Tag Archives: Velvet Ashes

Happy Birthday Velvet Ashes

Retreating with Velvet Ashes

I’d never heard of an air plant before. These amazing plants somehow grow without soil by just soaking in moisture from the air and getting their food from the sun. How cool is that. When I first heard about the Velvet Ashes retreats the theme for that year was  “Sustain” built around the idea of these amazing air plants. They survive in such unique environments sustaining themselves and even thriving on hardly anything. “These people get me.” I thought. The more I learned about Velvet Ashes it felt like a cold drink of water to my very thirsty soul. Even the name Velvet Ashes comes from the Velvet Ash Tree which is able to grow in the desert providing shade in harsh environments.

Sometimes this overseas life can very much feel like a harsh environment. I love it. It is very much where I know God wants our family in this season. It is so, so good and yet is it so, so hard. Yesterday my son pointed out that there is a plant growing out of the cement step right in front of our front door. Amazing. Life growing, even thriving, in a hard place. I want to be that plant. To be honest, I wouldn’t say I am thriving at the moment, but I hope by God’s grace that I am growing. During the most recent Velvet Ashes Unplugged Retreat “Prayer and Jesus” that I was able to be part of one of the exercises asked you to picture yourself as a potted plant. My plant was a cactus. Transplanted, survives on not very much, often misunderstood, the prickles at times can make it hard to get to know. I was told once in college that missionary kids are hard to get to know. It felt sad hearing that, because don’t we all long to be known and understood. But I get it. The childhoods we had often were complicated so, yes, it can be a challenge to peel back some of those layers and there might be some prickles along the way, but cacti are actually quite fascinating. I learned recently that cactus often bloom at night and their blooms usually last just for a day. Imagine that beauty in the quite of the night, far off in the desert often not seen by a single human eye, and yet they still bloom.

I was given a desert rose last week (Thank you Jim). It had a sweet pink blossom which my two-year-old promptly proceeded to pick. Two more blossoms are about to open. I was told that desert rose plants actually do best in direct sunlight, so it should thrive at our house (I’m melting in this summer Port Moresby heat). What a special reminder that we are all learning to survive and hopefully thrive even in difficult environments.  

Velvet Ashes has been such a gift to me. We are with a small organization with no member care so, for me, the retreats with Velvet Ashes have become a time to mentally access the year and see how God has grown and changed me. I love how beautiful the material Velvet Ashes creates is and how honest and relevant it is especially for cross-cultural workers like me. From blog posts to connection groups there is something so special about feeling seen, heard and encouraged. So thank you to the team at Velvet Ashes for the ways you minister to women like me. Happy Birthday to an amazing community. The ripple effects of the love you pour out on so many of us is so life giving. It probably won’t be until heaven that the many fruits of your faithful labor will be seen.

My desert rose

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Filed under Contemplations, missions, PNG

Beneath the Wrinkles and the Dirt

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 9.01.47 AMI chose peanuts—twisted up, knobby raw peanuts right from the highlands soil, still attached to their stems, with dirt clinging to every crevice of their wrinkled skin. We flew back early for the retreat. The flight went as well as a solo flight with a two-year can go. It had been a long day, well a long week, OK a long five weeks of village living full of the typical emotional highs and lows. But, we made it.

The assignment was for each retreat participant to bring an item that represented where she was in life at that moment maybe spiritually or emotionally—an object to help give the group a snapshot of what you were carrying with you to the retreat. My mind was blank. My thoughts went back to a similar type of icebreaker assignment in college that had seemed so easy. I had my pens to represent my love for writing and my little stuffed elephant made from colorful African cloth to represent my time growing up as a missionary kid. Now, life felt too scattered. Yes, I am a tired mom. Yes, I am carrying burdens and hurts that many missionaries face. Yes, my life is often in transition. What one object comes close to showing all the facets?

I thought about bringing the boarding pass from the latest flight. Oops, already threw that away and took the trash out to the road. When you travel as much as our family does you stop saving boarding passes for scrapbooks. Then I thought—peanuts. Yes, that is me right now—dirty (it takes a few good showers to really get all that village dirt washed off). Raw—emotionally from seeing so many problems spiritually and even physically that I don’t have the strength or knowledge to “fix.” (I got to bandage a bush knife wound this trip and if you know me at all you know that is waaaaaay out of my comfort zone).

I often feel knotted up and tangled like that bunch of peanuts, but peanuts also represent another aspect of “me.” They reflect how the same thing can be so different in so many countries. Peanuts here in Papua New Guinea are often eaten as a snack and usually sold still on their steams tied up in a little tangled bundle of four or five peanut clusters. Sometimes they are lightly roasted in the fire (sill in their shells), but often they are eaten raw.

Where I grew up in Congo, peanuts were also a popular snack; but they were shelled, roasted and salted. I still remember the plies of bright red peanuts sold along the side of the road. They were sold by the can (an empty tomato paste can) and so yummy; still by far my favorite way to eat peanuts.

And, of course, we love our peanuts in the US as well with our staple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and snacking on cleanly shelled and packaged roasted peanuts.

As this past weekend’s retreat came to a close, we were encouraged to reflect back on our found object and see if we saw it in a different light. I was surprised and encouraged to find that I did.

The peanut is a humble legume for sure, but this time I was able to look past the dirt and crack open that protective shell just a bit to consider the heart. It is a versatile and nutritious substance. It takes time and patience to crack the shells and get to the “meat” of the plant, but it is worth it. There is more to the knobby, twisted peanut then first meets the eye and living a sometimes complicated life I relate to that so much. Underneath the dirt, and rawness of reality I do feel so blessed to be here in PNG. Is it challenging? Yes, but it is also a rich experience if you are willing to take the time to crack open the different elements that make up life here.

On a side note, I highly recommend the Velvet Ashes retreat to anyone involved in cross-cultural work: deep, refreshing, honest and challenging. I am coming away from a challenging season emotionally and am blessed to leave the time of retreat soaked in gentle truths and covered in a sense of fresh joy knowing that God does sustain, and He can use each one of us even in humble or desolate seasons.

“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.”

-Mark 6:31

If you had to pick an object to represent where you are in life right now what would your object be?

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Filed under missions, PNG