On Mushy Feelings + Embracing Softness

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It was a huge step, but a step I had to take nonetheless. I knew it wouldn't hurt if I tried it, yet I still had some reservations. Inside that cold fitting room at The Gap, I grunted and scrunched my face at the baby pink cotton button-up blouse on the hanger.

I know, I know. Super dramatic over a stupid shirt right? But this was no simple shirt. It was a pink shirt.

I never really liked the color pink, unless it was in a steak cooked medium. When clothes shopping I would always say, "Ew, pink," while browsing through color choices. I didn't think it looked good against my brown skin tone. Pink always seemed to clash against my complexion.

Aside from what I believed to be an incompatibility with my pigmentation, pink appeared to symbolize everything I thought I wasn't. It's such a soft, vulnerable, and warm color. So girly, so feminine. So seemingly not me.

Whether intentionally or not I avoided becoming the embodiment of pink. Rather than be powdery pink, I once preferred to be gray like stone; incapable of being penetrated.

While in school, I often used being buried in my studies as an excuse for being closed off. But now that I’ve already crossed the stage at graduation, that excuse is no longer valid. And now that I’m (kinda) gainfully employed, being a broke college student was also no longer an excuse.

For my personality quiz fanatics, I’m an ENFP— I get my energy from both fellowship with others and the comforts of alone time. But I was crossing the fine line between solitude and isolation, which I knew deep down was not healthy for me. The idea of any kind of social life, especially dating, was intimidating to me. Beyond the anxiety of the awkward small talk were nerves around having to let my guard down. To be vulnerable, to be soft.

I once joked with a friend that my later 20s were making me "OD soft." I would hate crying in front of people, pouring out emotions, and sharing my low-points. But ever since the scale tipped from my early to late 20s I've done all three more times than I tend to be comfortable with. I have experienced so much from loss (with the passing of my grandmother this year) to gain (with starting my career). I could not function emotionally or spiritually without letting someone in to the inner workings of this pink fleshy heart of mine.

I needed to have my feelings affirmed. I needed to hear that my fears and anxieties were normal. I needed to let my guard down in the presence of those I’d be safe with emotionally. And as a mental health counselor I know now more than ever that even caretakers need care-taking.

Not only has this change impacted me on the inside but also on the outside as my body has changed. Once a size 2, I’ve since gained nearly 20 pounds. This was something I was once ashamed of, as the parts of my body that were once rather boney and cut have instead become a little fluffy. My insecurities would quickly show if I was asked “Did you gain weight?”, or “Are you getting thicker?” I once even tried to punish myself into losing weight by declaring that I would no longer buy any jeans until I could fit my smaller size.

What was the fear behind being softer—both emotionally or physically— and vulnerable? It wasn’t so much the actual act of sharing mushy feelings, whether it was those of love or sadness. I can formulate a sentence or two to express my sentiments. Instead the real challenge was facing the aftermath.

Will I be accepted?

The fear of rejection can drive us into isolation and inauthentic relationships where the connections are about as deep as a puddle. Because we’d rather feel “safe” than take a risk on what could be meaningful and impactful relationships. Out of the many theories crammed in my head during school, psychologist Erik Erikson’s stages of development stands out the most. He argued that from age 20 to 39, we struggle with the inner conflict of choosing intimacy or isolation. Am I capable of love? Am I ready to be vulnerable? Or would it be safe to retreat back to my bubble? One comes at the cost of vulnerability, the other comes at the cost of loneliness.

At this stage in my life, I’m ready to take the risk and choose the mush. Even if it’s just a small jump in a overly air conditioned fitting room at The Gap.

As I buttoned the final button, I gave myself a smirk in the mirror. I twisted and I turned, looking at how the pink blouse laid against my body from different angles. “Is this what I was so afraid of? Was this really that bad?”


--Tara Pook

The Thief of Joy

The other day I found out that my ex-boyfriend got married. 

What followed in my office cubicle is best described as the Mr. Krabs meme personified. I barely even noticed my co-worker asking to borrow my stapler.

Aside from the expected bittersweet feelings, it was like a new mark of adulthood. Prior to age 25, breakups consisted of overcoming the idea that your ex would date someone else or perhaps go to college across the state. But now, there was overcoming the idea of your ex getting married. Like married, married.

It added new meaning to rapper Mase's lyric, "I wanna see you happy even if it's not with me." There was no mistaking that we both needed to move on. Who knows what kind of trajectory we would have found ourselves on had we tried to make a failing relationship work. 

What was once a teenage love affair grew into two young adults trying to hold on to the nostalgia of the good ol’ days. But they were long gone, I knew that though I struggled against that logic. Learning that your first love is not forever is hard. It was painful letting go and as a result of slowly ripping that band aid, it was perhaps tougher than it should have been. Ultimately the years of on-again, but mostly off-again all came to an end with a prideful and perhaps petty "Ok" text message. Such a dismal conclusion to such a major relationship in my life.

After the shock and reminiscing wore off, what lingered weren't bouts of asking “What if?” Instead, there was an ongoing fight to resist the need to compare. 

What has really changed for me since then?
Have I found my happiness?
Crap, I'm single.

Milestones in the lives of others-- especially those once close to you-- can cause you to doubt your own. And that's exactly what I was doing. Theodore Roosevelt wasn't lying when he said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." Until that moment I was celebrating the last day of my summer internship while preparing for my final year of graduate school. I was also excited about finally receiving paperwork for my upcoming counseling field placement, which would seal the deal for graduation in spring. If you know my testimony, then you know the hurdles I've jumped, the weeks of eating Ramen noodles I swallowed, and the tears I've shed to reach this point. 

My life was not to be in competition with my ex's to see who would win the breakup down the line, but still I was seeing my accomplishments as sub-par or less than.

Our journeys are not to beat our friends or former lovers to degrees, careers, or engagements in order to prevent ourselves from feeling behind. What it comes down to is that everyone wants it all in life, but for each of us that "all" will be different. In her book Can I Have and Do It All Please?, speaker and evangelist Christine Caine wrote, Having it all does not mean we can have anything we want, or that we can have everything simultaneously.”

The fulfillment of that "all" will come in God's timing. I knew that I needed to trust in that and not see my ex or anyone else’s joy as a sign that I was lacking joy in mine. It's easy to be guilty of this when it appears that graduation, wedding, and baby announcements are showing up constantly on Facebook. In reality there are no striking surges in these milestones, instead we hone in on them because they highlight what we feel is a void in our lives. Be mindful that comparisons can often cause us to covet things before we're ready.

The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “Make it your goal to lead a peaceful life, mind your own business, and keep your hands busy in your work.”

God’s “all” for me won’t be found in expectations from Instagram memes detailing #RelationshipGoals or Thought Catalog articles telling me what I need to accomplish by 30. And it certainly won’t be found in the act of comparing my life to others. In short, my “all” will be found in minding my own business and my own journey. Keeping your eye on someone else's lane can cause you to see your life through a filter of inadequacy. 

For the times we do fall into this trap, confess those feelings to God whether it's jealousy, frustration, impatience, or upset. Ask Him to give you joy during whatever season of life you're in. Comparison is the thief of joy, but God is able to restore.

—Tara Pook

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