The Future

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After lots of prayer and mental pro and con lists, I have figured out where I’ll be next year. I have been accepted to – and have enrolled in – the Joint Masters of Social Work program between UNC Greensboro and NC A&T State University! I am excited to move to Greensboro and be back in the classroom, further educating myself. The program is very unique and has so much to offer. Not to mention I’ve always loved the Greensboro area :)

Full disclosure: I am very sad to have to leave LA in August. After being accepted into the Social Work program at the University of Southern California, I was stoked at the idea of staying out here for school. But when it didn’t work out financially, I thought it best to not put myself through that financial burden. It still stings to know that, but I am feeling more at peace about it as I go. I tend to liken my last week or so to a roller coaster. At times I’m certain that I am making the right decision. Other times I’m terrified I’ve made the wrong one. But the more time that goes by, the more at peace I feel about it all. A big realization I’ve had recently is that I tend to feel at home just about wherever I am. New Jersey feels like home whenever we visit. Pinehurst also feels like home. Elon did, too. And then Argentina. And now Los Angeles. I need to leave LA to figure out if it’s where I am meant to be or if it’s just another experience and place that I’ve grown to cherish. Plus, different times in life call you to different places. I have a feeling once I get settled in Greensboro it will feel right.

Another thing I have to think about it Kingdom work. It’s a term I was pretty unfamiliar with until coming to LA and meeting Marvin, the Assistant Director for DOOR Hollywood. When I was discerning what to do and talking with him, he told me to figure out where I can best build up God’s Kingdom. I feel the best place to do that is by pursuing this program in Greensboro.

It’s an exciting, yet nerve-wracking time. I need to prepare for this upcoming year and commitment, yet stay mentally present here in Hollywood with my housemates, job, and responsibilities with this program. It will be a delicate balance over the next four months of so.

Here are some praises: I figured out my post-DOOR year plans! Yay! Also, work has been going a lot better. And I’ve been having lots of fun weekends lately with great friends. I’ve also had some very lazy weekends to reenergize :)

Some prayer requests: my lower back has been hurting a bit. Same with my neck. Hopefully I just slept on it weirdly or something. Also, I’m nervous about all the logistics of next year; I don’t want to dwell on it all to much…just enough to stay on top of it all. 

Now for some lighter updates… I got to see my college roommate, Ellie, last weekend! She was visiting her brother (and also my friend) JP who lives in LA, so we all hung out for a bit.

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I also got to hike to the Hollywood sign with my friend, Rebekah and then check out the Getty Museum with John, Freddie, and John’s college friend, Sam, who was visiting last weekend.

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And this weekend I explored Pasadena with my prayer partner, Rachel. We tracked down Pasadena City Hall as that’s where they film exterior shots of City Hall for the fictitious town of Pawnee, Indiana as well as many interior shots. It was awesome!

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That’s it for now…

Much love,

Tara

Humility & Me: A Love/Hate Relationship

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Part of volunteering for a year involves people wanting to give me things, or buy me things. Sounds great, right? It is. But there’s usually this weird feeling in my gut when it happens.

“I got it. Put your wallet away.”

“We’re getting rid of some furniture. You guys want it?”

“Get whatever you want. It’s on me.”

“Oh, I have some food for you guys.”

“No, don’t be silly, I will give you a ride.”

I can’t pay them back. I consider everything people have given me and I’m not in a position to reciprocate. At least not to the same extent. It hurts my pride. It’s hard to explain, but there’s this image in my head of me crouching down in submission, allowing others to care for me and look out for me. For a year. Not just one person helping me out here…buying my lunch there. This is for 12 months.

This past Sunday I went to a friend’s house where Alex cooked me breakfast and Nathan said I could have his AC unit. Later that day my prayer partner Rachel picked me up and bought me coffee. As we were in line she said those four words she always says… “Get whatever you want.” I knew what that meant. I felt like cringing and crying and giving her the biggest hug in the world all at once. It was so much generosity and kindness in one day.

