Remember When? (plus a retreat invitation)

I remember the days when A Life Overseas was in its toddler stage, just a couple years old, and the Velvet Ashes community was in its infancy. Who else was around in those days? Do you remember how the whole online community thing was new and fresh to the world? It felt like the cork had popped on our collective pent-up missionary angst. We finally had these places to express ourselves amongst others who understood and felt the same things.

There was a word that flew frequently in these spaces in those days: burnout. 

We were exhausted people. We were working ourselves to the bone for the Kingdom, desperate for renewal and pretty clueless about how to find it. 

I lived in a concrete jungle on the 18th floor of one of the world’s most polluted cities. I had little children at my ankles all day, and I was as desperate as the rest of us to “fill my tank.” Trying to fill that tank felt about as productive as pumping water into a colander. 

The word “retreat” filled me with longing. But how? When? Where? I didn’t know anything about creating or leading retreats. I just knew my own yearning, and I saw it echoing back to me in our online conversations. We needed to retreat. 

So our Velvet Ashes team came together and said, “What if we do an experiment?” The phrase “online retreat” didn’t exist back then. Chances were high this unheard of thing would flop, but hey, why not give it a whirl? 

Our jaws dropped when 700 of you said, “Yes! We’re in.” Then something even more amazing happened: this online retreat thing turned out to actually be a significant time with the Lord.     

Fast forward to 2022. The world is a different place. Missionary burnout, exhaustion, and angst have whole new dimensions today. COVID. Closed borders. Invasions. We could lament and count the ways.  

But I wonder if we could pause for a moment today to acknowledge that something else has changed since the days when A Life Overseas and Velvet Ashes were young. Can we recognize that the worldwide missionary community is no longer clueless about finding renewal and help? Thanks to these two communities and so many other beautiful voices, there is now a wealth of information flowing in these online spaces, sharing opportunities for counseling, spiritual direction, debriefing, small groups, webinars, retreats, and so much more.  Can we celebrate what God has done through raising up people and advancing technology? There is now equipping and resourcing and supporting unlike anything in history.    

At Velvet Ashes, we’re celebrating that there are now thousands of women across the world who have made it a rhythm of their lives to take a spiritual retreat once or twice a year – wherever they are in the world. You no longer have to wait for a retreat to come to your area. You don’t have to put it off until a furlough. No waiting until borders open. We’re learning to be filled by God right where we are.

God has taught us a lot about what it means to offer a retreat experience. We’ve never stopped being surprised by the personal way God interacts with each person in a time of retreat. God moves in the symphony of story videos, worship, art, movement, guided time in the Word, prayer and reflection. It’s time and space to be with God to allow him to tend to your heart.  

If you are not already planning to join us for The Velvet Ashes 2022 Online Retreat, consider this your invitation.  

We’re exploring Solomon’s temple and discovering the incredible pathway it provides for us today to deepen our experience of God. We are tapping into our multi-layered longing for home as we learn what it means for our hearts to be God’s home. 

We hope you’ll join us and spread the invitation to those you know. 

Check out all the details and register here.

Whether this is your first retreat or your tenth, the invitation is the same. Jesus extends the same invitation to us today that he did to his disciples 2,000 years ago. He says, “Come away with me. Let us go to a quiet place and rest for a while.” 


Danielle Wheeler 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 Velvet Ashes’ founder and current Director of Spiritual Formation, she loves watching this dream grow beyond what she ever imagined. Mother to four, she and her husband ride the waves of life and culture, leaning hard into the One who leads.

Why Don’t We Retreat?

We have an invitation for you today.


Ruth Haley Barton recommends that people in ministry have a spiritual retreat once a month to stay spiritually healthy. Everyone needs spiritual retreat, but when your life is about pouring out in ministry to others, you need a frequent rhythm of retreat to fill you up.

She is talking about anyone in ministry. This does not take into account the stresses of cross-cultural adjustment and life. So it’s fair to say that people ministering cross-culturally need at least a monthly retreat for spiritual vitality.

But who really does that?   

Seriously. A monthly spiritual retreat sounds lovely, so lovely it’s laughable.

