Simplifying The Season


Several years ago, as I moved to simplify Christmas and take all aspects of the season back to its roots, I took a thoughtful look into gift giving. I didn't want to do away with it altogether but I also didn't want the pressure, distraction or disappointment that comes with trying to meet unrealistic expectations. 

Gift giving, coupled with wisdom, is the nature of God. There were four named gifts given upon the birth of Jesus. The greatest being the gift of Jesus, himself, given to the world by God the Father. Following the gift of the Savior were the gifts of the Magi: Gold Frankincense and Myrrh, each rich with significance.  

Based on the simplicity of this scripture, I started our tradition of exchanging four gifts each at Christmas: One big gift to represent baby Jesus and three smaller gifts to represent Gold, Frankensence and Myrrh. 

I found that by narrowing our wish lists down to four things, we were forced to consider the importance and value of each gift we exchanged. At no point have we ever felt like our Christmas mornings were not abundant. Even through the teens years, my girls were satisfied with their gifts and appreciated that we were preserving the true meaning of Christmas. As parents, we are at peace knowing that we taught our daughters that Christmas giving is far more meaningful than the number of presents under a tree.  

Melanie McDaniel is Founder of Wild Honey Culinary Camp, which provides cooking classes to inner city kids. She is also a successful business woman who loves God and is passionate for everyone to know Him and His purposes for their lives. You can connect with her on Instagram @wild___honey

Savor The Wonder - Advent Week 1


The Posture Of Pondering 

 “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Luke 2:19 

I wonder how Mary felt the night of Jesus birth. She was just a young girl. From the moment Gabriel suddenly appeared to her, her journey to birthing Jesus held promise, hopes, and fears. And, Messiah was finally here. Everything she was told would happen, happened. 

Here in Luke 2, we find Mary with a heart postured for ponder. The definition of ‘‘ponder’ means to consider something deeply and thoroughly. Luke 2 says Mary treasured and pondered all that had happened. Later in the chapter in verse 51, Luke says Mary ‘treasured’ all these things. 

I wonder what things she pondered and treasured? Perhaps the Old Testament words on the coming Messiah. The angel Gabriel’s sudden announcement to her that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High. Her cousin Elizabeth’s words. The shepherds words. The visit of the Maji. 

Perhaps she pondered every new word and developing event leading to this astonishing unfolding of the birth of Jesus. She was young and yet so wise in how she pondered and held the reflections of God’s promises deep to herself.

The truths of Christ are worth keeping safe in our souls through praise and pondering. How often do we run past an answered prayer, a promise fulfilled, or yet even forget we prayed when we finally see the answer?

In the midst of the busy season of Christmas, we pray you will savor the season with us as we reflect on the many wonders of God. We pray you experience Jesus as Emmanuel – who is with us, with you. 

James 1:9 (The Msg) urges us, “Ponder and meditate on this Book day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed. Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.” 

What’s one way you can make room this Christmas season to ponder the things God has done in your life? 

Exhale Weekend 2017

Photo: Claire Hembree

Photo: Claire Hembree

Exhale Weekend was a little taste of heaven - beyond our prayers and expectations. Two hundred women encountered God in beautiful, pivotal moments in worship and in the Word. His Presence was palpable as we gathered at the beautiful Willowbrook Farm in Franklin, TN September 29th and 30th. 

God wants us to know who we are. Every day in some way the world around us tells us who we aren't. But God wants us to know Him and to know who we are in Him. 

Our theme verse this year was Isaiah 58:9-12 - A Full Life In The Emptiest Of Places.

Ladies, God is calling us deeper, up and out - for this time and place. And, only by faith can we live out God's purposes and plans. According to Hebrews 11:1, "Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." We don't need bigger faith - we need to realize how big our God is. And we do that spending time in His word and prayer. No blog, Instagram, or Facebook post can replace God's Word and Presence. 

