We Still Do: Michael and Cindy Easley, Part 2
About the Guest
Storms and trials don’t have to destroy you. For those who build their house on the Rock, the trials of life can be a launching pad into a closer walk with God. Today, pastor Michael Easley and his wife, Cindy, tell how their trials have made them stronger and more committed to each other.
Storms and trials don’t have to destroy you.
We Still Do: Michael and Cindy Easley, Part 2
Bob: How does a marriage that starts off so hopeful often wind up quickly deteriorating? Here's Cindy Easley.
Cindy: You know, you get so busy in your stuff ... he was working. I was working that you start not communicating again. After our first six months we had gotten pretty good at communicating. But just with the dailyness of work, and housekeeping, and everything it took, that slipped away. If you don’t work at it every day it’s gone.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, February 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Michael and Cindy Easley join us today to talk about the season in their marriage when they looked at each other and said I think we need to see a marriage counselor.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. I wonder what our listeners would do Dennis if all of a sudden they found out through the grapevine somehow that their pastor and his wife had had to go spend some time with a marriage counselor.
Dennis: I think they'd be relieved.
Bob: You don't think that would create a big scandal around the church?
Dennis: Oh, I think some of the more narrow-minded saints might. [Laughter.] And I would say ...
Bob: How do you really feel about that?
Dennis: Well, I think some of the narrow-minded, people who aren't grace oriented, might call 911 over it.
Dennis: But I think in reality there are times in a marriage when even a spiritual leader, a Christian leader, needs to get advice. I have people that give me advice. You and I, we interact over the broadcast here, but we talk to one another frequently about "what would you do if?"
Bob: That's right.
Dennis: I've talked to our guests on the broadcast today and asked for advice on matters. You know, the person who is not teachable ... in fact, if you look at the book of proverbs, one of the key themes in the book of proverbs is a teachable spirit, is a person who is willing to learn ... learn from God, learn from others, learn from those in authority.
I don't know any marriage that at some point in its existence that doesn't need a third party to step in and say "Could I give you some insights? Could I give you some wisdom?" In fact, Bob, I wish someone in our first five years of marriage would have said to me, "You know, Dennis, Barbara, the best thing you can invest in right now would be a little wheel alignment." You know, a space shuttle can miss the moon if you're just a little off at the beginning.
Bob: That's right.
Dennis: Like one degree. You can miss the orbit and end up not achieving your objective.
Bob: I don't usually come to you and say "What would I do if?" It's usually "What should I have done last night?" But we're going to meet a couple today that got that wheel alignment early on in their marriage.
Dennis: That's right. Michael and Cindy Easley, a pair of friends, join us on the broadcast today. Cindy, Michael, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Cindy: Thank you.
Michael: Thanks, Dennis.
Bob: We have to say not only did you get that wheel alignment for your own marriage but you have spoken to tens of thousands of couples over the years at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage conferences helping them with their marriages. In fact, next weekend not this coming weekend but Valentine’s weekend, you and Cindy are going to be with Dennis and Barbara up at the Gaylord National hotel in the Washington, D.C. area where you pastored Emmanuel Bible Church for a number of years. You will be speaking that weekend at the Weekend to Remember® conference that is going on there.
I’m going to be at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, Pennsylvania that same weekend. We’ve got other conferences on Valentine’s weekend in other parts of the country and throughout the spring we are going to be hosting our Weekend to Remember® in some great locations. We hope our listeners will follow your example and get their own wheel alignment for a fun, romantic weekend getaway with us at an upcoming Weekend to Remember® marriage conference.
There is more information on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. We probably ought to mention Dennis that Michael is the pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He is past president of the Moody Bible Institute. Cindy is also an author and speaker and as I’ve said they have spoken to couples all across the country about marriage.
Dennis: In addition to all that, they took me the other day, Bob, to a restaurant near Washington, D.C. ... Barbara and I went out to eat with them, and we had some Vietnamese food. What was it called? A Taste of Saigon?
Michael: A Taste of Saigon. Free advertisement.
Dennis: I'm telling you, that was some mean cuisine that we had. They didn't make that stuff in Ozark, Missouri, I want to tell you, where I grew up.
Well, if you listened to yesterday's broadcast, you found out that this pastor and his wife started out their marriage ... they started their marriage out on the rock of Jesus Christ, but they had some floods and some winds, and some rain, and their house didn't fall, but it quaked.
Bob: There was a tornado or two that blew through East Texas.
