Cherie Zack stood in front of her bathroom mirror. In it, she could see herself, and she could see her husband, Bill Zack, behind her in their bedroom, screaming and cursing.
Bill wanted a divorce his wife wouldn't give him. Cherie had the support to leave. She knew she could stay with her parents, that they would help her until she got back on her feet. But standing in front of her bathroom mirror, she searched for the strength to stay.
Cherie didn't move.
"I felt God telling me to 'be still and know that I am God.'"
Cherie had never read the popular Bible verse from the book of Psalms, or if she had, it didn't dawn on her. But in a word search on the Internet later she found the exact phrase as it had come to her mind standing in front of that mirror. Maybe it was her subconscious telling her these words. Maybe it was a higher power.
Cherie felt God asking her, "Are you going to run, or are you going to stay and fight?"
She chose to fight, clinging to that verse, her command from God.
Next, Cherie Zack stood in her living room, watching her marriage walk out the door.
The screaming had gotten louder, the words more harsh.
Standing in the doorway of their Jacksonville, Fla., home, Bill took off his wedding ring, threw it in the front yard, looked at his wife and said, "My life ended the day I married you."
A FIGHTING MARRIAGE
Cherie, a Beaufort resident and co-founder of the Imperfect Wives, a marital support group and Bible study with members and meetings across America and around the world, says her life with Bill has come a long way.
She had already had one failed marriage. She married when she was 19, and they had a daughter, now 24. But there were complications in Cherie's pregnancy: The umbilical cord wrapped around the baby's head, cutting off oxygen to her brain, and she was born with cerebral palsy.
"It's probably one of the reasons (the marriage) didn't work," Cherie said.
Three years later, she gave birth to twins, and a week later, her husband left.
"He left for someone else," Cherie said.
She met Bill a year later, marrying him a year after that on Dec. 4, 1993. They vowed till death do they part, that no matter how hard their marriage got, they would make this one work.
On an October evening in 1996, Cherie told Bill she was dedicating her life to God. She now was offended by the movies they used to watch together and didn't want to go drinking on the weekends. She wanted to listen to Christian music and give more money to the church. As their lifestyles became more dissimilar, Bill felt his wife was pulling away from him.
Four months later, he asked for a divorce.
"She was changing so much," Bill said. "I got resentful."
Cherie read the book, "Power of a Praying Wife," by Stormie Omartian. She began to understand the separation that had formed in her marriage while reading the sentence, "When you pray for your husband, especially in hopes of changing him, you can expect some changes. But the first changes won't be in him. They'll be in you."
"I walked with a lot of pride," Cherie said. "I couldn't see how I was wrong. I wasn't willing to meet (Bill) halfway. I was easily offended. I was really selfish."
Cherie began seeing how she was an imperfect wife.
THE PRAYING WIVES
After Cherie fought to save her marriage, women started coming up to her asking for advice -- in Walmart, in the aisles of Piggly Wiggly. She didn't understand why this was happening, and she didn't know what to do. But she listened to these women and prayed with them. Co-workers stopped by her desk to talk about what was going on in their marriages. She gave one woman her copy of "The Power of a Praying Wife" and learned to keep an extra around.
Her friends and women in the church asked her to start a Bible study focused on being a better wife. In 2006, seven women gathered in Cherie's Jacksonville living room for the first "The Praying Wives Club" meeting.
The Praying Wives Club was under way. The Facebook group, where women could share and connect, had grown exponentially, and Cherie and her family moved to Beaufort, where she established another Praying Wives Club. In October 2008 Cherie met Rebecca LeCompte, and in October 2010, LeCompte and Cherie changed the name and co-founded the Imperfect Wives.
The Imperfect Wives' mission is to encourage women to fight to save their marriages by focusing on their spiritual relationships and how that can strengthen their bonds.
The Imperfect Wives launched its radio show Dec. 7, 2010. Cherie and LeCompte host a live show at 10 a.m. Tuesdays that broadcasts via www.blogtalkradio.com/imperfectwivesradio.
Women from around the world have started Imperfect Wives groups in their communities, including nine different cities in the United States, as well as Canada, Australia and Africa. The Facebook group now has 702 members and holds online Bible studies.
THE IMPERFECT WIVES OF BEAUFORT
At Praise Assembly of God in Beaufort on a Tuesday evening, nine women gather around a stained and scratched plastic table, sipping green tea out of white styrofoam cups. They chat about each others lives, about their latest pictures on Facebook, about one of the member's new purple-dyed hair. They greet each other with hugs.
They are from different generations, have been married for two or 30 years or are not married at all.
They go around the circle, taking turns sharing their stories of what brought them to Imperfect Wives and the impact the group has had on their lives.
Tasha Streater, 40, of Beaufort, came to Imperfect Wives four years ago, a divorcee looking for guidance. Streater got married when she was 21 and was officially divorced in 2004 after five years of separation.
"I do want to be married again, and I want to be in line with the Word for the next time," Streater said.
Beaufort resident Teresa Denton, 51, joined Imperfect Wives 10 weeks ago. Married for 30 years, she is looking to strengthen an already strong marriage.
"This class is more for me than for my marriage," Denton said. "As God perfects us, we're going to be better at home."
Beaufort resident Sarah Schindler has been coming to Imperfect Wives meetings since May. In the year and a half she has been married, she has only spent three months with her husband when he wasn't deployed in Japan with the Marines.
But at the tender age of 24, Schindler is in her second marriage. At age 18, she married a man she knew for one week in order to move out of her parent's house.
"What could go wrong?" Schindler asked herself, laughing now.
Twenty-four hours into their marriage, she realized she had married an abusive alcoholic. They were separated eight months later and divorced after a year and a half.
Schindler came to Imperfect Wives looking for a fresh start.
"I didn't want to carry the mistakes of my previous marriage into my new one," she said.
While a generation separates her from the majority of the women in the room, they all have at least two things in common: They are all Christians and have all struggled being wives.
"There are similar circumstances, and there are wildly different circumstances," Schindler said. "But we're all in the same boat."
A LASTING MARRIAGE
A month after Bill threw his wedding ring into the yard, Cherie was pulling into the driveway on a Sunday morning after taking their children to church. Bill met her in the driveway and told her he didn't want her going to church without him anymore. He wanted to be a part of her Sundays, as well.
As Cherie got out of her Astro van, something caught her eye. In the lawn laid Bill's wedding ring.
"Looking back, I didn't really want a divorce," Bill said. "I just didn't want her to change. I didn't realize I was outmatched because she had Jesus on her side."
They began attending church as a family, but Bill didn't feel it yet. A few months later, while driving in his truck on the way to work, "A Father's Love," by George Strait, came on the radio. The song is about fathers and sons, but its chorus speaks to unconditional love.
"Daddies don't just love their children every now and then. It's a love without end, Amen. It's a love without end, Amen"
"That's when it really hit me," Bill said.
"Me dragging him to the altar wasn't working," Cherie said of trying to get Bill to dedicate his life to God.
They now are active members at Praise Assembly of God in Beaufort. Bill is a father to Cherie's grown children. He and Cherie have a son, James, 17.
In December, Cherie and Bill celebrated their 19th anniversary, and their original plan of growing old together strengthens day-by-day, they said.
"You have to learn to compromise," Bill said. "We made a promise and vows to see it through and to be the best you can, to not give up."