Since this space is the “missions conversation,” can we have an open, honest dialogue about this?

How many of you practice spiritual retreat? Do you have times of “strategic withdrawal”? Do you remove yourself from your regular role and responsibilities for an extended time with the purpose of deepening your relationship with God?

This is NOT meant to be shame inducing. It’s an exploration into our reality.

I doubt many of us would disagree that spiritual retreat is a good idea; that Jesus himself “frequently withdrew into the wilderness”, and we should too. In fact, I think most of us like the idea and desire to practice spiritual retreat in our life.

But most of us don’t. And I wonder why.

Is it because it goes against everything not only in worldly culture, but also (especially?) Christian missions culture? We’re doers by nature. There’s a world that needs saving, so we’re very busy people.

Is it because our people need us? We can’t be spared.

Is it because we don’t have a physical place to go?

Is it because it feels expensive, and we don’t have the money for it?

Is it because we don’t know what we would actually do if we did take a spiritual retreat?

Or is it all of the above?

Our souls long for deeper intimacy with God. We sense the truth of Dallas Willard’s statement:

“If we don’t come apart for while, we will come apart after awhile.”

And yet so many barriers stand in the way of “coming apart”.

God has planted a vision in the ministry of Velvet Ashes to overcome as many of these barriers as possible, so that spiritual retreat is not a lovely, laughable idea, it’s actually doable for you. For you who live in remote places, for you with slow internet, for you with a nursing baby, for you with small budgets, for you who need to retreat but don’t know how you can.

This retreat is for you.

We create a retreat experience once a year. We’d all like to do monthly retreats, but let’s start with one. (We do have four past years’ retreats available for purchase if you’re looking for more!), The heart of the Velvet Ashes Retreat is to give you a taste, to equip you with tools to be able to make spiritual retreat a rhythm of your life.  Because once you taste the fruit of retreat, once you see how God meets you, you become hungry for more.

We invite you to join the global community as we retreat across the world. Get our early registration rate only until March 5th.

I’d love to hear in the comments about how and if you practice spiritual retreat, and what barriers who you face. Let’s have an honest, shame free exploration into reality.


Danielle Wheeler – Founder and Executive Director of Velvet Ashes. Recovering from trying to save the world. Now living in God’s tender care and inviting others to join her. Enjoys good books, tiny restaurants, plants, and pots of tea. Mom to four kiddos and wife to one supportive man. Find her on Instagram @daniellemwheeler.

An invitation to the 2017 Velvet Ashes online retreat

We’re all fans of Sabbath here, right? Or at least the idea of Sabbath. We know we need to take time away from our responsibilities to physically rest and spiritually renew, but actually doing it? Well, that proves to be a challenge for us.

Constant needs clamor for our attention. Even if we are able to clear those aside for a day of rest, finding ways to truly refresh right where we are is… difficult.

But what if you received an invitation to Sabbath? What if you were provided with everything you need for a day of renewal?

Ladies, consider this your invitation:


You are invited to join the 2017 Velvet Ashes Online Retreat. It’s the retreat that comes to you right where you are. No plane tickets required. It’s a day to spend in the presence of God. All of the resources are crafted intentionally to lead you into connection with God.

Denise joined in this retreat last year a bit skeptical, “An online retreat? What does that even mean? Will that actually be meaningful?” But a year later, she says, “I still remember the chair I sat in as I went through the Scripture meditation. The retreat was a benchmark for my spiritual journey.”

Jessica said she came into the retreat during a very dark period in her life.  During the retreat, she experienced God in a very personal way. He gave her a visual picture that spoke volumes to her hurting soul. She said, “That was the beginning. The Velvet Ashes Retreat was the beginning of God leading me out of that dark season and into a place of thriving.”

Last year over 1,300 women serving in 121 countries joined in this retreat.  The response from them that we’re getting this year is, “We are so excited to do it again!” Women want this day to become part of the rhythm of their year.

You can use the retreat as a personal retreat experience or you can use our Host Guide to gather women for a group retreat.  All the planning is done for you!