Dennis: You guys weathered those storms. In fact, you describe your marriage to the folks who attend our FamilyLife marriage conference when you two speak you describe it in some pretty descriptive words.
Michael: The first six months of our marriage was hell. It was really interesting. We got beyond some of those junctures and I remember we sat in a Bonanza restaurant during the first year of our marriage talking like crazy, just chattering across the table, laughing, having a great time. And we looked over and saw a couple across from us and they didn't say one word the whole meal.
Bob: Just picking at their food.
Michael: That's right. And I looked at Cindy, I remember looking at her, telling her, "You know, honey, we'll never be that way." Well, about a year later we sat in that Bonanza and ate a meal without a word.
Dennis: You were that other couple.
Michael: That's right. In one year.
Dennis: Do you remember that meal, Cindy?
Cindy: I do. I do.
Dennis: What prompted it?
Cindy: The not talking?
Cindy: Just the dailyness of life. You know, you get so busy in your stuff ... he was working. I was working ... that you start not communicating again. You know, we had gotten after our first six months pretty good at communicating. But just with the daily-ness of work, and housekeeping, and everything it took, that slipped away. We learned quickly if you don't work at it every day, it's gone. So there we were in the Bonanza not talking, and it hit us both. Oh my goodness, what has happened? How did we get here again?
Bob: I’ve got to jump in here. So you have a meal in a Bonanza and you don’t talk to one another very much during the meal we’ve all had those. But we didn’t wake up the next morning and call the marriage counselor and say we need to make an appointment to come see you. I mean, what was going on here?
Cindy: I think what it was, is that we had this pervasive boredom in our marriage and we both wondered is this all there is? Is this as good as it gets? We weren’t arguing or fighting but we were bored.
Bob: Were you a pastor at this point?
Michael: No, and let me fast forward a little bit in time because we moved from Nacadoches, Texas where we had had our first year of marriage. We go to Dallas. I attend graduate school for a four-year program and you get caught in the synergy and the routines, jobs, and that type of thing. I finished seminary.
We go to our first church in Grand Prairie, Texas. It’s a great experience, great ministry opportunity for Cindy and for me. And we hit the 10-year mark. We are now looking at 10 years of marriage. I'm looking at the landscape of my job, my life. We have a child now who is six. We have an adopted child now who is an infant, after five years of infertility. So, we've weathered a few things and we look around, and I just wondered, you know, "Is this what my marriage is going to be like?"
I mean, I like this woman. I love her. We get along pretty well. But I looked around the landscape and saw very few marriages that were still passionate, growing in Christ, deeper in their relationship. Frankly, I would look across the audience of our church and wonder how many of these marriages are just C-minus and how many of them are Ds. I really couldn't point to five or six or 10 that were As. And I thought, you know, entropy is tough to beat.
I have a friend who is a mentor and we used to meet quite often, a 72-year-old retired psychologist. I asked him one time, "Do you think it would be beneficial if we went to counseling?" And he said, "Yes, I do." And he articulated several reasons why.
So very a typically I was the one who said I think we ought to go to counseling. I investigated on my own. I found a name, a neutral party, someone we didn't know, and I went and made an appointment with this guy. And I said to him, "Steve, 10 years of marriage. This is how I'm feeling. I'm feeling and wondering if this is as good as it gets. If so, help me understand that set of expectations. If not, help me make it better."
We had a great chat. He said, "Yeah, I think we could help you, but it's a three-month waiting list with my client load." I said, "I'll wait." So, I drive home that day. I'm all excited. I walk in the front door and I say, "Honey, I went to a marriage counselor and we're going to go see him in three months and start marriage counseling."
Bob: Rock your world, huh?
Cindy: Oh, I was not happy.
Dennis: Oh really?
Cindy: We are totally opposite of most couples. Usually it's the wife that's dragging the husband to counseling, but I did not want to go. A lot of it was I knew I had issues that I needed to deal with personally, and I didn't want to go to that pain. I didn't want to feel it. So my reaction to Michael was, "No. No, no. Let's not go. Just tell me what to do and I'll do it."
Dennis: You know, as Cindy was talking, I was thinking about John 15. It's a section in the New Testament where Jesus is talking about fruit bearing. Basically, the bottom line of his illustration is he talks about the vineyard and the father being the vine dresser. There is no gain without pain. There is not fruit without first pruning the branches of the vine.
