Savor The Wonder


“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. 

God With Us

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At Christmas in 1983 I was not yet two years old and my younger brother was right at eleven months. My daddy was in the army and our little family of four was stationed in Germany that September. Understanding the futility of the time it would take to ship all we had overseas, my parents sold everything with the plans to purchase a new life in Europe. We therefore arrived with only our clothes. My parents indeed carried through with their plan, but restructuring a new life with a meager military paycheck and little savings over three months left them with only $10.00 by that December. Wishing to provide a Christmas for their babies, my parents squeezed that $10.00 and bought a small tree, one strand of lights, and some wooden ornaments for our first German Christmas. But there were no presents under it; only two small children gazing in wonder at its twinkling lights. We had no Christmas dinner celebration as there wasn’t much food in the pantry anyway, no friends, and no family. My parents felt utterly alone in a very large world during one of the hardest and leanest times in the life of our family. Oh, but God was with us…

Having to work on Christmas Eve, my dad came home late that night bringing an unexpected package with him. When my parents opened it, they found a Christmas miracle: toys, clothes, and everything they wanted to do for us that they thought they couldn’t. Our family at home in Georgia had come together to make sure we had Christmas. But God is an exceedingly abundant caregiver, and He didn’t stop there. Moments after this package arrived, there was a knock at our door. My dad’s battery sergeant showed up with, yet another box awarded specifically to needy military families. The box was full of more toys, canned foods, bread, and a ham. What beautiful timing! To this day my family and I remember this as our best Christmas ever, when God reminded us that we were never alone, that He is Emmanuel. 

I wasn’t old enough to understand all that God did that Christmas. I can’t remember it; I only have my parents’ account of it and the wooden ornaments and that still dangle from our family tree. But as I’ve journeyed with God through the past 35 years, I’ve seen Him move and felt His hand in ways that always refer back to that night. It’s not about the presents that came, but the presence that was with us in the midst of our unknown, which is even deeper than that. We know that Emmanuel is not only with us but within us. He knows our every need and our every want—He places them gently in our hearts, for the fulfilled promise of them ushers in God’s glory for everyone to see. This season my family is being reminded that we don’t live on bread alone, but instead on every word and every promise from the mouth of the Father. It may seem like the eleventh hour when His fulfills those promises, but God’s timing is so pure and perfect. When the waiting is torturous, the praying arduous, and the journey feels lonely, remember He is the promise. He is Emmanuel.

Brandi Griffin is wife to Jordan and mom to Lilli. She is a lover of words, glitter, and all things Jesus; she's a worshiper, a make-up artist, painter, and as all things southern must be, a Georgia native and inevitably diehard UGA football fanatic. A bonafide word nerd, Brandi is currently writing her first book, but you can read some of her other work on her blog. Find her here on Instagram.



The Invitation Of Wonder


On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
    and I will declare your greatness.
Psalms 145:5-6

“Woah!” she screamed for the thousandth time from her perch in the backseat of my car.  
Around every bend another exclamation of awe would be uttered from her lips.  Sometimes with a faint whisper, and others with full force as though the excitement came from the very depths of her being and couldn’t help but be shouted with all her little voice could muster.

Sarah and her family had just moved to Colorado from Louisiana, and today we were taking them skiing.  This was her first time driving through the mountains.  But for me, I had driven these winding, snow-packed roads more times that I could count. I grew up here. I had seen it before. I was accustomed to it.  Accustomed to the shear splendor.  Accustomed to the unrelenting beauty.  Accustomed to the power they held. Just, accustomed.

But today, I was experiencing these Rocky Mountains for the first time through the wonder of a 5-year-old child.  Today, I saw them for what they were -  a majestic display of God’s glory, creativity, and splendor.  Today, I found myself in awe. 

Before I would unknowingly pass by this wondrous place without allowing it to captivate my soul and draw me closer to its Creator.  But, I would no more.  I saw them. I engaged with that awe-struck wonder. And I saw Him.  After all, how can we be fascinated with creation without being fascinated by its Creator.  

