The Christmas Ache and the Conundrum of this Cross-Cultural Life

This Christmas season it’s a sweet comfort to know Immanuel, God is with us. But let’s be very honest here. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough. Yes, God is with you, but when you’re half a world a way from your family at Christmas, and Facebook and Instagram are full of all the Christmas fun you’re missing out on, you can feel quite… alone.

Anyone feeling the Christmas ache right now?

Maybe you have been fine all year long, not a stitch of homesickness, and then suddenly at the sight of some twinkle lights, you get all sappy and mopey. Or maybe it’s been a hard year, and the approach of Christmas just deepens the dull pain you bear.

Or maybe you’re home on furlough, and your Christmas ache is pining for the place that is actually your home and wondering how you will get through this traveling craziness while you paste on some holiday cheer.

Or perhaps you’re in the thick of re-entry, longing for the faces and quirky traditions that made up the Christmases you’ll never have again.

It can be quite the conundrum, this cross-cultural life.

While the presence of God walks with us through every step of our journey, sometimes we just need him to show up in the form of person, someone who understands, someone who can nod and say, “Yeah, me too.”

“Me too.”

Those are powerful words. They slice right through the enemy’s whispers. The ones that say, “You’re the only one.” “Why can’t you handle this, when everyone else can?”

I remember my first years in Asia, when I would leave the numbing winter in China for an annual conference in sunny Thailand. There I would find my people, the women that I had gone through training with when we all moved to Asia. We’d meet up and share stories late into the night. And when I finally would head to bed, my soul felt markedly lighter. I wondered why I felt this way, but then I realized; it was all the “me too” moments.

I was not alone. These women were living through the same struggles.

I didn’t know it then, but in those moments seeds were being planted that would later grow into this place called Velvet Ashes. Because we all need to know that we are not alone. A once a year conference is not enough for me. I need daily, weekly reminders. That can be really hard to get, whether you’re the only English speaker on an island accessible only by boat (we really have women in that situation), or you’re smack in the middle of the Bible belt.

Velvet Ashes is the unique place where you find other women living the same kind of story, wrestling through so many of the same struggles. Rather than wrestle them out in vulnerable isolation, we come together, and find the strength of “me too.”

The world has recently seen the power of “me too” as women use those very two words to speak out about being victims of sexual abuse and harassment. It’s been a phrase we’ve used here at Velvet Ashes from day one. Because whatever the struggle, you need to know you’re not alone.

There are those who have gone before you, they are here to pass you some courage. There are those around you, they are here to wrestle with you.

There are those who come behind you, they need your story.

We do that in our big community through the blog and Instagram. We do it through shared passions of books, food, and art. And we do it in small intimate settings we call Connection Groups. Here’s the story of how Connection Groups touched that lonely place in the life of Erika Sawatzky:

“At the end of the summer of 2017, I was exhausted – emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The summer had been full of ministry activities and company, which were wonderful, but draining. And now, my husband and I were left alone on the field again.

When I read on the Velvet Ashes blog about the Connection Groups, I thought this might just be the encouragement I needed. The instant our first conversation started I felt welcome and understood. God has used these sisters to challenge me, encourage me, and give me a safe place to share openly. The Connection Group was used in a big way to restore my soul and keep me refreshed as we continue in the Lord´s work.”

Do you see the trail of her words? Exhausted. Alone. Welcome. Understood. Challenged. Encouraged. Safe place. Restored. Refreshed.

That is what happens here, and it happens because God is among us. His presence is felt as we come together, connected through the invisible lines of Internet. It is only through His provision that this space was born, and only by his provision that it continues.

This month we are raising the money we need for 2018. When we talk to other non-profits, they are amazed that we do what we do with such a small budget. Thirty-one thousand dollars still sounds like a lot to us, but not when we remember our story. We remember how God has always been among us, providing for us in incredible ways. We are over a third of the way towards this year’s goal.

We’re inviting you to be part of this story. We’re inviting you to help meet the needs of this community so that we can continue to remind women serving around the world, “You are not alone.”

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We’d love to hear from you in the comments if you’ve got Christmas ache. We’re here to let you know you’re not alone!

P.S. For those needing some refreshment and time with the Lord (a.k.a all of us), our past Velvet Ashes Retreats are available for you here, and they make for amazing Christmas gifts (no shipping required)!

Share your #VelvetAshesNotAlone story on Instagram.




  1. Ellie December 14, 2017

    Yes, the “me toos” are so powerful and important especially in this slightly “weird” life we share in common. Valuing all you do here at Velvet Ashes.xx

    1. Danielle Wheeler December 17, 2017

      Slightly “weird.” Ha, yes! Weird and wonderful and hard. Thanks for your encouragement and kind words.

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