Michael English: Through It All
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
“For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate.”
-- The Parable of the Lost Son, Luke 15:24
In the early 1990’s, Michael English was on top of the gospel music world. A charismatic stage performer, his strong, resonant voice warmed the hearts of so many who listened to his music. But something wasn’t right. The singer who got his start in a family gospel quartet and parlayed his immense talent into a spot in the legendary Gaither Vocal Band, was having an affair.
With his popularity soaring due to the release of “In Christ Alone”, Michael knew something had to change. So, within hours of winning four Dove Awards, the pinnacle of the gospel music industry, Michael English announced to the world that he was having an affair.
Without music as his anchor, Michael’s life spiraled out of control, lost to a world of infidelity, drunkenness, and drug addiction. It took him nearly a decade but he eventually climbed out of the abyss and restored his life.
Michael chronicles his fall from grace and subsequent road to recovery in his new book “The Prodigal Comes Home” (with Lynn Vincent). It is a gritty, harrowing tale of infidelity, divorce, drug addiction, homelessness, and a forgiving and just God.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Michael to discuss the unflattering details of his downfall, his difficult recovery, and how God gives second chances to those who seek His forgiveness.
There is no easy way to do this so let’s jump right into it. Thirteen years ago you seemed to have the world by the tail – a major label music deal, strong record sales, a pile of Dove Awards. You were on top of the world. You had it all. Then it all fell apart. What went wrong for you?
You know what? I used to beat around the bush and say, well, I just kind of messed up. The truth is I took my eyes off of Jesus. I grew up in a Christian home, going to church, singing in a Gospel quartet, I was always in church, and it never stopped up until that moment (announcing he was having an affair with another Christian singer, Marabeth Jordan). It just kind of became like an everyday occurrence. Just get up and play the role. I had pretty much stopped gaining ground on my Christianity. I wasn’t growing in anything. I guess you could say I was pretty much going backwards. I got too wrapped up in this whole big machine (gospel music industry). A lot of people will ask and say things about it but I don’t think I was egotistical and that I could not do any wrong. I was smart enough to know I could. But at the same time I felt like I could – I don’t know what I felt except that I was too comfortable where I was. I didn’t put on the full armor of God.
When you were in that lifestyle and all of this stuff was going on, did you ever think you would get caught? Did you want to get caught?
You know what? I never really thought I would get caught. I think the bottom line was – sometimes when I think back that just coming right out and admitting to all of this the day after the Dove Awards and a week after I found out (Marabeth was pregnant) – I believe there is 80 percent of me that believes I was just ready for something to explode – or I just wanted to get it out and see what happens, see where the cards would fall. I was just tired of where I was. I was tired of not being happy where I was. I was tired of reaching and going somewhere else and trying to find happiness somewhere else. That made things even worse with the affair and everything. So, I think it was a cry for help. I really do.
When all of that was going on, how did you justify your actions every day?
As far as the affair, that wasn’t something I was used to doing. It started happening on the Hope Tour and while that was still going on it was awkward for me. It wasn’t the type of thing where you think this is great and nobody knows. It was hard but you know what? You can’t grow up in a Christian home, a Christian world, a Christian environment and not be convicted about something that you know is wrong. You just can’t. But it becomes easier when you do it more and more. It was just one of those times of falling back that I didn’t try to find my way out.
What would you describe as the lowest point for you in all that you have been through? There must be a moment somewhere along the way where you just bottomed out emotionally.
There were several of those moments. One of the biggest was when I opened the door to a knock and there was badge in my face. It was a policeman who had a warrant to search my house for drugs. This is because I had become addicted to pain killers. That was probably one of the lowest points I have ever been in. And I am telling you there is nothing worse than having that feeling in your stomach that is just purely fear that you could be handcuffed and taken to jail. I had never even thought about being in trouble with the police. The worst thing for me had been a speeding ticket. That scared me.
So what was the turning point? What you just described was the bottoming out period. What was it that re-focused you and started the healing process?
It started one night when I was sitting on a couch and I had taken so much medicine over a period of weeks that I couldn’t wear my rings because I was so swollen. I remember my feet being so swollen that I couldn’t get my shoes on. My legs were getting numb. I was a mess. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I didn’t take showers.
