An Important Part {The Grove: Welcome to Living Cross-Culturally}

One summer I had the best job ever. I repeat: The Best Job Ever.

I was a tour guide for the Colorado State Capital. A group of us high schoolers volunteered and were trained in the facts and wonders of both the building and our state. We spent the summer guiding hot and tired tourists around the building. Much to my surprise, many of my fellow guides enjoyed sitting behind the information desk more than giving tours. On some days I gave their tours and mine. You can imagine by the end of the day it sounded like a secret tour as my voice was so shot people had to lean in to hear me.

All this to say, I love giving tours. I love helping people to know the history and wonder of a place. I love letting people know what is available so they can figure out what is of interest and value to them. I love it when people feel comfortable in a space.

Whether you are new to the field (Welcome!) or have been around Velvet Ashes for a while, this tour is for you.

In a sermon on The Lost Sheep, I learned that a sheep separated from the flock will be in shock and freeze up. The enemy loves to divide and conquer. He wants you alone, isolated, stuck. But God has a better plan than being frozen and alone. In recent years, more and more resources have sprung up that allow us to connect and share our lives . . . Velvet Ashes is one of these resources.

But as one of the leaders of Velvet Ashes, it is my great delight to give you a tour of what you’ll find here!

Let’s start with our name. The Velvet Ash is one of the many varieties of ash trees. It flourishes in the desert and can grow in both extreme cold and heat. Sounds like us, eh? When we read about the image you see if you take a cross-section that we knew God had prepared this special name for this special place. Here is a bit more about our name.

Next, let’s move on to ways you can participate in Velvet Ashes.

The blog: Each week there will be a theme. For instance, a few of our recent themes are savor, beloved, transportation, water, resilience, and aging. So, you find a bit of everything. Have fun scrolling through all of the themes.We have one of the most talented group of writers you’ll find on the internet. All have been in your shoes and are willing to share from the highs and lows of their lives. You’ll notice that each post has an image that will feed your soul. Many of you will live in places that might not be the most beautiful (and others live in the absolute most beautiful parts of the world!). Regardless, Velvet Ashes will touch your head, heart, and soul through words and images. Karen is the artist behind the images and her speciality? The perfect image for a post. The end of each week, our last post is called The Grove, it’s our gathering place after letting the theme marinate in you.

You can sign up to receive the blog daily or receive a weekly round up called Have You Seen. (Shout out to the HYS team who compile it every week and to Raven who loads posts.)

And we are always looking for guest posts. You can find submission guidelines and upcoming needs here.

Next on our tour: The Book Club

I love to read. Love it. Want to know the worst feeling on the planet? Surgery without anesthesia (I know, it is AWFUL). Want to know the second worst feeling? Finishing a book and having no one to talk to about it. Thus enter the book club! You can read more about it here. We are currently reading our 30th book. Have fun scrolling through a list of the books we have read.

On this stop we’ll talk about seasonal events you can participate in: Connection Groups, The Retreat, and Personally Timed Series

We understand that part of Velvet Ashes can still be a bit large and not the most appropriate place to share parts of your life . . . enter Connection Groups. A CG is a group of six women who meet weekly for either a Fall or Spring Session (usually 8-10 weeks). We have four types of groups: Skype, Facebook Live Chat, Facebook, and Email. Right at this very moment, Emily Smith is communicating with the women who will facilitate our fall session. Registration will open September 6th at 6:00 p.m. EST and the groups will run from the week of September 10th to November 12th. Stayed tuned, more later this month.

The highlight of the Velvet Ashes year? Our Retreat. In early January we will announce next year’s dates, but know this: it is held each April and it comes to you, right where you are. Teaching, testimonies, exercise videos, a retreat guide, ways to connect with others participating in the retreat, special music and more . . . all for $10 – $15. The retreat is the only part of Velvet Ashes we charge for because of the cost of putting it together. And you can buy past retreats!! Right now pull out your calendar and schedule a fall retreat. Remember how the Enemy wants to isolate you? Well, your Loving Father wants to meet with you and tend to your heart.

During the time you are transitioning to the field or off the field (for furlough or re-entry) we have a Leaving Home and Returning Home eight week series. Receive a weekly email that will be perfectly timed to YOUR transition and join a secret Facebook group. Sign up here and enter the dates of your transition. We’re here for you in these unique seasons.

