Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn

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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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“Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm”

There was a night over the weekend that the girls both fell asleep in our bed. After they were both asleep, I was ready and shimmied in between them to take my spot for the night. No sooner could I let out the sigh that comes when you’ve settled under the sheets after a long day, the girls simultaneously rolled in toward me and each put their arm around me. It was a perfect moment, and I couldn’t help but immediately say a prayer thanking God for them in my life. I couldn’t have held back the prayer if I tried… it was such a natural response to feeling my babies on either side of me in their peaceful rest. The moment stood out to me so much because, honestly, it’s been hard to pray sometimes through this (I think I’ve mentioned this before, but don’t want to read through old posts to check). I can’t explain it, but I can say that I’ve shared it with some people in similar situations who say they’ve experienced the same thing. And I know I have so many people who have been praying for me and carrying that for me, that it’s ok when I don’t. I’ve tried to figure out why this is, along with a lot of things through this experience. Two things stand out- the first is the amount of love God has surrounded me with- probably in preparation to get me through this. I’ve heard the song “In the Eye of the Storm” many times, but the other day I had a realization. There’s a part in the chorus that says “You alone are the anchor when my sails are torn. Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm.” Every time I’ve heard this in the past, I’ve pictured God surrounding a worn, broken boat in the middle of the sea with some imagery of protection like a force field around the boat and God looking down making it happen (don’t laugh). You know what I pictured for the first time the other day- all of you! I actually pictured me sitting on that boat with the faces and bodies of all of you being the “love surrounding me”. Like hundreds of people I love around me, standing on the water (not sure how that would happen), with arms out like a giant group hug just waiting for me and keeping me safe! It was a beautiful picture that I wish I could paint or put on paper somehow. YOU all are the LOVE that God has talked about. You have been in my life in part because He knew His love would be shown to me through you… and He knew I would need it to get through this. A specific example of that is your willingness to lift me in prayer when I just can’t do it on my own. Someday when I’m healthy again, I hope to show you all that same love and surround you when you need it most.
And now that I read how long this became, I’m going say this is part 1 of 2. Part 2 to come tomorrow. Because it’s another long one and I don’t want to bore you too much.  But I’ll also add the link to that song just in case you haven’t heard it.

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He is breathing on MY dry bones…

It’s difficult to know what to say to update everyone in this post and how many details to share. This was definitely the worst round of chemo, even knowing what to expect and armed with my arsenal of remedies for side effects. I was physically and emotionally at my lowest and had a hard time coming out of it. Like, it’s been 13 days and today was the first that I can say was not miserable. Coming out on the other side of it, I can share some beautiful things. My parents and brother were all out here to help out and love on me when I needed it. It was so depressing to see everyone’s fun spring break pics while I was barely getting out of bed, but now I see the gift of timing to be able to send my girls to PA for the worst parts of it so they didn’t have to see me so miserable and just have fun with their cousins. I have seen the value of friends who know how to love me and encourage me through the worst of the worst. I cannot say enough about Rob and his ability to help me through this. He knows me so well- when to let me rest, and when to push me to get out of bed; when to make me drink an Ensure and when to just bring home a slushie (I still think I could live on slushies and applesauce at this point); when to call on my friends to come encourage me even when I thought I didn’t want to see people; and when to stop in the middle of life and give me a hug. The hug was very much needed on Thursday, when I learned that a friend fighting a different kind of cancer lost her battle. This disease is awful. And way too prevalent. This treatment is barbaric and ugly. I don’t want to do it, but it’s my place right now. And I’m floundering my way through it.
The picture I posted below was actually taken when I wasn’t feeling too bad yesterday. It was warm outside and there’s something so healing about breathing fresh air and hearing birds chirping around you.
I don’t write all of this to make you feel bad for me. But more importantly, so you know what this experience looks like. And to know how I get through it. The misery I felt this round definitely tested my faith, and will surely happen again (the testing, not the misery). But as sad and lonely as I felt in the hours of being up all night or soaking in the tub for comfort, I’m not alone. I have a God strong enough to get me through this when I can’t. Thank goodness, because I don’t know how I would do it otherwise. I heard the song “Oh My Soul” (the link is below) right after round 3 and played it repeatedly these last 2 weeks. There’s something so powerful in the lyrics:

I won’t try to promise that someday it all works out
‘Cause this is the valley
And even now, He is breathing on your dry bones
And there will be dancing
There will be beauty where beauty was ash and stone
This much I know

Oh, my soul
You are not alone
There’s a place where fear has to face the God you know
One more day, He will make a way
Let Him show you how, you can lay this down

I’m not strong enough, I can’t take anymore
(You can lay it down, you can lay it down)
And my shipwrecked faith will never get me to shore
(You can lay it down, you can lay it down)
Can He find me here
Can He keep me from going under

This is MY valley… He is breathing on MY dry bones… One more day He will make MY way…. MY shipwrecked faith…He can keep me from going under. I don’t expect to be shouting from mountaintops in a beautiful unscarred journey. But I will get through this my own messy, miserable, broken way… with Him.
(Side note: Just now as I went to find the link for the song, I learned that the artist wrote this about his own battle with cancer. No wonder it resonates so closely with my experience. Thank you, God, for knowing what I need to hear. And knowing it usually comes through music for me. And thank you, everyone who is reading this and part of this group, for holding space with me and reminding me of your presence even in my silence.)