That is when I heard two sentences. The first one was, ‘Is this the way you want it to end?’ The other one was, ‘Is this what you want your daughter to see in the morning?’ I still can’t say if that was God saying you are going to be dead in the morning or God saying He was taking His hands off my life. I just know that I didn’t want to mess around with it. I just knew there was a chance that I might not be able to come back from this. That was in 2001.
You just mentioned God. Where was your faith in all of this? How was your relationship with Jesus Christ during this dark period you have been describing?
Well, when I got into detox I took my Bible with me. Normally, at that time I would not have taken it with me. But I took my Bible with me because I really felt like I was going to be in a really bad place and I knew the only person I could go to was God. And I think all those years it just became a part of life to get up and sing and raise my hand and to do this. It was just motions. So, I got in there (rehab) and it was the hardest thing I ever did. One day I started trying to read the Word and I called a pastor friend of mine. He gave me some scriptures to read. I remember being in such a terrible place that I had even called my mother to come get me. She said no. She knew that if she had come for me that I would have ended up worse off than I was before. I started reading the Bible more and I definitely started praying. I was trying to distinguish the difference between what God was trying to tell me here. So, it was really hard to concentrate on anything but just trying to get better. But after that I began to try to start understanding and learning more about why I am in this place. Not hating God but understanding and knowing that as long as I am in His will that things will be ok. It took me a while to get it all figured out but it was a process. Little things would start happening. God would start opening doors here and there.
When did you start performing again – after the affair and drug rehab?
I stopped performing but went to TBN (Trinity Broadcast Network) and hosted a show for them. I had to make a living somehow so TBN gave me some money and a free place to live. I interviewed people. That is how I survived for a while. I stopped being on the road. Then, I decided to start doing concerts again. Even then, I probably shouldn’t have been out performing. There were many times that I did concerts when I definitely shouldn’t have been because I was on pain killers doing concerts. I kept telling myself, ‘I’ve got an addiction here and I am going to overcome this.’ So, I continued performing. But I couldn’t continue doing it. I had too big of a hole in my life. It is probably good that it did happen that way. I have learned so much from all of this.
At what point did you feel that you were “back”? At what point did you feel emotionally and spiritually strong again?
I can tell you that when I felt whole again was when God put Marcy (his current wife) in my life. We had met years before and it was a big old story where she just felt God wanted her with me. She prayed for me. We had lost contact over the years but I ran into her at a concert in Ohio of all places. That is when God set up my path for recovery. I was awake. I was alive. I was better. I was coherent. I had seen her before but I wasn’t ready. It was a different set of circumstances. This took place right after I got out of rehab. I was absolutely not ready for that. She is 5’9”. I am 6’4”. When I went up to her when we saw each other for the next time and last time, I felt, even today when I think about that moment, it was as if I was looking up to her. She was just that big to me.
How do I know that all of what you are telling me is for real? Why can I believe you?
I know people will hear what I say and may discount it. But I know people can see it in my eyes. I know people can see that I am different by what they see in my eyes. My life is just different.
It doesn’t matter. I have nothing to hide. I have no one else to blame. I have nothing else but myself to show. I am not doing anything to try to pull anything on anybody because I don’t have anything to pull. I have what I have and that is what is in my heart. I think that it shines through my eyes. I am so blessed with where my life is today.
Through the last decade plus, this ordeal you have been through, what has God shown you? What has He revealed to you?
That He is faithful and just. He loves us no matter what. If we are at the top of our game or on the couch hours away from death, He still loves us and is still calling us. He wants us to come home. He wants us to somehow understand that He knows best and that we tend to want to take over. We all want to drive. God made the road. He is the maker of the road. He knows where He is going and all we have to do is follow Him. But so many times we think we have got it and then we crash and burn. That is what happened to me. I love to sing “Jesus Loves Me” in my concerts now. If people hear anything they need to hear that song. We serve a God of a second chance. I’m living proof of that.
Michael’s book is called “The Prodigal Comes Home” and is available on CBN.com.
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