Renewed Sense of Purpose

It’s been ten years since I first took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. For the first time, I felt like I knew how to handle budgeting (I used to think it was inhibiting, when it’s actually incredibly freeing) and how to tackle debt. I met Brennan a few months later and eventually taught him what I had learned.

When we got married, we both brought debt (student loan and other debt) into the marriage. Our total amount of debt was $106,929.39. Staggering. Crippling debt. But, we followed Dave’s plan (with a few detours) and committed to knocking that out as quickly as possible.

We bought our first home six years ago because we saw the profit potential and knew it would be a way to become debt-free even faster. And it worked.

In our first six years of marriage we paid off $85,000 and were down to only my student loan. But then we became lazy and, when tempted to take out a large construction loan to remodel our new home, we gave in impulsively to have the instant gratification. While not in debt to the extent we were when we first got married, it’s debt, regardless, and it has been difficult mentally to get over our mistake.

Our new church announced that they were offering the class beginning in January, so we decided that it was time to take it together and get back on track. We have continuously budgeted our entire marriage but it’s time to start the “debt snowball” once more.

Now that we have children in our home again, we’ve realized that THEY are our motivation and purpose. We never want to have to tell them they can’t participate in something because we don’t have the money if debt is the reason. 

Our goal is to be debt-free by the time they turn five. That is fifty months from now.

We have a plan. We’ve tightened up our budget as much as possible – which led us to realize that we surprisingly don’t have a spending problem, but rather an income problem (in terms of having extra to be aggressive with debt payoff). We weren’t sure what to do, but we prayed for opportunities to earn extra money that could be applied directly to our debt.

And, as always, God is faithful to His children.

I was presented with the opportunity for a new part-time job that will not only bring in some extra income but also help us cut our food budget and simplify meal planning (and give me a much-needed break a couple of nights each week).

And then, on Friday, I was offered a promotion at my other part-time job that not only pays more but it’s a lot more responsibility (being the manager on duty – MOD). Not only was this an answer to my prayer, but I was an answer to their “prayers” because it’s only 1-2 weekend days a month and they didn’t know how they would find someone willing to work so few hours. Then they remembered me, my qualifications, and how I’m currently only working there 1-2 times per month, and they said it was the perfect solution all-around. God’s hand is clearly in this. 

This all happened in the last three weeks and we’re still in awe. 

We didn’t pray that God would just hand us money (though we wouldn’t say no 😉 ) – we prayed for opportunities to EARN it, and He came through quickly and amazingly!

I share all of this as an encouragement. ANYONE can do what we’re doing. EVERYONE can become debt-free even though it requires dedication, sacrifice, and hard work. As Dave says, “Live like no one else so that later you can live and give like no one else.”

We are “gazelle intense” and ready to pay off my student loans and this construction loan as soon as we possibly can. The future of our children is worth the sacrifices we make now.

How Jon Acuff impacted my life in ways I didn’t expect

Today is the five year anniversary of a conference that changed my life unexpectedly.

The five-year mark has made me feel reflective, and it has made me realize how much of an impact the conference – and the author who started it – truly had on my life. Looking back, I see that God definitely aligned the timing of his books and teachings with what was going on my life.

At some point years ago, I discovered a blog and a book called “Stuff Christians Like” and I thought it was hilarious. I started following Jon Acuff and his writing.

A couple of years later, Brennan and I read Quitter and then attended the Quitter Conference in Nashville (2012). At that point, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or what my dream was, but I now had some tools to help me figure it out. I knew whatever that dream was, I wasn’t doing it.

Then came the infamous email five years ago (2013) asking for adventurers that led to the Start Experiment and the amazing community that developed there.

The experiment offered practical steps over the course of a few weeks to finding and implementing your dream (this accompanied the book Start). I started by working on self-discipline as I pondered what my dream really was. I blogged about the experience along the way.

Eventually, I figured part of it out, mostly thanks to The Start Conference – which was five years ago today:

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Telling the stories that need to be told. It made sense! I love photography and telling stories with it, along with writing, so it felt like a great fit! I wanted to make an impact by telling stories through images. I started a website about things to do in our city and hoped to get a start on that dream right where I was. But, that wasn’t truly satisfying me and I eventually let that project go.

Little did I know then but the story that needed to be told would be my own daughter’s. 


Not long after the conference, his wife, Jenny, wrote about being a mom and that post resonated with me in powerful ways.

I refuse to believe that being a mom
isn’t a “big enough dream.”

– Jenny Acuff

Motherhood is a role that uses all of my strengths and talents perfectly! I began to realize that becoming a mother wouldn’t be wasting or throwing away my passions and talents – it would be the best possible use of them.

