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In 2017, former child star Alexa PenaVega decided it was time to relocate from Hollywood to Maui – and she has zero regrets.
The “Spy Kids” actress and her husband, Nickelodeon’s “Big Time Rush” star Carlos PenaVega, had grown up in the industry but wanted to practice their Christian faith in a close-knit community. The couple met during a bible study group in California, got engaged in 2013, married four months later and combined their last names. However, it was 2016 when the starlet, 33, and the actor, 32, realized their priorities were far different from their peers in LA. After reflecting on prayer, the duo pack up and headed to Hawaii where they are now raising three children.
Most recently, the PenaVegas have written a memoir titled “What if Love is the Point? Living for Jesus in a Self-Consumed World,” which was released on Tuesday. In it, they reflected on their life-changing decision. PenaVega spoke to Fox News Digital about the inspiration behind the book, why she got candid about her past eating disorder and what life is like for her today.
Fox News: What inspired you and your husband to write your memoir now?
Alexa PenaVega: It started right after we got married. We were just so excited about marriage and the idea of possibly sharing our testimony with others. It felt like everything out in the media depicted marriage as lame. It took the holiness out of marriage. We felt like marriage was this dying thing, and we wanted to reignite it for people and get them excited about it again.
We didn’t want to force the idea of a book. So we first started with this one sheet called “What is the Point?” We would include all the testimonies that happened in our lives – our failures, successes, arguments, anything that made us go, “God, why are you doing this? What’s the point of this happening in our lives right now?” We felt that if the timing was ever right, God would open the door. Years later, we eventually got the call about writing a book. It was exactly what we planned all along.
Fox News: Readers can understand how you quickly connected with someone like Carlos, someone who grew up within the same industry as you. But when did you first realize that he was The One?
PenaVega: We both have very different stories *laughs*. I had come right out of divorce and felt that I needed to realign my life. I wanted a deeper relationship with my faith. I wanted a relationship with God. I wanted to attend bible study and just dive into my faith. I wasn’t looking for any kind of relationship other than the relationship I had with my faith.
Instead, I wanted to create an awesome community around me that can hold me accountable. I showed up to bible study and I met Carlos. I just wanted to be friends… I didn’t want anybody in the entertainment industry. No actors, no singers… He was everything on my no list. And everything on my no list was everything I never knew I needed. It was the person who could help fill in all the gaps that I was missing in my life. That was Carlos.
Fox News: How did the both of you bond over faith?
PenaVega: We were both trying to figure out what faith meant to each of us individually in the season that we met. I was ready to dive in with God. I grew up Christian, but I didn’t quite understand what that meant. I didn’t know what it truly meant to walk with God and represent him here on Earth. At the same time, Carlos was discovering who Jesus was in his life. So we both met each other at this foundation-building point in our lives where we were both really hungry to grow in our faith. And that’s how our relationship started. And it was amazing because our entire relationship was based on bible studies, church and our faith.
Fox News: How important was it for you to be open about your faith during your run on “Dancing with the Stars?”
PenaVega: It was very important. It’s so easy to want to hide that because you don’t want to be judged by what you believe. But this is my life. My faith and my life are the same things. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re always preaching. But God is such a part of our lives that no matter what we do, our faith gets brought up. So it does get brought up. We happen to be people who love the word of God and are happy to share it.
Fox News: In the book, Carlos discusses the struggles he endured regarding Hollywood influences. Did you experience a similar struggle?
PenaVega: My biggest issue was that I kept feeling like God was calling me to be closer to Him, but I only had a Sunday morning version of what Christianity looked like. I’d never really decided to dive in truly until I was older. I realized there was so much more to Christianity and I craved more for it. But I didn’t have anybody in my life at the time who could guide me… As far as the industry goes, you could see the types of projects I took before, in comparison to the projects I take now.
I care about the characters and I care about redemption. A lot of times in the industry, we like to push boundaries for the sake of pushing boundaries. But it doesn’t necessarily help the story. It doesn’t add anything more to the story other than pushing boundaries. So I don’t do projects like that anymore. I’m focused on the redemption side of stories. I don’t want to just make Christian movies. I don’t think that helps the world and I want to touch the world. I want to find more worldly content if that makes sense. So I would say the industry impacted me because I had to do a switch as far as what I would take and what my boundaries were.
Fox News: In your book, you were also very candid about your eating disorder.
PenaVega: … A way that the industry negatively impacted me before I came to my faith was that I grew up with an eating disorder and it wrecked me for years. But thank God I was able to get out of it.
