What You Risk When You Play it Safe

She carefully laid down my painting, generations old and beginning to flake at the top. She delicately took one corner and set it within a filler, matting, and a gorgeous detailed frame. We began swapping out mattings and playing with different pricing. Trying to get it just right. I was starting to settle in on a design that I thought looked beautiful when she said to me, Okay, now I want to try something that’s a little bit different. I’ve done this before and it looked amazing. She grabbed a matting that had an obviously pink hue to it and began to work it within the set of framing components. Instantly it brightened the picture. Yet I began to doubt the direction she was taking the design. To me, it wasn’t safe and predictable. It wasn’t classic and conservative. I didn’t think my husband would dig the pink matting. It definitely wouldn’t work in my dining room.

No, I said. Let’s go back to the other one.

Why?

Because it’s safe.

Then this new acquaintance, this frame designer at Michael’s, exhorted me and said, Who cares about safe! These are beautiful pieces. If you go the safe route, I think you’ll always be thinking, “Close, but you didn’t quite make it.”

She started me thinking about what I risk by playing it safe.

This painting is part of a set of two oils that my maternal great-grandfather painted in the early 50s. It’s a landscape of southwest Michigan where he immigrated to from the Netherlands. It’s where I grew up. Some of my extended family still live in the specific area this painting was derived from. Most of my artist ancestor’s work is of autumn leaves expressed with gold, brown, and orange hues. It’s a beautiful time of year, but not my time. My time of year is spring, which is when these two were painted. They are my favorites of all his work. In these paintings you can see purple flowers budding on trees and multiple greens set in the background. It’s vibrant and hopeful and reminds me of new life coming forth. I love how beautifully the four seasons in the Midwest signify different seasons of life.

So in that moment, right there in Michael’s I began wondering, Will I always think, “Close, but you didn’t quite make it?” not just for these paintings, but for my life? How many times do I make a decision because it’s safe? Apparently quite a bit because I just then remembered saying the very same thing out loud to a friend a couple of weeks ago when I was buying skirt. Is my tendency toward safe? Not just in my purchase decisions but in my life? Maybe it is. And if so, when does God ever call us to safe?

The very next day Mac and I were reading a Bible story before bed. We opened The Jesus Storybook Bible to the story where there is a storm at sea and Jesus is asleep.

Rescue us! Save us!” they shrieked. “Don’t you care?” (Of course Jesus cared, and this was the very reason he had come — to rescue them and to save them.) Jesus stood up and spoke to the storm. “Hush!” he said. That’s all. And the strangest thing happened…They listened to Jesus and did what he had said.” – Sally Lloyd-Jones

I was struck by how unconcerned Jesus was that they were in such an unsafe situation. He calmed the seas, but not because it was safer for him and the disciples, He did it to demonstrate His authority over the wind and the rain. Do I call out to God because I want Him to make the circumstances of my life more safe? Or, because I want to see Him demonstrate his power in a shaky situation?

There is certainly something that I’m risking by playing it safe. I’m risking not seeing God work in powerful ways.

Having a child with disabilities makes us rethink safe all the time. Our family time is often categorized as “Yes, we could do that with Nathan” or “No way we could do that with Nathan.” Sometimes it is because we are tired and simply don’t have the energy for an overly ambitious family adventure. But mostly it’s because it would be too hard or too potentially unsafe for Nathan.

In spite of the fact that it’s more work and there are no guarantees of safe outcomes, we are going to try a few new fun things with Nathan. The one I’m most excited about is swim lessons. You would think swim lessons is an easy yes. However Nathan has a big risk of aspirating the chlorine water, because of his inability to swallow effectively, which means he could develop aspiration pneumonia. We won’t be reckless and start out dunking his head under water, of course. But swim lessons should be a simple childhood pleasure. I don’t want to think, Close, but I never tried that. Most importantly, I don’t want Nathan to not be able to make it at something because I was too scared to try.

The Michael’s framer unknowingly sent me asking the existential question of, Am I supposed to live safe?

I’m beginning to realize that my tendency toward safe doesn’t work well in my life and in my relationships. It makes me more prone to worry and hesitation and eventually regret. Jesus says, “Follow me.” Why should I fear when the One calling me toward something unknown and scary promises to go before me. He has great power. I am risking not seeing Him work when I play it safe.

Well I didn’t decide safe for these two valuable (to me) heirlooms. And I don’t want to decide safe for my life either.

These beautiful landscapes hang in my dining room. You can see them right when you enter my house. I look at them and am reminded of how life is not supposed to be safe. It’s supposed to be an adventure.

Also, before reading this blog post just now, my husband didn’t say a single thing about the pink. (You can barely see it, yet I think it makes all the difference.)

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” – Mark 4:39

My book, Beauty in Broken Dreams: A Hopeful Handbook for the Early Years as a Special Needs Parent, is now available on Amazon!

Also be sure to check out my list of Favorite Books on Disability!

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