That day was a lesson for me because I was reminded I never want to walk through this season hopelessly preoccupied elsewhere, all the while missing out on what is right in front of me.  I want to pay attention.  To be captivated by the wonder.  To allow myself to pause long enough to look and truly see the extraordinary He has tucked away within the ordinary.  To allow God to interrupt my days with Himself.  And to allow my soul to be filled with an awareness of Him and His beauty. Always.

Jene Sarchet is the Operations Manager at Amazima Ministries, a ministry dedicated to educating and empowering people in Jijna, Uganda. She has a passion for cultivating community, especially if it's gathered around a table with good food and conversation. You can connect with her on Instagram



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Family Tradition

I am all about tradition. When I think about tradition, I get a sense of safety and security. It is something that I can count on and look forward to. I love it---and I make sure it happens even when it drives my husband bonkers.  

This one really gets him:  Every Christmas when putting up the Christmas tree, I want to have everyone put it up together and Christmas music must be playing. However, it is not just any Christmas music--- it is Mariah Carey’s Christmas. And we don’t start with any other song than “All I want for Christmas is You.”  Yep. I look forward to that. 

Then we put up the ornaments on the tree. Every ornament has a story as we have been intentional about purchasing ornaments from every big vacation or occasion we have journeyed together. And I get to remember those stories as we put the ornaments on the tree. That is so special—from the ornament of our first house, to the ornament of our son, Wesley’s, first Christmas, to some of our favorite trips—they are all there. What I look forward to is the day when we will be able to tell Wesley about each ornament and the special story behind them, plus Wesley will be able to add his own. 

Our tree feels like a tree that has the most bizarre ornaments on it, but it is a remembrance of all that God has done and all that He is doing in our lives. I love that it allows us to slow down and remember the joy and good memories He has given us. 

Family Recipe

My mom is one of my most favorite people in the world. Just today she texted me to tell me that both she and my dad were proud of me—and I am 35 years old. I sit with people in counseling sessions that yearn to hear those words from either parent.  I am grateful and thankful. One thing that I am also thankful for is that my mom had a special treat she would make for Christmas, candy cane cookies. When I moved out, I tried to make them myself—and they were a disaster. I burned them on the bottom and the colors all twisted together in to one weird-looking candy cane.  All that to say—I probably should call my mom and have her share her secrets to making them.  The secret that I can share is to make them with someone---that is what makes these so special. They are fun to make with those you love. Make these cookies an experience—not only in the making of them, but also in the sharing of them (even if they are burnt on the bottom). 
See the Candy Cane Cookie recipe here

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

Redeeming Christmas


Christmas has never been my favorite holiday. In fact, before we had my son I spent most of the holiday season in utter discomfort as I tried to find solace in the few elements that I actually enjoyed, like food (duh), family, beautiful decor, and that smell of a real tree. Before you gasp and begin praying for my salvation, hear me out, take a moment to know my story. 

I didn’t celebrate Christmas as a child. I grew up in a religion that considers Christmas a pagan holiday and therefore doesn’t acknowledge it. I was taught from early on that Christmas is laced in sin and glutony. Even when I began celebrating in my late teens and early twenties, it was only out of rebellion and conformity. I had very little understanding about the holiday and never felt true joy for the season. 

When I got married and began celebrating Christmas with my husband and his family, I did my best to muster up the joy I saw in them, wishing I could sincerely understand that feeling and experience the nostalgia, but that wasn’t my reality. Inside, I was still uncomfortable, compelled by the expectations of the season, secretly resentful of all the people who seemed to delight in something that still felt wrong and painful. 

Discovering truth is one thing, but replacing lies with new truths can be much harder. As much as I had grown and experienced healing from the messages of my past, this one thing was deep-rooted in my subconscious and I didn’t know how to shake it no matter how much I tried. 

