Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Follow Me at my New Blog

Hey Friends,

I can't thank you enough for being such faithful readers over the last few years. I have loved my time writing about Africa and what God is teaching me. With this new season in my life, I've decided to start a new blog called Whole, which is all about learning to live a wholehearted life.

Please head on over and subscribe to my new blog here to make sure you get all my recent posts and updates.

with love,

Thursday, August 07, 2014

How to Learn to be Content

Most days I don't know how to let go of fear. 

It presses heavy on my chest and claws up my throat threatening to stifle my breath with all the things that can go wrong and do go wrong. And breath is the only thing I have. In and out.

Infilling and surrender.

Sometimes the mountains don't keep the grey Marine layer out and the fog rolls in obscuring my view of the sloped horizon. Days like this I have to fight hard to remember what I'm thankful for when the myriad of test results don't come back the way I wanted or I think about the losses I've already had.

Things like MTHFR gene mutations and how they affect fertility, and can lead to miscarriage and a host of other issues, things I'm just beginning to understand, detonate like bombs into my world of delicate balance.

There are days when every post on Facebook is some new woman who is pregnant, or a picture of a girl with her three friends who are all pregnant at the same time....how serendipitous. I try not to roll my eyes. There are times when there is a preemie baby born in Uganda stuck in an ICU, battling for his life and while my team is there, I long to be there.

These are days when my experience tells me that the worst thing always happens and the things I want don't seem to work out.

I have to fight for my breath. I have to fight for my peace.

The roses on my deck died about two months ago. The petals fell to the ground, trampled and shriveled, dry from lack of water, and I thought yes, it's true, I can't keep anything alive. I wish I had gotten my grandmother's green thumb. My rose bush stood naked like that for weeks, bereft of her tangerine color. I felt sad every time I looked at her, hoping that maybe she would bloom again.

Sometimes we have to realize our worst fears, so we can be free of them. 

What if this is as good as it gets?
What if I don't have a child?
How do I learn to live here?

How do I learn to be content now, in this present moment?

In my mind's eye, I can see Jesus at that pivotal moment before his death feeling the weight of helplessness, the dream withered, the promise destroyed, the abandonment, the doubt:

"Why have you forsaken me?"
He wasn't spared the pain of that, but in it he turns to God with honest words. And then surrenders.

A kind of holy grieving. 

I'm learning something too from my research on the ancient Stoics.

This idea of negative visualization that when we contemplate the loss of things we hold dear, we can be grateful for what we have, just as a brush with death makes us aware of the gift of life. 
It might sound morbid to contemplate, but scientists say that it can actually increases levels of happiness.

I'm not quartered into a refugee camp in Syria, I did not lose my family in the Holocaust, I'm not being bombed in Israel, and I'm not being persecuted for my faith in Sudan.

There are all kinds of reasons to be grateful. 

It is not a letting go of hope, but just a letting go of my idea that I can control things.

I breathe in. I face my deepest fear. It threatens to strangle me with its grief, but as I look I realize the fear was exaggerated. I breathe out.

The reality is that I will be ok. God has been good to me through worse than this and in this present moment, I am alright. I think of my husband curled up napping with my little dog, Rosie, the two lights of my life.

There is a bud bursting forth on my rose bush, pointed like a rocket rising towards the sun. 

What matters is that I can see the good now here too.

My acupuncturist said something to me that struck me: "The same way you feel now, the same issues you struggle with before you have a baby are the same ones you will have after. The baby doesn't solve all your problems, in fact, it can amplify them."

It reminds me of something Tyson always says, "It's like Lil' Kim says, 'Who you are before you have money is the same person you will be after. If you're unhappy before, you'll be unhappy after.'"
Wise words from a rapper.

But it's true. How do I learn to be content here without the thing I want? 
How do I lean into my healing so I can live the life I long for?

