When Gerald Varlack was called to the principal's office back in 2005, he wasn't a kid who had been misbehaving. He was a high school teacher, a married man with three young children, an elder in his church.
With an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, he wondered if he had been found out. Soon he had his answer.
Waiting for Gerald was a district superintendent, and on the desk was a stack of stapled papers. Copies of sexually explicit messages he had sent across the internet. Proof of his ongoing affair with a colleague who worked at his school.
There was no denying the evidence.
"What do you have to say?" the superintendent asked.
"That's all true. I did that."
With a look of disbelief, the superintendent said, "That was coming through our servers. What if one of our students had seen it?"
Gerald couldn't reply.
He thought he would be reprimanded, but instead he was asked to resign. Ashamed and humiliated, Gerald wondered if any good could ever come out of his wretched life. And now he had to tell his wife, Faith. Never one to express his feelings, he didn't know what he would say to her.
Would she leave him?
How could their marriage survive?
An old struggle
Gerald had prayed for a godly spouse for seven years before he met Faith back in 1992. He asked God to give him a woman who would always love him, no matter what. Someone who was self-assured and confident, and needed God more than she needed him.
Faith was just that kind of woman.
She and Gerald had both been Christians since childhood. Both had fathers who were pastors. They met at Lee University and were both in the collegiate choir. And both believed that marriage should be for life.
As Gerald drove home to tell Faith that he had been forced to resign, he wondered if she could take much more. He had wooed her in college with his knowledge of the Bible. And then, once married, his old struggle with pornography returned.
Faith had caught him time and time again looking at pornography on the internet. Sometimes she found an open screen or the history of an inappropriate online search. Then there was the night, years ago, when she woke up and he wasn't in bed. She discovered him in the living room of their apartment, sitting at a small desk, staring into the computer screen.
She asked what he was doing. Well, what could he say? She could see the vile images for herself. That night he apologized, full of guilt. And just like he had countless times before, he promised he would never look at pornography again. But he could never keep that promise.
Not only did he have an addiction to pornography, but over the years Gerald had attached himself to women who gave him compliments at work. And unbeknownst to Faith, within the first five years of their marriage, an emotional affair became a physical affair. That pattern repeated itself over and over again. By the time Gerald lost his job, he was involved in internet chats and affairs with several women—all at the same time.
Gerald's countless promises to Faith were as lasting as a straw house in a hurricane. And now he wondered why he hadn't done something years ago to make those promises last. At times he prayed that God would do something to set him free from sexual sin.
Gerald was pacing back and forth on the front porch of their home in Mission, Texas, when Faith arrived home on that Friday back in 2005. And over the next few minutes, as Gerald confessed everything, life was changed forever.
After Gerald had completely revealed who he had become, he was emotionally and physically exhausted. Crumpled up into a ball, he lay crying on his closet floor.
Faith knew that she had biblical grounds to leave her husband. And perhaps most women would have left that very night.
But instead of listening to her emotions, Faith instead remembered her marriage vows of lifelong love. Those vows were based on commitment to God, not feelings. She looked at her husband as a lost soul who desperately needed Christ. She also caught a glimpse of something different in Gerald—real repentance. "As a Christian I felt compelled to help him," she recalls.
By the end of the weekend, after spending time in prayer, she told Gerald that she would stay but that things definitely had to change. She said he would have to personally apologize to her parents, their church, and to his colleagues at school. "This forced him to publicly show his sin in a way that would never be hidden again," Faith says.
Priding herself for being an independent, strong woman, she knew that many would consider her weak for staying with Gerald. "I had to lay down my pride and … choose God's opinion over man's." She was determined to stand by her man—"the man that wasn't afraid to humble himself and be real. He was stripped of all of his pride and was willing to do that for me."
What would Jesus say?
Though he was genuinely repentant, Gerald knew from experience that he needed someone to show him how to really change, once and for all. Where could he go?
Faith's parents said that their pastor, Ed Gilpin, was willing to meet with him. And Gerald accepted his invitation. It didn't take long for the pastor to realize that Gerald was trapped in the revolving door of his memories and the deep pain he had caused.
Pastor Gilpin reminded Gerald that every one of his sins was paid for when Jesus died on the cross. Together they turned to John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." And Isaiah 53:4: "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted."
