We love knowing that there are women retreating all over the world—getting away to a hotel or the quiet of their backyard, sharing in sweet conversation with friends or teammates in a living room or on Zoom. The options are endless and it is beautiful!
Today we get to hear from three ladies in our community as they share in your excitement and ours for this coming Retreat. Hear their stories and share yours in the comments.
Elise: I live in Stung Treng Cambodia, a little pocket of paradise bordering Laos, along the Mekong and Sekong Rivers. I work primarily with youth, teaching English and spending time over meals and fun conversations. Even though I’m a city girl at heart, I love living in a small town and investing in the young people here, seeing them learn and grow. When I’m not busy teaching, I love to be out on a bike ride or enjoying nature.
Jenny: I live in Iceland with my husband and four kids. We support local churches, build relationships with the community and host two programs on Christian radio, one in English and one in Icelandic. We also started Milk & Honey Books to develop another support stream and encourage others in their writing projects.
Lisa: I have been serving in Western Uganda for over eight years. The ministry I’m a part of works with rehabilitating street boys in our small town. I have twin boys who have lived with me for several years and am in the long journey of attempting adoption. I have been living this expat life as a single woman up until January of this year when I married my husband, Patrick.
Tell us, where do you plan to retreat? Will you be doing it in solitude or with a group?
Elise: I typically love to retreat outside where I can hear God’s voice not only through the retreat activities I’m doing, but also through what I’m experiencing in nature. So I am planning to have my retreat out at a stream that is about a half-hour drive from my house. There are a variety of trees and plants around the stream, beautiful bird sounds, and the stream water is nice and cold so that makes for a great swim too! I actually enjoy retreating alone, as it gives me the freedom to take as little or as much time as I need without worrying about other people.
Jenny: I will most likely be doing the retreat solo but I don’t mind this at all. It would be great if there were more workers like me in the country but I really enjoy solitude and the refueling that comes from that.
Lisa: This year I will be doing the VA Retreat on a small island of a lake here in Uganda with a group of 10-13 ladies.
What are the physical seasons like where you live? What has God taught you through the seasons?
Elise: This is an interesting question for me to answer, right as the hot season here begins and I’ve begun noticing how much my mood and energy levels have changed over the past few weeks! There is hot season, rainy season and cool season here. I feel so peaceful during rainy season, so excited to go on brisk morning walks and to wear sweaters and feel cozy. But hot season comes and it really wipes me out both physically and emotionally most days, not to mention it’s never fun to be a constant sweaty mess. I think this year God is teaching me to be patient, and to recognize that it takes time to adjust to new things (like the drastic shift in weather). There are other transitions and changes in my life where I need to learn that lesson too, so I guess how I’m learning to deal with the weather is helping me in those other areas of my life as well.
Jenny: That’s always a funny question because Iceland feels like it is only wet cold spring, cool summer and then snowy winter. I miss walking outside to warmth! When we lived in an area of a lot of snow, it was such a special time of just being covered by the Lord as I processed transition and grief. The elements were raging but I was protected by Him. It also gave me great love & respect for the people of Iceland when I saw them dig their cars out of multiple feet of snow each day to go to work.
Lisa: Here in Uganda we have dry seasons and wet/rainy seasons. In the last few years it seems like the seasons have become a little less predictable than in the past. Sometimes I debate with myself about which I prefer…dust or mud.
My first few years in Uganda it was hard to adjust to the lack of four seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter) that I grew up with in the midwestern USA. It felt hard to have a true sense of what time of year it was, or even feel like time was progressing without the familiar seasonal markers. In some ways that can still feel true, but in other ways I’ve grown accustomed to this climate.
I always like to think about life as seasonal: we go through different seasons in our lives, rarely are things permanent. Just like Uganda’s rains seem to be a bit unpredictable right now, the seasons still come and go, and God has been showing me that the seasons of my life are not as predictable as the midwestern temperature changes. God may bring us to and through a phase of life that begins before we expected, or comes later than we had hoped, but it is all in His perfect timing. Even more, each season of life comes with its own challenges as well as its own blessings (like mud and beautiful flowers).
How would you describe the current season of your soul?
Elise: The word grief comes to mind and that would be the word I’d use to describe my soul in this season, as I’m grieving many changes and losses in my life over the past few months. I’m continuing to learn that grief is a friend that continues to journey with me long after the sad event or change happens, and I can’t ignore it or it bubbles over in a lot of messy ways in my health, attitude, work and relationships. My soul also feels very busy, like it’s been overworked with all the change and transition due to COVID and other personal circumstances, and I think it’s wondering, “When is life going to calm down?”
Jenny: I feel like there is harvest coming from areas where I positioned myself to grow. I am seeing God do things for me personally and my family that I prayed and whispered decades ago. I’m thankful but also feeling the weight and therefore hungry for his presence to keep me anchored.
Lisa: I started 2021 claiming peace as my word of the year. I’m not sure if choosing this word was prescriptive or hopeful or what when I came to that conclusion, but I sincerely feel like I’m in a season of peace. Peace despite many changes, challenges, and uncertainties. The verse I am focusing on for the year is Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Currently I truly sense God giving me peace as I trust Him.
Have you done a Velvet Ashes Online Retreat before? What are you looking forward to?
Elise: I’ve done a VA Online Retreat before, and I really loved it. I loved the structure of it, but the freedom to linger on whatever activity tugged on my heart. I find it challenging to set structure for personal retreats that I do on my own, and so sometimes I end up feeling either stressed about planning it or bored from the lack of structure. I love the creativity and intentionality that VA puts together for us, and that there are so many different elements that guide us to examine our souls and to connect with God. In the midst of a season filled with constant change, I am looking forward to slowing down and having some quality time with the Lord and having fun engaging in the activities of the Retreat!
Jenny: The Unplugged Retreat was my first one to do so I am looking forward to participating in this one. I’m looking forward to the whole experience, to see how the Lord speaks uniquely to where I am out of the overflow of what the VA team has intentionally put together.
Lisa: The very first VA retreat I did was alone because I didn’t really have any other expat friends to join up with. The next year, I took a risk and invited some other ladies, and we ended up becoming a group of four. Last year, that number almost doubled and we had seven women (though we had to push it back a bit until our country’s lockdown ended). This year our little group has expanded even more with potentially up to 13 people.
I have realized that women, especially those of us living outside our passport countries, really need this time. It became so clear when women I don’t even know contacted me to tell me they want to attend almost immediately after hearing about it—even though it is with a group of mostly strangers, more expensive than most of us cross-cultural workers have in our normal budgets, is 48 hours away from our families/work, and so many more unknowns. And even though we don’t know each other…we are hungry for it!
I’m most looking forward to two full days and nights away from typical responsibilities and an ability to relax and enjoy my time. Plus, I’m excited for meaningful conversations with other women to deepen our relationships with God and each other.
Thank you, Elise, Jenny and Lisa! Now over to you! What has God been teaching you through the seasons in the location He has you? What are you most looking forward to as you prepare to retreat? We would love to hear from you!
If you aren’t signed up for the Velvet Ashes Online Retreat yet, we mean it when we say it is not too late. You can register today and have access to all the elements of the Retreat, including a beautiful Retreat Guide with questions to help you process what you hear and learn from the Father, teaching videos and a worship time, plus really special content curated for you in our all-new Digital Goody Bag. Head over to our site to register today and join us from right where you are!