I guess part of the reason I wanted to write this post is to say THANK YOU. Words can’t describe the gratitude I feel towards family and friends both out here and back home who have supported me and looked after me.

But the other reason I wanted to shed light on this experience of mine is so I could point it back to Jesus and Scripture:

Matthew 23:12 
For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Mark 9:35
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

James 4:6 
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:”God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Proverbs 11:2
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

What Jesus calls us to do isn’t easy, but it’s right and just. And its results are beautiful. By swallowing my pride I can see the world in a new way. I can be more open to the grace of others and the grace of God. I can recognize the blessings He puts in my life through people and relationships. On a more somber level it reminds me that not everyone is in this boat, which further encourages me to see these offerings as a blessing and not a guilt trip.

I think I can speak for all of my housemates when I say we are so grateful for all the people who have reached out to us individually and collectively. Thank you for joining us on our journeys and having our backs.

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Love and peace,

Tara

The spirit of silence

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Have you ever had to be completely silent while having a meal with six other people? Me neither…until this past Monday at a Silence and Solitude Retreat. The five of us – plus Matthew and Marvin – went about an hour north into the SoCal desert to a monastery. We got there in the morning and met with Father Patrick. He explained the nature of a silence and solitude retreat and then set us free to explore the grounds, take naps, pray, sit by the pond, do whatever our hearts desired. As long as we were silent.

I was really looking forward to it. I thought it would be easier for me. It certainly wasn’t difficult, but I kept trying to enter this contemplative, prayerful state and was having some trouble. Our minds are so used to going, going, going. It takes discipline to block out the noise from others, but also from ourselves. I was reflecting and realized I would’ve loved to stay there for a long weekend, or maybe even a week.

Another challenge I didn’t expect was resisting the urge to be close to my roommates and share stories and thoughts with them. Something funny that I witnessed. A random thought that popped into my head. A dream I had during a nap. They say happiness is only real when shared. I can’t help but think that I experienced that first hand.

Nonetheless, I found the retreat very rejuvenating and helpful. We didn’t get home until about 9:30 p.m. but I didn’t feel that tired or stressed. I felt ready to take on the hectic week to come. Throughout the day I was able to start the book we’re reading as a house, take a nap (twice), journal a bit, explore the hills of the desert, watch the sunset, and sit by the pond and watch the ducks.

Father Patrick spoke about “the spirit of silence”. Not everyone at the monastery is silent all of the time, of course. But they respect this “spirit” as they know some people – like our group – are there for that specific purpose. It was challenging, rewarding, and thought-provoking all at once. Even towards the end of dinner when we were allowed to finally break the silence, most of us didn’t want to. We sat there and continued to eat without speaking for several minutes. We genuinely enjoyed just sitting there with each other. For those of you who think it’d be too difficult to stay quiet, I think it’s worth a try, if you ever have the opportunity.

May we all find time in our days to really experience silence and solitude…

Tara XOXOXO

“Never will I forsake you.”

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Please excuse my tardiness on a new blog post! I can’t believe it’s almost March. My DOOR year is past the halfway mark. While we still have a long way to go, it makes me nervous and sad to think about what I’ll do after the year ends and possibly having to leave this place that has become my community, my home.

A couple of weeks ago my housemates and I took the Love Language quiz. Have you heard of it? You can find it online and it’s quick and free. It tells you what your “love language” is. In other words, it reveals how you feel the most loved. The main categories are words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, receiving gifts, and acts of service. It was a great way for my roommates and I to better understand how we feel loved and appreciated. It allowed us to connect on a deeper level and see that – for example – when someone doesn’t give us a hug when we get home from work, it’s not because they don’t care about us. It’s because physical touch is not how they feel loved, and therefore don’t think to love other people that way. When we dress up and no one says anything, it’s not because they don’t notice. It’s because that’s not their way of communicating. I encourage you all to figure out what your love language is! Mine is words of affirmation :)

This past Monday it was my turn to plan the community day. I had made plans for later in the day, so Brent and I went on an adventure to Barnsdall Park in the morning. It was a great escape from the craziness of LA.