As they went through Psalms together, Gerald recognized the wavering condition of his own heart: broken … hardened … vulnerable.
After several visits with Pastor Gilpin, Gerald realized where he had gone wrong. Yes, when he was a young boy he had prayed a prayer accepting Jesus' payment for his sins. Yes, he knew the verses in the Bible, and could even recite many of them by heart. But he had been rebellious. Enticed by his own sinful desires. Carried away by his adulterous heart.
Pastor Gilpin asked Gerald what he believed Jesus would say to him about his continuing struggles with guilt. Gerald thought He would look at him and say, "You can overcome this … you can get rid of these things in your life." But instead of nodding his head in affirmation, Pastor Gilpin did a strange thing. He stood up from behind his office desk and, and without saying a word, walked over to Gerald and wrapped his arms around him.
Then the pastor said, "I think if Jesus were here, He would say, ‘Gerald, I love you. What you're going through must hurt a lot.' And then He'd just hold you."
Gerald sobbed. He had never experienced Jesus as his comforter and help. For the first time he looked at himself as God's child and friend. "This pastor revealed Christ in a whole new way," he says, "and that began a real healing in my own heart."
The road to recovery
Pastor Gilpin also helped Gerald recognize some depression and discouragement that had played a key role in his immorality. For several months he guided Gerald and Faith on their journey of forgiveness and restoration.
By 2006 the Varlacks had made great strides in patching together their broken marriage. Then Faith heard about FamilyLife's Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. Held in dozens of cities each year across the U.S., one was coming to South Padre Island. She talked with Gerald and they decided to go.
The Varlacks' marriage was transformed at the getaway. It was life-changing. "I was sitting through the sessions and going 'Wow!'" Gerald says. "I wanted us to be happy but we were just missing some tools."
The sessions on communication helped take the Varlacks' marriage to the next level. Gerald learned how to listen to his wife. "Not listen to hear her validate me or agree with me," he says, "but to actually listen to what she's saying."
And that meant that Gerald didn't have to fix Faith's problems. Sometimes she just wanted him to listen and understand and hold her.
Faith, who admits that she isn't big on giving compliments, realized that Gerald wanted to hear more words of affirmation from her. That she needed to be his best cheerleader. She understood that he longed for not just her love, but also her admiration and respect.
But perhaps the biggest encouragement of all came not from the words of the speakers, but from the life of a man, Glen Solberg, who shared part of his life story with a group of couples.
Glen said that years ago he had committed adultery. Afterwards he thought that God could never use someone like him in ministry. But then he sensed God saying to him, "I want you to share your story. I want you to share what I'm doing in your marriage."
Regardless of someone's past, Glen said, God can restore a life. (He and his wife, Shawn, are now serving full-time with FamilyLife.) As the Varlacks headed home from the marriage getaway they were encouraged that God could do for Gerald what he did for Glen. Although Gerald had a tainted past, it did not mean he would have a ruined future.
A lot of people just like them
After that first Weekend to Remember, Gerald and Faith pledged to continue strengthening their marriage. And they've done just that—they invest in their relationship annually by being part of a Weekend to Remember getaway. In 2009 they became volunteer directors for the South Padre Island getaway. As directors they've watched God revolutionize not only their own marriage, but also countless others.
Gerald says the getaway changes the way husbands and wives approach and care for one another. "Every person we have persuaded and even dragged to the event has been transformed by it."
He and Faith have witnessed struggling couples leave marriage getaways with hope, realizing there are a lot people just like them. And they've seen others with good marriages leave with a relationship that was even better.
It's now been 10 years since Gerald was called to the principal's office. Although he hates to look back at the deep pain he caused his family, he is grateful that his sexual sin came to light. "It is a part of our testimony," he says. "Why we are Weekend to Remember getaway directors."
Today Gerald not only has a transformed marriage, but also a restored life.
He is living proof that nothing is impossible with God.
Copyright © 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
1. No marriage is immune from an affair. Be on guard for your spouse … and yourself. Read "Infidelity's Warning Signs" and "Affair-Proof Your Marriage."
2. Read "Pornography Was Killing My Marriage." Then listen as counselor Vicki Tiede talks with FamilyLife Today® listeners about what a wife should do if she discovers her husband is addicted to pornography.
3. FamilyLife offers dozens of fun, romantic getaways across the country. Learn how a Weekend to Remember could change your marriage.