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You Are Not Alone

I woke from a restless sleep, unsure why my spine felt like someone had tied it in knots. Slowly, the fog of sleep cleared and my vision and mind focused. I shifted in the deflated chair that served as my bed and took in my surroundings. Tinsel and candy cane decor hung at intervals along the wall to my right. My mom sat in the chair across from me, absently holding an empty coffee cup in one hand and resting her head on the other. Her eyes were open, but she didn’t see me. Worry furrowed her brow as she stared blankly at the cold, hard floor beneath my feet. I heard the rhythmic whirring and beeping of the ventilator through the door on my left, and suddenly I remembered. I’m at the hospital

It was December of 2012, and my dad was in the ICU after receiving a bone marrow transplant. He had been diagnosed with colon cancer that spring, and during the course of his treatment the doctors discovered that he had bone cancer, as well. After his transplant, they were hopeful that he would recover, but he had not regained consciousness yet. So my mom and I sat in the otherwise empty hallway, serenaded by a soundtrack of medical machinery and waiting for my dad to wake up.

My mom blinked and looked up at me. I asked the question with my eyes - Any news? She shook her head and stood. “I’m going to get another cup of coffee.” I watched her walk down the cheerfully decorated hallway, and I prayed. Emmanuel, God with Us, we need you now. 

I looked to my left and was surprised to find a piece of paper folded up in our mailbox. Someone must have dropped it off while we were sleeping, because I didn’t remember it being there when we arrived. As I read the following letter, tears filled my eyes:

Not too long ago, I sat in this Emory ICU waiting room - waiting for news as my father underwent liver transplant surgery. On that cold, dark evening, I held my mother, and we prayed throughout the night for a miracle. Shivering the in dark, something happened here. I felt it. A peace and warmth covered us that can only be described as the presence of God in this place. An energy and resolve. 

That night, I promised God that I would try to bring warmth to those in need, regardless of Dad’s outcome. 

This past Thanksgiving marked my Dad’s 8th anniversary from having his transplant. 

In your darkest hour, no matter what the outcome may be, know that God is with you and blesses you. I know what you are going through, and when I needed support it came, and so it has for you in some small way. 

Love is with you this holiday season and always. You are not alone. God is with you!

I cry every time I read this letter, because I too know the warmth and peace that its author describes. As a child, I loved Christmas because I loved the colorful light displays, the joyful sound of Christmas carols, the promise of time with family, and the excitement of tearing open shiny wrapping paper and discovering the perfect gift underneath. While I still enjoy all of those things as an adult, the part that stirs me down to the innermost part of my soul is this - the arrival of Emmanuel. God with Us. The Christ. The Messiah. The One who made it possible for me to have a relationship with my Creator. The One who is able to heal my broken spirit. The One who moved a young woman’s heart to write this letter for me. The One who made it possible for me to be the only person in that hospital hallway and not feel alone. He was with me.

I know that there are many of you who are hurting this Christmas. Perhaps, like I was, you’re faced with the fear of losing someone you love. Maybe you’ve already lost someone, and you’re not sure how to celebrate without them. Whatever grieves your heart this Christmas, I want you to know that you are not alone. The God who brought warmth to the author of my letter and peace to me in that hospital hallway is willing and able to hold and heal the broken pieces of your heart. All you have to do is ask.

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For those who are wondering, my dad did make it through this surgery and his next one. It's been two years since the surgery I mentioned above, and this Christmas we celebrate restored health for both of my parents. My heart is filled with more gratitude than I know how to express. Love, hug, and kiss on your loved ones this season, sweet friends. And if someone you know is hurting, put an arm around them to remind them they're not alone.

Monday Mash-Up

This weekend has been quite an emotional roller coaster ride for me. As some of you may know, I teach high school math at a private Christian school in McDonough. On Friday, we found out that one of our students, a 17 year old girl named Callie Evans, passed away after an 11 month battle with brain cancer. A loss like that is difficult to process. I know that she has been healed and now rests in the arms of her Savior, but I grieve for her family and friends who have to figure out how to build a life without her. I find myself praying for them often. For their comfort. For their support. For their healing. My heart breaks for them in a way that I cannot put into words.

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to rejoice and celebrate new beginnings with two special couples. I photographed an engagement session for one of my couples that is getting married in 2015, and I helped raise funds for one of my 2011 couples to bring their baby girl home from China. It was a sweet day filled with smiles, laughter, and a small measure of frustration (more on that later).

On Sunday, I did something that I have been thinking and praying about doing for a long time. I invited two couples who have been married for a while to get in front of my camera and share their love stories with me. We created some beautiful photographs together, but what touched me most were their stories. Tales of celebrations and challenges; Heartbreak and healing; Courage, determination, and a willingness to love in spite of great pain. I am excited to share their photographs with you, but I am even more excited to share their journeys with you. All of that is coming up on the blog later this week.

