The Embarrassing Yet Freeing Thing About Crying In Public

There’s something particularly embarrassing yet freeing about crying in public, especially for someone who tried so hard to shield any emotion that embodied vulnerability. Yet there I was on Lenox Avenue: face red, tears streaming, and snot running onto my overpriced American Apparel scarf. Luckily for me, New Yorkers are used to seeing everything from the extremely irate commuter to the strange street performer. So a girl walking down the street with ugly crying face didn’t seem too uncommon.

And though I type this feeling emotionally exposed while nursing irritated eyes from all the rubbing I did, I’m proud of myself. Being tough is so restricting, and I believe that each tear I let roll down my cold-stricken cheeks melted away that barrier I built. I once believed it was made of brick, but it was actually made of dry wall.

Things have been changing rapidly for my family and me lately. Those who know me personally can attest to that. Usually I would embrace this welcomingly, but this isn’t the type of change I generally crave like Lay’s potato chips. Instead, this is the type that will make you ask God to pump the breaks or maybe change routes.

During all of this I’ve never taken the time to breathe, never taken the time to heal, especially from some of the changes that hurt. I’ve had relationships fade, with some lingering bitterness. And as I look out to my future, sometimes it can be hard to laugh without fear as the Bible extols of the envied Proverbs 31 woman.

“Take it all in,” my mom constantly said as I packed my boxes, preparing to leave my family’s home in Florida for the final time.

“Yeah, yeah I see it,” I’d reply. But deep down, I kept burying those feelings of wanting to hold on to the way things used to be. I never liked long goodbyes, but my mom on the other hand possibly minored in them in college. For me, long goodbyes mean tears. Tears would mean I was fragile. And fragile, I refused to be seen as. Take it as a side effect of my pride.

But what a lesson it was for me to suddenly break on a crowded Harlem street. In between sniffles I finally admitted to God how hard this has all been. I expressed that I know my family and I are moving in the right direction and on to divine endeavors, but how sometimes doing the right thing isn’t void of trials.

Just the previous night as I said my prayers, I asked God to humble me. My pride and seemingly tough exterior have gotten in the way of so much in my life— more authentic relationships, more authentic spiritual life, and a more authentic self.

Well, as the saying goes, be careful what you ask for. You may just end up bursting into tears in public.

Tara Pook

Seek Peace & Pursue It

I’m learning that in spite of the hardships I face, I can still choose to rest in God’s peace. My use of the word choose is intentional, as the past year-plus taught me this while I managed anxiety surrounding family, school, and finances. I tried so hard to rely on myself; to be the cool, calm, and resilient person I knew I could be. The problem was that neither my peace nor my strength was in God, but rather in my own capabilities. In the end my wit and charm got me as far as my 2 year old nephew playing Sonic the Hedgehog (he runs off the track almost immediately). My actions involuntarily chose panic rather than peace.

I struggle sometimes between what I see in front of me and what I know in my spirit. I see a mountain of frustrating circumstances that is seemingly impossible. But my spirit knows the promises of Romans 8 – that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. It can be hard to find peace and balance when you live in that kind of duality.

We are human. We desire that which is tangible to the senses rather than the spirit. We prefer the guarantees of a signed contract with people than the divine promises of God, which is understandable to some extent. In choosing peace, however, we choose that which doesn’t make sense at first – like confidently applying to a private university with a Ramen noodle budgetPeace is not a magical arrangement of circumstances, where everything is perfect. As the late John Paul Jackson said, “Peace, or shalom, isn’t just a feeling you’re left with— it’s an action you take.”

Some obstacles we face are the result of a lack of faith or comfortability with chaos. When tackling doubt I have to be upfront and honest with God, and like the desperate father in Mark 9 pray, “I believe, but help my unbelief.”

Dealing with drama proves to be a whole ‘nother story, and is best exemplified on some of the television shows I watch.

With all of the saddening and often angering news headlines, I tend to decompress with what I callfluff. It’s sometimes reality TV; usually pointless and very petty. I began to notice in nearly every show, the reality show cast member who often proclaims how much they hate drama is usually the one who willingly walks into it or starts it. It’s evident in the “friends” they surround themselves with, and the tomfoolish choices they make.

