Last week my dermatologist recommended I go back on this gnarly intense medicine that I once took as a high schooler. I was seeing her for the first time and she walked in, shook my hand, frowned slightly and said to the nurse who was taking notes, “level 4 acne on her face.” (I looked it up later—level 4 acne is a term reserved exclusively for acne so severe it causes deep scarring and, as one website so delicately described it, is “angry-looking”.) It was honestly news to me that my acne is so severe it got me upgraded to a group of VIPs I am assuming is primarily composed of prepubescent middle schoolers, but who am I to deny myself a strong dose of humility?
The medicine—the apparent hail mary before I am destined to walk down the long, irreversible road of adut acne—clears up your skin by drying your entire body out to the point of bearing a striking resemblence to Spongebob in the episode where he stays in Sandy’s home too long without his water helmet. You have to take monthly pregnancy tests because the side effects on a fetus are so severe. They literally make you watch an hour long informational video about the kinds of issues it can cause. I rode the elevator down to the parking garage holding a “how to prevent pregnancy” packet and feeling personally victimized by a dozen red dots on my jawline.
Then I went to the eye doctor where I was informed that I have become allergic to my contacts and developed an infection. I was prescribed wearing my glasses for two weeks and putting in eye drops every two hours. My doctor put orange drops in my eyes to better assess the damage and told me that my tears would probably resemble Fanta for the next couple days.
Then, while walking out to my car, I received a text saying that I wouldn’t be needed at work the next day. Work I really needed for my very strict, holy-shit-this-is-the-starving-artist-life budget to stay on track. Work I was counting on to feel like I wasn’t treading water.
And y’all, I lost it.
I sat in my car crying big, fat, orange tears because, dear Lord, I can’t control anything. It doesn’t matter how much I wash my face or drink water or cut out sugar, those pesky little red dots will not be deterred from their mission of making me look like a 14-year-old. I can’t control an eye infection or the price of an appointment or apparently my budget, even when I plan responsibly, and even when I don’t buy a single iced hazlenut almond milk latte THE WHOLE MONTH.
Admittedly, a little skin malfunction and a necessity for eye glasses are mild, humorous interruptions, and silly things to want to control, but if I know anything about my very human, deep feeling heart, it is that something bigger is always lurking beneath the surface of seemingly dramatic reactions. And that something bigger is that I really, really, really hate feeling out of control and I am really, really, really out of control of literally everything right now.
Do you ever wonder what Peter felt when he asked Jesus if he could step out of the boat and walk on water? I’m not talking about when his fear overcame him and he started to drown, I’m talking about when he had the boldness to say, “”Lord, if it is you…command me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28)” I imagine he was probably feeling real good and real confident, genuinely wanting to experience more of what the Lord was up to. I can’t tell you how many times this past year I have prayed a similar prayer of boldness from the safety of my own boat. I have prayed to be in this exact season of risk I’m in now, knowing the lack of control that awaited me. “Put me in, Coach” was my favorite thing to say to the Lord when I got all fired up in the middle of my very steady, very stable full-time job.
After Peter asks, Jesus gives him permission to step out of the boat, and can you imagine the five and a half seconds of pure courage and adreniline that must have been pumping through Peter’s veins? Man, he must have felt so alive with the promise that he was going to participate in real kingdom purpose and develop deeper intimacy with his bestie. Then, before he can even take a few steps forward, the reality sets in. Kingdom purpose and deeper intimacy are being offered in abundance to him, but he will have to trade in his sense of control to get it. The wind is strong; his courage rapidly disinitigrates into fear; he begins to sink. His trust in his Savior is tested and he finds that it is weak and unable to sustain him.
My, “please let me step out of the boat” prayer was answered, too. This time last year I was starting a full-time nanny job. I had a steady schedule for the first time since I graduated college. I paid off debt and built a savings and didn’t sweat bullets when I ordered a margarita and an entrée at Cinco De Mayo. But I knew the Lord was calling me into songwritng and I had no idea what that looked like. I felt isolated and insecure—unable to imagine how I would ever get myself into the Cool Kid’s Club that is Nashville’s music scene.
