Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn

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Never Be Alone

This date last year was my first chemo treatment. I’m so grateful to be on this side of it and be able to say that it’s over. But, man, that was the beginning of something so much harder than I anticipated.

As usual, this morning started out busy getting the girls off to school. I had a meeting and then had a chance to work with a boy who makes me smile and laugh for a full hour. Then as I had my first moment of reflective downtime, I noticed the sweetest text on my phone from my friend- which totally reminded me of how lucky I am to have such great friends; to have a God who has carried me through this; and to be here today to be able to reminisce. The timing of the text was perfect. Just like the timing of a phone call from my sister while I was having a little meltdown in the middle of the gym earlier this week. (I’m ok now, but those moments of feeling upset and not like “myself” still happen.)

This afternoon I was able to volunteer in Olivia’s classroom for her Valentine’s party. Again- it left me feeling so grateful to be able to be there and participate this year. And as I sit here reflecting on how this week went, I realize that’s pretty much the emotional roller coaster that is my life now. Mostly grateful, very sentimental, sometimes sad- and constantly reminded that I have never, and will never, be alone in this life- even when no one is around.

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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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When I got home from my last chemo treatment on Thursday, I was surprised to see my dad, my sister’s kids, and my 3 closest friends from PA all waiting in the front yard for me- with balloons and signs and arms waiting for hugs. We spent the evening hanging out- reminiscing, catching up, looking at old yearbooks. It was the kind of evening where you wish time would stop so the night would never end. It was lovely and unforgettable. Thankful for such amazing love and support!

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Thankful For Friends

Shout out to our amazing friend/neighbor/babysitter, Jessica Eckhart. She loves our girls so well and has always picked up where I slack in the area of arts and crafts. She has been tremendously helpful to us since January. And now that the weather has warmed up, she is also doing things like taking the girls to Brandywine Falls, the zoo, and other outdoor adventures. I love having friends that are able to do the things with my kids that I don’t have energy for these days.

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Thank You


Today, I feel so loved and supported that it’s almost surreal. A group of amazing friends made these for me, and there are several more that didn’t fit in the picture. (Many of these girls were the same ones who planted the flowers at our house yesterday.) These words of encouragement and love will fill my soul every time I read them. I’m reminded that another blessing that comes through trials, is the realization that you’re surrounded by amazing friends every step of a difficult path. Thanks to everyone walking with me through this!!