5 Things That Keep me Going in a Life Overseas

by Danielle Wheeler on June 6, 2014

We are so excited today  to link up and officially introduce Velvet Ashes to the community here at A Life Overseas. Besides being a visually stunning site, Velvet Ashes is an online community for women living overseas to connect. Every week new themes and thoughts emerge in this growing community. It is a perfect complement to A Life Overseas. So enjoy this post from Danielle Wheeler, the founder of Velvet Ashes and then head over to peruse the site!


5 Things That Keep Me Going in Life Overseas by Danielle Wheeler

Water spewed furiously from a hole in my wall.  I had merely flipped the lever in our little Chinese laundry room, and the entire faucet broke off in my hand.  Now I had a spouting fountain in my home.

I stood there, drenched, no idea how to stop it. Water pooled at my feet and began spilling into our dining room. Frantically, I ran for a bucket, filling it and chucking the water out a nearby window, hoping there was no one passing by five flights below.

I managed to grab my phone to call the repairman for our building. In broken Chinese, I said, “Can you come?  I have a problem.”

“What problem?” he wanted to know.

“A big problem. Water. Come fast. 

“What problem?” he repeated.

“Um … I don’t know how to say. Lots of water. Come fast.”

“What problem?” he persisted.

 “For the love!” I wanted to shout. Can you just come?!

Buckets later, he and his buddy showed up … with flashlights.  No toolbox, no plumber’s gear, just flashlights.

But they got the water to stop, so bless them and the flashlights that I judged.  

Later when the chaos had calmed and I was mopping up the aftermath, I took a shaky post-adrenaline breath. Then the tears came, sliding down, adding to the wetness. Pull yourself together, I told myself. It’s just water.

But I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t just water. It was ONE MORE THING. One more craziness to add to a very long list. We had been on the field for a few years now. I wasn’t in the throes of adjustment. I was smack in the middle of this overseas life, and I didn’t know if I wanted to keep doing it.

I was so weary. And I was lonely, lonelier than I cared to admit.    

I squeezed the mop, water trickling out. So much of me being rung out. So little flowing in. How do I keep on going when I’ve got nothing left?  What do I do when this life I’ve chosen is too much and not enough?  When do I throw in the towel and say I’m done?

That wet day was four years ago.

I’m still living in China.

I’m still adding to my list of all the crazy things.

But here’s what’s different.

I’ve learned some game-changing things about myself over these last few years. Things that keep me going, that keep me out of those puddles on the floor. These things are filling me, so that I can do what we’re here to do.

5 Things That Keep Me Going in Life Overseas


  1. I need a safe place to share what I’m going through with people that truly understand.
  2. I need to create. I need to do something that pumps life into me, to regularly do something that makes my heart skip faster.
  3. I need to be able interact about deep and meaningful ideas. This is how God makes those ideas sink in and change my soul.
  4. I need to be mentored by the stories of those that have walked this road before me. God made us to be mentored.
  5. I need to turn and offer a mentoring hand to those journeying after me.

You may read these and think, “Lovely ideas, but don’t you know how hard it is do these things when you’re overseas?”  Believe me, I know. The complexities and isolation that so many of us face can often make these ideals feel impossible.

But what if they aren’t?

For me, I knew I needed a place to connect with other women serving overseas. It was that need that birthed a dream. A dream called Velvet Ashes. An online community for women serving overseas to share, to create, to interact, to find mentoring.


Velvet Ashes Logo

 The dream went live this past November, and it has quickly become a life-giving place to me and to so many others. It’s a place to show up and admit when you’re not ok. It’s a place to bare your fear, to share your sorrow, to cling to hope, to stop and breathe.

I’m here today to invite all the ladies to come join us here. Because I’m guessing you’d like to be like the Velvet Ash tree, the one that thrives in unlikely places, in the dry exhaustion of the desert, its roots are strong and connected. And perhaps like the tree, you know that your scars make you beautiful with a beauty meant to share.

At Velvet Ashes, we have three stories shared each week. We have a weekly Book Club where we interact together. We have Connection Groups that meet weekly via Skype. We have a monthly recipe for those wanting to create in the kitchen (or just learn how to feed yourself from your foreign kitchen!) And each Friday we meet at The Grove to share our hearts, our words, and our art on the prompt of the week. You can bring those things that make your heart skip faster, your photography, your sketches, your poetry, your blog post. And always, you can just jump in and join the conversation.

