The woman walks up to her neighbor’s house, pausing at the driveway and closing her eyes. She takes a deep breath, but she’s trembling and her heart races. Her chattering children trail behind her, oblivious to the sorrow that now lives inside their neighbor’s house. She looks at her daughter – just six years old, the same age as the child her neighbor lost in a car accident a few weeks ago. “Oh Lord, help me. Please help me do this.” Will her neighbor, whom she’s never even met, want to see her? Will she slam the door in her face? Will the sight of her little girl just cause more pain and grief? But God has asked her to come here today, and she promised Him long ago that when He asked, she would answer “Yes.” In obedience, she walks up the stairs and rings the doorbell. Inside, a frail, exhausted woman sits at her kitchen table, head in her hands. Her tears spill onto the pages of her Bible, which lays open to Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. She reads the words over and over, trying to make sense of them. “How, God?” she cries out. “How can you possibly work this for the good?”
Just a couple of weeks before my daughter Vanessa died in 1992, I’d quit my job and was looking forward to being a stay-at-home mom to my children. But nothing was turning out like I’d planned. All the dreams I’d had for our family were shattered, and I was coming home to a life that I’d never imagined, or wanted – one of a grieving mother who’d lost a child.
After the accident, I was desperate to understand God’s purposes in the midst of our tragedy. I read everything I could get my hands on about God’s character because I simply didn’t understand a God who would allow this thing to happen to us. We’d been in a horrific car crash on the way home from a family vacation at Disney World, and I’d fervently prayed for God to heal Vanessa, utterly convinced that He would. In fact, I had prayed daily for the protection of all my children. But my sweet daughter died after four days in the hospital.I’d been a committed Christian for a decade at that point, but I felt as if maybe I’d never known God at all.
When Debbie visited me a few weeks after Vanessa’s death, I was floundering, vulnerable and searching for answers to some really tough questions. I knew she led a Bible study in our neighborhood, but that day, she was wholly focused on coming alongside me and reaching out to me in my grief. When I was later invited to her Neighborhood Bible Study by another friend, I gladly accepted the invitation. I wanted the relationships, but I was also hungry to know what God was doing in our lives.I needed to know.
I was quiet at the Bible studies for a long time. The women there didn’t ask anything of me. They simply loved me. I was always on the lookout for Romans 8:28 at work in our lives, and as I studied the Bible and prayed, a small part of me began to believe that He did have a purpose. I begged Him to let me learn what it was.
Two years to the day of Vanessa’s death, I found out I was pregnant again with a daughter we would name Caroline. In the final month of a seemingly normal pregnancy, a routine ultrasound showed that Caroline would be born with a type of dwarfism and physical disabilities. The doctors told us she only had a 25 percent chance of surviving the delivery. My Bible study called a prayer meeting immediately, laying hands on us and asking God to spare our daughter and even heal her in the womb.
Two women from the study came to my house to prepare Caroline’s nursery, stripping wallpaper, painting and decorating. It was so positive and hopeful – they were preparing for my daughter’s homecoming although we weren’t sure we’d even be able to bring her home. Caroline did survive delivery, and she was in intensive care for two months. The Neighborhood Bible Study took care of us, organizing home-cooked meals for our family every day while Caroline was in the hospital. The day she came home, the women decorated the entire neighborhood with pink balloons. They decorated their cars and paraded the neighborhood, honking horns and yelling congratulations from their windows. It was quite a celebration, and it showed me how God cares for us through other people.
When I moved away some years later, Debbie gently pushed me out of the nest, encouraging me to start a study in my new neighborhood. Reluctantly, I prayer walked my new neighborhood, taking to heart God’s words in Joshua 1 where He says, “I’m giving you every square inch of land you set your foot upon.”
As I prayed for my neighbors, I literally set my foot on their driveways and asked the Lord to open their hearts to Him and bring the women He wanted to come to my study.
Feeling entirely unequipped, I secretly hoped no one would reply to my invitation so I could go back to my comfort zone. However, I did get replies and 14 years later, we have a group of 30 women who meet once a week to love each other and become more intimate with our Creator. I have such a heart for women who hunger to understand Him, like I did. We all get excited when someone invites a new friend to the study. We whisper among ourselves, “I wonder what God is going to do in HER life?”
II Corinthians 1: 3-5 is very meaningful for me. It says, “He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”
I encourage the women in my Neighborhood Bible Study to comfort others the way God has comforted us. When two women in our study lost adult children within weeks of one another, the women came alongside these grieving mothers the same way that my neighbors did for me when Vanessa died. Although it’s an expertise none of us would choose to have, it’s one that God has used many times over to comfort others who suffer.Nothing is wasted.
There are many times we won’t understand -- this side of heaven, anyway -- the good that God brings out of our suffering, but I feel blessed that He has allowed our family to see Romans 8:28 here on Earth, just as I asked Him so many years ago. He gave us Caroline. He gave us neighbors and friends whose lives have been changed by His love. He gave us a ministry in Kenya, where we helped build a school in the slums of Kawangware in Vanessa’s honor. A plaque with her picture hangs there. Vanessa’s name means “butterfly,” which is often used as a Christian symbol for life transformation. To my family, it’s God’s message that He would change our lives and give us a ministry of transformation.
When Caroline was eight or nine, she asked me, “Mom, if you could wish for anything in the world, what would it be?” I was silent for a second, contemplating the numerous surgeries and challenges in her life. Before I could answer, she said, “And don’t say that you’d wish I was big. God made me little for a reason, and I don’t want to miss His plan.”Neither do I.To subscribe to this blog, click here and enter your email on the right, then click “subscribe.”
Jan Schuler (first row, far left, with her family), manages marketing and promotion for NBS2GO.com. Following the tragic loss of her daughter, Vanessa (pictured above), in 1992, Jan was invited by a neighbor to attend Debbie McGoldrick’s NBS. Through understanding God’s presence and purpose in trials and receiving the encouragement and love of neighbors, her heart began to heal. She knows personally the power of NBS to change lives and grow women in their faith journey. She began an NBS when she moved to a new neighborhood in 1998, and she is passionate about making NBS available to women at all stages of life.