Referrals from friends and clients bring beautiful moments like being there for the Dale family as they reunited after a long deployment! I met Sarah and her family through my friend Lacey (for more about her gorgeous family, check out this blog post). After I did some photos for Lacey, Sarah reached out about having me photograph the homecoming of her husband's command, USS Nitze. Given the private nature of ship movements, I have coffee dates with all of my homecoming clients to get the details, but also to make sure they don't feel stressed out about having to find a complete stranger in a big homecoming crowd. Planning for a photographer means both you and the photographer need to be flexible, okay with the unknown, be able to get on base, and have the patience of a saint when plans change a thousand times between booking and the actual homecoming.

Sarah and I met for coffee at the cutest little spot - 54 Beans in Carrollton, VA. I don't get over that way much, so I was thrilled to check out a new coffee shop. I'm always on the hunt for local cafes for client meetings on work spots when I need to get out of the house. Not only does 54 Beans have a great vibe, but it also has fantastic coffee and excellent pastries! But I digress.

Sarah recently took the leap to launch a business of her own as they prepare for military retirement. A published author, she hopes to turn her love of writing into a thriving community:

The idea behind The Sweet Tea Mama is to create a virtual front porch to mirror the real porch I spent the majority of my childhood on. Through each personal story within the blog posts I share, you’ll find stories that readers of all seasons of life can connect with and be inspired by. My hope is that you find a home here, and take away from each link clicked a new sense of purpose, motivation, and outlook beyond what you came here with.

As Sarah and I chatted, it became clear to me why this space was so important to her. Sharing thoughts and engaging in deep conversation comes so naturally to her. She's not afraid to say she doesn't know something if it means there's someone out there who can help her learn more about it. Her love for others and the importance of her family were evident in every word she said.

Boy cries while waiting for dad's boat to return from deployment | USS Nitze Homecoming Photos, Norfolk Naval Station

When I asked what part of homecoming Sarah was most excited about, she told me "it's all about the kids". For her, this homecoming was about her son and daughter reuniting with their father. Sure, having her husband back was going to be great for her, but it was clear that her priority was the moment her kids see their father again.

K and T had a front row seat for the boat pulling in and mooring lines being thrown out. Unfortunately, I think that only added to the anticipation and excitement because there were lots of tears and moments of frustration. Sarah didn't sleep much the night before and they all had to be on base incredibly early to get parking close enough to the pier that they wouldn't have to hike for miles to get back to the car after the long day, so emotions were running extra high all day long.

On the bright side, that meant that the joy of the reunion was immense. After the boat was officially docked, everyone pushed toward the pier, anxiously awaiting the moment where we would be allowed on. I cried as new parents met their babies who were born during the deployment and walked home as a larger family than when the boat departed. As soon as those reunions were finished, it was a mad rush onto the pier. Sarah and the kids walked hand-in-hand, searching eagerly for Andrew.

Woman claps as boat returns from deployment | USS Nitze Homecoming Photos, Norfolk Naval Station

I could barely keep up once they did spot each other! Sarah and the kids took off so fast I almost didn't realize what was happening! Thank goodness I had my phone mount on my camera so I could get a video of the reunion in addition to pictures, because the video is magical.

The tears of joy began to roll the moment they saw Andrew. T was particularly emotional - from the single tear sliding down his cheek as the boat pulled in, to wailing with joy as he hugged his father for the first time in months, he could not contain the intense feelings he was experiencing. He wouldn't let go of his dad, even as Sarah took her turn with hugs and kisses. K wiped tears from her eyes and squeezed the present her dad brought back for her, but the moment Sarah was done with her hugs, K was right back in her dad's arms.

But Sarah didn't mind. This moment was about the kids, not her. She was getting just as much joy and satisfaction (if not more) by watching them hug, cry, and laugh together. She knew that she'd have plenty of time with Andrew because he would never be deployed again. His boat is scheduled for time in the shipyard and Andrew is set to retire long before the work will be done on the Nitze. Military retirement will bring them so many new opportunities and experiences and I couldn't be happier for them as they begin this new chapter of life.

Girl smiles while approaching pier for military homecoming | USS Nitze Homecoming Photos, Norfolk Naval Station

This was more than a photography gig for me. In the time between Sarah's first message to me and Andrew's homecoming, I had several opportunities to build a relationship with Sarah and her family, and I consider it an honor to continue building a friendship with them all! After you're done checking out the rest of the homecoming pics, don't forget to head over to The Sweet Tea Mama's social media page to join her amazing community!