Brent & Me Barnsdall Park

When 3:00 came around, the five of us had a house meeting and went grocery shopping. Then we had dinner with Odalys and her family. Odalys is one of the Discerners. She has grown up in Hollywood and worked with DOOR last summer as an intern of sorts, learning about God and social justice issues in Los Angeles and beyond. Her niece and nephew, Andrea and Angelo, happen to be two of our “regulars” at community hours each week. After dinner the five of us drove up to Mulholland Drive and met Matthew for amazing nighttime views of Los Angeles and “The Compliment Game.” It’s a game that a college friend introduced me to and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s not a game so much as a time to go around and build one another up with compliments and affirmations.

This Monday we will go on a “silence and solitude retreat”. I’m so excited! It’s a place meant for prayer, reflection, reading, journaling, etc. There’s no talking. Four about twelve hours. It will be very interesting. I’ve never done anything like it. Stay tuned for my feedback…

Since my last post my “funk” has dissolved a bit, although it still gets to me sometimes. I am more disciplined about journaling and praying and doing my devotional. There’s so much going on in my life and I definitely tend to get overwhelmed, so I have to make sure I’m taking care of myself. I go to bed no later than 10 p.m. during the week now and I’ve gotten better at saying “no”. It’s so difficult when even your living situation feels like work. I leave PATH everyday at 4:00 p.m. but come home to house meetings, cooking and cleaning schedules, community hours, having my schedule disrupted, and sacrifices left and right. Don’t get me wrong – I love my housemates and this year/experience. But I think after doing it for six months it just gets to you. Lately the five of us have been more intentional about doing fun things together as a group. While it’s hard to find time when we’re all free, it’s a little thing that makes a big difference. It’s funny…I’ve never been married, of course, but I can’t help but think that this is what marriage will be like. Constant work and having to carve out time to have fun together :)

I’ve also been trying to call people more. It’s quite a time suck; it seems like everytime I’m catching up with someone on the phone, I check the time and close to an hour has gone by! But it’s totally worth it. I always feel happy after catching up with someone from back home.

I had an interesting revelation last night. We were at dinner with a few people who had experienced homelessness in their lives. One of them said that during her time being homeless, she never felt like God left her. While this may seem like a comfort, it resulted in a lot of hate towards God. How could He just sit there and let this happen? But this woman emphasized the verse, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” She said it with such passion and conviction that it gave me goosebumps. For some reason, that verse sunk into my heart, mind, and soul. The Holy Spirit at work, I suppose. I can’t get it out of my head, and I have a feeling it will be a comfort to me over the next few weeks or so. Funny how just a few words can have such an effect on someone…

As always, a huge thank you to everyone who reads my blog and supports me. Hopefully the next post will come sooner rather than later!

Love and peace,

Tara

Tears

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I don’t cry very often. I wouldn’t call it a weakness, or a lack of vulnerability. In fact I enjoy opening up to others. I think it’s simply how I’ve always been. It is what it is. I don’t think tears are bad. The opposite is true, if you ask me. As a feminist and as a Christian I think it’s so important to appreciate and embrace our femininity, our more sensitive side.

For many reasons, the tears have been overabundant the last few weeks. The entire month of January I have been in what I call “a funk”. Maybe it’s the post-holiday blues. Maybe it’s the shorter days. The lack of light. The stress of this year. A divine test. Or maybe all of that, and then some. All I know is that I’ve needed to turn to God a lot more than usual, which has brought an intense joy and sense of freedom that’s intertwining with this weird state I’ve been in, slowly but surely wrapping around it and choking it until it is no more. I was doing a devotional last night and came across one of my favorite verses: “Jesus wept”. It appears a few times, but I love it particularly in the story of Lazarus. Jesus knows He will bring him back from the dead, yet He still is saddened and He let’s that show. He shares in our pain, sorrow, confusion; all the good and all the bad.

