Love at Last
About the Guest
Worship leader and songwriter, Dennis Jernigan, assumed he'd never marry. Hear him tell how God delivered him out of homosexuality and gave him a gift he never imagined - his wife, Melinda.
Worship leader and songwriter, Dennis Jernigan, assumed he’d never marry.
Love at Last
Bob: For years after he was married, Dennis Jernigan held on to a secret; something he had never told his wife; a sin he had struggled with in his past until one night.
Dennis Jernigan: The Holy Spirit just began to speak to my heart and say, "Dennis, how are others who are in that same bondage going to know they can be free if you, who have been set free, don't say so? And, son, if you're redeemed, what does it matter what you're redeemed from?"
So I went to my wife that night – the first person I went to. I said, "Here's the deal. There's something I've been set free from, but you need to know about it, because I want total victory, total freedom."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, December 30th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We will hear today about the power of coming clean – coming all the way clean.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. What we are going to hear about today is something you would counsel someone if there are issues in the past that have never come up you’d say?
Dennis Rainey: Talk to your spouse about it.
Bob: If you are going to have complete oneness you have to open up the door don’t you?
Dennis Rainey: Immediately people kind of swallow hard and ask are you sure?
Bob: You were saying I can’t imagine confessing something like this to my wife years after we had been married.
Dennis Rainey: No, I really couldn’t and yet it takes courage to do it. The oneness and intimacy that comes about as the result of telling the truth it’s…you’re there with the one you’re supposed to leave, cleave and become one flesh with. Where it says the man and the wife were both naked and they were not ashamed is the picture of being honest and open and transparent with your spouse.
Bob: Before we get in and talk about this with our guest, Dennis Jernigan you know what today is don’t you? Today is New Year’s Adam.
Dennis Rainey: New Year’s Adam?
Bob: Yes. Well tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and Adam comes before Eve so this is New Year’s Adam.
Dennis Rainey: I’m sorry. I was in Genesis 2 but I didn’t know this was New Year’s Adam.
Bob: The reason we bring is because tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and the next day is the New Year.
Dennis Rainey: And there are only two days left to take advantage of the matching challenge that has been offered on FamilyLife Today. All this month we’ve been telling folks that we had a few very generous families come forward and initially it was $1,250,000.
Bob: Yes, and then a few weeks later we had some more folks who came and said we would like to help out and provide some matching funds can we still do that? We said okay and the total went to a little more than $1,500,000 at that point.
Dennis Rainey: And then another set of families came alongside and said we would like to make it $2,000,000. So the net result is that in the midst of the most challenging 14 months I’ve ever faced as a leader of FamilyLife we have $2,000,000 that is set before us as a matching grant that will match dollar for dollar every gift that is made to FamilyLife Today until December 31st.
Bob: The only way we can get those $2,000,000 is if listeners will call and match the funds, right?
Dennis Rainey: It’s not a gimmick. It’s the real deal. Frankly there is a reason why it’s called the matching challenge. It is a challenge and we are stretching to get there. I need you as a listener if you can to step forward and say I believe in what you are doing. I’m going to write out a generous check and help you take advantage of it. I want to tell you, Bob, our fiscal year ended August 31st and we ended up $4,911 in the black which meant we didn’t lose any money last year. The reason we didn’t is because listeners stood with us as never before and we are coming to you again asking you to do it in a very generous way this year.
Bob: These couple of days, today and tomorrow are crucial for us as a ministry. If you do write a check we hope you will put it in the mail today or tomorrow and get it sent into us. If you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation you can do it over the phone. If you want to make a donation online go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
We hope to hear from as many people today or tomorrow so we can take full advantage of this $2,000,000 matching gift opportunity. We do appreciate whatever you are able to do. We want to say thanks for your financial support of this ministry.
Bob: I wonder how many of our listeners have sung some of Dennis Jernigan's songs in church or as they're driving along in their car listening to a CD and never knew the story of his life?
Dennis Rainey: Oh, I have. I've sung them; didn't know the story. They're more meaningful now that I do. And it is a great story and, Dennis, I want to thank you for sharing with our listeners God's work of grace in your life as well as His grace and talent that He gave you to write songs – over 2,200 of them.
