Success didn't come easy for Dove Award winner Michael W. Smith in the early years. Today on the broadcast, Michael tells Dennis Rainey about the lowest point of his musical journey and what brought him back from despair.
Success didn't come easy for Dove Award winner Michael W. Smith in the early years. Today on the broadcast, Michael tells Dennis Rainey about the lowest point of his musical journey and what brought him back from despair.
Michael: There are a lot of really, really bad ramifications over a broken home, and I just thought, "You know what? It's time to be home. So the 70, 80, 90-city tours began to come to a halt, and I began to fly home every night. I would go out and do two, three shows, and I'd jump on a jet and come home. I didn't care what it cost, I'm coming home, and I'm going to drive my kids to school the next day.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, February 16th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Today Michael W. Smith talks about facing temptation in marriage and keeping your guard up.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. I wonder how many of our listeners have ever stopped to think about what it might be like to be married to a famous performer, somebody who is on tour, somebody who is in the movies, somebody that has his picture all over album covers in the store.
Dennis: I would imagine some of them have fantasized about that, Bob.
Bob: And you probably think what a wonderful, glamorous life that would be, and you don't realize that when a guy goes out on a 90-city tour, you don't see him for very long, and that when he's making a movie, it's fun to be married to a movie star, but then you've got a lot of people in the theater who are looking at that guy and going, "He's really handsome." So you've got a lot of women thinking your husband's handsome. There are some downsides to it, don't you think?
Dennis: Many downsides, and this week a great new movie is being released called "The Second Chance." It's a movie about, really, the compelling story of two men who are getting in each other's lives and experiencing their world. It's about racial reconciliation, about redemption, and the cool thing about this is, it has a strong Christian theme to it, and Michael W. Smith, the famous Gospel music artist, is starring in that movie. So I would imagine that Debbie Smith is facing some new issues in her life as she watches her husband, who has been a music and recording star and writing praise and worship music for local churches, and yet she's facing a new day now.
Bob: And it's interesting – Michael stopped by our offices a few months ago. Our staff had had the chance to get a preview of this movie, and we sat down afterwards to talk about his life and his career and his marriage and his family, and he made it pretty clear in the middle of that interview that when he comes home, his family is not particularly impressed by his job. He doesn't walk in the door and have his wife go, "You're that handsome movie star," or "I just love your music." She just has a job ready for him to do, and he better get to work.
Dennis: Yes, it's the real life all of us live; they live it as well, and it's really a cool interview that you had the privilege of doing with Michael W. Smith talking about finding and keeping the love of his life.
Bob: [From audiotape]. You believe in love at first sight, don't you?
Michael: At least for me I do. I don't highly recommend that when I speak to youth groups and stuff, because we had a very unique encounter.
Bob: Tell us about your unique encounter.
Michael: Well, I was at a record company waiting to have a meeting with a guy about getting a record deal. This was before I'd even done the project album, and I'd had no interest in relationships whatsoever. I mean, obviously, I like girls, you know …
Bob: … but you were pretty career-focused.
Michael: I was. I was just writing songs, and I was thinking, "I'll think about relationships down the road" or whatever. So – and then this girl walked by. I was sitting in the lobby reading a "Time" magazine, and she walked by, and, you know, I looked around and thought, "Oh, my gosh, what's going on here," because I fell in love. You know, even that first time, it was the weirdest thing. The wild thing was I kept praying that she wouldn't walk back by, but then the other side of me was wishing that she would. And she did, five minutes later.
Bob: Just drop-dead gorgeous, is that what it was?
Michael: I thought she was.
Michael: I still do.
Michael: Five-foot-three, 100 pounds …
Michael: I always thought I'd marry somebody tall.
Bob: And you called your mom?
Michael: I called my mom – I ran in there and called Mom and said, "Mom, I just saw the girl I'm going to marry." I'm obviously talking 100 miles a minute, and Mom said, "What's her name?" I said, "Mom, I don't know. I don't know." And I know what my mom thought, "Oh, gosh, what's happened to my son?"
You know, eventually I went and found her in the warehouse and went out three days later.
Bob: Found her in the warehouse?
Michael: She was working in the warehouse at the record company is what I found out. I actually went back that day and found her that afternoon.
Bob: You asked around?
Michael: Well, I did, and I finally found out who she was, and they said, "I think she went to the restroom." And so I go to the women's restroom and wait outside for her to walk out. She walks out – old jeans, t-shirt, and I introduce myself.
Bob: And what did she say?
Michael: She said, "Nice to meet you," you know, and dada da da da, and I went back again that afternoon and asked her out, which is stupid, you know? I was just, like – I was so excited.
