Today, Tara speaks to us about how God’s plans are better than ours, how suffering exposes where our trust is and her study of the role of femininity.
Tell us a bit about how you grew up and your childhood: I’m the oldest of four children and have three younger brothers. My parents adopted “free-range parenting” before the term existed so much of my childhood consisted of playing outdoors in our small cul-de-sac neighborhood about an hour north of Houston, Texas. A Judeo-Christian worldview had been a part of my familial history for generations, so virtues such as selflessness, respect and a strong work ethic were modeled for my siblings and myself from a very young age.
Inspiring biblical passage of the moment: My perspective on Genesis 29 (the story of Jacob marrying Rachel and Leah) has been lately shifted in a powerful way. Until very recently, this story was meaningful to me because of it’s strong romantic tones. My Western-influenced mind would read this ancient love story and imagine myself as Rachel, naturally. Jacob’s relentless pursuit of Rachel was tantalizing and made me dream of the day I would be the Rachel of my own story.
It dawned on me recently though, that Rachel is not the sister I actually want my life to emulate. While Leah was undesirable and not valuable to Jacob, God used this weakness to create the foundation for an even more beautiful story. A better romance, you could say. I’ve felt like Leah quite often in the last few years. When I interact with men, I’m tempted by thoughts like, “If I act more like this, maybe he will want to be with me” or “Why am I not as beautiful as the competition?” I’ve been so encouraged that the Lord sees those of us who feel undesirable and unwanted. Like Leah, if we will yet “praise the Lord” in these moments, rather than chase after the fleeting pleasures of affirmation and love from men, he will write for us an even better story than we could’ve imagined.
Spiritual growth focus at the moment: Right now, I’m going through a recovery program at my church called ReGeneration. My recovery is focused on my most habitual sin struggles which include seeking control and having a fear of the future and a fear of rejection. I came to a decision to seek healing after a year of confessing various shortcomings to my small group at church and realizing that I often want to be independent of God’s will in my life and would much rather have God just approve of my perfectly crafted plans.
I think if I design plans that are good, God won’t deny my requests. When He does deny my requests, I fall into despair and doubt His goodness. It’s been humbling and healing to learn to deepen my dependence on God, who is far greater and more powerful than I knew Him to be.
Profession: I’m a behavior analyst. My training and experience is mostly in working with children who have autism or other developmental disabilities which inhibits their ability to communicate, understand language and adapt to social situations. I currently work for a school district in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, where I evaluate children who display problem behavior in the classroom and need additional services or interventions to help them be successful at school. I’m very passionate about what I do and am blessed that God rejected my previous career plans so I could do this instead. I would’ve never discovered this career had I not hit rock bottom chasing after another dream that I thought was “perfect” for me. God’s plans were bigger and better than anything I would’ve created for myself.
“God’s plans were bigger and better than anything I would’ve created for myself.”
If you wrote a memoir, what would the title be? Freed from My Illusions: Lessons Learned When I Didn’t Get What I Wanted
When I look back on my life, it’s easy to see how when God denied me what I wanted; He had something better in store. In the moment though, I’m often tempted towards believing the illusion of thinking my plans were perfect. I couldn’t see the bigger picture and I was blinded by my limited human knowledge and control.
I know someday I will look back and have even more examples of how God freed me from the illusions my pride created and revealed how His plans were perfect and without flaw.
When did you first encounter God and how did you encounter Him? God was woven into my upbringing with constancy from a young age. I learned about God before I knew God personally in that I was taught Christian ethics before I actually trusted Christ and had the Holy Spirit guiding me and convicting me of sin. As I grew older, I began to realize that while I was able to be well-behaved, that wasn’t going to solve the dilemma I had going on in my heart. As a nine year old, I began to lay awake at night thinking about Jesus and God and hell and other spiritual concepts I didn’t understand completely. What I did understand was that in order to be a follower of Jesus and be with Him forever, I had to make a decision, and I later prayed to trust Christ for salvation. Spirituality is such a difficult concept for a child, but my child-like faith was evidence of the Lord’s pursuit of me and his grace in saving me at a young age.
“As I grew older, I began to realize that while I was able to be well-behaved, that wasn’t going to solve the dilemma I had going on in my heart.”
