and wondering what was next.
Matt Dudney, son of Barbara Mandrell, was born into a life of wealth and fame. In his teenage years, he succumbed to the lure of alcohol and drugs, which soon became chains of dependency and depression. Matt hit bottom when he almost burned down his aunt’s home and checked himself into a rehabilitation center. A close encounter with the Holy Spirit turned his life around, enabling him to regain his career as a chef and begin to rebuild his life.
At this point, the stories of Christy and Matt begin to converge. They had met while in Belmont College 15 years prior when Matt asked Christy out on a date. Christy picks up the tale: “He invited me to his house to write songs and he couldn’t write a song. It was just a line. But I went to his house when they lived at Fontanel. It was a pretty big deal you know, going to Barbara Mandrell’s house, a home of over 27,000 square feet. I remember wondering how I would ever find the door. But I went there and I figured out pretty quick that Matt couldn’t write a song. But he was really good looking and we had dinner and had a good time. Then I didn’t hear from him or see him for fifteen years.” Matt had a reputation even then and Christy says she wouldn’t have dated him if he had asked her out again. Matt recalls that Christy was a good girl and he knew he should leave her alone. They had no thought that they would ever see each other again.
However, in 2005, Christy’s career was suddenly going nowhere and Matt was two years into his recovery from alcohol addiction when their paths unexpectedly crossed once more. Christy says, “I had just lost my record deal with Sony Records and I took a job at Dillard’s department store. Matt’s sister, Jaime, is an actress and had just left the show ‘As The World Turns’, and she also worked at Dillard’s selling makeup. Matt came into the store and asked me out. I said no because I remembered how wild he was. Then he asked me out again five minutes later and I said no again. Then he asked again and I gave in and said okay. That was June 12, 2005.”
Christy continues, “I went over to his house on a Sunday night for dinner with the whole family. I don’t know what was wrong with me, but I believe I started to fall in love with him that night. They were having a game night and everyone was sitting around the table playing games. Everything Matt said, I would agree with him, because I wanted to please him. He said, ‘I like to go hunting’, and I said, ‘Me too!’ And he said, ‘I like to go camping’ and I said, ‘Oh, me too!’ But I hate camping. Before I knew it, I just started telling lies and I didn’t really mean to.” Matt laughs as he remembers that conversation and learning that Christy was a real ‘rugged’ woman who liked hiking, shooting and all of the same outdoors activities he enjoyed. He didn’t realize that Christy wasn’t being entirely truthful.
Christy says, “Two weeks later he called me and asked me to go shooting. I said, ‘Well, there’s something I need to tell you.’ I had told him that I was a marksman. Well, I did get the marksman’s patch in Brownies when I was nine. So there was some truth in everything I said. I’d been hunting once with my daddy. I told him I was terrified of guns but I did shoot a gun in Brownies. So he said, ‘Is there anything else I should know?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t fish, hike, camp, or any of that. I understand if you don’t want to go out with me. I don’t know what was wrong with me; I just wanted to make you happy and I just started telling lies.’
Spending the evening surrounded by your new boyfriend’s family might not be every girl’s idea of a comfortable first date, but Christy says she loved it. “It was safe. A girl wants to feel safe. His family is wonderful. I was glad to see what I was getting into! However, I can’t deny that it was terrifying eating meatloaf next to Barbara Mandrell.”
Matt notes, “My mother tried to seat Christy next to me but I said I wanted her to sit across the table from me so I could watch her.” There were a few uneasy moments for Christy when Matt’s brother’s girlfriend told Christy that Matt was seeing someone else. Barbara soon put a stop to that, declaring that Matt did not have a girlfriend. He was in fact seeing four other women casually at the time. That, declares Christy, ended soon after their games night date.
Matt and Christy’s first date alone was several days after the games night. Christy says, “He called me and asked me on a date but he lived four hours away, so the day he was asking for was a couple of weeks away. So every night for those two weeks we talked on the phone, five or six hours, every night. He told me, ‘Dating is just a formality, I’m going to marry you.’ We hadn’t even had our second date or even our first real alone date!”
Matt and Christy learned a lot about each other during those first long phone conversations. Christy says, “The first week when we were on the phone every night, we were firing questions at each other, like, ‘What do you believe about this?’ We wanted to make sure we agreed on the things that matter.”
Matt agrees, “It truly was amazing. You spend so much time dating somebody, trying to figure out who that person is. Christy had worked so hard figuring out who she was, through all the trials and troubles of having a record deal and losing a record deal. Through all of that, she figured out who she was.” Christy adds, “It was also through the other men I’d dated that I figured out what I wanted.”
“You need to figure out who you are, not necessarily what your business card says you are,” continues Matt. “For me, I’d come out of being in recovery for a couple of years. I knew who I was and what I was looking for. The truth is, I was never going to get married again. I was married for seven whole months in 2000. I was never going to be married again and I was never going to have children. All of that changed instantly. I knew it was God. I had thought of it as a burden instead of a privilege.”