As I said in the opening message of Exhale Weekend, the Exhale community is a safe place where we welcome you to come as you are - but our prayer is that you never leave as you came. Because there is always more with God - no matter where you are in your journey. 

Not only was that my prayer for Exhale Weekend, it is my prayer for you each day and as you interact with the Exhale community. 

God is calling us to go deeper with Him.. to come up higher. For some, He's asking to let go of some comforts, secrets, some stuff you love and crave for something you will find you will crave even more - His Presence and plans for your life. Surrender brings freedom and is worth everything it costs. 

Do you find it hard sometimes to fully trust God and believe He has great plans for your life? If so, why? 

Are you living the full life God intended for you? If so, what was a pivotal moment when you surrendered everything?

We really would love to hear from you. Your story matters and there is power in the testimony. To view Exhale Weekend 2017 go to our Facebook page and be sure to subscribe below to have weekly encouragement sent to your email as well as first updates on Exhale gatherings and news. 



Holly Newton is Visionary of Exhale Women, regularly featured on Today In Nashville, wife of 27 years to her High School Sweetheart, Mom of 3 adult children - all married with babies, Gigi of 3 +1 on the way. You can read her Bio here and connect with her on Instagram here

Seasons and Soul Care


We all have seasons when life feels stale or our soul is dry. How do you feed your soul in these times? For me, one of the first responses is to get in the Word and connect to nature. I go for a walk or a hike. I find a quiet place where I can feel the wind.  Many evenings you will find me soaking up a beautiful sunset and sometimes I simply just take my shoes off and walk out into my backyard. There’s a stillness that happens deep in me when I take a moment to breathe in God’s beautiful creation. And while I’m in the middle of it all I pray. I take the time to be thankful. I listen.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands."

Psalm 19:1

I’ve shared this before, but I’ll share again because it’s quite possibly the number one thing that feeds my soul. I need quality time with my people. When I feel disconnected or not myself, sitting around a table with good food and friends fills me up. There’s something about learning more about other’s stories and sharing my own that helps me feel connected. I see my Father move in ways that only He can in the simplicity of a good conversation. Our busy lives have made this difficult, but I fight the busyness because for me, true connection with others is life giving. Its essential to my well-being.

"Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

Acts 2:46-47

When my soul is feeling dry, I make sure to have fun and laugh. For me, this is enjoying live music. Music is a deep part of who I am so I feel fully myself when I’m connecting with that part of my life. Some of my friends have fun by taking trips and exploring new places. Another friend of mine loves taking long bike rides and photographing the areas she’s exploring on her bike. I’ve come to realize that I just don’t take enough time to let go, laugh, and enjoy myself. But, I know when I do, life feels that much more fresh and new.

"So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun."

Ecclesiastes 8:15

God has provided so many ways for us to experience His goodness. If you feel like you're just going through the motions, take a moment to try something different or new. Go for a run, try a new restaurant, grab coffee with a friend, go dancing, have fun! Feed your soul. But above all, get in the Word of God and stay there. He promises that if we seek Him we will find Him.  


Heather Williamson, a native Texan resides in Franklin, TN with her husband Steven and her three girls Kayley, Kaidence, and Kaitlyn. Heather and Steven celebrate that God rescued them from a broken marriage and redeemed their relationship with one another and their Savior. They have a passion for walking along-side couples who are struggling in their own marriages praying God will use their broken story to be a testament of hope. Heather also loves sharing life around a table with other women as they enjoy the God given pleasure of a good meal. Speaking of food, she loves the gift of a good taco, queso, or guacamole…really she just loves Tex Mex.

Fullness In The Empty


Hi all! It has been a while since I've posted and with the Exhale Weekend approaching next week, I want to share an encouraging word with you.

The last I shared on Exhale Women was my miscarriage story. In light of a full life in the emptiest of places, I figured what more appropriate than to share where I have been and the word I have for Exhale 2017?