Dennis Jernigan: Thank you, I appreciate that very much.
Bob: For those who don't know, Dennis is an accomplished songwriter/recording artist. He has written the song, You Are My All in All, We Will Worship the Lamb of Glory, the song Thank You. Many of them sung in churches all across the country – all around the world. Did you ever think you'd have songs that would be sung in churches in Malaysia?
Dennis Jernigan: No, but Malaysia uses – there are many churches in Malaysia and the South Pacific, all over Europe, Russia, China, even underground churches all over the world. It blows my mind.
Dennis Rainey: That is cool.
Bob: We've been hearing this week your story about how you grew up and how, at the age of five, a person exposed himself to you, made sexual advances to you, as a five-year-old boy, how that veered you into the practice of homosexuality throughout junior high, high school, and to college. We've heard about God's deliverance from that sin and, on our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com, Dennis, there's a link to Dennis Jernigan's website where this story really is spelled out in detail. It's also in the book that you've written called This Is My Destiny, which we've got in our FamilyLife Resource Center.
And I've just wondered this week, Dennis, do you think you were born with a predisposition toward homosexuality?
Dennis Jernigan: The way I see it, now that I've had all these years to think about this very question, I don't think I was born gay at all. I think I was born with some giftings from the Lord and, like I said earlier, emotional sensitivity, a musical gifting, an awareness of things on an emotional level, and I believe the enemy perverted those things. So I think God made me creative but perverted and took what was good but used it for himself and his purposes. So in that sense it is very much a perversion.
Bob: So a guy today who would say I was just born this way. What it may be is that he was born with a unique gifting from the Lord that the enemy has taken in the wrong direction.
Dennis Jernigan: That is honestly what I believe. I don’t think people are born gay and here’s why I say that. You are never going to get help if you don’t first agree with God. In other words if I have a problem with my computer I don’t go down to the local grocery store to get it fixed. You know where I go? To the maker. To the manufacturer. So unless you can get to that point where you say like I did I’m going to agree with God regardless of what I feel, regardless of what I see, regardless of even what I have experienced. Either he is God or he isn’t. If he is God I need to let him be God. So Lord I choose to see my life from your perspective from this point on not my own. So that means I can’t possibly have been born gay. I was born though with a special gifting from you that the enemy has come now and tried to use for his purposes so Lord show me who you have called me to be.
So at such an early age to be confronted with those kinds of things in a sexual manner, I did think I was born that way for the longest time. You know, many guys grow up with what I call just a morbid curiosity about what it means to be a male. I know that was my experience. I didn't understand what it meant to be a man, and whenever I tried to bring up sexual things even to my dad, he became very embarrassed. So that made me think, "Man, something is really wrong with me."
And so as I got older and puberty hit, those very things, those needs for intimacy and affirmation from my dad and that curiosity for what makes him a man became very sexualized, and even those things that God meant as a holy thing become perverted.
Dennis Rainey: You mentioned earlier, before we came in the studio, that you met Melinda in a class, and she sat on the front row, and you're in the back row, and then she piped up and said, "Well, he chased me," but he still sat in the back row. As your relationship developed, you were still in the throes of your struggle.
Dennis Jernigan: Very much so. And, honestly, when I saw Melinda walk into that room, I thought, "She's beautiful." I mean, to me, she was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen, but I wasn't really physically attracted in that sense that there was a sexual attraction to her. It was more just the beauty I saw, and I thought if there was ever somebody I could marry, if I could ever be married, I'd want to marry somebody like her.
So I did ask her out and, again, yeah, I thought she was beautiful. And I met, at that time in my life, I thought, "Well, if I could just get married, then that will heal me." Well, that's crazy, that's crazy, and the more I got into my relationship with her, the more I realized that's not going to happen, that's not going to happen.
Dennis Rainey: You didn't think you were going to marry at all?
Dennis Jernigan: No, not at all. By the time we were seniors, I realized – you know, we had dated off and on from the time I was a sophomore through senior, and it just wasn't working. I could never get to a level of intimacy with her where I could share those things with her. So I knew the best thing for all of us was for me to cut this thing off and never see her again. In fact, I told her the day we graduated, "I never want to see you again. Trust me, it's for your best," and that's how I left her.
