Laura J McDonald photography: Blog en-us (C) Laura J McDonald photography (Laura J McDonald photography) Tue, 07 Nov 2017 12:52:00 GMT Tue, 07 Nov 2017 12:52:00 GMT Laura J McDonald photography: Blog 120 120 Senior Season Contrary to the popular real estate adage, location ISN'T everything - at least not when it comes to portraiture. Lovely lighting and leading lines are key, but my goal with every portrait session is to highlight my subject's personality, be it spunky or subdued (or a combination of both). The person makes the portrait, not the place. That being said, clients frequently ask about where I prefer to shoot, and what those locations look like. So here is a sampling of a few recent sessions/favorite places, all in one blog post, for future client's easy perusal. 'Tis the season for streamlining! Enjoy.

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]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) #dontblink atlanta photographer location isn't everything make time stand still senior portraits senior season Thu, 02 Nov 2017 13:44:51 GMT
An Advent "Aha" I've attended many a parish mission in my countless years as a "mature" Catholic - always in search of that extra inspiration leading into the Lenten or Advent season. I may have even taken notes on occasion, and seriously wish I had for this one impactful evening (so I could give the presenter his due). I don't remember if he was priest or author - whether or not he sang, or simply spoke. But his words were most definitely music to my ears and the message pierced my heart so deeply that I've recalled it (and tried to expound upon and practice it) every year since.

The message was this: live your Advent with expectant faith.

That word. "Expectant." It cauterized a seeping wound within me, leaving a memorably perfect scar. Most people associate expecting with the healthy glow of impending motherhood, and as someone who's never experienced the joy of pregnancy, that word initially kinda stung. Infertility branded me with a "scarlet I" across my heart - an internal message of unworthiness, a "you don't belong" to this blessed group of women who've pushed life into the world. But the message here was one of total inclusion - that we are all called to solidarity with Mary, especially during this holy season.

Expectant faith is being "pregnant with joy" as we anticipate the celebration of Christmas. I don't know about you, but I have spent many a December swollen with pride, burdened with stress, and laboring over gift lists and tangled tree lights - everything BUT joy filled.

Mary's yes to God resulted in her expecting the Savior of the world. She obeyed God's call and Christ literally grew within her. It is no different for us. Every time we serve others and sacrificially give, even in the smallest of ways, His light within us becomes a touch brighter. We grow Christ within when we say "thy will be done" to God. When we choose patience over pettiness, surrender over strife, and goodness over greed, we partner with Mary in bearing Christ's light to the world. 

Expectant faith requires preparation. My "What to Expect When You're Expecting" alternative is an Advent devotional - the spiritual equivalent of advice on healthy diet, stages of development, and encouragement to rest.

I've chosen different authors throughout the years, and am currently enjoying Advent and Christmas Wisdom from G.K Chesterton. The best (and most challenging) insight thus far refers to praise: "Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul." Yikes. Permanent equals perpetual - as in unending. As in always praising. Even through the trials and tangled tree lights. Even when what we hope for does not come to pass.

Expectant faith frequently includes unmet expectations. Life is often discouraging, sometimes downright depressing. Accidents happen. People get sick. Many have perfectly understandable reasons to dread the holidays.

I'd place a pretty heavy wager on Mary NOT expecting to give birth on the ground among the stench of cow dung and damp sheep's wool. Based on the annunciation alone (Luke 1:32 "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." 34) my expectation would have included heavenly lighting, an actual mattress, at-the-ready royal baby garments, and at least one doctor. But Mary was highly favored for a reason. Praise was most definitely her soul's permanent pulsation - inspiring me to pray for stronger faith amidst any and all expectations (including the unmet ones), and for a heart of endless praise, no matter the dung or disappointments. 

Expectant faith is my Advent anthem. May it be an "aha" for you as well. And may we all be obedient servants to the joyful news of the coming King.


]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) Advent G.K. Chesterton expectant faith, Mon, 05 Dec 2016 20:08:30 GMT
Ode to Santorini Photographer's playground, shopper's Mecca, foodie's paradise, artist's muse - all equally describe one unique little island that sits about 125 miles off the mainland of Greece.

Santorini. Even the name is beautiful.

Visiting had been a bucket list dream of mine for years (yes, ever since "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." Cliché. I know.) But it took my sister's tears to finally pave the way. "The only place I've ever cried when time to leave," was how she described it to me. "I'm going back, and you're coming with me!" Gladly.

Oia (pronounced EEYA - the smaller village we stayed in at one end of the 35-square-mile island) is a land of blue domes and white walls. Tiny trinket shops, elaborately gilded churches, luxury resort accommodations and simple "cave" homes all share the volcanic rock hillside, intricately and intimately connected via roughly cobbled sidewalks with switchback staircases. It is the most interesting maze I've ever wandered. Between the distinct architecture, the dreamy alleyways, the extraordinary light/pattern/texture, and the occasional Greek supermodel, there were countless subjects to photograph. And even more photographers. This is the first place I've ever vacationed where pricey DSLRs outnumbered selfie sticks, and various "quintessential views" caused literal foot-traffic jams. It does not pay to rush here. Santorini demands to be patiently explored and savored. 

Bougainvillea randomly speckles its bright pink blossoms among the characteristic blues and whites and gorgeous neutrals of the village. I found myself mesmerized much of the time (almost punch drunk with photo ops), stopping and staring, shooting and reshooting, hoping against hope that the camera might do the place justice (it rarely does). The crisp white and creamy beige spaces were my favorite. Honestly, even the decay was picturesque.

But enough about my obsession. Rest assured, there's plenty to do if photography's not your jam. There are shops galore, most open well past midnight, all curated by genuinely endearing locals who are eager to find out where you're from. Many had heard of Atlanta, Georgia, fewer Grand Rapids, Michigan (ya know, the mitten state? hand held high-five-like in demonstration - blank stare). Treasures run the gamut from authentically Greek handmade jewelry, art, and clothing to imported Hugo Boss and Jimmy Choo. There's definitely a "Buckhead" stretch of the main shopping strip, but plenty of tchotchkes, sunhats, and souvenir Ts for sale as well. 

