by Bethany Welborn
Scripture: Psalm 46
One spring night in 2012 , in a hotel room several stories high in the foggy Chicago skyline - I had tagged along with Bryan for a work conference - we were fast asleep while my cell phone kept ringing, and ringing, and ringing. Normally I'm a light sleeper, but that evening I didn't hear a thing until Bryan shook me awake, having heard his phone when it began to buzz. "Hey, babe," he whispered as he handed me the phone, eyes still scrunched closed, "it's your mom." I pressed the phone to my ear and heard my mom's voice, tight and afraid, telling me my grandma had suffered a stroke. My sweet Grandma Zella, who had lived my mom and I since I turned 16, could no longer talk or move her right side. She was admitted to the hospital. I bought a flight home at 4am with the last scraps of our savings account.
The flight didn't leave until the following afternoon, so later that morning I wandered into the airy, high-ceilinged hotel lobby, trying to force something down for breakfast. Everything tasted like sand. I remember sitting in an uncomfortable chair, people all around me perusing newspapers, straightening neckties, laughing over eggs and waffles while I sat in a daze, opening my Bible on my lap and staring at the words, willing them to help me understand how my reality could have warped so suddenly, without my awareness or permission. I prayed that wherever my Bible opened, it would be the words I needed.
I looked down at Psalm 46. I instantly recognized the words and began to cry. "God is our refuge and strength," it read, "an ever present help in times of trouble." (vs. 1) I'd relied on these words before. And in the years since I wept in that hotel lobby, I've leaned on them time and time again. Verses 2-3 describe a feeling that's becoming all too familiar the longer I live: the feeling of the very earth giving way beneath your feet, of life being violently jerked sideways, of sure and steady things becoming wobbly and unwieldy. COVID-19, tornadoes, elections, heartbreak, grief, outnumbered hospital beds - we have no shortage of reasons for feeling turned upside down.
Verses 4-5 offer us an anthem. "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved. God shall help her, just at the break of dawn."
When all else gives way, you shall not be moved.
When one more life circumstance blows up in your face, you shall not be moved.
When you've given up hope and the night seems its darkest, a Light will shine at daybreak.
My grandma Zella died two weeks after I held her hand in a sterile room in ICU, after I pounded the tiles in a hospital bathroom and yelled at God for letting this happen, after I stroked her snow-white hair and sang all the verses I could remember to "Abide with Me." She died without seeing me walk at college graduation, though she had already reserved her hotel room, had already told me how excited she was to come to Tennessee. She died without meeting my babies, both of whom would have adored her, and she them. Even still - when I came to see her in the hospital, she smiled. She cried when I sang to her, touched my face with her one good hand. I knew for whatever time we had left, at least a part of her was here, with me, and she loved me. And that has been enough.
Psalm 46 doesn't promise freedom from pain or immunity from suffering. It promises presence. A God who is in our midst. "The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." (vs. 7, 11). Our God doesn't run when life lists sideways. Our Jesus doesn't flinch when we crumble in fear. He remains. He is steadfast. And for all my days thus far, that's been enough for me.
- Bethany Welborn
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Beautiful, Beth. Your words are the balm we need right now. Your gift for writing never ceases to amaze me.
Zella was a great sister to me and my children. Loved her very much Your article explained her so well*. I miss her every day Your article is beautiful