here’s to the tears

If eyes are the window to the soul, tears are the tangible force that binds our hearts. This one is for the 2015-16 HHS family. An odd title and subject matter to be written for one of the most beautiful, positive school years I’ve experienced. My mind’s memories are full of joy and delight, fun and goodness, but my heart remembers the tears, for it is in the tears the deepest love is found. So here’s to you my beloved students, teachers, and friends, thank you for sharing life with me. I see you, and I am with you. “We’re all in this together.” 😉 

here’s to the tears

the ones I’ll never forget
and the ones so normal I already have

the ones welling up but toughly hidden
and the ones pouring freely forth

the uncontrollable ones caused by deep pain
and the ones brought by the surprise of sheer joy

the ones because someone hurt you
and the ones for someone you love hurting

the ones for going unnoticed
and the ones for being seen

the ones for mourning the end
and the ones in fear of the beginning

the ones that say, “I believe”
and the ones that echo, “help my unbelief”

the ones lost in brokenness
and the ones in newfound strength

the ones for loss of control and utter despair
and the ones for coming home

the ones with the courage to live wholeheartedly
and the ones stuck in the numbness of lowered expectations

here’s to the safe placeFullSizeRender
the hand to hold
the snot on the shoulder
the tears wiped away or mingled together

here’s to the vulnerability
the connection
the sharing of life
of pain and joy
of heart and soul

as rain is water returning to the earth to nourish that from which it came
so tears spill from the soul and water the hearts of those who catch them
forever binding us in life
in joy, sorrow, anger, fear, and


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covered by home

“Ms. McDaniel, can I borrow a dollar to buy a bottled water?”

A dear friend of mine once gave me a sweet blessing in a word. We were talking about my students, and he described my classroom as a home. In a word, home is exactly what I want my classroom to be.

Home is…so much more than simply a house.
Home is…a place you feel safe, secure, and protected.
Home is…knowing you are loved.
Home is…feeling special just because you are you.
Home is…given and received.

The feeling of home is created by love and only exists when shared with others.

What a humbling responsibility and opportunity it is to seek to create an environment of home for my students! But what a delight!

“Will this all be on one check or separate?”

Recently, I reread my favorite book (Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen), and I read a line differently than when I had read it previously. Nouwen is writing to a friend, and he is speaking about this friend’s wedding. As he witnessed the wedding, he thought of the gifts they each gave to each other. This is the line that caught me: “But you were also quite aware of how you were giving her something unique that she couldn’t give to herself: a home, a place of safety and fruitfulness.”

Home is…a unique gift you cannot give yourself.

As a single adult, I am acutely aware of the truth of these words, and I’ve learned it is okay, and healthy even, to mourn the loss of something that has not been or may not be. I’ve also learned single doesn’t mean I am not given a home.

Home is…a creative provision of belonging, life-sharing relationships.
Home is…an open door and bedtime prayers.
Home is…crawling inside a tiny tent with a two-year-old.
Home is…playing catch in the front yard.
Home is…put it all on one check.

The feeling of home is created by love and can cover over others when shared.

When I experience the hospitality of an open door or the gracious generosity of a paid meal, I feel home extended to me as a covering. Indeed, home is a unique gift you cannot give yourself, and I am humbled, blessed, and thankful for this reality.

“Ms. McDaniel, can I borrow a dollar to buy a bottled water?”

On a somewhat regular basis, I hear this question in my school day, but it is generally followed by this sentence, “I’ll pay you back.” To which I respond, “Sure. And no need to pay me back.” Not a big deal. Nothing to write home about…except I am sitting her writing for some reason. Reason being, the other day I had a student needing a dollar for water but she asked to borrow it from a friend, and she refused to take it from me. If you know me at all or if you’ve read this post so far, you know this did not sit well with me.

As I chewed on this for the following days, I searched for why. Why was it so important to me to extend the gift of a bottled water without refusal? This led to asking why do I accept the gift of my meal being paid for by friends, and most importantly, what do I feel when they do?