How has your relationship with Him changed you? My relationship with Christ has been more of a cross-country race rather than a sprint. I’ve grown slowly over the years and mostly through failing at things or being rejected from things I wanted. I could give countless examples of instances where my athleticism, intelligence or beauty was not enough and I experienced failure and rejection. It has been a constant and faithful teacher throughout my life as it’s shown me my pride and utter need for Christ’s provision. If anyone were to compliment me on any aspect of my character I would probably owe it in some way to these humbling experiences.
Another one of the most striking ways a relationship with God has changed me is in regards to my arrogant way of speaking to others. When I was a teenager and college student, I was often tempted towards being self-righteous and thinking I knew more than other people. I had a sharp tongue and got an adrenaline rush from winning arguments regarding faith and politics. I thought that if I was witty enough, I could silence anyone. God has broken me and convicted me of that mindset in the last 10 years and given me many opportunities to practice humility and being “slow to speak.” I’ve changed in that I tend to ask questions more when I’m in these kinds of discussions and not feeling like my voice needs to be heard. I still struggle to be “quick to speak” but I’ve seen so much growth in this area over the years. Praise God!
What has helped you grow spiritually in this season? As an independent person, it took a time of suffering and sorrow in this season for me to realize the beauty of depending on community. I’ve had great community for years, but while I enjoyed them, I didn’t need them. I would ask their advice and then would take it into consideration while always giving myself an excuse for why I should do things my way instead. It was brought to my attention that my pattern of thinking led me to actions that I regretted or hated myself for later on. I thought that I knew what was best when in reality I was short sighted and needed to rely more on the people God had specifically placed in my life to support me. After seeing how their council kept me from harm and their encouragement lifted my spirits, I recognized I had been ignoring a means that God provided to show me he loved me.
For me to grow spiritually this season, I had to trust my community and allow their counsel to guide me rather than depending solely on my own wisdom and knowledge. I really learned to live out Proverbs 15:22 which says, “Plans fail for lack of council, but with many advisors they succeed.” I wish I could speak to any person who struggles to live in isolation and tell them, “You think your healing is going to come from a lack of exposure but in reality exposure is the exact gateway God uses to show you an infinitely greater sense of freedom and joy.”
Just read/currently reading (and what has it taught you?): I’m currently reading a passage from The Valley of Vision every day, and the words of these Puritans have been life-giving to me. I’m convicted of my materialism, my low view of God and my reliance on self when I read the words of a people who were completely dependent upon their sovereign God. I want to hate my sin more after reading these beautiful prayers.
I also recently finished Suffering by Paul David Tripp. I came to this book needing a balm of healing for my hurting soul after I was denied a relationship that I thought was going to be really good for me. I had a warped view of suffering and was really frustrated that God didn’t seem to want to protect me from pain. I also didn’t realize that while my sadness was valid, my suffering exposed where I had placed my trust. Tripp says of his own suffering, “It was humbling to confess that what I thought was faith was actually self-reliance.” I resonate with that so much and have been immensely encouraged by the rest of what he has to say in this book.
“I also didn’t realize that while my sadness was valid, my suffering exposed where I had placed my trust.”
Top three essentials: If I had to narrow it down, I would pick moisturizer, Chapstick and floss.
How did God speak to you recently? A lot of my frustration in life right now has to do with dating. As a single person, I’m always in this weird dichotomy of wanting to wait on God’s timing and be content but feel conviction to “put myself out there” and meet people as well. If I could describe dating as a 30-year-old Christian into one word I would say: tiring. The struggle is real! I listened to a podcast recently that reminded me that the Bible was the first book to use the word “brokenhearted.”
Sometimes, my pride lies to me and says emotional pain isn’t real pain but God says the opposite. He says He is both “close to the brokenhearted” and “heals the brokenhearted.” God has been exposing the lies I tell myself about how He sees me and what the Gospel means for my everyday experiences as a struggling human being.
“I listened to a podcast recently that reminded me that the Bible was the first book to use the word ‘brokenhearted.'”
Hobby: I love to spend time alone in nature. As an introvert, nothing makes my spirits soar higher than to be on a walk in the woods, maybe with a good book or podcast to keep me company. I also love to have good conversations (over coffee or a beer!) about people’s life experiences and how that’s affected their choices, beliefs, etc.