Dennis Rainey: You didn't share with her why.
Dennis Jernigan: No. I could not bring myself to do that.
Dennis Rainey: And you left that encounter to have another encounter with a man that you trusted who broke that trust. You considered suicide, but God used a friend and his mom, who had a dream about you and your talents and your abilities, and so you traded suicide and seminary to go drive a school bus and start writing songs and ultimately God healed you.
Dennis Jernigan: Yes.
Dennis Rainey: How did you reconnect with Melinda?
Dennis Jernigan: That's a really neat story. In my family, if you're not married by a certain age, something's wrong. You know, that's just the way we were brought up. So when I'm 22 years old and not married, I'm talking with my parents one day, and they just said, "We just always thought you'd be married by now." Now my mom, in talking with her, she was in denial. She knew what I was struggling with. She just knew inside it must be that, but she could never bring herself to really admit it. So she's the one that asked me, you know, "Why aren't you married? We always thought you'd be married by now." So I just flippantly said, "Well, who would you have wanted me to marry?" And she said, "We always thought Melinda was the one for you." And I said, "You're kidding?"
So by that time God had already begun to do a work in me. November 7th had happened, my freedom had come, and I was walking in more and more grace and understanding of who God had called me to be. I thought, "Well, Lord, if that is You speaking to me, then I want You to confirm it through Melinda's parents." Now, her parents were divorced. She was living with her mom. So I wrote her mother a letter, and in this letter I just explained to her mom that I know I have hurt your daughter in the past, but God has done a work in my life, and I still couldn't tell anyone what that work was – I was still too afraid, but I said, "Trust me, I have nothing but good intentions for your daughter."
So I sent that to her mom with the intent of asking permission – that's what the end of the letter was – permission to get back in touch with Melinda. Well, Melinda intercepted the letter, called her mom and said, "You got a letter from Dennis." She opened it, and they read it together over the phone. A week later I'm in Dallas, and it was a month later from that point that we were engaged and married a year later.
Dennis Rainey: Hello.
Dennis Jernigan: Yes.
Dennis Rainey: So at what point after you started dating the second time did you come clean?
Dennis Jernigan: I didn't. And here is what happened. This is a real unique part of the story. I wish it had been different, but it wasn't. I had been counseled by two men who had committed to just walk with me out of this sin. Dennis, here's the deal – God says that your sin is cleansed from you – as far as the East is from the West, He has forgotten about it – so should you. So there's no need to bring it up.
Well, here's the deal with that. I go into this marriage and because of my freedom we experienced a level of intimacy I had always dreamed of, but it still wasn't quite to where I thought it should be. For five years that's how I lived, and the enemy was always back here like a giant behind me, saying, "Dennis, if she finds out, she's gone. If the church leadership finds out about it, you're gone, you're humiliated, and you’re done."
Dennis Rainey: You weren't being tempted at this point?
Dennis Jernigan: No, no.
Dennis Rainey: In terms of homosexuality?
Dennis Jernigan: Not at all. I felt very free. But …
Dennis Rainey: … you were terrified.
Dennis Jernigan: I was terrified, and that’s where that giant of shame needed to be slain in my life.
Dennis Rainey: Once again. It had already been slain when you confessed on two different occasions. Took the giant twice to die a bit, but now you're needing to do that with your wife.
Dennis Jernigan: Sure. Well, the other thing with giants – David took five stones for a reason. Goliath had four brothers, or "homies," I call them, and scripturally you look – there are four other giants that David's mighty men slew after Goliath. So I knew there would be more. I just didn't want to face this one. I was still afraid of rejection.
Dennis Rainey: So take us to the day, to the actual circumstances where you told Melinda.
Dennis Jernigan: It was in 1988 in July – I'll never forget it.
Dennis Rainey: How long had you been married?
Dennis Jernigan: Five years.
Dennis Rainey: Hello.
Dennis Jernigan: It was almost right at five years. By that time, I was leading worship at my church and just experiencing a lot of freedom and worship and in people's lives, but God really convicted me one night during worship time, because one of my favorite verses was Psalm 107:1 and 2, which says, "O give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His loving kindness is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the Lord sit quietly on their hands and hope everyone knows that they are redeemed." That's not what it says. It says, "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so." The Holy Spirit just began to speak to my heart and say, "Dennis, how are others who are in that same bondage going to know they can be free if you, who have been set free, don't say so? And, son, if you're redeemed, what does it matter what you're redeemed from?"
