Friday, October 23, 2015

Door Holder: Michael Easley

After college graduation I spent a few years in the Dominican Republic, teaching music and sorting through some complicated relationships. I came back to the states about every four months, and on one of those trips home I was feeling the full weight of my inadequacy and inertia.

Things were not good. I knew it, and for the first time in my life, I wasn't really sure how to fix it.

I went to see my high school mentor, (Jeff Berta, of yesterday's Door Holder post) and he sent me to a counselor - who just happened to be a pastor. I drove to Grand Prairie Bible Church and met Michael Easley for the first time.

Clutching my Norman Vincent Peale book (The Power of Positive Thinking), fueled by my recent reading of M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled, and empowered by a few years of reading Psychology Today, I went to my first counseling session ready for therapy.

I wasn't quite ready for what I encountered.

I sketched out my problems, talked about my issues and where I was stuck; made sure that Mr. Easley understood the depth of my self-awareness (*ahem) and then sat back to await his direction.

He asked me a question, this "counselor that just happened to be a pastor" - one that caught me off guard.

Is Jesus the center of your life?

I was stunned, and taken aback. This was not what I expected. I stumbled over an answer, one that indicated my committed upbringing in the Methodist church, my confirmation and extensive participation in Young Methodists Fellowship, the choir, the services. (Well, at least through high church attendance during college and beyond was limited to holidays, but as far as I knew, that was okay...)

He listened carefully, nodded at the right times, and was completely, totally unimpressed.

That's not exactly what I was asking. Is Jesus Christ the center of your life?

At this point, I became slightly uncomfortable. I squirmed a little. I remember offering this weak insight into my religious commitment - that I never worked before noon on a Sunday, so that I could attend church services (again, during high school - regardless of the fact that I was now 24 years old...) Heck, I told him - I had even preached on Youth Sunday, when I was a senior!

I told him about my Norman Vincent Peale book and my study, and the impact Khalil Gibran's The Prophet had on me.

He just stared.

And then he asked again.

Is Jesus the Lord of your life?

And I bumped up against a wall of pride and pretense, and my anger leaked through.

I'm a Christian. I'm not here for religious help. I'm here because I'm screwing up relationships and I can't figure out why I'm making some of the choices I'm making and I need some help. I have issues. I need therapy. I don't need to talk about Jesus - I need some life help.

And Michael Easley, this counselor who just happened to follow Jesus, said All the Norman Vincent Peale in the world is not going to help you if you don't settle this question. There's nothing that you'll do that can fix your issues, no amount of therapy that will work until you get real about this. Is Jesus Christ the Lord of your life?

I'd like to tell you that I fell to my knees, overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit and this good preacher. It would be a beautiful Hallmark moment if I began to cry, realizing the depth of my sinfulness, and prayed the sinner's prayer right then and there. Wouldn't that be precious?

That's not what happened.

I was pissed - seriously aggravated, and very much offended by this guy's notion that a) I somehow wasn't a "real Christian" (especially after I essentially read him my resume of Good Christian Things I Had Done), and b) all these good self-help and spiritual books I was reading were ineffective.

I was pissed, and I made a moment or two of small talk, and then I left - angry. He never relented; he didn't try to make me feel better. As I walked out, he mentioned it again and said I'd need to figure that out before I could move forward.

Home, at my parents' house that night, I laid in my bed and considered this encounter with the counselor / pastor. He seemed convinced; I remained confused.

I thought through all that I had cobbled together to come up with some sort of "life plan"; a philosophy for living that included my passion for artistic expression, my love of reading, my Methodist upbringing, my desire to help people, my teaching degree, my career, my students; and my deep insecurity, my sexual boundaries, my relationship history, my fear, my ego, my efforts to prove that I wasn't really scared to death and clueless....

And in a small, quiet moment on the floor in my mom's sewing room in Grand Prairie, Texas, I whispered a prayer. Again, I'd like to describe a dramatic moment - but it was small and still, and not very exciting at all.

But it was enough. I was heard.

God, I've tried to figure this out on my own. I'm not doing a very good job.

If you are real, if you are who you say you are, I am willing to try following you. For real. 

I picked up the Bible and began to read - not the history or the poetry, but the biography. I read about Jesus.

I read John, and then I read it again. Back home in the DR, I read by the light of the oil hurricane lamps that were a constant in my little rental house, where the power went out every evening and the options for entertainment were limited.

I read John, and I started talking with a few folks who were into Jesus, and I saw that there might be a middle ground between a lax, easy-going church life and the craziness of the local evangelicals who were just trying to Get You Saved.

Jesus walked the middle ground, and the more I read about him and what he did and how he lived and who he hung out with and how he talked to people, the more my heart opened and my affection grew.

And I became a follower of Jesus.

I still needed help, and I wish I would have hung in there with the counselor / pastor and worked a little harder on my issues, under the umbrella of Jesus. I buried my junk under a new kind of religion, and eventually it all squirmed out from under my new Busy Christian Life and made itself known; which is to say that Jesus fixes everything, but sometimes you still gotta do some hard work yourself.

But in the end, I came face to face with a new understanding and appreciation of faith and trust. Michael Easley held that door open for me. He was firm, unyielding and solid; I tried to walk through a door of healing, but he was like a bouncer, refusing to let me in to anything that did not stand on the solid ground of a spiritual reality.

You can't fake getting healthy. Being a Christian in name only confuses your issues. He asked the right questions, didn't worry about being offended, and allowed me to find myself standing in front of an open door, one that required a decision and action.

I'm grateful for this man. I ran into him just a few years ago at a conference in Nashville, and he didn't really remember me - or our conversation. He has no idea...but for me, the entire trajectory of my life changed because of the door he opened - and blocked - creating an invitation that I could accept, to begin the most important journey of my life.
Michael Easley

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