Dream To Reality

Photo by Emily Hooten of the first "Give Me Jesus" Journal

The journey the Lord God takes us on is often unpredictable.

I know from my own experience that He takes our small dreams and rewrites them to be something better. In the process of dreaming, planning, praying, and seeking Him for direction, something beautiful and unexpected happens…He changes us. Life is not about the accomplishment of our dreams, the success attributed to our names, or the fleeting fame we may receive for but a moment. Life is about knowing Jesus and becoming like HIm. In God’s goodness, He often uses dreams to accomplish that. 

Pursuing the dream of starting a ministry has been, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever done. It has proven to be far more soul-scrubbing and life-changing than I could have ever imagined! It has also been far more rewarding and soul-satisfying than I could have dreamed as well. The ways of God are so unlike ours. They are grander and greater than our finite minds can comprehend. In looking back at my journey, I can see a thread of faithfulness the Lord has woven throughout every circumstance, setback, failure, and idea. There is not a moment that catches Him by surprise. 

One thing I have learned in owning a small business and ministry is that God delights in using the least likely candidates to make much of His great name, of which I am one of them.

As I reflect on the journey of Life Lived Beautifully, I pray you will join me in remembering all that God has done in your life. Let it be a reminder to you today that He has always been, He is, and He will be faithful. 


January of 2013 caught me by surprise. I was on an airplane heading home from my honeymoon with my husband. We had just spent two weeks of newlywed bliss exploring the islands of Maui and Kaui and still had stars in our eyes. After several layovers, we landed in the Atlanta airport with just one flight left to get us back to Nashville. I turned on my phone to check any notifications and immediately saw a text from my dad informing us that mom was in the ER. A whirlwind of worry and shock snapped me out of my dream back into reality. My precious momma had been feeling something was wrong with her body the months leading up to this. After our wedding, she noticed a numbness in her legs and didn't feel right. While we were on our honeymoon, she lost vision in her left eye and within 48 hours could no longer walk. They waited to tell us the news until we were on our way home from our honeymoon.

Needless to say, Greg and I experienced trials early on in our marriage that stretched us and deepened our love for each other and reliance on the Lord. We were preparing to move that February and were finishing up our current roles at our jobs. During this season, I traveled back and forth to take care of my momma who had been diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease. Knowing we were about to move, we decided I should wait to find a job at our next home so I could have the flexibility to help my parents whenever needed. The first six months of our marriage were numbing and beautiful at the same time. So many changes caused me to have to remember my identity is in Christ. My name changed, my home changed, my job changed, and my family changed. My heart was struck by fear and anxiety in ways it had never known. What would happen to my momma? What was I to do in this new city? What was God calling me to do for His name? 

Greg and I prayed. He challenged me to dream and ask the Lord what the next step would be. In those months of brokenness, the Lord began to redefine the dreams He had placed on my heart years prior. I had always longed to be in a creative job where I could blend fashion, art, and ministry. Prior to this season, I had worked in fashion and ministry separately, but never had the two been combined. The Lord kept nudging our hearts that this was the direction I was to go. However, I was clueless as to how I was to get there. I spent a day writing down all the dreams the Lord had placed on my heart...every one of them, no matter how small, how big, and how impossible they seemed to be. As I wrote them down, I scribbled “I want to live life beautifully for the glory of God” in my journal. These words were the direction I needed.

This was the first seed God planted in my heart—the name of the ministry He would have me start.

The first logo for Life Lived Beautifully that was hand-painted. 

The first logo for Life Lived Beautifully that was hand-painted. 

Creativity was woven into the fabric of my being by the Lord. My heart is set on fire by color, dreams, impossibilities, and design. I decided it was time to put my fashion major to use and began a business called “Life Lived Beautifully,” with the purpose of making necklaces, jewelry, and clothing that supported missions. I scrounged around my craft drawers to find anything I could make since I didn't have any start-up money. Pieces of fabric, vintage buttons, pendants, old keys I had found at garage sales, maps, and my grandmother’s sewing machine made up the materials I had to start creating products for Life Lived Beautifully. I began to think of everything I could make out of what I had. The first products I ever sold were hand-stamped key necklaces, hand-made headbands, and skirts and scarves I designed. I worked out of the second bedroom of our tiny apartment (aka-our storage room/my husband's closet/my husband's work space as well that is pictured below as well as some pictures of the first products I sold).

The first launch of Life Lived Beautifully was in May of 2013. I’ll never forget clicking to open up a shop on Etsy. I had no idea what I was doing, but I had the support of my husband who loves to figure out how to make dreams happen. The moment I received the first email that I had a sale my stomach was tied up in knots and rejoicing at the same time. How do I even ship a necklace? Thus began the journey of Life Lived Beautifully, full of questions, mistakes, lessons, googling for answers, reaching out to those who had gone before me for help, and doing my creative best with what God had given me. 

I was officially a shop owner. 

The first craft show I initially deemed as a failure and the Lord used to redefine what I termed as "success."

The first craft show I initially deemed as a failure and the Lord used to redefine what I termed as "success."

Craft shows were my next step. I researched what shows were located in our area and excitedly found one not far from us. A friend went in with me to buy a booth and sell some of her creations as well! I worked tirelessly making products and decorations for our booth. It was in June when the sun was relentless and the heat exhausting. I remember looking around at the other vendors and noticing that none of them were selling hand-made items. To make matters worse, when the crowd showed up, almost everyone walked by my booth without giving it a second glance. These were not my customers. But I had two days of sitting in the sun, sweating and waiting for it to be over. I barely made back my booth fee and left the festival with a heavy heart and bins full of merchandise. It felt like a complete failure. 

