No Regrets

Today is my 25th birthday and I find myself thinking about regrets. This may sound like a gloomy and depressing stream of thought, especially during a celebratory occasion, but it’s not. At least not anymore. 

My past regrets used to have such a suffocating hold— condemning me with feelings of shame or embarrassment that were difficult to escape. At times I would lay in bed restless as I replayed conversations or arguments where I thought I should have listened more, spoken less, and vice versa. Struggling with regret was much like living with a tomato-throwing audience on the inside of me. There was no need for haters as I often did their job myself.

Perhaps my biggest regrets lay with the things I wish I had done. I have no stories of fighting the bully or walking out on a much-hated job. Rather than stand up for myself, I just saw it as my cross to bear. I liked to play it safe because it was well, safe, and confrontation felt like the opposite. There were many times I repressed my truth or diluted my strength out of consideration for the status quo and the feelings of others. I’ve replied, “I love you, too” because girls were supposed to want the happily ever after. I second guessed my dream of moving away to DC for undergrad thanks to someone who didn’t believe in their own dream. 

My biggest regret had been not living out my truth, and now that I’ve found it, no one can pry it from my grasp. No longer will I say yes to things to things I don’t actually want because as Lena Dunham once said, “It’s really liberating to say no to sh— you hate.”

As a recovering perfectionist I’ve since learned to be cautious about regretful thinking, because it comes disguised as healthy reflection. Joan Chittister, author of The Gift of Years, once wrote, “Regret, one of the ghosts of aging, comes upon us one day dressed up like wisdom, looking profound and serious, sensible and responsible.” It may seem innocent in the beginning to look back and wonder how we all got to where we are, but the aftermath it evokes are more like punishment than innocent reminiscing.

Should I have walked away from my first love before our relationship became sour? Did I need that tattoo? What if I applied to my dream college rather than listen to the voice that told me I could never afford it? Why didn’t I stand up for myself against that boss who would belittle me?

I could try to go on and on until I fall into a deep abyss of missed opportunities and unwise choices, but it would all be a waste of time. Chittister best explains, “Regret demands to know why I did what I did in the first place. And I don’t know.” Whatever response or excuse I come up with will never be enough. “Why?” is one of the most frustrating questions because the best answer you come up with still doesn't satisfy. And that's because it won’t change a thing about the past.

Our power does, however, lie within our perspective. The flaws in my personal theology prevented me from accepting forgiveness and unconditional love from both myself and God. But it took a divine revelation of His grace to understand that I no longer have to live with regret because I've been redeemed. I am free from the bondage of what could have been, because I have hope in what will be.

Life, from the time we begin to grasp right and wrong, is a continuous journey of redemption. I am proud of who I’ve grown to be not solely because of my accomplishments, but because of how I’ve bounced back after falling short. I know what it means to endure and without learning to grow from my mistakes, the foundation of character would be like straw. Unreliable and lacking in strength, as it swayed wherever the wind blew. To regret a single thing would be an insult to my growth. 

My mistakes have put me in a position to win, as paradoxical as it sounds. That’s the hand of God and His magnificent artistry of turning lemons into lemonade, sorrow into joy, and tears into laughter. And I am forever grateful as I wake to see a quarter century. I greet 25 full of expectation and free from regrets.

Tara Pook

Photos by Jessica Hughee

Nothing Will Make Sense Until It Does

Ok, I admit it.

I stepped away from writing on purpose

Lately my life has felt like scattered puzzle pieces, but each from a different box set. And so I figured that I would wait for them to make sense before verbalizing them. It was evident even in my journaling that I didn’t quite know what to say about my current predicament. Pages were filled with generalized cliches or churchy sayings that we tend to use to encourage ourselves through hardships.

God will never give you more than you can handle.

No rain. No rainbows.

Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.

