Wineskins Archive

February 6, 2014

He Touched Me and Made Me Whole (Jan-Feb 2001)

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by Wilma Holland
January – February, 2001

Most Christians would say I had a perfect Christian raising. Outwardly there were all the “correct” things; no abuse, no cursing, no anger, and no “sins.” What was confusing to me was there was nothing you could put your finger on and say “That was awful; no wonder you are the way you are.” It was all very subtle.

I was born in China to missionary parents. They were so dedicated to their “calling” that, after they died, I found a letter my father had written to my mother saying he wondered if they should have children. Many, many times I wondered why they had me.

During the first three and a half years of my life a Chinese “nursemaid” raised me so my mother could be available to help my father. Until I started school we traveled all over the country talking about the missionary work. My part was to be dressed in a Chinese outfit and sing “Jesus Loves Me” in Chinese. When people asked me where I lived, I pointed to the car. From age three to age seven I slept in a different bed in a different home almost every night.

In our travels, particularly in the summer, we traveled from camp meeting to camp meeting. I went to church three times a day, seven days a week. The services were two hours long and there was no “Children’s Church.” I do not remember feeling part of a home congregation. My father was always the “guest speaker,” so we always saw the best of every church. I didn’t know that churches “split” or that the people disagreed.

Over the years my father became a very prominent missionary, known across the country and around the world. My identity was “the daughter of ….” I wasn’t called by a “name.” I have been very impressed to learn that new missionaires of the Church of Christ go to training about the culture, and part of the training has to do with “missionary kids.” My parents didn’t have the benefit of that. No one thought about the children.

Talk about a “rules-dominated life!” I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t know there were certain things I could not do. I knew if someone saw me do something wrong, it might reflect on my parents’ effectivenss in their work. I was a very “good girl.” It did nt occur to me to disobey “th rules.”

All of this was turning me into a perfectionist. I had no identity, so I had no self-esteem. I had no home, so I had no sense of security, so I feared abandonment. The “rules” were so defined that I knew I had to be “perfect” or my imperfection would kill my parents and I would lose what little security I had. My parents were so involved in their work as a “team” that I always felt on the outside looking in. How could I, as a child, be angry with God or my parents when they were doing God’s work? I was very confused spiritually. I learned early that to receive recognition and “be somebody,” I had to throw myself 150% into school, make good grades, and be the best at whatever I did. After all, that is what I saw and that is what I learned would give me personal significance.

I was confused about love, too. I always knew my parents loved me. In fact, I was a favored child. But I was confused because I didn’t “feel” loved. Love was based on “performance.”

Another factor that entered into my personality development was my relationship with my mother. I knew that there was something “locked up” inside of her that made her the way she was. Though she was deeply involved in the missionary society, she was not able to express her emotions. She would withdraw when hurt. Neither my mother nor my father ever expressed anger. If anyone raised their voice, or even if there was fighting on a radio story, my mother left the room. I thought all that was strainge, but thought it was a “religious” thing.

Twenty years after my mother died, I learned that my grandfather had been an abuser. When he got angry with my grandmother, he took her by her hair and threw her up against the wall. My mother was only ten when her own mother died. This was the “secret” that was locked up in the “box” in my mother’s heart. I grew up believing that Christians do not get angry. Because I never saw anger, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I had no tools.

By my senior year of college I wanted “out.” It was at that point in my life that my husband came along. He was the first “angel” that God sent into my life. When we met at a picnic on a blind date, he literally decided “on the spot” that I was the one he wanted to marry. His cousin told me, “He’s really a good guy, but he doesn’t have much to say.” Well, that was exactly what I needed. No one had ever listened to me before. I talked … and talked … and talked. All he would say was, “Just marry me and I will take care of you.” God knew he was the one man who could accept me unconditionally for fifty years. My husban also came with “baggage” as most husbands do. And, as a good “perfectionist” does, I set about to change him. And, as perfectionists learn (sometimes), you may be able to control things but you can’t control people. I had to learn that my husband would change only when I could accept and love him the way he is.

My husband was not raised in a church. He knew I would not marry someone who was not a Christian, so he went to a Church of Christ and was baptized. That was not in my plans, nor the plans of my parents. We had never heard of the Church of Christ, and when my parents learned they didn’t have a choir and I couldn’t play the piano, they were not very happy. They tried everything they knew to persuade me not to marry him. For the irst time in my life, I went against my parents’ wishes.

That was my first step toward healing. By that time I was a full-blown perfectionist. I was not free to find out who I was and I did not like what I saw. I wanted to change. I got a masters degree in counseling, thinking I might find the answers there.

I started my first business, a printing and duplicating business. As might be expected of a good perfectionist, the business grew and grew, and I worked more and more hours. I moved it out of the house, and soon was managing three shifts of employees.

I sold that business ad incredible problems followed. The new owner promptly bankrupted the business, and I discovered he had failed to file the transfer papers. I was sued. I spent two years in court. Meanwhile, life at home was falling apart. My son got in with the wrong crowd, got hooked on drugs, wouldn’t go to school, and what little self-esteem I had left hit rock bottom. I was a complete failure, and I saw no end to my problems, no way out. Everything in my life that was important to me was out of control. My perfectionism wasn’t working, and I had no other way of coping.

The second “angel” to come into my life was a female psychiatrist. As a good perfectionist, I made straightening myself and my life out a full-time job. I started working from 4:00 p.m. to midnight so I could keep daytime counseling appointments – sometimes twice a week.

I did not get well right away. In fact, things got worse. I attempted suicide, and my doctor put me in a private psychiatric hospital, where I stayed for a total of three months. It was there that I finally faced my demons. It was there I sat on the wards with people society could not handle, and I was one of them. But it was also the first time in my life that no one cared who my father was or anything else about my past. I was called by my name. It was the first time in my life I felt as if I had my own identity. I lived there with alcoholics, schizophrenics, multiple personalities, manic-depressives. I learned that they were all people, all human beings, just like me. If God loved me even there, he must love them too. They were the only people I had to talk to, so I had to learn how to relate.

And in that place where everything had been taken away from me, for the first time I FELT the presence of God. It was the first time he was real and I knew if he found me there he loved me and would always be with me anywhere. It was in that unlikely place that I began to change.

My doctor had a Quaker grandfather who was her only connection with any church or God. She did not go to church. She did not speak the “language” or use the “terminology” I had heard all my life, but she was able to speak to my heart. She truly cared for me. Before my appointments I would get on my knees and pray, “God, help her to help me.” I would walk up and down the hall in our house getting up enough courage to go. At times I felt I was hopeless. She taught me tools for changing my behavior. I came to see my parents as not all good or all bad, but imperfect. Not only did I learn to love, but also I learned to forgive. It was through the way that she touched my “soul” that I have learned how to reach the souls of people who do not know and understand the “language” of God’s love as we hear it in church.

I am and always will be a perfectionist but now I am a modified one. Now I can choose what I want to do perfectly and I am not driven by unrealistic expectations of others and myself. So life and people are not disappointments. I have an identity. I am WILMA HOLLAND. I love God and I know he loves me because he has a purpose for my life and sent his Guardian Angels in human clothing to take care of me and to teach me through my own suffering. Now that I love myself, I can truly love my husband, my children and other people.

Through pain and grief “He touched me and made me whole.”Wineskins Magazine

Wilma Holland and her husband Bill live in Warrenton, Viginia. She is currently Bereavement Coordinator for Hospice Support of Fauquier County and has worked in grief counseling and training for twenty-five years.


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