If adventure is your thing, you can make the steep (300 stair) descent to Amoudi Bay, grab a bite to eat at one of the waterside restaurants, then take a short hike to cliff jump into the refreshingly sapphire water. Bonus adventure (and quad saver): donkey ride back up to Oia.

Perhaps you'd rather simply relax seaside. The beaches we visited were all backdropped by breathtaking rock formations (perfect shadow casters for us lily-whites who prefer to remain in the shade). The Aegean Sea is beautifully clear and delightfully refreshing in September, with the sand varying in color from black to red to gold (depending on the color of the rock surrounding the beach, obviously). Shoes are most definitely recommended. Black sand is wicked HOT, and some of the "sand" is more akin to river rock.

Of course, there's plenty to eat and drink in Oia as well - cappuccino and warm chocolate croissants were an almost-daily breakfast treat, with lunch and dinner cliffside (or water's edge) as the norm. We even visited a local winery for a traditional tasting. The stuffed grape leaves with tzatziki were heavenly! I highly recommend the feta appetizer at any restaurant - all uniquely prepared and incredibly delish wherever/whenever we ordered.

Oh, and the sunsets. Oia is famous for them, especially viewed from the castle atop the island, covered like ants on a mound by nightly cruise ship tourists. We opted for other (quieter) venues, each more breathtaking than the last, none as crowded as the castle. Our favorite spot was Katharos Lounge, mainly for the amazing apps and quirkily adorable waiter Georgios (whom we secretly renamed Gorgeous). Shoulda gotten a photo with that dreamy dude. 

One of my favorite evenings had to be the dinner at Armeni restaurant. Definitely a trek from where we were encamped, but well worth it. The walk down to Armeni Port mimicked that of Amoudi, but included longer straightaways and had you hugging the cliffside during descent. There was an "are we there yet" element to the journey, and an ominous "how are we going to get back UP this thing after dinner?" happening simultaneously. Watching the sunset cruise boats sail by over dinner provided a blissfully serene compliment to the delicious sea bass and calamari. But the highlight had to be the post-meal discovery of the water taxi hailed to take us round the corner back to Amoudi Bay (where the trek back up was significantly shorter, although still a haul). As we clambered into the boat in the pitch black night, leftover packets in tow, we gasped and giggled and star-gazed all the way "home." Seriously surreal.

If this were a book (wait . . . it isn't?), now would be the time for acknowledgments. HUGE thanks to my sister Karen (for those tears) and her hubby Mark for the invite, the research, the tour guiding, the deep questions and the LOVE. Ya'll are treasure and blessing to me. Thanks to sweet soul Marygrace, for joining us and gracing us with your genuinely artful spirit and your brave vulnerability (not to mention your dancer's feet and dreamy poses). You inspire me always. BIGGEST thanks to my husband Kevin for jumping right in when this opportunity came along and persevering when the timing started looking a little shaky. You are my knight in shining armor. What a joy and blessing to have fun with you. 

If you've made it this far into the post, I would dare to say Santorini might be calling your name. Book it. Make it happen somehow. Check it off that bucket list and go see for yourself how unique and magical this place really is. I will be returning (someday), with plans of checking out a few of the surrounding islands as well. Crete, I'm coming for you.

So long for now, Santorini. Thanks for the beauty, the warm hospitality, and the treasure trove of photos (my favorite souvenir).

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) Amoudi Bay Armeni Port Greece Oia bucket list ode to Santorini sisterhood travel Fri, 16 Sep 2016 18:23:22 GMT
Brown-Eyed Beauty Props to this naturally beautiful brown-eyed "flower girl." She braved the brutal Atlanta heat and some vicious mosquitos to get this session in. I couldn't be more grateful for her sweet spirit or impressed by her flawless beauty. I somehow managed to delete my original comments (when I went back in to add "tags"), but at least all the photos stayed in place! I am so very proud of you, Kendall, and excited to see what this year (and next!) holds in store. I am confident God has big plans for you. Thanks for being one of my Johns Creek "Senior Reps."

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) atlanta photographer senior portraits Mon, 08 Aug 2016 18:47:28 GMT
About a Boy (or a man, as it were) What in the world? How do they go from boys to men in a heartbeat? It really wasn't that long ago that I had to convince him to let me take "milestone" birthday photos for his 16th (which now, in my opinion, make him look soooooo young - see "About a Boy" blogpost from 2014). And now here we are on the first day of his senior year! Sheeesh. I love this young man's heart for adventure and can't wait to see what this year holds for him. No doubt it will be eventful.

All you moms out there wanting to freeze time for your senior, send me a note via my contact page. Don't wait until the last minute! You'll need plenty of choices for the senior ads, graduation announcements and party invites that will be here before you realize. Happy back to school everyone!!!

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) atlanta photographer senior guy poses senior portraits Thu, 04 Aug 2016 23:57:46 GMT
Stunning Senior Technically she's a "rising senior" as of this post, but school is just around the corner and *wow* Tori rocked her senior session in the blazing Atlanta temps a few days ago. I seriously don't know how she kept from melting into the blistering pavement. (Must be all those hours lifeguarding that had her conditioned for the heat!) She's a stunning beauty with an adventurous heart and a sweet little "smolder" smile. 

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) atlanta photographer senior portraits Tue, 26 Jul 2016 12:38:26 GMT
Wooden Headboard DIY Need a little stress-relieving wood-distressing weekend DIY? You've come to the right place (at least for today). Mine is definitely NOT a DIY blog, but a couple of friends have specifically asked for these instructions, so here's the step-by-step on how I made twin headboards for my daughter and her roommate this year. I started with 8-foot planks of 1-inch "common board" from Home Depot in various widths (4, 6 and 8 inch), and had them cut to 42 inches in length at the store. (Keep the scraps - they come in handy for all sorts of things at home, including testing your stain color.)

