Covid took her life just four days after reaching the birthday she so dreaded having to face. Six months prior to her death she wrote this reflective piece.
What has my life been?
I’m living out the last of my thirties. In six months, I’ll be forty, and I’ll be honest… I’m struggling with it. It’s not that I think 40 is old. It’s just that these milestones seem to be markers in which we’re supposed to have reached certain points in our lives… I mean, that IS why they call them milestones, isn’t it?
And the truth is, I’m not where I thought I would be.
I remember sitting in 7th grade social studies class swearing to Ms. Brauer up and down that I really WAS going to be an actress. That this wasn’t just some crazy fantasy. Theater was my passion and I didn’t care if I ever made it to Hollywood, I just knew I would spend my life on the stage. She just HAD to let me choose acting for our career project. (Of course, I did often envision myself in interviews and walking the red carpet… But I really did believe that I would go about it the right way. And if I only made it to the lowly standing of Broadway, well, that would be fine by me. I was a true artist, not just some kid with a fantasy.)
What’s weird about the Hollywood dream was that I always imagined myself making some sort of difference for mankind. Some change that only my fame and status would allow me to be able to make. Those interviews in my dreams talked far more about my impact on the world than they did my latest movie.
I was serious about that dream, which is why I carried it all the way to college, where I pursued my BFA in Acting.
It’s funny how dreams come on so strongly and also fade away. I can’t think of a goal I was more passionate about in my formative years, and yet, I have zero regrets for switching my major to education.
People in Hollywood are really screwed up. I don’t want that life.
Thank God I can run into a grocery store on laundry day with no makeup, my now out of style Lula Roe’s on, and my day 2 hair in a messy bun without too much fear of being recognized. (Okay, a little fear… but not too much.)
I’m not bothered that the life I envisioned in childhood never came to be. But in a much more serious sense, turning 40 makes me feel like my life should be established into SOMETHING by now. There should be some sense of arriving into SOME kind of life. And I don’t know that I have.
I have several friends with their 2.5 kids and their adorable houses with their white picket fences. Eirith and I have no kids. We don’t own a house. We don’t even have a dog. I swear that my ovaries tick louder than the clock at night sometimes.
Ironically, I still don’t know if I even want kids. I mean, they seem like an awful lot of work. And as the world gets crazier every day, I’d probably just be terrified to let them leave the house. But then I think about how incredible my parents were and I imagine creating memories like the ones they created with me. I think I’d throw an amazing child’s birthday party. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just afraid that we won’t have any legacy to leave anyone. And when I’m too old to cook, I’ll be forced to eat chicken tenders at every holiday, because that’s the only thing that either of my nieces will ever eat.
I even sometimes, at random moments, wonder if I really need a house. I mean, after all, I hate cleaning our two bedroom condo. A house just seems like so much more work. But every time I try to cook for a crowd larger than 2, every time I want to invite guests over, I immediately HATE being stuck in the condo. There’s just something about needing quarters to do your laundry that makes you feel like you’ve never arrived in life.
But at times, I’m okay with the idea that it will be just the two of us. Sometimes I think that maybe the condo, while annoying and inconvenient, still frees us up more. And I don’t need that “normal” kind of life. But then what life do I have?
A therapist once told me that I was a herald. That being a herald was my calling in life. At first thought, it seems laughable. I’m the girl who never stops telling stories… so naturally, the title just seems like a nice way to say “I talk too much.” But truly, I know it means so much more than that. Historically, heralds were the ones who carried important news. They went before the King to announce his arrival. Sometimes they gave warnings to the people, sometimes news worthy of celebration. Biblically speaking, Timothy referred to himself as a herald and an apostle, one who taught in faith and truth. Whether in warnings, directives, or news worthy of praise, Timothy knew that his greatest, most important task in life, was to announce the coming of and share the message of the King.
You don’t think of heralds having fancy lives. You really don’t think of them much at all. Because their entire role had nothing to do with being seen. It had to do with showing, announcing, leading people to something far greater.
My whole life I have struggled with the need to impress people. The need to be a success. To be thought of highly. And honestly, I have a good career where I’ve garnered the respect of my colleagues, my superiors, and the pupils in my care (well, most of them…). I have been told by multiple people that I have more friends than anyone else they know. People have often complimented me and lifted me up and told me what a great person I am. And yet, it has never been enough. There is always some new event where I continue to need to impress. It always has to be perfect. There is always some awkward conversation that plays over and over in my mind, some memory that makes me feel like people will think less of me. No matter how many times I actually impress others and gain their favor, I never arrive at that point of truly feeling like I’ve made it.
I think it plays into what I’ve accomplished in life as well. I feel like I’m not keeping up with the world around me because I’m neither a care-free spirit who has traveled the world and lived life to the fullest, nor am I a mother who has built a beautiful home and family of my own…
The herald was an extremely vital and important member of society, and yet, no one was ever really speculating his life or his status at all. Instead, through him, they were brought to think about the King, and to learn more about themselves. And there’s something very freeing in that. As one who has lived a lot of my life on the stage, I’ve come to expect that all eyes are on me. And so I better have a fantastic performance to share.
But the herald’s job has nothing to do with his performance. It has everything to do with his message; teaching in faith and truth. That’s what Timothy devoted himself to do. And honestly, if I look back on my life that way, my heart is very full.
Over my teaching career, I have worked under many superiors. Two of which made me feel like they were just waiting for me to make a mistake so they could fail me. Both situations led to a very upsetting and embarrassing departure from the school. And it’s funny, because I’ve had far more bosses who have absolutely loved me and given me excellent evaluations… but no matter how many people have praised my performance, I have always remembered the two who belittled it far more. But if I switch my focus to my students… I have had several kids over the course of my career directly tell me that I made them believe in themselves when they never thought they would. A teaching assistant once told me that she loved being in my classroom because I always turned everything into a life lesson. And as a result, I’ve had kids tell me that I’ve changed their lives.