Because there will always be something I want and things I cannot control. Everyone has struggles. Things they are believing for and I've learned no one is exempt. Whether it's over a job or money, a marriage, or a long wanted baby, to be healthy, or to not be crazy, we all have dreams we are contending for, and disappointments we are wrangling through. 

Just because I am trying to learn to be content doesn't mean I don't have hope.

Faith is not blind. It is not a repetition of positive sayings. 

Faith is an every moment choice to see goodness and to know that it will get better because we trust our hope will not be ashamed. 

But in the meantime, I'm going to live with eyes wide open for all the beauty that is here and now.

*If you are trying to get pregnant it's imperative that you get tested for the MTHFR genetic mutation. There is also a treatment plan on Dr. Ben Lynch's website.
Email me for more info at saritahartz@gmail.com

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What If There is Meaning in Suffering

"We seek our identities in the wake of painful experiences. We can endure great pain if we believe it is purposeful."   -Andrew Solomon-

When we don't get what we want, it throws our life into a certain amount of chaos. 

There is a deep desire to control, to force the world to bend to my will. But what if there is meaning in this suffering and like peeking over into a walled garden, perhaps I can discover a secret.

I've been trying to get pregnant for over 11 months now. There are a myriad of reasons why this is more difficult for me, but I still believe that I will be a mother. What's hard about that is not just the hope and disappointment every month, but also the fact that I'm doing most of the right things while teenagers who eat McDonald's all day are getting pregnant like it's as easy as popping tic tacs in their mouths. 

I live far away from my family and most of my friends in a one bedroom apartment where I'm constantly trying to shove more things into a single closet that resembles a haphazard thrift store. The plants I buy to put on out my porch to make me happy, keep dying. I'm longing for more of a spiritual community than I currently have. Friends, really. 

But I live in a town that it notoriously amazing for families with farmer's markets where there is face painting and pony rides and every day when I walk my dog, Rosie, in the park I see mothers pushing their toddlers on swings. 

But I haven't been initiated into the "Mommy Club" yet.  So I don't have a reason to hang out with these women or a baby's pooping habits to discuss over the see-saw. I could discuss Rosie's pooping habits but I don't think they would find that as endearing. I don't have a reason to be hanging out, leaning in to listen to these women's conversations, lest I look like an unsavory character. Worse, I don't even know if when I do meet them I'll even like them. I still want a reason to be sitting there at that bench in the park, getting splinters in my thighs.

Because I live in the in-between. I work from home running my non profit and writing a book that doesn't feel like it ever wants to end. So I have what resembles the life of a stay at home mom except that I don't have kids. But I follow their schedule. I go to exercise at Dailey Method in the morning, only I don't have to rush off to grab my children from pre-school afterwards. 

Sometimes when I walk Rosie and I'm not pushing a stroller at 11 am on a Tuesday, I feel like I don't have a right to be there. Like I'm breaking some sort of normal social protocol. I'm sure most of these women look at my life and think it's so easy. I'm sure some of them envy it. 

Only they don't know all the heartbreak. The ache of trying and failing. And sometimes I can't help but think of it as a failure on my part. My body which doesn't want to function normally, properly, to be what it's intended to be. The hole that feels more like an absence, like something has been spooned out. And all the longing. 

But aren't we all waiting for something? A spouse, a job, a house, a baby?

Then some days there's all the anger of not really understanding why. 

I said this as much to my husband the other night as we walked Rosie crunching softly on the mulch leading us through a redwood grove, the moon a fingernail sliver in the sky. Then I was crying, frustrated that becoming a mother hasn't happened for me yet. 

Lately, I've been trying to figure out what all this waiting is for, what it's trying to produce in me. 

Because I believe that if I can find purpose in the suffering than I can endure it. If I can find meaning, I can live here a little while longer, with hope expanding inside me like an inflated balloon until it's ready to burst.