I wish I’d had a community like this to turn to on that wet day four years ago. Now I do.  


Velvet ashes - Danielle WheelerDanielle Wheeler is the girl who sat on her porch one day and had a dream breathed into her heart –a dream of global women linking virtual arms to find connection and courage for their cross-cultural lives. As the founder of Velvet Ashes, she loves watching this dream sprout and grow. She can be found buzzing around the streets of Beijing on an electric, canvas-covered tricycle, wrangling her three kids, and eating late night chocolate waffles with her husband. You can follow her tweets and pins and visit her blog Not Yet There.





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  • Anisha Hopkinson

    Hey! My two favorite missions communities are linking up! Great news 🙂

  • Colleen Connell Mitchell

    I’m so glad to see us all link up. These two spaces are so very pecious to me!

    • Yes, so thankful for kindred spirits!

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Love this comment! I agree Colleen. And some of what I love is that it defies some of the notions of competition that unwillingly and insidiously make their way into the internet space. I appreciate so much the conversations on both and connecting the two is wonderful.

      • A big AMEN to defying competition. We’re all in this WITH each other and FOR each other.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    Danielle – this brought back so many memories of getting things fixed in Pakistan and Egypt — with paper clips and string toilets magically began to work again. And I know many workmen had laughs at me as I expressed my sheer delight at their ingenuity. (Of course I first acted like a big baby and wondered aloud in my weak Arabic how they could fix the things….) And so glad these two communities are connected!

    • Ha! Paper clips and string, I need to remember that one. And yes, thrilled to connect the communities. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Linda Funke

    This is wonderful! Out of curiosity, does anyone know of any websites or blogs that support missionary men? I was able to sign up for a free retreat for missionary women in Tanzania this year and now I have this new site to check out as an opportunity for mentoring. I wish my husband had the same opportunities.

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    Well, everybody is saying it already, but so glad to have you here today Danielle!

  • Amy Young

    It’s so … I don’t even know the right word … cool, humbling, fun, inspiring, heart breaking, life-giving — to see the ways in which Velvet Ashes has been used in lives. Thanks for your continued advocacy for women :). Love ya, sister!

    • Yes, to all of those descriptions! Here’s to the journey we’re walking together! Love you.

  • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

    This is so great and I love Velvet Ashes, Danielle. Can I ask a question that is kind of related, but not? What about in-person? Do you, or anyone here, have suggestions that can help foster these types of relationships in face to face connections overseas?

    • Ah, good question. I’m all about grabbing the in-the-flesh ladies in my life and saying, “Can we please, please have a regular (weekly) time to be together where we get real and honest about life?” I find I don’t do well without this dynamic in my life. It looks different in different seasons, but I’ve learned I have to make it a priority. Often it means letting go of the ideal picture of a friend group and embracing whomever is actually around. What about you?

      And Velvet Ashes Connection Groups are actually going to be able to feature video chat weekly meetings this fall. So that’s a little more face to face. 🙂 It really does seem to be meeting a need for those hungry for connection.

  • Dina K

    I am SO glad you mentioned #2… it is easy to feel guilty for needing a creative outlet on the field, *as if* missionaries must be “either/or”, and *as if* the creative arts may be worldly or selfish… and God forbid missionaries should be human, after all…! We function mainly in our host language and even after 9 years there are still groanings of the soul that can only be expressed and processed through music, through paint, through time spent brushing or penciling details in a journal. I’m also an incurable introvert, and interaction with people requires a balance of intense alone time for me. So thankful for the grace to be both a channel of mercy *and* of creativity from a loving Creator.

    • Groanings of the soul that can only be expressed in art… Oh, so true!! Yes, it’s such a shame that the arts are often viewed as personal indulgence, rather than an intimate, life-giving connection with the Father. Love that you have your creative outlets. Here’s to using them guilt-free!

  • Patty S

    Danielle, thank you for following your vision to see Velvet Ashes become a reality. I hope VA and ALO have a long and fruitful friendship!

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