In addition we have gathered a list of resources that include pre-field training, debriefing, retreats, and counseling. Did you know you can receive counseling for free? That’s just one of the many ways you do not need to go it alone.

Are you getting a sense of where you might want to dive in next? Let me share a few more options for connecting with others on the field.

Find other living in your area and get a sense of how large God’s heart is for the world by looking at the Community Map. You can also share about yourself.

We are on Facebook and would love for you to “like” posts to help Facebook posts get into more feeds. Thank you Facebook Team!

If you’re an Instagram Girl, you’ll interact with others on the field through daily featuring, Friday Introductions, and weekly theme shout-outs by the Instagram Team. They ask some of the best questions others in your life might not ask (window or aisle? Unique fruit in your area?). Thanks team!

As we near the end of our tour, I have to confess that not only do I love giving tours, I love going on tours. Last February when I visited my sister in Minneapolis, we toured the Minnesota Capital—which I thought was amazing. Our other sister said, “Wow, Laura really took one for the team.” What?!  Okay, I admit it, I’m often at the front and stay on the heels of the guide so I can be sure to hear every fact and interesting tidbit.

Others hang around the fringes and look for places they can peal off.

My fear in sharing all of this with you is that you feel overwhelmed and your eyes begin to glaze over and you hunt for the proverbial bathroom. Please don’t let the number of options shut you down. Instead of freezing like the lost sheep, let’s take a collective breath.

What part of Velvet Ashes “sparkled” (to use the language of Lectio Divina) as you read.

Start there.

And know that the other parts will be there when you are ready to explore them.

This concludes our tour of Velvet Ashes. But before we go, did you notice how many people are involved in the running of Velvet Ashes? They do it because they want you to know that you are not alone. What you are feeling—the highs and lows—you are not alone in it. What you are experiencing that others back home might not get? We do.

We are so glad you are here. Welcome to Living Cross-Culturally. Welcome to doing life together.

How did you first hear about Velvet Ashes? Where did you start your involvement with Velvet Ashes? What parts have you joined in? Any part in particular you want to give a shout out to?


This is The Grove and we want to hear from you! You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.

Here’s our Instagram collection from this week using #VelvetAshesWelcome. You can add yours!


  1. Patty August 18, 2017

    Thank you . I want to join a group in September.

  2. Hollie August 18, 2017

    I found Velvet Ashes back in March of this year. We got to the field in January, and by March I felt like I had had enough. It was all of the hard stuff that we expected, plus a whole load of hard stuff that we never could have known to anticipate. We came to a city where there are no other ms, without a team, and with 3 small kids. I felt like I had to be a support for my husband, be strong and set a good example for my daughters and figure out how to live and cook and clean in a place where nothing is familiar. And I had no one I could vent to. No one I could talk to and they would really understand. Finding Velvet Ashes and reading words that resonate with my experience has been like a soothing balm – such an encouragment.

    Thank you to the VA team for all that you do and sharing your experiences so that newbies like me know that we aren’t alone in what we are going through! Thank you for sharing reminders of God’s faithfulness to provide for us and reminders that His plan is Good.

  3. Annalisa August 18, 2017

    I found VA via a friend of mine here in Guatemala. She had shared a link on Facebook to an article. I added VA to my blog reading list. I can’t say I read all the posts, and I don’t comment on the majority. For me, it’s enough to know that there are other women out there living this kind of life (whatever that means to each of us individually) and pressing forward even when it seems like there’s a lot pressing back. I’ve enjoyed the retreats. Connection Groups have been a mixed bag for me personally; I’ve had some where I didn’t feel like connection happened, and I’ve had some where I still stay in touch with at least some of the ladies in the group. (Trust me, if your first CG doesn’t go great and you’re still looking/hoping for connection, DON’T GIVE UP! Sign up again the next time they come around…or take a break for a season, but sign up again eventually. Some people just click better than others; for me, third time was the charm.) Again, for me it’s mostly about reading the posts and just the sense of community that you can find here.

  4. sarah August 19, 2017

    Thanks for all your hard work, VA Team!!!

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