What Cindy is talking about here I think typifies so many Christians today. We don't want the pain associated with the father who is the vine dressing coming into our lives and clipping away some of the dead branches and some of the branches that aren't bearing fruit so that we can be even more fruitful. We're willing to settle in at year 10, or maybe it's earlier than that ... maybe it's year three ... we're willing to settle in to mediocrity and not ever be the fruit bearers that Jesus Christ wants us to be.
And you think about it, there are all levels of fruit bearing ... 30, 60 and 100 fold Jesus said in another parable. I don't enjoy pain either, but I sure enjoy the fruit. If we understand what Jesus is talking about here, if we abide in Christ, then the father, who is the vine dresser will visit our lives. Sometimes through a counselor, sometimes through our spouse, and there will be some clipping and snipping so that we can bear more fruit in our marriage, our family and our lives.
Bob: You know, Michael, I've though in my marriage, I think most folks have, okay, it's not perfect. It's not great. It's probably better than average, it's a C-plus. My grade point average here is a 2.5. I'm going to graduate, not with honors, but the option of really getting in and digging around and being with a counselor, I'd rather coast sometimes than address those issues.
Michael: Counseling was an opportunity to have somebody else help me with a problem.
Dennis: But there's the pride issue in both a man and a woman, of having to face your, quote, issues.
Michael: Well, the pride issue verses a C-minus relationship with the soul mate God gave me stinks. I don't care about my pride. This is a soul mate that Jesus gave to me. This should be the most intimate relationship I have, and I mean non-sexually intimate ... this should be the most non-sexual intimate relationship I have with the woman God gave me.
Bob: Did the people in your church know you were going to counseling? Did the elders know you were going to counseling?
Michael: At first not. At first we did it in such a way ... I had a fantastic secretary ... I said "Look, we're going to do this thing once a week. I need your help." And she was a very trustworthy person. So once a week we’d hop in the car and drive 30 minutes to Dallas had an hour of counseling and drove back in silence.
Cindy: Not always. But at first it was certainly silent. Our counselor was absolutely brilliant. The first six weeks of counseling he talked to Michael and he let me listen. He knew that Michael was the one who was seeking counseling and I think I made it pretty clear the first day we sat down with him that I didn’t really want to be there. I would communicate when I was forced to but that I wasn’t comfortable with the situation. I never felt attacked. I felt loved before I ever opened my mouth.
Dennis: The counseling profession is not unlike a lot of other professions whether it be the pastorate or a politician or a businessman you have good ones and bad ones. There are some who do an accurate job of handling the scripture and of giving counsel according to the Bible and others who pretty much ignore it.
I think in the right hands a couple like this can benefit from a Christian counselor who is basing his approach upon the scripture. There are members of the body of Christ that can help us at crisis points in our lives.
Michael: Dennis, I’m going to be a pastor for just a moment. There are a lot of counselors out there who have a shingle and they have Christian near their name but I want to underscore and agree with what you said. It’s got to be a good counselor. There are a lot of counselors who have a shingle and a degree and frankly it’s like a lot of churches. They are not teaching the scripture.
I sure don’t want anyone to think everybody needs to go to counseling. The reason I wanted to go was because I was not content with a mediocre or even a C+ marriage. I wasn’t smart enough and I needed someone who could help me with a problem.
Bob: The word eventually leaked out or somehow got revealed to the church. Did you announce it on a Sunday morning and say my wife and I have been in counseling?
Michael: No, I did not. Now there would come a point in sermons years later where I refer to that without any pause to the fact that Cindy and I went through marital counseling. And I’m very comfortable with that as she is today.
Bob: Cindy, if somebody came to you and said "I don't know if we need counseling or not," how can you help somebody determine it would be good for you to go, verses no, you probably don't need it?
Cindy: Well, I think the first thing that I would tell them is to have an appointment with their pastor to see what the pastor says. If the pastor goes, "You know, let's just look at these verses and let's talk about this, maybe we've just got some role issues we need to discuss."
But usually I think if somebody says "Do we need to go to counseling?" my initial response would be, "Make an appointment with a counselor and just talk to him one time. Ask him what he thinks." If there are issues that bother you and you just need somebody else to help you talk them out, I think that it's important.
We told a few friends about it, and I don't think we actually told a group until we were totally finished with counseling. But the thing that surprised me was the number of people I had that came to me after my counseling was over that said, "Cindy, you have changed. What is different about you?" People who didn't know I had been in counseling but saw that I was softer. I was more comfortable with how God made me.