Since the end goal was the weathered look of "barnwood," I had to beat the you-know-what out of this pretty pine (very cathartic). I started by shaving the sharp edges off with an old-fashioned handheld planer. I then used a crowbar, hammer, saw and garden rock to create divots, scrapes and all manner of haphazard "distress." When applying the stain, I made the happy mistake of brushing it on a little heavy in a few places. Shuffling the boards around caused drip marks that I ended up loving. I also discovered that the little 8 ounce container was not enough to cover all of the planks (so I did the DIY shuffle, quickly purchasing another). Bonus mistake: insufficiently stirring the first can, causing some boards to turn out far more opaque than others. The best thing about distressing wood is that every mishap works in your favor. #lifegoals Once the stain dried, I polished the boards with an electric sander (especially the rough ends) and wiped them down with cheesecloth before applying the antiquing wax. This Waverly product is awesome (purchased at Walmart) - applied with cut-up old white t-shirts. Just dab it on and rub in randomly. I shuffled the opaque planks (and board widths) randomly as well and then fastened 1x2 boards on the back.  Voila! Finally all strapped in place, the headboards are ready for the finish coat of clear antique wax. Also applied with white rags - buff when dry. My daughter plans on painting a phrase on the boards at some point. I chalked this one in for show. My plan is to mount the headboards on two by fours and simply hold them against the wall using the bed itself (no nail holes allowed in college, and I'm 100% certain command strips won't hold). Will add an addendum if that plan fails!

So there you have it, friends. From new to old in a flash. Happy distressing!

Oh, and here's an addendum - headboards installed on 6-foot tall 1x4s. They look a little dark in the photo, but are beautiful in their room!


Most, if not all, great DIY projects are inspired by others. Here's the inspirational headboard (found, where else, on Pinterest!) and a link to their website. They were fortunate enough to start with actual barn wood.


]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) Minwax stain Waverly Antique Wax distressing wood wooden headboard DIY Fri, 22 Jul 2016 21:50:37 GMT
Love AND Song Birds Sparing the words today and letting the beauty from this engagement session speak for itself. What a delight to spend several hours of my time in Grand Rapids with this adorable couple. Jonah and Bri, I can't wait for your destination wedding next Fall! I pray God's richest blessings over the remainder of your engagement, and love you both to pieces.

Not only are these two sweet lovebirds, but they are songbirds as well, and members of the amazingly gifted band Sundry, who will be releasing their first EP July 16th! Meet the rest of the band and sample their gorgeous music at

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) Atlanta photographer engagement photos musicbySundry Thu, 07 Jul 2016 02:19:00 GMT
We are Whanau Whānau (Māori pronunciation: [ˈfaːnaʉ]) is a Māori-language word for extended family, now increasingly entering New Zealand English, particularly in official publications. In Māori society, the word itself has other meanings: as a verb meaning to be born or give birth.

_______________ . . . _______________

Thirty four years ago this summer, a young woman stepped into my impending senior year of high school and influenced my future in ways I never could have dreamed possible at the time. She traveled 8,000 miles - from Tauranga, New Zealand, to Vestavia Hills, Alabama - to immerse herself into American culture through the AFS study abroad/gap year program. I still find remarkable how brave her parents were to let her go. Keep in mind, there was no internet - no FaceTime, no instant message, not even email. Phone calls were costly, therefore few and far between. Airpost letters (on tissue-thin sheets of foldover-and-mail paper) took weeks to arrive. Her parents' courageous and sacrificial "yes," not to mention complete trust in some random yahoos across the globe, birthed invaluable insight and a recurring theme in my life: LOVE makes a family.

I distinctly remember sitting in my parents living room eons ago and expressing my expectations to the AFS representative: "Well . . . I hope she becomes just like a sister to me." And that she did. Despite the years and distance that have separated us, we maintain a closeness that defies explanation. Our entire families are intertwined, courtesy of shared holidays, wedding celebrations, visits and adventures through the years. It is delightfully uncommon (I assume) and, in my humble opinion, most definitely ordained. Meet my kiwi sister Helga, one of the loveliest souls on earth. She radiates generosity and expresses genuinely keen interest in every person she meets. She is equal parts serious and silly. She is disciplined, determined, and a bit "energizer bunny" when her brilliant mind and compassionate heart are set to task (get in her way at your own risk). Her amazing family - husband Justin and two gorgeous daughters, Genevieve and Juliet - have mastered the art of hospitality. Seriously, aficionados these ones. We have been the beneficiaries of their expertise on numerous occasions, and it ranks high on my bucket list to somehow repay the favor (in some grandiose manner)!

_______________ . . . _______________

Nearly twenty years ago, an equally lovely young woman entered my life and transformed it, transformed ME, in a way that no one else could. She made the most heart-wrenchingly selfless decision a woman can make. She chose life and adoption for her child, fulfilling my heart's desire, my lifelong dream to be a mom. I would not be who I am today without her courageous and sacrificial "yes." Words barely do this story (any adoption story, really) justice. It is most authentically expressed in snorts and sniffles, ugly cries and never-want-to-let-go embraces. It is sorrow and splendor, resignation and providence, fear and fulfillment, all intricately enveloped into one miraculous experience. It is surrender to God's plan, and wide-eyed mystery at the way He pieces all things together for His good. Meet my daughter Olivia's extraordinary birthmom, Susan - my hero and a walking-on-earth angel. She is 100% Irish and chatty in the most endearing way. She begins many conversations with, "I must tell ye a store-y," and I could listen to her beautiful voice all day long. She is witty and adventurous, night owl and morning person (proof that "energizer bunny" must run in my extended family). She is wicked-smart and overwhelmingly selfless, a wonderful wife and mother, and although our relationship has been sustained through the years and across thousands of miles via snail-mail, e-mail, and shared photos, our hearts are entwined as if we were sisters. We share an unbreakable bond of love that defies the norm, if a "norm" even exists. She and her charming family (amazing husband Colin, and adorable kids, Ciara, Bronagh, and Ronin) have made a beautiful home for themselves in Sydney, Australia.

