I was reading a book. A really good, insightful, helpful book. I was eating it up. I couldn’t wait for the next chapter…it was something about limitations, and I thought, “Heck yes, this one’s for me! Yes, tell me how to deal with limitations.” Disappointed does not even begin to describe my feelings. The author described her limitation which was essentially that she was chatty and it got her into trouble sometimes. I couldn’t even pick the book back up I was so angry. It wasn’t until I tried to talk about it at my book club that I realized just how intense those feelings were. I sobbed. Straight sobbed. And practically yelled at my friends through hot tears. I was so angry. “That’s not a limitation! Let me tell you about limitations!”
I went on to describe the needs of two of my children, children with life long disabilities; limitations that were never ever going away. They will always function with those limitations, until their very last breath. I described the loss that inevitably stays by your side with shared custody. Limitations in when and how I spend all of my time with my children; how I parent them, how our family and marriage function as a whole. Limitations that will be our reality until we are done raising them and even into adulthood. Limitations that were never, ever going to pass. Limitations we had no control over.
My patient book club gals just listened. They let me cry. They let me be angry. They let me grieve the loss of things that would never be for me and my children. They did exactly what I needed. And then, gently, they told me that if I had just kept reading instead of throwing the book down in anger, I would have discovered that the next topic was about a child with the exact limitation as one of mine. Deep breath.
I took a few lessons away from the whole experience:
1. I had an expectation when I read a title about limitations. I thought I was going to get some help I desperately needed and I didn’t. It wasn’t that what the author had to say wasn’t valuable, it’s just that it wasn’t really for me [at] that time, in the struggle I was having. Sometimes we look for help in the wrong places or expect encouragement to come from someone or somewhere that really isn’t set up for the thing we are dealing with. I directed my anger at the author, but really it just highlighted the fact that I was deeply angry about some of the cards life had dealt. Not all “helpful” people, books, or quotes are going to fit my situation or my need and that’s ok. It might fit someone else’s. I can be confident that some advice is not for me in this and move on to something that is. They don’t (necessarily) deserve the weight of all my anger.
2. Not all hard things are equal. Some pass and some don’t. Some just change and look different down the road. Some we have control over and some we don’t. Some of our family’s limitations will pass but then they just roll right into new ones. Sure my kids with extra needs have made progress and we aren’t dealing with the same hard things we were a few years ago. Now we are dealing with new hard things as their limitations change with their ages and development. We just can’t compare our hard things to someone else’s. Cut yourself some slack if it looks like someone else is sailing through what you are drowning in. Our hard things are not the same and we are not the same in our hard things. Everyone will experience them differently and react differently. That’s okay.
3. Grieve. My grief may have spilled out where it didn’t really belong but it needed to be given a voice and that just happened to be where I found it. Find that person (or people) who will catch your heart when it spills over and gracefully let you grieve. This piece has been vital for me in accepting that some things will not pass for me, for us. I had to (and still do at times) acknowledge the loss I felt, be angry about it, and tell someone who would sit with me in my mess. Then I could wipe my tears, stand up, and face the limitations; learn to live with them and even be thankful IN them. Read a Psalm and you’ll see the pattern…David pours out his heart, his grief, his anger, and after he’s able to roll into thankfulness, despite the hard situation that remains.
Some hard things don’t leave us in this lifetime and that’s just never easy. There is no simple answer. Living with it and grieving through it is how we learn and how we grow. And then our muscles get a little stronger and the weight of those things feels a little lighter. Hold your expectations carefully, try not to compare, and let someone help you carry the weight of your grief. It will get lighter. You will get stronger. You will find life in the limitations, even when they don’t pass.