A ship in a harbour is safe...

When I was a child our family lived overseas and in houses that belonged to other people so we didn't go in for interior decorating in a big way. One particular picture, however, was a constant. It was a poster with a quotation on it, done in nifty seventies' yellow tones, and it said this:

"A ship in a harbour is safe. But that is not what ships are built for."

Being a kid who read everything, all the time, I ran through the words on that poster a few times a day. "A ship in a harbour. Ship in a harbour. In a harbour. Safe. Safe. Safe."

It intrigued me. What did it mean? When I asked my Dad he told me it was about not just living life being comfortable and happy. It meant stretching, taking risks, going places that might not be easy.

Being children of the coast, both in our adopted homeland and also back in Australia, we knew about ships and boats. We holidayed on a beach. Our grandparents lived on waterfront and owned an outboard run around. We sailed.

I understood harbours too. The little rock-walled inlet down from our favourite beach was filled with boats of all shapes and sizes, safely inside, hidden from the storms and the swell. When we went down there, we'd look at them, compare features and dream about which one we'd have, if we could. Those boats were just waiting to go out, through the heads, past the markers, into the ocean.

But some of them waited forever.

Some boats were never used. Never boarded. Never started up. Never sailed. They bobbed, tied to their buoys, in still water for their entire lives. Barnacles attached to their undersides, slowly but surely. Paint peeled and flaked over time in the sun. Occasionally we'd go past the harbour and see a boat half full of water, sinking to a slow, watery disintegration.

"Not what ships are built for."

My parents showed us that life is for being stretched, for being challenged, for serving, not taking, for loving and forgiving even when it feels like it might not be safe. They showed us that you can always do a little more, even when you think you can't. You can always go a little further, even when your feet are sore. They showed us the value of staying the course, going through the storms and doing what we are built to do as children of God.

I loved that yellow poster on our wall. It comes from a quote published and possibly written by John A Shedd in 1928, by the way, (the origins are a little sketchy...) As a child it was meaningful and as an adult it has been life-shaping. (It is also the basis for my recent novel Invincible. When I was trying to plot out what might happen to Jazmine and her friends, I realised that she was going to have to step out of her safe place once again and take even more risks. The quote sprang immediately to mind, so I built the metaphor into the story line and hung the quotation on the wall of Jazmine's Grandma's house.)

Harbours are safe, but they are only meant for short periods. We can't stay in them for too long or we begin a long, slow, dull disintegration.