One of the biggest things I learned from counseling is that God loves me exactly like I am. That was something I had never understood because I had always walled myself up and that’s why I couldn’t give all my emotions to Michael. I was afraid to reveal who I was for fear of rejection. As I learned that God loves me in my sin I was saved but I hadn’t experienced that until I went through counseling. I wanted to shout it to the world.
I could relate to their pain because I had always kept people at a distance because I feared their pain. As they saw that I was beginning to move into other people's lives, they saw I was different. And then, frankly, I could proudly say, "Oh, God led us to the best counselor to help me with issues that I should have dealt with years ago, that I finally dealt with them."
Dennis: Michael as she was sharing you were getting pretty emotional here. What are you feeling?
Michael: My mentor friend who I mentioned who is in his 70s is the closest male friend I’ve ever had. In a lot of ways he’s the spiritual father that a lot of men long for and God gave that to me in a man who has had such a remarkable impact. He said in 20 years of counseling I’ve never seen a person change as dramatically as Cindy. And that is true. I got a new wife. My wife was a wonderful person when we got married and in our early years of marriage. But here was a woman who was able to tap in to some things spiritually and emotionally that she had never been allowed to tap into before.
It was funny because we had one of the most incredible arguments we’d ever had had in our marriage yelling and screaming. I’m mad at Cindy like I’ve never been before and she’s laughing at me. And I asked, how can you laugh at me? She says before counseling I didn’t know how.
It was so wonderful to see that she had understood the pain and the joy and it started to unfold.
Dennis: Cindy, as you were saying that, you've shared in the process of today's broadcast that you're pretty reserved, can be stoic, maybe a little distant from time to time, but I was watching you as you were sharing that, I think I saw a tear.
Cindy: Yes. Oh yes.
Dennis: I think I heard some emotion.
Cindy: I have to tell you, counseling has made me very emotional. I'm the one now that every praise song ends up weeping in church. And my children are looking up at me going "What is wrong with you, woman?" because it did allow me to get in touch with both my pain and my joy in a way that I never felt. I learned that you can't experience joy until you experience pain. You have to see the contradiction or the contrast in the two to get both extremes. And I like both extremes now ... not that I go out and look for pain, but I do go out and look for joy.
Dennis: Do you hear the process? First the snip, snip, snip of the vine dresser on the vine that is to bear fruit, and now the fruit, people observing in Cindy's life.
I've got to ask you because one of the things that prompted you to go seek counseling was the desire to share those intimate moments in a non-sexual situation. Was there a time, Michael, when you knew that the counseling had been worth it? That she really entered into the joy, the pain of what you were feeling as a man?
Michael: Dennis, I came under an interesting assault in ministry at one juncture, and it was from a professional, personal, emotional experience the worst thing I had ever tasted. My character was being maligned, some accusations were roiling around in the church family, and there was good reason for people to look at us at a distance and wonder "Is this guy really true, or is there some ... you know, is there something rotten in his life?"
So I was coming home pretty beat up from some long, interesting church meetings. There was one particular event where I came home and all I could do emotionally was go to bed, get up, shave, shower and go to work. There was ... there was nothing there. It was a flat line emotionally. And during those assaults, to have my wife with me, she was there. She understood me. She believed in me. She knew the allegations and accusations were false. She knew that my character was the same man she married. She trusted me. And to weather that experience with her, it was a remarkable time.
There was a verse in Exodus, I think it's 14:17, that she quoted to me one morning on the way out the door. She said, "Michael," she said, "God told Moses when he was at the Red Sea and Pharaoh's army was behind him to stand by and see the salvation of your Lord today."
Dennis: Cindy, as you were watching him go through that, what were you feeling?
Cindy: Oh, I feel all the emotions again as if we were there yesterday. And again, it is such a joy to be able to enter into his emotional state, whatever it is, good or bad, and to feel my own. It's not just to enter into his, but it's to feel my own emotions as well.
Every time we tell this story, I talk a little bit about counseling when I speak at the FamilyLife Marriage Conferences and what counseling has done for me. I know again that Michael and I are opposite of most couples, and so if there's any men that I could reach today, I would say please listen to your wives. You have an emotional side to you. Please, if she is begging for your emotional side to come out, do whatever it takes so that you can experience the oneness that Michael and I can experience. You can't experience it without that emotional oneness, without emotional intimacy.
Dennis: And there are a lot of men, Bob, who are listening to the broadcast right now who quite frankly can identify with Cindy's fear, their insecurity, not wanting to face the pain, not knowing what it means to have to delve into those issues. We are made in the image of God. A part of that image that he stamped within us is our emotional being.
