A year ago, I was on my way to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with a remarkable group of folks to support our friends who run the non-profit One Love. I remember our crew piled together in a white van as we drove on a mountain road up Mount Entoto. The beauty of this area was etched not only into the landscape, but into the faces of the people who lived there as well. We pulled over at one point and spent some time with a group of kids that were on the side of the road. We handed out Ring Pops and granola bars. Kids shrieked with joy. We laughed, talked with them, exchanged smiles, and then jumped back in the car to continue our ascent. What we saw next on this mountain road, however, was something that looked unbearable and something that brought several in the group to tears. Women, some who looked like they were in their 60s and much older, were carrying gigantic bundles of fuelwood branches on their backs. They used cloth, or whatever they could find, to make a harness to hold this great amount of lumber. Some of the branches were longer than the length of our van. They looked like they were carrying 20 small trees with their tiny bodies.
These women. These tiny women carried loads that rivaled both their stature and their size. These women who looked like grandmothers were carrying loads that most athletic college football players would find a struggle. These hardworking women walked up the mountain road multiple times a day to carry a load—a load that would break my back—back down to the city to earn whatever they could. Sometimes that would amount to $3.00 a day. Sometimes less. When I got home, I read more about these women online and discovered that the story gets worse. The women pull the trees up with their bare hands in the heat of the day, often getting hurt. And some of the women even face the horror of being beaten or raped as they collect the fuelwood. These women were doing whatever they had to do in order to provide for their children. I don’t know why we didn’t jump out of the van and try to help them carry their load. I don’t know what those women would have done. If we had gone up to a woman and tried to help her… Would she have been terrified we were going to steal the bundle from her? Would she have gotten in trouble if her buyer saw us carrying her load for her? Would she have refused help because she had her routine and this is just how she does it? I’ll never know what would have happened because I didn’t get out of the van. I didn’t walk next to her and help her bare the impossible weight of the fuelwood. I didn’t feel the branches on my back. Instead, I stared at her carrying her load through my van window—I felt compassion but I took no action.
It’s now October of 2018. A whole year has passed. It’s a normal Sunday in Hale home. Erin is an hour away guiding a fly fishing trip for the day and the kids and I decided to take it easy, skip church, and just have a leisurely breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast. We needed (okay, I confess… I needed) a day at home to recharge and rest and play and have no structure. School and activities are in full session and life for us is moving at a quick pace—like it is for most American families. My two older kids were in great moods, happily playing in their rooms all morning. Four-month-old Bodie, our new addition, was happy and giggly on his activity mat. All was right with the world.
Hours passed and as the morning turned to the afternoon, I started to feel this sense of creeping loneliness. At first I dismissed it and did what any normal mom would do, I picked up my phone and looked at Instagram for about ten minutes. Looked at folks going for family hikes in the fall foliage. Looked at folks traveling together to the beach—glasses clanging in cheers on their Insta-Story. Yep, you know that didn’t help. I felt a pang of loneliness. What the heck?
I moved on, deciding to fold the mountain of laundry that taunts me every day. And I was even so bold as to put it away instead of letting it sit folded in a basket in the laundry room for the next five months! I feel as if my laundry room operates more as a dresser than a wash and dry zone. Relate? On average, clothes can live here for close to 30 days—something I’m not proud of. Okay… clothes are put away. Now onto the kitchen and trying to make our countertop look smooth and shiny instead of a overwhelming mess. Just kidding, I’m simply trying to see what my countertop looks like since every speck of it is covered with something from dishes to baby wipes. Okay… kitchen is clean. Going to go check on the littles. Kids are watching Disney’s “Zombies” for the fiftieth time this year and Bodie is peacefully napping in his swing. Another pang of loneliness. Okay, why am I feeling lonely? I push the feeling away and view it as a sign of being tired or just feeling mentally “off.” No, I DO feel lonely. Loneliness followed me around today and now it’s just sitting here on the couch with me!
