It was in the hidden, intimate soul-wrestling that God laced the foundation of truth and grace with the unique and beautiful giftings of this heart-strong lady. Ruth Chou Simons followed the favor of God in faithful pursuit of how He might use her creative abilities to adorn the gospel and inspire women to discover God’s grace in their everyday lives. GraceLaced Co. is now a globally-recognized ministry leader in art and lifestyle. We are thrilled to share this interview with Founder Ruth. It was first featured in the REDEEM issue of Joyful Life Magazine. We invite you to peer behind the scenes of GraceLaced’s beginnings, the struggles and the triumphs along the way, and gain sage godly wisdom in forging our own Christ-centered paths from this brilliant author, artist, entrepreneur, and speaker.
Our heart-strong interviewees are women in business who have taken the talents, abilities, resources, and unique personalities God has gifted them with and created something beautiful through the work of their hands and dependency upon Him. Be encouraged, inspired, and glean savvy insight for your own creative journey from this leading lady!
And be sure to check out all the handcrafted beauty and inspirational written and painted products offered at GraceLaced.com.
1. Tell us a bit about your family, where you live, what you enjoy doing as a family, and how you love to spend some of your downtime.
Ruth Chou Simons: I’ve been married for almost 22 years to my husband, Troy. We spent the last two decades in Albuquerque, New Mexico where, in a previous season, he was a pastor and church planter. During that time, we were part of founding a classical Christian hybrid school, of which he became Headmaster. This was a springboard for our own family’s homeschooling journey. It was in this 10-year stretch that we had each of our six boys. Those were busy, formative years of our lives, from which God has provided a storehouse of tried and true lessons for us to draw out of in our current ministry.
Our boys now range in age from 7 to 18. And we have since moved to the mountains of Durango, Colorado, about four hours north of our hometown. We value adventure and beauty. So you’ll find us outside most of the time. We’ve spent the last two years transitioning our family and business here, finding a new church, continuing with full-time homeschooling, and perpetually updating our fixer-upper home.
2. What is your salvation story?
Ruth Chou Simons: I was born in Taiwan. Being of Chinese descent, I could have easily had an upbringing rooted in Buddhism. But by the grace of God, my parents had been exposed to the gospel. Our family knew about Jesus in a nominal way, but not personally. If anything, I would say my father was atheist and my mother was more culturally Christian—at least amiable to the idea of Christ.
When I was in elementary school, at the same time my mom was being invited to Bible Study Fellowship, I was invited to Vacation Bible School at a local Baptist church. God used that experience for me as an entry into a relationship with Him. I began asking questions of discovery. But it wasn’t until around eighth grade that I made a true profession of faith. My whole family was baptized and my parents became adorably passionate about the Lord. Everything changed. They gave their lives to full-time ministry and moved our family to California to attend seminary. My father became a pastor later in life. It was an amazing thing to see adults use what they could to serve the Lord with the remainder of their lives
College was a real sanctifying time in my life where I began to understand the gospel in a way I never had prior. I was mentored and discipled in the Word. I understood Romans 8, I understood the Sermon on the Mount. And best of all, I understood just how free God’s grace really is. I finally grasped that the purpose of grace is for me to recognize that I have nothing at all to offer in return. This spiritual growth set me on a course to really live out my salvation.
3. What is your business/organization story? How and when was the idea seed first sown, before sprouting and blooming to what it is today?
Ruth Chou Simons: I think what has made GraceLaced ultimately ‘successful’ to thrive and flourish is that it began—long before it was a public entity that generated income, had approval, and followers—in my own heart as something intimately between me and the Lord. I said, “I am going to discover grace—how the grace of God intersects my actual everyday life.” When you work out in real time things you are struggling with and you write about it, think about it, pray about it, seek the Lord, and don’t require immediate answers, it makes your walk with Him so rich. This wasn’t the time for me to start a business, it was a time to grow.
But the Lord used all of that personal wrestling and made all the lessons I learned in that season fruitful for the season I’m in now. It wasn’t wasted. I started small as a blog, and that blog has been around for about 13 years now. It wasn’t monetized. I wasn’t trying to start a business. I simply wanted to keep a record of the issues and questions I was working out with the Lord in my heart.
4. How did God move in your heart to encourage you to move forward with your dream of building a business? Was there a specific conversation, verse, period of time, etc. that God used to confirm His direction for you?
Ruth Chou Simons: I like to say “Go where God’s favor leads you.” Ultimately the favor of God is that through Christ, God said, you belong, you are worthy, you are welcome. The imputed righteousness of Christ—God’s favor that He put on Christ—was laid upon us. We often like to consider: What are my open and closed doors? What do people like about me? Where is there a hole to fill? Though these may be helpful questions to ask, I believe it is more important to ask “Where am I freed?” Where there is freedom, we are not constantly condemned or fearful. Freedom comes when we know we are doing something unto God’s favor.
Where Am I Freed?
When we understand God has given us everything we need for our identity, we can feel free to walk in this or that. And God then reveals how we can use our giftings to serve others.