In my friendships, sometimes I struggle with feeling spread too thin to really give others the attention they deserve. At other times, I feel like I can be so self-focused that I make conversations with others about me. I have, on more than one occasion, hung up the phone wishing that I hadn’t spent so much time talking about me and wondering (again, still self-focused) if I look like a bad friend. And yet, my friends are still around. And they still tell me how much I mean to their life. I’ve been told that I’m an inspiration or that I am causing someone to look within and challenge themselves to be better. And I think, how can that be when I’m such a bad friend who forgets to reach out, or spends the whole call talking about herself? And yes, I definitely have flaws in those areas. But I think that what I miss is that even when I’m not teaching in front of a room, or public speaking on a stage, or writing a post for the blog I keep telling myself I’m going to start, and then sharing it on facebook instead, I am sharing a message all of the time. My life has actually been a series of messages: all of them pointing to the King.
In my grief over Jake’s death, I’ve shared the hope of eternity and the comfort of the Father.
In my honesty in my failings, I’ve shared the courage found in humility and the grace of the Savior.
In my almost failed, “I can’t imagine being in your shoes, I don’t think I could do what you’ve done” marriage, I’ve shared the completeness of forgiveness in Jesus, and the total power of the Redeemer.
My life has been one of a herald. And it’s funny that I started to write this because I was feeling sorry for myself that I haven’t obtained more impressive things in my life… And yet, typing this now, I’m reminded of the first time I ever did any “public speaking”; on stage, in the spur of the moment, without any time to prep.
I was standing in the second largest slum in all of Africa and I told a group of people who had shown up dirty, malnourished, and barefoot, that being in their country made me realize that the place I come from is very poor. And that it might sound crazy for me to say such a thing, because in America we have many things. We have large houses and multiple vehicles. There are people who have in ground pools. And yet, so many people have so much, they don’t realize they need anything else. They don’t have Jesus, and they don’t even know that they need him.
I told people that day that everything in this world, every luxury you could ever dream of, will one day fade away. And if you don’t have Jesus, you have nothing. But with Him, you have absolutely everything.
And today, I guess I’m the one who needs that message.
Cherie (Kiepura) Garza 9/9/1981 — 9/13/2021
My precious daughter…….still the Herald.
Thank you Gene for sharing this writing of Cherie’s. She was a herald and so much more.
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Cherie was a very special person. I guess it’s true when it’s said that “God only takes the good ones.” He took the best!
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No way! Have you lost your daughter to Covid? Oh I am so, sorry! Gene, I read this article all the way to the end and it was so thought-provoking. It was absolutely lovely. Her honesty, vulnerability and warmness was so inspiring. But I am deeply grieved for you and your wife and the rest of your bereaved family. My heart goes out to you all. Thank you for sharing this nugget from a girl who most obviously inherited her writing skills from her beloved father. I have ‘Back to Tonic’ on my Christmas list and I wonder now, if another Kiepura book will be on my list for next year. In the meantime, please accept my deepest condolences. I am so shocked.
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Thank you so much Sharon. Cherie’s death has been very hard on us. Losing a child gets no easier the second time. I don’t understand it, it seems as if God just shot himself in the foot.
We are trying to be kind to ourselves as we work through this.
My book is on Kindle but if you wanted a hard copy of my book and unable to locate one over there, let me know and I will send one to you.
Thank you for your honesty Gene. I pray that he will protect you all from insensitive Christians and hurtful remarks that people often foolishly say to the bereaved. I do not know what you are going through. I have not suffered loss in this way. I can only imagine that you are all numb and feeling an indescribable pain at the same time. It’s been on my mind all day. May this difficult time bring you closer to each other and the Lord as you battle to face the many questions going around in your head.
Thank you, yes I was after a hard copy, as kindles hurt my eyes. Is it not available on Amazon UK?
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Sharon I sent you a private message. Let me know if you received it please.
Gene, thank you so much for sharing this. I was here a few weeks ago looking for your book and found Cherie’s story from last Christmas. What a blessing to find this one today. Cherie is a beautiful soul. Her legacy continues, her impact in this world very much alive. I never met her and am blessed by her words and transparency. We have a mutual friend in Terri D. Our Bible study group prayed for your family all through this heart-wrenching journey. Terri told me about your book years ago and I would like to purchase a hard copy. I will continue to pray for you and Jan as you come to mind. Grace and peace to you both ☮
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Hello Robin, thank you for reaching out and for your prayer support. It is a struggle for us right now. Terri is such a dear friend and has mentioned your Bible study many times. I would be happy to get a book to you. I will email you through your Facebook.
This was so powerful. Thank you for sharing…Cherie touched so many with her life. I am glad that in the midst of this writing she recognized the powerful impact she has made and was reminded that all those achievements, collections, accolades, and stuff are nothing compared to the glory that has been revealed to her now because of her faith in Jesus. Praying for you and Jan.
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Thank you John, your prayers are appreciated. Her absence from our daily life is very difficult to accept. I do know that without accepting the sovereignty of God in all things, we would never be able to overcome the grief we feel today. Cherie was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, a genuine child of God.
Dear Gene, I’m so sorry your time with Cherie was cut short on this side of Heaven. I can’t even imagine how hard that must be. Yes, she was a herald. A wonderful one–just like you are, my friend. I came across your latest blog post on Facebook and decided to catch up on your writing. So glad I did.
Blessings of His peace in the midst of your family’s grief.
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