I realized something the other morning. I do have choices. I can choose to see this situation either as:

1) God is holding out on me and this pain is pointless


2) God is good and there is something to be learned here

I'm still trying to figure out what that is. Sometimes when I sit out on my porch, the sun warming my face, and there is a moment of silence, a moment of connection with God, with myself, I am grateful that I have this stillness and I don't yet have another human to be responsible for.

Maybe it's so I can stop to be present and enjoy the moments I have now and be thankful for them, rather than rushing through thinking "I'll be happy when..." Because when never really comes. 

Maybe it's so faith can be built up inside me, brick by brick until it's like a shelter. Or perhaps it's because someday I'll be able to empathize more compassionately with someone going through the same experience. Maybe this is building character. 

Maybe I'm supposed to realize that I'm enough, as I am. 

Maybe it's so I can enjoy the simple weekends sleeping in with my husband, caved in under the grey comforter before a day's long hike in the sun. 

Maybe someday when I kiss the soft down of my child's head, I will appreciate that single gesture more because of what it cost to get there. 

None of these reasons make me feel much better. They feel like a one inch bandaid on a gaping wound. 

But still, I know there is meaning here. I think back to the days of hardship in Africa, days where I cried even more than I sweat, and all that I learned even though I didn't always know it at the time. 

This is where I am. This moment, now. This is my life. The bench on my porch. The gentle slope of the mountain. The breathing in and letting go. The breeze. The sweet seed crunch of a fresh strawberry. I am grateful for it. I choose to let it be enough. 

*For more on making meaning in suffering check out Storyline by Donald Miller and this Ted talk by Andrew Solomon 

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Uncelebrated Birthday

Most days I am fine.

I get up, walk RosieTheChippin, my breath exhaling in puffs in the cool morning air as the horizon blushes pink. I wait for her to go number two. I pick it up like a good neighbor. I come back, boil water for tea and make the omelet with spinach and goat cheese. I go to the gym and burn as many calories as I can on the elliptical while mouthing Katy Perry. I lift a few weights and wonder in the mirror if I'm doing it right. I come back and sit and stare at my computer and wait for the words to bubble up inside me, wait for the inspiration to hit.

I lazily fold the clothes on my bedroom floor in an effort to procrastinate. I download new apps on my iPhone. I check the weather. I water the plant I'm pretty sure might already be dead. I stalk someone on Facebook. I troll Zillow for my dream house. I think about my little loves in Uganda. I feel guilty about all those hand written cards I've been meaning to send to friends. Then I shop online at Amazon because the words are being stubborn. Some days I get 1,000 words out, only to delete half of them because I'm not sure they're any good.

I do, but I don't think about him.

Because to think about him is to stop and fall apart and most days there is no room for falling apart.

Because the words need writing, and the laundry needs doing, and the food cooking, and the emails require answers. Most days I walk around as normal as the next person. I go to REI and buy camping supplies, asking a million questions of the sales clerk about which tent is the easiest to assemble so I can prepare for spring in California. I end up spending way more money then I wanted to.

I go out to see friends at wine bars, promise I'll only stay for one and then, stay for two. I watch TV with my husband. I laugh at Ron on Parks and Recreation. I laugh. I laugh at my own corny jokes.

Most people will never know my little secret. There's some part of me always thinking of him. Wondering what he would have looked like, or if he would have had dimples like his father. Wondering if I'll ever get to be a mother again like I was for those too brief moments. Wondering why and not having any answers.

He would have been born in April. We would be celebrating his first year with a cake smashed face and dorky hats, and lots of videos for the grandparents. We would have dressed him up in a ridiculously cute outfit with a bow tie that he would have tried to squirm out of at every opportunity. There is a birthday that will never be celebrated.

I carry him like an old bullet wound, so familiar, on most days I don't remember the slight limp. Most days no one would ever know how much of my insides have been spooned out, how dark and lonely this cavern of loss.

We are really good at hiding things. 