I have been affirmed several times, by many different DOOR-related people, that this “funk” is right on time. Anywhere between January to April Dwellers come down off of a hill and into a valley of sorts. So I’m not too concerned about all the tears these last few weeks, but prayers are nonetheless appreciated :)

On a lighter note, the five of us just got back from the annual DOOR plan-you-own retreat. We stayed at a friend’s house about 5 hours north of LA in a town called Copperopolis. It’s a very small town with not too much to do in the winter, so it was a perfect getaway. We had three whole days there, so we went out to Yosemite for a day, San Francisco for a day, and the last day we chilled at the house. I don’t know if I can pick a highlight! Yosemite was beautiful and so calm and peaceful. San Francisco was really fun; we did pretty much everything on our list and the timing worked out really well. We went to the Golden Gate Bridge, Ghiardelli’s Square, and drove through The Castro and Lombard Street. Plus Freddie has a couple college friends there so we met up with them and they showed us around a bit. And the day hanging out at the house was great. They have a pool table, a hot tub, and HUNDREDS of movies. I watched four. It was glorious.

We got back yesterday afternoon. This morning I went into work at 5:30 AM for early morning outreach with LAPD, which was different and really interesting. There aren’t nearly as many people around, so it makes it easier to focus on your work. And it was cool partnering with the police and learning from that. Because we went in two hours early, we got off two hours early, so I’m sitting in Bricks & Scones (basically my safe haven outside of my own room) with my cup of coffee and Spotify before going home for dinner and community hours.

I don’t have much else to report. For those of you wanting to see pictures form the retreat, I didn’t really take any :) John did though. And Brent filmed throughout the whole weekend. So they will be posting pictures and a video on Facebook soon. For anyone out there who doesn’t have Facebook, I will try and post whatever they post here on my own blog. So stay tuned for that!

That’s all for now.

Love and peace,

Tara

Happy birthday mom (and dad)!!!!!!

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It’s January 16! In honor of my mother’s birthday, I thought I would give her a shout out with a new blog post. She is the most caring and considerate mother anyone could ask for. Seriously. She is the best. She makes me feel so loved every day, something I know I should never take for granted. Thank you mom, for everything! Thank you for all the sacrifices you’ve made. For the horseback riding lessons and karate classes. For the scrapbooks and the afghan. For passing down your love of dogs and movies. For encouraging me to travel the world, and supporting me when I followed through and actually did it. Thank you for more than I could ever put into words.

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And then there’s my dad, whose birthday is just fours days from now. Where do I begin? I have never met anyone so selfless. He will drop EVERYTHING for Dana, my mom, and myself. He will always put himself last. Heck, he’s even put our dogs before himself :) I can only hope that whoever I marry one day is half the man my father is. I love you two so much!

ImageAs for updates on my end, I got to see a bunch of celebrities on Sunday! My friend Rebekah and I went over to The Beverly Hilton where The Golden Globes were being held. We stood outside by the entrance and watched as the stars pulled up in their big, black, tinted-window cars. Every now and then someone would roll down their window and everyone would go nuts. We saw Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, Sandra Bullock, Emma Watson, Orlando Bloom, Jessica Chastain, Helen Miren, Colin Farrell, Robert Redford, Channing Tatum, and Leonardo DiCaprio!!!! It was amazing.