The word that came to me was covered. I feel covered over with love. I feel covered with wings of protection (Ruth 3:9). I feel covered with favor as with a shield (Ps. 5:12). Covered by the hem of a garment that is home, and in that moment, it extends to cover over me.

Home is…your picture on the board and your work on the wall.
Home is…a place to be right and a place to be wrong.
Home is…the space to quietly write and the space for complete silliness.
Home is…safe for tears and hitting your feels.
Home is…giving the small things, like hugs and smiles and high-fives.

The feeling of home is created by love and can only be given when received.

When you have known love, you want to give love. When home has been extended to cover over you, you want to cover over others with the gift of home. Sometimes the covering of home is as simple as a bottle of water.

Take the gift.

In receiving, you are giving more than you know.

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Thoughts from a full day in Paris on the day of the Brussels attack. 

We are one. 

We are one in the fog of fear and the cloth of mourning, but more than that we are one in our response of love and fraterniti. 

Our subversive acts of resistance to the darkness in the world are the million ways we choose life. It’s seen in the way strangers delight in babies and in the joy of a shared table. 

Where language reaches a natural border, art has no barriers. Monet, Degas, and Van Gogh belong to us all. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons stirs our hearts no matter our nationality. One culture, one history, one people.  

“Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.”*

So we journey to our holy places, our museums, concert halls, and temples, in hopes of finding you and in hopes of finding me. May we walk with kindness toward each other for we are all on a journey. Help us to remember we are each a sanctuary more sacred than any holy place.

“Show us Jesus. Lead us to him. Teach us to know and love him, so that we too can become capable of true love and be fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world.”**

We are all Yours. 

We are one. 

* 1 Corinthians 10:17

** Prayer by Pope Benedict XVI

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“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson


My word for 2015.

Courage is…risk, knowing who you are, change, contentment, and love.

In the words of Brene Brown, “Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language—it’s from the Latin word cor, meaning heart—and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

Something about this quote resonated with my soul. I want to live this kind of courage, and I have sought it this year. I’m not sure what it is about certain ages that causes us to evaluate our lives, but turning thirty has been one of those years for me in such a good and beautiful way. My thirtieth year has been a “I’m gonna run a marathon just because I can and because I’m not old” kind of year.

Owning my identity and embracing life also came in the form of being courageous enough to do something most who know me might find surprising. This sporty, outdoorsy, usually wearing jeans, t-shirt and baseball cap girl has also always loved beautiful, artistic photography, and I dreamed of the day I could be the subject of beautiful portraits. I always assumed bridal portraits and wedding photography would be the time I would get to hire an amazing photographer and have some fun being a model for a day. You don’t really think about linking so many longings, dreams and desires to one specific point in life until you grieve with a heartache of hope deferred.

It was such a sweet, unexpected blessing to meet William Laurence when he came to speak about photography at my school for our career day. He was placed in my room to present, and I loved hearing his passion and vision for designer photography, and his philosophy of creating beautiful art both with and unique to each client. When I had the chance to visit with him and tell him how much I loved his work, he told me about a session he offered called portrait couture. I remember he described it as being for  “real women” who have lived and know who they are. He explained it much better, but the important point is this conversation was a huge epiphany to me. I could have pictures made if I wanted. It wasn’t a sacred event reserved for the marriage and family club. I could claim this blessing, and I felt great joy at the thought of the prints I would be able to give as gifts to my family and friends.

The whole William Laurence experience, and it truly is a whole experience, was so beautiful and wonderful it seems I should have words upon words to paint a picture for you, but some things are too sacred to be captured in words. Where such joy, laughter, passion, and love are present in creativity and art, the result is so authentic, beautiful and honoring of God. I am so thankful for the way my friend, William, works to capture and create beautiful images of people. What a gift used to bless so many!

My life is not my own, and any beauty I have is a gift from God. With a heart desiring to honor the work of an artist and a life committed to honoring the Creator, I want to share this photo session for you to enjoy, and I want to share these to honor you. I am who I am because of the many people who love me and bless me. We are one, and we belong to each other. If there is any light in these images, it is but a reflection of His glory within me and it is from you I have learned how to let His light in me shine.