Top three practical tips for staying spiritually strong:
1. Establish a daily habit of reading the Bible;
2. Allow a small group of trustworthy people to fully know you and have a relationship that allows for rebuke and accountability; and
3. Share your story of how Jesus changed your life with others as often as possible. Anytime I experience intellectual doubt and am able to share my testimony or have a good conversation about Jesus, I’m strengthened immensely.
Favorite person in scripture? I mentioned this earlier, but Leah is one of my favorite characters because she learns what is important. She first puts her hope in a desire for love from Jacob but eventually realizes that her sole satisfaction in life will only come when she adopts a posture of gratitude towards the Lord and experiences the joy of being a part of his bigger plan for her life.
What do you want people to learn about God when they look at you? God has made me someone who loves to figure out why people do what they do. To my detriment at times, I’m always curious about people. I hope when people experience that side of me that it reminds them that God’s goodness and love is often felt by showing interest in others and wondering what makes them unique. I hope that when people encounter me they feel seen and understood, which is how God makes me feel when I come to Him as His child and share with Him the cares of my heart.
“I hope that when people encounter me they feel seen and understood, which is how God makes me feel when I come to Him as His child and share with Him the cares of my heart.”
How do you engage with your community? I live in Dallas, Texas, which is a pretty diverse city. While still being the “buckle of the Bible belt,” there are representatives from hundreds of people groups, races, socio economic statuses and religious affiliations. In my work, I love to engage with parents and students by doing my job in a way that shows everyone dignity and respect. Often, when parents have children who misbehave to extreme levels, there has been trauma in the home to some extent. I’m exposed to various ways I can support them by simply going to work every day. I also love a local mentoring organization I’m a part of. I have an 11 year old “mentee” that I’ve mentored for 3 years now. She and I are polar opposite personalities (meaning she’s way more fun than me!), but I’ve been disciplined and changed by seeing the world through her eyes.
“I’ve been disciplined and changed by seeing the world through her eyes.”
Favorite holiday? Christmas. I love the anticipation and traditions associated with it like celebrating Advent, buying gifts for my family and all the nostalgic décor.
A goal you have? A small goal I set during quarantine was to lengthen the distance I could run. I’m making progress and am impressed I haven’t given up yet, honestly!
A more long term goal I have is to be a foster parent and open my home to children who are hard to place due to their behavioral issues. Since I have such a unique work background, I’m praying he will use the special training and confidence I have with struggling children to bring healing and hope.
A special tradition you and your family engage in or keep: One of my favorite traditions that my Mom does with our family every year is a celebration for Passover. She has done a ton of research to teach my siblings and I why this Jewish holiday is significant for us as followers of Jesus. I believe every Christian should have a knowledge of Passover and the hope it brings us as a people who know the Messiah has already arrived!
“I believe every Christian should have a knowledge of Passover and the hope it brings us as a people who know the Messiah has already arrived!”
Question you will ask when you get to heaven? As an Enneagram 5, there are so many questions I have about how things work in the universe that I want to ask God. I cannot wait to ask Him about how the universe goes on infinitely, how time works, etc. I’m also very curious about the beginning of the world, how it looked and how it differed from how the world looks today.
Thing you want to raise awareness about: I’m really passionate about having conversations on what it means to be a godly woman and the role of women in society. For years I’ve struggled to identify with and reconcile the church’s view of femininity and our culture’s promotion of feminism. I love conversations that help expand on and poke holes in the world’s definition of “empowerment.” Elisabeth Elliot has been a huge mentor for me in this area. Her work rightly praises the uniqueness of women but also kindly sheds light on how we are different than our male counterparts. If we have the mindset of being “just like men” we will exhaust ourselves and reject our God-given uniqueness.
“For years I’ve struggled to identify with and reconcile the church’s view of femininity and our culture’s promotion of feminism.”
What does your morning routine consist of? I’m very routine-oriented. After I wake up, I immediately open my shades and start my coffeemaker. I take a vitamin, wash my face and then read my Bible and pray, before I get ready for the day.
Define Christianity in a sentence: The Creator of the heavens and earth died for the sins of the world, so man could be freely forgiven and reconciled in this life and the life to come.
A note from Tara:
You can find my weird and quirky sense of humor and glimpses of daily life on my Instagram: @taraebeth.
Until next time, keep witnessing!