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!

The What or The Who (Not the Band)

Last week’s sermon hasn’t left my mind much since I heard it.

The focus was on 2 Corinthians 5:14-16, 19-20.

“Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!””

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:14-16, 19-20‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This passage highlights a few important things for our life on this earth:

  • Christ’s love should control us. Not influence us, but CONTROL everything we are and do.
  • We are ultimately here to help people know Jesus and to see them as He sees them.
  • We are ambassadors entrusted with this great work!

The pastor commented that so often in this life we (are taught to) stress about the answer to the question, “what am I here for?

We wonder if we’re accomplishing that which we are here to do, and we often allow that question to cause unnecessary anxiety and fear. “What is my purpose? What if I never find it?” We allow that to drive our choices and actions.

I know people who have left their “secular” career to do something more “spiritual” while missing the fact that God needed them exactly where they were to be a light for Him (#MissionalLiving).

Instead of focusing on what we should be doing, the pastor said that we should be focusing on this question: “For whom am I here?

Who, not what.

Who has God placed in our sphere of influence? Our family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers are our purpose here.

Most importantly, we should never pursue the “what” at the expense of the “who” because EVERYTHING we do is just an excuse or a platform to lead others to Jesus. Everything.

We all have gifts and strengths and we have roles to play with those gifts and strengths; and we all have stories that others need to hear. God can use any job, any situation for His purposes, if we allow Him to do so.

In closing, he encouraged us to ask God to breathe mission into our current life and circumstances instead of asking Him to change them, to be content with the what and focus on the who.


This is relevant to me in a unique way:

Lately I’ve been struggling with being content with the sales of my book. Numbers. Rankings. Influence. This part of my journey has not gone as I expected.

Before it went to press, I had a modest goal in mind, one that I deemed easily – and quickly – attainable. I poured my heart into telling Tori’s story and it is the most vulnerable thing I have ever done. Her life and the lessons learned from her life matter and I just knew that I would sell thousands and thousands of copies!

As of today I have only reached 10% of that goal. Ten.

(I don’t tell you that to make you feel guilty if you haven’t bought it – though I wouldn’t mind if you did decide to buy it! 😉 There’s a point to all of this.)

Of course, I’m humbly thrilled that ANYONE has wanted to read it, and each sale means that someone new has learned about Krabbe, about Tori, and about our Heavenly Father. THAT is what matters.

But, if I am honest, I am also disappointed because I thought I would sell more given the number of people who have followed Tori from the beginning.

I’m human, after all. Pride sneaks in when we least expect to see it. I worked hard on the book and emotionally invested myself in it, so I obviously want it to “succeed” in terms of high numbers. But is that success?

I had been trying to brainstorm how to increase sales, how to market it on a greater scale (with zero dollars) in order to get the numbers up. It began to consume my thoughts (when I wasn’t caring for babies).

And then I heard that sermon last weekend and I understood what the Lord was asking of me:

Do I really trust the God of the universe to put my book in the hands of those who truly need the message? Is it about the number sold or about the soul reading it?

As one of my favorite songs says, “You’ve brought me this far, why would I question You now?” He opened the doors for it to be published, but do I trust His intentions? Yes. I just needed to be reminded, to refocus.

It’s not about numbers, it’s not about selling millions (though that would be incredible): it’s about my obedience in telling our story and allowing God to use it as He sees fit. Him, not me.

It’s so much more than just book sales. My book is just another way – not the only way – God is using my circumstances, my story, my faith, and my life to reconcile people to Him.

I have to remember this. Daily. And whenever I am tempted to be concerned with the numbers (often), I need to surrender it all to the One who is in control. And I need to pray that He will continue to use my life for His Kingdom and glory.

That’s what it’s all about.

Even When Plans Fail, There’s Joy…

This entire book process has made us laugh so many times because nothing has gone as expected.

But, our launch party was going to be smooth and perfect! The plans were set and everything was going to happen as we expected…

Or not 😉

When we arrived at the venue, no one was there to open it for us. We waited and waited, tried to contact the owners (who are out of town and this isn’t their fault at all!). It was cold and rainy, but we thought we could just do it in the courtyard outside the cafe.