But as much as I laugh and shake my head, this mirrors the real lives of many, including my own. It is not enough to just want peace. Psalm 34 says, “Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.” This means each day we have to be intentional in our quest for peace and chase after it. We cannot achieve it on desire alone.

So this often means unplugging from social media drama on our timelines and refraining from indulgence of office rumors. I too am guilty of gossiping or unnecessarily involving myself in a feud that has very little or nothing to do with me. I discovered this two years ago when a counselor pointed out that nearly all of the matters I was stressed about did not directly involve me. This is not only the problem of a gossip, but also the problem of an empath. The problems that hit our loved ones are also felt strongly by us, much like a person who experiences the pain of their twin sibling.

As I began to let go of the reigns on my life and let peace rule my heart, I initially mistook it for emotional numbness. Why was I not upset about what was happening? Does this mean I no longer care?

I’m discovering the answer is no. And this has been my biggest revelation going into the new year. My concern over a matter does not have to manifest itself in debilitating anxiety or fear. Instead it can manifest itself in the peace that surpasses all understanding, which I know can only come from God. And choosing to rest in that peace is the best decision I make each day I get out of bed.

—Tara Pook

Because He First Loved Me

I’ve been going through what I call a spiritual lull these past couple of weeks. I haven’t been reading my Bible as much as I should, and when I do pray it’s more out of Christian obligation than heart-felt desire. So Saturday morning (5:30am to be exact) I said a prayer before work asking God for the grace to get out of this spiritual valley and to ignite a fire within me. I prayed for my worship to be pure and my praise to be true.  My desire is to chase after Him with all my being, in order to reach new heights and have greater intimacy.

After “Amen,” I was out the door.

At work I was mostly going through the motions – checking in members, handling complaints, etc. – and wishing I was back in bed. I was finally relieved to get my break and get some much needed caffeine in the form of a large French vanilla iced coffee.

As I power-walked down the street I heard voices singing. I looked ahead and saw four people— three men and a woman— harmonizing, but I couldn’t make out what they were singing. Living in NYC, it’s quite common to see people performing on the street or just being weird, for lack of a better term, so at first I paid it no mind. But as they got closer, I heard:

Oh, how I love Jesus. Oh, how I love Jesus. Oh, how I love Jesus because He first loved me.

My face barely suppressed the smile emanating from my inner being as I recognized this as a divine moment. It was as if God was telling me that even when I don’t feel love for Him, His love for me is unshakable in spite of what I’ve done and unconditional regardless of what I haven’t. It is never fleeting, but firm. For both believers and nonbelievers, it is not Him but we who allow our love for God to turn cold and stale. Our love can easily be shaken because of what we feel He hasn’t done, and conditional based upon His fulfillment of our expectations.

But I’m thankful now in remembering that God’s love is not contingent upon my spiritual highs and lows; for as the song says, He first loved me.

Consider what you owe to His immutability. Though you have changed a thousand times, He has not changed once.
– Charles Spurgeon

Tara Pook

Finding Freedom In Sharing My Mess

I used to take pride in having it all together. Or should I say appearing to have it all together. In between replies of “I’m fine” and “I’m doing alright” lied the truth– I was a hot mess waiting to boil over. My pleas for help were so buried and stifled that I found it difficult to cry or even pray in the privacy of my room. “Get it together Tara,” I’d say, as if I were a coach prepping his team after a losing half, “You’re tougher than this.”

But I wasn’t, and yet my lingering struggles with perfectionism and vulnerability served as duct tape over my mouth, preventing the truth from coming out.

That I felt overwhelmed. That I felt frustrated. That I felt alone.

And perhaps worst of all that I wouldn’t be understood.

There was no room on Instagram for the shadowed parts of me. No, only perfect selfie lighting to showcase a seemingly Carrie Bradshaw-esquelifestyle of cute vanilla lattes during the school week and bottomless brunches on the weekend. There was no mention of the sleep-deprived and anxiety-filled Tara who was over-drafting her bank account for textbooks.