If you'd like to see more sneak peeks from my weekend adventures, follow me on Instagram (@joyfullylauren). It's always the first place I share new photographs.

I'll wrap up with my thoughts & lessons learned over the last week:

  • Children are extremely challenging to photograph. Honestly, I take my hat off to all of the wonderful photographers out there who make a living creating beautiful portraits of small children. They never. Stop. Wiggling. They're equal parts adorable and exhausting. I had fun, but I was a weary woman when I got home.
  • I love photographing married couples. LOVE it. It was such a joy to spend time with people whose love has grown and matured and who are still determined to live out the promises that they made on their wedding day. I hope to photograph a LOT more sessions like this.
  • I am capable of running 6 miles without passing out. Trust me, this is quite an accomplishment. I am nearly half way through my half-marathon training, and I'm feeling strong and confident. I'll let you know if/when that changes.
  • The best way for me to help someone else stand up under the weight of trying times is to draw my support from the Holy Spirit. If I am not leaning on the everlasting arms of my Savior, I do not have the strength to lift others up. If you're a praying person, please pray for the Evans family. Also, please pray for the faculty and staff of Creekside Christian Academy as we work to support our grieving students.

And because every post is better with a photograph, here is one from Gary & Hannah's marriage celebration session at Nash Farm. They've been married for over 7 years!

May we never, ever forget

  Today, in honor of Independence Day, I've decided to share something a little different than I normally do. The following is a narration written by my friend Matthew McCord for a performance of the "Hymn to the Fallen." It touches my heart in a profound way, and I hope that it will move you as well. Today, may we remember and celebrate as a nation what it means to have courage beyond our fears to stand for what is right.

personal-collection004"To those visionary patriots who gathered in Philadelphia to announce to the world for the first time the uniquely American ideal that we do believe that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights:

Today we remember you.


To those who were among the first to give their lives for liberty at Bunker Hill; to those who stood with one General Washington that winter at Valley Forge; to those who drove tyranny from American soil for the last time at Yorktown: Today we remember you.

To that brilliant collective of minds that gathered once again at that miracle in Philadelphia to pen the credo of American freedom, the United States Constitution, forever establishing a government of the people: Today we remember you.

To those who, in our nation's darkest hour, fought brother against brother and friend against friend, in that contest to determine whether a nation conceived in liberty can long endure; to those who fought to bring a new birth of freedom to this the last best hope of mankind on earth: Today we remember you.

To those who stood in the trenches of World War I, fighting oppression on foreign shores, and to those who, some twenty years later, perished at Pearl Harbor; to those who fought in the theater of the South Pacific at Manila, Luzon, and Midway; to those who raised the flag on Iwo Jima; and to those brave souls, who, with courage beyond their fears, stormed the beaches of Normandy, securing freedom for an entire world in what we now know as our nation's greatest generation: Today we remember you.

To those fought in Korea; to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam for the truth that democracy and freedom are no longer uniquely American ideas, but that they are engraved on the hearts of all men: Today we remember you.

To those who stand in the sands of the middle east: You send a message that no tyrant, no terrorist, no one who opposes freedom will ever be safe as long as there is a United States of America.

Because with a light that shines from 1776 to today, the torch of freedom has been passed from generation to American generation, and today, as always, the United States of America is a shining city on a hill.

But those of us who live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we are free because you were brave. Look home from Heaven heroes. The Star Spangled Banner still waves.

So, to all who have pledged their allegiance with your blood, with your sacrifice, with your lives, from the heart of a grateful nation, in the most simple but honest words we have, we say, "thank you."

Today, we remember you. May we never, ever, forget."

-Matthew McCord

Have Yourself A Charitable Christmas - 2013 Holiday Mini-Sessions

The 2013 holiday season is upon us, and you know what that means! It's time for holiday mini-sessions! This year holiday minis are available on Saturday, November 16 AND Sunday, November 17, 2013 in the McDonough/Jonesboro area (exact location will be shared upon booking). Sessions are available in 15 minute intervals from 3-5pm. For $100, you'll receive a mini-photo session with your family and 10-12 color-corrected digital files to use however you'd like.

BUT WAIT! HERE'S THE BEST PART! It's no secret that the Christmas season is my absolute favorite time of year. I love everything about it - bundling up in coats and scarves, sipping hot apple cider, snuggling with my hubby by the fire, spending time chatting and laughing with family and friends - but my FAVORITE part is the GIVING! I LOVE giving gifts to the special people in my life, and this year I've decided I want to expand the giving to include as many people as I can. So this year, 100% of the profits from my holiday mini-sessions will be used to fill shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. If you've never heard of OCC, it's a charity that collects shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts and sends them to children all over the world. I've had the pleasure of personally meeting and talking with 2 individuals whose lives were blessed by OCC when they were children, and there are hundreds more stories just like theirs. If you'd like to find out more information about Operation Christmas Child and how you can get involved, visit their website here.

