Come and Celebrate {an invitation to retreat with Velvet Ashes}

Editor’s Note: This beautiful invitation to the Velvet Ashes online retreat was written before much of the world shut down due to COVID-19. At the time I received this piece, I thought it was one of the most moving descriptions of community, both online and otherwise, that I had ever read. I still believe that, and as such, I am hosting this piece unaltered from its original form.

In fact, I believe that in light of the chaos and turmoil of COVID-19, the invitation to retreat and to connect is even more timely. Women across the world might not be able to experience this retreat with their fellow expat friends as they would have in years past, but with an internet connection they can still receive the nourishment and rest they so long for, especially at a time like this. ~Elizabeth Trotter

by Denise Beck

I got word this week that a high school teacher of mine lost her battle with breast cancer. She was such a character that I am sure there will be no rhyme or reason to the kinds of people who will show up to pay their respects. From solemn and prestigious to ornery and the life of the party, they will all sit shoulder to shoulder and wipe their eyes while they laugh and remember her. It reminds me of these words I read recently, “Grief is a chain that ties us together.”  The thing that will unite doctors, and homeschool moms, and pastors, and high-school dropouts at her funeral is the grief they share over losing this fiery strong woman way too soon. And for that moment, it will be enough. All of the ways that life has scattered and changed people will melt away because of how alike they are in those few moments. 

Last night I was with other women who have lived overseas. They were telling me how excited they are about the upcoming Velvet Ashes Retreat. One of them mentioned, “I can’t wait until after the retreat when we hear others start using words that give away that they just experienced the Velvet Ashes Retreat”. Each year the theme that God brings us to walk through ends up being one of those “uniting” moments. It becomes a time in our lives when how we are alike speaks louder than how we are different, and it is so powerful. In the past we have been united over “Shalom”, “Sustain”, and “Release.” In fact, if you have retreated with us before, these words may bring nostalgia over what the Lord showed you during your retreat with Him.  

If you could peek into my first Velvet Ashes Retreat experience you would see a very reluctant Global woman curled up in a leather chair by an open window giving it a try because I promised someone I would. (I was very skeptical that I would get anything out of it.) You would then notice my hard edges of doubt soften as I experienced a very personal God meet me in the spaces between the pages, in the worship music that played; in the time I made just to be with Him. That year I was back in the States on an unplanned medical furlough. I was feeling separated from so many things; my home, my plans for the future; my expectations. In those moments Velvet Ashes reminded me that I am never separated from my God. And no matter how different my experiences were from other women like me, we were all united in that moment as the worldwide community made space to retreat together. All meeting God around the same language.  

This year I invite you to add “Celebrate” to your list of words that unite you with other women across the globe. You have made birthday parties and Fourth of July’s come to life from the most minimal of supplies. You have celebrated holidays you didn’t even know existed before you landed in your host culture. You are no stranger to celebration! However, we can sometimes be a stranger to celebrating the goodness of God. Join us this year as we lean into the author of celebration and learn to celebrate in all seasons of our lives and ministries. 

Are you weary?  Yet I will celebrate.

Are you unappreciated? Yet I will celebrate.

Are you hopeful? Yet I will celebrate.

Are you scared? Yet I will celebrate.

Are you lonely? Yet I will celebrate.

Are you motivated and passionate? Yet I will celebrate.

Are you lost? Yet I will celebrate.

Come find out that wherever you are is where He is waiting to celebrate with you. 

I have no doubt that my old high school math teacher is celebrating more than the fact that she doesn’t have me in class anymore. No greater party than the one in His presence.


Being shaped by her years in S. Sudan, Denise’s heart grew for women who take the unknown and carve out beauty in all its forms.  When she was introduced to Velvet Ashes, she found a place that celebrated that beauty as well. Partnering with this team to provide connection and courage for women in their cross-cultural lives has been another reminder of the beautiful gifts God gives.  Her favorite places to be are anywhere her 4 kids are, next to her husband no matter what country, and anywhere that gets her close to the feet of Jesus.

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.