Husbands, can I give you an idea? This year, we’re offering a “gift the retreat” option. What a treat would it be for your wife to receive an email that tells her she’s been gifted a retreat experience from you?  You could include a message that tells her you’ll watch the kids, you’ll hold down the fort, you want her to have this day to renew.

Sending churches, you can gift this retreat to your ladies on the field! This is a tangible way to meet their needs, to bring refreshment to their lives.

Friends, family members, and senders back home, this is a chance to send a meaningful gift of love to the lady you know on the field. And you don’t even have to go to the post office and pay crazy shipping costs!

Ladies, we invite you to join the Velvet Ashes Retreat, it’s an invitation for you to come and Receive.  Questions? Check out answers here.

And register here.

If you’re someone who has returned from the field or is preparing to go? This is most definitely for you too!

And finally, can I invite everyone to pray for this retreat? Will you pray blessing on every woman who will be participating, that God’s presence will meet her?


What is the hardest part about practicing Sabbath for you?

Have you done the Velvet Ashes Retreat before? What was it like for you?

Commune {an online retreat hosted by our friends at Velvet Ashes}

commune post image 2

Danielle Wheeler, founder and editor of Velvet Ashes, has a special invitation for A Life Overseas ladies today.


“Our job is not to heal our souls, but to make space for them so that healing can come.”
– John Ortberg in Soul Keeping.

When was the last time you made space for your soul?

When was the last time you intentionally made yourself unavailable… to your ministry, to your friends, to your family even?

When did you last set aside a large chunk of time to let your soul breathe, to be quiet long enough to listen?

There’s a long list of reasons why committed mature believers rarely, if ever, make time for a personal spiritual retreat.

  • We feel guilty for taking time away from our work and family. (How twisted is that to feel guilty for doing the very thing that would help our souls, our ministry and our family thrive? I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to feel guilty for something Jesus did.)
  • We’re not good at saying “no” or asking for help. (Something required, especially of young parents, to get time away.)
  • It’s easier to stay busy and distracted. We’re addicted to doing.
  • We’re really good at soul soothing instead. Netflix and Magnum ice cream bars, anyone?

Here’s a reason that might be hardest to admit: We don’t actually know what to do during a personal spiritual retreat.


Even for introverts, the thought of being alone for a large chunk of time to connect with God can sound kind of scary and weird.

My brain can only really stay focused in prayer for about 5 minutes. Maybe. What would I do with a whole day?

We take all these reasons (excuses), and we never get around to giving our souls the time and space we desperately need…

to process our transitions,

to grieve our losses,

to wrestle our fears,

to slow down …

and rest.

I think when we get to heaven there will be many jaw-dropping surprises in store for us. I wonder if God will say, “I wanted to share this connection, this joy and abundance and security while you were on earth…but you were busy.”

But this is not a guilt trip. This is an invitation. 

An invitation to set aside a day to retreat with God.

It’s an offer for a hand to walk you through that time of solitude, to provide you with a guide and rich resources to make it a time of deep communion.

Velvet Ashes is hosting an online retreat for you, right where you are. We’re inviting women around the world to take a day or half day for a personal spiritual retreat.

A Life Overseas’ very own Elizabeth Trotter is one of the women sharing her story. We have women of all ages and stages sharing their experiences from around the world with a vulnerability that will awe you. See how God has met them in their stories.  This year features a TCK perspective and also stories of reentry.  So if you’ve returned from life overseas, this is for you too!

Gather a group of women to experience the retreat with. Have a time of solitude and a time for connection and sharing. Our Host Guide will help you plan a gathering that works for you – an overnight retreat, a full day, a half day, or a two-hour gathering.

Part of the vision for the retreat is to provide and equip you with tools that you can use both during the retreat and beyond. You’ll get to download and keep:

  • Music written especially for this retreat, perfect to pray and journal to.
  • A Holy (Christian) Yoga video – renew your mind and soul with Scripture meditation and prayer while you renew your body with exercise.
  • Coloring pages to print out, because art quiets the soul.
  • Recipes for easy, homemade spa treatments, because the soul wears skin, and we could use a little TLC.
  • A Retreat Guide full of Scripture meditation, journaling and prayer exercises, and resources to take you deeper.