Bob: You knew zero about her.
Michael: I knew zero about her, and she said no because she had a date. But she said she'd go out three days later, and she did. And we were engaged three-and-a-half weeks after our first date and married four months later.
Bob: Three-and-a-half weeks? Another thing you don't necessarily recommend to the youth group, right?
Michael: Probably not.
Bob: How did you know in three-and-a-half weeks, "I've got to marry this woman?"
Michael: Well, first of all, she had to be in love with me. That's a key ingredient.
Bob: You had to [unintelligible] the same person, right?
Michael: And I just knew what an extremely godly woman she was, even after three-and-a-half weeks, her spirit, and I just thought I can't imagine living with anybody else the rest of my life. I think this is the love of my life. The real test was Finto, my pastor. I'm thinking – we set this meeting up with Don. I'm thinking, "Gosh, I almost don't want to set this meeting up with Don because Don's going to shut it down, but I've got to tell Don." I tell Don everything.
Michael: And so we went to Don, and said, "Don, we want to get married. We feel like this is what God wants us to do," and he looked at us, and he says, "That's just great. That's awesome." When this whole thunderous response, like, "Okay, here's the guidelines. Here's what needs to happen," and he …
Bob: … he laid it out.
Michael: He laid it out – this is what we do, what we don't do, end of story.
Bob: She was ready in three-and-a-half weeks?
Michael: Yeah, she was scared. The wild thing was, I remember, she told me later, after our second date, we went out on a Monday night, went out Tuesday night, went out Wednesday night – it wasn't a one-day-a-week deal.
Bob: I gotcha.
Michael: And she thought she was – she's a Wheaton grad, got her degree in biology, she was going to get her doctorate at UT, and she's going to go to Africa and marry a missionary and live on the mission field. And now she's falling in love with a musician.
Bob: Oh, man, that's trouble right there.
Michael: Big trouble. And she told me later she came to the studio to watch me record some songs, and on her way home on that second date, she met me down there, she was driving home, she cried all the way home. And her life is totally going to change, UT is probably not going to happen, she's probably not going to move to Africa. So it was pretty wild.
Bob: It was pretty wild, and I don't know that she thought in the first three-and-a-half weeks or even in the four months that followed that falling in love with a musician, somebody who was ultimately going to go on and have success as a musician and be on the road as often as you've been on the road, and faced temptations that good-looking, successful singers face – has any of that been hard? Has it been the kind of thing that has threatened your marriage at all?
Michael: You know what? I think, for the most part, no. You know, there have been a few places where it was difficult for us. I think probably one of the most difficult times, and I can thank God I can just say they've been very few and far between. Every marriage is going to be rough at some point. You have to work through things.
Bob: That's right.
Michael: I think the toughest part for her was when she was pregnant with number four and "Place in This World" was a hit, and there was all this mainstream attention, and I was "The Tonight Show," and I was moving here, moving there. She's pregnant with number four, she's trying to be a mother to three kids, she's feeling very unattractive, and I'm in the limelight.
Bob: And not home much.
Michael: And not home much during that time – "so Deb, did you hear about – oh, gosh, I did this and, you know, did you hear about this and dadadada," and she doesn't want to hear any of that.
Bob: She could care less, right?
Michael: Just come home – help. You know, so that was – I think that she had a little bit of a breakdown just and, boy, I realized, going, "Oh, wow."
Bob: Have there been times when you've, in a conversation with her, things have been headed off, career-wise, and she has said, "I need you," and you've had to say, "I'm out of here, I've got to go home."
Michael: Absolutely – took a sabbatical. We've done that a couple of times.
Bob: That doesn't make the record company real happy, does it?
Michael: That's just the way it goes.
Bob: And they've got to live with that.
Michael: Absolutely. Family has always been first.
Bob: Is that because of the model that you had growing up? Where is that conviction been – what birthed that in you, do you think?
Michael: Maybe it was – I don't know – maybe it was seeing my dad, you know? I mean, my dad was fortunate in some way because he had a steady job, and he didn't have to leave town, but my dad took care of us not only financially but his love, him walking out and throwing the ball with me every day, you know, his involvement at church, his involvement in the community – he just was a godly man, you know, and I'm sure that had something to do with it, but also I know, deep inside, just, in my faith, in growing up, thinking, "If I don't protect my family, and if I'm not home enough, this thing is in trouble."
Bob: Yeah, you have seen wreckage along the way.
Michael: And I'd seen it happen in other families, and you'd hear the horror stories about people gone all the time and, all of a sudden, a year later they're getting divorced. "What do you mean, they're getting divorced?" "They're getting divorced."
