It wasn’t until July that I realized this was a year of the Lord’s favor. “Blessed,” they like to call it from the church pews.
“Blessed” works fine. In the winter I made it home in time for my roommate’s wedding, spent a month in Australia, a month in New Zealand, hopping through Singapore and returning to a great job in Korea. In the summer, a week in Japan before finally settling back in Indiana with a grad school acceptance, the birth of a nephew, and lots of soul-feeding family time.
Is that a comprehensive list? I can’t tell. It sounds grand at times, all that jetting around the world. Too grand to express the quiet peace of my mother’s garden this summer, when all the flowers smiled content welcome as we sipped our coffee on the back porch. And yet that list seems clinical, too. A tiny paragraph, it’s nothing but words words words that can’t touch my heart trembling in fear and triumph alone on mountaintops I’ll never see again.
Flawed, it suffices. No one really wants to hear travel stories anyway from a no-longer expat. Eyes glaze as relevance wanes and as ever it’s hard to talk about the glories of God. Maybe it’s me—scared to face my own ingratitude—or maybe it’s all of us living in the trenches of life with little time or patience for unstructured spewings of wild grace.
Not that it’s easier to talk about the moments that didn’t make the list: the failures, the frustrations, the swaths of loneliness that perhaps kept me from seeing the Lord’s favor. “A month in Australia” sounds great because it doesn’t require the four boys in Apollo Bay making drunken rape jokes in our room when they thought I was asleep. “A great job in Korea” isn’t a lie, but it isn’t the truth without the aimless months of grey isolation. When talking about the Lord’s favor, I never know how to tell the stories—should I emphasize the glory I don’t understand or the despair that threatens to take my heart?
I suppose if it took me until July to label this a year of the Lord’s favor, it took me until November to realize I have never lived under any other auspices.
“The Lord has promised good to me” used to sound like an action that happened in the past securing a future. Jesus’ sacrifice brings hope for a happy ending, I thought. Until that future is realized “he will my shield and portion be,” and I’ll have to muddle through the hard parts as best I can. God has promised good to me; right now it’s my turn to do some good while I wait for his.
As near as I can tell, that’s not it at all. The Lord’s favor is too big to act as a shield. The Lord’s favor does not fit into the world, let alone my ungrateful heart. I am learning to see God as my portion, but will I ever understand a life without air? The Lord’s favor is not an idyllic future, but a constant and inevitable, ineffable reality.
“For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.” (Isaiah 61:11)
Isolation, depression, fear and frustration do not preclude joy and blessing; they are one within this always and forever year of the Lord’s favor.
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).