I’m realizing that I miss my husband today. We’ve been passing ships in the night for a few weeks as the guide season for fly fishing has ramped up and I’m back at work after spending 12 glorious weeks at home on maternity leave. My dear friend, Megan, calls and I love her phone calls. She just checks in periodically and I love her calls because I don’t have many phone conversations these days since most folks text. It’s a treat to hear a voice on the other end of the line and on average, it takes she and I about five seconds to cut the crap and talk about what’s really going on and how we’re really doing. I shared with her this feeling of loneliness. She encouraged me to pay attention to it, not to shove it away or think it was unimportant. I said to her out loud, “I feel like I’m getting ready to carry my knapsack.” “Knapsack? Like the old school cartoons where they have a red handkerchief tied onto a stick and they hitchhike?” “Yes,” I respond. “My knapsack, my load. The load I will carry while Erin is gone for weeks at a time fly fishing on the Dream Stream and I’m managing work life, home life as a mother, and school stuff for the kids.” While my physical load is absolutely nothing compared to those mighty women I saw on the mountain road in Ethiopia, my mental load can feel overwhelming at times.
My loneliness was, in essence, a reaction to my present (and future) situation for me this fall. I don’t want to ignore what the loneliness is trying to tell me because the broken places in me need to be dealt with, but I also don’t want the loneliness to overshadow every day in this season. These moments of loneliness offer me several different mental streets to travel down. I can feel sorry for myself. I can feel frustrated that my life looks like this in certain seasons of the year when Erin’s schedule takes him far away from us. I can try to numb it out with activity and pretend it’s not there. Or… I can invite God into those spaces, places, and moments where I feel alone. I can wash the dishes and as I’m pouring Mrs. Meyer’s pumpkin scented soap in the sink, I can ask Him to be with me. I can nurse Bodie in our bed before turning in and instead of numbing out to another Netflix show, I can invite Him to join me in the last hour of my day and tell Him how I’m feeling. I can ask Him to join me as I drive a fussy Bodie in the car, praying for him to fall asleep so I can have some peace and quiet, as we dash to Target yet again. I can sit in silence on the couch and ask Him to speak to me as a friend.
He is always there to step out of the van and meet me face to face. His compassion towards me never changes and it’s not enough for God to watch me through the window. He is the reacher. He reaches out into my loneliness and tells me that I’m not alone. He reaches into my mother heart and tells me that I’m doing just fine when I’m stressed and feeling like a crappy mom when my daughter needs extra help from the school with reading and math. He reaches into my work life when I’m discharging a homeless pregnant girl and I’m marveling at her tiny hands in mine as I take out her IV and I’m wondering what will happen to her. Her little hands are the hands of a daughter, they remind me of my precious daughter, Evie, and how I would be so broken if she was in this situation. I feel helpless to help this young mom and yet, He reaches in and says He can help her. When I’m staring at my reflection in the mirror and feeling unattractive as I pick apart my appearance, He reaches in and tells me, You’re Mine! He reaches in and tells me I have something worth saying as I’m typing this in our unfinished storage room while listening to Lauren Daigle’s new album on repeat from my phone. He reaches in, lifts my chin, and tells me to look around when He’s wanting me to see and reach out to the women around me that are carrying a variety of heavy loads. He reaches in and says, Do you see her? She’s feeling that way too, Adge. It’s time to stop staring from afar and step close and start lifting her up. I’m praying as you read this, you will watch God step out towards you. Watch Him reach out and meet you where you are, today, right now, with the load you are carrying in that brilliant heart and mind and soul of yours.
Colorado Springs, CO
Adge is an adventurer by heart, climbing 14ers (mountains over 14,000 ft high) and simply being in the wilderness refills her cup. She married a man who shares that passion with her, Erin, and together they have three children, Everleigh, Finnley, and Bodie. Adge has a huge heart for women. She works as a labor & delivery nurse, loves one-on-one conversations, and lattes with intricate foam designs!