From one our Volume 2 features we bring you Jim & Susan’s story of 29 years of marriage, photographed by one of our White Wren Collaborative Members Natalie Schutt Photography. Reading their story is so inspiring, and their love is captured beautifully in these images. Let’s dive in …
from Natalie: “THIS is one of my most proud + meaningful works of art … I photographed my mentors (of 6 years) for their 29th anniversary at their new home in Arkansas.
A little about these two incredible people:
Jim + Susan Birmingham are life changers. They are deeply rooted in their Christian faith and are the most attractive representation of living the healthiest life.
The most compelling part about these two is their incredible testimony– they humbly share, “we weren’t always on this path!” Growing up, they individually learned how to do “everything wrong so that they could teach how to do everything right,” as Susan loves to put it with a huge smile. Susan became the TOP Levi Jeans sales representative in the country, and Jim fought in the Vietnam war and owned his own power-washing company for over 30 years. But the most esteemed part of their life started in their mid 30s, where they found their faith and each other through AA. They met and got married 4 months later — and so began the journey of their NEW restored life together — the one God had destined to make the greatest impact of all.
For the last 29 years, Jim + Susan have dedicated their life to helping others grow healthy and God-centered in all 6 key areas: physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, financially, and relationally.
They not only lead within their church and their businesses, but they demonstrate what it is like to be the hands and feet of Jesus: they chose to mentor young women, hands on, and personally stick with them throughout the years. This is where I come into play — as I have been one of those lucky women!
For the last 10 years in CA, they mentored 2 groups of women every week and called it “Bookclub.” How did Bookclub work you ask? Jim and Susan cooked dinner at their home on a consistent night (ours was Monday Night), they led discussion around the dinner table where us ladies shared our wins + challenges for the week (in the 6 areas), they built an uplifting and supporting mentality between the ladies, and they provided their living room (and dessert!) for an hour after dinner, where we all popcorn-read a book that targeted one of the 6 key areas of life! And yes, we got homework every week — always a task that propelled us forward to becoming the best version of ourselves.
We were in our young 20s when this bookclub started, and now the Monday night ladies and I are entering our 30s. The guidance, support, and gratitude-based mentality facilitated by J+S was counter-culture for us 20-year-olds, and tremendously impactful on our lives. I mean, who does this?! We laughed, we cried, we were vulnerable with each other every Monday night (close to 300 Mondays STRAIGHT we spent intentionally with each other). Were Jim + Susan tough sometimes? OH YEAH! But we knew it was what we needed to be refined. They helped us start businesses and pursue our passions. They taught us how to save, and helped us goal-set to buy homes. They taught us how to give our time, energy, and heart, and also taught us how to set boundaries. They showed us what a healthy, Christ-centered marriage looks like. They challenged us, guided us, and believed in us. But most of all, they loved us. That love spoke louder than anything else. The way they sacrificed for us ladies and took us under their wing was beyond rare. It was a true act of the Lord and His love.
Jim + Susan lived in California by the ocean for most of their life, and this past year, they moved to Arkansas, where they thank God for their new gorgeous property, their bold church, and the wonderful community they are nurturing. “Everybody waves! Everybody prays! Everybody loves God, loves this country, and loves His people!” Jim says. The Monday Night Bookclub ladies make it a priority to visit them on the beautiful lake as often as we can, and true to their character, Jim and Susan always sneak in a fantastic structured lesson for us, like old times.
Photographing them at their new AR home was a memory I will forever treasure. Love you Jim and Susan, more than words could ever describe. Thank you for guiding me, pouring wisdom into me, and genuinely loving me all these beautiful years. My life would not be what it is today without you, I am looking forward to seeing how God uses me to pass this tradition on. God is so good to have given me mentors like you.”
How did you two meet? What were your first impressions of one another?
We are both sober, Jim for 37 years and myself for 34 years. We saw each other at AA meetings and would run into each other at a local restaurant on Monday nights. He was usually leaving with someone he sponsored and I would be coming in with someone I sponsored, this went on for at least a year. Then one night when I walked in, he was still seated and finishing dinner. I went over and gave him a kiss, which was something I had not done before. Then as our dinner came, he was walking out and the waitress said, “That guy just bought your dinners.” I said “If you are going to buy my dinner I at least ought to have the pleasure of your company.” That was a total out of the blue God shot!! I remember my sponsor telling me that you both have to be ready at the same time. This was our time. He did ask me out and we were married four months after our first date.
Tell us a funny story relating to your wedding day or relationship!
Jim did not have my phone number so he called this guy in AA and the guy said that he would give him my number if Jim would be the main speaker at a huge, approximately 400 people, AA meeting. So, Jim agreed. He called me and left a message on my answering machine; this was way before voicemail heheh. I saw him a few days later at the Sunday AA morning meeting and as we held hands to pray the Our Father at the end of the meeting he whispered “I want to take you out” and I whispered back “I want to go out with you.” Then he told me how in order to get my number he had to commit to be the main speaker at this huge meeting that Sunday night. So, I said “I might as well hear your story before I go out with you.” I went to the meeting and found out he was a bad boy gone good, I loved that.
Describe a hurdle you had to overcome in your relationship or during your wedding planning.
There have been a few hurdles throughout our years together yet before I tell you of a specific one, I want to know that we have never yelled at one another in all our 29 years. We have never raised our voices, have never sworn at each other, or called each other a bad name. We have certainly had times of being angry or upset with each other and we have resolved these issues through open and honest communication. So, our first big hurdle was Jim’s mom. At first, she loved me and I loved her, then as the years went by it started to feel as though we were in competition for his attention. The way we overcame that was Jim was, and is, such a strong man. He talked to his mom and told her he loved her but I was his wife and his top priority. He continued to love his mom and love me his wife. I always have felt that I am number one on his list, I am his top priority and that he has my back no matter what.
What is the best thing you’ve learned from one another?
For me the best thing that I have learned from Jim is that I can totally and completely TRUST him!!! I was married before and he was not trustworthy, we divorced after four years, thankfully no children. Then I was single for fifteen years before I married Jim when I was 40 and he was 45, it’s never too late. For Jim he says the best thing he’s learned from me is that I have always been authentic about myself and my beliefs, never in an overbearing way but in a simply stated and accepting way. To quote Jim “This trait of hers gave me the permission to be exactly who I am.”
What is your favorite thing about each other?
There are so many wonderful things that I love about Jim, one of them is that I love Jim’s sense of humor and his laugh, it is sheer joy from deep within and it is contagious. He has the best outlook on life and an attitude of gratitude everyday upon his awakening. Oh, I also love that every morning he makes and brings me my coffee, his love language is Acts of Service and my love language is Gifts, so every day he gives me a gift that shouts he loves me by bringing me my coffee. One of Jim’s favorite things about Susan is that she makes a beautiful home in every way imaginable. Whatever she’s given she takes it and makes it better. One morning I woke up and the entire living room had been rearranged, and I liked it. When I first met her I saw she had a dog bed in every room, I thought to myself “If she takes this kind of care for her dog think of what she’ll do for me,” and that is exactly what she has done consistently throughout the years.
If you had one piece of advice for other couples, what would it be?
Make God number one in your marriage and make church and prayer part of your life from the onset. I told Susan when we first started dating that I wanted us to go to church and she was totally on board with that hence church has been a priority throughout our 29 years.
What is the most honest thing you can say about love?
Love is completely selfless.