by Dennis Jernigan
From my earliest memories, I felt different from other boys. I was gifted musically, and labeled "sissy" by other boys. By the time I was nine years old, I was playing regularly for the worship times at First Baptist Church in Boynton, OK.
I learned to play the piano from my grandmother. We lived far from any town with a piano teacher, so I learned to play "by ear" by listening to melodies and mimicking them without seeing any music. Grandma was very patient with me as I practiced daily at her house, and I grew close to her.
I didn't feel as close to my parents. We were not an affectionate family and I never remember receiving physical affection from my father. I found it hard to believe that he loved me, and I felt worthless.
When I was nine years old, Jesus began calling me to Himself. On Sept. 8, 1968, I asked my mother how to be saved. She explained that we were all sinners and that we deserved to perish in hell. But, through the death of Jesus on the cross, we could come into a relationship with God. I asked Jesus into my life that afternoon and was baptized that evening.
But, not perceiving love from my earthly father, I couldn't fully receive God's acceptance and forgiveness. So I tried to earn love by being "the best" at whatever I did. I made straight A's in school; my basketball team played in three state tournaments; I was valedictorian of my high school class. But what people thought was so good--my outward performance--only hid the deepest hurts of my heart.
Rejection permeated every part of my life, including my sexuality. As a boy I needed a role model to show me the way to manhood. I began to yearn for intimacy with other men in perverse ways. Because of this wrong thinking, I came to believe that I was a homosexual.
At the same time, I knew God had something else for me. After I first became a Christian, I sensed Him telling me that someday I would have a large family of my own ... with nine children! That's crazy, I thought. How can I have children if I'm a homosexual?
At church, I heard people say, "All homosexuals should be shipped out of the country--they deserve to go to hell!" I felt condemned by their remarks, and had no idea where to turn for help. So I hid my same-sex desires through high school. In college, I discovered other students who were also struggling with homosexual desires. We gravitated toward one another, and I became entrenched in the physical and emotional aspects of homosexuality. But the more I believed homosexuality was my "real" identity, the more miserable I became.
During my sophomore year, I met the woman who would one day become my wife. I thought Melinda was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Something drew me to her, something I had never felt before. But, even though we dated on and off through college, I still had sexual encounters with other men on the side.
By my senior year, I was totally confused and frustrated. I decided that my life was not worth living. After all, I had begged God since childhood to remove these feelings and it seemed like nothing had happened.
One night during my last semester of school, as I sat in my little apartment alone, I decided I would rather be dead than living "this life." After extinguishing the pilot light, I turned on the gas in my little heater, lay down, and waited to die.
However, after a few minutes, I grew very fearful and turned off the gas.What does eternity hold? I wondered. Whatever it is, I'm not ready.
Soon afterward, I broke up with Melinda and told her I never wanted to see her again. That summer after graduation, I fully embraced my homosexuality and plunged into a three-month relationship with another man.
"This is who I am," I told myself. "I was born homosexual, and this kind of life is what God intended for me." But, instead of finding happiness, I just became more miserable.
I applied for seminary, thinking that more schooling might provide some answers. But three days before seminary began, a friend phoned me. "Dennis, God has brought you to mind a lot lately. In fact, I had a dream about you this week." In the dream, he explained, God was giving me all kinds of songs. I thought he was crazy, but was startled by his next remark: "What's more, my mother had the same dream this week!"
I abandoned plans for seminary and accepted this friend's invitation to live with his family in Oklahoma City. With my music degree, I had trouble finding a job, finally becoming employed as a school-bus driver. Between my morning and afternoon routes, I had several free hours which I used to cry out to God. I knew He was real, and that He was trying to say something to me.
At first I set my Bible on the piano and would sing the Psalms of David back to God. I saw that David had an intimate and honest relationship with God--something I had desired my whole life. David exposed feelings and attitudes that I thought "good" people would hide. Yet God called him "a man after My heart" (Acts 13:22). Soon I was singing my own thoughts and prayers, emptying my soul to Him as I exposed the hurts I had kept inside for so many years.
