He identified as homosexual for most of his high school and university years. So American musician and author Dennis Jernigan would have laughed at the idea he would one day have a wife and nine children.
Growing up, Dennis felt a sense of rejection from his family. His father was a busy, hardworking man and his brothers laughed at his sensitivity and fondness for the piano.
"I found it hard to believe anyone loved me. I felt worthless. Since I didn't believe anyone loved me, I couldn't really receive love," he says.
"I tried to be the best in whatever I did: schoolwork, basketball, music... But I became so frustrated because no matter how well I performed, it never seemed to be good enough."
Dennis credits this insecurity with the sexual attraction he later developed for other men.
But he had been brought up in a church attending household and baptized at the age of nine and, in fear of rejection from his family and the church, chose to keep his new identity a secret.
"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 I had no idea where to turn for help," he says, and adds he felt ashamed of his same-sex attractions and desires.
"I hid [my homosexuality] from others through high school and through my four years at Oklahoma Baptist University."
That period is etched in Dennis' mind as being full of confusion and frustration and he says he continued to feel miserable even after he decided to fully embrace his homosexuality.
Still, when a Christian music group called Second Chapter of Acts came to perform in his area, the musician in Dennis felt prompted to attend.
"During their concert I was captivated by their sincerity and love for God," he says.
In the middle of a song, 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 He sees it and He loves you anyway."
Dennis knew God was speaking to him and raised his hands to surrender his burden to the Lord.
"In that moment, I turned everything in my life over to Jesus," he says. "My thoughts, my emotions, my physical body... and my past.
"For the first time I saw myself as forgiven and cleansed. The power of homosexuality in my life had been broken."
Dennis says he finally realized he was loved and accepted unconditionally by God regardless of what he had done and that Jesus loved him for who he was, not for what he could achieve.
But being released from his homosexual identity does not mean Dennis was released from those temptations and desires.
"I still understand that temptation," he says. The difference, he explains, is that "it no longer has power over me".
"It just so happens that having a relationship with Christ gives us the power to overcome those temptations and to choose wisely much more easily than in our human strength."
He explains all of us are tempted in different ways, but it is how we choose to react to that temptation that defines us rather than the temptation itself.
"Temptation does not equal identity. I did not get to choose what I was tempted by. It was just there. But it was never intended to define me."
Dennis says his life was completely transformed by his decision to follow Jesus, not only in terms of his sexual preference but also in terms of his belief system and his outlook on life.
He no longer believes he was born gay but sees it as a choice he made, and now he chooses to live for Jesus and for others rather than for himself.
He is a Christian songwriter and recording artist, has released over 20 full-length CDs, multiple songbooks, and folios, and has authored more than five books.
"I am changed," Dennis says, like he sings in his song of the same name. And he feels more free and more himself now than ever.•
Get in touch with Dennis at dennisjernigan.com