_______________ . . . _______________

Now, pause for just a moment and imagine my delight (and oh how my wheels started spinning) when Olivia decided to apply for UGA's Maymester Abroad program, taking her to, of all places, New Zealand and Australia. Yes, that's right. Worlds collided for us this summer, in the most spectacular kind of way (sans fireworks). In a word, it was

Olivia met her birth family in person for the first time, and two of the most influential women in my life became fast friends (and whanau). Try to convince me God doesn't write the very best, perfectly poignant stories. You will fail. 

_______________ . . . _______________

It would take an entire series of blogposts to explain the hows and whys of our trip itinerary, so just trust me when I say it was meant to be (the way it all went down), and that God's hand was evident in every single detail. I documented much of our time (with thousands of photos), but also held sacred many moments with eyes and heart alone. I'm all about photo creds, so whenever you see my face, trust that a family member, passerby, or haunted hotel staffer (*wink*) was kind enough to include me. Enjoy the "slideshow."

Welcome to Omahu (beach town outside Auckland) - homemade scones and espresso upon awakening. #heaven  The hunky "prowler" in the middle is Helga's husband Justin - baker of scones, and chef extraordinaire. #alsoasurgeon She's feigning fear. She really wanted to jump out of this tower (which you can pay to do), but I couldn't watch. #partypooper Back to the beach. Rain didn't dampen our spirits! #justasmalltsunami Evidence of God's unending promise, and impending beauty . . .  They are here!!! Blessed NZ welcome to Colin and Susan. #lovebeyondmeasure Even public toilets in New Zealand are beautiful.  Be still my heart. #makesmeteary A night at the "haunted" Waitomo Hotel. It really was delightful.  Helga's whole phenomenal fam - minus G. #wemissedyouso!!!  SO much love for these three beauties. . . #xoxoxoxo . . . and this wonderful man. #Godresthissoul So long for now beautiful Auckland . . . #we'llbeback! And hello Sydney siblings!!! Olivia sharing her photos and video from her Maymester.  First full day included Bronagh's birthday - ice cream for breakfast, ferry to the city, evening Skytower walk, and VIVID lightshow! #whew! Day 2 - Bondi Beach!!! #surfersparadise Day 3 - Sydney sibs "enjoyed" a day at school, while we took in a lighthouse hike and surfing at Palm Beach! #hookedonhanging10 Day 4 - Kangas and Koalas! And a rugby game in the Olympic Stadium that night. #girlsnightin Some of us enjoyed the up close and personal a wee bit more than others.  Day 5 - You guessed it! More surfing, followed by a relaxing movie night in. #peaceandcalm Day 6 - 8:00 a.m. Mass, delicious breakfast nearby, Hillsong service at 11:30, and Finding Dory after dinner! #wheninSydney Proud of their Kindy contraband. #rebels No coincidence that our visit begins and ends with "amazeballs." #Godisfunny Many people have eagerly asked/remarked since our return home from what has been proclaimed the trip of a lifetime, "SO, how was it?!?! Were you nervous? Was it awkward? Uncomfortable? A week is a LONG time to stay in someone's house!" It is a long time, but it was not the least bit uncomfortable. I think the adjective I've used most is amazing - although ordained, incredible, and delightful have been bandied about as well. The only challenge, if you could even call it that, was keeping everyone well fed and rested for the next day's activity. I'm sure it's hard to imagine from the outside looking in. I vow not to process or explain it away. Instead, I fervently thank every single person who offered up a prayer of blessing over our time there, and I give every single ounce of glory and gratitude to the God who set this thing in motion 34 years ago this summer. It truly was amazeballs.  

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) adoption australia love makes a family new zealand study abroad whanau Fri, 01 Jul 2016 02:40:00 GMT
Things I Learned in May Linking up with Emily Freeman's "What I Learned" (monthly list) series, here are a few insights and musings from my month of May:

1. I need a little more goofy in my life. Most people describe me as calm, reserved, not overly-animated. My nickname throughout my years of youth ministry was "the mole" (with service behind the scenes my silent mantra). At the recent urgings of my daughter, I finally cracked open Bob Goff's Love Does and have to admit I've giggled my way (in the adoration chapel, no less) through nearly every chapter. Bob is a goofball. A goofball on a mission of love (oh, and a lawyer/professor/humanitarian to boot). How he won over his wife-to-be with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches deposited daily under the windshield wiper of her car is beyond me. But so are most of his antics and life experiences, including sneaking onto the set of "National Treasure 2" just for kicks. Already half way through his life story, I've laughed, teared-up, and been inspired to further simplify/sillify my tastefaithbuds. If anything I do or say in the foreseeable future seems out of character, I'm not losing my marbles - just channeling my inner Bob Goff.

2. "Reader View" is the bomb. How long has the rest of the world known about this gem? I'm not an incessant blog or online article reader, but I somehow stumbled upon the little lined icon in the upper left corner of my address bar and it has me humming "I Can See Clearly Now" as all the pop-up distractions and annoying advertisements melt away. Like ripping all the gaudy ribbons, tags and foil-stamped paper off of a birthday present and getting straight down to what you really want - the simple goods inside. Try it on any news site and thank me later. You're welcome in advance.

3. My eyes hear better than my ears. One of our Abide study reflections this month was centered around listening. Based on Isaiah 48:12-21, the question was posed, how do you experience listening to God in daily life? My answer initially surprised me, but then made a lot of sense. I am very easily distracted by my own voice in my head (reasoning, justifying, interrupting) when listening for God's voice with my ears. I am, however, easily mesmerized and hyper-focused when "listening" with my eyes. I see God's beauty and hear His gentle voice in the sun streaming through my morning kitchen window and afternoon foyer sidelights - in the bright and in the shadows He says, "I am with you through it ALL." I hear Him in the gentle breeze of the woods on my daily dog walk or the gardenia plucked from my yard saying, "I created all of this, including you, and it is all good." The herbs by my kitchen sink leaning toward the light say, "You too are meant for growth and blossom. Lean hard after me." Photography is my tuning fork to God's voice.