It's the side that Christians, I think, feel most uncomfortable with because you can't touch it, you can't grasp it, you can't put your arms around it, and yet God is a god of jealousy and anger and love. He is a God of peace. And he wants us to be in full reflection of him. At some point it may mean for a married couple that they need to submit to the counsel of a third party in their marriage, and that can bring peace, wholeness, and goodness to their home.
Bob: We’ve talked to a number of marriage counselors who have said to us that they recommend to a couple before they even get into counseling is that they come out and spend a weekend with us at a FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage conferences.
In fact I talked to one counselor one time who said if a couple will do that often it takes six months off the counseling time that he needs with them. In some cases they don’t need the counseling after all. The weekend gives them the tools they need to patch up the issues that have emerged in their relationship. And really for every married couple to take some time and get away and focus on your marriage that’s good preventive maintenance.
I mentioned that you guys are the Easleys and the Raineys are going to be together not this weekend but next weekend speaking at the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage conference that we are hosting in Washington, D.C. at the Gaylord National hotel. We still have room available for those who would like to attend this fun, romantic getaway for couples. In fact that weekend that weekend, Valentine’s weekend, is the kickoff of our spring conference season.
While you guys are going to be in the nation’s capital I’m going to be in the chocolate capital in Hershey, Pennsylvania at the Hershey lodge. We have other conferences that same weekend and in the weeks to come all across the country. We really believe that for a marriage to go the distance from time to time you need to get a tune up done. You need to pull off to the side and let the engine cool off a little bit and let our mechanics take a look under the hood and let us perform the necessary preventive maintenance.
You can find out more when you go to our website FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Our team can help with that.
If you can’t get to a conference this spring but you want to do something that is really good for your marriage get together with four or five other couples and get one of our HomeBuilders Couples Series® study guide. It’s a curriculum for small groups and it’s all about building your marriage relationship and building your spouse.
Meet together every other week with these other couples and just have a conversation about marriage. We’ve got studies on communication and how to handle pressure in marriage, growing together in Christ, how to resolve conflict and how to work together as a team. We take core issues and deal with them in these HomeBuilders study guides. These are self led and nobody has to be the expert when you get together and work your way through these questions.
I think the point we are trying to make is do something for your marriage. Come to a conference or join a HomeBuilders group whatever it is be intentional. Be purposeful. Be deliberate.
Speaking of things you can do to help your marriage this month if you are able to help with a donation of any amount to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today we have a CD that we’d love to send you. It features Linda and Jody Dillow. The title of the message is The Four Flames of Marital Intimacy and if you’d like to receive the CD when you make your donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com just type the word “FOUR” into the key code box on the online donation form.
Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and you can make a donation over the phone. When you call just ask for the CD on marital intimacy or the CD with the Dillows. We will be happy to send it out to you again as our way of saying thank you for your support of FamilyLife Today.
As we've heard the story today, Dennis, of Michael and Cindy going to counseling, I just ... I want to know from the two of them, you went there with a ... you said it was a C-minus, that would be a little worse than average. I'm guessing it was maybe an average marriage, right?
Bob: But you said "I don't want it to be average." So, what's the grade today?
Michael: A-plus, Bob.
Bob: No, is it?
Michael: Yes, it is. I used to hear couples that were married 30 years say, "Oh, I love my spouse more than the day I married them." And I used to say to myself, "They're lying."
"They're lying men." And you know, we have almost 20 years now, and God has been so gracious to us.
Bob: Is it an A-plus, Cindy?
Cindy: Oh yes, definitely. Definitely. And every minute was worth it in counseling.
Bob: This isn't just because you're on national radio and everybody is listening and you have to say that?
Cindy: No. Okay, we have our A-minus days.
Dennis: Yeah, right. You have your B days with all of us. But you know, the real question is, I think, Bob, that's a good health ... kind of a health test question. Would you want your children to experience a relationship like you've had with your spouse? And if you wouldn't want your son or daughter to experience that, then you've got to ask yourself why would you continue to allow yourself to experience that. Do something about it. Go to a FamilyLife Marriage Conference, get some counsel, get into a small group, a Home Builders Bible Study, do something.
And I know, Bob, at this point we're speaking to a group where half of the marital equation wants to have it, the other half is, as Cindy addressed earlier, refusing that, and that's a difficult situation. My encouragement is pray. Ask God to break through.
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