Bob: But somewhere deep inside of you is the thought that that can't happen, it isn't going to happen.
Michael: It's not going to happen, yeah.
Bob: And I'm just wondering how that's so rock solid in you. Were you …
Michael: I think it's the fear of God, honestly, and there are a lot of really, really bad ramifications of a broken home. And I think around "The Place in This World" thing, and a little bit after that, you know, Ryan started becoming a teenager, and my kids started getting older, you know, they're not just five, six, seven, eight, nine anymore. And I just thought, you know, it's time to be home. So the 70, 80, 90-city tours began to come to a halt, and I began to fly home every night. I would go out and do two, three shows, and I'd jump on a jet and come home. I didn't tell very many people that – I didn't care what it cost, I'm coming home after Little Rock or Dallas, and I'm going to drive my kids to school the next day, and I did it for years.
Bob: Did you and Debbie deliberately set up some structure to how marriage was going to work for you, given the demands that you were going to have? Or did you have to kind of play it by ear as you went along? I'm just thinking, again, of the strain of the vocation you're in. Did you sit down at the beginning and say, "To make this work, we've got to do X, Y, and Z? Did you have some counsel from others? How did you tackle all that?
Michael: I think we maybe did that, to a certain degree, but probably not as much as we should have. I think we played it by ear, for the most part, because I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I didn't know if I was going to be successful. I'll never forget telling Deb after I made the first album, I thought, "You know what? If I never get to do another record, this has been worth the wait. And what a thrill, thank you, God for the first record."
Bob: It came out in '81?
Michael: '83, February of '83. And then all of a sudden you're out opening for Amy Grant, and, all of a sudden, this thing explodes. So it was really – we didn't know what was out there. I think the challenge was when the demands came in. "What do you mean you're going on a 65-city tour?" And I'll never forget, it was funny, too, because my wife and I joke about this and think it's funny – on that first tour, I did a three-and-a-half week tour – this was before project came out – only three-and-a-half-week tour in the spring of '82. Deb and I had been married for six months. I would literally call and cry – we'd just cry on the phone – "I miss you so much. This is unbelievable." And I made these tapes, a diary on cassette tape, and I still have it, and I have one tape that says – this is spring of '82 – "I will never, ever, ever, ever do another tour for the rest of my life."
Then when we decided to do that tour of '83, I went to my management, and says, "Guys, I'm not going on the road unless my wife can go."
Bob: And Deb came along.
Michael: And she came along and did the straight well – that would have been the Ace Eights Tour. And then she had Ryan …
Bob: Right, and that changes things.
Michael: Then that changed things, and she stayed home and became a mom, and that's when we thought, "Okay, we can do this. We'll fly home, and we'll make sure that we're not gone 200 days a year."
Bob: I talked to Michael Card one time, and he said that he had read something that said when you're away from one another for more than nine days, it was like this was – psychologists had determined this was the magic number. It's when isolation – you started to lose track of who you were and your connectedness. So he just said no more tours longer than nine days. I've got to have some time home in between that.
And I think to myself, "How many people don't think those things through, and if you don't, what you're involved with will consume you." I mean, you look at what happened to John Belushi, as an example, you're in an industry that if you don't put some checks and balances on the industry, it will take all you have and more, won't it?
Michael: Right, absolutely.
Bob: And did your realize that, getting into it?
Bob: Or did you know early that you could – I mean – when you're the young kid opening for Amy Grant, and you said, "I'm not going on this tour unless my wife comes with me," that's a pretty gutsy move. They can say, you know, we can find the next hot young kid.
Michael: Right. It was a gutsy move then. But for some reason they just said yes, okay. They just gave into the demands. It wasn't a big fight, it was really interesting.
Bob: If they had said no, would you have said, "Okay, I'm still going."
Michael: I don't know if I would have. I don't think so. I'm usually not gone more than three or four days at a time.
Bob: That gets you back – you have to stay –
Michael: I can't think of ever being gone nine days or 10 days unless I'm out of the country, and usually the out-of-the-country things are two weeks, but lately when I've been going out of the country, I've been taking my family, which is fun. But, yeah, I just said no more than five days, and then, again, it was a week, I think, this past – about three weeks ago we did a week on the West Coast, and I was gone for seven days, and that was it.
Bob: You know that one of the things we do, we host conferences all around the country for couples to attend to strengthen their marriage. If you had a chance, let's say I had you in front of 1,000 couples, and you could challenge them on the need for building into their marriage, how would you exhort them?