Brennan’s sister, Kelly, had the idea to go around the corner to the movie theatre (CocoaPlex) to see if they could help, and they said we could set up in the lobby! 🍿 🎥 So we made a note (thanks, Gina!), moved our party over there, and had a great time! We had wanted a unique venue, and how much more unique can you get than the lobby of a movie theatre?! 😉 And, it was FREE, so we appreciated that!

We just happened to have a table in our van that worked well for signing books, and the bench in the lobby made a perfect display area.

As my book says many times, joy is a CHOICE, and tonight we chose to roll with the unexpected and make the most out of the evening…and it was GREAT. ❤

Thanks to all who came out to celebrate with us! Thanks to Karen for the amazing cupcakes! And huge thanks to CocoaPlex for allowing us to use your lobby!

 

 

“Is This Your First?”

It’s inevitable lately: when meeting new people who don’t know about Tori, they will ask if this pregnancy is my first.

Since I recently started a new job it’s happening fairly often. The first few times took me by surprise and I had to think quickly about how to answer: I could be truthful and tell them about Tori, or I could be mostly truthful since this is my first TWIN pregnancy and just say yes to avoid the uncomfortable truth.

So far, I’ve opted to just tell the truth, short and sweet, and allow the potential awkwardness (from their end) to exist.  I look at it as an opportunity to tell others about Krabbe, about Tori’s amazing life, and about the faith that has sustained us.

In each instance, I recognize that I have a choice: I can be truthful with joy or I can be truthful with pain. I can embrace the joy we have found or I can be miserable. 

I continue to embrace joy. 


The title of my upcoming book is “Even So, Joy” which I derived from two sources: the song “It Is Well With My Soul” –

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

and Habakkuk 3:17-19  –

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
 The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the heights.

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that things are going to be imperfect here on earth. Once sin entered the world, it was inevitable that life would be terrible at times. Things are going to go wrong, our hearts are going to hurt, and sometimes it will seem unbearable.

But, the Bible also makes it clear that it can still be well with our hearts and our souls no matter what comes our way because all of this is temporary. Imperfect life on this earth should make us desire the perfection of what’s to come in Heaven. 

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! – 2 Cor. 4:17

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. – James 1:2-3

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. – Romans 5:3-5

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.  For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) – Romans 8:18-25 (emphasis mine)

Our God is a God who redeems. He is worthy of all our praise, even when circumstances don’t appear to be praiseworthy. He knows the full story while we only know this current chapter.


You have a choice to make daily just like me; though our circumstances may be different, I know your life isn’t going perfectly.

Joy is something to be chosen and embraced in the uncertain times, in the “even though” or “even if” moments. For it is then that our faith grows stronger and we are reminded of God’s love, and the least we can do is share it with those who need it the most.

Always be real and genuine, of course, but always be pointing others toward the hope and joy we have in Jesus. It has been said that light shines brightest in the darkness, and this has certainly been proven to be true in my life. Our decision to choose joy after losing a child stands in stark contrast to the way much of the world would react. And that’s kind of the point. We should be different as Christians in this world.

I will continue to be honest and share that the twins are actually child two and three for us, not our first. I will embrace the potential discomfort and awkwardness that the other person may feel and I will point them to the glory of the Lord and the hope and joy He brings.

Even so, it is well with my soul.

I Wasn’t Looking for a Job, but I Found One…

Last Thursday evening, as I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, I saw an ad that caught my attention.

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I found it at the perfect time, really. I had realized recently that I was feeling a little down because I’ve been bored. I have never done well with being bored, which is why I have played seven instruments in my life, among other examples. I’m in a season of waiting for many things – waiting for my book to be in print, waiting for the twins to be born, waiting, waiting, waiting.

Brennan would ask me how my day was and I often felt like I had no idea because it didn’t feel like I had accomplished anything. I didn’t like that.