So I went to my wife that night, the first person I went to. I said, "Here's the deal. There's something I've been set free from but you need to know about it, because I want total victory, total freedom, even from the thought of the enemy exposing me. I want to shout it from the rooftop rather than him threaten to do that." So I honestly expected her to leave me, and do you know what her response was? "Thank you." I went, "Thank you?" She said, "Yes. I knew there was something, and I've just been waiting for you to tell me."
Dennis Rainey: Like a mistress. She knew there was a third party.
Dennis Jernigan: Yes, and then she said something even more incredible. She said, "Now let me unload my burdens on you." And we had a really intimate relationship to that point, we really did. But I was telling Bob earlier, that level of intimacy shot up about 1,000 percent from that point on, because there was nothing to hide anymore.
Dennis Rainey: I have to believe that not only your intimacy with Melinda shot up 1,000 percent but also your relationship with Christ.
Dennis Jernigan: Oh, very much.
Dennis Rainey: Took a huge leap forward.
Dennis Jernigan: Sure.
Dennis Rainey: Do you remember and is there any significance to the next song that you wrote after that occurred?
Dennis Jernigan: Yes, in fact …
Dennis Rainey: … would you sing it for us?
Dennis Jernigan: Yes, can I tell the circumstances real quick?
Dennis Rainey: Sure.
Dennis Jernigan: After I went to Melinda and we got all that out on the table, I just felt so free. So then I went to my pastor and the church leadership, and the same thing happened – "Thank you. Would you be willing to share that publicly?"
Dennis Rainey: Cool.
Dennis Jernigan: Scared me to death. So July 13, 1980 – I have all these altars that I've erected to the Lord that I remember, and I shared and afterwards I expected everyone to just be ashamed. I did. That was how naïve I was. The opposite happened. We stayed for another two hours. People came to me just burying their burdens.
One woman came to me and said, "I had an abortion when I was a teenager, and I've never told anyone, and I've carried that burden and the shame and the hurt, and now I'm going to get free." She said, "You're the first person I've told."
Another friend said that – this is the one that inspired the song, and this friend said, "When I was a young woman, 13, I was assaulted by two men, and I never told anyone because I thought it was somehow my fault." That made me so mad, made me so mad, and all I could think of was – and I went right to the piano, I'll never forget it, and – I've got to sing the song now. It will do a better explanation than I could possibly do.
Dennis Rainey: There's not anybody who has ever been forgiven who doesn't understand those words – that's what the Gospel is. That's what Christ came to do. He came to forgive sinners – not perfect people clothed in their own righteousness standing there with their good deeds and their "good life" and good works, parading Him around in pride. He came to redeem broken people.
Dennis Jernigan: That's right.
Dennis Rainey: I really think sometimes after you've been a Christian for a while, you forget how broken people are. Not that you're not aware of your own sin and you aren't, but maybe that can occur – people can forget just how in need of a Savior we really are. That's where music breaks through to the heart. It reminds us that you know what? There is a Redeemer, and He lives, and He wants to rescue us from ourselves, not only at the point of salvation but every day.
Dennis Jernigan: Every day.
Dennis Rainey: Because we still need a daily redemption from that self-centeredness, don't we?
Dennis Jernigan: That's right, that's right.
Dennis Rainey: The way we're seated here in the studio, I could see you singing and looking right over your shoulder, I could see Melinda weeping. Has she heard that song being sung? She's a part of that song. Did she back up her words of thanks to you after you told here by expressing love and embracing you with grace?
Dennis Jernigan: Very much. There was not one second of hesitation. I felt accepted on every level by her in that moment, and, like I said, I thought I knew what intimacy was, but true intimacy is always me saying to Melinda, "Into me see," and her saying back to me – "Dennis, Into me see." It's the same way it is with the Lord and me – "Father, into me see," and He says back to me, "Son, into Me see." When life is exchanged, life is always produced. So why would I ever hide? Why would I ever want to hide?
Dennis Rainey: Was trust broken for a while? I mean, did you feel some sense of question?