The next month we found out we were expecting, and Tori was born the following July! I was so happy in my new role, so content.

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And then, Krabbe. Finding out that our six-month old daughter was dying and that we shouldn’t have more children was devastating on so many levels. And then when she went to Heaven, I was left wondering “what now?” What was I supposed to do?

Despite the potentially isolating situation in which we found ourselves, we never felt alone, and that was largely due to the community Jon created. Between notes, gifts, and visits from so many – including the large number at her Celebration of Life from several states! – we felt so loved and supported from so many “online friends.”

After she went to Heaven, Jon’s book Do Over was released and it came at the perfect time – since I was no longer technically a “mom” in terms of employment, what was I supposed to do? I revisited my dream of telling stories and (after being encouraged by an editor) I decided to start writing a book about our journey with Tori. Amazingly enough, even that project has roots in the Start Conference because I had attended the Writer’s Workshop, even though I had no intention of becoming an author at that point. I wrote and edited for about a year before finding a publisher (one mentioned at the conference, as well).

And finally, his book, Finish, was released, which helped me see the benefit of pursuing what I had started and finishing it. And I did. My book, Even So, Joy was published in January 2018. Tori’s story was told, and I can’t imagine anything greater. My initial dream was fulfilled in a way I never could have predicted, and I hope that I can continue to fulfill it in different ways throughout my life.

Best of all, I became a mother again in April, therefore bringing me back to my ultimate dream and purpose. ❤

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I am so thankful for how God has used all of this to shape me and to guide me through the past five years. And I’m thankful for Jon Acuff and how he has used his life experiences to mentor others so generously. It’s been an incredible journey!

A New Adventure 

If you had told me six months ago that I would be embarking on a new business venture in 2017 that involved clothing, I would have laughed. Hard. 

And yet, here I am, waiting excitedly to get the onboarding call from LuLaRoe along with my friend and business partner, Jenn! 

I discovered LuLaRoe in November when my friend, Emily, sent me a photo of giraffe leggings. I was intrigued and that’s where it all started. 

I don’t necessarily care about fashion, but I definitely care about comfort, and that’s my favorite thing about LuLaRoe. I can be comfortable AND stylish! 


I will be posting more as time goes on about why I love LuLaRoe, but I wanted to share our group link here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/378132492585320/

Jenn and I are doing this for our own specific reasons, but mine (and Brennan’s) is this: we want to be parents again and we know that selling LuLaRoe (and encouraging others along the way) is one way to make that happen. ❤

What Might Have Been

I try not to think about what might have been, cause that was then…

We can’t go back again, there’s no use giving in, and there’s no way to know what might have been.

– Little Texas

It’s so easy to let our minds run away from us and to ponder what might have been instead of what actually is. 

If we aren’t careful, we can make ourselves incredibly sad on days like today – when our Tori would have turned two – instead of celebrating instead that she is healed and with Jesus. 

We could focus on all that she might be doing as a two year old here on earth, or we can imagine her healed, whole, healthy body running around in Heaven where we will see her again (soon, but not quite yet, as Jim Kelly said yesterday).

Brennan and I have learned that you must take control of your thoughts in times like this – not that you can’t grieve, of course, but to not force yourself into sadness simply because you are wondering about what may have been. It doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t benefit you in any way, and it doesn’t bring joy. In fact, it steals joy. 


It’s a choice, just as joy is. You can choose to have a great day or a miserable day based on how you control your thoughts.

So, today, on Tori’s birthday, we are remembering the great times we had with her. We are thinking about what actually happened instead of what could have happened if she had been healthy. 

And our joy is REAL. It is genuine. It is God-given.

We take such joy in knowing that she is running around with Jesus. She breathes normally, her nerves don’t cause pain, and her body is whole. And that is the best possible gift we could receive today ❤️

Thank you, Jesus, for Your peace and joy, and thank you for making us Tori’s parents.

Tearing Down a Wall (Literally)

Brennan and I purchased our first home a little over three years ago. It was built in 1954, has plenty of space (1,800 sq. ft spread out on three floors), and lots of charm.

  
It was bank-owned when we bought it and needed a great deal of cosmetic work.

Thanks to family and friends with construction experience we have managed to complete most of the necessary work in our home without having to hire contractors (we did hire one for our two full bathrooms).

One of the projects we always had in mind was to remove the unnecessary wall between the living room and kitchen. It was always in the back of our mind as a “something nice to do someday if we can afford it” project. 

But, what started as a want has truly become a need as Tori’s reliance on her (massive) medical and adaptive equipment has increased.