I haven’t worked at The Spa since May 15th because of the IVF process and because of our busy schedules over the summer. Once they were fully staffed I decided to go inactive and enjoy some time off. This allowed me to focus on running the AirBnB over the summer, finishing my manuscript, resting during the first trimester (which was SO necessary), and other things that came my way.

I’ve been slowly letting go of major responsibilities on my plate in preparation for the arrival of the twins. My last day of leading worship at Transcend Church is December 31 (also my birthday 😉 ), and that will be the last big thing for me to stop doing. It feels strange, but necessary, as my hands are about to be very full with two babies. 🙂

This has left me with a lot of time on my hands, and while it’s been great to spend my days watching Hallmark Christmas movies and relaxing (while also doing chores and things intermittently), I began to notice that I wasn’t super happy. Not depressed, not miserable, just not as happy as normal. I’m bored! 

So, this ad. It was for a job at The Hershey Story, the amazing museum about the life of Mr. Hershey and the town/company he created. Even better, it was for “Chocolate Tasting Associates.” No, that doesn’t mean that I would get paid to taste chocolate, but it’s almost as great! Essentially, it’s like being a “chocolate bartender” because these employees serve “shots” of warm drinking chocolates from specific places around the world to guests.

Did you know that cacao tastes drastically different depending on its country of origin? It’s amazing! That’s why Hershey blends beans to create a specific flavor.

I went ahead and applied, thinking it would be fun and interesting.

The next morning, I heard back (so fast!) and was asked to come in for an interview. I think I caught their attention because of my vast experience with the Milton Hershey School, The Hotel Hershey, and Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, but I’m not really sure.

I had an interview yesterday and was offered a job on the spot – and yes, I was upfront about being pregnant! 🙂

It will be super part-time, flexible, and interesting. It will be easy physically, stimulating socially, and fulfilling intellectually. As many of you know, I LOVE telling people about Mr. Hershey and the amazing man he was. Now I will have another opportunity to share stories with guests who may ask questions. I suppose it will use my history degree to some extent 😉

I will be cross-trained to teach in the Chocolate Lab and to run the Tastings bar, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get out of the house a few hours a week until the twins arrive.

I had orientation today which was completely self-guided and fun. I spent time walking through the museum, did a class in the Chocolate Lab (where we used milk and white chocolate to create a festive reindeer), tasted chocolate, and enjoyed the atmosphere of The Hershey Story. As an introvert, it was exactly what I needed!

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I wasn’t looking for a job, but I found one, and it’s going to be great.

Pregnancy and Parenting After Loss

I’ve mentioned before that ever since Tori went to Heaven I’ve felt quiet, as though I have nothing to say. And so I’ve stayed quiet, not wanting to force the words just for the sake of writing.

Well, I finally feel as though I have something about which I can write.

Pregnancy and Parenting After Loss.

As the date for our embryo transfer draws nearer, I have so many thoughts and feelings running through my mind and heart. We will be pregnant soon! I honestly feel like I’m already “nesting” even though I’m not even pregnant yet. Brennan can attest to this, haha. Granted, that’s partially because we still haven’t really moved into our house yet and I’m ready to be SETTLED. But I digress. My heart longs to be pregnant, to have the hope of future children.

I just want to be a mother again, to hold and care for these precious babies who are currently frozen. 

But there’s a lingering fear that I can’t quite chase away – a fear that one or even both of the embryos won’t attach. That I will miscarry. That we will have two or three children in Heaven and not just one. There’s little reason to think this will happen, says my doctor. I’m healthy, fertile, and have no reason to believe that the embryos won’t attach. We’ve seen how God has moved mountains to make this even possible. So why are these fears so present?

I have a feeling that parenting any child after losing Tori is going to be a greater blessing than we can imagine and yet contain the potential for greater fear than we’ve ever had before. Any symptom that reminds me of Krabbe. If they have reflux like we thought Tori did. If they have any developmental delays. Anything like that will have the potential to throw me back into the pre-diagnosis days with Tori, wondering if the genetic testing was wrong. Wondering if they do have Krabbe. I have a feeling this will be a challenge to overcome.