4. April showers are obedient. They do what they are called to do, and I am ever grateful for May flowers following suit.

5. Looks like I'm a slow learner. Obviously if I've only "learned" or noticed 4 things in an entire month I am not paying close enough attention. Truth is, my mind and heart are somewhat consumed with what's coming in June. I am checking off the "post one blog a month" box just in the nick of time, saying good night and hoping you'll meet me back here in 30ish days. I'm thinking I will have learned more than a thing or two, and probably even done something a little goofy.

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) Abide Bob Goff Emily Freeman Love Does What I Learned in May Wed, 01 Jun 2016 01:57:42 GMT
About Time I've been thinking an awful lot about time lately. How it flies. When it stands still. All the cliches. 

My daughter is about to reluctantly complete her freshman year of college (she doesn't want it to end), and I swear we just moved her into that tiny dorm room yesterday. My son will be a high school senior in less than a month, but didn't he just conquer middle school? How is it that the nephews whose diapers I changed (sorry for that visual dose of reality guys) are now married and raising adorable little families of their own? Seriously, this circle of life thing is so very surreal.

In my mind, I am still 28 years old. 

My husband and I recently celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary, so you do the math (hint: I'm NOT 28). We have now officially lived more of our years together than apart. We went from college graduates, to young urban professionals (does anyone still say "yuppie?"), to married with children, to the brink of empty nest in the blink of an eye. That hashtag #dontblink is #forreal. 

It's starting to feel like the two of us are in the front car of a ginormous creaky wooden roller coaster that has steadily clicked its way up the precipice of its tallest peak, with about one fourth (maybe less?) of the mountain left to climb. We all know what happens once the car teeters over the top — whooooooooosh. It's a lightning speed descent that leaves your stomach in your throat, kinda choking back simultaneous laughter and fear, grasping onto each other and the lap rail for dear life. Equal parts terror and exhilaration. Life "over the hill."

Time warped for me last week as I Skyped with my daughter's birthmother for two lovely hours. Truly, it felt like 15 minutes and we both could have easily lingered well into the afternoon, had I not an appointment to get to. While maintaining continuous contact via snail and email over the years, this was the first time we'd "seen" each other in 18. It was literally like stepping back in time. Every bit as charming and chatty as she was the day we met, she remains my hero, the one who gifted me motherhood (my lifelong desire). My heart will forever be intricately linked with hers in a way that words fail to describe, and it somehow feels like I've always known her. I would not be who I am today had our lives not been blessedly knit together 19+ years ago. Our relationship, to me, feels timeless.

And then just yesterday time stopped. In the worst way. In the "oh dear God, no" way that leaves you numb and aching and fervently praying for those who have to somehow carry on in the face of unspeakable tragedy. Four sweet young lives from our local community were snuffed out in one devastating car accident, with a fifth young lady hanging on in critical condition. An entire college campus (and well beyond) faces aftershocks of anguish and disbelief today after an evening of tearful, prayerful vigils. I'm not sure who coined the phrase "time heals all wounds," but I am certain it's no balm today. Not for these raw souls.

I, for one, am clinging to our Abide assigned passage for this week:

"The time is near when all things will end. So think clearly and control yourselves so you will be able to pray. Most importantly, love each other deeply, because love will cause people to forgive each other for many sins. Open your homes to each other, without complaining. Each of you has received a gift to use to serve others. Be good servants of God's various gifts of grace. Anyone who speaks should speak words from God. Anyone who serves should serve with the strength God gives so that in everything God will be praised through Jesus Christ. Power and glory belong to him forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:7-11)

My husband frequently asks, "where do you see yourself in five years?" to which I always respond, "No clue. I'm a day-to-day kinda gal." Not a single one of us is promised tomorrow. But this crazy, surreal, sometimes tragic circle of life, when surrendered to Jesus Christ, transforms into eternal paradise. In that truth we can all find hope. Time and time again.

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) #dontblink Abide About Time Fri, 29 Apr 2016 21:09:04 GMT
The Power of Words "Every creative endeavor becomes a realization of both how limited and how unlimited we are." — Erwin Raphael McManus

There are words posted all over my home. BIG words, little words, words over door frames and stuck on mirrors, scriptures and prayers, reminders and encouragements, even subtle warnings. I'm talking everywhere. Every room. Nearly every wall and bookshelf. 

Words have power. The words we say, the words we read, the music we listen to, even (maybe especially) the television we choose to watch. Pretty sure I've made that clear here before — words mean a LOT to me (I was an English major, after all). So I do not take lightly this task of posting content worthy of your time. But as each day of each month ticks away, I am overwhelmed and paralyzed by the ideas and topics swirling through my mind like a mobile over an infant's crib — fascinating, mesmerizing, yet lulling me into lethargy. Where do I begin? So. Many. Words. I can't do this. Zzzzzzzzzzz.

In order to keep MY word, my "promise" to God, as it were, to post at least one (positive, life-giving) entry per month here on this blog, I have been contemplating and struggling, procrastinating and stewing, beginning the process and stopping, hating what I've come up with and ready to throw in the towel altogether because does it really matter anyway? It's not like I've got a production manager tapping her foot behind my desk warning that my first draft is overdue and I'd better get crackin'. It's not like I've got a massive following on Instagram or Facebook (both of which I feel like quitting because of what a colossal distraction they are) eyeing the calendar in breathless anticipation of my next post. It's not even like God is "expecting" me to come through, urging me to get some content published by my self-imposed deadline. Or is He? Did God really say . . . ?

