Savor The Wonder

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“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were afraid. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rest.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 Luke 2:8-15 (NIV)

There are Nativity Manger scenes on most every corner of the Main Street where we live and I often find myself reflecting on the shepherds from Luke 2 as I walk or drive past them. The shepherds were the unlikely and unexpected chosen ones on the scene of Jesus’ birth. I identify with them.

Jesus birth was only the first step in God’s plan of salvation. From all eternity, God had planned to redeem the human race. In reality, God had already been preparing the way — but now He was taking on human flesh and becoming a man so that we could be saved. In time, that process would be completed through Jesus’ death and resurrection — but at first His plan was almost invisible.

When I ponder Luke 2, two things stand out to me about the shepherds:

  • They were humble men; in fact, shepherds were looked down upon by many people. But Jesus Christ came for all people — rich and poor, male and female, uneducated and educated. By announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, God was demonstrating His great love for every one of us, no matter who we are.
  • They were busy doing what they were supposed to do - tending their sheep. 

The angels appearing to them that night was quite a display! Luke 2 says, ‘Suddenly - a great company’. A great company translates into what could have been thousands. The sky lit up - there on the hillside in the watch of night. I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like. Can you?

I wonder - what if I? What if you?... had been present that first Christmas night? Would we have ignored - or would we have believed in our busyness or routine? Would we have been postured like the shepherds in welcoming God’s Son into the world — and into our hearts?

The Shepherds.

Unlikely, unexpected, afraid - yet with hearts postured to receive the invitation from God to believe in and respond to the miraculous. 

This is how I want to live.

Like the shepherds.

Doing what I know to do now, with full surrender - always willing to respond to the Father’s heart to do what's next.

Man, by nature usually chooses the path of what seems rational - but God always chooses the path of least likelihood.

Lord would you make us like the shepherds? Would you open our eyes and move aside our humanness - helping us to live in your presence glorifying and praising God - astounding people as we go, drawing them to you? Our one and only Savior and Hope.

Holly Newton is the Exhale Women Visionary. You can read more on the story behind Exhale Women, here. And connect with her on Instagram. 

Savor The Wonder - Advent Week 2

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Doubt and Expectancy

 

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:38

Without all of the details and without a clear path, Mary answered with an unequivocal yes to God. Luke 1:26-38.

She risked. She believed.  

The season of Advent reminds us of a spirit of waiting - a process. Some two thousand years ago the Israelites had been waiting centuries for the coming of the Savior – God’s son, Jesus Christ. And, He was birthed through Mary - young, poor, female - all characteristics that, to the people of her day, would make her seem unusable by God for any major task. But God chose Mary for one of the most important acts of obedience he has ever demanded of anyone. 

In Luke 1 the angel, Gabriel, made two appearances – two announcements. One appearance was to Zechariah and one was to Mary. He appeared to Zechariah to bring news that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son, John. He appeared to Mary to bring news that she would birth a son, Jesus – the long awaited Messiah. Both were announcements and promises spoken into unlikely and impossible situations. The first words Gabriel spoke to each one was ‘Do not be afraid’.

Same invitation. Two different responses.

Zechariah replied with ‘How can I be sure of this? in verse 18. Mary replied with ‘How will this be?’ in verse 34. Zechariah doubted. Mary was expectant. 

She didn’t have all of the answers. But she said yes. She risked being believed by her fiancé Joseph and misunderstood and even ridiculed by all who knew her. 

Even though Mary and Zechariah had two different responses, they were both on a journey to know and experience the heart of God and His promises unfolding. One of the beautiful things in this is that God still had his way and He still fulfilled His purposes through the birth of John and the miraculous birth of Jesus through the Virgin Mary. 

God is a God of order and process and He loves us so much that He is willing to invite us into a journey with Him to know Him deeper - every day, every season. 

He is the only way and true strength to say ‘yes’ even when we don’t understand. Yes, because he is God and He is good. He is faithful to keep his promises. All of them. 

Is there an area you need to release to Him today? Is there a question or a calling you need to simply say ‘Yes, God I trust you.' ?

 

Holly Newton is Visionary of Exhale Women. You can connect with her on Instagram and at hollyanewton.com

Savor The Wonder - Advent Week 1

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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. 

 

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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

Fullness In The Empty

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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.

 

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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

Comparison

Comparison can steal our joy. It diminishes who we are in Christ and the blessings God has given us. It can rob us of understanding our identity and embracing our destiny because we are too busy wishing for someone else’s life. It’s a trap that we easily fall into in our culture and too often becomes the measurement of how we feel about our lives.

