It is Well: An Interview with Tara Penn

Tara Penn has found hope and a renewed sense of purpose at Willow Creek.
This sign was one of the pivotal "Only God" moments that helped lead Tara back to God.
Tara is deeply committed to serving as part of the guest connections team at Willow Creek.
Even though her journey has been tough at times, Tara says that she is grateful beyond words.

Tara greeted me at Dr. B’s with a huge, warm smile on her face. After we got coffee and exchanged pleasantries, we settled into our seats by the fire and I began our time together the way I begin most interviews: “So, tell me your story.” Prepared, she pulled out her iPad and opened a document, one which she’d carefully pored over as she put into writing the events of her life—some hard, but all meaningful.

Tara was raised Catholic, but struggled with her faith starting in her early 20s. She’d been let down by people close to her, including people in the church, so she left both the church and God behind.

But, two years ago, something changed. “I knew I wanted something in my life, but I didn’t know what,” she said. That December, she visited her family in Michigan with her seven-year-old son, Tallen. Her brother and sister-in-law invited them to their local church, which happened to be a part of the Willow Creek Association. “At that Christmas service, surrounded by my loved ones, the songs being sung went straight through to my heart. I wept through most of the service. My heart hurt and felt so empty and I didn’t know why.” That night, her husband called to check on her, as he was still working back in Illinois. He told her he felt like he needed to go to church, and wondered if she’d be interested in trying Willow Creek, a church that his friend attended and invited him to. For Tara, this conversation was an “Only God” moment, as she hadn’t yet told her husband about her yearning for something more.

Shortly after their conversation, Tara went shopping. In the aisle of one of the stores was a sign that read: “It Is Well With My Soul.” Tara couldn’t leave without buying the sign. “I wasn’t sure why, but I had to have it.” A few days later, Tara attended a play that was put on by a Christian theater company. The play told the story of Horatio Spafford and Phillip Bliss, two men who penned and composed the hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.” Tara became emotional in the theater and knew that someone was trying to get her attention. Little did she know, that “someone” was God.

In January of 2016, Tara and her family began attending Midweek. Her husband went to Alpha, Tallen went to Awana, and she stayed in service. Their first night attending, Tara sat in the balcony, feeling out of place due to how large Willow was. “I stood there as the worship team started to sing and, wouldn’t you know it? The song they sang was ‘It Is Well.’ And I was wrecked.”

Tara and her family continued attending Midweek, and then Sunday mornings as well. As time passed, Tara and her husband ended up working on their marriage in Restore, and Tara got connected to a meaningful community as a part of a Working Women’s Bible study due to a chance encounter and invitation in Dr. B’s, not far from where we were seated.

Eventually, Tara and her husband started attending Financial Peace University as a next step. However, during that time, Tara’s relationship with her husband came to and end, and Tara found herself facing single motherhood. “I was devastated. I went to FPU one night and there was one other single mom at my table. I asked if we could be partners and she agreed. She and I became fast friends. God placed her in my life for a reason. She has been a remarkable source of strength and support and advice to me as I navigate this new chapter in my life.”

In the past few months, Tara found a new job that she absolutely loves and says that she’s grown so much over the past two years. “I’ve grown in maturity, grown in my mothering, grown in my faith in immeasurable ways. I know that I’m surrounded by God’s love and care, and can feel Him and hear him.” Even though her journey has been tough at times, Tara says that she’s grateful beyond words. And out of this place of gratitude, Tara has been serving as a part of Willow’s Guest Connections team, including during the past week’s Christmas services.

Her renewed journey in faith all began around Christmastime.

All really is well with her soul.

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