We get angry instead of being vulnerable. We yell at bad drivers. We expect people to read our minds. We take a lot of vitamins in some kind of effort to control. We run a little too hard on the trails. We cry a little too hard at an action movie. We watch TV when we know we should be reading. We eat potato chips in bed. We make long to do lists. We stay home when we know we should call a friend. We switch tables in a restaurant when a kid is being too loud. We lie about how we're really feeling. We hate the girl in the grocery store next to us with the cute baby bump. We dress our dog up in silly little pink sweaters.

And when all that doesn't work, we swipe the snooze alarm and pull the covers over our head.

It is hard to feel. It is hard to tell the truth. It is hard to ask for what you need. It is hard to stop and think there might be someone else out there who is feeling the same way, and offer kindness, instead of retreating into the safety of our own rock of isolation.

It is hard to look into the eyes of God and let him hold you, when you don't understand why. 
Even harder to trust.

Most days I am fine. And for the days when I'm not, I'm learning to stop, be honest, feel it, ask for help, and let it go. Oh and I'm learning it's of no use to try and put on makeup.

I can cry my eyes out, swollen today. And sleep. There is always tomorrow.

(Oh, and puppies.)

**(To read more about my ectopic pregnancy go here.)

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Why I Quit My Life (And Started Over)

Last year, I didn't have any resolutions. 

After the devastating loss of my first pregnancy, saying goodbye to my Ugandan home, my dream, and the day to day management of the non-profit I'd built over the last seven years, to move from Africa to America, I think my resolution was merely "to survive."

I did this with an acute sense of lostness and an oozing red eye from pneumonia which I proceeded to get a week after leaving the Tropics. But I did choose a "theme" for the year. 2013 was the "year of health." It was my goal to become "healthy." This was more out of desperation rather than choice. I knew something was missing. 

I had begun to hate my own life. 

It had been a long road of saying yes to things that I felt I had to do, but didn't want to do, but that I was now responsible for. Sound familiar?

But I was afraid to have other people think I hated my life, so I put on a good front, like every good missionary/leader/wife/girl is supposed to do.

The fissures kept widening and every once in a while I would notice that without really paying attention, most nights I could throw back close to a bottle of wine by myself like it was a glass of water just to numb what I was feeling: mostly the burden of being completely overwhelmed, like I was drowning with an audience looking on from the shore. (A year ago I could not have admitted that.)

I wouldn't say I was depressed really, but an online questionnaire certainly seemed to think different.

When we are building something or are in service to others, looking outward, and experiencing many different levels of life's tragedies and endless emergencies, it's easy to stop focusing on ourselves or even thinking we matter in the equation because we're so focused on what everyone else needs from us.

We can get so focused on saving the world, that we often forget we need saving too. 

In the developing world people have lots of needs. Which is almost a disastrously perfect combination for the person who wants to meet needs. (like most missionaries/do gooders)

The being needed part in a sense became it's own reward, gratifying proof to the world that I was in fact, necessary.

Even in my time alone or with God, it was difficult to be present or connect because of all the ways I'd become separated and fragmented from myself because I had to in order to fulfill all the roles I felt responsible for.

My quiet moments were filled with desperation and a long list of things I needed: Money. Volunteers. More hours in the day.

In the beginning I had no idea how unhealthy I actually was. It was easy to make excuses for my constant sicknesses, or the feeling of being overwhelmed all the time, or my own ego's desire for a pat on the back, because I didn't feel I had any choices---people needed me and I couldn't let them down.

I couldn't see how I could stop. The show must go on.

It was easy for me to focus on our society's outward misrepresentation of success---changing the world, building a thriving ministry/business, becoming well-known and well-liked, rather than the true success of internal peace, whole-heartedness, and alignment with one's self.

When I tried to contemplate if God wanted me living my life this way--depleted, exhausted, anxious, overwhelmed, sad, angry, and feeling alone and abandoned--I chalked it up to the fact that ministry, and especially missions, requires sacrifice and that denial of myself, and my heart, and a life I actually wanted to live, was worth the price.

But all the wonder had gone out of my life.

