Ruth Chou Simons: We need to cling to joy. We need to cling to the fact that even when there is social distancing and separation and difficulty and canceling of things that mean a lot to us and difficulty getting to places that we want to get to, to be with the loved ones that we want to be with, that ultimately God’s presence never leaves us, that He is absolutely the one that provides and is the joy that we have to use and that the world could use some joy right now. And so we get to be conduits of that joy.
From Stressful Living to Joyful Living: Ruth Chou Simons & Jess Connolly – Episode #239
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. When we are undergoing very stressful seasons of life, it can be difficult to see the light through our anxious thoughts toward a new way of living; one that is steeped in God’s joy. Our guests this week share the ways they were able to move from being stuck in the stress cycle to finding joy in their lives and work—and how they became conduits of joy to others; artist and writer Ruth Chou Simons and speaker and life coach Jess Connolly.
Ruth Chou Simons had a passion for art from a very early age, but the pressure from all sides to succeed in areas that were more “practical” delayed her entry into this space. Although Ruth ultimately pursued a degree in fine arts, life took a different turn than she expected and she found herself seven years into her marriage with three young children before she started to think again about her creative pursuits. During this season, after she tucked the children into bed, Ruth started to rekindle her creative side—writing about how grace was working in her life, and sharing the thoughts with her online community. The popularity of her blog would lead Ruth to found her company, Grace Laced. She writes about how God was preparing her and how waiting on His promises would bring a beautiful transformation to her life.
Ruth Chou Simons: I’m Ruth Chou Simons. I am an artist and founder of GraceLaced.com, a website where I have gotten to share my artwork in the form of prints and lifestyle products and stationery, serving women around the world with beauty and truth from God’s word. And I’m also an author of several books, including GraceLaced that came out in 2017 that won a Christian Book Award and Beholding and Becoming: The Art of Everyday Worship that came out last fall, and a few others that I’m sure we’ll get to talk about. But I’m also a mom to six boys. My oldest is eighteen and my youngest is seven. I’ve been married to my husband Troy for twenty-two years and in previous seasons of our lives together, he was a full-time teaching pastor and a church planter.
An Early Passion for Art
I was born in Taiwan and so I’m an immigrant that came [to the United States]. And when I was three, almost four years old, I learned the English language, found my family trying to reestablish ourselves in a new country. But, you know, I was raised with a general cultural mindset, both from my new country and the United States, as well as just with my Chinese heritage, just a real cultural background of really wanting to achieve. And that kind of pressure really led me to thinking the only answer is to be a 4.0 student that goes into neurosurgery or something. You know, really fantastic and brilliant, will change the world by using my academic prowess.
I always loved art. Between, you know, chemistry notes, I would be drawing with my right hand, drawing my left hand, and being really fascinated by the beauty all around me. But I didn’t allow myself to really enjoy it that much because in my mind, I thought my worth was so tied to what I could accomplish. And long story short, the Lord really did get a hold of me, and God in His kindness showed me that nothing I had to bring to the table, no matter how hard I tried, no matter what college I went, to what degree I graduated with, what job I landed, none of those things could earn me to favor with God.
“I thought my worth was so tied to what I could accomplish. And long story short, the Lord really did get a hold of me, and God in His kindness showed me that nothing I had to bring to the table, no matter how hard I tried, no matter what college I went, to what degree I graduated with, what job I landed, none of those things could earn me to favor with God.” – Ruth Chou Simons
And so that’s just a bit of my testimonies, sharing that ultimately I came about being an artist in a way that I didn’t expect. I wasn’t planning to be an artist. I wasn’t planning to be a mom. But those are truly just seasons that come about where God really breaks you of things that you think can save yourself. And He shows you what true salvation is.
“Those are truly just seasons that come about where God really breaks you of things that you think can save yourself. And He shows you what true salvation is.” – Ruth Chou Simons
The Beginnings of Grace Laced
Grace Laced began in the midst of us being part of lots of other ventures. We were part of a church plant. We were part of a school that we were intimately a part of. And all those things were wonderful things that we were part of during that season. And my art and my writing were not front burner things. They weren’t the biggest priorities in our lives. But rather than give up on it, I was like, Wow, I know that this is a way I express myself. I am speaking ‘toddler’ all day long, so I’m gonna just take out some time, every single day, to write. And my tagline was finding grace in the every day, meaning the grace of God in the gospel can’t only be applicable. When I’m at Sunday school or when I’m in church or when I’m leading a women’s group, it has to be applicable right here in the midst of the really mundane things that I’m doing.