This year's theme is a Full Life In The Emptiest Of Places. Praise God. I'm exploding with excitement over this weekend!! It is an honor to share in the transformation and vulnerability that happens in God's presence.

Last year directly following Exhale Weekend, I went home and my husband and I began to pray that we would conceive a baby again. As spoken in the word, "Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or more gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:19-20

In July we welcomed our baby girl, Aaliyah Joy, into the world. My labor and delivery did not go how I expected it to go. Bear with me if birth stories aren't your thing-this will be more than that. :)

Summertime came and my due date was approaching. Contractions started. Slowly. Like, "lose my mind" kind of slow-because that's how it goes, right? I was the pregnant lady wishing everyday was the day.

And then our weekly prenatal checkup came. As per routine, our nurse went to listen to her heart rate. Our precious girl's heart was beating away at only 73 beats per minute. 60 is fatal in utero.

Time stood still listening to her slow rhythm....

All I had to hold onto on the way to the hospital were the two things God had given me. Her heart beating inside of me and her name that He spoke to me during my previous miscarriage.

Aaliyah Joy Lillard // July 9, 2017, 11:20 PM // 5.10 oz, 19 inches

Aaliyah Joy Lillard // July 9, 2017, 11:20 PM // 5.10 oz, 19 inches

This is where the meaning of her name plays a part. "Aaliyah" was the action of the Jewish people going up to the Jerusalem Temple to meet with God. Their Aliyah was not only a physical going up, but also a spiritual ascension  as the process was considered a glorious experience.

In the midst of losing what would have been our firstborn, God spoke Aaliyah to me. Although I didn't understand at the time, He was speaking the beautiful process that Aliyah is over me; He was preparing my heart to receive the fullness of His glory in the midst of "my empty." I couldn't have begun to imagine the ways I would be transformed throughout these passing seasons.

So, this is the question raised in my life that I now want to ask you:

What promises (throughout the Bible or in personal experience) has God spoken to hold onto fullness in place of your "empty"?

What do you allow in your life to nurture the promise that is the fullness of God?

As Exhale Weekend approaches, whether or not you will be attending, I invite you to walk out these questions in your life along with me. I challenge you to seek out these answers and stand on the word that God has given to you.

I have missed getting to share my heart with Exhale Women and look forward to the new season ahead as Fall moves in and life continues to grow.



Anna Lise (Newton) Lillard, Co-Visionary Exhale Women / Next Gen Community Leader , calls Austin, Texas home with her husband Hayden and baby girl Aaliyah Joy. Her passion is to help her generation connect with the generations ahead and the ones behind, as well as cross lines of impossibilities with others through the power of prayer and HIS presence. She desires to help women connect to the heart of God. Instagram @annaliselillard

Making Space

Most days my home feels pretty chaotic. It’s loud, covered in food crumbs, and rarely looks put together. I guess that’s to be expected since we have three girls all under the age of eight. It’s not uncommon that every hour of the day involves someone crying, sometimes multiple people crying at the same time and in those moments I often turn to my husband and half jokingly say, “Well, we did this to ourselves.” Many days I can barely keep it together. I find myself frustrated that the dishes have piled up or that every room in my house has toys and clothes on the floor. I somehow think that I should be able to do better than this. Clutter in my home creates clutter in my brain and it’s easy for me to feel overwhelmed with it all.

Early in my motherhood experience I somehow thought I should be able to do it all. I like to think I can juggle everything and never let anything drop. With only one child this mentality was mostly manageable. But when baby girl number two arrived I quickly realized that I could not juggle everything like I wanted to. I learned that if I wanted to be a sane mommy I needed to create some space for myself. I needed some time to be Heather.

Along with baby number two also came the realization, through marriage counseling, that I had allowed our first child to consume me. She became my world and while some of that is natural, it affected my marriage without me realizing it. I didn’t make the time for my husband. We didn’t go on dates. We barely made time to talk about our dreams and encourage one another, something that was, and still is, so much a part of our relationship. Our marriage suffered.