I fully believe that God speaks to us not simply through His living, active, Holy Word, but also through the Spirit-filled words of those around us. It is no coincidence that on March 24th and 25th, Emily P. Freeman's links on Facebook (ministering directly to my procrastination and fear) were titled "For When You Feel Behind" and "When You're Not Cut Out for This." God figuratively winked as I realized that Emily originally published these entries to her blog in 2011 and 2012. Seriously, they were reposted just last week solely for my benefit (said every other struggling writer out there). I can (and have) come up with a million excuses why I don't really have the energy or focus to keep at this, fueled by self-doubt and the rationalization that I have "better" things to do with my time. Get to work, Laura. Write it down. You CAN.

And then of course yesterday, I happened upon the chapter in The Artisan Soul entitled "Canvas," wherein Erwin Raphael McManus brilliantly proposes the idea that even God, in creating the universe and all its goodness, including me and you, had to work within certain contextual constraints. He may not have had a deadline per se, but He had a specific plan, a mission, and wow did He nail it. This excerpt is lengthy, but because it blew my mind, I am compelled to share it all (emphasis mine):

"The culminating act in Genesis 1 is the creation of humanity. In a very real sense, the earlier creative acts were far less limiting than God's final act. When energy is transformed into matter, there are endless possibilities of how that could play out. But in this final creative act, the creation of the first man, there is far more context and thus the creative process is more complex. The canvas is smaller, so the work of art has to be even more detailed. The creation of man could not be based on whim or boundless imagination. The man had to fit the material already created. God took clay from the earth, material that already existed, and created a living being who had to fit the detailed intricacies of the living system he had already created. Creating man was for more complex than creating light. Creating humanity in the image of himself was a far greater creative act than even creating the universe with all its complexity and wonder. 

In some ways, we could say that God painted himself into a corner. When God created us, he didn't have a lot of options. We had to be able to breathe oxygen; we had to be able to drink water; we had to be able to eat what the earth provided; we had to fit the canvas. A lesser artist would have felt paralyzed, incapable of completing this masterpiece. For God, though, the opposite was true. He reveled in the challenge. He took great pleasure in creating a creature whose material is the substance of the earth and whose essence is the image of God. And yes, this is a wonderful reminder that we are a work of art, and the limitations that often lead us to conclude that we're only human should move us to celebrate that we are in fact incredibly human."

I love discovering things about God that make me feel closer TO God. McManus's words, for me, are powerfully inspiring, and so I offer them up to you with prayerful expectation you might be equally moved and encouraged. While fully aware that this is simply one author's take on creation history, I find his ideas to be revelatory and incredibly insightful. To ponder the God of the universe as a "struggling" artist (albeit an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent one) brings His presence directly to my fingers on this keyboard, right into the very heart of what I am attempting at this moment. It makes Him human and relational, contemplative and purposeful. I feel camaraderie in the struggle. God did it. We are one. I can do all things through Him.

Infinitely more incredible than God's creative finale (humanity), is His culminating act of redemption — our Lord Himself, in human form, sacrificed on a cross for our sins. McManus artistically asserts, "For the singular act that brought salvation to the world, God chose what for him must have seemed the smallest of canvases and the most common of materials. To do his greatest work, he embraced his greatest limitations." Seriously alters my contemplation of Good Friday in the most remarkable way.

You do not have to work as an artist or even consider yourself creative to appreciate the fact that you are an incredible work of art. You are inherently creative, in whatever way, shape or form is uniquely yours, because you were created by the master artisan, whose image you bear. Let's continue to celebrate this Easter season embracing our limitations while doing the work God has called us to do, whatever that work happens to be, no matter the effort in doing it. Press on. Fit YOUR canvas. You CAN because He did.

For further inspiration on limitless creativity and the power of words, I highly encourage you to check out Jeremy Cowart's "I'm Possible" video on Youtube. Best 25 minutes you will spend today. Trust me.

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) Emily P Freeman Erwin Raphael McManus I'm possible Jeremy Cowart The Artisan Soul the power of words Thu, 31 Mar 2016 17:12:41 GMT
The Art of Conversation "If you'd like to identify a person, don't ask them what they do or like to eat or where they live or have studied. Ask them instead what they're living for, what they crave to read and learn about, what is the drive that keeps them going, or what calls to them most when they're close to their edge or just before they slip into sleep." — Victoria Erikson

I've spent the first two weeks of Lent on an atypical journey - the road to Emmaus. Atypical because we usually associate Lent with the desert, with sacrifice and barrenness, spirituality basically stripped down to its core (much like the sanctuary during this season with its twigs in lieu of flowers and somber music). Equally unusual because a post-resurrection reading is not customary Lenten material, but it just so happens that Luke 24:13-32 was where my Abide study landed as our Lenten journey began. So I've been walking and praying with these two followers of Jesus along the seven-mile dusty road, pondering what their conversation must have entailed, and simply cherishing the value of conversation in general. It has been fruitful and lush, in a dead-of-winter sorta way.

I don't know about you, but I really love a good heart-to-heart — over lunch with a girlfriend; sunk deep into my couch cushions with a fuzzy blanket, glass of wine and my husband; out on a trail run with my sister (although she does more talking and I mostly gasp for air/listen). For me there's nothing like connecting with somebody one-on-one. The more the merrier? Not in my book. I'm not ANTI-social; just your classic INFP (Google it). My energy is depleted in large group settings, and restored after personal encounter. So within this context, consider my latest retreat experience . . .

