Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn

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So much food… so much love

We have had many local friends show love to us by providing meals and gift cards. (Someday I will eventually get caught up on “thank you” cards for all of you.) The time and money that we saved is immeasurable. There were many days that I felt too sick or tired to even think of food for the family. And there were other days that I felt pretty good, but because meals were coming I could spend time enjoying other things (like time relaxing or going somewhere as a family) instead of worrying about what to make for dinner that night. We will forever be grateful for everyone’s help with this. Our dear friend Jeanine Muller organized the “Meal Train” and kept it going for us when we needed it. This Tuesday’s meal from Jen Wedo included a beautiful bouquet of roses to mark the end of treatment. And tonight’s meal (the last on the schedule probably until reconstruction in the summer) was brought by Katie Ruhl and was surprisingly celebratory! Thank you to Katie for recognizing that this was worth celebrating- with sparkling grape juice to toast with the girls, a full spread of snacks and dinner, and delicious food to eat together as a family. We feel very blessed to have been shown love and fed by everyone so well over the last 10 months- our bellys and hearts are full. 


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Permanent Art

No better way to celebrate a milestone like yesterday than to mark it with some permanent art! 

I got an open heart on my wrist with a few layers of meaning in the small symbol. Love God, Love People. Colored in with the birthstone colors of Rob, Olivia, and Liana. It’s “open” to remind me how many people have opened their hearts to help our family get through this experience and to always have an open heart for others. And I got it on my wrist because that’s where everyone wore their bracelets to support us. So where yours came off, my mark went on… forever. (Side note- the owner of the tattoo shop heard why we were getting them yesterday and humbly offered to do mine for free… his own gesture of an open heart.)

Trisha showed up and got one too! A similar heart, also on her wrist, but open in the opposite direction- the other/opposite half of me.

And Rob’s… well it’s pretty much the best tattoo I’ve ever seen. It was like the grand finale of the night. Take a look and be inspired. It was the absolute perfect way to end a perfect day.

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Yesterday- 11/20. Exactly 10 months to the day from my initial diagnosis. I finished my treatments and walked out of radiation for the last time!
Today- 11/21. My first day without treatment. A new beginning of healing and recovery and moving on from this. No coincidence that it’s my grandmother’s birthday. I feel so lucky that I can celebrate her life and my “renewed” life in a special way this year. Miss you grandma. You made so many wonderful people to walk in the world. This year they all walked beside me beautifully. I can picture you sitting at the head of the table, eating saltines and chipped ham, wearing your humble smile as you watch everyone share love and define family in the most perfect ways. 
#caldwellsrock #peaceoutcancer #birthdays


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22 seconds

I have 22 seconds of treatment left… ever… forever. This cancer is gone; everything I’ve done is enough, and tomorrow I close the book on this chapter. I will go in for my last radiation at 2:00. Sometimes it takes a while to wait my turn to go into the room. Then I get situated on the table while the x-ray techs line up the radiation machine with the tattoos and marks on my body. And then they all exit the room to officially start the treatment. It’s always a little strange at that moment because the “buzzing around” and chit-chat is suddenly gone- leaving me alone in the silence until the machine starts. I do, however (since I have done since my first MRI) imagine that I am not just holding onto the bar above my head, but holding Jesus’s hand… and it gives me a sense of peace in an otherwise sterile and unnerving environment. Then once that machine starts it radiates me for 22 seconds. For these last 8 shorter “boost” sessions, I’ve laid there and counted so that I know. Slow and consistent… 1 Mississippi… 2 Mississippi… 3 Mississippi- as the daughter of Larry Caldwell would surely do correctly. The last 2 times I’ve held back tears knowing that I wouldn’t have to do it for many more days. I’m sure tomorrow’s emotions will be too strong to hold back. I imagine tears will roll down my temples for those last 22 seconds of treatment. And if they do, I’ll be proud to have reached a point that I can wipe them away and cross my finish line with my hands held high. I’ve rounded third and am making my way home. I’m attacking the volleyball for one last spike. I’m about to plow through the defense in Bettis-like fashion to score a touchdown. Insert whichever sport analogy you’d like… tomorrow I WIN!

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Speaking of trees…

I’ve been obsessing over this song that Julie McKeand Black shared with me. The lyrics are some of the most peaceful words I’ve heard this year. I would encourage everyone to listen… through to the end. My favorites:

Like the frost on a rose
Winter comes for us all
Oh how nature acquaints us
With the nature of patience

Like a seed in the snow
I’ve been buried to grow
For Your promise is loyal
From seed to Sequoia…

… Like a seed You were sown
For the sake of us all
From Bethlehem’s soil
Grew Calvary’s sequoia.

Isn’t it so true- “how nature acquaints us with the nature of patience.” Thinking of the big trees in my life last week… how long it takes for those to root and grow. Watching the leaves around us change color and complete their life cycle as they pile in our yard. Remembering in 2007 when Rob and I saw the Sequoia trees in Yosemite during our “babymoon”. And now reflecting on “Calvary’s Sequoia”- the largest and strongest of all. The One that means the most in our lives; that gave us life; and offers hope for eternal life. Doesn’t need much more explanation than that.

And to think of the “seed in the snow; buried to grow”. Maybe this year was a metaphorical burial for me… a time of cold discomfort and uncertainty, but now with an opportunity to grow into more of the person/mother/wife/daughter/friend that He wants me to be. I don’t know exactly what that will look like, but I know that I will have to be patient with open eyes as He reveals the answer. And I need to continue to be patient with my body as it heals through the next weeks/months even after treatments are done.

“When you’re fearful of change think of the beauty of autumn”. (Tina Heiberg, was that quote from you a while ago? I wrote it in a notebook last year and saved it. Hard to remember where I first heard it, but I love it and I LOVE Fall!)

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My Tribe

Sunday mornings- they are amazing. And I don’t mean that I wake up rested and the kids get ready without hassle (those things would add to the amazement though). I mean that my soul gets renewed by going to our church building, seeing my friends, feeling loved by brothers and sisters there, learning from our minister, and worshipping our God who has done miraculous things in our lives. This morning, the day after reflecting on my long-term friendships, my mind couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of need to also acknowledge my “tribe” from church. There are a group of friends who are a huge part of my life and work “behind the scenes” to keep things on track- physically and spiritually. They have hearts bigger than most I’ve ever met. They allow me to be my true self and will pray harder than any other women I know. They inspire me to be a better version of myself. I feel safe with them- all.the.time. Since January, it has been a special thing to watch how they each respond to our needs- some are more prayerful and some are more practical, but they have shown me the love of Jesus so well. They really are His hands and feet. No doubt that they would hear the words “Well done, daughter” if they were to go to heaven today. As would so many of you who have helped. (I apologize if I haven’t been able to publicly thank everyone, but you all know who you are.) Even those of you who are vigilantly prayerful but from other parts of my life; or those who have shown love but may not be Christians… I still see your support as the hands and feet of Jesus even if you do not. So today’s Sunday morning amazement is intense gratitude for my tribe… my sisters… my church family. It’s beautiful to see how God has placed just the right people in my life.
(This picture was taken back in January shortly after my diagnosis. It includes many of the girls in my tribe, though not everyone. Girls, we do need to get together again soon and get a pic with everyone!