The Greatest Risk


We found ourselves at the open door of an art gallery in Maui last week. It was mid-afternoon, and we were walking back from the beach. The salt of the Pacific Ocean traced our lips. Sand stubbornly clung to our ankles, like barnacles.

Blame the art: it wooed us from those open doors, drawing our attention away from the endless line of t-shirt stores and ice-cream shops. Long rows of neatly arranged paintings — each spotlighted from a bulb overhead — dared us to step over the threshold.

“Can we go in?” our younger daughter asked with pleading eyes.

Of course I wanted to go in. But there was the issue of appearance.

Picture us: ragamuffin tourists with dirty feet and tangled hair. We smelled like sunscreen and ocean wave. The edge of a wet towel hung out of my overstuffed bag, like the tongue of a thirsty dog.

Our family of four was severely under-dressed for an encounter with the fine arts. We wore flip-flops and damp swimsuits, which bled through our new, screen-printed Aloha shirts.

Plus, what if we broke something — like a $3,000 something? My girls are far beyond toddlerhood, but they still have this driving desire to touch EVERYTHING in stores.

Some of you might call me a delightfully curious mother. Others might call me a fool. But I decided to go in — and to take my touch-everything family with me. My parental commands came in hushed spurts. I raised a pointed finger and employed a bit of drill-sergeant clarity. “Don’t touch. Don’t tussle. Keep your hands to yourselves. No hula dancing. That’s an order.”

The girls nodded their heads.

Then we stepped inside, leaving behind the breezy chatter of Front Street for the hallowed, deafening quiet of the gallery, thick with the smell of tempera and clay.

The gallery curator was wearing a smart, button-up blouse and pencil skirt. She met us at the door.

I felt my cheeks flush. “I’m sorry, I . . .”

I looked down at my “clothes.”

She lifted upturned hands.

“Welcome!” She was unfazed by our disheveled scuffle into the room. We were in a tourist beach town after all. Then, she toured us through the small gallery, allowing us to linger over our favorite genres. It was magical.

Before we left, I thanked her for her hospitality. I breathed a quiet prayer of thanks that we didn’t break anything.

She stepped closer, looked at me over her wire-rimmed glasses and said this:

“Quite honestly, I wish more parents would bring their children inside. So many people stand out there, looking in,” she said, pointing to the portico where we’d stood a half-hour earlier. “And the children miss all of this,” she said, waving a hand across the room. “They grow up without an appreciation for fine art, because to them, it had always been untouchable.”

That was a week ago. Today, I write to you from the subzero temps of the Midwest. But the message from that curator in Maui is as sticky as the sand still stuck in our suitcases. The message is this:

We could miss so much beauty in this grand old world because we’re afraid.

We’re afraid to take the next step. We’re afraid to cross the threshold. We’re afraid we’ll break something – or that something will break us. We’re afraid we don’t deserve the beauty. We’re afraid we’re too messy, too disheveled, too ragamuffin.

But along comes God, this Curator with impeccable taste, who stands at the doorway, inviting us in — every last one of us. He’s saying to us, “I have so much to show you. Please, come inside!”

If you never go, you’ll never know.

I don’t know about you, but all of the best things in my life have had fear as a steady companion. I’ve been terrified to apply for jobs, to join exercise classes, to write books, to have hard conversations. I’ve been terrified of childbirth. Of falling in love.

There are always good reasons for not walking through the doors of this life. There are always risks in crossing those great thresholds.

True enough: Sometimes, our worst fears come to pass. Sometimes, things break. Sometimes, we ourselves are the most broken things of all.

But that’s the thing. To live a beautiful life, we have to take the risk. To live a beautiful life, we have to lose the fear of stepping across the threshold.

The greatest risk in this life is never taking the risk. Of never taking the next step.

I don’t want to stand outside, looking through the open door, longing for something I think I don’t deserve. This year, let’s step into the gallery. Let’s risk the breaking to see the beautiful.

One of the finest works in the gallery? Is you.

