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Conversations with the Inspiring Cherie Kephart

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cherie Kephart.

Cherie, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
When I was a little girl, I first wanted to be a roller-skating champion. I know, crazy. I blame this outlandish dream on repeatedly watching the movie Xanadu. Of course, when I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I delved into education and travel, since I had lots of different interests and loved exploration. I worked as a waitress, valet, and bartender while in college. I did lots of non-profit work, traveled to more than forty countries, and lived in four continents, including serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa, before I finally found my way into writing.

I’ve always loved writing and I adore words. The power behind them. We can string letters and words together and make people laugh or cry; we can transport people to new places and times, inspire them to live their best life and gift them new levels of understanding about themselves and the world.

So, there I was, writing for a living, but I was still missing my true calling. I worked for years in many different capacities as a writer, everything from scientific and technical writing, to grant and proposal writing, creating educational programs, to ghostwriting and editing. Then, at 32 years old, a mysterious illness thrust me to the precipice of death. My persistent health challenges led to years of suffering, during which my disabling symptoms were time and again undiagnosed by well-meaning medical doctors and healers who were sometimes competent, sometimes careless, sometimes absurd, and always baffled. The anguish, the uncertainty, and the relentless pain almost caused me to end my life. Several times. But spoiler alert: I’m still here!

What I endured prompted me to search for books written from others who went through something as I had. I couldn’t find any. I decided I would write about my experience so others would have something to help them. I believe that is the way most authors do it. We write the books we want to read. It took this painful and life-altering series of events to get me to write a book; something I had always wanted to do. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I always remind myself that being a writer is a privilege, and I feel grateful to be doing what I love.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Let me answer this question with a resounding no. Absolutely, positively no way this was easy. Getting here was the most challenging road imaginable. I had to shed so much of who I thought I was to become who I was really meant to be. The biggest challenge was definitely myself. I know this isn’t the answer you may have been expecting. It surprises me as well but makes sense. Have you ever heard of that phrase, “Get out of your own way?” It took me a long time before I stumbled upon this concept. For years I was fighting my illness, and therefore, myself. I was also, in a way, fighting the process of writing my first book. When I stopped fighting and embraced my situation, both the beautiful and the horrific, what I was really doing was allowing life to happen. I stopped worrying if my book would ever make it out into the world. I stopped trying to control whether I lived or died. That’s when my true healing began. I didn’t give up; quite the contrary. I shifted my perception and attitude. I realized I was prohibiting my own healing and writing efforts by not recognizing the beauty, the lessons, the suffering that makes life rich and worth living. Having been close to death so many times, I now appreciate the simplest of things: the taste of a lemon, a warm gentle breeze, the roar of the ocean, and the sand in between my toes. Each day is an adventure. I remind myself every day that I have a choice. A choice to view my life in a positive light, respecting my fears, but not letting them stop me.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I’m a writer. I write primarily non-fiction, but I love all types of writing. I currently have three books. My first book, A Few Minor Adjustments: A Memoir of Healing, is about searching for life-saving answers to a mysterious illness I contracted while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia. My memoir, which is definitely the book I am most proud of, has won several awards and received an outpouring of heartfelt responses, motivating me to write a companion book, The Healing 100: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Body, Mind, and Spirit. My third book, Poetry of Peace, is a poignant collection of poems that celebrate the decadence and darkness of life, exploring healing and personal transformation at a deeper and higher level.

What sets me apart from other non-fiction writers, perhaps, is the dance I engage in between the light and the dark. I believe they are both equally important aspects of our human exploration. Often, at dark moments in my stories, I infuse humor to bring about levity and contrast, which is exactly what I do in life. Here’s one line from my memoir that’s a perfect example: “You know you’re having a bad week when you call 911, the paramedics come to your house, and one of them notices you’ve rearranged your furniture.” That’s why I love non-fiction. You can’t make this stuff up.

I’m currently working on my fourth book: The Cookbook for People Who Can’t Eat Anything: Simple and Delicious Recipes to Nourish Your Whole Being. I have lots of food allergies and sensitives, so I want to write a book for people like me. Also, it’s about mindful eating and nourishing all aspects of ourselves. It’s fun and I get to eat a lot of great food in the process. So what could be better?

For good reason, society often focuses more on the problems rather than the opportunities that exist, because the problems need to be solved. However, we’d probably also benefit from looking for and recognizing the opportunities that women are better positioned to capitalize on. Have you discovered such opportunities?
I firmly believe women are capable of anything and everything. Writing is an exceptional avenue for women to pursue since it involves being in touch with both our masculine and feminine. Women are inherently in tune with their feelings and emotions while simultaneously able to look at something pragmatically. Also, writing empowers us, gives our voices into the world, so we can be heard. It is a perfect opportunity to break down any barriers or challenges that we are facing.

Some advice for women writers:

Writing a book, specifically a memoir, can be an arduous road, but it’s paved with beauty. You have to be prepared for a metamorphosis. It’s not an overnight deal. It takes grit, determination, passion, and love for the written word to make it to the end. And you’ve got to have a real reason to write, a message that you absolutely must share. It needs to be big. It needs to sustain you and the project through the journey. The rewards are there, but most of them cannot be seen, they can only be felt.

It’s also essential to ask yourself, why am I writing? This may seem like an obvious question. But it’s not always. Sometimes, we have unconscious agendas that may be getting in our way. We need to make sure we are clear in our why, so our words can flow and become the story we are meant to tell. When you know your why, you can then focus on writing the story you want to write. Not what everyone else tells you to write or what you think the market wants you to write, or what you think the agent or the publisher wants you to write. It’s your story. You tell it. Others can help you, but coming from that pure place inside you, knowing your why, when you go with that, your message will shine!

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Image Credit:
Cherie Kephart

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