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!

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.

So, I Got a Job…

As I mentioned before, I recently accepted a part-time position at The Hotel Hershey – more specifically, at The Spa at The Hotel Hershey (where Brennan has worked for 13.5 years and counting). This all came about rather quickly, so I’m still getting used to the idea of working outside of the home, but I know that it will be good for many reasons.

This was my idea. Even on Easter, just hours after Tori went to Heaven, I asked Brennan what I was supposed to do now that she is gone. My “job” as a mom was suddenly null and void, and I was completely unsure of what I should be doing.

Two years ago I left my job (that I loved) to become a stay-at-home mother; I ended up loving my new life more than I had ever imagined. I was so thrilled that I may never have to have a “real job” outside of the home again. I had finally found what I was meant to do.

And then, Krabbe.

Krabbe is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving, but in a negative way. I suppose that makes it the gift that keeps on taking.

It took Tori. It is making future children merely a dream. And it took my beloved job from me.

With Tori gone and no more children in our immediate future (yet), I just don’t feel as though I can justify not having a job anymore. I want to help with our finances during this period of waiting to ease the burden from Brennan (even though he has never complained).

I didn’t take the job because I am bored – I’m so far from being bored! I have many things on my plate that require time, but none of them bring money along with them (yet), unfortunately. My book is essentially done, and the book proposal is in process, so maybe that will eventually bring in some extra income, but it’s not a guarantee at all.

This summer was amazing and it was just what I needed: doing photography for CRC, writing/editing for The Transcend Project as well as my own blog and manuscript, serving at Transcend Church, traveling and seeing family, lobbying for Newborn Screening in Pennsylvania occasionally (and next week), and many other things. Doing these things gave me an outlet for my creativity, filling my heart with joy as I was able to serve once again in these capacities. I was able to take some time to do what makes me happy, and I am so thankful for that. All of these things will still happen, of course, even though I have a job – that’s why I only accepted a part-time position 😉

More than anything, though, what my heart longs for is to be a mother again. That’s all. The very thing that so many women take for granted is the thing I want most of all, and it’s so risky (to try naturally) and expensive (IVF or adoption) for us because of our genetics.

So, while we wait on the Lord and trust His timing and guidance, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to get a fun part-time job (2-3 days a week with the option to take on extra shifts) at a place that feels like home with people who have been so supportive of us through everything. And God made all of that happen. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
 Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take. – Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

If nothing else, this will get me out of the house, allow me to meet interesting people, and provide new topics for my writing 😉 I’m sure that my encounters with guests will be interesting!

In all things, we continue to trust God fully, knowing without a doubt that whatever He has in store for us is amazing. ❤

Busy Summer and a Much Needed Update

I haven’t blogged much this summer and that has partially been intentional, partially not. Brennan and I have been traveling, working many weekends at MHS, spending time with family and friends, helping with church activities, doing photography for an amazing camp, hosting many RYFO bands, and so much more. We’ve been enjoying life and, though busy, it has been restful and refreshing.

We’re overdue for an update, so here’s what we’ve been up to:

Writing: It has felt good to not pressure myself to write, but to only do so when inspired. I have been writing for a new site that launched in July, as well. Check out The Transcend Project for some great articles about life as a Christian and life in Harrisburg, PA from several different authors. I’ve also been working on my book and the manuscript is almost completed. I have likely found an agent, my book proposal is in process, and we’re still hoping to start pitching the book by October.

The House: Our kitchen is finished and it is stunningly beautiful. We are hoping to list the house by the end of August, which means a lot of work needs to be done in order to be ready for showings (i.e. I need to put my stuff away 😉 ).

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(For those who aren’t aware, we bought our home 3.5 years ago with the intent to flip it and sell it; it was bank-owned so we paid far less for it than it is worth. If we sell the house, we can pay off our student loans – $50,000 – and be debt free. Even though we love our home, we will love being debt free even more, and it will allow us to live life so much more freely than we currently can.)

If you’re looking to buy a home in the Colonial Park/Lower Paxton area, we know of a great one that will soon be for sale! 😉

Children: We so desperately want to be parents again, but there are serious genetic risks if we conceive naturally (Krabbe may be a recessive gene, but it is aggressive and it’s very likely that we’d have another baby with Krabbe). We have some options, but they are all incredibly expensive and we simply can’t afford them at the moment. We’ve had some setbacks in that area and it has been incredibly disappointing. BUT, God is sovereign and we continue to follow Him and trust His timing.

Tori’s headstone was placed around her birthday and it is beautiful:

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Her tree was also planted at The Hershey Gardens:
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Work: As if I need anything else on our plate, after consideration and prayer, I decided that it would be wise to get a part time job since we don’t know when (or if) we will be having more children. I accepted a position today at The Hotel Hershey and will start at the end of August. It will only be 2-3 days per week with the option to pick up additional hours to assist my co-workers, which will still allow me the flexibility I need to continue to write, lobby, do photography, and serve the community with our church.

Newborn Screening: There is another Advisory Panel meeting in two weeks and I will be attending. I will give a full update just like last time.

Brennan is running in the Hershey Half Marathon in October with many other people from our church. He wanted to run the race in Tori’s honor and he is working hard to make this happen. Please pray for his training, that he would build the required endurance and that he would finish the race well.

Please continue to pray for Brennan and I for these things – especially the book (for favor from the publishers), the house (that it sells quickly and for the amount needed to pay off our student loans), and future children (that we can have them).

We are doing well, continuing to praise the Lord for the gift that Tori was, and learning to live life without her by our side. God is good, God is faithful, and God is sovereign.