I’m not one to be fearful, really ever. I trust the Lord and I believe that He has me in His hands. I believe that He is in control and that He knows exactly what will become of these precious frozen embryos. So I must surrender, moment by moment, any fear or doubts that creep into my mind, because I know that they aren’t from Him. 

I will continue to process my thoughts and emotions about all of this as we progress though pregnancy and parenthood after losing Tori. I pray that my transparency is a blessing to others and that the Lord will continue to work in and through our lives.

Please pray for our embryos – our son and our daughter: pray that they will survive the thaw, that they will attach to my uterus quickly, and that they will develop into healthy, thriving babies. September 1 is quickly approaching! 

 

Even So…

The common theme of the past six months has been hurdles. Things haven’t been going as smoothly as we would like and we’ve come up against some significant challenges.

  • Buying this house came with one obstacle after another and cost more than we anticipated not only to buy it, but to do the necessary renovations (that still aren’t done because we ran out of money). It seems like all of our Dave Ramsey progress was lost and we’re having to start over again in our process to becoming debt-free.
  • We drained our savings (and our HSA) to pay for IVF (though MUCH of the cost was donated by generous and amazing people and we are SO very grateful!), and it’s tough to rebuild it.
  • We started an AirBnB in the apartment upstairs and have LOVED running it. It has brought joy to us and to the families and single mothers we have been able to serve and bless through this venture. It has also been hugely beneficial financially. 

    However, two of our neighbors are “uncomfortable” with the idea for ridiculous reasons (they don’t understand AirBnB at all, essentially) and they filed complaints with the township. We were forced to make a decision to either pay $450 and wait three months (and go to two zoning board hearings) to try to be rezoned for this type of use (no guarantee of approval), or give up and just get a tenant (less income, loss of the opportunity to help others enjoy Hershey and run an AirBnB; loss of space to host family and friends and bands (through RYFO.org) upstairs).

    Ultimately, we’ve decided to try to find a tenant because some battles aren’t worth fighting. The township needs to modify their rules about AirBnB instead of trying to make it fit into other molds and making it impossible for residents to do. I am proud of my letter to the township supervisors and hope that it will make a difference in the future for property owners to use their property as they choose.

  • I haven’t had much time to finish my book proposal or to find an agent, even though my manuscript has been complete (and edited) for six months. I’m struggling to remain positive about it being published, even though I believe that the Lord led me to write it for that purpose.
  • I am committed to do many good things, but finding a balance and remaining disciplined has been a challenge.

Even so, it is well with our souls.

It hasn’ t been ALL bad, but the hard things in life tend to overshadow the good; when we focus on the positive we realize that we have had some GREAT things happen:

  • We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to California, Oregon, Washington, and ALASKA in June and returned home feeling rejuvenated even though the trip was exhausting. Seeing the beauty of God’s creation and spending treasured time with family was worth every lost minute of sleep.
  • We found out that we have THREE embryos (out of the five) that are healthy! Two are not even carriers of Krabbe! The fourth embryo needs to be retested, and the fifth has chromosomal abnormalities that are not survivable. We are thankful for these 3-4 and will hopefully do the first transfer in August.
  • Thanks to my dad spending two weeks out here, we’ve nearly completed the basement projects (laundry room/bathroom drywall and paint, etc.). We’re going to be ready for hosting bands and other guests so soon! Since we’re giving up the AirBnB this space will allow us to continue to minister to bands through RYFO – an amazing network of host homes for touring musicians.
  • Brennan and I are trying to become much more disciplined than we are currently in every area of our lives. It’s a struggle but we must overcome and become self-disciplined.

Through it all, my heart has remained at peace because I trust the Lord completely and I have absolute faith that this is all happening for a reason. As the popular song states, “Let go my soul and trust in Him, the waves and wind still know His name…” He is still on the throne, He is still in charge, and, most importantly, He still LOVES us. In those moments when I feel worry start to encroach on my peace, I stop and pray and remind myself that He’s got this.

And so we press on, knowing that it will all turn out alright.