When I became a mom, I began to grapple with this issue in a whole new way. How would I raise my child differently? How could I model joy for the holiday season when I honestly wasn’t experiencing it? How could I teach him that Christmas isn’t about gifts and glutony when I had yet to truly believe that myself? 

It didn’t happen right away. The first couple years my son didn’t know Christmas from any other day. But when he was 5 years old, something very unexpected happened. That year on Christmas morning, I found myself stirring like a child, awake before the sun came up, expectant for the magic to come. I was so excited for him to find the evidence of Santa’s arrival that I could barely sleep. I ran out to my Christmas tree to see if my son was awake, but he wasn’t. I was the only one awake in the whole house.

And then it hit me. For the first time, I was experiencing the childlike joy of the season. Through my son, I had been given the magic that was stolen from me as a child. Without my knowing, my heart had been changed and the day was no longer painful but joyful. Sadness and pain had been replaced with joy and excitement. And I finally had a true understanding about what this holiday is all about. It's not about the gifts, the scenery, or dare I say...even the food. It's about the greatest gift, a Savior who came to rewrite and redeem our stories, regardless of how deep-rooted they are. 

Merry Christmas to all!

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; - Luke 2:10

Mia Higgins is a mom of two boys, one in heaven and one here on earth. She and her husband of 10 years relocated from Tampa, FL to Nashville, TN in 2012, in pursuit of new beginnings. Mia's story is one of transformation and hope, from broken to restored. Her passions reflect her story, as she loves creating space for people to encounter God's peace and beauty through atmosphere and experience. Her greatest joy is deep connection and stories of redemption. You can follow Mia on Instragram @miabellahiggins

Christmas Morning Maple Cinnamon Rolls


As a young momma, I wanted so desperately to create Christmas traditions for my family, beautiful memories that we would look forward to each year.  Some of the traditions my family shares every year include filling Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes, baking a birthday cake for Jesus, and enjoying homemade cinnamon rolls. My kids love filling their boxes with love and care after a fun-filled shopping spree at the local Dollar General and singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus reminds us of our reason for celebration, but there’s always something sweet (no pun intended) about baking cinnamon rolls for my family. Once Christmas morning’s shredded gift wrappings are piled high, my coffee is half enjoyed, and the roaring fire is dancing to Harry Connick, Jr.’s serenading carols, I’m ready to put on my apron and get these sweet treats baking. Like any good recipe, this one has been tweaked over the years to create the sticky goodness that just keeps getting better. If you need a little something to spark some sweetness in your Christmas morning, here’s what you’ll need:


INGREDIENTS (Yields 10-12 maple glazed cinnamon rolls, 45 Mins.)

Cinnamon Rolls
1 loaf of thawed frozen bread dough (thaw when you pull Santa’s cookies out)
1/3 cup stick Kerrygold, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar or packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 bottle of Pure Maple Syrup

Maple Glaze
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 cup pecan halves (optional)

1.    Heath oven to 350°F
2.    Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and roll out into 1/2 inch rectangle.
3.    Brush dough with melted butter, and dust with granulated or raw sugar and cinnamon
4.    Grease bottom and sides of rectangular cookie sheet with Kerrygold butter wrapper.
5.    Roll rectangle up tightly.
6.    Slice roll into 1-2” pieces.  
7.    Place slightly apart in pan.
8.    Melt sticky glaze items in a sauce pan on the stove.
9.    Pour over the cinnamon roll slices (be careful not to over fill the pan, they’ll bubbly over and make your oven smoke, not sure how I know this, but trust me - ha!)
10.    Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. 
11.    Pull them out and flip them over into a parallel cookie sheet. I do this over the sink, cause it gets messy. This makes they beautifully glazed and ready to serve. 
12.    Cool 5 minutes and serve warm.

