Norm + Jennifer – a Desert Botanical Gardens Anniversary

“I hope you know how much you are loved” was the opening line of the thank you card Jennifer wrote me after their session. Norm had told Jennifer this when they were leaving their anniversary session with me at the Desert Botanical Gardens.

It is one of the most special thank you’s I’ve ever received, and yet I feel that I should be the one to be thanking Norm & Jennifer for the opportunity to serve them.

It all started a little over a year ago, when Jennifer was referred to me for head shots. I met her in downtown Phoenix on a hot summer evening and got to know this sweet woman from Tennessee. I learned all about her, her heart for her husband and her business. Why they’d moved to Arizona and what her passions were. Less than six months later I had the opportunity to do new portraits for her and her new business partners who’d joined forces for the same cause! And it was less than 3 months ago when Norm & Jennifer received news no one wants to hear.

As I sat in Jennifer’s home a week and a half before their session she explained. Norm had had a spot found on his pancreas and for nearly 2 years Norm had gone in routinely to have the spot scanned to make sure nothing was changing. They were faithful to their appointments and prayer that it would turn into nothing or would go away. And after faithfully watching a cyst that would not change in that time frame they deemed it safe for him to stop watching it.

And yet, Norm had started having physical symptoms of something else going on. With a family history of heart problems, they both thought it wise to get into the doctor immediately to make sure it wasn’t anything major. At the doctor’s request, Norm & Jennifer headed for a scan to rule out anything and “as plainly as you can say it, they just said ‘you have pancreatic cancer'”, Jennifer said.

I’ll admit, I can’t even begin to imagine being in their shoes and I fear that I don’t offer words that make much difference during times like these. “I’m sorry” and “I’ll be praying for you guys” is sometimes all I can muster, but I knew as soon as I saw her post on Facebook that if my words failed me, I could serve them the best way I knew how.

I wanted to complete the session for them while Norm was feeling good, and so we quickly planned an anniversary session for the first week of June. I wanted to make sure we had a location that really embraced the beauty of the desert as Norm & Jennifer’s new home state, but one that also offered the opportunity to sit down and take our time. When I mentioned the Desert Botanical Gardens to Jennifer she was thrilled, stating that it was one of her favorite locations and that the mountains around hold special meaning to the both of them.

Working together with Jennifer and my sweet friend and makeup artist, Robyn Broom, we planned out a full glam opportunity. Jennifer was able to use my style guide to put together outfits that would emulate their wedding attire and I surprised them with a gorgeous neutral bouquet that truly added an elegant and beautiful touch to their photos. I knew it was important to Jennifer to be able to recreate a couple images from their wedding day in Savannah, Georgia and I was excited to help them in any way I could!

When I met Norm & Jennifer at the entrance of the Desert Botanical Garden’s we started our walk around and set out to getting to know one another. Their story is truly a beautiful one!

Jennifer & Norm both belonged to a motorcycle club when they met back in 2013. Jennifer was in another relationship and Norm said that the moment he met her he felt like he’d been searching his whole life for her, and had finally found her. They had the opportunity to get to know each other a little more with this club being their common ground and Norm learned that the relationship Jennifer was in was not a good one for her and he helped her leave the relationship. “Oh! Like a real life knight in shining metal then!”, I said when they told me this. Jennifer laughed and said, yes. Norm, on the other hand was much more humble about it.

Spending more time with them I got to witness more of the beauty that is their relationship. Jennifer told me that their relationship is one that they are empowered to just be themselves without judgement, and that that stems from the beginning, from Norm giving her the courage to be honest and bold, and never leaving her side through any of the hard parts.

They both share a love for Old Hollywood — and in fact Norm says that’s one of the first things he noticed about Jennifer were her hair and eyes and how she reminded him of an Old Hollywood starlet. Jennifer says that for her, the first thing she noticed, and loves dearly about Norm is his tender eyes, and how opposite of his exterior they are.

I truly enjoyed my time with the both of them, and getting to know them and who they are as a couple. I have to admit, my favorite moment with Norm was when Jennifer was teasing him for his straight face in a lot of the pictures and I looked him in the eye, and teasingly said, “c’mon Norm, don’t make me talk about farts to get you to smile!” and Norm immediately cracked a smile and laughed. Every time I look at that picture, I’m reminded of that moment.

You see, the thank you letter ended like this, “I know, with time, I will likely forget his voice, but thanks to you, I will never forget how he looked at me…and how he saw me.”

If there’s anything I ever do in my life, if anything matters, I’m grateful to God to be able to serve others this gift. Of preserving the memories and moments of their loved ones. The way they laughed, the way they loved, and the way they lived. And I am so grateful to Norm & Jennifer for allowing me to tell their story.

Norm’s journey has just begun, and they are asking for any help they can receive along the way. His current diagnosis is Stage 3 Neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to his liver and lung. He will begin hormone treatments to treat the cancer as best as they can. Norm has been let go from his employment and unfortunately has lost any coverage for benefits he was receiving. He is battling pain, fatigue and digestive issues. Jennifer is the sole provider and care giver for Norm during this entire time. If there is any way you can help them along, prayers, meals or financial donations I know that it will not be lost on them. They are thankful for the support of the community around them and the love of Christ, their Savior.

Please pray for Norm & Jennifer with me through this.

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