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!

New Chapter and Healing from the Previous One…

I began a new chapter in my life this week – moving from unemployment/temporary work to a new, “permanent” position.

I had a difficult time in the weeks leading up to this new beginning as I was unsure of whether or not I should have accepted the position. It didn’t have anything to do with the job or the employer itself – it had everything to do with a “fear of commitment” in regards to jobs that I didn’t know I had developed. It had everything to do with past scars caused by some awful supervisors that I’ve had in the recent past. And it also had everything to do with the fact that this isn’t my “dream” – this isn’t what I feel so passionate about, and I was afraid that taking this job would prevent me from further pursuing that which God has placed in my heart. Essentially, I was afraid of what might be around the corner and I was afraid of making the wrong decision.

From the very first hour of my new job I began to see that the negative things about my past job are nonexistent here. From the smallest to the largest things, God has redeemed my employment situation. I also began to see that I had built a wall around my heart during my last job that was preventing me from being excited/feeling blessed about where God has brought me now. I didn’t realize that I had done this, but God is using new experiences each day to slowly remove one brick at a time, which is showing me just how high the wall had become. Still, even now, I am having a hard time letting myself be excited and letting myself just accept that God has brought me to a place where I am neededwanted, affirmed, empowered, treated with respect, included…

Looking back (hindsight is 20/20, after all) over this past summer, there is no doubt in my mind that everything God allowed to happen was incredibly intentional:

May 17, 2013: Laid off from HE&R (SO THANKFUL!!!!), beginning a time of solitude, reflection, unknown, and healing.

At the same time, Brennan and I are beginning to feel that we shouldn’t be “regular relief houseparents” at the Milton Hershey School anymore due to family/church circumstances…we begin praying.

June/July: Able to do photography for Christian Retreat Center‘s camps because I was laid off, reminding me of my love for photography.

June 25: Jon Acuff sends out an email/blog post/tweet about joining him on an adventure and I accept.

Brennan and I decide to try to become “emergency relief” at MHS which would allow us to be home each weekend (unless called) and would allow us to still be involved with the students.

July 15:The START Experiment” begins…my risk was to focus on self-discipline after several months of not-so-subtle nudging from the Lord…

July-August: I realize through the START Experiment and the accompanying community what my dream job really is and I begin to pursue it. I start Essential Harrisburg and begin sending my portfolio to potential organizations.

I also interviewed for this new job at MHS in August.

We are told that we wouldn’t be allowed to be “emergency relief” due to the number of couples already in that status. I also find out from HR a few days after my interview that I cannot accept a potential job offer from MHS if we are still “regular relief” because of the number of hours I would be working.

We are faced with an incredibly difficult decision to either quit or stay on as “regular relief”

One Sunday, while covering a student home, my supervisor “just happens” to come by and I am able to pour my heart out to him regarding all of this and our desire to stay on with the school as houseparents.

We find out on September 3 that we have been granted “emergency relief” status…and an hour later, I am offered the job that I later accepted. 

September 12-17: I had the incredible privilege of attending “The START Conference” in Nashville, TN and finally got to meet some of the amazing friends I made through “The START Experiment” and was able to further clarify my “dream” and made some connections with professionals in that field. AMAZING. I came home filled with energy, excitement, peace, and even more trust in what God is doing behind the scenes.

Our God is not a God of coincidence. Nothing that happened this summer is a coincidence.

If I had not been laid off…if I had not accepted Jon’s offer of adventure…if…

This new chapter of life is still very new, and my future is still very “fuzzy” and obscure, but I already feel so at peace.

I know that God has placed the dream in my heart to travel around the world, taking pictures and telling stories, and I have no doubt that He will bring that to fruition in His timing. For now, I am going to do my best here, at a job about which I am passionate, telling the story of Mr. & Mrs. Hershey and their incredible generosity and legacy, while waiting for whatever God might have in the future.

 

 

The Start Experiment, Round Two: Day Nine

Today, one of my wonderful fellow “Starters” posted something that almost made me cry because it spoke directly to my heart.