Feeling frazzled and overwhelmed daily is not how I like to live. I don’t function well. I’ve learned over time that in order to be the best version of myself I need to make space for myself. For me, this looks like a date night with my husband enjoying live music and eating delicious food, because Nashville has no shortage of amazing restaurants and music. Or, it may look like a coffee date with one of my girl friends. And, if I’m totally honest it even includes a solo trip to Target to conquer my “to do” list but at a much slower and enjoyable pace than normal. Now, with a third little girl in the mix it can often take much more planning to make any of this happen, but I know that it’s important. My husband is very much onboard as well. He will often be the one pushing me out the door and I’m always thankful when he does. He’s a keeper y’all!

When I make the time to break away I come back a better mommy. I am able to handle the constant crying and fighting and even control my own emotions better. I’m also a more loving wife when I’ve made the time to connect with my husband. When we come back from a date night we feel much more connected and ready to take on this world together.

The reality is that I don’t always get to break away as much as I would like. Sometimes we have weeks that are just too busy with work and school. I’ve realized with the craziness in our home I need at least one moment every day to take a breath and soak in a moment of peace…and quiet. Each morning I try to sit and take a moment to read and pray. It may only last five minutes, because I have a two year old who loves to eat constantly, but at least its five minutes. I will often walk outside to pray. I breathe in fresh air and remember that I’m thankful for my little piece of this world no matter how crazy it is. My husband and my girls are a beautiful reminder of how my Father is so loving and absolutely adores me. He is so good to my little family and in my moments outside I tell Him I’m thankful.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Come to me; you’ll recover your life. Walk with me; learn unforced rhythms of grace.” Matthew 11:28

In Matthew Jesus invites us to come to Him. To be a better mom, wife, or friend, we need these moments of “unforced rhythms of grace” and we find them with Him, in Him.

So, what about you? Does your daily life feel a tad crazy? Are you making space for yourself? Are you taking a moment each day to connect with others and breathe? If not, what can you do to make this happen? Maybe schedule that date night with your husband or meet a friend for lunch. You could even break away for a couple of days to rest and replenish. Make the time because I promise you, you need it and you won’t regret it.

Heather Williamson, a native Texan resides in Franklin, TN with her husband Steven and her three girls Kayley, Kaidence, and Kaitlyn. Heather and Steven celebrate that God rescued them from a broken marriage and redeemed their relationship with one another and their Savior. They have a passion for walking along-side couples who are struggling in their own marriages praying God will use their broken story to be a testament of hope. Heather also loves sharing life around a table with other women as they enjoy the God given pleasure of a good meal. Speaking of food, she loves the gift of a good taco, queso, or guacamole…really she just loves Tex Mex.

How To Set A Boundary

Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in relationships where we need to define a boundary. But what is a boundary? Think of a boundary as a property line.  For your house, you know exactly where your yard ends and your neighbor’s yard begins. The same principle applies when it comes to our own relational property. There is a line of where I end and you begin—and it is up to us to show others where that line is.

Do we want a thick wall around ourselves to keep people out? No. Do we want an open yard where any one can walk on the grass or throw trash in our yard? No. We want a fence with a gate that gives us the ability to let people in and out as we determine.

So how do we build that in ourselves? We set limits so people know what we will allow and what we won’t allow. And we should do this in love.

There are three parts to setting a boundary:

  1. Let them know you are for them: No one is a villain here. Many people have no idea they even crossed your boundary because you never let them know. Start your conversation from a place of compassion instead of anger.
  2. State what happened and how it made you feel: This is not a time for blaming, attacking or accusing, instead we are to own what happened and our feelings in it. This helps the other listen to what you are saying without having to be defensive.  
  3. Help them understand what you want for your relationship in the future:  This is where you will set the line so they now know what it is you desire in the relationship.