That’s not to say that my life was totally in ruins. But when I needed to unload the burdens on my shoulders, my response to questions about my wellbeing were like a good ol’ churchy, “Oh I’m just blessed and highly favored.”

Much like the Alicia Keys poem, I felt like a prisoner of words unsaid:

“Just lonely feelings
Locked away in my head
I trap myself further
Every time I stay quiet
I should start to speak
But I stop and stay silent
And now I’ve made
My own hard bed
Inside a prison of words unsaid”

But little did I know that by opening my mouth I would find liberation in the same circumstances that once held me hostage. Shedding light on the hidden parts of my life is not only freeing, it is biblical. Romans 15 says, “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.”

I knew what it meant to build someone up in their time of need, but I couldn’t see myself on the other side. I refused to acknowledge myself as “without strength” although I at times felt that way. In my life I had taken the stance that it was better to always provide help than to always need help. Deeper than this I saw I had underlying issues with pride, and the resulting pressure to live up the “motherly” role I had taken on with friends and even family.

In my Group Process course, which instructs on how to facilitate group therapy sessions, I had the epiphany that I had been subconsciously treating my relationships as clients. I saw myself as able to provide them with insight and an open ear, and yet I wouldn’t be vulnerable and allow them to do the same for me. In order to not only have authentic relationships, but an authentic self, I decided I no longer wanted to be seen as a fraud, struggling to live up to the impossible standards that myself and others had placed on me. And what are the chances that I learned this lesson in community, sharing with others. As my classmate said, “You come to see that I have problems, you have problems, and you have problems. And it’s not as bad when you see you’re not alone.”

It takes a far stronger exertion of energy to keep up a facade than to be open and honest. There is no act to remember. No script to recite. I found freedom in saying “I feel like crap,” because it was the truth. And the truth sets you free, doesn’t it?

I’m still uncomfortable at times with the idea of sharing the shadow parts of myself, but I’ve learned to start small. It begins with:

I feel overwhelmed. I feel frustrated. I feel alone.

But at least I know now that I’m not misunderstood. And perhaps that is where I began to find my liberation. As my professor Dr. MaryBeth Werdel said, “We are relational beings. We are born in relationships; we die in relationships. We are hurt in relationships; we are healed in relationships.”

My physical and spiritual healing would not be found in the closed off quarters of my room. It would not be found in repressing my feelings from even my Creator who knew the burdens of my heart all along. It would be found in that moment after sharing the seemingly embarrassing or shameful details of my life, and hearing from a trusted friend, “Yeah, me too.”

—Tara Pook

If You Want More, Prepare For More

It started with a dream.

I was preparing for Sunday Service at my family’s church as I had done times before. The speakers were ready, the microphones were in place. All that was missing were the chairs, and it was then that I realized we only had a handful of them scattered around the room. Definitely not enough for the next morning. Frustrated, I began pacing around because of how unprofessional everything looked.

How could I forget one of the most important details? Why wasn’t anyone else worried about this?

I eventually released some steam and sat down for a moment. Soon after I heard a voice say, “If you want more, then you have to prepare for more.”

And then I woke up.

I consider myself a dreamer, perhaps more of a daydreamer; so this vivid vision and audible voice awakened me from more than just sleep. It awakened me spiritually as I believe it was one of the first times I realized that I was hearing from God.

During that time I was nearing peak dissatisfaction with my life. Each day I felt like I was born for so much more than jobs I dreaded and a bank account statement that didn’t match my taste in food.Weekend bottomless brunches add up over time, you know.

There was something about the voice that resonated with me deeply. At first I brushed it off as a random dream, much like the others I occasionally have. Like the time I dreamt I introduced my new “boyfriend” 2 Chainz to my God-fearing grandparents. But then it finally clicked. If I want more out of life, then I need to prepare for what I’m asking for.