Know what isn’t the only reason you’re not working for your dreams? It isn’t always your fear that is preventing you from being successful. Sometimes it is your unwillingness to sacrifice. You’ve got to decide today that the pain of staying the same and not chasing your dream is costing you more than it would to chase it.  — Ashley Revely

Oh my. Between that and the email that Jon Acuff sent to those of us in Round Two today, I feel broken. In a good way. I forgot my journal at home, so I decided to just blog about it since I’m sure that others feel the same way and might need this encouragement.

Jon’s email today talked about not just settling for “jobs” when they’re not something that makes us feel alive and when they’re not part of our calling. I have done that my whole adult life. Every single job.

Funny “coincidence” that after I read that email I headed to an interview for a job that I could do and could do it well. But, it has nothing to do with the passions in my soul and my new-found mission in life. Same with the job I interviewed for last week. In fact, I honestly feel that accepting either of these jobs would be detrimental to my dream. Interesting what a new perspective can show you.

Ashley’s quote doesn’t only apply to my dream, though: it also applies to weight-loss and health. Before our wedding, perhaps because I had a goal, I lost 20 lbs and worked hard at it. I felt GREAT and loved what I saw in the mirror. I felt thin. After the wedding, I gained it all back PLUS some because I wasn’t willing to sacrifice things along the way. I’m realizing now that the cost of staying the same is far more painful than chasing my dream and working hard.

Today I’m going to break both my dream job and my dream of weighing 45 pounds less into simple steps and look at WHY I’m failing at weight loss. I know that most of it is due to lack of preparation and planning, but some is still due to laziness. What will it cost to pursue my dream and what sacrifices are necessary? I am thinking that any sort of permanent job is at the top of the list. I’m also thinking that getting up at 5am to ensure that I have plenty of focus-time will continue to be a must.

What is it costing me to stay the same? Joy, peace, self-image, contentment, passion.

What might it cost me to change? Time, effort, maybe financial sacrifice, trusting God a whole lot more.

The pain of staying the same is DEFINITELY costing me a lot. It’s time to sacrifice things that are standing in the way so that I can fully pursue what I am called to be.

The Start Experiment, Round 2: Day Three, Part 2

“Don’t ask what the world needs.

Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.

Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

― Howard Thurman

Tonight I attended a meeting of the Harrisburg Social Media Club after being invited by a fellow Start Experimenter who lives nearby. I went on behalf of Essential Harrisburg in hopes that I could learn more about how to utilize social media for my “business” and do some networking.

I assumed that it was going to be like a class where we all sit quietly and learn. I had no idea that they would ask us to introduce ourselves and our organization! So, in front of 30 strangers, I introduced EssentialHarrisburg.com and gave a brief description. That was slightly nerve-wracking – but not because of the public speaking element. Up until that moment, my website had existed only on Facebook in “safe” circles: friends, family, and the Start Experiment community. Now, there are strangers–businesspeople in the surrounding area–who know about it and could possibly check it out. And in the moment, I briefly questioned whether or not I even belonged there…whether or not my idea had value in the world. Fear strikes at the most inconvenient times. 🙂

This is exciting, but it also reminds me of how much work needs to be done to generate quality content. Also, I need to get business cards. I wrote that down on my to-do list last week and spoke with a friend about creating a simple logo for me…now I am very aware that I need to get those done as soon as possible so that in moments like the one tonight, I have something tangible that I can hand out to keep the idea fresh in the recipient’s mind.

I also sent my portfolio and an application to a missions organization tonight to possibly help them out with photojournalism. I’m pretty excited about this organization because they offer very unique service opportunities that would be perfect for Brennan and I to do together.

This thing is real. It is actually happening.

The Start Experiment, Round 2: Day Three

The further into this Start Experiment I go, the more I am filled with wonder and anticipation at what God is doing in my life and in my marriage. The second round is already proving to be more amazing than the first, and I think part of that is simply due to the fact that I have been able to figure out my dream. The other part is that this community of people continues to grow closer together and the momentum continues to build. We’re all in this together.