Then a well-known Christian group called "Second Chapter of Acts" came to our area and I felt an inner prompting to attend. During their concert, I was captivated by their sincerity and love for God.
Then, in the middle of one song, they suddenly stopped. "God has put something on my heart," one member said. "There is somebody here who is hiding something so hurtful, so terrible, that they would be devastated if anyone found out about it. But God wants you to know that He sees it and He loves you anyway." Then we were encouraged to lift our burdens up to the Lord as we raised our hands to Him.
This type of worship was new to me, but as I lifted my hands, God became more real to me than I had ever imagined! I realized that Jesus had lifted His hands for me--spreading them upon the cross. I knew that He was right beside me, willing to walk with me. I could be honest with Him.
"Lord Jesus," I cried inside, "I can't change me or the mess I've gotten myself into--but You can." In that moment, I turned everything in my life over to Jesus: my thoughts, my emotions, my physical body ... and my past.
For the first time, I realized that homosexuality was a sin that Jesus died for. I heard him say in my heart, "Dennis, I'm making you somebody brand new. My blood has paid your debt. You are free."
That night over 15 years ago was the beginning of my "incredible journey." For the first time, I saw myself as forgiven and cleansed. The power of homosexuality in my life had been broken. From that moment, Jesus began to change my sexually perverse thoughts and desires with holy and pure thoughts about what sexual love was all about.
During this same time in my life, a close friend found out about my past. When he confronted me, I ran from the house, certain that I would be disgraced. I looked up into the darkness of the evening sky, pleading with God to speak to me. My eyes were drawn to a puffy white cloud floating above. It looked like an old man with outstretched arms. Nearby was a smaller cloud in the shape of a lamb. As I watched, the man engulfed the little lamb in his arms.
Immediately I knew that God was demonstrating what He wanted to do for me in this time of need. I returned to the house to face my friend, who reaffirmed his love for me. And God began to bring others into my life who were willing to love me unconditionally as I sought complete healing.
One year passed, and I sensed God's prompting to contact Melinda again. I loved her and knew I wanted to marry her. After several months I proposed and she accepted. I assumed that, since I considered myself to be healed from homosexuality, there was no need to share my past with her.
In July 1988, I realized that God wanted to take the greatest failures and weaknesses of my life and make them my greatest strengths. Not only this, but if I confessed my past freely, Satan would have no ammunition against me. No longer would I have to live in fear of others finding out about my homosexual background.
So I shared my past with Melinda. Although she had questions, she was grateful that I felt secure enough in her love to share my most intimate past sins. Then, three days later, I spoke in church about my past--and something beautiful took place. Afterward, people began to approach me who had deep wounds from their past, such as homosexuality, incest, rape and abortion. As they confessed their sins and hurts, Jesus began healing them.
A year later, I realized in a new way God's calling upon my life. After leading worship at the Boynton Community Center in my hometown, one of my grandma's old prayer partners said to me, "Isn't it wonderful how your grandmother's prayers have been answered?"
"What prayers?" I asked.
"Didn't you know?" she answered. "Your grandmother told me she would stand behind you as you practiced the piano at her house each day, asking God to use you mightily in His kingdom to lead in music and worship!"
In the years since then, God has certainly answered those prayers. By His power and grace, God has enabled me to make over a dozen praise and worship recordings, with thousands of copies distributed worldwide. I have had the privilege of sharing my story with audiences all over the world through live concerts, television interviews like "The 700 Club," and magazine articles like Charisma & Christian Life. Today, my wife and I have nine children. He is bringing His perfect plan for my life to pass.
I have a Heavenly Father who will never leave me or forsake me (Heb. 13:5). I want to spend the rest of my life singing praise and worship to Him for all that He has done.
Copyright © 1997 Dennis Jernigan. Denis is founder of Shepherd's Heart Music and a worship leader loved by audiences around the world. You can order his albums by contacting PO Box 39, Boynton, OK 74422. This testimony is adapted by permission from Song of Hope: Freedom From Homosexuality, available in audio and booklet form. Used by permission.