Happy 1st Birthday, Velvet Ashes! {Giveaway!}

Exactly one year ago today, in the hush of dawn before children wake, I crept into our living room and cracked open my computer.

This was it.

A year and a half before this moment, I had sat on my porch sipping tea when a dream lodged itself in my heart, a dream of a place for women spread across the globe to find each other, to share their lives, to find the connection and encouragement they are hungry for.

Later when the pastor preached, “What’s that one thing?  That one thing stirring in you that you know God is calling you to?”  I knew what that one thing was.

Six months after my porch moment, six months of rolling it around in prayer, it was time for the first step.  I emailed Amy.  And she said “yes.”  Then Patty said “yes.” And what followed was a chorus of “yes’es” from our amazing web designer, to an entire team of ladies with voice and gifting.  Everyone was saying “Yes, we need this.  We want to do this.”

So together we leapt out in crazy faith for our launch fund and the money poured in.

Then, after months of planning – branding, naming, designing, creating, Velvet Ashes was officially live.

I had previewed the site probably dozens of times, making adjustments, learning my way around.  So there was no real surprise involved when I opened my computer on Nov 13, 2013.  I knew what I would see at www.velvetashes.com.

But there was something in that moment, something that stole my breath.  I had to blink away tears to see the screen.

The dream had grown real.  It was really truly live.  I sat in stunned silence at the wonder of it, at the way God had crafted this place, piece by precious piece.

There was awe in the air, because I had a sense of who this was all for.  I knew that tucked into the corners of the globe were souls who needed to know they are not alone, who needed a breath of hope and a place to connect.  I knew that, because I was one of them.

And I knew that a tender Father had crafted this place for us.

I had a sense of what might happen here.  But I thought we would start out small and slowly over the years, gain momentum and grow into our potential.  Apparently, I had no idea…

I had no idea that just one year later, Velvet Ashes would have 2,173 subscribers,  that we would have 4,568 comments on our posts.  I had no idea that our Connection Groups would explode like they have, that these groups would fill up within a matter of hours, and that the women in those Connection Groups alone would represent 30 different countries.

But are we here today to celebrate numbers?  No.  If we know anything from the nooks and corners where Velvet Ashes women live, God is not so taken with numbers.  He is taken with hearts.  Behind every one of those numbers is a person, a person whom Velvet Ashes has come along side to help make her journey a bit more bearable, the load a bit lighter.

This is happening because women are gathering here in this space and getting very real about…

preparing for life overseas

dealing with the doubts

handling the goodbyes

serving single

weighing the toll on TCKs

building into marriage

– treading through unsettled times

grieving the losses

healing from even the unspeakable

returning well

and through it all we are courageously and beautifully declaring the worth of our Jesus. 

So today we pause to light a candle, to build an altar, to celebrate and applaud the Father for the wonder he is doing in this place.

Our desire is to be like the Velvet Ash tree for which we are named.  That like this desert tree, we would thrive in unlikely places.  That as a community of women spread across the world, we would together lean into the words of Isaiah 58:11 “The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you’re dry and restoring your strength.  You will be like a well-watered garden, an ever flowing spring.”

In celebration of our first birthday, we want to give one of you this gorgeous 10×10″ canvas, handmade especially for VA by our beloved Emily Thomas (check out her fabulous shop for Christmas gifts!).

VA Canvas

Join us in celebrating what God is doing in and through this place.  Enter to win by using the Rafflecopter here.  Earn an entry by commenting and sharing what’s been meaningful to you here at Velvet Ashes.  New subscribers are entered too!  And earn more entries through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  If you’re reading in email, click here to come join the giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway













Here is a slice of what ladies have been sharing with us about how Velvet Ashes has been meaningful to them…


“I’ve recently been introduced to Velvet Ashes and The Grove. WOW.  Wish I would have had this community for the last nine years as my family and I have been living in a remote area among an unreached people group.”   — Monica F.