Dennis Jernigan: Not from Melinda – honestly, not any. I thought she should distrust me. You know, I'm thinking, "I don't deserve this." Again, it's the enemy coming with all these condemnations – I don't know what else to call it – all that's there is a liar, because the big battleground is in my mind.
So, for me, my thought is I don't deserve someone this good, anyway. Surely she's going to leave me. Even when she embraced me the way she did, I'm thinking, "Well, I don't deserve this." Which is true but, at the same time, I need to be a willing recipient of all the gifts God gives. So I just had to lay down the lies and put on the truth. That's all it really boiled down to.
Dennis Rainey: Melinda, I'm going to ask you to come into the studio, and I’m going to ask you to sit where your husband is seated, and, Melinda, I want you to tell us what you were thinking and how you felt when – come on in – when he was singing that song.
Melinda: I have to get my tears off of my face, excuse me. Leading up to that, like you said, we were really close. I mean, we had three children by then.
Dennis Rainey: A good relationship.
Melinda: Yes, I liked having babies with him.
Bob: But you did think, "There's something there?"
Melinda: It was like a piece of paper between us. It was real thin, but you could still feel through it, but it was always there. When he told me, I was, like, "Oh," big relief. So, OK, I was hugely relieved. I thought it was going to be something way big. That was like, "OK, now I can unload my sin, and we can move on."
Dennis Rainey: What would be a big sin?
Melinda: Well, I don't know. Maybe like he was going to die or something or like he'd killed somebody or something, I mean, I had no idea.
Bob: Yes, but, you understand – people hear you talk about this, and your husband has just confessed to years of homosexual acting out. Even at the time he was dating you in college.
Melinda: Well, yes, but I fooled around, messed with guys. I was just as bad – I'm a sinner. It was no different. God doesn't qualify my sins. I disobeyed my parents. I sneaked around. I was a typical teenager.
Bob: Did you ever, from that time on, pull back and think …
Melinda: … never.
Dennis Rainey: He didn't even finish his question.
Melinda: No, I never pulled back. I never pulled back from Dennis. If anything, I went closer to him.
Bob: Didn't your imagination, though, start to go wild with what his life had been like?
Dennis Rainey: Why?
Melinda: Well, for one, I was confident in his love for me. He'd expressed it. He'd never given me any reason to not trust him. I understood who I was in Christ at that point, and my identity didn't depend on who he was. It depended on who Christ was in me. I was confident in my relationship with the Lord and my ability to love Him didn't determine on how I was treated, it was how I felt loved from the Lord. So it was easy for me to love him in return, because I was his bride. He made me feel valued. He made me feel beautiful. He made me feel so special. What woman wouldn't love that? How could I not love a man that valued me and treasured me above anything else?
Dennis Rainey: What were you thinking when he was singing that song?
Melinda: Well, it was like a flashback. I was sitting in the back of the church, because I knew I would be emotional. And I’m not a back-row girl I'm a front-row girl. It was very emotional. I was, like, I really didn't want him to share, but I knew he had to, because that was the next step, and we'd agreed that it was important.
Dennis Rainey: So you were in the church audience when he stood up in front of the congregation.
Melinda: Oh, yes, because we were on staff there. And, you know, we made the choice together. It wasn't just, like, he told me we were going to do it. It was a combined effort. I stood beside him. I still, every time he shares this testimony, I'm moved, because I know that it's the right thing to do.
Dennis Rainey: And you continue to love him.
Melinda: Oh, absolutely.
Dennis Rainey: Grant him grace.
Melinda: He's a good guy. I couldn't trade him for anything. Passionate people love passionately, and they are creative and loving far more than people who are day in and day out normal Joes. So I got a special guy, and he makes me feel valuable. He makes my children feel so special. I was glad to be married to him. I rather have it no other way.
Dennis Rainey: That's a better love story than Hollywood could ever dream of, huh?
Melinda: Absolutely, yeah.
Dennis Rainey: You know, Dennis, you've written 2,200 songs.
Melinda: That we can count.
Dennis Rainey: Yes. There has to be a love song you wrote to Melinda.
Melinda: Which one?
Dennis Rainey: Out of all those 2,200 that you could just sing to her right now.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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