This past weekend I escaped (along with 80 other women) to the North Georgia mountains to attend a retreat given by two of my favorite priests. The "agenda" included silence from 9:00 a.m. Saturday to 9:00 a.m. Sunday. Yes, that's right. Eighty women (plus a bevy of stray cats, no lie), silent for 24 hours (your LOL is highly appropriate). I understood the intent behind it when I signed up — get away from the literal and figurative noise of daily life and afford yourself the opportunity to really hear from God. Check. I'm all in. What I failed to consider was the absurdity of sitting elbow-to-elbow with friends and strangers over a meal in SILENCE. For me, it was the ultimate in uncomfortable — think middle-school-cafeteria-kind-of-awkward. You stand (sheepishly grinning) in the buffet line avoiding eye contact, take your meal to the table and open a book so you don't have to acknowledge the human across from you, reinforcing all the negative behaviors we work to extinguish from our nightly dinner tables at home ("put your phone away and engage please"). Not to mention becoming hyper aware of ALL the clanking of dishes and chewing of food and doe-si-doeing around each other trying (in silent desperation) to obtain your morning coffee or lunchtime Diet Coke. Just plain weird. ​ Make no mistake, I am NOT discounting the value of silence (or this blessed retreat), especially when it comes to listening for God's voice. I embrace silence. I'm certain we could all benefit from more of it. But in light of my time spent considering the mysteries of Luke 24, the wordless meals seemed untimely, even slightly ironic. If you recall, the two followers of Jesus encounter him on the road to Emmaus, but fail to recognize who He is. In fact, verse 16 says, "they were kept from recognizing him." So Jesus walks along with them until dark, explaining all that had been written about him in the Scriptures (while they remain clueless). It is only when they reach their destination, invite their traveling companion to stay, and He breaks bread with them, that they are "allowed to recognize Jesus" (v.31). I've often imagined this to be one of those sunbeams-from-heaven, angelic-choirs-singing kind of lightbulb moments. But perhaps it was more like one of those crying with your friend over their impending divorce moments. Or leaning in to the hard questions to get to the root of a tough issue with your child moments. Or rejoicing with a catch in your throat as your stoic dad shares happy news with you moments. Recognition, true recognition, of another comes in the sharing of brokenness, in the courage to be vulnerable and fully present, in the meeting of needs, in the art of engaging conversation. In my simple mind and heart, mealtime = fellowship, which includes WORDS. Thus my angst. Sometimes angst can be a catalyst for insight.

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown says, "If connection is the energy that surges between people, we have to remember that those surges must travel in both directions." Good conversation involves give and take, intent listening, and a desire to learn. This is never more true than in prayer. Opening our retreat on Friday night, Father Josh announced his goal for the weekend — "I want to teach you how to REALLY pray." He carefully warned that if our conversation with God solely consists of "I want, I need, please help with . . ." then we will never get to know our Lord more intimately (and if we do all the talking with zero listening, well then, duh). He dove into the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius, encouraging us to not just read Scripture but truly enter into it, using our imaginations to place ourselves into the events of Christ's life. He spoke of "making memories with Jesus," which I found beautifully enlightening. Father Michael spoke eloquently and passionately about the Eucharist - no coincidence I'm sure. The parallels to Luke 24 are worthy of an entire separate blogpost. Maybe next month?

A few of the probing questions from the Luke 24 chapter in Abide include: "What is it that blocks my heart? What prevents me from seeing? What are the obstacles in my life that serve to extinguish my moments of recognition?" Go ahead and discuss those with God at your leisure (*wink*). I feel compelled to answer the questions posed in the quotation at the beginning of this post: What am I living for? an ever-deepening relationship with God (with the ultimate goal of heaven). What do I crave to read? The Artisan Soul by Erwin Raphael McManus. What do I desire to learn more about? the intricate workings of my camera. What is the drive that keeps me going? creativity, in its countless forms. What calls to me most when I'm close to my edge? my conscience. What calls to me just before I slip into sleep? my flannel sheets.

Wishing I could sit with you over a cup of coffee or glass of wine and hear your answers. If you feel compelled, include them in the comments section below. I pray God's tangible presence over the rest of your Lenten journey. Thanks for walking with me a step or two.

Just in case you're new here, a footnote: Abide - Keeping Vigil with the Word of God by Macrina Wiederkehr was introduced in my January post. Go back and check it out if you're curious. And thanks for visiting!

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) Abide Brene Brown Lenten Journey Macrina Wiederkehr Road to Emmaus Victoria Erikson the art of conversation Fri, 26 Feb 2016 15:10:38 GMT
My New Year's Declaration At some point over the Christmas break in December my daughter asked me what her New Year's Resolution should be. As tempted as I was to say, "No more visiting abandoned buildings or train yards in search of adventure photos," I simply told her it was not my place to decide that for her. Resolutions are very personal decisions — requiring introspection, followed by the discipline to then carry them out. Plain and simple, a resolution is "a firm decision to do or not do something." Which is probably why I stopped making them years ago (there's not a whole lot of "firm" left in me *wink/cough*). I've made the same ones everyone else has — exercise more regularly, eat more healthily, memorize a scripture verse or two — the usual. But all too quickly resolution turns to resignation, and I choose the couch over the running shoes, the chocolate mousse cheesecake over the quinoa, or the mind-numbing Candy Crush over Romans 8:37, and end up sighing, "Oh well, maybe next year." 

But not today. Today I am embracing and celebrating the power of words, specifically the difference between a resolution and a declaration. By definition, a declaration is "a formal or explicit statement or announcement." The difference between personally resolving to do (or not do) something and explicitly stating or announcing it involves others/community/audience (or in my case sisterhood). You cannot hide from a declaration. It is "out there" for the entire world to see and hear. A declaration has a recipient. A resolution does not.

Two dear friends and I have been journeying our way through Macrina Wiederkehr's book Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God. It is rich, transformative stuff — the kind that urges contemplation, conversation, and conversion. I tried to read and apply it on my own but knew deep down something was missing. I needed community in which to process and pray. Macrina encourages the reader to acknowledge the power of words and invites us to offer the Word of God hospitality in our hearts. Seriously, picture that — God's Word cozied up inside the walls of your heart's bedroom, with a mug of hot coffee and a vase of fresh flowers on the proverbial nightstand (*tranquil exhale here*). Macrina states (emphasis mine):

"Words invite us to feel included, loved, honored. They call us to play and to work. They teach, comfort, praise. They forgive. They ask us to be authentic and true. They summon us to go deeper into the mystery of our lives . . . . When our words are united to the Word of God, the result is a new creation."