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25 Reasons To Be Thankful

Inspired by Kid President:

  1. Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday. My granny’s dressing, the McDaniel family dessert bar, and most of all time with family. An embarrassment of riches.
  2. Technology. Despite the many negatives of technology, nothing thrills me more in my daily life than receiving a picture or video of my nephew from my sister-in-law. True story. I have many witnesses who can attest to the joy it brings.
  3. My sister-in-law. She’s just the best. What an amazing, perfect blessing to my brother and our family, and what a beautiful joy it has been to watch her as a mother! We are so blessed!
  4. Andy’s Frozen Custard. 🙂IMG_7672
  5. Harry Potter. I love HP, and I especially love
    reading/watching/listening throughout the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season. I’m currently working on my goal to listen to the audiobooks of the whole series, and I love the depth of meaning woven through such a beautifully crafted story. It never gets old.
  6. Coffee.
  7. Fall leaves.
  8. My mom’s cooking. It never ceases to bring me delight.
  9. Camp Tahkodah. I love the place it holds in my life and heart, as well as in the lives and hearts of my family. What a special blessing to take pictures of Weston proposing to Peyton at Camp!
  10. College Football. Even when your team disappoints you, it still is such a beautiful sport.
  11. Educators. To all my former teachers and professors, my colleagues and former colleagues, you are the salt of the earth. Thank you for blessing me and blessing students.
  12. Brene Brown. I’ve been so blessed by her work and teaching, and I’m striving to be courageous in the jouCourage definitionrney to live whole-heartedly. If you don’t know her work, her TED talks are a great place to start but don’t stop there.
  13. Leaning into moments of pure joy.
  14. Friends Thanksgiving episodes on Thanksgiving. The only thing better is watching them with my brother.
  15. Laughter. It’s my favorite.
  16. My students. Hugs in the morning, smiles in the hall, random questions as you walk through the door or in the middle of class, sticky notes on my desk, odd but genuine compliments, thoughtful goodbyes before breaks, best of/worst of and privileged conversations, and lots and lots of laughter. I love them more than they could possibly know, but if they learn little else, I do hope they know how precious they are to me.
  17. Friends who are like family. Thankful for all who let me be a part of sacred moments.
  18. Family. When in-laws and extended family gather together in love and sit around the same table to share meals (and life), I see the meaning of family and church.
  19. Running. If you told me in high school I would be putting this on my thankful list someday, I would not have believed you. I love it, and I am especially thankful for my running buddies.
  20. Kids. Is there anything better than a tiny toddler running to you? Or a six year-old clinging to you making you promise to come back?
  21. Basketball season. Woot woot!!!
  22. Music. Food for the soul.
  23. Lists. I’m not really a to-do list person, but I love a good list of thoughtful remembering or blessing.
  24. Faith. I’m thankful I don’t know what lies ahead. I wouldn’t trade the blessing it is to walk in faith and trust my Lord.
  25. My Nephew. Jay, “if only you knew, the sunlight shines a little brighter, the weight of the world’s a little lighter,the stars lean in a little closer, all because of you.”IMG_7667
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30 for 30…