That’s the thing I did for when the kids went to bed, I started a blog and chose to write to work out my own salvation in my everyday life. And occasionally a post would go viral. But really, it wasn’t that I was making money from it. It wasn’t that I was getting real popular. I was simply writing to faithfully document and see how God’s faith, God’s favor, and His grace intersects everyday life, even when life wasn’t turning out the way I expected it to.
“I was simply writing to faithfully document and see how God’s faith, God’s favor, and His grace intersects everyday life, even when life wasn’t turning out the way I expected it to.” – Ruth Chou Simons
And eventually, with the help of social media and with other seasons of life, when my kids got older and could tie their own shoes and do their own laundry, that opened up an opportunity for me to get the paints out. And so Grace Laced Shop has only been in existence for about seven years. The blog has been around for almost thirteen years. So you can see, you know, there were many years there that I didn’t know that it would turn into what I get to do right now. But I think anything, any dream you have, anything you want to do successfully in a big way, you need to do faithfully in a small way.
“I think anything, any dream you have, anything you want to do successfully in a big way, you need to do faithfully in a small way.” – Ruth Chou Simons
You know, we are living a time where we have more stimulation in that little phone that we hold in our hands, for our eyes, for our years, for our minds, we are constantly overstimulated. We’re constantly looking at things to compare, two things to want and covet. It just goes on and on. Right? We have so much to look at. But we have lost or missed the art of actually beholding.
I think that so many times I walk through life complaining about how I don’t know, I’m not experiencing great things, or life is so hard, or I wish God would just show Himself and express Himself or let me know how He is with me.
I’m missing Him. To not take a walk and notice when the leaves are turning, I’m missing His faithfulness there. Or if I’m walking by the blooms and gosh, tulips come up early spring and they’re gone. To not stop and pay attention and to notice and to see how intricately they’re created and to look inside and see how they change and look different in their petals.
And if you did not notice those things, it is to kind of miss out on the ways that God is pretty inspiring and He’s incredibly faithful and He’s at work all the time and it’s not dependent on us. And so, yes, I could say I meet Him every day or I ultimately need to meet Him everyday in His word.
Finding Fullness of Joy
Narrator: Ruth believes we find peace and joy when we seek God through His word and in prayer. She reads a passage from Jesus Always to illustrate this point.
Ruth: Jesus Always, March 1st.
I give you Joy in your journey through the world. This sparkling gift is not a luxury; it’s a necessity! There are bumps in the road ahead, as well as sharp curves, ascents, and descents. Without Joy in your heart, you will become weary and discouraged.
Seek to spread Joy in the world around you. Let My Light reflect from your demeanor—through your smiles, your laughter, your words. . . . Concentrate on staying close to Me, and I will lead you along the path of Life. In My Presence there is fullness of Joy.
I think we, as hustling, busy, to do list women sometimes forfeit that joy because we are so quick to try to put ourselves in the presence of our peers, liking us, or our house, looking just the way we want it to our kids, behaving the way we train them to. There are lots of things we want to be in the presence of. And we forget that we were made to be in the presence of our Savior.
“There are lots of things we want to be in the presence of. And we forget that we were made to be in the presence of our Savior.” – Ruth Chou Simons
Fullness of joy comes through Christ and through our knowing Him. But you’ve got to start with wanting to recognize, like, you’ve got to start with realizing that He’s great. He is so worthy and He’s so much bigger than your problems. And so I have to start there every day. I have to recount little by little all the details in which He is kind and good and still at work.
“Fullness of joy comes through Christ and through our knowing Him.” – Ruth Chou Simons
You know, obviously, any one of us can trace back in our lives and see God’s hand, His sovereignty, His kindness, pursuing us along the way. To any listener here today wondering what God has for you, what His purposes are for you, take whatever opportunities you have right before you and use your gifts fully. Today. Just start right where you are.