I embrace the creative, "organic" (which is artistic code for unorganized) side of me, and I freely acknowledge that my brain works on a 12-hour delay. The perfect answer to that "deep question" asked of me across the lunch table usually surfaces in the middle of the night, occasionally the next day. I hate to admit it, but my heart's delay is even longer. This internal overhaul has been brewing in me for a LONG TIME. But I am just back from a weekend retreat with Transforming Beauty where the question was asked of all attendees, "What is your voice and where do you think God is calling you to use that voice?" My answer is here. I have heard the whisper of God for years saying, "Write it down. Write it down" and I have PILES of journaled thoughts and prayers dating all the way back to 9th grade. But they are all private. Hidden. Personal. . . .

There's something about retreating from the ordinary for a weekend (with a sisterhood of believers, in a dreamy beach house - bonus) that roots up emotionally buried treasure and sheds glorious streaming light on the cloudy corners of our minds. The white space of this house, this weekend, gave me clarity — a blank page or canvas on which to create anew. Words were spoken, prayed, and declared over me - words like "freedom," "new anointing," "worthy," and "door opener." Words that sunk in, took up swift residence, and started fluffing the pillows of my creative couch. 

Michelle Benzinger, the creative director/visionary/crazy-in-the-best-way dreamer at the helm of Transforming Beauty urges all of us to live into our baptismal anointing of "priest, prophet, and king." She speaks life to the world, encouraging everyone she encounters to do the same. And so I pledge/declare/proclaim, that this blog is the place I am going to start working on that more intentionally - speaking LIFE. Listen, I am no teacher or theologian. But I CAN be a voice of love and hope in a world that is often deluged with the clamor of hatred and pessimism. Honestly, I believe we can ALL be that voice, in one way or another, if we are open to God working in and through us. (Call me Pollyanna. I'll take it.)

Because photography is so deeply ingrained in the creative me, I will of course incorporate images into each blog post. Photographs speak to me, and the literal/visual sides of my brain are in constant competition for dominance. My goal moving forward (at least for 2016) is for the literal to triumph. So cheers to the New Year. Here's to the Words. I declare that I will write. 


]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) Abide Macrina Wiederkehr Michelle Benzinger New Year's Declaration Transforming Beauty organic sisterhood words have power Mon, 01 Feb 2016 01:23:42 GMT
Heather The charm of "downtown" Alpharetta was the perfect backdrop for this senior's incredible beauty. If you believe that the eyes are the window to the soul then it's perfectly clear that Heather is one sweet and delightful young lady. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the streets and fountains of Alpharetta with her on Wednesday, and the weather was as perfect as her flawless skin! Seriously, no retouching necessary, and nothing better than Fall in the South! 

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) alpharetta atlanta photographer heather senior portraits Sat, 24 Oct 2015 13:56:28 GMT
Make Time Stand Still You'd never know this beauty doesn't really enjoy getting her picture taken. Rebecca has such a sweet and calm nature, and it definitely comes across through the lens in her lovely smile. We had a perfect Tuesday evening in which to highlight her gorgeous ringlets and peaceful demeanor. As I captured these images I couldn't help but reminisce about the days of Summer Kids Camp - how they seem like just yesterday! And now this young lady is preparing for college. Just wow.

Moms, contact me soon to help make time stand still for your senior. Spring will be upon us in the blink of an eye!

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) atlanta make photographer portraits senior stand still time Thu, 15 Oct 2015 20:20:01 GMT
Natural Beauty I'm thrilled to share another natural beauty on this blog today. Between Atlanta showing off her evening Spring sunlight/temps and this lovely senior striking some stunning poses, we had a stellar session. Bridget has the perfect "pensive" face (or "half smile" as I like to call it). She was a complete natural when it came to posing for the camera. And does anybody else see Geena Davis in those gorgeous cheekbones and brown eyes? Sorry that giant bubble wand didn't cooperate for us, but you rocked that confetti shot, Bridget! So happy your sweet parents were able to sneak in for a few frames as well. SUCH a lovely family.


]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) atlanta photographer natural beauty senior portraits Fri, 01 May 2015 23:43:39 GMT
I Love My Job How lucky am I to get to spend beautiful evenings with lovely young ladies exploring the outdoors and enjoying the sunset? Here are a few of my favorite shots from "Goldilocks" senior portrait session. Erin is all smiles, all the time. And she has a heart of gold to match her golden tresses. Despite the wind challenges we faced this breezy evening, we managed to capture her sweet personality with mostly every curl in place. ;-) And although that frog didn't magically turn into a handsome prince, he sure knew how to mug for the camera. Still booking sessions for any of you last minute people (like me!).

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) atlanta photographer goldilocks senior portraits, Mon, 27 Apr 2015 16:37:51 GMT
Diamond Stylin' I had so much fun yesterday styling and shooting these gorgeous creations by Cheri Coyle. This woman has style beyond compare - not just in her jewelry artistry, but in her wardrobe (which we snagged out of her closet and used for this shoot) AND her booming interior design business. She is a woman on a mission! And I love playing a small part in it by capturing her vision "on film" for presentation to potential buyers. Check out her website ( for the story behind "4HG" and follow Stones on Facebook to keep up with local trunk shows. I've got some close-ups of her new saint-medal pendants that I'll share next time. {#swoonworthy}


]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) Cheri Coyle, atlanta photographer diamond jewelry stones Fri, 17 Apr 2015 01:02:23 GMT
Bright Future Enjoyed another lovely afternoon shooting senior pics of this beautiful young lady. What I wouldn't give for those gorgeous blue eyes. Thanks, Kaitlyn, for indulging me with the bubbles, and for helping me try "that confetti shot" for your mom. Wish I could post all your fun expressions from that segment! Blessings to you and your very bright future at UGA. 

]]> (Laura J McDonald photography) atlanta photographer brightfuture senior portraits Tue, 31 Mar 2015 20:40:41 GMT