I had neglected my spirit and my soul because I had stopped listening to them, had ignored what they needed.

I had told them to shut up and tossed them aside like an illegitimate child. 

There was a part of me that knew it wasn't supposed to be like this, that God hadn't designed me for this, but I didn't know how to change it. I was too afraid of the albatross,

"What will people think?" and "I don't want to let anyone down."

Instead, I would sit out on my little deck and cry out to God, "help." Expecting him to fix things and magically send people, without realizing that maybe it was up to me to make choices to fix things.

The breaking point for me came after a series of events which I now see as Divine Providence.

First, I did a course called Storyline by Donald Miller and realized that if I was truly honest, there was no way for me to meet my goals by the way I was currently running my life. I was constantly feeling like a failure because what I was asking of myself simply wasn't accomplishable in the time given to us every week on this planet. It was in fact, impossible.

And I wasn't actually getting to do the parts I loved. 

Secondly, I went to see an incredibly awesome, fearless, leadership coach who pretty much told me like it was. She taught me to listen to myself, and understand my personality type and what were healthy and unhealthy choices for me.

Thirdly, as part of an exercise with her, I emailed a bunch of friends a questionnaire to fill out about what they saw me doing when I was most happy. Another brave soul had the courage to say something which literally rocked my world:

"The truth is, I haven't seen you happy for a long time."

Ouch. Ok, so if that's not an invitation to change your life, I don't know what is. 

These "Ah Ha" moments were compounded by the fact that around that time we discovered I had fertility problems and that if I wanted to get pregnant I was going to have to radically de-stress my life and make myself a priority.

This felt wrong and selfish. And not very....Christian-like.

Lastly, I stumbled upon Brene` Brown's stunning book, The Gifts of Imperfection which sent me on a journey of self-compassion, and exploration of play and rest.

I knew choices had to be made. 

But I didn't want to make them. I felt trapped by the very net I had woven myself: people depended on me. It took lots of prayer, sobbing hysterically, some seriously gut-wrenching conversations, and several temper tantrums, but I knew the truth inside me, the truth I couldn't ignore.

I had to stop. 

Elizabeth Gilbert said,

"Everything good I've ever gotten in life, I only got because I gave something else up."

And I know this to be true.
It was not easy, this surrender to my truth.
It will almost always be the hardest thing you've had to do.

But somehow, slowly, I decided to say no. I decided to go part-time with my ministry, speak less, travel less, and gradually transition programs to a more manageable level, and those that I couldn't, I transitioned into the hands of other people who could do it better than me. And I stopped answering every email. Sorry.

In this whole culture of "Leaning In," I am finally putting my feet up and leaning back. I'm listening to myself, and in there somewhere, I find I'm listening to God too. And it feels good.

I'm learning if we don't take care of our soul, our spirit and our body, then we are not truly following God's commandment to love our neighbor "as we love ourselves." Sometimes we forget that last part.

The world can only change when we change. 

Several months in, I feel like a completely different person.

There are lots of trail runs and long walks, days reading by the pool, unhurried talks with God, writing the book that I've always wanted to write, dreaming about someday helping other leaders learn the lessons I've learned hopefully less painfully, and more time spent with my husband. And sure, maybe some people judge me.

But you know what?
I'm happy. I'm at peace within myself. And because of that, I have more to give.

Through rest, my creativity is resurfacing. 

But for now, I'm learning to steward it with the Divine being my only reference point of approval.

These days, there are other questions like, "Am I doing enough?" and other temptations to become busy again to feel more useful. But I hush them and tuck them away under the cover of this new peace.

This year, I did make resolutions and one of them was to put roots down in my own soil to see what would come up and flourish.

And it has made all the difference.

Friday, November 15, 2013

How to become hopeful

Hope starts small. 

Like a thin winged bird unfurling from its nest for the first time.

I’m learning there is some kind of secret in this brokenness, something sacred to follow winding down the cave walls towards a halo in the distance.

