This week we are inviting you in to get to know Velvet Ashes: who we are, what we do and the resources this space has to offer.
In her book, Invitation to Retreat, Ruth Haley Barton says, “The yearning for retreat: Can you feel it? That yearning is your invitation. It is the Spirit of God stirring up your deepest longings and questions in order to draw you deeper into the intimacy with the God you were created for.”
If we could, we would invite each and every one of you to get away to a place of solitude, offering time to commune with the Father and also share in the sweet fellowship of sisters who long to go deep together. Instead, every spring we offer you the opportunity to retreat right where you are, whether you close your bedroom door for some alone time or gather a few friends and teammates for a weekend. The Velvet Ashes Retreat includes videos that you can stream or download, spiritual teaching, journaling prompts, and optional, fun pampering sessions and exercise videos. We put all this together for you so that you can retreat on your own time and wherever you are around the globe.
Today we want to share with you a beautiful story from Joan Godard of how God moved in mighty and sweet ways through her experiences during previous Velvet Ashes retreats.
I was so looking forward to being all alone, all weekend long, for the Velvet Ashes Retreat. My husband and I live in community at a Training Center in Mexico, so being alone happens about once a year! I was delighted to see how God orchestrated calendars this year, with students and staff leaving for a cultural immersion and my husband going on a retreat also.
Living in community is both beautiful and challenging, and being a people-loving introvert, I am always looking for quiet spaces where I can be refreshed and replenished for this life of community discipleship. I love introducing students to the rhythms of silence and solitude, and other spiritual disciplines that will open their eyes and souls to being with God in new ways. Latin American young adults are generally boisterous, vivacious people who need about a week to prepare for the idea of a few hours of being alone and silent with God! Yet, they are always surprised by how profoundly God speaks to them, and how quickly the time passes by. So, the students laughed knowingly this weekend when I shooed them on their way, anxious to begin this Velvet Ashes Shalom Retreat.
Two years ago, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer just days before planning to do the VA Receive Retreat, so between diagnosis and surgery I retreated. For this new pilgrimage I was about to embark on, Psalm 84 became my cry as I told God I would trust Him to receive what I needed for the journey. “Strength to strength” (v.7) became the theme for the year to come. There are so many losses that come with a cancer diagnosis and treatment- losses of ministry engagement, energy, health and hair, and brain focus to name a few. And there are unknowns too- will I beat this disease? Will I be able to go back to life as I’ve known it? Will I ever get my energy back? The losses were real, as are the unknowns, but I experienced God’s strength to strength throughout the year.
In April 2018, two months after I finished cancer treatment, I had another surgery- a hysterectomy- and a tumor removed that looked to be cancerous. I awoke from that surgery to the surgeon shaking his head in wonder, saying it was a gift from God, a miracle that the biopsy showed no evidence of cancer! With that amazing news during recovery from surgery, I did the VA Sustain Retreat. It was another timely theme! It had been God’s “strength to strength” through diagnosis, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. One of the exercises, Peaks and Valleys, was especially helpful in charting my emotional highs and lows over the previous 12 months. In the midst of some really tough lows and and glorious highs that were unexpected gifts, God had faithfully sustained me.
In 2019, as I entered the Shalom retreat, I sat and listened to the Spirit of God and my soul- both told me that I am weary, and scattered in focus (could be the low dose chemo meds I’m still on). I could relate to one of the video stories where Katie expressed she was “just done.” I opened my hands, my heart, my soul to God. He gave me the name Pilgrim and immediately tears sprung to my eyes as I recalled Psalm 84:5 “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”
God spoke kindly, saying that he saw me, and knew what the long and arduous journey these past 2 years had cost me, and invited me to sit with Father, Son and Holy Spirit at the Shalom table. Our tender God served me refreshing peace, well-being for the soul, wholeness, rest, fulfillment, contentment. I still live with pain, unknowns, and weariness, which doesn’t really feel like wholeness and well-being, but I will be attentive to God this year as He speaks, demonstrates, and gives me his Shalom. I believe that in the midst of pain, trouble, loss, wounds, or all those difficult circumstances we live with as we make our pilgrimage with God, Shalom is a mystery that Jesus wants to make known to us. Shalom is the way things ought to be- God’s intent for us from the beginning in the Garden, and as Jesus followers, joy of all joys! We have the Prince of Shalom alive in us. That is a certain promise, whether we feel it or not.
You can purchase past retreats and create your own retreat time, right where you are! Stay tuned as well for more information coming about future retreats.
Have you participated in a Velvet Ashes retreat before? What words has the Father spoken to you, and how has He worked in your heart during those times?