I inched up to the cross in my desperation. Was I doing what God had called me to do? If so, why would He let me be embarrassed? Why would He allow me to “fail"? This began the soul-scrubbing journey of owning a small business. The Lord used this as an opportunity to redefine what I viewed as “success.” Was success money, followers, sales, or affirmation? No. I began to learn that success in God’s eyes is obedience. Obedience doesn’t always mean money, sales, or followers.

Obedience means taking up my cross each day and following Jesus, no matter the cost.

I kept going and kept creating, knowing that even if my sales were lacking, I was doing what God was calling me to do. 

The second Life Lived Beautifully logo. Our branding has slowly changed as God has changed the vision of LLB.

The second Life Lived Beautifully logo. Our branding has slowly changed as God has changed the vision of LLB.

The next six months of business could be described in one word: striving. In many ways, I felt like I was chasing after the wind. Instagram became my friend and my worst enemy. I found so many creative shop owners on it, but also found myself feeling less than as I compared myself to them. I noticed my dreams were slowly morphing into theirs and the things I saw were being done that were “successful.” I tried everything. Making handbags, painting signs, stamping jewelry, creating recipe holders, if you can name it I probably tried to make it. But at the end of the day, I was striving. I was chasing the dreams of others and not the wild ones God had placed on my heart. I was trying to fit into a mold I wasn’t created to be in. I debated quitting several times. After all, I was barely bringing in any money and the money I brought in went to try creating a new product. Hobby Lobby should have placed my picture on their wall I went there so many times!

The striving was exhausting and I knew something had to change. That fall, a friend of mine was admitted to the hospital with a rare illness. We weren’t sure if she was going to make it, and I remember pulling out my paintbrushes that hadn’t been used for years. Fear had kept me from painting again. However, in this desperate moment, I had to worship in the way I was created to, so I painted. The words that came to my heart were “Jesus only Jesus.” I prayed and worshiped with each brushstroke and in the end I shared what God was teaching me on social media. For the first time, I felt like I was me again. I was doing what God created me to do. I kept painting, kept practicing, and kept praying for direction.

Some of the first stationery I sold in the shop.

Some of the first stationery I sold in the shop.

My heart began to feel that spark in it as God watered the seed He sowed into my soul. I began the next part of my journey in owning a small business and started creating art prints and stationery. Again, I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t know how to make artwork into printable files and I didn’t know how to sell them. I asked for help and God provided me with people to teach me and help me. Looking back, I can see how the Lord was continually redefining and reshaping the dreams He had placed on my heart. They were no longer about me, they were about Him. Creating these first art prints was just the beginning. 

That March, I felt a striving in my soul again, however this time the striving was different. It was more like a calling, like an itch I couldn’t scratch. My heart felt discouraged again and longed for more than I was doing. The ache to be in ministry was very real and it propelled me to action. I was in a dry season spiritually and couldn’t see what the next step was. I opened my journal and tried to write out my heart, but the words were not there. Opening up my Bible in this season was hard. I felt like there was a brick wall keeping me from hearing the Lord and I needed His help to tear it down. As I prayed, the Lord planted a new seed in my heart. This seed was to create a quiet time journal that I could use to spend time with Him each day. I knew if I longed for this, other women probably did, too!

The very first "Give Me Jesus" journal ever created!

The very first "Give Me Jesus" journal ever created!

And so I began a new journey. A beautiful one. A hard one. A soul scrubbing one.

The journey of making a journal has changed me more than I would have ever imagined. (Read more about how I created the first journal here.) When I placed the order for the first "Give Me Jesus" Journals I used all the money I had saved up from my Etsy business. I feared failure again, but the Lord had already been working on my heart since that first craft show I went to that felt less than successful. Success isn't money or followers or sales. Success, in God's eyes, is obedience. I knew God was calling me to do this, therefore, I couldn't fail in His kingdom.

The first set of journals sold out in one hour. I never could have dreamed that this would be the start of the ministry the Lord had planted in my heart years prior. Dreaming is messy. It is heart-changing and soul-remaking. And yet, God is so gracious to use us. He uses the least likely to accomplish His purposes. All He needs is open hands, a moldable heart, and knees that are willing to get bruised by getting low. The lower we get, the better we can see how great the Lord is.

Making a dream into a reality isn't about accomplishing something on your bucket list, it is about knowing Christ, making Him known, and becoming more like Him. 

Our newest branding created by Lauren Hooker from Elle & Company. 

Our newest branding created by Lauren Hooker from Elle & Company. 

Since the launch of the first journal, the Lord has shaped Life Lived Beautifully to be a ministry that provides tools for women to study the Bible. This is what God had been preparing me for all along. This is what sets my heart on fire every single day.  Before we create anything, we step back and ask ourselves "how will this help make disciples?" The dream has changed into a reality, simply because the Lord called us to be obedient to the Great Commission. When we follow Jesus, being willing to let go of all we hold dear to our hearts and taking up our cross daily to follow Him, He becomes the greatest Treasure we could ever seek.

The journey of Life Lived Beautifully has been messy and beautiful, and I continue to expect the Lord to bring more changes as He shapes the mission and broadens the vision. But through it all, in every step, I can say with full confidence, this is about Him. I create for Him. I dream for Him. I share for Him. And in the midst of it all, He does something beautifully. This is life lived beautifully, and I pray through it that we can come alongside women across the world to encourage and equip you to know Jesus, make Him known, and become more like Him.

If you have a dream, that tiny seed God has sown into your heart, don't give up, and don't hold it too closely. Lay it at the cross and let Him reshape it. Look to Christ for encouragement, for joy, and for direction. Trust me, the process will be messy, but it will be beautiful and worth it. 

The new journals launch tomorrow in the LLB shop along with a new Bible study and two new mugs! 

The new journals launch tomorrow in the LLB shop along with a new Bible study and two new mugs! 

on this journey with you,

Gretchen