WHEN they first got married, Melinda Jernigan did not know that her husband's past life had involved an attraction to other men. She did not know that he was still struggling with the desires, in fact, it was not until after their third of nine children that he decided to reveal this part of his life to her.
"Having secrets is never right when you are married to somebody, because you need to be open and honest," Jernigan said. "After our third child, he decided he needed to tell me. It was too much of a burden for him. And he just kept wondering 'what if she finds out, what if she finds out, I will be rejected'."
But Jernigan did not reject her husband, she immediately forgave him.
"When he shared with me I was like, 'Oh! Is that all?'," she said. "Because to me it was no different from any other sin I have had in my past. I had my own stuff. I had been promiscuous and I had relationships with other men — I didn't come into the marriage pure," she said. "So God had freed me from my own stuff and I think the same cross used to forgive my sins was the same used to forgive his. And so I forgave him completely. Because for one, he wasn't still practising. There was no struggle, we had three kids, so everything was working in our relationship."
Jernigan said as a result of his confession, they became even more intimate and she felt gratitude towards him for his honesty and a willingness to stand by him because she knew he genuinely loved her.
She had met her prospective husband while they were both students at university and at the time he had shown no indication that he was interested in men. They started dating, but Jernigan recalled that he would constantly break up with her.
"We were both in university and I didn't know about his struggles," she said. "I just knew he was creative and cute and I loved him. So we were dating off and on, and off and on, and I just thought he was a jerk," she laughed. "He kept breaking up with me. But I didn't know his struggle. It was not obvious. We were both in the music department and I was aware of the tendency of gay people to be in the music department. But he did not come off that way to me. So no (red) flags ever went up."
When they left university they parted company as she went off to get her master's in another state. A year later they again started communicating and developed a more solid relationship.
They got married shortly afterwards and started having children and had what Jernigan described as a "good marriage". The only problem, she said, was that they were not as intimate as she thought they should have been.
But not being told from the onset that the man she was in love with was accustomed to the affections of men did not make her angry, and Jernigan felt she would have still married him and had his children.
"I don't think it would have made a difference if I had known before that he was gay, because it was in his past," she said. "Because there is honesty, there is nothing unspoken, nothing hidden (between us). There is not an assumption that there is something in your past that will come back and bite you. So we are united."
All their children — four boys and five girls ranging from ages 17 to 27 — are aware of their father's past.
Today, her husband Dennis says the greatest expression of love is not the sexual act, but the ultimate expression of love is the laying down of one's life for the other. It's something he says they have both done.
"I was scared to death to tell her," Dennis admitted. "But there was a certain Bible verse that God used to get me through the fear, Psalm 107, Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hands of the enemy. So the Holy Spirit reminds me that [it doesn't matter] what you have been redeemed from, as long as you have been redeemed," he said. "So when I told her it was this utter relief. I could just relax."
Today, the couple fights the battle as a team.
"If it's my battle, it's her battle; if it's her battle, it's my battle," he said simply. "I just feel I can overcome anything because of her."
Melinda Jernigan said women in similar situations can be assured that there is hope and healing, no matter what.
"And forgiveness is a bigger power," she said. "It gives you power to work together."
She said the knowledge of her husband's past gives them more power to fight.
"He is more of a man because he was open and honest," she said. "Because he is honest... that gives me more admiration and respect."