“For we are God’s masterpiece.” {Ephesians 2:10}

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  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    What great timing to read this beautiful post this morning. I had one of those nights of “sleep” when you feel like you’ve been wrestling, running, striving all night long. My dream took me back in time to a very insecure season in life. Fear definitely kept me from stepping across the threshold. Needless to say I didn’t wake up in a very good mood. But, reading your post…makes me look at the times I fearfully stepped across the threshold – never alone because God was always holding me with His righteous right hand. What beauty there is that I would have never found had I not followed God’s urging to step forward…to step into the beauty He had waiting for me. What an inspiring post. Oh the things we miss when we let fear hold us back…

    • dukeslee


      Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sorry I didn’t reply yesterday. I had appointments all day long, and am now just coming over to say hello. It’s always a joy to see you here, Bev.

      I hope that last night’s sleep was better than the previous. I have dreams like those you describe. I guess it’s our way of dealing with past struggle, insecurities, fears, and so on. Our brains are powerful engines — able to cope even through dreams.

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Jennifer, so often when I read your beautiful posts, I think: I really needed to read this! It’s not cliché, it’s not idle compliment; it’s real, and it’s appreciated. I love how the Lord leads your writing straight into hearts (like mine!) who need to read His message at a particular juncture–for indeed, it’s He who inspires your writing. I literally just read another blogpost on Joshua about not fearing…about stepping up to that threshold and crossing over with courage, knowing God goes with us. The implication, of course, is that courage is needed because life is hard and because we are fearful. And then I read your post about how we can risk losing beauty if we won’t take the risk, cross the threshold, and enter the gallery (or to use Joshua’s metaphor, the promised land). I am at some kind of critical threshold I can’t possibly fully comprehend, but I have glimpses. And I dare to believe that there is beauty across the great divide. But God bids that I cross over–not just into new opportunity, but from fear to risk to obedience…and hopefully, to peace and fulfillment. Thank you for being yet another signpost to me along this journey. This post also speaks on other levels (as yours always do!) . . . about not caring about material things (or looks or beauty), about putting beauty and art before triviality (think cheap souvenirs), about exposing our children to the arts (which I always did w/ Sheridan…and the more you do this and take children to beautiful places, the more they will regard art as a necessary part of life (Sheridan frequented art museums from the time she was two, and the symphony at five), and about being the curator who welcomes the disheveled and seeing people, themselves, no matter their outer packaging, as the greatest art of all–God’s masterpiece. I’m indebted to you, and I consider your writing great art. May the Lord bless you and all the little art-loving, hand-touching, heart-reaching Lees this New Year! Give everyone a big hug from “Auntie” Lynn. They won’t break!

    • dukeslee

      Good morning, Lynn! I’m just now getting over to here to say hello and respond to these thoughtful comments. Thank you for your kind remarks.

      I’ll speak to the part about exposing our children to art, because initially, that’s the message I carried ith me when I left the gallery. (The spiritual analogy occurred to me much later.) I don’t know that every gallery curator would respond like this one did, but I was so encouraged by her openness, her humility, her wisdom in response to our questions about artists and genres. At one point, she took a painting off the wall, and into a private viewing room, so the girls could get a better look. I almost felt guilty at the lavish attention we’d been given. Did we deserve this? Even when we weren’t going to pay for a painting? (Even as I write that, I can see more spiritual analogies…)

      The girls absolutely loved our time in the gallery, and it reminded me how important it is to expose them to the fine arts. We don’t have a lot of opportunity for that where I live, so when we are in more populated areas, I want to be sure to carve time for those types of activities.

      Thanks, “Auntie” Lynn, for your hugs. The girls adore you.

      Oh! How could I forget this! I am saying a prayer for you this morning, as you stand at your critical threshold! Love to you.

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Jennifer, I so appreciate this loving, thoughtful response. Thank you! And I loved reading more about what you are doing for the girls. You are opening up such important vistas for them. They are such beautiful, sensitive young women. And thank you especially for your prayer. How I need courage not to trip over that threshold, and not to stay inside the door, when I am to cross over. bless you dear one!

  • karen

    Oh and to be the curator….to welcome and encourage everyone to come in and share it with those who are afraid and feel inadequate! THAT’S who I want to be!!!!!

    • dukeslee

      Me, too, Karen!

  • Kris Camealy

    Jennifer, this is for me today.

    Thank you… Xo

    • dukeslee

      To know that my words ministered to your heart? I am humbled and glad. Love you. xo

  • Mary Haynie

    I always took my own kids when they were young and the Kindergartners I taught to museums to introduce them to art, dinosaurs, and inventions. The kids thought it was cool to see things like that.
    Thank you.