Here is what it looks like now (real life photo, not staged, as evidenced by the stuff everywhere 😉):

  

Some of the difficulties this wall has presented in our daily lives and care of Tori are these: 

  1. Tori’s equipment cannot fit through the narrow doorway so she is confined to the small living room.
  2. If I am trying to cook, prepare her bottles, or do anything in the kitchen, it is very difficult to get to her quickly when she needs immediate care.
  3. I cannot see her when I am in the kitchen at all, so I rarely go in there when I am by myself with Tori (i.e. meals don’t always happen).
  4. We cannot eat meals as a family at our dining room table because Tori’s stander (or stroller) cannot easily fit through the doorways.

   

Recently a friend of ours with construction experience asked if we had any side jobs we needed to have done and we presented him with a list of everything we could think of that has remained unfinished because of Tori’s illness. 

We only have a small amount of money saved up for house projects so we told him he could do whatever would fit in that budget (not much).

I began thinking about the wall coming down on Friday morning and talked it over with Brennan and our friend. We decided it needed to be our greatest priority, even if it became the only project on our list.

Since we are going to California this month we asked our friend if he could possibly do it while we are gone (to keep Tori out of the dust), and he said yes.

Brennan and I took a leap of faith and set up a GoFundMe page to hopefully raise the $1,500 estimated cost to remove the wall, move the duct work and electrical components, build a support column, and figure out a solution for the floor that would now be exposed where the wall used to be.

We had never before asked for donations for anything so we weren’t sure how well our campaign would do.

Within three hours over $1,500 had been raised! Praise the Lord! 

So, we talked about it and raised the goal to $2,500 which would allow us to also completely replace the kitchen flooring so that it will match the living room floor in height and color (currently it is higher than the living room which also presents issues for her equipment on wheels).

Last we checked over $2,000 had been generously donated! 

We still can’t believe that we are going to come home from California to an open living room and kitchen…a space that will be so much better for Tori in so many ways!

We can’t wait to eat dinner at our dining room table as a family, to cook with Tori by my side, and to overall provide a better space to care for her needs.

Thank you all for your support and contributions – we will keep you posted on the progress! ❤️

Dreams of Healing, Part Seven

Whenever people message us to share dreams they have of Tori being healthy and healed, we save and compile them into blog posts because they are so interesting to us and give us hope. 

You can read all the dream posts here.

We were talking and Tori stood up by herself and then crawled away. I was amazed and said “look what she is doing!” But, you nonchalantly said she did it all the time.

I was carrying Tori flat across my arm. We were walking to a picnic table. Tori didn’t want to lay flat anymore and started to squirm. I put her down and she took off! Running toward the table. And she was FAST! I couldn’t catch her!

We got to the table and sat with a bunch of people. Tori sat up on my knee and messed with stuff on the table. Then she sat with my boyfriend when she got bored of me. It was all so normal, smiling and happy. Then she got back into my arms layed down and fell right asleep. All that running and playing tired her out since she wasn’t used to it. That’s when i woke up. It was so nice to see her play like nothing was different.

I dreamed that we were at church and Tori was sitting on your lap moving her arms all around and moving her head too!

I had a dream about Tori last night. Lesa was going to a women’s conference in the area and she needed someone to watch Tori, so I volunteered.

At first Tori was still sick, but I remember thinking how cute she was in real life (not just in pictures on FB). About an hour in I decided to take some selfies of us together. As soon as I took my phone out and held it up Tori said “screen” and smiled really big for me to take a picture. I thought it was a fluke, so I decided to take a few more. Every time I took a picture she would smile.

A little bit later I decided to take her for a walk outside. As soon as we got outside I set her down on the ground, so she could walk. We went on a trail that went through the town. (At this time she went from her current age to about four or five). She was following along behind me with no problems. She was talking up a storm about her favorite color (purple) and what she wanted to do when she grew up (I can’t remember what it was, but she was excited). We walked back and Lesa came to pick her up.

I dreamed Tori was 5-6 and pretending to be a dog at a (church) picnic. She had pigtails and was running around until Brennan told her it was time to go. Then she just stood up and walked to the car holding his hand. I actually got my phone out to take a picture to send to you, but of course that didn’t work. 😊 Some of the Lingles were there, which was weird. It was a mild, sunny day in a park with lots of trees. Gorgeous, but I couldn’t pick out the place.

Last night I had a dream that my family was visiting with your family. Tori was sitting up on my hip (like you would hold a toddler) and was smiling. She totally was melting everyone’s heart with her sweet disposition.