30 thoughts for 30 years…

  1. God is love. All love gives a glimpse of Him.
  2. He loves me, and I am His favorite (and so are you).
  3. Ten years ago I read the book, Captivating. I’m paraphrasing from memory, but the premise of the book was all women have two basic heart questions: Am I beautiful? and Am I chosen? It has been very freeing to live with an awareness of those questions in me.
  4. “A woman knows, down in her soul, that she longs to bring beauty to the world. She might be mistaken on how (something every woman struggles with), but she longs for a beauty to unveil.” (Captivating) I may not totally understand the how, but I believe I have beauty to bring to the world. Beauty is more than how you look. True beauty is in showing kindness to all and bringing out the best in others. Every woman is beautiful, but so few believe it. When I accept the truth, I am beautiful, I live whole and complete rather than searching for something or someone to convince me of my beauty.
  5. I am free to live and love with abandon when I am not looking for others to meet my needs or answer my heart questions.
  6. Feelings of not being chosen or thoughts of never being chosen is a mysteriously, painful rejection.  Deep feelings of rejection can snuff out hope and lead to despair.
  7. Hope you cling to and fight for is the truest kind of hope.
  8. In a time of struggle a dear friend of mine shared the book, Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen. I have since given away multiple copies and frequently read it again. I want my life to be shaped by this basic truth: I am the Lord’s beloved, and on me His favor rests. In Him, I can rejoice in my chosenness.
  9. The greatest life is one lived under the blessing and freely given to others.
  10. I have told people before my only regrets in life are not playing soccer as a kid and not going to two-week sessions at Camp Tahkodah until I was 17.  At the heart of that what I am really saying is I wouldn’t undo my mistakes or the moments of pain.  Those hurts have been my greatest teachers.  In Him, my curses become my blessings. I would never trade the closer walk with Him experienced through pain, and I never want to forget my desperate need for His grace because of my sin.
  11. Seeing cardinals is like opening a special gift from God just for me. Sometimes I see cardinals all around me every day, and sometimes I don’t. Like God’s gifts they are always there, but I don’t always open my eyes to see.mcdaniel cardinal 2
  12. I don’t really know that much, and I never want to lose the sense of how truly small I am.
  13. One of the greatest gifts in life is to know what you have when you have it and fully enjoy it.  Live in the moment.  But then when that season passes embrace the new one without comparison or longing for time past.  You can never have it back, but you can risk losing the beauty of right now.
  14. “God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast.  When I run, I feel His pleasure.”  (Chariots of Fire)  Just as parents delight in watching their children play and run and laugh and sing, God delights in watching His children play and run and laugh and sing.  He made us to play and lose track of time in those moments of sheer joy.  Rather than feel guilt for playing, we should feel God’s delight.
  15. I love sports.  I love to play, watch or talk sports. What I love most about it is when the significance transcends the moment and brings our hearts to tears.  Sometimes the game is just a piece of art. It is a tangible outlet for something bigger, and we all long to be part of moments bigger than ourselves.  At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin in the face of Hitler’s bigoted ideas of racial superiority, Jesse Owens won four gold medals and stole the show. In 1980 at the Winter Games in Lake Placid, NY, decades of Cold War tensions were fought on the ice, and the US men’s hockey team pulled off one of the greatest underdog victories of all time. On a much smaller scale (in terms of impact on the world not in terms of my heart), in the sprinIMG_0087g of 2013 a team of seven girls made an improbable run to the state finals.  In the face of an impending school closing, they did what they wouldn’t have another chance to do.  They inspired me to dream, and they gave an eat-and-breathe-basketball town one last moment to soar.  The last time the Cardinal uniform was worn on the basketball court was in the state finals.  What an incredible gift!
  16. Love BIG. Love your people with a fierceness and loyalty unrivaled. Love with vulnerability. Take risks and keep your heart open even when it hurts. Love, and love, and love some more. Love with smiles and hugs and high-fives.  Love with listening well and talking less. Love in your staying, and love in your going.  Love with cupcakes and books, and love with thoughts and prayers.  Surround yourself with people who love, and may the One who is love be one with you.
  17. Do something you thought you couldn’t do, and live the rest of your life with a deeper understanding of your strength to persevere.
  18. At age 18, I met some of my dearest friends.  Together we enjoyed our Harding experience to the fullest, and though we are scattered my heart has learned about the bond of eternal friendship in each of you. I am blessed by the beautiful women (and men) you are, and I am thankful we are turning 30 together.  You make 30 look good!