    • dukeslee

      That’s fantastic, Mary. Sounds like you understand exactly what the curator was expressing to me. Thanks for reading along. Have a great week.

  • Karmen


    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Karmen.

  • Lovelle Gerth- Myers

    This is so good! We miss out on so much if we don’t take scary steps. Thanks for this reminder Jennifer.

    • dukeslee

      My pleasure, Lovelle. Hope you are doing well. It’s been such a joy to watch your journey, and to celebrate the steps you’ve taken.

  • A

    Jennifer, thank you today for this. As I work through the pain of the past to let go and step into the life Jesus has for me, this posting is life a breeze of His fresh air, His new life, inviting me to step forward, just one tiny step. It is difficult and yet amazing and pray for His courage as I step. He is so good to each of us in His encouragement, gently asking each of us to walk with Him in courage, love, and strength. I pray that each of us can let go of the fears and take that baby step into the places He has for us. May each of us be blessed in His grace :)

    • dukeslee


      I’m glad to know these words found a way to reach your beautiful heart.

  • Rose

    I love this!! Thank you Jennifer! For some reason I think I needed this today. I often day dream with my 4 year old. We look at the frost in the morning and I tell him to look at how beautiful it is and how much it sparkles. I show him how the trees look like they are dancing when there is a storm so he feels not so afraid and it makes him happy. I often do these things because I think it’s important to teach him about how beautiful God made the world and that noticing the little things makes a big difference. Doing things like this with our children is not always valued in our current day but I think it’s important for their development too. Anyways thank you for a beautifully written post. I so appreciated it and needed it today.

    • dukeslee


      It sounds as if you are a curator, too — like the woman who greeted us at the door of the gallery, who wanted us to really see the beauty around us.

  • JeanneTakenaka

    Oh Jennifer, what a beautiful post. I loved this line: “To live a beautiful life, we have to take the risk.” Your post dovetails with what God is showing me about my one word: Authentic. If I want to be authentic, it’s going to require me to be transparent, vulnerable. First with Him, then with others. It’s so easy to stand on the outside of intimate friendships and stay there, protecting my heart from further hurt. But, man, when I take the step into the invitation to intimacy, such beauty unlocks! I have to trust God to protect, to watch over me. I need to be willing to risk and step into authenticity with others and see the beauty He wants to invite me into.

    I don’t know if this makes sense. But your post spoke to the deep places in my hear today. Thank you.

    • dukeslee

      It absolutely makes sense, Jeanne. I’m right there with you.

  • Sharon O

    Oh I must share this beautiful writing on my blog. I love it as my husband and I are nearing our retirement we will see many new things and experience new adventures. I must tell myself, when I feel comfortable and not wanting to leave my comfort zone, never taking the risk can be costly. We must go with brave hearts and courageous adventure. Thank you.

    • dukeslee

      You are welcome, Sharon. I am glad the words spoke to you.

  • Tracey Casciano

    I love this application and find it so relatable. If I hadn’t taken a risk and stepped forward with my story, I would have never known how much it is helping people!

    • dukeslee

      I am so glad to hear that you stepped right into your fears, and then past your fears, to (I imagine) help others do the same thing. God bless you, dear Tracey, as you walk alongside others.

  • Inspired Life

    I am NOT a risk taker. Everything for me is measured, with minimal risk on injury. But how will I ever move forward if I’m unwilling to take a risk? And I don’t know why I’m so cautious knowing that every time I’ve taken a step God has proven faithful. I feel at this level of spiritual maturity I should be SO over this by now. Thank you for the nudge.

    • dukeslee

      Oh friend … I think most of us would nod our heads in agreement. Even the most revered of Biblical characters felt cautious, even fearful, at critical junctures in their ministry. I am always buoyed by God’s promise that is the strength in our weakness. It seems our weakness is actually an entry point for Him to step in and take over.

  • Martha Orlando

    How dull and meaningless our lives would be if we refused to take risks! Yes, they can be frightening and intimidating, but we shouldn’t be content with the threshold when God is inviting us to walk through the door.
    Thank you, Jennifer, for the inspiration; it’s uplifting and encouraging as always!

    • dukeslee

      I’m so glad these words spoke to you, Martha.

  • Liz

    Beautiful! God is definitely working on me about this! Thanks for your encouragement!