I had a dream your family came to visit mine. Tori was very happy, healthy, and active. She was still little (like now). But she appeared healed! She was very enthusiastically laughing, smiling, and clapping her hands with so much excitement! She still required some (but very little) medical attention. Little enough, you felt comfortable enough quickly teaching me how to care for her and letting me take her for you so that, mommy and daddy could have some cuddly nap time! (weird enough you and Brennan both were so tired you were passing out as you were speaking! )

Dreams of Healing, Part Six

We continue to collect notes and messages about dreams people have had about Tori being healed. There have been so many, and it is the constant prayer of our hearts that they come true. ❤

You can read all the dream posts here.

I dreamed it was almost her 2nd birthday and she was currently starting to put sounds together in an effort to talk. On the morning of her birthday you went in to her as she was waking up and she said “mamma” the moment she saw you. I pray that my dream comes true and that Tori is going to be blessed by God with a miracle to allow her to live to enjoy being a grandmother.

i was babysitting her. and it was morning. she got up and grabbed onto a (tree) that was beside her and pulled herself up and climbed up onto a couch. she was still somewhat sick, but she was really moving and expressional.

Aww. I had a dream about your child last night!!! I was standing on the left side of her, a bit behind her shoulder (wildly enough, much like the angle of this photo) And she not only moved her right arm to take something from me but turned her head toward me and said 3 words. Someone else was there to witness it, the mom, of course was there, but also another woman and not sure who.

I had a dream last night that you were driving with Brennan and the kids and I were in the back. I was rubbing Tori’s legs because I thought they were cold and she smiled a huge smile; just short of laughing. I’ve never dreamed of Tori before and my continual prayer has been that she smiles for you again. I will keep praying for you guys for her to be healed and of course to give you that smile. ❤️

 

I had a dream about Tori last night. I don’t remember much but she was smiling. She must have been about 3 years old, and I think it was like a picture you sent me. She had a big, beautiful, healthy happy smile on her face.

Had a Tori healing dream last night had to share! For some reason she came with me on a Mary Kay conference and you did too but you were vacationing and Tori was hanging with me so I was eating and holding her and she’s all eyeing up my food so without thinking I gave her a taste and she loved it. But then I was so freaked out BC I was like oh my gosh she can’t do that Lesa isn’t going to trust me to watch her I was super upset. So I go to tell you and I remember thinking maybe she won’t b so mad if she brought lots of milk (not sure why that fixes but it’s a dream) and so I reach into this packed bag of Tori’s food and it’s like carrot sticks French fries, like not even mashed up baby food like big food. And you are all casual like yup she eats it all! So I felt better and Tori and I went to a Mary Kay meeting and not sure what you did but we had carrot sticks and French fries! 😉

Last night I had the clearest dream about Tori. It was so real to me that I couldn’t shake it all day.

We were all at an airport, getting ready to board an international flight. I feel like we were going to Israel via Russia (mostly because I’ve been looking at those flights recently). We were waiting on line (a large group of us). The portion of the dream that pertains to Tori is that she was 3 or 4 years old… A toddler and she could speak, but in typical toddler talk. Cutest little squeaky voice. She got the attention of so many people in the terminal because she was wearing a Cinderella dress.

She stayed with me as we were in line to board and you two went to get coffee or some snack.

After getting on the plane, I told you both that I would keep Tori with me so the two of you could sleep. In the dream, you both were sure that she wouldn’t go to sleep right away and since you were so exhausted, I kept her with me in my row. She and I played peekaboo in our seats. It was a pretty fancy plane too. She finally fell asleep on my lap just as you and Brennan were waking up. The flight had two hours to go, and both of you kept saying, “I can’t believe we both slept twelve hours!” Now, I don’t know why a flight would take so long, but it did and you were both very pleased to have slept so well.

I was at your house holding Tori and she kept pushing/kicking me with her arms and legs and then started pinching me (lol, little fighter!). I think I remember telling you that she’s even cuter in person. My mom was also with me, but we didn’t stay long because you guys had a wedding to go to. Lesa, you were really proud to show off your ugly Christmas sweater. Not sure why you’d decided to wear that to the wedding, but hey, whatever makes you happy, Lesa. 😊 It ended with Brennan fixing you breakfast to have for the following day.

I had a dream that I came and visited you guys. We were chatting and catching up. Tori could hold up her head by herself most of the time. We had to catch her from falling off the bed and the high chair because she was moving around so much. She was not completely healed YET, but was making improvements.

Tori was still not completely at full health in my dream, but she was definitely living life – running around in the terminal, acting shy when adults in line would say hello to her, and twirling in her dress. I don’t really know how better to describe it. It doesn’t sound like much, but the feeling it left me with was very powerful. When I woke up, I felt like I literally spent a 48 hour period with three year old Tori.