I stepped inside the hotel lobby and was greeted with one hug after another. My weary heart heaved a sigh of relief. Here are my people. These are the ones who get me. These are the women who understand my life because they are living it too. They are living as a foreigner, navigating the complexities of a life and calling in a land not their own. Over the course of that week, our stories spilled out, some with belly laughter and some with tears.
All too soon it was time to leave. We headed out, back to our locations spread out across the continent. My heart ached for more of what I’d just had. But it would be a year or more before I’d see these people again.
Year after year my heart went through this cycle. Filling up for one week with sweet connection and then longing for it throughout the year. Then one day a dream whooshed in and lodged itself within me.
What if… What if there was a way to be connected to other women serving overseas in an on-going community? The idea began to marinate in prayer.
Six months later, a preacher asked, “What’s that one thing? What’s the one thing you know God is asking you to do?” His question had that sense of Holy Spirit nudging. There was no doubt in my mind what my “one thing” was.
The sermon that day marked the moment I knew it was time to move, time to step out in faith. Knowing the idea of community meant leading in community, I emailed Amy Young and Patty Stallings. I attempted to paint with words in an email the desire in my heart, the desire for a place. A place to gather with other women living the same kind of life we were living.
Only it wasn’t a physical place. Geography makes it impossible to gather these kindred spirits in one location. It was a space, a virtual space that would unite our hearts across the continents. A space to share our far-from-home lives. A space to spill our fears and joys, our struggles and longings in this kingdom life for which we so often feel unqualified. A space to show up as our true un-heroic selves, to link arms across the internet as we walk together in our Christ callings.
Praise God, Amy and Patty said, “Yes, we’re in!” Then a whole group of writers said, “Yes, this is the desire of our hearts too!”
I sent an email to a web design company, figuring I would never hear back. This company created websites for big names like Ann Voskamp. Surely, they wouldn’t be interested in a no-name group of women on the other side of the globe. But within hours I had a response. The designer, Ted, had grown up as an MK in Africa. He knew. He said, “We have such a heart for exactly what you are describing.” And thus began the relationship that continues to this day.
This no-name group of women put out the call to our people – “Will you give some money so we can build this dream?” In four weeks, we raised $5,400. Ok, Lord, I think this is really happening.
Ted walked us through the branding process. We needed a name. What do we call this dream?
God gave us a verse:
“The Lord will guide you always;
He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.” Is 58:11
This. This articulated the desire of our hearts.
And then it came. One day, as I sat searching through a list of desert flora, the Velvet Ash tree jumped off the page. A tree that grows in the desert. A tree that thrives in unlikely places. This is what we long to be.
Rebecca Mecomber says, “With tender care and constant pruning, the Velvet Ash tree (with its towering shade) can provide decades of relief from the harsh desert environment.”
Tender care and constant pruning… Relief for those in the desert…
Gracious. Anyone else blinking back tears?
This is the essence of what Velvet Ashes has become. After launching on November 13, 2013, this space became a place of tender care, a place for thousands of women in all corners of the world to come alongside each other and whisper the tender care of our Savior.
We became a place to walk with one another through the pruning of life, through loss and pain. We became a place to speak courage and truth through our stories, a place to dive into good books, swap recipes, and laugh over memes. In our weekly Connection Groups, we became a safe space to share with other women who get our lives. Desperate for the rest and renewal of God, we became a place to find spiritual retreat, right from our own bedrooms and bungalows.
The stories that have flowed from all these dynamics of Velvet Ashes leave us humbled on our knees, saying, “Surely, God is in the place.” We know that the touched lives, the divine connections, the deepened journeys, and the sisterhood camaraderie are all gifts of God’s love for us.
As we celebrate our 8th birthday this week, we look back with wonder and awe. God grew this seed of a dream beyond what any of us ever asked or imagined. To each and every one of you who have in the past and present been part of making this place what it is, our team wants to say, “Thank you.” Without you, we would not be us. Today, with Denise at the helm, me in my sweet spot, and Sarah making all things possible, we could not be more grateful to have front row seats to what God is doing in this community.
Later this week, we’ll share more about what is currently happening at Velvet Ashes, and we’ll give you a peak at the amazing things that are in store! We are so excited about what’s ahead.
But today, let’s pause and raise a glass. Let’s look back and remember with gratitude all that God has done.
Happy 8th Birthday, Velvet Ashes!
How long have you been around Velvet Ashes?
What is one of your favorite Velvet Ashes moments or elements?