Have you ever owned something that was a limited edition? The numbered painting, hand-signed record, first edition print, or maybe a cereal box with a special face or event. Whatever the item, it’s valuable and feels worth whatever price of time or resources you paid to get it.
While a limited edition painting can feel luxurious, my life as a limited edition person with chronic illness can feel barren. For the first part of my life there was Kimberly, and now there is Kimberly: the limited edition. As most people who live with chronic illness know, invisible limits guide more decisions than an onlooker will ever discern. From limits of pain to limits of planning too far ahead for fear of a “bad day,” the limited edition status as someone who lives with chronic illness is something most would pay any price of time or resource to relinquish.
Even those living without chronic illness have limitations. Limits of the human body, limits of time and space. Financial limits, relationship limits. Our souls can have limits rooted in trauma, grief, and loss. We have cognitive limits and genetic limits. And, truth be told, we all fight against our limits to some degree.
As a type A, driven, ENTJ, Enneagram 1, choleric, I don’t exactly love limits. Every part of my genetic coding, upbringing, brokenness, and God-given strengths speak to me that I should break through limitations. I can be fierce in the worst and most beautiful sort of way. I lived life as if limitations were something to figure out, fight against, outsmart, out plan, and outlast. And it worked — until it didn’t.
The difficulty with energy and pain began slowly and then rapidly progressed. Those years, not so distant, are now a blur. Losing my battle against limitation had gotten the best of me, and I began living in perpetual overwhelm. My social life was at an all-time low, my marriage suffered, my children from back-to-back pregnancies were little more than a chore, and my house felt like a monster where every dirty corner spoke of my constant failure. This life of limitation had swirled me into resentment and anger almost without consent. I perceived that limitation had won, and I had lost. Thankfully, however, it turns out this battle between limitation and me is not a zero-sum game.
Finding the Turning Point
I don’t know exactly when the crossover happened, but somewhere along this road, I crossed a bridge that changed everything. It’s a pedestrian bridge, in the dullest sense of the word, built brick by brick with the mundane moments of my daily limited life. Yet, walking over this bridge unveiled my eyes to see limitations utterly anew. Previously, I had heard every limitation speak to me, as if directly, about my worth, abilities, and identity. Like those dirty corners of my house, they haunted me, and worst of all, they lied.
Crossing over this bridge I found the truth to be this: limitations are invitations, each one a bridge to transformation on the journey toward Christlikeness. Our irritated flesh that rails against limitation offers us endless opportunity to accept limitations as invitations to a fuller life in Christ. Just as God, from all of his splendor, arrived on earth limited by many things, I arrive to each morning with new opportunity to attend uniquely to limitations. Among Christ’s limitations were flesh, family dynamics, and a less-than-desired cultural identity; among mine are physical pain, needs of young children, and a less-than-desired diagnosis.
Learning to Embrace Invitations
As my invitations became visible, I began to see their abundant offering. There was an entire summer I couldn’t walk my children around one block without taking three or four days to recover. I was angry; I used to run miles on end. Yet, if C. S. Lewis’s words are true that “there are no ordinary people,” those little folks at my feet held depth I cannot fathom. On my dirty hardwood floors played an invitation to wonder.
Serious food restrictions to manage pain and energy became an invitation to a fresh experience of food and cooking, breathing life into my stale meal plans. The house that overwhelmed me with cleaning and too many stairs was eventually an invitation to sell and move to a more manageable home. There is the weekly invitation to unload the van from a grocery trip slowly to conserve energy, even if it takes more time; the invitation to fewer errands so I simplify life; the invitation to ask for help so I can feel the love of a friend. These invitations are both grand and humdrum, and they are everywhere. Still, the financial cost of being Kimberly: the limited edition – is an ever-present invitation to faith and trust in a loving God who knows my needs before I ever ask.
Discovering Who I Am
In the spiritual practice of embracing limitation as invitation (and it is an ongoing practice), I am beginning to I see why limits don’t anger God in Christ Jesus like they can me. When the dove came out of clouds, landed on Jesus’ shoulder, and the voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased…” we see a relationship compelled by Love. Christ Jesus could allow limits, even all the way to the Cross, precisely because his identity as One Who Is Loved was his pervasive reality. So, it can be with me. Whether my limitations are imposed by life or my own foolishness, I too am loved.
I am not what I am capable of pushing through or making happen. I am not my regrets, or what I could’ve accomplished. I am not defined by the type of mother, woman, or wife I am. I am not my healthy diet or my dirty laundry. I am simply loved. While the limits might identify my days, they are less likely to identify my personhood. Being loved is the essence of who I am; it’s the truest part about me.
As I continue to live into this identity, my aversion toward limitation is slowly dissipating. Those restricted places don’t speak the lies of worth as often. Even the limits unrelated to chronic illness, are becoming places of transformation.
I still don’t love limitations, neither the chronic-illness type nor the waiting-in-line-at-Target type. But as long as I have breath, I pray I will have eyes to see those invitations disguised as limitations. As it turns out, I am beginning to understand why limited editions are so loved.