What does it mean to be limited AND limitless?
I was recently asked this question in an interview and it’s got me thinking…
I know what it means to be limited.
Eighth grade marching band…why did I even ever attempt that? My peers asked me every day to quit. I still remember seeing my mother’s compassionate face in the crowd as I attempted to march down the street while carrying the bells, simultaneously struggling to keep my oversized sunglasses on my face. When the season was over, I didn’t just quit marching, I quit band altogether.
I remember trying to run a 5K in July 2014. I trained for 18 weeks leading up to the race and during that time I dealt with pain, inflammation, and the tangled challenge that is cerebral palsy. There were days where I swore my legs got together, voted to strike, but neglected to inform my will or my determination. I would get ready to run around the track and my body hardly wanted to move. By the time the race came, I could only jog the first mile before I ran out of gas and finished walking the rest of the way.
And then there was the time, just over a year ago, when I had an appointment at Gillette. I spent hours discussing the minutiae of my disability with various medical professionals. If I wasn’t sad coming in the door, I was certainly deflated on my way out. I didn’t cry though until my mom dropped me off at home and saw what a crazy mess my house was. I had been hiding the fact that I really didn’t have the energy to clean my floors, AND teach, AND get a doctorate, AND maintain friendships. I clutched my mother, buried my face into her chest, and cried.
Limitations are often seen as hurdles and people, especially those with disabilities, are considered successful if they can somehow overcome them.
I don’t see limitations as hurdles and success for me is not about doing the impossible.
Limitations for me are boundaries, and success is about learning how to live well within them. Life is more than a race, it is a classroom. When I let my limitations teach me, when I slow down long enough to appreciate challenges from all angles, that’s when I’ve truly experienced transcendence.
Fatigue has been the bane of my existence. There have been moments when I wish I could shed my tired body like the robe that it is, letting it lie on the floor in a heap while it recovers so my spirit can go about its business, free from its container. Fatigue has defined how I spend much of my time, it has limited opportunities I’ve had in life, and made me ask some dark questions about my potential when I can’t find the energy to get off the couch. But fatigue has also taught me the value of rest, helped me to unwrap the gift of Sabbath, and has given me the opportunity to focus with precision on the things I value most, because there simply isn’t enough time or energy to do it all. As one person with CP said, “It's not just my legs. CP affects every part of my body and causes chronic fatigue and pain. Please be patient, for I have to spend my energy wisely.”
But what of being limitless?
When I wake up after 8 hours of sleep feeling like I haven’t gone to bed yet, when I struggle to get off the couch, when I have to sit down at church and sing because I’ve run out of the stamina to stand….
When I need to remember that my limitations themselves are limited…that’s when I like to read this passage, saying it like a prayer:
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 New International Version (NIV)
16 Therefore we do not lose heart.
Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
I’ll conclude with this Ted Talk by Phil Hansen, an artist who embraced the tremors in his hands, which ultimately transformed his artwork and expanded his artistic expressions:
Embrace the shake: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrZTho_o_is