Over the years writing blog content, I faithfully wrote as a discipline. An opportunity arose on Facebook for a post to go viral, and I had a few that did. I was asked to do workshops here and there, to speak at events, and started receiving more and more requests and opportunities. But the biggest shift came when Instagram beame a big part of my life. It isn’t for everyone, but it suited me perfectly because it is so visually based. And it forced me to condense what I was writing over on the blog into a bite-sized portion. I wanted people to go read the blog post, so it became a teaser. But it also taught me to summarize and get more specific about my heart.
Serving Others With Your Giftings
In October 2015, I did a 31-day series called “Drawing Close” in which I drew something new each day and wrote about drawing close to the Lord. People on Instagram responded so well to it, I slowly transitioned out of blogging and into what was more micro-blogging on Instagram. Soon a community was being formed that desired it. It wasn’t that I suddenly became something I wasn’t because people liked it, but that there was favor there, and it served people well. God freed my heart to use my giftings to serve others well.
Since I had so many requests to purchase pieces, in November of that year, I took $300 of spending money I had saved and I learned, researched, and discovered how to scan artwork and digitally reproduce them. Through trial and error and doing what I could, I eventually built a relationship with a quality printer. I was in a season of motherhood where my older children were able to help. These things led me to see God’s favor in this direction.
In the first two years, we were slowly growing, but remained faithful to take each step as it came. I took the opportunity to do the next thing, and then the next. When we transitioned into a full time family business, it was such a joy to see how God used all the hidden work. Nothing was wasted. Three years later, I hired my first employee to help and we continued to slowly yet faithfully transition and grow.
I don’t know if we would have continued the business or if it would be what it is now if we hadn’t decided to go full-time as a family. It was a choice partly made for us due to closed-doors, but it was also seeing the Lord’s kindness and favor in opportunities to serve and use our giftings through GraceLaced.
5. How did you decide on the name of your business? Does it have any significant meaning to you?
Ruth Chou Simons: I named my blog “GraceLaced” never knowing it would become an international lifestyle brand, licensed brand, and book. I combined two words together because they represented my literal intent: discovering how God’s grace actually laced through my mundane, unexpected life. My life certainly wasn’t turning out how I expected. I had dreams of things I thought I wanted: to have my art in a gallery, go to the east coast and be represented by an agent, or maybe travel the world and be a missionary and make a difference. But I had to learn the importance of the gospel in my everyday life. It doesn’t just matter when you are in your ideal life. It matters in the life God gives you in each and every season. “GraceLaced” is still my heartbeat today.
6. Tell us a bit about your company culture and how you’ve been intentional to create the atmosphere that you have built.
Ruth Chou Simons: It’s easy to show up at work together, have a cup of coffee, celebrate each other, and build those face-to-face friendships. But our small team of five women work remotely from each other. We have to be so much more intentional about not just being focused on accomplishing the to-dos. While it might appear efficient, just getting things done is not a recipe for building into a culture or creating loyalty in relationships.
Something I’ve found really helpful and important for my team is to constantly revisit our mission and our values. It’s akin to gathering in the same room and experiencing that vibe. We have to speak things aloud to one another that might come more naturally if we worked in-person. So we find ways to call out the good happening, and speak about the impact of each individual role, not just those most visible. Our core values and mission were created in collaboration and remain a helpful filter in creating new products and discerning the best course for business decisions.
On a logistical side, we use programs like Slack and Asana, and find ways to have communication on Voxer so we hear each other’s voices.
We start every Monday morning with a devotional and a time to share. As an employer, I remind myself again and again how valuable it is to pay for time that is just about catching up. It is the time we get to know one another, hear what is going on in our daily lives, and learn how we can best pray for each other.
I make every effort to share openly what I learn. I want the same person that they see publicly online to be the one they experience behind the scenes at events and in the throes of our worklife. So I make time to connect with each of them personally and ensure they hear from my heart.
7. How would your employees describe your leadership style? And please share a little bit of the why behind their perspective.
Ruth Chou Simons: I believe my team would describe me as a two-part leader. I am very vulnerable with them. And I am open about my life, my fears, my struggles, and business happenings. I desire to bring them along in the most honest and transparent way possible so that even when we’re meeting on a screen, they don’t feel like they just serve a role in my life but are part of an invested team.
Secondly, I believe wholeheartedly that clarity is kindness. So I say hard things. I am genuine and vulnerable, yes, but am also pretty demanding. I hold the standard very high for all of us. We keep each other accountable, speak very kindly, but are intentional about being really clear and honest.
It is a difficult leadership balance to be both the genuine accessible sister in Christ, but also be clear about criticism, requests, and standards unafraid. I like to say things like, “I am putting my boss hat on” or, “I am putting my friend hat on” so my team is sure of my intent.
