Emily Perl Kingsley wrote an essay in 1987 called, “Welcome to Holland.” In the writing, she analogizes what it is like to have a special needs child. She describes it as if you are planning a trip to Italy. While you are anxiously awaiting the cuisine, the Tuscan views, and the beautiful art, you save money, prepare the bags and buy the plane tickets. However, after the plane lands, a flight attendant makes an announcement, “Welcome to Holland.” Your dreams are at first shattered – and some permanently changed, as you realize your dream of Italy is far away, because now you are “stuck” in Holland. At first, maybe you can’t breathe at the news, but as time passes, you soon recognize there is a lot to be thankful for in Holland – like tulips and windmills and even some art.
I have nothing against Holland; I have been there briefly and it was beautiful. However, I thought the author did a phenomenal job describing what it is like when our lives take a turn out of our control.
I keep a prayer journal, and each morning I try to grab some quiet time with my journal, Bible and coffee . I write down things for which I am praying, sometimes Bible verses, or processed thoughts – to keep Satan from hijacking them again. Since I am at the end of another journal, I was reviewing the pages this week to praise God for answered prayers, and pray for strength to praise Him for the “unanswered” ones too. (Although, I truly believe all prayers are answered – the answer may just be “no” or “not now” or “I have something else in mind.” (Isaiah 55:8))
As I look over my prayer journal, I see so many “trips to Holland” in and among the prayer requests:
- A friend’s son is marrying a young lady who is just wrong for him. Family occasions have become awkward silence.
- An adult sibling of a friend is secretly robbing the elderly father, leading to legal battles within the family.
- A lost job forces a family to leave their roots and go thousands of miles from relatives to get to a new income.
- A young woman who gave birth to her first child discovered the special needs determined on the ultrasound were even more special once the baby was born. A lifetime battle is ahead.
- A well-known pastor’s daughter is pregnant out of wedlock. The boy decided if she wouldn’t abort, she wasn’t worth keeping, despite their engagement. She is now a single mom with a broken heart…in Holland.
- A friend is divorced after 20 years of marriage, leaving her alone, and her teenage children running to get away, confused why the authority figures in their life couldn’t make it work.
- Addictions have sent the addicts and their families to financial and relationship train wrecks.
- Bankruptcy. Foreclosure. It is estimated this affects 30-50% of the homes for sale in Michigan where we lived until 2010. Often onlookers believe it is only caused by bad spending choices, not realizing that it sometimes begins with job loss, serious illness or changes-of-the-deal that are out of the owner’s hands. Holland.
- Cancer. This dragon rears its ugly head many times in my prayer journal. The listed victims in my journal are from babies to age 93, some on multiple trips where they never thought they would go.
- A friend, living my parallel life of home school and soccer, became a widow at age 43, left to raise three young children without a dad. The “normal” life was instantly gone.
- Macular degeneration claimed another victim: a 20-year-old turned in his driver’s license as the permanent blindness took his eyesight.
- Migraines run the life of a young mom. A life that used to be filled with fun days at the park is now left in blinding pain, hoping “someday” arrives when there is healing, before her children are grown without knowing the real her.
- Someone who is used to helping people confined to wheelchairs found out the doctors predict he will be in a wheelchair for life.
- A friend’s mom took her own life instead of asking forgiveness, selfishly (though unconsciously) leaving those behind in Holland.
- A young man, (age 14) on one of my son’s teams is in the hospital now, awaiting healing but with a big chance of amputation of a leg from an injury and subsequent surgeries a few weeks ago.
- A married couple with five children now has four, since one child lost her life due to an accident involving the hand of the 3-yr-old sibling. The parents are being charged with negligence, despite being within 6 feet of the accident. Holland.
- A young man is being charged with a heinous crime. Although his innocence may be proven, the communities of church, school and public have read the newspapers, and even an acquittal won’t take away the court of public opinion. They have lost surrounding support when they need it the most.
Struggles are like cockroaches – for every one we see in the open, there are hundreds more hiding in the walls. The above list is surely minimal compared to the private struggles people face daily.
I suppose I don’t know many children who dream of having their lives diverted from their dreams. We often plan, save, pack bags and board the plane…but…
The things I know of Holland are:
- God is in Holland. As cliché as it sounds, I know He is there, despite how far away we may feel. (Psalm 139:7-12)
- God planned the trip to Holland; He is the only Pilot. There is a purpose for every day of the life He gave, even the hardest ones, to make us who we are meant to be. (Romans 5:3-5) We can’t always see His reasons now…or even any time on this earth, but I know they are there. We may even thank Him for the struggles one day.