Narrator: You can find Ruth’s book, Grace Laced: Discovering Timeless Truth Through Seasons of the Heart, anywhere books are sold.
Stay tuned for Jess Connolly’s story after a brief message.
This Lenten season, spend 40 days with Jesus, exploring the promises of joy found in scripture. Through 40 select devotions from #1 bestselling author Sarah Young’s Jesus Always, you’ll experience closeness with the Savior that invites you into a new joy-filled way of living. Draw nearer to Jesus with 40 Days of Jesus Always. Find out more about where you can get 40 Days of Jesus Always at jesuscalling.com.
Narrator: Jess Connolly is a writer, speaker, and co-leader of Bright City Church in Charleston, South Carolina. As someone who has always loved cheering on friends and family as they took a step to do something new, Jess realized she had a gift for coaching. She developed some of the practices she’s used to help people wade through the apprehensions they may have toward stepping into a new venture and developed a program to help women who need one on one assistance to quiet their fears and fire their spirits in order to make their dreams come true. She writes about the ways she helps women move forward in their lives in her new book, You Are the Girl for the Job, and helps tween girls find their way in Glory Girl.
Jess: I’m Jess Connolly and I am a mom of four kiddos. I live in Charleston, South Carolina. My husband and I lead Bright City Church. I also write books and encourage women through coaching. And I have a business called Go and Tell Gals, where we create tools to help women step into their God-given calling.
When We Think We’re Not Enough, God Is
We all want to believe that God has called us and given us a purpose, but where do we start? How do we move beyond feeling like we’re not enough to take a chance on ourselves? The way that we move beyond feeling like we’re not enough is by accepting that we’re not enough, truly. We have access to the gospel, which means that we get to be rooted in the good news that though we are not enough, God is.
“We get to be rooted in the good news that though we are not enough, God is.” – Jess Connolly
And so as Christians, we get this great and free good news that we might not be enough. And that’s okay. He is enough. He will equip us. He will empower us. He will work in and through us. And that is the best news that we can live into. And honestly, it’s the number one way to get over feeling stuck or feeling like we can’t take a step forward.
So often when I’m encouraging women or coaching women and helping them find their God-given gift, they ask, “What do you like to do? Do you love to sing? Do you like to cut hair? Do you like to drink coffee? Do you like to write? Do you like to teach? Do you like to dance? How can you utilize those things for the good of others and the glory of God?”
And that helps me so much when I begin to look and pay attention to the things that continually people are asking me to do or looking to me for. I realize this is part of this place that I serve in this community, and that is a great place to find purpose. Genuinely, I think a lot of us try to find purpose that we think about what we can do rather than who we can serve. And so really asking who we can serve and what they need from us is an incredible, incredible way to find our purpose.
Paving the Way for the Next Generation
So one of the ways that I think we can really meet a need for this generation to come is by providing them with something that our generation didn’t really have. If I’m honest, while I was growing up, I saw a lot of resources to help keep girls out of trouble. I saw a lot of resources and tools to help keep girls away from bad things. What I didn’t see and what I didn’t experience myself were a lot of resources and tools encouraging girls and young girls to step into their God-given calling from an early age, I didn’t see a lot of tools or resources helping girls learn how to hear from and obey God. I saw a lot of tools telling girls how not to make God man and how not to frustrate Him and how to follow His rules—and understanding and having a healthy and reverent fear of God matters. And it’s good and understanding His way and His law and its purpose in our life is so, so, so important. But I didn’t see any resources out there speaking that 1 Peter 2:9 truth over young girls, saying you are ambassadors sent to bring other people to watch God, bring other people out of the darkness and into marvelous light.
And so we have this incredible opportunity for the young girls, for the generation coming behind us, to not just keep them out of trouble, to not just tell them, like, “You follow this narrow path or you are going to just fall into pain and sin and all kinds of badness.” But to say, “Hey, there is actually a beautiful path of being a Jesus follower, that also means you get to use your gifts for the good of others and the glory of God. It’s fun. It’s like giving. It’s abundant, it’s free. It’s not staying away from bad things. It’s running toward the beautiful things that were purchased for you on the Cross of Christ.”
