This past Wednesdays episode touched on a situation similar to my story,I am thankful for y’all for bringing it out. When I was 18, and just out of Air Force basic training, I made the mistake of marrying a high school sweetheart. I was a long way from home, I was miserable homesick when she called. I didn’t know at the time, but she and her mom had concocted a plot to get her out of some legal trouble. She was 17, and still being treated as a juvenile, getting married emancipated her and caused all of her charges to be dropped. I didn’t know any of this, I was far away and out of touch. I jumped at the chance to bring a little part of home, and my past, into my homesick life. Needless to say, there was nothing to this marriage, it was a sham. I was in SC at the time, and the only legal grounds for a divorce was 1 year of continuous separation, which was achieved 1 year and 1 week after the wedding. I remarried pretty soon after that, a nice southern girl I’d met locally. A few years later we both got saved thru the ministry of an IFB church in Ohio, and soon after I surrendered to preach. The pastor of our church wasn’t quite as legalistic as we would eventually encounter, but he quickly let me know that my ability to serve in the ministry would be limited, due to my divorce. I could be anything except a lead pastor. I expressed my confusion over God hanging on to this one sin, while casting the rest away. I argued that polygamy was a thing in the bible, maybe they meant that, but to no avail. After a couple of years serving in the children’s ministry in Ohio, we decided to move back to SC, the Myrtle Beach area where my wife is from. We found another IFB church near by, and started attending there. When I shared my calling, and situation with our new pastor, he told me the same thing, putting the same limitations on me. We served faithfully for a couple of years, meeting some wonderful Christian people along the way, including a family named Saleeby, who had a couple of teenage sons. There came a point where the members in the church learned about my divorce, they were furious! They had meetings about it, and eventually I was called upon the carpet. They didn’t want me preaching anymore (I only got to preach when the pastor was away), and they didn’t want me to preach in Jr Church to their kids. I could “teach”, but not preach. The pastor stood by me, saying as long as I wasn’t a pastor, it was fine. We were both on our way out at this point. My wife and I decided to move back to Ohio where I was at least accepted. Eventually, I got the opportunity to fill a pulpit in a neighboring town, and there came a point where they called my pastor asking him to recommend me as full time pastor. As you can guess, he couldn’t.
Everything that happened after this was MY SIN, I blame no one for my actions. But it would be dishonest to remove the whole situation, cause and effect. Before this time, I was strong in the Lord, I could face down temptation, remembering the importance of my calling. But by this point I became weak. The enemy whispered “what’s the point?” in my ear until I fell. We got out of church, and stayed that way. I went back to being who I was before, no details are needed here, I was away from God.
We eventually moved back to the Myrtle Beach area for my wife to help tend to her aging mother. When we got back here, I touched base with some old friends, looking for fishing buddies, or golf partners. A man I had had the honor to lead to the Lord ,many years before, told me that Scott Saleeby had started a church in the area, and I should go be a part of it. I wasn’t interested. He would text me periodically, to remind me that he was praying for me. He gave my information to Scott, who contacted me too. I stayed in hiding, regretting making contact in the first place. After my mother-in-law passed, we moved into her house, right down the street from Scott’s church. We had to pass it constantly, a silent beacon flashing on my heart. I eventually decided to go see what was going on there, just got up one Sunday morning, told my granddaughter to put on her shoes, and off we went, didn’t even take my wife. Scott wasn’t even there, Brother Aaron Hampton preached, and while I expected to be walking back into the IFB world, I found a whole different world. The music was a mix of contemporary and traditional, which floored me at once. And the preaching wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular, the message was verse by verse ,and non judgmental . And I had to come back now, I wanted my wife to see this place, and I knew Scott would find out I had been there and missed him. We came back the next week, I saw tears streaming down my wife’s face the entire service, I knew we were home. We were welcomed, and knew we were loved from the start.
There’s so much more I could say. I’m leaving out a lot, but I’ve gone on and on, as preachers do. After a long journey, back to a worldly walk, we begrudgingly had relented to return to “the old ways”. We needn’t have been afraid, we found a home and real acceptance. Scott eventually made me a pastor of missions and outreach. He and Aaron have allowed me to use my gifts and answer God’s calling. And never once have they put a limit on what I can do.
God bless y’all for what you do, and for bringing these things to mind, while making me feel accepted in Christ, fully.