For example: Your spouse is late for dinner and it is becoming consistent.  Instead of arguing or accusing, sit them down and say “I love you and I know you have a great work ethic, and that work ethic is keeping you from being home for dinner. When that happens, I am afraid that you don’t want to be home with us for dinner and it hurts my feelings. In the future, I would like you to call me as soon as you know you will be staying later so I know you are thinking of us.”

This keep dialogue open and your needs known.

Setting limits in love is hard, which is one reason why we created the Marriage Workshop for couples to learn how to talk to each other in a way that they can be heard and understood. We have had couples tell us that they have had more effective and connecting conversation in the one weekend than they had in the last 2 years.  We hope you can join us!

Lindsey Castleman, marriage and family counselor Connect with her at Sign up for the next marriage event at

Finding Rest In New Seasons

For many households this month means 'back to school' and it brings a mixed bag of emotions as well as demands. On Thursday I shared some tips on self care for women on Nashville's Channel 4, Today In Nashville News. You can watch it here.

We can't pour out in our daily demands if we aren't being filled up - with the Word and allowing ourselves to find rest and balance the way God intended (Matthew 11:28-30). 

As a Mom of three, I remember the first days of school oh so well. The excitement, concerns, laughter, and tears. Now, as an empty nester, all three of our children are married and they each have babies - but I still remember what those school year days were like. 

Here are a few things I have learned that help us as women practice healthy self care:

TIME MANAGEMENT -  This one is so basic but so critical. I'm not a time management guru but I did learn when my children were still at home in school that putting the backpack (Bonus tip: Double check for all the homework. You're welcome;) in a consistent spot by the door, making lunches the night before, laying out clothes the night before (socks and shoes too!) made the mornings more doable. 

Also, learning to yes to the right things is a game changer. To keep the most important things the most important things, you have to know when to say no. Two of my favorite resources around boundaries are: The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst and Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. 

DON'T COMPARE - There is so much pressure in social media to measure up. Comparison is destructive to your soul, robs joy, distorts identity, and make you miss the purposes God has for you.

Don't compare your children to other children or yourself as a woman or mom to other women. Just don't. God has created you to be uniquely beautiful YOU (Psalm 139). Don't miss the life you were meant to live.

TOXIC FREE LIVING - This is a hot topic and I feel like I'm late to the party, but better late than never. Did you know the average woman applies over 300 chemicals a day to her body just through soaps, makeup, shampoos, and hair care products? I've been on the chemical free journey for a bit now using essential oils and products from Young Living and can't imagine ever going back. At 49, I feel amazing and ready to take on the next half. Join me here for more education on this topic. 

MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF AND CONNECT WITH GOD - This is a must, ladies. Make time every day for yourself to breathe. When our kids were still home I would get up before them to have coffee and some quiet time with God. If you can't do that, then do it at night or any time during the day. I learned to have ongoing conversations with God throughout the day. He's always there, always speaking, always present - and He cares for every detail of your life.

Get rest, feed your body good stuff, and get some physical activity. Even a walk around the block on the busiest days can help clear our minds and it's great for our body, soul, and minds.

Make time to connect meaningfully with other women no matter what stage of life you're in. Learning from and encouraging each other is a gift. We are not competitors. The more you see yourself as God does, the more free you will be to love and encourage others as well as learn from. 

Are you ready for a weekend to catch your breath and exhale?

Exhale Women has created Exhale Weekend - a retreat for women to rest, receive, and to be encouraged and inspired no matter where they are on their journey. See Our Story. This year Exhale Weekend will take place September 29 - September 30 and you're invited. We're almost full, so don't miss out! Details here and register here with 20% promo code: backtoschool through August 15th. 

This year's theme is A Full Life In The Emptiest Of Places - Isaiah 58:11-12 (The MSG)

I will always show you where to go.
    I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
    firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
    a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
    rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
    restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
    make the community livable again.

Holly Newton is the Exhale Women Visionary. You can read her story here and connect with her on Instagram here.