The study

My soul churned with a desire to do something big—to love the world beyond our front door.

Pain strolled along the sidewalk—I could see it from our window—and even our doors couldn’t muffle the needs bellowing from the street corners in our neighborhood. But it was the spring of 2005, and I had three small forces—ages one, three, and five years old—pinning me to home life. How could I make a difference out there when I held the position of stay-at-home mom in here? What could I do? Could I improve lives beyond the ones I had birthed?

I raked around ideas when I rested with my girls during nap times. I mulled over scenarios as I whipped up dinners. And while I stared at the ceiling in the dark of our bedroom, I offered up an impossible request: Let me have a ministry at home—yet outside our home, if that makes any sense.

One morning over a steaming cup of dark roast, an idea fluttered to rest on me.

Host a ladies’ home Bible study.

I thought of those wounded by the church, those stuck in chains, those bankrupt of love, and purpose stirred me to action. I posted an ad in our neighborhood’s newspaper, inviting whomever would come.

The calls rolled in—the first from a man. His wife was interested in my study, he said, but he needed to know about me first. He zeroed in on my theology, pelting me with questions. I answered them. In stern terms, he showed me he favored his rules to my freedom; his wife wouldn’t be joining my group after all.

Next, a woman named Charlene phoned. She had spotted my ad, lived nearby, and was thrilled to be a part of a home group. After that, Linda, another woman in the neighborhood, called. Her challenges in life flowed through the phone lines. She suffered from hearing loss and also struggled with mobility issues, she said, and did I have front steps she would need to navigate?

After several more calls, the phone stopped ringing. My group was set at five women, and my next task was to choose a study. I browsed my options, searching for something nourishing, but doable. I landed on a six-week topical study on the biblical character of Hannah, a barren woman who begged God for a child, promising that if she got one, she’d give him back as a gift. (And that’s just what she did.)

I hired two young cousins to babysit my littles—and any others—during my gatherings. The appointed day in June arrived.

Tidy house. Check.

Babysitters. Check.

Fresh coffee. Check. 

A knock at the door. Then four more. My heart thumped. This was it. This was my ministry at home—and yet out in the neighborhood. My impossible request had been granted.

The summer calendar ticked along, and so did our group meetings each Wednesday morning at nine. They started out sweet, those gatherings. And then something happened: the women exposed their humanity. Could it be these new friends were showing their authentic selves right in my living room? My chest exploded with gratitude.

One day during our closing time, Linda prayed aloud. She emptied her concerns into the room, and her words flowed into a new language. Was it Hebrew? I sensed the weight of Love filling the room. My vision blurred. She finished, and the women left.

That evening, my phone rang. Charlene.

“Nice hearing from you,” I said.

Her tone was stiff. “I have a problem with what happened today.”

“Oh?”

“A person should never speak in tongues without an interpreter present.”

My thoughts ran back to Linda, spilling out her soul into my living room that morning. What Charlene said was true, but Linda’s life had bruised her in a hundred ways. I let out a breath. “I think of her heart, though, Charlene.”

Charlene explained if Linda did it one more time, she’d quit. That evening by phone, I chatted with Linda about practicing her gift, softening my words so she could hear me. But the next week, it happened again. Our group dwindled by one.

Summer plans whisked my ladies away sometimes. But we still gathered when we could, pressing together over the topic of an ancient mother who gave up her son to a higher calling. And soon we found out Hannah was us, and we were Hannah. And we hurt for her like we too had sacrificed our sons for something bigger.

August arrived, and so did our last meeting. My babysitters had a conflict, so I drove my little ones to their aunt’s house for the morning. I returned home, brewed the coffee, set out my study book, and planted myself on the couch.

But no knocks sounded on my front door.

Did the women remember it was Wednesday? Had they received my messages that this was our last time together?

For an hour, I waited. Where were my ladies? Like a balloon losing air, our last meeting shriveled to nothing, and only one person was left: me. An anticlimactic finale to my summer ministry.

Why was I alone? What had happened? I thought of how I had advertised the study, drawing women from the neighborhood. I had arranged the childcare, brewed the coffee, facilitated the discussions, comforted the broken ones, tended to the angry one, and seen the course through to its end over many weeks. This was a big deal.

Wasn’t it?

Quietness anchored me to my spot. And a familiar softness blanketed the room. I leaned into the silence.

This was one of the small things.

“Oh,” I said into the empty room. And newness warmed me.

From where I sat, I hadn’t known the size of what I was doing. And I needed to be alone now to know the truth: my study was a small thing.

A small thing. But I smiled anyway, knowing it was big enough.

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*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.