Navy SEALs.

At the moment, I am staring out the car window at the north shore in Duluth and mindlessly eating kettle corn out of a bag that I haphazardly opened in a rush before we left for our trip. Now the bag is torn vertically down the middle, and pieces of pocorn are popping out of the crack and onto the seat of the car. This bothers me. Sometimes I do this to chip bags accidentally; it annoys both me and my mother. My dad usually doesn't care. He also doesn't mind eating the banana flavored popsicles or grape Laffy Taffy's or any other food that our family doesn't particularly love and won't finish. Chip bags don't phase him. Now we're flying out of Duluth (on the freeway), and blizzard fog is rolling in, and the pine trees look especially plastered with clumped snow. We only think it's a blizzard because it's hazy and whitish-gold up ahead. It could just be low-hanging clouds, I suppose. We still have two hours to go.

Blogging gives an illusion of time. For instance, none of you would know that in between the last sentence and this one, we stopped at a gas station, and my dad went inside and bought peanut M&Ms which is one of our typical road trip snacks, and I stretched my legs outside and my mom sipped water and waited. Tricky.

I'm going to jar you again. Hang on. It's been two days now.

I'm now by a wood-burning fire which is nice and toasting my left side comfortably. I can see Lake Superior from a big picture window in the living room, and it might as well be the sea as I can't see land in either direction. The water is flat and clear-blue as a jewel, and by the shore, the freezing surface looks like lava as it swells and falls, slower than the other waves because of the accumulating ice.

I asked God to teach me how to hear him this week. This is something that is pretty difficult for me, knowing His voice. I'm also asking to learn how to better receive grace as I am generally too proud to accept it or have trouble actually understanding a relationship where nobody owes anybody else anything. Last night, though, I read this inΒ Blue Like Jazz. It's a memoir of sorts by Donald Miller (movie is coming out soon - watch the trailer here), and it's helping me know grace and love a bit better. In this portion, Don is exploring what God is and questioning everything that has to do with Jesus:

"A long time ago I went to a concert with my friend Rebecca. Rebecca can sing better than anybody I've ever heard sing. I heard this folksinger was coming to town, and I thought she might like to see him because she was a singer too. The tickets were twenty bucks, which is a lot to pay if you're not on a date. Between songs, though, he told a story that helped me resolve some things about God. The story was about his friend who is a Navy SEAL. He told it like it was true, so I guess it was true, although it could have been a lie.

The folksinger said his friend was performing a covert operation, freeing hostages from a building in some dark part of the world. His friend's team flew in by helicopter, made their way to the compound and stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room, the folksinger said, was filthy and dark. The hostages were curled up in a corner, terrified. When the SEALs entered the room, they heard the gasps of the hostages. They stood at the door and called to the prisoners, telling them they were Americans. The SEALs asked the hostages to follow them, but the hostages wouldn't. They sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear. They were not of healthy mind and didn't believe their rescuers were really Americans.

The SEALs stood there, not knowing what to do. They couldn't possibly carry everybody out. One of the SEALs, the folksinger's friend, got an idea. He put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the other hostages, getting so close his body was touching some of theirs. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them. He was trying to show them he was one of them. None of the prison guards would have done this. He stayed there for a little while until some of the hostages started to look at him, finally meeting his eyes. The Navy SEAL whispered that they were Americans and were there to rescue them. Will you follow us? he said. The hero stood to his feet and one of the hostages did the same, then another, until all of them were willing to go. The story ends with all the hostages safe on an American aircraft carrier.

I never liked it when the preachers said we had to follow Jesus. Sometimes they would make Him sound angry. But I liked the story the folksinger told. I liked the idea of Jesus becoming man, so that we would be able to trust Him, and I like that He healed people and loved them and cared deeply about how people were feeling.

When I understood that the decision to follow Jesus was very much like the decision the hostages had to make to follow their rescuer, I knew then that I needed to decide whether or not I would follow Him...The magical proposition of the gospel, once free from the clasps of fairy tale, was very adult to me, very gritty like something from Hemingway or Steinbeck, like something with copious amounts of sex and blood. Christian spirituality was not a children's story. It wasn't cute or neat. It was mystical and odd and clean, and it was reaching into dirty."