I'm starting out with 8 slots open for mini-sessions, but I will add more if there is enough interest. To book your session, please email lauren@laurenwrightphoto.com with "2013 Minis" in the subject line. Please give me your top 3 choices for time slots (3pm, 3:15, 3:30, etc) and I'll fill them on a first come, first served basis.

Join in my excitement to spread a little Christmas love to children around the world. I can't wait to hear from you!

 

JT & Karen : Berry College

Even though I spend most of my time behind the camera documenting engagement sessions and weddings, I'm always excited when one of my former couples asks me to photograph their maternity session. This is the third time I've photographed JT and Karen at Berry College. I traveled there in April 2011 for their engagement session and again in August 2011 for their wedding. Now their second wedding anniversary is right around the corner, and I traveled to join them on a rainy day for their maternity session. It was so fun to see them again! I love working with clients that I've photographed before because we already have a relationship established on trust, and they are able to relax and enjoy themselves knowing that - even if we're wandering around campus in a total downpour - their photos are still going to be lovely. And let's face it - it's basically impossible to take a bad picture of these two!

The rain had really started coming down at this point, and I asked Karen if she had any other ideas in mind for photos. She thought for a second and said, "Well, we're already soaking wet. Why don't we climb into the fountain for a few?" Um, please and thank you. Why didn't I think of it first?! :)

Where real love begins

I have a confession to make: I enjoy my husband. Spending time with him makes me incredibly happy. He is extremely funny, generous, honest, hilariously inappropriate, and wonderfully fun. He is my sweetheart and partner. He is the one I run to when I am hurting, and his embraces strengthen me to face difficult days. I have learned to be a more giving, sacrificial person by following his example. He is the person I want to share my future with and build my dreams with. He is the peanut butter to my jelly, the mac to my cheese, and the bread to my butter. In short: he is my best friend, and I am so excited that I get to share my life with him. So you might fight it difficult to believe when I tell you that loving my husband is, without question, the hardest thing I've ever done. You see, loving my husband is not the same thing as enjoying him. Love is not a feeling, an inclination, or a positive experience. It is not just a word I use to describe things that entertain me or bring me joy. Love is a choice that leads to an action. It is a decision that results in movement. It is a lifestyle adjustment, and it comes at great personal cost. Loving my husband requires me to behave selflessly, to live humbly, and to serve joyfully. It requires me to wrestle against the selfish nature that has been my constant companion these 26 years. And that, my friends, is a frequent and exhausting battle.

I love my husband when I make his favorite meal the way he likes it, even if I think it tastes better my way. I love him when I pull the clothes out of the dryer and hang them up rather than letting them get all wrinkled. I love him when I keep my car free of the random trash that has a tendency to accumulate there. I love him by putting my purse and shoes in the closet instead of throwing them in the living room. I love him when I choose the restaurant we go to for date night, because I know the last thing he wants to do at the end of a long and stressful day is make another decision. I love him when I listen rather than offering up snarky rebuttals. I love him when I get up as soon as the dog starts barking so that Major doesn't wake him up. I love him when I let him have the last word in an argument rather than continuing to fight until I feel like I am in the right. I love him when I push him to admit that I've upset him, and I acknowledge his pain or frustration. I love him when I pray for the Lord to grow and develop him in His time rather than sharing the ways I think he should change. These things may seem simple, but they are a huge lifestyle shift for me. Because I do think my spaghetti tastes better. I don't care about wearing wrinkly clothes. I have a tendency to live out of my car. All I want to do when I come home is drop whatever I'm carrying and sit. But I care about my husband, and I want the way I live to reflect that. These things matter to him, so I choose to love him in them and through them.

I'm not saying that performing acts of service is the best way or the only way to love your spouse. I feel most loved when someone speaks words of encouragement to me and shows affection to me. Acts of service do not carry as much value for me. My husband, however, has a servant's heart, and he feels most loved when I do what he asks of me. Here's the key: Loving my husband requires that I lay down my selfishness and pride and live in a way that speaks love to him, even if it means going against my nature.

There will be days when you feel so in love with your spouse that you cannot imagine your life being any more beautiful, and there will be days when you feel so frustrated, exhausted, or out of sync that you wonder what happened to the love you shared in the beginning. These are the moments when real love begins. Love is not something that happens to you. It is not something that you find or fall into. It is a commitment. A choice. A lifestyle of kind, humble, sacrificial living. And it is glorious. There is no greater comfort or encouragement in my marriage than to know that my husband chooses to love me based on his resolve and not based on his feelings. The most meaningful and powerful moments in our marriage frequently follow our most difficult days, and I cannot wait to discover together how incredible a lifetime of chosen love can be.

It is my fervent prayer that you and your spouse get to discover the beauty and joy that chosen love brings, as well.