“The realness allows the rest of us to be real in the moments both good and bad.” –Keri Christensen


“I am at that place where I have been in a south Asian country for the past 10 years, and I felt like giving up. However today’s article really spoke to me to not give up but continue faithfully, having forsaken all others.
Thank you.” — Fadzai Phiri


“It so delights my soul (and challenges me!) to see the impact you have had and are having in so many people’s lives as a result of Velvet Ashes.  I am astounded at what must be a monumental effort… It has been life giving for me…  I have savored every posting…they truly bring beauty and life to my heart during this time of transition.” — Holly


“There have been many times that I have opened Velvet Ashes and it spoke directly to something I have been struggling with or praying about. I have been so encouraged and blessed. Being part of a connection group has also been a great encouragement. It’s been really life giving for me. ”  — Joellen Lemont


“A dear friend serving overseas recently shared Velvet Ashes with me. She said that it was a community she had been searching for all her life and now that she had it, she’s touched almost daily with a word from the Lord. She shared it with me because my husband and I are  newly called to South America and beginning the application process…

I’ve spent a week reading posts and crying over them.  I had asked my Father in prayer a few weeks ago to bring me closer to His heart.  I feel without doubt, that this community is a huge part of His answer to my prayer.

The Father has touched my heart with these words in so many ways. I am so thankful to have found you!”

–Kristin Gouge


What’s something that’s been meaningful to you here at Velvet Ashes?

Come back tomorrow as we continue to celebrate!  We’ll be announcing exciting upcoming plans!

Photo Credit: Barbara.K via Compfight cc


  1. Amy Young November 12, 2014

    Emily, thanks so much for your gorgeous canvas!

  2. Kayla Lemon November 12, 2014

    Words do not describe how thankful I am for Velvet Ashes. I’m in year two of my first years abroad and Velvet Ashes has played a crucial role in helping me not only survive, but thrive overseas.

    My Connections Group this fall has played such a huge part in my life… particularly these last couple days. My house was broken into, my laptop was stolen, and I have felt so much love and care and support from my Connections Group girls! I LOVE this community!

    1. Danielle Wheeler November 13, 2014

      Oh, I’m so sorry about your laptop!!  That’s such a bummer. I love that your Connection Group has been such a source of love and support.  Makes my heart happy to hear you call them “your girls.”

  3. Colleen Mitchell November 12, 2014

    I will never forget when we all first gathered around that “I Am Not Okay” post early on. It was as if a whole group of women who had been holding their breath so long they were about to suffocate suddenly exhaled in unison. We were here and we were for each other and we were never going to let each other pretend it was okay when it wasn’t.

    I am so grateful for the many conversations that have taken place since then, for the way we have learned together and grown together, for the way we have grieved together, and that now we are celebrating.

    I loved watching how as something would come up in the comments section, the next week, there would be a post opening the door for conversation and encouragement for that very topic. You all have just been so mindful of this community and us as individuals. And it has been a gift.

    1. Danielle Wheeler November 13, 2014

      “…suddenly exhaled in unison.”  That is EXACTLY what is was like.  And yes, let’s never let each other pretend it’s okay when it’s not.

      YOU are a gift, Colleen.  So glad for your presence here this year.   

  4. Sarah November 12, 2014

    I am on year 5 of my time overseas and on country number two this year. This community is new to me, but has been a great encouragement during my transition to this new place. Thank you for your encouragement and support! Happy Birthday!!! 🙂

  5. JulieB November 12, 2014

    Happy Birthday to Velvet Ashes.  God is using you in marvelous ways to minister to women all over the world.  I love the diversity of the topics up for discussion.  I think you have done so very well in making the topics applicable for all women…..married, single, widows, younger, older, moms with small children, moms of adult children, grandmothers etc.  Well done and Thank you!


  6. Ashley Felder November 12, 2014

    What an amazing community to be a part of! To have a place to come and read and connect with other women who GET what I’m dealing with, unlike anyone else, is amazing beyond words. I not only look forward to what is to come, but know I’ll also be reading archives as I go through different phases in the future! Thank you, God, for laying this on Danielle’s heart…and thank you for her obedience to follow through.

    1. Danielle Wheeler November 13, 2014

      Thank YOU, friend, for being there every step of the way.    

  7. Angie November 12, 2014

    Velvet Ashes is helping prepare my heart for our first term overseas (in 7 months!)

    1. Danielle Wheeler November 13, 2014

      I’m so glad, Angie.  We’ve got more goodness planned for you!  

  8. Kate November 12, 2014

    I’m always so amazed by just how spot on the content has been, every single week. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read posts here and thought to myself, “Yes! I know exactly what they’re talking about! That’s exactly what it’s like!” Thank you for filling this gap and offering your time and energy to creating this space to be a blessing. May it grow from strength to strength.