Because our hope is that this retreat will springboard you into taking your own retreats again throughout the year.  Because once you’ve experienced what this does for your soul, we think you’ll be ready for more.

We understand the logistics of living overseas. That’s why we’re making the videos downloadable and opening the retreat early enough to give you time to download it all, if your internet isn’t fast enough for streaming. We’re also making everything available in audio files.

It’ll all be right there for you, wherever you are.

That’s Velvet Ashes’ invitation to you.  We’re helping you respond to his invitation to get away with him.

Register here and help us extend this invitation, so others can know.

How to Find Refreshment on the Field

Today we are excited to have Danielle Wheeler from Velvet Ashes share an opportunity for women in the ALOS community. Danielle has written for ALOS before and knows well the joys and challenges of a life overseas.


I was beginning to believe it was impossible.  Finding refreshment and renewal where I lived felt almost laughable.

Alone time?  In a city of 22 million?  With my own little kids bursting at the seams of our small home?  Ha!

Enjoying nature in one of the world’s most congested and polluted areas?  Sigh…

Connecting with other women like me whom I could share and process with?  Hello long bus rides and busy schedules.

I subconsciously decided the only solution was to wait it out.  Wait until we could leave for our annual time away from our country of service, then I’ll get a break.  Hang in there.  Grin and bear it.  Keep serving.  There’s important work to be done.

Healthy, right?

Finally, my husband and I sat down and determined we had to find a way to get refreshed right where we were.  No more writing it off as impossible.   No more putting it at the bottom of the priority list because it seemed self-indulgent.

Our souls were withering, our relationships with God suffering.


We knew it would take intentionality. We knew we would have to clear space in our lives, guard that space with strong boundaries, and get really creative.

We knew that we would have to be committed to giving one another the freedom to get away, even if that sometimes meant just locking the bedroom door.

So we made the decision, and then we actually did it, and continue to do it on a regular basis.

No, it’s not my ideal refreshment of a walk along a warm beach or a hike in the sunny mountains, because that’s not where I live.  But the thing is, refreshment is happening, and it’s happening right where I am.

I’ve tapped into different parts of my soul than I might have in ideal settings.  I’ve picked up a paintbrush.  I’ve learned different ways to exercise.  I’ve even discovered a few hidden happy places in my city.  And I’ve also found my rhythm as a writer.

The root of it all has been giving myself the time and space to retreat.  To connect with God, to dig into his Word, to process what he’s doing in me.

And I’ve been able to walk through all of this, day by day, with the sisterhood at Velvet Ashes, our online community for women serving overseas.

Together we are rising up to say, “We’re done being the worn out, burned out generation.”  We’re casting a vision of life and renewal for our weary bones.

Together a group of us have crafted an opportunity for women around the world.  It’s an invitation to connect with God, to find refreshment and renewal right where you are.


It’s a call to process the weight of expectations that we are living under, so we can find release.  Because we want to learn to live light and free.

Our kindred spirit, and A Life Overseas founder, Laura Parker is joining us to share her story too.

And you’re invited.  All you have to do is clear (and dare I say, guard) some space in your calendar, a half-day to a full day, anytime from Thursday April 16, 6pm EST – Sunday April 19, 11:30pm EST.  (Convert to your own time zone).

Velvet Ashes Retreat (Promo) from Amy Young on Vimeo.

Velvet Ashes is hosting it’s first ever online retreat, for you, right where you are. All you need to do is clear a half day for yourself any time within the dates shared in the video. Plan to find a quiet place where you can slip away just you and Jesus. Have your computer with you so you can access the rich resources Velvet Ashes has designed for you.

You can register here:

Ladies, will you join us?  Married men, will you give your wives the gift of time for a personal retreat?  I’m guessing she’ll want to do the same for you.

So what do you do to find refreshment and renewal where you live?  I’d love to hear.

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 a big city in Asia 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.

5 Things That Keep me Going in a Life Overseas

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.





Enhanced by Zemanta