Fox News: Could you describe that moment when you thought to yourself, “I have to get help now?”
PenaVega: I wish it were just one moment, and then it was solved. But this was a daily thing. I would pray that this feeling would go away. These thoughts that I had tormented me. And I was so afraid of anybody finding out. I didn’t tell anyone, I didn’t try to go get help. I was afraid that people would find out, and I just didn’t want anyone to look at me differently… I wanted people to see me, not my disorder. That fear kept me in this prison for a long time. But God pulled me out of it… One morning, I woke up, and I just knew it was time. And once I started talking about it with others, I felt like those chains holding me back were finally beginning to break. It was rough, but I was able to reach the other side of it.
Fox News: You and your family now live in Hawaii. When did you first realize that it was time to pack up and leave Hollywood?
PenaVega: Carlos was really struggling with the industry. Every audition he went on, it would get down between him and one other guy and the other guy would always get it. The rejection was just becoming too much for him. This went on for a full year. At the time, I was pregnant. We’d always talked about moving to Hawaii, but later on in life, like a retirement plan. But we also knew that we didn’t want to raise our kids in Los Angeles. I felt this tug in my heart. I felt it was God going, “You guys need to get out of here. It’s time.” I didn’t want to move. I knew it was the right decision, but it wasn’t something that I was so excited about.
You would think Hawaii is so exciting. But I loved LA. I loved my career and I didn’t want to go. At the time, I felt like we were moving for Carlos. But one day I was praying in my car and I suddenly had this revelation. I felt like God was preparing us for this move. And we weren’t moving for Carlos. We were moving for my heart. It stopped me in my tracks because all that time, I thought we were just moving for Carlos. But I needed a heart reset. I was the one trapped in the entertainment world and needed to take a step back. My job became my identity. God pulled me out of that so I could learn how to be an awesome mom and an awesome wife. God helped us build that foundation in our family. And once I had that revelation, I felt at peace.
Part of the reason we wrote this book is that we wanted to focus on our relationship – not just marriage, but our relationship with God. That doesn’t mean the road is going to be easy. But the road will be peaceful. Love is a healer in all things.
Fox News: How has Hawaii been a safe space for a family like yours?
PenaVega: It’s pretty amazing. Hawaii is loaded with young families who love God and are growing in their faith. Your kids are outdoors all day long. We’re not inside on our phones or playing games. We’re enjoying nature, getting our feet in the sand, the dirt. Kids can be kids. I grew up on a ranch in Florida. We only lived there for a little bit before we moved to California, but some of my best memories are from my time on that ranch. The small time that we were there made such a massive impact on me. I always knew that’s what I wanted for kids.
The Maui culture is about family, about community. I think that’s something that was getting lost when we were living in Los Angeles. I will say Los Angeles is a place that offers you a lot of opportunities. But it doesn’t necessarily have a family culture. You move here to work and make it. For us, we wanted to get out of that because we were ready to be part of a community that shared our faith. And we found that in Hawaii.
Fox News: What kind of challenges did you and Carlos face in getting situated in Hawaii?
PenaVega: There are some culture shocks to it, of course. You have a handful of people who maybe were not welcoming, but we learned so much about the culture. We tried to educate ourselves so that we could be more understanding and respectful to the community that we were moving into. But for the most part, 99 percent of the people there, welcomed us with open arms.
We ended up finding the most incredible church, the most diverse church on the island. And the island is made up of amazing locals who have the most incredible history. It made us feel so grateful to be part of a community that’s so colorful and vivid. The people were just alive. I don’t know, I feel like LA is so jaded. But here, in Hawaii, people are just living.
Fox News: You have opened up about your life on social media. How do you cope with any criticism you may receive there?
PenaVega: … People will always say something when you open up about your life on social media. And sometimes, some of those things they have to say can be hard to read. But… this is where I’m at in my life. We share these things to be honest and open with people. We’re not perfect by any means. And that’s why we share our lives with others. We want to show that this is a hard life to walk in, and we’re going to mess up.
That doesn’t mean we glorify the mess-ups. We share them so people know you can fix them. Like, when I talk about the eating disorder, I’m certainly not proud of that. But I share it because I want people to know that you could overcome it… I’m grateful to have a community that encourages me. I accept true criticism, not something that’s hateful because I do love it when people want to help others to become better. But if a comment is nasty, those are easy to ignore, because I’m confident in the mother that I am and the life that I live.