Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn


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Pink Sisters

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This weekend turned out to be pretty sweet! I was lucky enough to meet this woman, Sally Gary. She is a Christian and fellow breast cancer survivor. In fact, her treatment has been just about a month behind mine. Some women refer to us breast cancer survivors as “pink sisters”. It’s cutesy, and comforting to some. I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m not one to love labels anyway… and I do try to avoid defining myself by my breast cancer experience. But I suppose it’s a simple way to show comradery and connectedness during a challenging time.

Our church hosted Sally’s visit which included 2 nights of dinner and some excellent, loving discussions at church on Sunday. She’s an amazing woman and if you ever have an opportunity to meet her or hear her speak you should do it without hesitation. She’s an author, too, if you’re up for some meaningful reading in the future. Hearing her speak about sensitive topics within the church was something I have been craving as a Christian. I’m so thankful to be a part of a church family who welcomed the discussion. But even more striking to me was seeing how she has gracefully accepted her cancer experience and not let that overshadow other parts of her life. And she is one heck of a listener. Though she does not have young children herself, she seemed to understand how deeply my role as mother has affected my thoughts and actions through treatment. So I guess if we are choosing labels here, I do proudly call her a “pink sister”; lovingly call her “sister in Christ”; and humbly call her a “friend”.


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What a difference!

What a difference! The girls’ dance studio performs at the halftime show at a basketball game every year. Last year, it happened to be on the evening that I got my port placed. I remember going there with my arm bandaged up and only a handful of people even knowing the road I had started down. I remember thinking how lucky everyone else was because they didn’t have cancer and they weren’t going through what we were (I now know that perspective is skewed.. because everyone is going through something challenging- different but sometimes just as hard). Olivia performed so well last year and I was so proud… and scared to be uncertain of how my own story was about to play out.

Last night both of our girls performed together in the dance. I know I’m biased, but Liana’s little hips shaking were just about the cutest thing I had seen all week (and I witnessed a lot of cute moments at work this week). I felt joy in my entire body watching those girls dance. To say I was beaming would be an understatement. It was only 3 minutes, and it was probably a pretty average dance number. But it felt so good to be sitting there seeing it through these eyes again.

This entire year, my friend Hannah Springer shared a gift for reminding me how my girls were doing. She texted me many times when she knew I was struggling… and she would tell me how she noticed Olivia smiling with her daughter, or heard Liana laughing with her friends. She would remind me, when it was most appreciated, that my girls were ok. And she’d remind me that she was praying for them and our God was keeping their hearts safe. (Side bar- I know so many of you prayed specifically for them like this, and it has been appreciated more than I could ever say.) Last night, she compared them to the bible story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego- three men who were thrown into a fiery furnace but came out unscathed because they were protected by God. In a most meaningful way, she compared our two little girls to those men- because those sweet souls have walked through a fire this past year and they are thriving and doing so well now. Deep in my bones, I hope that they are unscathed and unharmed. I know they cannot be same as they were before it all… none of us can. But I’m so hopeful that the changes within them are positive and not negative- that they are more brave, determined, faithful, appreciative and loving than ever. We all find ourselves in a fiery furnace at different points in our lives… and we have a God who will be right there with us through every step. I’m so thankful He has been there to protect my little dancers.


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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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Celebrate!

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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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! 

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Big Trees

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One of the things we love about our house is that when we sit outside on the deck it feels like we’re at a campground. There are just the right amount of trees around to make us feel a little secluded, though the visible lights on at the neighbors’ homes so remind us that they are close. For a family who loves camping, but who also loves the feel of a sweet neighborhood, it’s perfect. The trees are one of my favorite things around here- and there are several different kinds. There are smaller ones that are more recently planted and more visible every day. There are four of them in our front yard that are part of our landscaping. We trim them back occasionally and notice them every day when we’re coming and going from the house. Our home would definitely not be the same without them and we love them. But there are also the bigger trees in the back of the house. They are tall and towering. Their roots are deep and sprawling. They are not as noticeable on a daily basis, but stand strong and firm every day. When it’s stormy and windy, that’s when we notice those ones more. That’s when they move and draw attention to themselves. Together, all of the trees are what makes our home comfortable to us, and exactly what we love.

A few weekends ago, I had the opportunity to spend a day with 4 of my closest friends… from middle school… over 25 years ago! We met each other when we were 11 years old and we became very close from the start. We have SO many memories of hanging out with each other. Many more people were added to the mix since that 6th grade year, but there is something special that is hard to define when you have the kind of history that we have. As with every friendship, our time together wavered as we went through high school, but the deep roots were planted firm enough that we could withstand everything. They are my “big trees” in life…. they have always been there- strong and steady. Sometimes unnoticed, but they stand out during the storm. They’ve been incredibly present and attentive during my storm this year. And I’m constantly reminded of how wonderfully they’ve held space with me when I’ve needed it.

During our time over that weekend, we looked through a LOT of pictures, had a ton of laughs, and I was so pleasantly reminded why I love these girls so much. I couldn’t help thinking that Olivia is almost to the age that I was when these friendships started. But things are so different for our own kids and the next generation. Our kids and their friends text and Facetime each other. They play the “words with friends” app instead of sitting at a table playing Scrabble. They are entertained by watching the same YouTube sensations at home and then talking about it the next day instead of sitting next to each other on the couch watching tv and taking bathroom breaks during commercials. But I will try my hardest to encourage my girls to disconnect from technology and be present with their friends during this preciously formative time in life. What young girl doesn’t remember the contagious giggles you get when you’re delirious- especially at sleepovers? You can’t “catch the giggles” through texting. 

I experienced such sweet memories during this recent weekend- the way Carly Caruso rubs her nose when she talks about things that concern her; Megan Nagel’s impeccably-timed humor; Trisha Brunazzi’s sarcastic tone in her voice; and Mindy Brisbane Vickers’ contagious laughter. Those beautiful nuances are noticed and treasured so deeply. And when Mindy jumped up to give me a hug the moment she saw my eyes starting to well up with tears while telling a story- that couldn’t even begin to be translated through technology if we hadn’t been together in that moment. I’m so thankful to be on the receiving end of love from this crew. Sharing physical space and such sweet memories with my friends since 25 years ago is the reason we still share meaningful emotional space now that we’re older. And reminds me that each of the memories of this experience through cancer- all of the meals, cards, time, messages, donations, and visits- are making the roots of relationships with all of you even deeper and stronger as well- strong enough to withstand any storm.
(Hopefully we’ll see more of those life-long friend at our 20 year reunion. Erin SearfossKaitlin McHughSteph ByhamMandy Daughenbaugh-Smith… and somehow you should be there too, Jessica Wypasek Gregory!)