Proverbs 20:21 says, “An inheritance claimed too soon will not be blessed in the end.” So whatever you gain without preparation and experience will be as substantial as a house made of straw. It will be a memory as quickly it became news; like professional athletes that are broke within five years of retirement. Sure they were prepared for the game, but not the instant wealth that came along with it. A quick elevation in responsibility and status without a foundation of discipline and maturity is a recipe for disaster.

I know that I want more than a 9 to 5. I know that I want a purpose-filled life. But how was I to prepare for that? 

It started with asking myself what I specifically wanted and what I could do now to ready myself. So I created a mental checklist. The items ranged from finally learning Spanish in order to reach more people as a future counselor, to having a successful blog where I could provide healing and comfort with my words. I then broke down my long-term goals into shorter ones so I could conquer them bit by bit.

I also began to change my prayers from asking God to magically fix my life, to asking Him what I needed to gain from this level in my life in order to excel to the next. I believe that many times we are stuck in unpleasant situations, not because He doesn’t hear our cries, but because we don’t hear His guidance. God isn’t the source of hard times, but He has a remarkable way of turning them into testimony. When I saw my less-than-desirable situation as preparation instead of pointless, I saw how even the toughest trials would work together for my good.

Understand that many times you’re going to feel like the Karate Kid, going through challenges that you initially render useless.

“They” say everything happens for a reason, but like you, I often wondered what any of the hardships I deal with have to do with my destiny. That is until I realized it had everything to do with my destiny. I have found that the areas of my past struggles were indicative of my greatest triumphs.

I know that my heartbreak is preparing for me divine love.

I know that my lack is preparing me for abundance.

I know that my weeping is preparing me for joy in the morning.

This is a time of preparation as you’re getting ready for all that you asked for.

— Tara Pook

Forgiveness: What It Is. What It Isn't.

I used to think that forgiveness took place like the ending of a Full House episode; that those who hurt you would humbly arrive with soft acoustic music and a heartfelt apology. Then after a corny joke and a hug you both feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

But reality has a way of teaching you that forgiveness and closure don’t exactly happen like a wholesome family sitcom. Instead it is a tug-of-war between you and whatever experience led you to the grudge in your heart.

My dad once said that, “Forgiveness is giving up your right to retaliate.”

And yes that includes ceasing to throw shade or post subliminal memes on Instagram.

I once believed that I was in the clear considering I was never the aggressive confrontational type to begin with. At the bare minimum, I can be kinda petty. Like the time my sister Jessie left me a measly portion of the dinner she cooked; so I decided to not eat it at all, just to ”make a statement.”

I came to realize that although my hurt wasn’t manifested in blatant retaliation, it was still festering beneath the surface. And when it didn’t manifest itself in the form of internal anger, it still produced a seemingly hopeless desire for that Full House ending.

On the outside I would often play it cool. Letting others believe that everything was all good ’n’ gravywhen in actuality my teeth were gripped into a grudge like a pit bull on a chew toy.

The challenge especially hit hard when I faced the reality of having to forgive someone who never graced me with the words, “I’m sorry.” Unfortunately, I found that in many cases an apology may never come. I wrestled with how could I gain closure and move on without as little as an explanation.

Being a Christian, I wondered how God could forgive so easily. If I couldn’t see past what they had done, how do I begin to forgive others of their trespasses? There are countless sayings about being the bigger person, but when we are hurt, we sometimes feel comfortable with playing the victim.

An epiphany later came to me that similar to faith, if forgiveness wasn’t so crucial to our emotional and spiritual being, it wouldn’t come without some level of difficulty. As the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easy. And forgiveness is a crucial fight for your peace of mind, spirit, and body.

Understand it this way: Forgiveness is not like the tango. It does not require two people. Whoever hurt or betrayed you does not hold the keys to your freedom from hurt. That power lies with you. You do not wait on their permission to move forward.

It isn’t fair for you to ruminate on the actions of another. It isn’t fair for you to carry this burden.

Joyce Meyer once wrote, “You will never forgive if you wait until you feel like it.” Though a matter of the heart, forgiveness is still a decision. And like most important decisions, it cannot be made solely with emotions. Sometimes it starts with a five-word declaration: I choose to forgive [insert name here].

