If you have seen Michael W. Smith in concert, you have experienced only a sliver of this West Virginia native’s personality. Serious, soft-spoken, professional and contemplative is the Smith you will most often spot in public, but his family and friends see a playful, loving and compassionate man.
Funny, goofy and humorous are words that often surface when those close to Smith talk about the 46-year-old musician, husband and father of five. Aside from his love of playing the piano, Smith likes to joke with friends and spend play-time with his children: Ryan, 20, Whitney, 17, Tyler, 15, Anna, 13, and Emily, 11.
“He’s serious about 30 percent of the time,” says Ryan, a writer and videographer, who aspires to be a screenwriter and film producer. “There are times when we have people around who don’t really know him and he’ll go crazy and make all these weird expressions. And they are taken aback. That’s not what they expected.”
Emily, the family actress, singer and horse enthusiast, describes her dad as “funny, crazy and really nice.” Some of her favorite memories are when her dad has taken her on dates to her favorite restaurant and to do other “fun stuff,” and last Christmas Eve, when he surprised her and the rest of the kids with a five-week-old golden retriever they named Halley. They also have two cats named Ricky and Tazzie (short for Tasmanian devil).
In his down time, Smith likes to take his kids out for sushi or just hang out with them at home while they make music videos, with Ryan directing (one of their favorite pastimes). All of the Smith kids have a passion for entertaining. Anna, Emily and Whitney all sing and aspire to be actresses and Tyler wants to create a Christian music band with his friends. They all play instruments, except for Emily: Anna (piano), Ryan (piano and guitar), Tyler (piano and guitar) and Whitney (piano and guitar).
Smith also spends time talking and comparing music with Ryan and writing songs with his wife, Debbie. When not tinkering with music, he loves a good game of golf or tennis, takes in a Tennessee Titans game and enjoys sitting quietly taking in the beauty of God’s creation. His favorite places to go are: Ireland (because it inspires him musically and it’s green and peaceful), his vacation time-share in Beaver Creek, Colo. (he and his family vacation there each year) and his 200-acre farm in Franklin, Tenn. The family farm is where the Smiths keep Emily’s two ponies, Romeo and Fury, and the two family horses: Socks, a Tennessee Walking Horse, and Rocky, a quarter horse.
A haven for Smith, the farm is where he rides four-wheelers with his kids, hunts for deer or sometimes just gazes at the clouds.
“I think we forget to look at things like that and realize you are in His creation,” says Smith. “You’re sitting right in the middle of it and you think, ‘How can people not think there is a God?'”
God and family are the centerpieces of Smith’s life. While he may spend time away from home because of his job, he makes sure to let his family know they come first — after God. Often, he flies home the night after a concert so he can drive car pool in the morning.
“He loves his family,” says Debbie Smith, with rock-solid certainty in her voice. “He would rather be home with us than anywhere else. It (traveling) isn’t his first choice, but something he feels he is supposed to do.”
Smith says Debbie, his wife of 22 years, is a spiritual rock, “a strong woman of God,” without whom he wouldn’t have been able to build his career, his ministries or his life. It was God, he believes, who orchestrated their meeting. Debbie Kay Davis (now Debbie Smith) had a summer job at Paragon/Benson Publishing Company, where Smith, a young songwriter, had just signed a contract. She walked passed him in the hallway during her coffee break. They were engaged three-and-a-half weeks later and married four months later.
Although the courtship was short, Debbie Smith says she couldn’t imagine being married to anyone else. Her husband, she says, is sensitive, loving, attentive, fun and humorous. Smith makes his marriage a top priority, spending plenty of alone time with his wife.
“He puts me first in the family, which is great for the kids to see,” explains Debbie Smith. “It’s a model to them that our marriage is very important to him and we have to work at it. When he comes back from a trip, he likes to talk, and not many men like to just sit around and talk to their wives. He does. He wants to know everything. It’s a real partnership.”
Because his family is so important to Smith, he is selective with how he spends his time. His career, he says, could take up all of his time. The phone rings constantly with people asking him to sing at benefits, endorse ministries, do interviews — it never ends.
“I have learned that it’s really OK to say, ‘No,'” confides Smith. “You’re going to tick off someone and that’s fine. You have to hear the heart of God and do what you think is best. You can’t do it all or you’ll die. It’s physically impossible.”
Carving time from his career for family is a must, just as it is to grow his relationship with God. Over the past 20 years, Smith has learned, and has taught his children, that success doesn’t bring peace. Debbie Smith says her husband and she struggled for a time with the immense success, recognition and rubbing elbows with the famous. His priorities are now firmly in place: God first, family second and career third.
“Those things that come with fame just aren’t important to him anymore,” says Debbie Smith. “I have seen how he has really emptied himself of all that. It doesn’t impress him at all anymore. What song is doing what on the charts, those things are exciting, but they’re not important.”
Building God’s kingdom and living life from a spiritual perspective is what occupies Smith’s mind today. Fame, he has learned, doesn’t get you any points in heaven and it doesn’t impress God.
“I’m so less concerned about being on top or having a No. 1 song,” reveals Smith. “I don’t even think about that stuff. I’m more in the mode of, ‘God, what is it that You really want me to be doing? I am Your man and I want to be about building the kingdom.’ I have turned a corner and it’s a very freeing place.”
Copyright © 2004 Christian Music Planet, used with permission.
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