    1. Danielle Wheeler November 13, 2014

      Thanks, Kate.  We need to get The Grove and FMF together on the same prompt some Friday!  

  9. Jennifer November 13, 2014

    Spot on. Challenging. Blessing. Enriching. All of the above. So right. So enriching. So welcoming. All of these do describe the rich reality of what the first year of Velvet Ashes have meant to me. Difficult to put into words, but its significance and value undoubted

    1. Danielle Wheeler November 13, 2014

      So blessed to read your words, Jennifer.  So grateful for the way you’ve encouraged and supported Velvet Ashes from the beginning.    

  10. T November 13, 2014

    Hi.  I’m 37, and have been missing having older women speaking into (or even around!!) my life.  VA has helped with that!  Thanks for the work that you all do!


  11. M'Lynn November 13, 2014

    Happy Birthday, Velvet Ashes!

  12. Laura November 13, 2014

    I’ve been oversea we for several years, but in the last two years joined a new team in rural Africa. Right now part of our team traveled so I’m the only foreigner in this place. Velvet ashes has been such a blessing and encouragement to me during a fairly lonely period in my life. I have been encouraged in numerous was since finding this community. Thank you.

  13. Brittany November 13, 2014

    PRAISE GOD for this community and what HE is doing in and through it.  Thank you to all of you lovely ladies who make it happen.

  14. Charissa Steyn November 13, 2014

    Whenever I come this little community I always nod my head in agreement- living overseas in Europe doing ministry with a husband from South Africa- life always seems to be such a wild adventure! I love hearing the hearts of people who have walked a similar journey !

  15. Laura November 13, 2014

    Velvet Ashes has become a safe, encouraging place for me this past year. I often find myself nodding my head in agreement as I read the posts, and meeting with my Connection Group this fall has become the best part of my week. Thank you so much for the time and energy each of you have poured into this community.

    1. Danielle Wheeler November 13, 2014

      Getting to know you, Laura, has been such a sweet blessing this year.  Thank you for all you do to enrich this place.    

  16. Kelly November 13, 2014

    I am so grateful for this community of women.  The Grove has inspired me to write even when I didn’t think I had time or anything to say.  It is so sweet to hear the sentiment “yes, me too” echo around this space. Makes me feel like I’m not alone.

  17. Catherine November 13, 2014

    Thanks for the daily encouragement velvet ashes. Happy Birthday!

  18. Erica November 13, 2014

    I am so thankful that the Father laid this community on the hearts of all of you! What a blessing it has been. I appreciate how the focus isn’t just on one demographic of women–single, married, mothers, new to the field, experienced, etc.–all are welcome here.

    BTW, Emily, your canvas is beautiful! You are so talented. And I just have to give a shout-out to Emily and her husband Eric. They are a huge reason why I’m in China right now! Thanks, Thomases! 🙂

  19. Pam November 13, 2014

    I can’t even remember how I came across this website, but it’s been a huge blessings for me these last months. It’s been encouraging, comforting, and challenging all at the same time. More than once the right theme has come at the right time and it’s as if what I can’t express has already been put into words and then it all makes sense, I love when God does that!

  20. Laura C November 13, 2014

    I found Velvet Ashes a few months ago in the midst of a really lonely time for me when I was doubting a lot.  Within a month of reading posts and comments I felt like a completely different person.  I really needed a large dose of Jesus and a reminder that I wasn’t alone, and I found that here.  I am so grateful for this community!

  21. Joy November 13, 2014

    Happy Birthday, Velvet Ashes! I’m a newbie around here, but am so grateful for the potential of wider community with women who are walking in similar [and very different] shoes this season. I was introduced to Velvet Ashes through my cousin who is serving on another continent, and is about 11 months ahead of my husband and I in our own journey of serving overseas. I’m grateful for the kindred spirits gathered here. Yay for Velvet Ashes!

  22. Jen November 13, 2014

    To all of you who write, or comment on an article, or hang out with me in a Connection Group, or however you may participate… THANK YOU ALL. You remind me that I’m not alone in my loneliness. You remind me that He didn’t promise it would always be easy. But mostly you remind me that He cares. He cares enough about all of us, in each of our little nooks around the world, to give us a meeting place. A place that gives me mentors and peers who “get it”. A place that keeps my emotions accountable to truth. A place to celebrate what He letting us be a part of. Happy Birthday Velvet Ashes!

