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The story of Norma Gibby

She’s 95, though you’d never know it.

I walked in to photograph Norma Gibby, only having met her a time or two. She welcomed me with a hug and a smile that said we’d been best friends for years.

“Make me look good, you hear?”

I couldn’t possibly make her look anything BUT good. Her soul was too sweet and her eyes too alive. We spent a moment admiring her newly designed living room she’d worked on with her daughter (she couldn’t say enough about her gratitude for her son and daughter for both paying for and designing the place), her blue accent wall she loved dearly, and the extensive artwork of lighthouses she’d collected.

“I love lighthouses because they light the way and keep you safe just like Jesus.

I made the mistake of asking if she needed to sit down, or something you’d ask someone of her age, to which she said absolutely not! and scolded me for coddling her.

“I’m 95 and I can’t even relate to that age. I don’t even know what that means. You gotta keep on the move at my age. I don’t sit for very long. I do Tai Chi on Monday, Tuesday is fitness, Wednesday is dance aerobics, and Friday is yoga. I will grow older but I will never grow old. I don’t even consider my age.”

And she really doesn’t.  

“I’ve gone hot air ballooning and I’ve done a lot of other things that I didn’t tell my kids because I didn’t want them to do it. I had planned to go skydiving but my kids begged me not to go and I got a big speech so I didn’t do that, but…. I’m going zip-lining hopefully soon for my birthday.”

You had better believe I’ll be there to photograph that.

Her love of life was intoxicating and I couldn’t help but want to know her secret. How did she have so much energy? How was she doing warrior one yoga pose in the middle of her living room while I was struggling awkwardly to squat near her pretty little end table to get the shot of her?

“I think the reason for my longevity is having a positive attitude. That’s the secret! While you’re alive, for heaven’s sake, LIVE. Be as happy as you can be. It’s all up here…in my head. I say I feel really good and then I do. An attitude of gratitude is what’s it’s all about. I can tell you the saddest stories that have happened to us in my life, but that isn’t what’s going to define me. I think it’s made me be a better person because I’ve had to overcome and do so much.

The other thing is absolutely to help others. Live for others more than yourself. My son calls me an encourager because I really want to encourage people who just want to give up. I want to go to rest homes and talk to people and tell them to find something to be happy about. I would tell them my philosophy: you can live a long time. Don’t choose a date.

My life mantra is some people dance in the rain and others just get wet! I’m gonna dance!”

She mentioned a few other things about eating organically, watching out for those GMOs and drinking tons of her favorite water from Trader Joes, her favorite grocery store while offering some apples and nuts, but the most powerful moment of my time with Norma was when she talked about her first moment of faith. The first time she had to face death, and the first time she knew that she had work to do on this earth.

When I was 14 years old, we lived right by the Snake River, which can be very dangerous. One morning my dad said to me, ‘I don’t want you girls to go to the Snake today.’ Usually he would tell us we could go.

I never disobeyed my dad but I really wanted to go. So I got my sister Betty and my friend Donna Rae, that lived behind me and said, ‘Let’s go to the snake!’ 

The boys who lived right behind us had built a gorgeous raft, I mean they really built a nice raft with a great big pole. They said, ‘Norma, don’t you touch that raft.’ They knew me, and if you dared me to do something, I was going to do it. I was a little rascal. I had no physical fears and I think it’s because having lost my mother early in life, I had to be really brave and tell the kids nothing was wrong. I had to be the brave one.

Well, we went to the river and we got in the boy’s raft. It had a big long pole that I had to push out with and suddenly I could barely touch the bottom of the river with the pole. So I said, ‘Betty, you’ve got to jump off and go to shore.’ She couldn’t swim. So she jumped off, went to shore and I had to stay on the raft to save it. The raft started whirling and going into a whirlpool and it was going under with us on it.

I had to save it. The boys were going to be so mad at me.

But, I did what I could and realized I couldn’t save it. I said, ‘Donna Mae, jump! We gotta get off.’ So we jumped off and I swam and paddled and went on my back. I did everything I could do. Donna Mae was a little bit ahead of me going down the river and was doing all the same things I was doing.

We were both really struggling to make it to shore.

Betty saw us and went screaming up the beach for help. As she was running, 2 young men just happened to be walking by, which was unusual in that area. Betty said, ‘Save my sister! Save my sister and her friend!’

