Ruth Chou Simons has long been one of my heroes both as a Christian and as an artist. She is the founder of Gracelaced; wife to Troy Simons; mother of six remarkable boys; author and artist; business owner and speaker; and an inspiration to thousands on and off Instagram. Her newest book – Beholding and Becoming is a work of art and a call to worship in our everyday lives. Ruth’s work, message, and life is lived out with a remarkable consistency. If you are yet unfamiliar with with Ruth, I commend her to you and hope you find as much delight in her work as I have. And if you already know her work, enjoy this sweet glimpse of her new offering. She is a kindred spirit to Cultivators!
Still places in stormy seas
LES: Your newest book, Beholding and Becoming, came out September 10 this year. It took more than two years to complete and features 850 individual elements of your artwork. Looking at these beautiful pages, it is apparent how great the effort must have been to create it. But while you were creating the artwork and writing the message for Beholding and Becoming, you were also maintaining a marriage, raising 6 boys, traveling for speaking engagements – including out of the country, running a business, remodeling a house, getting settled into a new community, and facing difficult family struggles. How in the world do you focus inwardly to create such beauty and voice such a clear message in the midst of all that is spinning around you?
RCS: That’s a great question and the very reason why I chose this topic of fixing our gaze on Christ in the chaos and mundane of our ordinary lives. Focusing on who is worthy and what is true and eternal requires daily realignment —a constant preaching to ourselves and realignment of our hearts to the truth of God’s Word.
I’m grateful that the context in which I wrote and painted this book was difficult —that reality made it an honest exploration as I wrote. You won’t find lessons I learned on a mountaintop, but rather in the trenches of a messy, in-progress life.
LES: One of my very favourite verses in Scripture is Psalm 75.1 in the Amplified translation. It says,
“We give praise and thanks to You, O God, we praise and give thanks; Your wondrous works declare that Your Name is near and they who invoke Your Name rehearse Your wonders.”
Rehearsing truth could be considered your theme message and your daily life bearing that out. Why do we have to rehearse truth? Why isn’t hearing it enough? Is invoking His name a way of beholding?
RCS: Rehearsing the truth to ourselves is to take what we know with our minds, and preaching it back to ourselves like the Psalmist did —often telling his soul what to do (hope in God! remember His faithfulness!) — because we so easily forget. We don’t rehearse self-help or self-reliant mumbo jumbo; we rehearse the timeless truths of God’s Word, found in the Bible, seen in creation, heard through teaching, felt through a relationship with Christ and His body, the Church.
Dreams planted, not lost
LES: Ruth, your story captivates me. You are a skilled artist who didn’t pick up your paint brush for nearly 12 years. Instead, you served in “ordinary” ways of raising children, planting a church, launching a school, and weathering life. For more than a decade your gifts as an artist and writer, lay “dormant” and seemed sidelined, while you tended to other important but seemingly ordinary matters. Then something changed in your life, the season shifted and something new emerged. What happened during those fallow years that prepared you for the whirlwind of creative work that you have been doing since?
RCS: I set aside my paintbrush during that decade and a half of mothering and local ministry. It’s not that I wasn’t creative —I sometimes sewed, sometimes painted, sometimes baked, sometimes gardened— but I didn’t have the time or the capacity to pursue the things I may have wanted to do with my artistic skills in the way I expected in that season. In 2013, I participated in a 30 day blogging challenge since I was a consistent blogger at the time, and decided to combine drawing and painting to my daily posts on social media and the blog. The timing was right and the public posting of my work was an overflow of what I was growing in and creating for personal development. There wasn’t an initial motivation to begin a business though I’d always dreamt of doing so. Soon after, I gingerly stepped into making reproductions of my art available, and a few years later, as seasons changed, I was able to grow the business and write my first book.
The fruit of letting go
LES: Where has letting go in your life borne fruit for you? Have you ever looked back after releasing something – a place, a piece of work, a time in your life, a relationship – and regretted letting go of it? Are there practices that have helped you to let go more easily when you have had to?
RCS: That’s a tough one. I think the most impactful has been letting go of perfection in exchange for practice and process!
The one that smiles back
LES: As a photographer, when I am editing a section of my work there are always some images that I simply like better than others. However, occasionally there are a few that seem to not have been made by me at all but for me, almost like they passed through me to turn around and smile back at me. Looking at the mass of your work, do you have particular pieces that smile back at you, or sections of Beholding and Becoming that you especially love personally?
RCS: I think some of the paintings toward the end of the book that reflect my Asian heritage (koi, cranes, peonies) carry some sentimentality for me!
Power of cultivating
LES: Everything you teach somehow all ties back to rehearsing truth. Rehearsing truth begins with making choices about what to hold on to and what to let go of. Another way of saying this is choosing what we cultivate. Cultivating as a practice begins with choosing what we will plant, nurture, guard, and defend. We reap out of what we cultivate and out of that bounty we share with others. Choice and practice are elemental to living well and this is so deeply tied to beholding and to becoming. We choose what and whom we behold. In the beholding, we are also choosing what and whom we become. You’ve said this so beautifully.
“Our gaze shapes our affections, and our affections shape our worship, and our worship shapes who we become.”
In the day-to-day processes of our ordinary lives how do we shift the focus of our mind’s eye and our heart to gaze on the face and character of God with us? What does it mean to gaze on the invisible I AM? How can we lean into Him to keep our focus steady when our hearts are so very prone to wander?
RCS: The very fact that God welcomes each day with a sunrise, and ends each day with colors across the sky, shows me that He wants our attention, our awareness, our longings to aim Christ-ward throughout the day. We don’t get saved to simply experience our Savior in eternity, we get to have rescue, redemption, and realignment right now.
He is pursuing us this very day, and invites our hearts and minds to worship Him as we face daily challenges and obstacles. The more we meet Him in His word, the more we know how to look for, and to Him, in the everyday of life —changing our affection and worship from self to Him who is worthy.
Practice what you have learned & received and heard & seen in me – model your way of living on it, and the God of peace (of ) untroubled, undisturbed well-being) will be with you.
~ Philippians 4.9
- What are the truths you already know well and carry out in your life now? How are you practicing(rehearsing) what you already know and believe?
- What areas do you recognise where you rehearse something different than what you believe to be true? Fear, worry, despair, entitlement instead of gratitude, overwork instead of Sabbath?
- How might you emulate something that you see and admire in Ruth? In the life that you are given, how might you do that in a way that gives glory to God?
The featured image of Ruth at her work table and media images of her artwork are (c) GraceLaced and used kind with permission. The images of Ruth’s hands signing Beholding and Becoming, of Ruth standing, and of the Triptych are (c) Lancia E. Smith and are used with permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Along with Beholding and Becoming, Ruth has created two beautiful companion books to keep company in our reading. One of these lovely books is the Beholding and Becoming Guided Companion and one is Ruth’s marvelous Gracelaced 2020 Planner. I have all of three of these books, and can personally attest that they are as beautifully made as they are designed and are a delight to hold.
Many blessings and every grace to you, friend!
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is the Founder & Executive Director of Cultivating & The Cultivating Project. She has served in executive management, church leadership, boards, and Art & Faith organizations over 30 years. She & her husband Peter have parented 7 children, & have a flock of beloved grandchildren. Lancia loves garden and website design, beautiful typography, road trips, being read aloud to by Peter, & cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.