  19. You can travel the world and discover the same things you knew when you left: people are people, perfectly unique, innately good, and worthy of kindness, and God’s beauty is all around, it is in the blue of the ocean and in man-made pyramids lasting thousands of years and in the taste of gelato. He is the seen in St. Peter’s Basilica and the earth is his cathedral, but He still chooses to make our hearts His dwelling place.
  20. 20 is not old, 30 is not old, 50 is not old, and 80 is not old.  Life on earth is but a blink compared to eternity. The kingdom of God is here. Eternal life is now. Praise God! May I live each day in this beautiful mystery.
  21. Some of the best gifts in life come by surprise and fall in your lap.  Some we work at and we choose.  May I have the courage to wait as well as pursue and the wisdom to know the difference.
  22. Be a nerd. It’s cool. All that really means is you have passion for something and find joy in it. Embrace your inner nerd.  Better yet, make it your job, then you’ll always love your work.
  23. Never grow up. My greatest joys are in going to camp each summer, in the days I find ways to mix learning with playing (or just embrace playing), and in time spent with my friends’ kids.
  24. Family comes in all shapes, forms, and fashions. Sometimes it is a school community, sometimes it is in a classroom or in car IMG_0038rides to games, sometimes it is meal time in a home or reading to your friend’s child at bedtime, sometimes it is a retreat weekend or camp session or church service, but always it is with people who love and accept you for who you are, no more and no less.
  25. I am a teacher. I really love what I teach, and I have learned a lot about history from my years teaching. I’m not really sure how much my students have learned about history. Maybe they have learned something, but if they only know one thing from my class I hope they know they are loved. I have a sneaking suspicion their favorite days in class are not the planned lessons, but the spur of the moment times when silliness ensues. The joy in the simplicity of just being together is a treasure. I once heard someone say in response to a question about why he teaches, “Where else shall I find such splendid company?” I couldn’t agree more.IMG_4846
  26. Everyone has a story. Taking the time to listen is saying yes to someone’s humanity and worthiness.
  27. Nothing is as sweet as holding my nephew. In the years I have ahead of me, I am most excited about knowing him and loving him.IMG_5472
  28. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48) I’ve always felt this verse is applicable to my life. When I think of all the people in my life who love me, it is an embarrassment of riches.  In the way of friendship, I have been given much more than I deserve. Because I have been so loved, I believe my life is meant to pour that love on others.
  29. You can’t run from who you are. “We have met the enemy, and he is us!” I’m still working on figuring this one out. I’ll get back to you in thirty years.
  30. Thirty and single. Not sure why that has always loomed ahead of me with a shadow of failure.  It was a time marker I feared, and I hoped it wouldn’t happen. Well, it did.  Today I turn thirty, and I am still single. What I most want to be, I am not and may never be. I mourn what is lost if I never get the chance to give love as a wife and mother.  I acknowledge the deep pain in the rejection of not being chosen, and I confess a loneliness felt when it seems all around me are married with kids. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12) Some of the most painful moments of my single life are summarized well in six simple words: “hope deferred makes the heart sick.”  I know my hopes, and I believe in waiting for a longing fulfilled.  Whether longings are fulfilled or not, in the midst of heart sick moments I have the chance to still choose hope. But truth be told, I know more about the second part of that verse. In the same spirit the best summary of my life is in my favorite verse since I was a teenager: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  (Psalm 37:4) The mystery and beauty in that verse is not that God gives us everything we want, but rather when we delight in him the desires of our heart change.  When I seek God, my perception changes.  He givIMG_0057es me a new lens, and I see anew all the longings fulfilled in my life.   A year ago I was driving home from work, and I was thinking about my students graduating.  I was struck by two very clear thoughts.  One, all these years I’ve been longing for a family, and God has always been answering that prayer.  Maybe it hasn’t looked like what I was asking, but I have gotten to experience family through all the special people in my life who welcome me into their life and home.  If I had been married with kids, I know I would have missed some of those relationships. Two, I wouldn’t change a thing about my life so far. So, thirty and single, I no longer fear you. I claim you as a blessing. I wear you with pride. I’m thankful I can relate to others who have walked this road, and I pray I am a blessing to those watching me. I look forward to the adventure ahead of me, and I’m thankful I don’t know what tomorrow holds. Lord, may I walk in faith and trust, and I pray all I do is in love and honors you.
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Isaiah 43