So far, I am 4.5 lbs down from when I started this project, which isn’t impressive considering that it has been a month. However, I wasn’t as strict as I wanted to be during the first round. I admittedly didn’t try as hard as I should have. But, that has changed. I have newfound determination.

To give myself a visual goal, I hung a dress on my closet door that I want to wear on our anniversary. I currently cannot fit into this dress, but I love it. I really want to wear it on November 6th. But, in order to wear it, I need to lose probably 20 more pounds in the next 83 days. That is a little over 11 weeks from now, and if I lose the recommended 2 pounds per week, I can lose more than 20 by then. That will be about half of my weight-loss goal.

So this is my audacious health-related goal: to lose 20 pounds by my anniversary so that I can wear the black dress.

I have nearly finished my photography portfolio and already submitted it to one organization. I am working with a new friend to finalize captions and things before she helps me submit it to people who might be able to help me reach my audacious dream of being a travel photographer.
Here’s the link to my portfolio: http://www.flickr.com/lesabrackbill

I am also going on a mission trip to Guatemala in February!

God is definitely moving in our lives, and I am SO excited to see what happens.

The Start Experiment, Round 2: Day One

It begins again: 24 days of focused and audacious dreaming and risk-taking. Round One of The Start Experiment brought me such freedom and courage, and I am beyond excited to see what happens next.

My risks for the first round were focused on self-discipline (physical and spiritual), and I am going to continue those elements through this next round (and hopefully for the rest of my life). I will continue to eat clean, exercise, blog, and spend time with God each day.

As a result of the connections made in Round One, I was able to focus in more on what my dream is and what it is going to take to make it a reality.

I asked myself this question: if I could do anything at all for the rest of my life, regardless of whether I made money or not, what would that be? And the answer is this: I would travel around the world and take pictures in order to tell the stories that need to be told (i.e. missions, disaster/response, capturing God’s Creation, etc.).  

That led me to create Essential Harrisburg. I realized that, through this new blog/website, I have an opportunity to grow my skills, increase my audience, share my city with the world, and use this as a way to serve the city in a new way all without having to fly anywhere. I needed to Start somewhere, so I decided to Start in my own backyard.

This leads to what I am risking for round two. The theme is “Audacious” and we were encouraged to be radical, to be risky and do something that really scares us. So, here’s what I’m going to do:

  1. Continue to work on self-discipline risk from Round One.
  2. Focus on writing a minimum of 3 posts a week (which includes photography) for www.essentialharrisburg.com in order to generate content like crazy so that I can approach someone from the City to connect with them and share my goals.
  3. Make contacts with people who can potentially help me obtain my dream job of being able to get paid to travel and do photography/missions.
  4. (the audacious one) Actually send my portfolio to a potential “employer” and not be afraid of rejection.

The next 24 days are going to be amazing…I just know it. I can’t wait to see what God does through this!

 

Essential Harrisburg: My New Project

On July 30, 2012, I put a note in my brand-new smartphone (my first one) about a new project that I thought about starting:

One year went by, exactly, before I thought about this idea again. I totally forgot this note existed, and I only found it because I went to leave a note about the same thing.

One thing that the Start Experiment has taught me is that procrastination needs to no longer be part of my life. This is a huge example! A year ago I had an idea to jump-start my “dream” and I totally forgot about it. Who knows where I could be right now if I had Started right then?

Essential Harrisburg is now up and running, and I have probably a year’s worth of content already lined up! I’m trying to find my style and my voice, but I didn’t want to wait until it was perfect to Start. I can always go back and edit along the way 🙂

Please check out EssentialHarrisburg.com and “Like” it on Facebook! Follow it on Instagram #essentialharrisburg 🙂 Spread the word! Send in ideas for content (must be locally owned and operated places only–no chains). I’m so excited to spread the word about my community and learn even more in the process.