Use my creativity. Use my music. Use my vulnerability. Put me in coach.
And then in April, everything shifted. I met the right people; my love for the music industry deepened; I felt confirmed in the purpose I sensed I was being called into, and the dear family I worked for told me they were moving away. This was my moment. This was my moment to step out of the boat and to trust the Lord with everything I have. This was my moment to be bold and take a risk. And for five and a half seconds pure courage and adreniline pumped through my veins. And then fear rose to power within me as I considered my finances and inconsistent job schedule and holy smokes can I really be a 25-year-old artist in Nashville because they sign people at like 14?!
I am really fond of talking about the language of both/and, and this summer has opened my eyes to how easily we can hold two seemingly opposing truths at once. No doubt Peter felt fear. He felt so much fear he started to sink. He took his eyes off Jesus. He flailed. But I bet he also really wanted to be near Jesus. I bet he felt moments of courage as he tried to regain his composure out on the water. I bet he fought with his deeply rooted instinct to control everything. And I bet he felt how much life was available to him in the risk of stepping out of the boat.
I have been both intensely afraid this summer and more bold than I have ever been with my creativity. I have both sat in writer’s rooms with incredibly talented people and felt the confidence that this is what I have been made to do and I have questioned it like crazy. I have had my eyes on Jesus and my eyes on the waves, and the crazy part about all of it—the crazy part about the story of Jesus calling Peter out onto the water—is that Jesus is faithful to both answer his bold and risky prayer and to pull him out of the water when he can’t handle it.
The story of Jesus and Peter on the water ends like this: “Immediately, Jesus reached out his hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt? (Matthew 14: 31)” I love the use of the word immediately here. Even when we feel like we are drowning in the midst of the risky thing God has called us to, we are never further than arms reach from the Savior who does not say, “I told you so,” but pulls us out of the water.
I hope the call on my life is to always assure you, whoever you is in the moment, that God does not condemn your humanity. (Often what we do with our humanity does not honor God, but that is a different conversation.) He didn’t condemn Peter for being afraid and he doesn’t condemn you. He both has grace for the ways you will flail under the guidance of your distrust and he still calls you out of the boat. Time and time again. Without fail.
I woke up one morning this week with the confidence that if I prayed for something, the Lord would answer. I can’t even remember what the thing was specifically but my immediate response was to say, “Oh, I will just ask the Lord. He will get it taken care of.” And, let me tell you, there is no greater miracle than little seeds of trust sprouting out of the ground in the heart of a control addict. And that kind of trust can only be built by openly distrusting as I step out into the waves that I am scared God doesn’t have control over.
I don’t know what risky thing God is calling you to, but I promise it exists. If you are afraid of being out of control, reality check: you already are. Any sense of control you may be clinging to is a façade, feeble like my budgeting even when I do a really, really good job of not spending frivolous amounts of money on iced coffee. This doesn’t mean we don’t plan or take our responsibilities seriously, I have just found that I might as well admit I have no control now and surrender to the risky and adventurous plan of God than try to play it safe, thinking that route ensures me any sort of stability, because it doesn’t.
Once upon a time when I was terrified of flying, it was because I had absolutely no control over the outcome. I was zooming through the air in a metal tube and I didn’t get to be the pilot who ensured we made it there safely. I used to sit in a window seat and, I’m not kidding, try to will the plane to stay in the air with my mind. I would have subscribed to any preposterous idealogy, so long as I got to cling to a semblence, no matter how false, of control. During one particular flight there was some bad turbulence and, clutching the armrest with my forehead pressed against the window, I prayed as hard as I could, “God, please stop the turbulence. Please, please, please stop the turbulence.” And I heard God whisper back to me, “instead of praying for the turbulence to stop, pray for peace. Pray to know that I am with you.”
There will be waves and wind, but God is with you. There will be turbulence and fear and annoying red dots on your chin, but God is with you. There will be break ups and eye infections and months that look a little dicey financially, but God is with you. And there will also be intense joy, because God promises that if we give up our control, if we agree to step out of the boat, life will be there waiting for us. It is worth the risk.