By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Runaway bride pastor speaks to Rotary Club
web 0518 Rotary pastor 1
Pastor and author Dr. Tom Smiley tells Rotary Club of Hinesville members how to survive lifes pressures. - photo by Denise Etheridge

Pastor and author Dr. Tom Smiley told the Rotary Club of Hinesville on Tuesday how to be prepared for and survive life’s “emotional undercurrents.” Smiley has written three books: “Runaway Lives,” “Angels All Around,” and a new book of quotes, “Uncommon Common Sense.”

Rotarian George Holtzman met Smiley 12 years ago when he handled the sale of Smiley’s mother’s homestead, Smiley Crossroads. Holtzman invited the pastor to speak.

Smiley was born in Gum Branch. He is a graduate of Bradwell Institute and credits Liberty County’s close-knit, caring community for preparing him for life and the ministry.

“I always love to come home,” Smiley said. He said he fondly remembers his English teacher, the late Faye Darsey, who taught him to strive for excellence. Darsey passed away in January.

Today, Smiley is the head pastor of Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville, which grew from several hundred members to 3,000 congregants during his 18-year tenure there.

He offered Rotarians a strategy for dealing with the “emotional undercurrents of life.”

“You can’t see an emotional hurt, yet we all have them,” Smiley said.

Trained in family and marital counseling, the North Georgia pastor had ministered to Jennifer Wilbanks, a church member who became known as the runaway bride when she disappeared just before her wedding in 2005. Smiley wrote his book “Runaway Lives” following Wilbanks’ ordeal. The book offers biblically based answers for life’s pressures, such as those that prompted Wilbanks to run.

“Jennifer kept saying she didn’t know what happened; she just got overwhelmed,” Smiley said.

The pastor said 23 percent of Americans suffer from anxiety, the highest number of those 30-44 years old. He added that 16.5 percent of Americans consider themselves to be “moderately or mildly depressed.”

Smiley listed steps people can take to be ready for emotional trauma so they will be better able to deal with it when it happens.

“Maintain good, healthy habits like diet and exercise,” he said. Smiley said spiritual health, living a balanced life and building good relationships also are necessary.

“You cannot be alone in this world,” he said. “You must have friends, people who you can invest in and who will invest in you.”

If someone is already in the midst of turmoil, Smiley suggested one first must “give over control,” and admit they cannot “fix” the problem alone. “This is especially difficult for men,” he added.

“Turn to your spiritual life,” he said. “And maintain good, physical health.”

In addition, Smiley advised what to do once “the storm passes.”

“Have a forgiving spirit,” he said. “Some people may hurt us on purpose and some hurt us by accident.”

The pastor also recommended revising and readjusting priorities.

“Or you’ll wind up back in that same spot,” he said.

Sign up for our e-newsletters