As with all my blog posts, they begin with a need – either mine or that of someone I know and love. The concept of living in limbo is no different.
I was recently talking to a long-time friend. She knows me well. We attended the same church eons ago when she was married to her first husband and I was married to mine. Although our circumstances have changed drastically in the past twenty-five years, our friendship has remained the one constant.
I was sharing with her (to be honest, I was complaining to her) about how I was still in limbo. Every time I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel, a big dark cloud rolls in, obscuring my view of possibilities and hope, and once again leaving me in the midst of Limboland.
I’m tired of it. It’s exhausting.
My friend said to me, “Well, you should be used to it by now.”
Thanks a lot, dear friend. That’s all the encouragement you have to give?
But actually, that’s exactly what I needed to hear. I’m way past, “Oh, this is just temporary. It will get better, you’ll see.” Or, “Look on the bright side.” If one more person tells me to look on the bright side, I just may impale them with a flashlight!
No, I don’t need empty promises or platitudes of better times ahead. I need honesty. Raw honesty. And that’s exactly what my friend gave me.
So, what do I do in the midst of Limboland? Like Disneyland, it seems to stretch on forever, but not nearly as much fun. In fact, in many ways, my life more closely resembles the Haunted Mansion than Cinderella’s Castle!
I should probably define Limboland just so there are no misunderstandings. I refer to limbo as that part of life where you’re surviving from one day to another, one paycheck to the next, but you see no reason why. What’s the purpose? Where’s the direction? Is it ever going to end? And if so, will it be a welcome relief or an, “Oh, crap, it CAN get worse!”
My friend Jodi is in Limboland. She’s a beautiful 30-something, independent woman who is doing a great job raising her daughter on her own. She has a good job, family who loves her dearly, and from the outside looking in, she has nothing to complain about. But she’s lonely. Jodi wants that special someone to share the rest of her life with and right now, in limbo, that desire overshadows the other positives in her life.
My friend Brian has cancer. A remarkable new treatment brought him back from death’s door, but the last remains of the cancer refuse to go away. So, he’s considered stable. Not recovered, not in remission, but stable. Which is amazing in and of itself. His doctor, an unbeliever, told him he was touched by the hand of God. If that’s true, which Brian truly does believe, then why doesn’t God heal him all the way? If this drug is so miraculous in conquering the large mass of cancer that was killing him, why can’t it do anything with this last little bit? Brian is living in Limboland. No longer making plans to die, but unsure how to live.
Heather, a girl I grew up with and reconnected with on Facebook about twelve years ago, recently endured a blow that set her world spinning. And that’s putting it mildly. I don’t know the details of her early adult life, just a quick rundown of the facts. But basically, she married, had children, one of whom died as a baby, and divorced. Somewhere along the way, Heather met Mr. Right. They were perfect together. They married and worked alongside each other in a family business, and their perfect present overshadowed their painful past. Reaching retirement age, they bought the perfect piece of waterfront property to peacefully spend the rest of their lives on. Months later, paradise was shattered with the news that Heather’s husband had stage 4 cancer. He died within the year.
Heather’s world was shattered. All her hopes and dreams, gone. How does one pick up the pieces and live after mercilessly being thrown into limbo?
I admire Heather more than I can say. She believes she was left behind for a purpose. She says she has a job to do that she has to do alone, and once she’s finished, she will join her beloved in Heaven.
That job, that purpose, is what keeps Heather getting up each morning, even though each night is spent in tears.
In the midst of life’s dichotomies, one person’s discouraging vulnerabilities are actually an encouraging boost to another person. Weird. But true.
As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I work part-time in retail. Every day is a struggle to be nice to not-nice people. Some are just mildly rude, others mildly stupid, and others are outright mean. All of my managers are super nice to everyone and I wonder how they do it. I struggle to be nice to not-nice people. Our company has a no confrontation policy which basically means we let people get away with anything short of murder. They can be degrading and insulting to us, but we are not allowed to tell them they are out of line. I understand the legal ramifications our company would face if we all told mean customers where they could go, so I get it. But it’s hard.
Case in point. One of my regular customers who comes in every Sunday to do his shopping has cancer. He’s a very nice, middle-aged man who’s worked all his life. He went in for knee surgery but his elevated enzyme levels alerted the doctors to the fact that he has cancer. Now unable to walk well and no longer able to work, he’s fighting for his life. His self-esteem has to be scraped off the floor every time I see him. Every week he says, “I’d give anything to be able to work again. I hate using these things (food stamps!” And every week I reassure him. “You’ve worked hard your entire life. You’ve paid into them for years! Now they are here for you to use.”
Mean woman saying, “You seemed to have enough time with that guy.”
I wanted to say to her, “Oh, you mean the very nice man who has cancer and is fighting for his life? That’s the one you don’t think I should spend a moment with, listening and caring?”
One day, one of the managers I greatly admire came up to me and said, “Miss Diane, I just cannot love these people anymore.” I gave her a sideways hug and for a moment we leaned our heads together in camaraderie and sighed in unison. Then we quickly pulled apart and she said, “Thank you. I needed that!” and off she went on her merry way.
That moment of vulnerability meant more to me than I can say. I felt understood, even though she was the one looking for validation and comfort.
My empathy gave my manager the understanding, validation, and comfort she was looking for. But in giving it to her, I inadvertently received it myself! In healthy relationships, when we meet the needs of others, our needs are met as well. (It’s important to note here that this is only true in healthy relationships. In unhealthy relationships, the opposite occurs – one does all the giving while the other does all the taking and this scenario will never benefit either one.)
If given the choice, would I be willing to go through difficult times so that I could be a help to others in similar circumstances? Absolutely not. I’m not that selfless. But I’m not given the choice. God gives me today and says, “Deal with it.” I deal with it by sharing with others.