Something to be learned here. About life. About myself.

In the breathing in and letting go. In the exhale.

There is no short cut to happiness.

You have to wake up.

You have to do something every day that makes you happy. 

And perhaps scares you.

Trying out that new trail on your own. Going to a dance class. Calling a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Beginning the words of that book.

Writing someone a loving note even though they might not return it. 

Praying in that one spot of sunlight.
Choosing to have faith today instead of despair.
Forcing yourself to go outside and breathe in fresh air.


Letting yourself believe in goodness again.

And eventually, one day you realize you are more happy then sad, and there is still a big wide world to be lived out there, whether or not you have the thing you so desperately want. 

Today in San Francisco there is a little 5 year old boy who has been fighting leukemia since he was 20 months old. He is finally in remission and his dream was to become Batman for a day. So through MakeAWish foundation, the city of San Francisco has turned itself into Gotham, and this little boy will live out his dream of rescuing a damsel in distress. Over 12,000 people volunteered to help out.

Perhaps that hope that he would someday wear a cape costume is what kept him alive, perhaps it was the faith of his parents that he would recover.

I know it cost them, to believe, in the face of such raw truth as their little son’s hair falling out.

What this says to me is we want to hope.

We want to fight against that dark wave that meets us in the morning with the reality of our circumstance. 

We want to believe in goodness. And we can.

We want to believe dreams do come true.

And they do.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

When grieving is the only way through

When I hold the baby and realize that it isn’t mine and I am not sure I will ever clasp feet that tiny in my hands, there is a small part of me that wants to walk to a building’s edge and simply step off and feel the fluttering of air before nothing else.

It feels so similar, so close to another time when I lost everything and it is the familiarity that frightens me because it was a dream that died, never realized.

Sometimes I feel what others might call me crazy for, these thoughts that tumble over each other so loud that it’s hard to hear anything else.

Memory doesn’t need the right circumstance.

Memory is wanton with her pictures and her moods and all that ancient fear piles high, like dusty remnants of grey children’s shoes at the holocaust museum, signaling a warning. 

It’s hard not to believe that old lie that sounds like truth:

you will never get what you want. 

This bloodthirsty language that never seems satisfied.

This one red line from another negative pregnancy test is blurring.

The longing doesn't seem worth it because while you might know God is good, there have been times when He has seemed unbelievably cruel. There are moments when I don’t know how to hold both equally in my hands.

I don’t know how to live with hope, leaning bravely into that bright light, while all this world threatens to drag me back into darkness, where the sorrow of so many unmet dreams lie waiting to lay hold of me.

What else will I be asked to lose, what else must be sacrificed, what else must be learned or taught and what will make Him salvage me from all this wreckage?

Where does the hope go? Where does it find breath to live when everything dies inside me?

This grief, it isolates.

Who can understand the fury of a thousand nights shrouded in darkness which fill every space where there once used to beat a heart. 

Who can absorb all that emotion, and anger, and pain that wails and howls in a stormy embrace. Who can live through my despair? They will be crushed under the heaviness of it. I absorb this lonely silence until I can’t stand it anymore.

There are some deaths that cannot be explained away. 

There is only the weeping, and the clutching for the answers that may never come. There is only emptying myself out, telling God about all this war inside me, hoping eventually it will carve out some still space for joy to live.

I go walking out into the fall’s yellow leaves, flaring their last color. I try to remember there is a sliver of peace in the world, if I can just fight to grasp it.

It is such a slippery dance, this holding on and this letting go, this rhythm of every day surrender that I have no control.

I walk past a wooden fence with magnetic poetry art the neighbors have left out with permission to move, and in the midst of all this mundane, there are all these words making music:

feed mystery
expect nothing
find the truth
possible on earth…

fantastic miracles.

The Creator of all this beauty still knows what I need.

Everywhere the trees are spilling their leaves making way for some new dream. 

I pick up one leaf and let it fall to the ground, feeling vulnerable, feeling found.