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I will be posting again soon with more of an update. If you see or talk to my parents within the next few days make sure to wish them a happy birthday :)

Love and peace,

Tara

Toxic Charity & Christmas Time

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Wow, what a whirlwind these last few weeks have been! I’m sure most of you have been just as busy, so hopefully no one noticed that I hadn’t posted in awhile :)

I’m back safely in LA. I arrived Friday afternoon after an AMAZING week with my family here visiting, followed by five days in New Jersey with the whole family. It all went by so fast. Here’s a brief recap of the last few weeks:

On Saturday, December 7 the Deacons of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood (FPCH), along with some DOOR folks, initiated a “Christmas Store”. It was inspired by the book, “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)”. by Robert Lupton. Here are some photos from the event:

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In Toxic Charity Lupton shares a story: it was Christmas season and churches all over were participating in programs like the Empty Stocking Fund, where groups of people (churches, schools, individual families) “adopt” a low-income family. They receive a list of presents the family wants. They go buy the items, wrap them, and drop them off at the family’s house. Lupton describes his personal experience dropping off such gifts:

“A nervous smile concealed [the mother's] embarrassment as she graciously accepted armfuls of neatly wrapped gifts. In the commotion, no one noticed that the children’s father had quietly slipped out of the room.”

He continues… “I was witnessing a side I had never noticed before: how a father is emasculated in his own home in front of his wife and children for not being able to provide presents for his family, how a wife is forced to shield her children from their father’s embarrassment, how children get the message that the ‘good stuff’ comes from the rich people out there and it is free…doing for rather than doing with those in need is the norm. Add to it the combination of patronizing pity and unintended superiority, and charity becomes toxic.”

Now this is tough stuff. Not to mention it is a fraction of the insight and wake-up calls that Lupton shares. It can be paralyzing. If everything I’ve been doing is wrong, then what is right? If charity is toxic, than what is the alternative? And so Lupton provides some much needed solutions, one of them being the Christmas Store idea in response to this one particular problem. So the communities at FPCH and DOOR took it upon themselves to recreate this healthy alternative. Donated toys were sold at 20% of their value, so they were affordable, but not a giveaway. We had a wrapping station and lots of food, music, Christmas movies playing in the background, and fellowship. We Dwellers were there all day helping with transportation (most of the people who came don’t have cars), translating, wrapping, music, etc. It was such a fun day! We were there for hours and it was cold and rainy all day. I think we were all pretty tired by the end of it. But I know that for me personally, it was such an awesome, beautiful way for the greater community to come together. A lot of our neighbors who came in the morning came back again later with friends of theirs. I hope and pray that FPCH and DOOR do it again next year…and heck, maybe I’ll still be around to help out even more this time :)

So that was December 7. The next weekend my family came! I had been looking forward to that moment for so long. We were busy alllll week. We went to Reality LA (my church), a ton of restaurants that I love or wanted to try, we visited some family in Banning, CA, we went to the taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live, we toured Warner Brothers Studios, we did some shopping, they came to PATH for a ride along and to meet my co-workers, we went to the beach, the observatory, and we hung out with the kids and neighbors during community hours. I think that was my highlight: having my family, my housemates, and our neighbors all together that one night. Plus it was a big Christmas celebration, which made it a million times better!

After a week here we flew to New Jersey and spent Christmas with the extended family. That week was more relaxing. We went to some restaurants and did some shopping, but we mostly hung out at the house, which is what I love the most about going there for the holidays. All 10 of us (my grandparents, aunt, uncle, two cousins, parents, sister, and me…plus two dogs) stay in my aunt and uncle’s house; we’re all together and it’s awesome!

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Here are my cousins, Leah and Lexie, Dana and me one night before going out to dinner. Fun fact: they are my “double cousins” because my mom’s sister married my dad’s brother. AND they had a double wedding. Cool, right?

It was so sad leaving them all. We won’t be together like that until next Christmas. Let the countdown begin :) the last two weeks have been jam-packed. It feels like they were spread out over a month, yet I can’t believe they’re already over. I think about how blessed we all have been. Throughout all that time, we were healthy and safe and together. I couldn’t’ve asked for anything more. God has been so good to me and I can never thank Him enough. Here’s to many more Christmases just like this one!

Love and peace,

Tara