- It is okay to mourn when you land in Holland. (Blessed are those that mourn. Matthew 5:4) Even Christ mourned in “Holland”. I recall when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008, after a year of blinding migraines, and other health problems which made motherhood of my kids (11, 8, 4 and 3 at the time) difficult, to say the least. Chris and I were in the middle of huge lawsuits, and he was gone a lot and feeling the fire-breathing dragons on all sides. Surgery for removal of the tumor was scheduled, and I called a Christian friend, Tracey. Through tears I told her how I wanted to give God glory through that struggle, but I felt sinful by how deeply I dreaded the surgery, the likely paralysis, the hair shaving, and the long recovery –assuming there was recovery. I had an incredible dread, which seemed sinful compared to trusting God for His plan for my life. With strength, she said, “Terri, even Christ had Gethsemane.” I knew immediately to what she was referring: Jesus Christ, in His last days, knowing He would be severely beaten and mocked, nails driven through His hands for public humiliation of crucifixion, not to mention judicial separating from God the father: He went into the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed to God, “Please, if possible, don’t make me go through this.” (Matt 26:39) God had a plan – even for His own son in “Holland.” Had Christ not gone through Gethsemane, and the dread, I think I would have a difficult time believing He was truly human. “Holland” made Him human. It’s okay to be downright sad when life takes a turn you didn’t want.
- There are people right next to you in life that are in Holland whether you know it or not. “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”- T.H.Thompson. When my 28-yr-old friend Diana Hummell was in the middle of her battle with liver cancer, not a soul could tell from the outside. She was as beautiful as ever. She told a story of being in the grocery store, picking up some items for the family, moving slowly after one of the surgeries. Some people in the store were so annoyed – that this woman taking so long to choose milk, or pay at the checkout was delaying their busy lives. I wept at the thought of the number of times I too had been annoyed by a slow driver or checkout attendant, not realizing their Holland status.
- God has not given you anything you can’t handle. (Phil 4:13) What if we all wrote down our problems on little pieces of paper and put them in a basket and passed the basket around to millions of people. BUT the catch is that every piece of paper you put into the basket, you have to remove one of the other pieces of paper with someone else’s problems on it? You would want your own problem back. Why? Because God has plans for YOU. (Jeremiah 29:11). No one could love your child through this issue the way you can. God has given you the strength to surrender to His plan above the addiction you can beat. Your testimony will be a strength onto which others can hold.
- There are other passengers on your plane in Holland who will be blessed to know you. C.S. Lewis said that a friendship is born the minute someone says, “What? You too! I had no idea anyone else went through this!” There are people on the plane whom you never would have met unless you were there, and there is a reason you have coincided.
- There are tulips in Holland. “I can’t see tulips!!” a friend of mine cried in anger after her husband’s infidelity became public knowledge, opening wounds that had taken years to close in their private past. To everything there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4), and there is a time to mourn – and there is no slated amount of time for that. During mourning, the tulips don’t always show or grow. But we are called to look for tulips eventually. Gene Edwards, in his book, Exquisite Agony (Crucified by Christians), says that even Christ hesitated in accepting the plan, by asking for the removal of the cup (Matt 26:39), but the important part is that He peacefully accepted, “Thy will be done,” after the brief hesitation. “In everything give thanks,” (1Thessalonians 5:18) Paul says. That doesn’t mean we give thanks for the cancer, or thanks for the sin; but in my opinion, it means we seek the tulips for which we can give thanks. When the heat of the dragons’ breath is felt on all sides, open up a journal and write down three things for which to be thankful…a sunrise, a happy memory, a God who has a plan for your eternity. The tulips are there, and some would never have been seen had we not had to dig so deeply to find them. Sometimes the tulips are disguised as miscarriages and slow toddlers, but their beauty can be found when we dig deeply…or wait. A thankfulness journal is sure to brighten any day as it helps refocus on sunshine.
- This too shall pass. (Revelation 21:4)The sun rises after the darkest part of the night. It is often times like these that force our surrender to God’s flight plan. I have heard it said that most believers go through a very dark hour or more – questioning God himself, before they truly surrender and enjoy the peace that truly surrendering provides. I drove 163 miles out of my way during one such dark time. God’s plan is bigger than yesterday, today, or this year. That plan is eternal, and eternity is a lot longer than our time on earth.
In my husband’s words, “This probably won’t be the last of your suffering, but your suffering won’t last.”
Whether we are in Holland or in Italy, the truth is: we are just passing through.
Love you and praying for you,