    • dukeslee

      You’re welcome, Liz. Thanks for stopping by incourage.

  • Anita

    Thank you so much for the reminder! I stand on the edge of fear as a writer, and I needed the encouragement today!

    • dukeslee

      I’m glad these words were timely for you, Anita. How did your writing go yesterday?

      • Anita

        I wrote :). I do a lot of pre-writing in my head and rough drafting when I walk–so today I’m ready to really put pen to paper!

  • Pam Ecrement

    Hi Jennifer! This is beautiful! I love the place and way the Lord brought this truth into your life and am so glad you shared it with us! What a totally delightful experience for your family to have. The curator? My, oh, my, it was a divine setup from the Lord for sure! Thanks so much for this!

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Pam. I doubt that every curator would be as hospitable and generous-hearted toward a sandy-footed family. But I was certainly grateful for this one — not only because we got to see some great art, but because deeper spiritual lessons were revealed.

  • Tiffany

    Just love this, Jennifer. It spoke volumes to me and actually confirmed some words the Lord has had rolling around my head – same scripture even! Thankful that He used you today to remind me to go. Blessings.

    • dukeslee

      Yay! So glad to know this!

  • Rebecca Jones

    This is a great story. We are masterpieces, and God is the artist, we are perfect not because we did anything but by grace and the blood of Jesus. We are accustomed to dealing with fear as emotion and not a spirit, when we do, we realize it can attack anywhere anytime,so put the enemy in his place in Jesus name. I slept like Bev, but most assuredly you’re not wrestling flesh and blood. I’m glad you got to enjoy the gallery, I love art, maybe I’ll get to the museums someday.

    • dukeslee

      Boom! That’s the gospel truth, Rebecca! Thanks for sharing.

  • CM Hazelwood

    I remember once “borrowing a child” from a friend, and adding another friend and her little daughter to go to a museum. Somehow it felt more reasonable to take the children, though I think I enjoyed it at least as much as they did!

    • dukeslee

      How wonderful, CM. Thanks for sharing.

  • Rachael

    Beautiful! The same message has been written on my heart this week too. I love when the confirmation of what God is speaking to me is elaborated through others words like yours. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful message.

    • dukeslee

      It brings me joy to know that the same messages have been rolling around in both of our hearts. Peace and love to you, Rachael.

  • Lori Schumaker

    I love this story, Jennifer! I’m all in – I want to risk the breaking to see the beautiful!
    Blessings and smiles,

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Lori!

  • Marni Gallerneault

    Needed this message. Ty!

    • dukeslee

      You’re welcome, Marni. Have a great week.

  • Lyli Dunbar

    Jennifer, thanks for this reminder that life is beauty full, and we must push fear to the curb so that we don’t miss out on all that God has for us. Love you, friend! You always encourage my spirit, and it’s wonderful to see your words here at (in)courage. xo

  • Mary

    I will never get tired of hearing that I am God’s masterpiece and that is a truth we all need. Thank you for bravely facing your insecurities as we made your way into the art gallery but more importantly as you make your way through life. You inspire me to remember that even though we are broken and fearful people, God sees as beautiful and brave. Your words empower me to step beyond the threshold of my insecurities straight into the secure arms of God. Blessings and happy new year (a little late)!

  • Kristi Woods

    “If you never go, you’ll never know.” Oh, I LOVE that, Jennifer. So true. Fear wraps us in such a tizzy at times. It’ll cause a girl to run….straight into the arms of disobedience. Your girls will remember these “wonderful mothering moments” of permission. I hope they read this post in the future, too. As for Maui, my mouth watered. We lived on O’ahu for three years. I’m missing the aloha, but thankful you were able to soak it in. Aloha. #tellHisstory

  • steph

    as a curator and a mom, I am SO glad you ventured into the gallery…make it a habit ;)

  • Nancy Ruegg

    I have several Post-Its above my work area. I believe one of them is from another of your posts from 2015: “Good enough is good enough.” Perhaps you were also the author of “Walk by faith in God’s promise for tomorrow.” Now comes: “Step into the gallery and risk the breaking to see the beautiful.” By the end of 2016, may I be able to say I walked by faith, took the risk, and saw God’s promises unfold into BEAUTIFUL! Thank you, Jennifer, for the challenge and the encouragement.