Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn

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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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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


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!)

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Peace out, cancer.

October- Breast cancer awareness month. I’ve lived through my first one as a survivor. I’ve heard a lot of opinions from other “pink sisters”- some love it, some hate it, and many fall somewhere in the middle. I love that there is such awareness about it and tremendous support. I am thankful that if I had to live through cancer, I lived through one that has a huge financial backing for research and a hopeful cure. This month was a little surreal to participate in the Volley for the Cure with Rob, the Pink Out at Norwin High School, a fashion show fundraiser, and a cancer awareness luncheon- all as a survivor and not just a supporter. Some survivors say that they don’t like to be reminded of their struggles for an entire month. I’m still “in it” so it’s no different to me whether the rest of the world is on board for a month or not. And I feel like the way I’ve seen support from all of you holding this space with me since January, that it’s been a significant part of your life as well. Thank you. 

So- my soapbox. Do your self exams… at least once a month. It is so simple, costs nothing, takes a few minutes, and can save your life. Literally- SAVE YOUR LIFE! Why wouldn’t you?! Like, do it now really quickly. A self-exam is how I found my lump. I was always doing exams- multiple times a month. I had an annual check-up on Dec 8 (where the doctor did an exam and there was nothing palpable). I did my own self-exam on Dec 29th… and felt a definite lump. 3 weeks from one to the next was enough to go from “nothing” to “whoa… what is that?!” If I had waited longer… well you could be reading a different story right now. Women already have a 1 in 8 chance of getting this… which means there’s a chance that one of you reading this may someday be in my shoes. And I want you to catch it early and survive with me… deal? Laura Ritter Allio was one of the speakers at the luncheon yesterday and had a fabulous idea. Pull out your cell phones right now and find the 18th (since the ratio is 1/8)- mark that as “health day” and make it a recurring event every month to do your self-check then. Simple enough, right- ladies and men- we all need to do it. 

And my last point. As the pink outs and pink socks and pink ribbons fade after this month, please continue to pray for everyone fighting all kinds of cancer. Breast cancer was the kind of cancer I had, but it did not define me and I won’t let it. Breast cancer fits in as a part of my life experience, but it is not ME. I am a wife and mother. I am a daughter and sister and friend. And, above all, I am a Christian saved by grace. That defines me. That is who I am.
Peace out, cancer.

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This afternoon I was blessed to meet a few wonderful people at a cancer awareness luncheon in Cuyahoga Falls. One of whom is Tiffany Baumann Cantelupe– a fellow breast cancer survivor (5 years out) who is a mother of two kids close in age to my girls. She understands, relates to, and shares in her testimony the way that her diagnosis affected her life with young children. And she motivated me with her resolve to fight, endure, and survive through this. Two points were made during her speech that I needed to hear today. The first is her commitment not to just walk with God through this, but run. And I relate to that as a runner (more like “jogger” ) and as I have compared this treatment to enduring a long race. I need to hold onto Him and run- quit looking back and totally focus on every step being further away from that unwanted starting line.

The second point that I want to share with all of you is the scripture she shared at the end of her speech.

Romans 5:2-5(ESV)
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

What a beautiful verse. I know I needed to hear it today. As always, I’m impressed at God’s timing for placing the people and His word into my life at just the right moments. Today was no exception.