So they came after us. Donna Mae said, ‘Save Norma first!’ Had she not done that, I would not have come back up. I had given up finally and thought ‘I’m drowning and there is not a thing I can do about it.’ And then I thought, ‘what will my siblings do—my family will be so sad.’

At first I was so scared and I was struggling so hard to save my life and suddenly I felt this warm wonderful feeling—I’m going under and I am not going to come back up. I was drowning and suddenly I was fine with it. I thought, ‘this isn’t a bad way to die.’

It was strange to have these thoughts, but yet I felt that my family needed me, they would be so sad without me and it would be so hard on them. And so I really earnestly prayed that I could be saved and that I didn’t want to go yet. But it would be ok if I did. I can’t even tell you what a marvelous wonderful feeling came over me, and had Donna Mae not said to save Norma to the first guy that came to her, I would not be here telling this story, because I was that close to drowning.

The boys grabbed us and took us to my home and put us on a bed. We shook so hard, the bed actually moved. I guess it was shock.

And as a result of that experience of drowning, I have absolutely no fear of dying. Absolutely none. I believe my faith started because I drowned!  And I know what’s next. My goodness I love the Lord, and I love the gospel.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord was with me and my family when my mom died and has been there with me throughout my whole life. I know for certain there is a hereafter and the Lord is ready to receive us when it’s our time. I know it to be true. And I know that death is not final.

So when I go, don’t mourn me because I’m going to be happy. I’ve got the dearest husband that a woman could ever have waiting for me, and he will be there. But I wasn’t ready then, I needed to stay and take care of my little siblings. But I’ll tell you this, I never disobeyed my dad again…ever…when he told me to do something, I did it.”

I could almost feel the celebration of her life as she finished her story.

I believe God saved 14 year-old Norma so she could help raise her little siblings after both her parents had passed on by the time she was 16. I believe he saved her so she could help protect our country by working to help build fuel tanks for bombers in the war, so she could marry her sweet Delbert- a man who came home from the beach of Normandy to love her, marry her, and help her raise a family of faith in God, and so she could write her life history and teach her grandchildren about the times God protected her. I believe God saved her so that she could be a lighthouse to those looking to find rest in their Savior. I believe He saved her for those things and so much more

She has ministered to many as she’s opened her heart and loved, shared with, encouraged, and adored others. She ministered to me as I sat there, camera in hand and her words in my heart, feeling the spirit of God bear testimony that He loves her as He loves all of us.

We are here for a reason and a purpose. Norma Gibby’s is unquestionable.



  1. Thank you for sharing Norma’s story. She has always been an inspiration to me. What an Amazing Woman of Faith.

    • We adore her. She was amazing to share. We all want to be just like her when we grow up!

  2. What a wonderful lady! I am inspired to LIVE!

  3. Thank you for the beautiful story you have shared about my mother. It’s very accurate and there is so much more. I could never have asked for a more wonderful mother and father. I honestly don’t remember ever having an argument with them or being angry with them.
    We have always been very close and she is my advocate, counselor and a wonderful grandmother and great-grandmother as well. It’s all about family! I am so very grateful and love her more than words can express.

    • Oh she is just the most wonderful person there is! Love hearing about her from your perspective. There aren’t really enough words or photos to ever actually do her incredible spirit justice, but we are honored that we got to do what we could. She is amazing.

      • She is truly amazing! Love that auntie of mine!

  4. Norma is my great aunt (Betty from the story is my grandma) and I love her more than words! She has always stood out to me as one of the most positive people I know, she has so much love to give to everyone around her and so much love for her life, I was always in her court for the skydiving! 😉 You captured her so well in this! Such a treasure for our family!

  5. Normal possesses a powerful spirit and an uncommon capacity to make others feel genuinely loved. She was my visiting teacher about 20 years ago during a challenging time in my life. I’ve always felt that she just poured out love on me and saw me through that rough patch. What a blessing she was to me! Also, I had the great honor to play the organ for her husband’s funeral. What a love story! That’s going to be some fantastic reunion someday!

  6. Norma has always been someone you could go to for sound advice, understanding, and validation. She continues to be a source of inspiration to me. I love her!

  7. I loved this story and the amazing faith and positive attitude Norma has – thank you for sharing her faith with us!

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