A Blue Ribbon Day

It was a season rich with symbolism. A path I’d followed, clearly at God’s leading, which had stopped abruptly in a dark woods. An orbit which held me fast in its gravitational pull. A complex maze which only God could lead me out of.

My struggle revolved around a vocational conundrum. I’d endured five years of searching, wrestling, initiating and waiting without discovering a path to freedom.

 I’d taken a step forward after taking on a challenge posed by a conference speaker: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”* I skipped the following session to get away with my journal and reflect, and later revised my job profile to better reflect my passions. Hope was ignited but it soon flickered out, again. I’d found my way to the edge of the dark woods and was looking out on a glorious meadow, but was still held captive, hindered from running out into the meadow and twirling about in the sunshine.

A year later another symbol entered the picture. At the close of another conference, each participant was given a blue ribbon. We were asked to do something with it – wipe a tear, write a word or a Scripture reference on it, anything which was symbolic of where we were that day – and bring it to the front where chicken wire had been stretched over a large wooden cross.

I tied my blue ribbon into as many knots as it would hold. Then I knelt at the cross, untied one of the knots to make room to tie my symbol of excruciation to the chicken wire, and breathed a prayer. “Lord, untie the knots of my life! Only you can do this.”

The next day the situation worsened. I had nowhere to turn except into a season of solitude and silence. Out of the silence, finally, something new emerged. I began a new initiative and also, tentatively, signed up for an introductory course in spiritual direction.

On the final afternoon of this weeklong experience, the course leaders offered prayer to the participants. They’d arranged four chairs in the center of the chapel and, one by one, we filled the empty chair and spoke out our requests. The chapel became a holy sanctuary as I reflected upon the transformation that had begun in my heart. Freedom, fullness and joy had begun to find a home there. Suddenly I realized it had been exactly three months since I’d tied my blue ribbon to that cross. The timing amazed me as I considered the transformation I’d experienced since then.

When I took my place in the empty chair to sit shoulder to shoulder with the course leaders, I had no request to bring, only thanksgiving and awe. This was my blue ribbon day! A resurrection moment. A time of celebration. I’d asked what makes me come alive and, as I pursued it, I’d begun to live into my unique contribution to this world.

*Howard Thurman, quoted by John Eldredge in Wild at Heart

Join the Conversation

Have you taken stock of what makes you come alive? What new life have you known as a result?

Elizabeth de Smaele:
  Elizabeth de Smaele is a certified spiritual director, raised and trained in Canada but living in The Netherlands. The founder of Deeper Devotion Ministry, Elizabeth specializes in individual spiritual direction and interactive workshops in contemplative spirituality. Her newest initiative is Getaway with God weekends, guided retreats for women.  

2 Comments


  1. Elizabeth, thank you for sharing your resurrection moment. The wonderful reminder of our Fathers delight in redeeming our frustration, and how the process of walking through it is so necessary. I had similar experience over the last three years. There many things that have been learned and many little resurrections along way. I’m beginning to understand that the peace that you talk about doesn’t come through resolving external things that frustrate my soul, but from a real gift of grace deposited in my soul by Christ.

  2. Aaron, thanks for sharing this. I love your realization about peace being deposited in our souls as a gift of grace. There’s a beauty in this peace being given in spite of–or even because of–the challenges and frustrations we face. When the very things that cause us pain become paths leading to greater life, they sure are redeemed. Blessings on this journey!

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