Tanya Hembree calls Franklin, TN home, where she lives an active life with her husband of 20 years and their 3 thriving teenagers. Although a native southern Californian, Tanya has lived in Denver and Austin and is a southerner at heart. A serial entrepreneur, Tanya is also an encourager of women, connector of people, and a pursuer of Jesus. Her crazy full life has taken her from owning a spa and homeschooling her kids to leading a women’s ministry, and doing interior design. Her journey has not been easy, and she’d call herself a “hot mess”, but despite that she desires to live a life in full pursuit of God. On a fun note, Tanya enjoys spa, fashion, travel, and design. She can often be found hanging with her family, spending time with friends, or relaxing at the beach. Connect with her and Instagram.

Handcrafted For The Tree


Colored lights draped over his muscular arms, while a whole heap of strands lay around the base of the tree. I glanced up from my spot on the floor at what looked like a dance to me. His strong hands were weaving lights along the branches. The sparkle in his eye reflected them. My Dad was in his element decorating our Christmas tree. My Mom helped keep strands untangled, stepping back now and again to behold the beauty. My siblings and I sat amongst boxes of homemade ornaments and keepsakes.

My parents helped us place our handmade ornaments on the branches. Treasures like the angel made of a toilet-paper roll, my brother ‘s picture cut out for its face, hung in the middle. There was Rudolph made from a clothespin with glued on eyes. And our imperfectly perfect cinnamon baked cookie ornaments.

A favorite memory, our tree was more than a Christmas tree. It was a family tree, limbs bearing hooks of childhood dreams and wonder in tangible form. A stump holding up our whole little world in which we were loved. My parents passed on a gift when they decorated their tree with our trinkets. It was the gift of our belonging, them adoring even the least we had to offer.

My son hung his own handmade ornament yesterday and grinned as it took its rightful place. I’m flooded with emotion to see an extension of his heart grafted in. Inevitably, I reflect upon the greater shoot that arose thousands of years ago from the stump of Jesse. I consider how nail-pierced hands bore the weight of the world on a tree so that we may belong. How it was purposed for us to be grafted in, reflecting the light of One who crafted us by hand. And I’m grateful.

Shelly Griffin is wife to Nate and Mama to their 2.5 year old son Asher. She loves encouraging women to know God for themselves through His Word and Spirit. She’s happy with a stack of books toppling over for editing and writing purposes and Christmas is her most favorite holiday! You can connect with her on Instagram.

Finding Beauty In The Small


I love the easy-to-miss details about Jesus’ life. The everyday things. I love all the miracles and amazing things too, but Jesus breathed such life into everyday moments, He left us a tremendous lesson.

The big, stunning God things take time. And sometimes, in our rush for big purpose, big ministry, big world-changing accomplishments, we miss the small and everyday. We become so focused on tomorrow we miss right now. We forget an important truth:  

Big lives are found in lots of small moments.

Just as a symphony is thousands of little notes and a great painting filled with innumerable brush strokes, our lives consist of millions of small yet profound moments.

Jesus lived the biggest small life in history. He walked and taught. He built, wept and ate. He healed and laughed, cried and loved. He found beauty in the small. 

His big miracles overshadow His small moments but there’s much His small moments teach because they’re saturated with holy significance.

He took a towel and washed feet, ate with Pharisees and spent time at a well teaching one woman deep truth about worship. He blessed children and went sailing. He prayed. He cooked fish on a sandy seashore. He attended a wedding,ate and drank with sinners and saints. 

He breathed on each small moment to teach us big lessons–showing us how to live purposely, hastening toward the goal but not missing the journey. 

Because small things make a big impact. 

The touch of a hand, an encouraging phone call, a hug. A handwritten note or basket of homemade muffins. The lullaby deep in the night, the Christmas meal shared with friends. Small but significant. Little things changing the world around us. 

While waiting for the big, don’t neglect the small. 

This Christmas, follow His footsteps and find beauty in the small. He’ll show you the way.

Kate Battistelli is wife to Mike, Mom to Francesca and Mimi to four! She loves to cook and is the author of Growing Great Kids. You can connect with her at on Instagram