  23. Sherri November 13, 2014

    I am so thankful for the authenticity at Velvet Ashes. I appreciate the writers’ willingness to share their struggles, which so closely resemble mine! It is good to know I am not alone!

  24. Jessica Hoover November 13, 2014

    Happy Birthday VA! I’m so blessed to be a small part of what God is doing in this space. Often I am able to talk to young women heading to the field and direct them here as they start their journey living overseas. It is so encouraging to know that I am directing them to a safe, real community of women who get it. I LOVE what is happening here and I can’t wait to see how year 2 continues to build on what God has already established. Cheers friends and WOW what an amazing God.

  25. Sarah Hilkemann November 13, 2014

    I’m so thankful for the ladies who are a part of Velvet Ashes! This community met a need starting last November that I didn’t even know that I had. I feel like VA has walked me through so many of the ups and downs of the first year and a half of overseas life, and I love how real and honest things are here. We don’t have to keep up the “perfect” overseas worker fascade here, which is so lifegiving. Thank you for all of you who write, comment and for the opportunity to connect with some awesome ladies in Connection Groups. 😀

  26. LeAnn November 13, 2014

    The topics are pertinent, with substance, and the sharing is authentic.

  27. Melissa Toews November 13, 2014

    Velvet Ashes has been that cozy chat with a friend at the end of a long, hard day so many times in the last year. My biggest struggle in three years on the field has been loneliness, feeling like no one understands or cares. I don’t feel that way anymore! And I am SOOOO enjoying my email connection group! Thank you to the VA team for letting God use you in so many ladies’ lives.

  28. Marie Hofmann November 13, 2014

    Sipping hot tea and chatting with my connection group is like sitting with my friends back home and having “girl time”. It has been a blessing getting to know and share with my group.  I look forward to the spring and join another connection group.

  29. Beth Everett November 13, 2014

    Happy Birthday Velvet Ashes! What a beautiful place to be! What a blessing you are! Thank you to all who make you YOU! Thank you to Him who makes us ONE!

  30. Ellen Benefield November 13, 2014

    I just found thus community a few weeks ago, and I’m already so excited. I can’t wait to get more involved.

  31. Amanda K November 13, 2014

    I don’t comment usually, but I read. Oh, I read. With two littles around me, my time is short, but so then is my patience, my moments of awe / joy / peace. But, this place has met a need in me that I wasn’t sure I had: after all, I had a team, a supportive fella who I linked my carriage to in 2006, two  kiddos who really are the best ever, and a great network of sisters. Who knew I needed more, that I would tear up in joy over something I didn’t know I needed?

    Well, the One and Only did. And, Velvet Ashes did.

    Words can’t say how deeply I’ve been touched. I hope this second year I can invest more personally through giving TO Velvet Ashes, that somehow my own story might enrich and touch the life of someone who, like me, didn’t know what she was missing… or someone who is desperately searching to hear a story like mine.

  32. Shelly November 13, 2014

    Just this week I have been able to mention (even promote) VA to a group of women who are debriefing from service abroad, hard returns, uncertain futures.  And Danielle you are so right–it is HIS good work that is being done here. Thank you for listening to His voice, and to others I don’t even know who nurtured that dream in you, giving you courage to keep reaching for it.  The VA Team has done an excellent job with topics and book selections. And the Connection Group has has met a need in me that I didn’t realize I would have this year away from my usual field of service.  Happy birthday!!!

  33. Annalisa November 14, 2014

    I really like that Velvet Ashes gives me a chance to fellowship with other women at a speed and at times that allow me to feel comfortable.  (Believe me, with as much of my “normal life” that falls out of my “comfort zone,” I need something that allows me to feel comfortable.)

  34. Kristy Gray November 14, 2014

    Love your site!

  35. Bayta November 14, 2014

    I can’t begin to express what a blessing my Connection Group has been this autumn!  THANK YOU for connecting women from around the world!

  36. laura r November 15, 2014

    Happy birthday!

    So thankful for this place.  A shout out to all of you who work behind the scenes to facilitate this beautiful community.  My life is richer for it.

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