8. What do you feel has been a significant factor that has led to the success of your business?
Ruth Chou Simons: I firmly believe that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. This motto has really taken center stage in the last year or two when GraceLaced had the opportunity to really ‘go big’. Major distribution, larger general market, trade shows, and heavier licensing. As the head of our company, I made a very difficult and conscious decision to decline that specific type of growth—one that would require us to double our team, acquire partners and reps, etc.—even if from an outside perspective it was something we ‘should’ do as a natural next step. But I believe you can’t grow everything at the same time. It always goes back to stewardship. And I have to make sure my content is solid and that GraceLaced stays out of financial risk. It was also important to me to keep it private, without the need for investors.
In this Covid-19 season, I know we are not in financial danger because we made that challenging decision not to go big. We don’t have to grow and scale at the pace others think you need to. When you see quality from a business, remember it comes at a cost—either having so many people they can ensure it, or giving up something to maintain it in what’s produced. We sacrifice other ways to potentially grow. But in doing so we are doing what we can do really well.
9. What is your best advice for women wanting to begin their own business, organization, or cause?
Ruth Chou Simons: My best advice—and I can’t think of a situation where this wouldn’t be applicable—is before you take a class online about how to do the thing you want to do; before you find an icon to try to mimic or pattern yourself after, find someone in your real, everyday life to serve with your gifting. So many times before it became a public thing, I painted custom pieces as gifts or for commission. I began by serving people in my immediate life who I care about and who care about me.
Whether you’re a musician or artist or want to begin a non-profit to feed the hungry, think about how you are using that desire right where you are before you have funding, before you have popularity, and before you have people believing in you. How are you already using the passion and calling and burden that is on your heart to serve? Because if you only step into using that once you have the 8-week course training, the kickstarter campaign, and a follower base, then you aren’t likely to last long term because your original ‘why’ is based on other people supporting you.
What is Your Purpose?
If, instead, your initial mindset is that everything you’ve been given is to serve others while you’re on earth, then it really doesn’t matter how big you become or how great you are. Your purpose is the same. If you want to start a cooking show, serve dinner to your neighbor. And if you want to write Bible Studies, gather three women from your church and start teaching every Thursday morning. Because if it isn’t good enough for a few people in your path right now, why would it be for 3,000 strangers?
Start small, right where you are. Then document what you are doing, be mindful of the work you care about, and you’ll end up with content that can be shared with others.
Finally, the best way you can pursue a dream or be creative is out of the overflow of being freed to know that your true worth is in Christ. If you can’t start there, then every creative effort will be out of hustle and the fear that you aren’t enough.
10. What is one thing you believe women struggle with today inhibiting them from utilizing the abilities God has given them to forge a unique path — and what is your advice to equip them for the battle?
Ruth Chou Simons: I am convinced that women do not use their giftings because comparison has caused them to think that it has to look a certain way to be successful. I think women are getting overwhelmed before they even start. They are fearful to step out and feel they have to be the best at something or it’s not worth doing.
It serves you so well to start with a reckoning of who you are in Christ and that everything you need has actually been given to you through Jesus. If you build upon that foundation, then it is out of freedom, rather than trying to earn something, that you’re able to find your place in the world.
11. In what way is the Lord growing and stretching you through the daily work of your hands in your current season?
Ruth Chou Simons: This season in our world and culture has no doubt revealed the things we lean on. Either as distractions or as crutches or as ways to keep yourself motivated. And a lot of those things have been removed. For me, it has been particularly difficult in this season because I typically speak to thousands of women every month. I travel, share my heart and products, and have the opportunity to meet people face-to-face. While in my mind, I’ve known I don’t need that, losing it for a time has made me realize how hard it is to stay motivated—to keep creating, speaking, producing—when I don’t have the immediate gratification of being able to hug people, hear that my words mean something, sign books, see products purchased off the table, and travel with my team.
In the long term, that distance becomes debilitating. It feels weary and discouraging. While so much of what we do is online, I really rely on personal connection to keep me motivated. I’ve had to push myself not to withdraw, and to go back to my ‘why’ of using my gifting to serve others. Left to myself, I won’t want to show up, do another online call or conference. But I have to determine how to pivot because the mission must remain the same.
12. How do you define success?
Ruth Chou Simons: I’m not the first to say this, but the older I get the more I’m convinced that faithfulness is success. You can feel a deep peaceful sense of success whether you hit a certain income bracket or earn a certain award. You can feel a deep sense of success about a book you’ve written, even if it hasn’t hit the New York Times bestseller list. But you could hit an income bracket, win an award, or hit the bestseller list and not feel successful.
There is a version of success—what many would say it should look like on the outside. But I dare say the true version is a success that is much more easily attainable than we all think. Because it is something that happens when you feel a deep sense of peace about how you are living and using your life. It comes from knowing you are being faithful with what you’ve been given.
There is no formula for this. But if you know you squandered your day scrolling and comparing yourself on social media, then you probably weren’t faithful with your time and that isn’t successful. Your daily accomplishments don’t need to be impressive, simply faithful. If at the end of the day you can say, “Even though I didn’t get everything done on my to-do list, I used my day well.” Then I think you’ll feel a greater sense of success. Likewise, if we can get to the end of our lives having stewarded what we were given well in order to bring glory back to God, our lives will have ‘success’ written all over them.
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