Crazy medical events. Terminal illness with no cure or treatment. Life upturned. Priorities rearranged. Tears and strong-held hands and deep breaths and sore knees from sincere prayers because blind faith is all you have left…and all of this on repeat.
Lately I wonder…did I ask for this? Really. Of course I didn’t ask for this. But did I ask for this? Did I pray for this? Did I pray for all of this to come and did God then close His eyes and say “yes, Heather. It’s time.”?
Eight months ago, I asked Jesus to call me out to the deep waters. He had already told me to get ready. I sensed there was an adventure coming, but I had no idea how deep the water would get. God doesn’t always name the deep before He calls you to it.
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
– from Oceans by Hillsong United
It is late August. My son is near his sixth week of third grade. And I am organizing snacks in the kitchen.
For over an hour, I portion snacks into the baggies: protein bars, cheerios, fresh grapes, cherry tomatoes, cheese cubes, and goldfish. I faithfully ensure that all food groups are represented in my son’s snack options for the week.
I ponder what God might be preparing me for as Oceans by Hillsong United plays on my phone.
This song is Peter’s song; he yearns to walk on the water. And it is my song as well.
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
– from Oceans by Hillsong United
I hear the opening chords and I think of my yoga students at the beginning of class where this song showed up in the playlist and I am just like them. I don’t know what is coming, but my heart is open and I listen.
The lyrics bubble to the surface of my heart. Where feet may fail. The great unknown. Where fear surrounds. Strong faith. Trust without borders. Walking anyway upon the waters. Tears well up as I fill the baggies with Cheerios and I am convicted.
Have I done this, Lord? Have I lived in a place where my trust has no borders? Have I lived fearlessly with you? For you? Every morning, these words are prayed with Thomas on the way to school:“Let us be a family that steps boldly in the name of Jesus.“ Have I done this? Have I stepped boldly?
The answer to all these things is no.
Have I just been living in the boat, manning the oars, content to watch others around me walk above the deep? Have I worried too much about what other people think? Have I lived safely in my comfort zone, content to worship you within my own mind and heart and not consider that I am my brother’s keeper, after all? My entire life is the gospel written over and over and over again. Have I withheld this hope from those that need it most, foolishly thinking that the God stuff in my life was meant for my heart alone? Halted by fear? Frozen with insecurity? Believing the lie that I have nothing to offer?
The answer to all these things is yes.
Immediately, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
Matthew 14: 22-31
For twenty-six summers I have carried Jesus in my heart. Over the course of twenty-six years I have probably read Peter’s story a hundred times. How many times have I heard sermons on Matthew 14? On stepping out of the boat? Too many to count. Gracious, how many times have I taught this lesson to my dear preschool children? How many times has my husband taught this story to children at camp so that they too, might not fear the water?
How could I have missed one crucial part of Peter’s story?
Peter asked to be called out onto the water. He asked for this. How could I have missed that? All this time I thought Jesus just told him to go walking on the water and Peter simply obeyed. But it was Peter who asked to be called out. Boldly. To increase his faith.
Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
– from Oceans by Hillsong United
I portion goldfish into the baggies and I wonder: where is it that trust has no borders? Where would I have to travel to completely let go of any fears, any hesitations, any doubts that threaten to keep my feet on dry land?
And wouldn’t this be a bold and courageous place to live?? I see this question on someone’s Facebook status – “Wouldn’t it be so very bold to ask for trust without borders?” And I ponder the same.
What audacity Peter must have had when he asked Jesus to call him out onto the water! Did he rise up above the seated eleven in the boat and toss his chin, stubborn, willful, and tenacious in his plea to walk where Jesus stood? Or did he take a slow and unsteady breath, close his eyes and plead with shaky voice? And did his hands quiver even as he white-knuckled the mast before he climbed out of the boat?
When I was in college, I was a part of a small group with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. We studied the Bible together, ate together, fellowshipped together. And we also jumped off cliffs together. One Saturday afternoon trip to the local rock quarry left my stomach in knots. Anxious to step off the twenty-foot cliff (forty? I’m terrible with estimating distances), but determined to not fear. Everybody else is doing this and I can to. I jump. I fly. I hit the water and sink and then shoot to the surface, heaving oxygen and pumping blood. My white teeth shine against the water and I am proud, and also foolish.
Now, as a mother of a boy who is learning to honor God, make good choices, love his friends, and care for his neighbor, I want to live fearlessly for him. What am I teaching him if I am not teaching him to leap boldly into the arms of Jesus? I portion the goldfish into another baggie and I jump off the cliff, knowing this time I won’t sink. My breath is unsteady. My hands do quiver. I ask Jesus to call me out onto the water.
It was a simple prayer. The prayers in my life that God has answered the most loudly have been just that: simple.
Jesus, take me to the place where my trust will have no borders. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander alone. Increase my faith. I trust you. Whatever you are preparing me for, wherever you are leading me, let me step toe to water and let me keep my eyes on you.
Eight months later and I now know the name of the deep.
And still, I walk, because every time my feet falter, and they do falter, Jesus immediately reaches out to catch my hand.
Crazy medical events. Terminal illness with no cure or treatment. Life upturned. Priorities rearranged. Tears and strong-held hands and deep breaths and sore knees from sincere prayers because blind faith is all you have left.
Did I ask for this? Maybe I did. And now that I know the deep by name, do I regret it? Absolutely not. Every step above the deep is a step towards my Savior.
One truth of this story is that all of these things were chosen for me whether I had asked for them or not. God knows all of my path. He knows every footstep I will take. He ordained it. He put me in this specific place in this specific time to fulfill a very specific purpose.
Another truth of this story is that His path for me is good. I believe this because His word tells me so, and because I have seen evidence of this truth in my own life over and over.
No, this will not be easy. But it will be good. This is the path. God has a purpose. So I will have peace.
“Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
– from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
I’ve stepped out of the boat before in my life. In 1989, when I walked down the aisle at Fort Caswell near dear friends who knew that what I needed most after my mother’s death was Jesus. In 1999, when I waited for God to pull me from the depths of depression. In 2013, when I heard Him call to me once again after years of bitterness and grief over my father’s death.
No, He is not safe. He isn’t safe at all. But He is good. And He is the King. And He is mine.
In late August 2015, I step out onto the water again.
Only this is the first time that I asked to be called out. All the other times He lovingly and tenderly called me to Him and I simply responded.
But this time, Lord, this time is different. I plead with a shaky voice: Increase my faith. Take me to the place where my trust will have no borders. I am afraid of the unknown, but I know you are in control. Call me out to you. Let me walk on the deep waters.
My voice is not what it used to be. Art songs and Broadway hits and wedding solos and praise music sung on the second row at church used to be in my repertoire. Where a strong mezzo vibrato once rang out, vocal chords are now strained by mounds of platinum coil, put there to cease blood flow from my carotid artery. I’ll never sing the way I once did.
But here, still, with my voice in the written word, I cry out to the doubters, the seekers, to those just like me standing at the edge of the cliff and packing snacks. I cry out with both a question and a promise. What is it that keeps you from stepping out onto the water? There is nothing that my God cannot rescue you from. And when you do timidly press one big toe to saving water, be ready for a glorious adventure led by the only One who is capable of keeping you from sinking.
One big toe and a simple prayer is all that is needed.
So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
– from Oceans by Hillsong United
Read the next step in the story here.