When I was 14, I was blessed to travel to Guyana, South America, on a mission trip.  My dad had been leading short term mission trips to Guyana for several years, and it was my first opportunity to go with him.  1999 Guyana MissionMy grandmother (my dad’s mom), my dad, and I were part of a team of about 30 people who conducted a medical clinic during the day and a vacation bible school and crusade at night.  It made me nervous to step into so many unknowns, and I didn’t really know what I had to contribute to our work.  I worked in the pharmacy during the clinic time, and I helped with one of the kids’ classes for our VBS.  Surely I did something that mattered, though I still have no idea what that might have been.  It’s probably best that way.  Service to others is never about the servant and always about the Master.

My memories of the trip could almost all be categorized as senses, experiences and moments I was soaking up.  I was a sponge taking it all in, and even now I can smell the different smell of the air, I can feel the car ride from the airport to the hotel (full of both fear and exhilaration), I can taste the fresh pineapple, I can hear the beautiful Guyanese dialect of the English language, and I can see joy and contentment in the faces of the people I met.  What a life-changing experience!

We stayed in a hotel in Georgetown (the capital city), and at night it was so beautiful looking out on the city from the rooftop of our hotel.  One particular night we had our devotional time as a team on the roof, and I have a memory from that night I believe I will never forget.  A lady on our team volunteered to share a scripture with us, and I was struck by her reading of the verses as much as the truth they conveyed.  Her voice quivered and with tears streaming down her face she read these words from Isaiah 43:1-7,

But now, this is what the Lord says—

he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

I have summoned you by name;

you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

and when you pass through the rivers,

they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire,

you will not be burned;

the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the Lord, your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

I give Egypt for your ransom,

Cush and Seba in your stead.

Since you are precious and honored in my sight,

and because I love you.

I will give men in exchange for you,

and people in exchange for your life.

Do not be afraid, for I am with you;

I will bring your children from the east

and gather you from the west.

I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’

and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’

Bring my sons from afar

and my daughters from the ends of the earth —

everyone who is called by my name,

whom I created for my glory,

whom I formed and made.”

I will forever seek to know the truth of those verses with a conviction that brings tears.

Four years after that trip I was blessed by the words of those verses in another moment still so clear in my mind. My most favorite place on earth is Camp Tahkodah.  I grew up going to Tahkodah as a camper, and I had dreamed of the day I would work as a counselor.  When I was 18, I had my first opportunity to work at camp as an assistant counselor.  I was completely thrilled, but my nerves matched my excitement.  As I arrived on Saturday night and walked into the counselor meeting in the Pines, I was overwhelmed to step into a group who seemed to already know each other. img667 Of course, I didn’t know some of those people would become my dearest friends or that this would be the first of many sessions I would work. (The blessings of camp are far too numerous to ever begin to count)!  In that moment, all I knew were my feelings of fear.  And then we started singing.  It was a song I’d never heard before, but my heart knew the words.

When you pass through the water I will be with you,

And the waves they will not overtake you.

Do not fear for I have redeemed you.

I have called you by name.

You are mine.


For I am the Lord Your God.

For I am the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

I am the Lord. (Women: Do not fear.)

I am the Lord. (Do not fear.)

I am the Lord. (Do not fear.)

I am the Lord. (Do not fear.)

I am the Lord.

When you pass through the fire I will be with you,

And the flames they will not overcome you.

Do not fear for I have redeemed you.

I have called you by name.

You are mine.

My eyes filled with tears.

Lord, we get so lost in focusing on our own unworthiness even though we are incapable of earning your love and grace.  It is you who makes us worthy simply because you declare it.  You have created us, and you redeem us.  You call us by name.  We are yours.  In all the floods and flames, you promise to be present with us.  You paid the greatest ransom because we are precious and honored in your sight and because you love us.  May our hearts be filled with the fullness of your love, and may we live to love others for your glory.  Amen. 

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