Fighting Our Fears of Moving Forward
When we actually want to fight fear—number one, we have to really look at how the world fights fear. A lot of the things that we’re hearing out in culture, in the world, and sometimes even from the church are so abstract about fear that I don’t feel like we’re getting some definite help and some definite move moving forward. Let me give you an example. We hear a lot of, like, “Punch fear in the face.” I don’t know about you guys, but that doesn’t work for me. I don’t know how to punch fear in the face.
And so truly, truly, truly, one of the best ways we can fight fear is saying true things about God. When we’re feeling scared, when we’re feeling anxious, when we’re feeling insecure, when we’re feeling inadequate, we often aid those bad feelings. We spur them on by speaking negative untruths over ourselves and over our lives. I feel like a mess. I can’t do this. I’ll never change. I don’t have what it takes, rather than speaking true things about God. God has placed me where I’m at on purpose. God has a good plan for my life. No matter where I go, I can’t flee from His presence. And No matter where I go, I can’t outrun His goodness. And No matter what I do, I can’t unhinge His providence and good plan for my life. So I think one of the easiest ways that we fight the distractions of feeling like we might get off course and miss it all is deciding that everywhere we’re at is holy and good and God’s here and He’s gone before us and He’ll go after us and He’s going to keep us on course and He’s going to help us out. And even if we make our own stuff or make a wrong turn or make a bad decision, His grace is enough.
“One of the best ways we can fight fear is saying true things about God.” – Jess Connolly
Speaking God’s Truth Over Our Lives
I absolutely believe that spending time in God’s Word is not something we have to do, but it’s absolutely something that we get to do. And I think everything shifts in our hearts and in our minds when we begin to step in to that realization and when we stop seeing reading the Bible as the healthy thing to do or the right thing to do or the wise thing to do, and instead the abundant given to us by a good God who wants to communicate with us and wants us to understand His character. My personal Bible reading practice is I filter through a couple of different books and a couple of different devotionals, and I try to get just in actual God’s word every day, read a little bit of His scripture, not just reading what other people think about scripture. I try to sit in silence and have a little bit of contemplation and listening to Him and try to discern what it is that He’s saying to me. And then I also love to read a few different devotionals, too. I like to flip around to all different ones and get different perspectives on people who see God in different ways.
Here is Jesus Calling February 25th.
REST IN MY PRESENCE, allowing Me to take charge of this day. Do not bold into the day like a racehorse suddenly released. Instead, walk purposefully with Me, letting Me direct your course one step at a time. Thank Me for each blessing along the way; this brings Joy to both you and Me. A grateful heart protects you from negative thinking. Thankfulness enables you to see the abundance I shower upon you daily. Your prayers and petitions are winged into heaven’s throne room when they are permeated with thanksgiving. In everything give thanks, for this is My will for you.
I am praying for our country and praying for our world. I’m praying for God’s peace to be palpable in the midst of so much heartache and pain for so many people. One of my favorite theologians, Charles Spurgeon, says “You don’t always get what you want, but you always get what you expect.” And I have learned that part of the beauty of prayer is that when I pray for certain things, for God to move in certain ways, I begin to look for and see the fruit of those things. And so I’m really praying to see His power and to see His presence and to see His peace manifested in people.
“I have learned that part of the beauty of prayer is that when I pray for certain things, for God to move in certain ways, I begin to look for and see the fruit of those things. And so I’m really praying to see His power and to see His presence and to see His peace manifested in people.” – Jess Connolly
If you’d like to hear more stories about getting unstuck in life, check out our interview with Christian singer and radio personality Jaci Velasquez.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we hear from Julie Carrick, Catholic recording artist, speaker, and author. Julie has spent over nineteen years of her life in ministry and shares how God’s grace is intended for each and every one of us, no matter our differences.
Julie Carrick: If we could come to the basics of truth first, God is God. We belong to him. His word is forever. We just need the basic truth. We are here for a finite number of days and then we go home to the Lord. Or if we do not know Him, we will not spend eternity with Him. We need truth and peace that that brings.