Michael: I know you're dealing with a lot of different people who are dealing with a lot of different things. I would say I will go back to the number-one thing with my kids – communicate, communication, communication. And I would challenge the men – you know, this is a two-way street here. The wonderful thing about marriage, the wonderful thing and rude-awakening thing about marriage is you know what? You're not just you; it's not just me. All of a sudden, you've made a commitment to put somebody before yourself for the rest of your life and, men, you are to love your wives as Christ loved the church.
And even in the midst of strife and trouble, I would say to the men, "Guys, if there is anybody that has to take the high road, you've got to take the high road. I don't care what's involved, you've got to be Christ-like and take the high road. You've got to lead this thing because that's what God has ordained."
Bob: Well, again, that wise advice was being dispensed by Grammy and Dove award-winning singer/songwriter Michael W. Smith who is also now movie star Michael W. Smith. His new movie, "The Second Chance" opening this weekend in cities all across the country – but not bad counsel, right?
Dennis: It really is excellent. You know, there at the end you asked him to give a challenge to couples attending our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference and, of course, this is a Friday night, all day Saturday, all day Sunday conference, and if folks were in that conference, Bob, they would have been learning what he was talking about – communication, the role of the husband in leadership and how to protect and how to add the ingredients for growth in his wife, in his marriage, in his family, and practically equipping him and his bride with biblical tools.
You know, we live in a culture of divorce. We live in a culture that is redefining marriage, and in this culture that is attacking commitment and love and the covenant that shapes and protects a marriage relationship – if there has ever been a time your children need to see you investing in your marriage, to learn how to communicate like Michael W. Smith talked about, to know how to lead as a man, I think it's today. I think today is the time to take a weekend and invest in your marriage. If you don't do it, the casualties ought to be enough of a warning.
But you know what? This is not just about avoiding being a casualty. This is about succeeding. I mean, building a marriage that not only goes the distance but one that's gratifying and satisfying. I can promise you, you cannot go to a better weekend to equip you than the Weekend to Remember. And if we're not in your city, we're in a city near you.
Bob: Yes, in fact, if you go to our website and click where it says, "Today's Broadcast," there's a link there that will take you to the Weekend to Remember portion of the site, and there you can type in your zip code. We can give you a list of conferences that are coming near where you live. You can pick out the one that's closest, and you can plan to attend one of our upcoming spring Weekend to Remember conferences.
You can register online or get more information. Again, our website is FamilyLife.com, click where it says, "Today's Broadcast," and from there follow the links to where you can get more information about attending one of these upcoming conferences. And, as you might expect, if you're looking for other resources to help strengthen your marriage, you'll find those on our website at FamilyLife.com as well, and, in fact, if for some reason you can't attend one of our Weekend to Remember conferences this spring, we do have the conference available on CD. You can order the CDs and listen together to the messages from the Weekend to Remember conference. There is more information about that on our website as well.
Just go to FamilyLife.com and click where it says "Today's Broadcast." You can also get more information or make reservations for a Weekend to Remember by calling 1-800-FLTODAY. Someone on our team can get you all signed up for a conference or send you additional information. Again, it's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
I was looking over some information recently, and we were encouraged. It appears that about a million-and-a-half people a week tune in to listen to FamilyLife Today on our network of stations all across the country. We have more who are listening via the Internet. We have folks who are passing our program along to others on CD. We've got a lot of folks who are tuned in.
Now, a handful of those folks who listen also help support the ministry by making financial contributions to help defray the expenses associated with this radio program, getting it out to as many folks as we do, and we appreciate those of you who partner with us. You are helping us spread this message to hundreds of thousands of folks every day, and we could not do that without you.
During the month of February, we have a special way we'd like to say thank you to those of you who can help with a donation this month. We have a message from Jody and Linda Dillow, friends of ours who were speaking at one of our FamilyLife conferences a few months ago on the subject of marital intimacy, understanding God's purpose and design for romance and passion in marriage to be enjoyed and to be expressed freely and openly.
We would love to send you a CD of their message called "The Four Flames of Intimacy" as our way of saying thank you for your donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today this month. You can donate online or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation. If you're donating online, and you'd like the CD, just write the word "flame" in the keycode box that you find there, and we'll know to send it to you. Or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone and mention that you'd like the CD about intimacy in marriage. They'll know what you're talking about, and we'll get that sent out to you as well.
Let me say thank you for your financial support of this ministry and on behalf of the hundreds of thousands who are tuned in to listen each week, on their behalf let me say thank you as well for your partnership with us.
Well, tomorrow we're going to be joined again by Michael W. Smith and by the director of the new movie, "The Second Chance," Steve Taylor. We'll talk about what they had in mind when they made the movie and why it's rated PG-13. We'll have a candid conversation about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow with another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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