They weren’t authentic, so they were not worthy of being published. Part of my journey to transparency has been to peel back the layers of my once treasured facade to reveal even the mess that laid beneath. I began to search myself and wondered if this was rooted in a lingering sense of perfectionism, a belief that I needed to have it all together. But no, this was different. 

Have you ever been on a journey so unexplainable, so nonconventional that not even your friends would understand? Has it ever been difficult to even formulate a neatly packaged short story to tell? 

That’s where I am. In a season where I'm being pruned much like the way Jesus spoke of in John 15. There were parts of my character and of my spirituality that I thought had grown and matured, but now I find myself being stretched even further. I am learning new levels of faith, gratitude, and obedience in God. These lessons sound easy on paper, but they came with a price. I’ve had to go without at times, part ways from cherished friendships, and even look like a straight up fool. Some mornings I marvel at where I believe I’m going in life, and some nights I’ve admittedly cried for the way things used to be.

But rather than sulk in a prolonged sense of sadness or loneliness, I’ve taken comfort in what has become my motto lately:

Nothing will make sense until it does.

This is the complete antithesis of the controlling planner I used to be. I was accustomed to having a tight grip on the reigns of my life and for situations to go my way. During the few times when I didn’t like my circumstances, I did something about it. Rearrange or manipulate the chess pieces to work in my favor. Solutions were just a push of woman-power— or a call to Mom and Dad— away. Plain and simple. When things went awry I’d just roll up my sleeves and like a corny salesperson I’d say, “My name is Tara Hughee, and I specialize in results.”  

Moving from sunny south Florida to Harlem, USA humbled me in more ways than one. I came here with a few hundred dollars to my name, loads of credit card debt, but an acceptance letter to my one and only school choice in tow. There were days I’d rejoice for free lunch in the office kitchen at my graduate assistantship because it meant I didn’t have to eat the Cup of Noodles I had in my lunch box instead. At times I would barely have extra spending money, but my heart would overwhelm as I’d reach for my favorite lipstick and find a $20 bill my grandmother slipped in my makeup pouch. 

I used to wonder why God would let me come to New York only to “suffer.” Here I was in the big city of bright lights and I was roughing it while working paycheck to paycheck. Wasn’t this supposed to be the part where all my dreams came true? It just didn’t make sense at all, until well, it did.

God has a way of breaking away the pride that clouds the view of our innate need for Him. “Surrender to a higher power,” the mirror read in my old bed room with dry erase marker, “We are human. We cannot do everything in our own strength.” 

We are not brought to this realization as a form of punishment, but instead to get us on the same page with God. Life is meant to be a partnership or a collaboration with Him. Liken it to a film and He is the screenwriter. He has a divine understanding of the story, plot, and narrative of our lives. God can make even the most painful, boring or seemingly useless subplots work together in a miraculous way.

What I thought was suffering, was actually growing pains. I am learning to bear not literal fruit, like apples or oranges, but fruits [or results] of the Spirit like love, joy, and peace to sustain me in the midst of dysfunction. All along God was in the midst of my chaos, which was evident in my seemingly little moments of provision [the free lunches in the office, the $20 bills tucked away behind my concealer]. It was just last year that I barely had enough money to afford my textbooks for classes. There were times I completed assignments without a single reference to the reading. But when my grades returned, it was the first time I had ever received straight A’s in my collegiate career.

Moments like this reminded me that I’m supposed to be here in NYC. I didn’t need to fret about how my puzzle pieces would fit together because God’s Word had reassured me that it would. 1 Corinthians tells us that He chooses what is foolish in the world to shame or confound the wise, and that He chooses what is weak in the world to shame or confound the strong. I’m learning that the seemingly nonsensical often indicates the onset of the miraculous. I’m on a nonconventional journey that’s showing me that in my lack, He is my abundance.

I feel like I’m finally surrendering my puzzle pieces. Because from my view, which is at times clouded by my circumstance, I can’t see the final result. And so right now none of it will make sense until it does.

—Tara Pook

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-esque lifestyle 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