After all of this conversation for two weeks, Christy was nervous about that first date on the Fourth of July. “That morning at church I had asked the Sunday School class to pray him away because I thought I was in love with this man and I didn’t really know him. I said, ‘Y’all better just pray because this is my first date with him alone.’ So they all prayed with me.”
“The first thing Matt did when I opened the door and gave him a hug, was to start praying over me, praying that God’s will would be done on our date and asking for His protection. As soon as he said ‘Amen’ I just kissed him.”
Christy smiles, “I did go shooting with him. He taught me how to shoot a gun and we had a great time. I enjoyed the shooting lesson. He put his arms around me and showed me how to hold the gun.”
“The Fourth of July date was so awesome because after we shot targets, he took me to dinner and then he gave me my very own fireworks show up on the ridge,” Christy continues. “It was an hour-long fireworks show. It was the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for me.” Matt jokes, “She just didn’t realize that I liked to shoot fireworks. It could have been somebody I didn’t even like there, I still would have done it.”
Matt continues, a little more seriously, “Every year for the Fourth of July we try to do something together. We haven’t worked on a Fourth of July yet. Christy sang on the Grand Ole Opry, but that was it. We always try to be home in Nashville and go out and do something together, like fishing or shooting or fireworks. We didn’t do the private fireworks last year as we couldn’t afford it. The first fireworks show, I spent $400 on fireworks.” Matt laughs, “Now that I’m married, I can’t afford even the little snappers that you throw on the ground. But I wasn’t married at the time and I didn’t have big bills!’
The successful fireworks date led to a quick courtship. “June was when we met again, our first date alone was in July and in November he bought me a diamond,” says Christy. “He proposed New Year’s Eve. We would have been married a lot sooner but his daddy asked us to wait a year, so we did.” Matt says, “We waited a year and ten days, from our first alone date.” The couple were married on July 14, 2006.
“I proposed to Christy on the very last performance at the Louise Mandrell Theatre on New Year’s Eve,” says Matt. “We got married in my mother’s garden.” Christy adds, “The first night that I had dinner with his family, they were giving me a tour of the house. When we walked out into the garden, I said, ‘This would be a perfect place for a wedding.’ I had no idea it was going to be my wedding!”
Christy says, “When I met Matt he was truly living for the Lord. He had turned over his life completely to Jesus Christ. When it’s right, it’s right. We had peace immediately.” Matt adds, “As a result of those two weeks of incredibly long phone conversations, we knew who each other were before we ever went on our first date. There was such a foundation there to build on for Christy and I together. We had that from our roots. Our foundation with each other really took hold and the seed took root over those two weeks of long conversations.”
Christy’s career is now firmly established once again and the artist is winning awards for her songwriting and singing. Matt has exchanged his chef’s hat for a manager’s cap, looking after Christy’s career and scheduling. This marriage has made each of them stronger and they are enjoying their new life together, committed to making their relationship work.
Both Matt’s and Christy’s parents have been married for over 40 years, and their foundation of commitment has been an example to the young couple that they are trying to emulate. Christy says, “What I see from my parents, and I’m still learning this, is that you have to let some things go. Any time two people are living together, they are going to do things that annoy each other. You choose your battles. And, you need to be kind to each other. Something I’ve learned from your parents, Matt, is that you stick together no matter what. Look at the car wreck, and all that your daddy went through, taking care of your mother all those years.”
Matt agrees, “Marriage is forever. It’s a covenant between a husband and wife. What I’ve learned from my family, more than anything, is that you may not always ‘like’ whomever it is that you are married to, but you do love that person. ‘Likes’ come and go. That might be a one-hour thing or a weeklong thing, but you always love that person. Because of that underlying love you can forgive them. You can fight through whatever adversities you come to, if you stand together. But if you don’t stand together and continue to love each other through it, then the foundation breaks. I think that’s why there is so much divorce in our country today. People don’t build a foundation and if they aren’t standing on something strong enough, any little breeze can blow by, or something come between them, and it’s easy to break up the marriage.”
“We saw a Christian counselor for premarital counseling and after we were married for a year we went back, for a ‘check-up’” adds Christy. “It is important to have Godly counsel.” Beginning their relationship with prayer and their marriage with Christian counseling helped to firm the foundation of faith that existed between them. Matt says, “As a Christian, if we didn’t place our belief in Jesus Christ, then we probably wouldn’t be married today. Because the way the world attacks marriage, if you don’t stand firm and hold on to your Christian values, I don’t know how any marriage survives today. There are good people out there who aren’t Christians, but there is such forgiveness and grace in what we hold dear.” Christy adds, “It takes Somebody greater than ourselves to keep our marriage together.”
For more information on Christy and Matt, visit http://www.christysutherland.net/
First published by SGN Scoops digital magazine on December 2010
Interview by Rob Patz
Feature Article by Lorraine Walker