It is no longer like when we were children, when our parents would force apologies out of us.

“Don’t you owe your sister an apology?” My parents would ask, though it was really a demand.

“Sorry…” I’d reply with my head hanging low.

“Sorry for what?” they would finally ask.

And then I’d have to list my wrongdoings while ultimately realizing, yeah I messed up.

There is something particularly empowering and freeing about saying, “I forgive you” and meaning it. It isn’t condoning their behavior or letting it slide. And it definitely isn’t an automatic resume button on a previous relationship. In forgiveness there is a reevaluation of your feelings, but also of the place they once held in your life.

Perhaps the toughest lesson I had to learn was that things don’t always go back to normal. As BB King put it, sometimes “the thrill is gone.” When you accept an apology, you may also have to grow to accept that what was is no more. But most importantly, you become the victor in a situation that once considered you a victim.

In my journey thus far, I’ve become proud of this heart of mine. Because even after all it’s been through, it still learns to love better, trust smarter, and forgive even quicker.

—Tara Pook

4 Reasons Why You Need a Creative Community

When you're an artist you discover that support is crucial if you plan to turn your passion into a career. Sure, you can find an abundance of love and support from any number of family and close friends, but the backing of those who can truly empathize with the struggle of honing your craft is particularly special.

They just get it. And they get it because they’ve walked the proverbial mile in your shoes.

But beyond that, they provide more than mere understanding. A community of creative, likeminded people serve as an incubator, assisting you in the hatching of your abilities. This is why I believe that all writers, painters, musicians, entrepreneurs, etc., should make an effort to devote quality time to be in the presence of a creative community; if for no other reason than to chat over a latte or brunch. And in doing so, you will find that...

1. THEY KEEP YOU IN CHECK

I can recall numerous occasions when I would go on a blogging hiatus – either out of pure laziness or an overwhelming schedule – only to hear a friend comment during the course of a conversation, "So, I see you haven't been blogging lately. Why is that?" Their stern tone would immediately send me running to my pen and notebook. A strong creative community will hold you accountable to your passion. Like a gym buddy, they aren't afraid to scold you when you haven't been working in a while.

2. THEY'RE HONEST

There were times I used to ask just about anyone to proofread or give their opinion on my blog posts prior to clicking the publish button.

"Whatcha think?" I'd ask.

"It's good," they would reply.

"You sure?"

"Yeah, I like it."

And that would conclude the conversation. Not a single word of constructive feedback. It wasn't until I began formulating my own creative community that I began receiving honest and effective criticism on my writings. If a line in a poem doesn't make sense, they will tell me. If a story doesn't feel finished, they will let me know. You don't need yes-men/women in your community. Real feedback is what will push your work to grow; not constant approval out of fear of hurting your feelings.

3. COLLABORATION IS A GOOD THING

You need to view the people in your creative community as opportunities for collaboration, not just competition. Unfortunately, pride often gets in the way of forming amazing bonds. I find that some creators and innovators tend to be so focused on being the best that they don't see the potential for what they can create collectively. There are no boundaries to creativity.

4. YOUR DREAMS AREN'T CRAZY AFTER ALL

There was a time when I was afraid to share my dreams and aspirations with others. I don't have plans for a conventional 9 to 5 job until age 62, followed by retirement in Naples, FL. That's no shade to those who intend on living such a life, but I understand that when your dreams go against the grain they become the target of small-minded people. Not only are my dreams outside the proverbial box, they shatter the box. Because of this, I learned early on to keep them close to the vest and share them with creative people.

I'm a huge believer that extraordinary dreams and visions require extraordinary faith and a work ethic to match, and it is crucial to be able to share your heart in the safety of a trusted creative community. When you tell them your dreams you should not only be met with honest criticism and ideas on how to best succeed, but the loving embrace from one who understands and appreciates the unique person God made you. Surround yourself with dreamers, hard-workers, innovators, and creators – those who help you see the possibilities in the midst of impossible odds.

— Tara Pook

Photo Credit: Jessica Hughee