We are so loved and accepted by Jesus, no matter what we’ve done, and no matter what has been done to us. He came to set us free from all the sin and shame - walls, masks, labels, pressures and comparisons that distract us from our own journey and keep us from walking fully in His promises.

I grew up in a suburb where there was a lot of pressure to measure up, even in the church. For so much of my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood I felt less than enough. There was always someone better looking, more talented, smarter, more capable…more. I compared, measured, and tried to prove myself. It was tiring. Exhausting, really.

Living in the comparison cycle is exhausting, and more importantly, it is not the abundant life that Jesus came to give us. Have you ever measured your life in light of what someone else’s appeared to be on the outside? God’s heart for us is that our identity is so sealed in who we are in Him that we don’t feel the need to compare ourselves to anyone else and that we would not wish for any other life than our own.

Read Psalm 139.

Verses 13-16 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

God’s character goes into the creation of every person. When we were in the womb, God saw us. He sees us in the hidden places. He knew all of our days before we drew a breath. What if you began each day declaring that you are fearfully and wonderfully made by your good Father? How would that affect how you view yourself and your life? How would that change how you view others?

When I experienced how fully known I am - and loved - by Jesus in my darkest days, I began to understand  how real His love is for me - for all of us. Intimacy with God and confidence in His unique plan for your life will bring deep satisfaction to your soul and confidence, joy, and strength for your personal journey. This world needs you to be you – the you God created for this time and space.

Have you ever compared your life, looks, job, kids, marriage to that of another? How can comparing derail us from our own destiny? What would it look like if instead of comparing we refocus our attention to our Father and stand on the truths in His word about who He says we are?

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

Take Courage

We long for a life filled with purpose and meaning and there are seasons when we have to wait for God’s plan to unfold. We wait, watch, and hope. We want to believe. But circumstances around us can sometimes tempt us to wonder if God has forgotten us as we hope for the unseen. The waiting time can make us weary and cause us to doubt.

I grew up in the church and felt like I knew a lot of answers – at least I knew where to find them in the Bible. However, many years later and on the other side of brokenness and redemption I realize how much I really didn’t know about the heart of God - as the merciful grace giving good Father, One who invites us into an intimate relationship ask the hard questions, share our deepest doubts, fears, and struggles with. 

In times of disbelief and darkness, our core beliefs about who God is make all the difference in whether we let doubt rule or let the peace and hope that He alone offers rule our hearts. Through the storms and beside still waters - God is still God. He is present in your circumstance even when you doubt. When life is bigger than we are, He is still there. He never leaves us.

Matthew 14:22-32 (NIV) reads, “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from the land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake, they were terrified. “it’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” 

I love how Jesus addressed Peter’s doubt first. Jesus responded to his doubts with “take courage”. 

Peter was undaunted by danger. He was doing the miraculous until he began to stare at the storm around him. He began to sink because his focus was no longer on the One who called him out on the water. He lost focus on Jesus’ authority and ability and instead began to look at what he was limited to within his own ability. 

Have you ever felt like Peter? 

Have you ever lost perspective and begun to wonder where was God was in the middle of your challenge? Or, have you ever wanted Jesus so badly that you would do anything, like Peter - stepping out of what is comfortable and familiar to do what seems impossible because God called? 

We may never walk on water, but we will walk through tough situations and circumstances that can cause us to doubt. I think Peter must have worshipped in a whole different realm than the other disciples that night after his encounter with Jesus. I know on this side of redemption and my rewritten story I sure do.

Storms push us closer to God. As I’ve wrestled through my humanity (and still do in different ways), insecurities, and fears - God is faithful. He never changes. He is able to walk on water and He can calm the storms with two simple words – Be still. And through Christ, He gives us that authority in our own lives. By speaking His truth over our circumstances, anxiety is turned into peace.


We have never been hidden from God. Even before we drew a breath, He saw us and knew us. Devastating days can make it hard to hold onto hope. It can fade in the waiting or the stacking disappointments. The unseen can make us weary and cause us to shrink back. But that’s not what God intended. While there is breath in your lungs, there is hope – the promise of a new day. 

Because of God’s love we don’t have to be consumed by our circumstances. His compassions and faithfulness are real. Lamentations 3:22-24 (NIV) assures us, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” 

The key is to trust God whenever we feel like we can’t and wait on Him. His word and promises stand no matter the circumstance. Whether it’s waiting for a relationship to be restored, financial breakthrough, a job situation to shift, a child to be conceived, or whatever your specific situation is – He can be trusted to provide for your needs and help you walk in His plan for your life. Trusting in His faithfulness day by day increases our confidence and perseverance. God invites us into the unseen for intimacy with Him. It’s in this place where hope is born, which produces faith and belief. Hope is one of our greatest gifts and weapons. It is one of God’s foundational promises for us. The unseen is not meant to make us weary in the waiting. It’s an opportunity for us to know and trust God’s heart more. 

Is there a circumstance you have been hoping will change in your life?

What would it look like to let hope rise up in the midst of waiting, even though outwardly the circumstance is the same?  And what truths from God’s word can you begin speaking over your circumstances? How can we pray for you? 

Holly Newton is the Exhale Women Visionary. Read the story here. You can connect with her on  Instagram and www.hollyanewton.com

Don't Miss Your Life

Two Cubans. Three Americans. I will never forget sitting around the breakfast table on a steamy Havana summer morning in the home of a Cuban Pastor and his wife several years ago when Cuba was still a closed country. I have traveled there four times on a religious visa and it has marked some of the most pivotal moments of my life and journey with God.  I have seen firsthand the injustices as I helped bring resources into their villages and sat on barrio dirt floors and just listened.. and then prayed. To some it felt like they were just born to die. The poverty and hopelessness, sobering. 

In Cuba we always exchanged stories in our host homes as we sat around the table over a pot of coffee and prayer before heading out to the villages. On this particular morning light-hearted stories filled the air. The kind of stories that brought pause from the oppressive reality they lived in. They needed it. We all needed it and we all laughed a lot that morning. 

Once the laughter died down, the words the Cuban Pastor's wife spoke next became forever etched in my mind. I will never forget. She looked up from her coffee cup, with tears in her eyes and said, "You. Americans. You laugh different than we do. You laugh as 'free' people."

Silence. 

The hurt in my heart for the hopeless grew deeper that morning as silence filled the air. 

Freedom. We all long for it.

We can live as Americans inside of a free border, but never truly experience freedom if we don't know God.

Purpose. We all need it. 

I wonder how many of us are missing out on God's purposes for our lives because we're slave to our own ideas on what life should like? Even in the name of Jesus and ministry.

Great news is.. Jesus came so that we can be saved and fully free and God has a purpose for each one of us.

John 8:36 says, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (NIV)

2 Corinthians 3:17 assures us, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (NIV)

Psalm 139 reminds us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and all of our days are ordained by God.

I know firsthand what it's like to not be fully free to live out God's purposes. But, I have also learned what it is to be free and I live in that freedom. It's worth the process...

It's been a journey and while I don't claim to have "arrived", as we are always going from glory to glory until we see His face. There are some things I have learned that have helped me to be free, embrace the present - what God has placed in front of me - rather than always wishing for the next thing. 

PRAY

This seems to be an obvious one, but truth is sometimes we talk a lot about what's going on and don't talk to God or seek Him in our daily lives. I'm first to admit that I have been guilty of this. But, I have learned to go to Him first - and I know when He's whispering my name to get in the quiet place in the daily routine because He has things to say to me that I can only hear in the posture of being still. And I don't want to miss it - or Him. God wants us to know Him. The only way to really know Him is to spend time in His word and in prayer. There is no substitute. He invites us to seek Him and know Him.

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (NIV)

FACE YOUR FEARS

Fear is a weapon of the enemy and can keep us stuck.  In my current season I have personally had to overcome fear of opinions, fear of failure, fear of success - I surrender my fears when they creep in and replace them with God's Truths to continually overcome.

God says in 2 Timothy 1:7 "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." (NKJV)

LEARN TO BE CONTENT

What you do in the process and the waiting has a significant impact on your future. It took the Israelites 40 years to make a trip that should have taken 10 days (Read Numbers 33). Press into what God has you doing right now and watch him go to work on your behalf. Don't compare your journey to another's. There is only one YOU. God has a unique purpose for your life that only you can live. In surrender we can trust God is leading us to a place of purpose. (Read Psalm 138). 

CULTIVATE HOPE

Learn to trust in God's heart and cultivate hope as you meditate on His Truths. Trust Him when circumstances make you feel forgotten. Learn to trust in His timing.

Beautiful friends, don’t look down on your current situation just because you don’t view it as your final destination. Embrace your season in its fullness. As the missionary Jim Elliot so famously said, “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

When you do what only you can do, God will do what only He can do. I pray daily that God will do what only He can do and that He will guide me to do what I should do. God is a promoter of the faithful, not the discontent or impatient. Embrace your now. He is faithful and His purposes and promises stand. Don't be afraid to invest in your current season.

What obstacles are you facing in living out your purposes and passions? How can we pray for and encourage you?