Today, please say a prayer for the sister of my friend who is no longer here, and her family. Her sister has been a dear friend for many years and this is really hard for the entire family. God will know who you mean. The family could use some comfort tonight.


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“Don’t wake me up!”

This is real. This is hard. I guess this is my “woe is me” day. And instead of waiting until it passes and posting something super postive after-the-fact, I’m sharing this today. I was reading another survivor’s blog about her cancer experience and it was totally depressing for me. (not any of you on in this group, don’t worry.) I won’t go into details, but it made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough to take control of some things in my situation. And that I “should” be doing better. And I’ve already been so bummed out with this never-ending cycle of side effects. I realized the other day that I’ve had all but one of the potential side effects from chemo (I do still have my fingernails). And there’s a snowball effect from one to the next and soon you’re lost in a cloud of “ick” and you don’t know where to start to feel better. And sometimes you can do everything under the sun for symptom relief but you just need this chemo out of your system.

So I thought I’d take a relaxing bath and maybe it would help to do some meditating. Well, I guess it prompted a cathartic cry with some deep pondering of faith issues and frustrations. And as my cousin, Toya Groves encouraged me- “keep writing”. So I’m writing it for you all and for myself, because I don’t want to sugarcoat this experience.
I’m ok. I’ll probably be fine again as soon as my silly girls come running in the house after school. But I miss my old self. I miss feeling well. I miss eating and an appetite. I miss hands and feet without neuropathy that can bend without pain. I miss energy. I miss laughing that used to come so frequently and easily. I miss life before January. And as I laid in the bath listening to Jets to Brazil, the song “Cat Heaven” came on. It was on point for the moment.
“So captain please consider me
Let the boats deliver me
When I close my eyes…drive, captain, drive!
It’s time.
For everything to be perfect
For everything to stop hurting
Don’t wake me up!”

And I thought to myself that if I laid still enough- not trying to bend my fingers, my tongue super still to not feel the sores in my mouth, deep breaths and eyes closed, I could create my own daydream. I could go back to last summer in Michigan on a perfect day at the beach where I swam with my kids and relaxed and smiled and laughed for hours. How I’d give anything for one hour of that right now. But it was just a few moments- The song ended. I opened my eyes and saw my bald reflection in the shower spout. I licked my dry lips and felt the ulcers in my mouth again. And as I sat up I felt my swollen fingers desperate to bend again. And, just as everything has perfect timing, a friend texted the perfect response in that moment: “You are stronger than this storm… even at your weakest, you got this.” Thank you, Hannah Springer for the encouragement at that moment.
So I’m here writing about it. Knowing I’ll be ok- because there will be a time when this is over and I can look back on it while I’m laughing with my kids at a beach somewhere. Ahh- now THAT gives me hope.

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The Unmaking

“This is the unmaking.
Beauty in the breaking.
Had to lose myself to find out who You are.
Before each beginning,
there must be an ending.
Sitting in the rubble
I can see the stars…

…Only when we’re broken are we whole…

…I’ll gather the same stones where
Everything came crashing down.
I’ll build you an altar there
on the same ground.”

This song played through my head the entire morning of my first treatment. And I’ve listened to it every day since then… several times. I feel like “unmaking” is a perfect description of how I feel. For the first time in my life, I have very little control of my physical health. I have to follow protocol to have poison injected into me for 5 months. I have to feel fatigued and nauseous. I have to lose my hair and feel less like myself than ever before. And it’s all for healing. Every negative symptom shows me that the chemo is working and every healthy cell that is killed (“unmade”) in the process is beautiful in that it will eventually be replaced by only healthy cells. I’m feeling physically broken, but hopefully this is a temporary dark night before a beautiful new beginning. That my body will be “normal” again in the future, and can be re-made as a healthier altar where the Holy Spirit dwells to use me for wonderful things.

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It Is Well

You all know I have a strong faith that has helped me through difficult times in the past- especially losing a close cousin and also a dear friend to cancer. I know I will get through this, but it is still scary to be standing in shoes similar to theirs at the beginning of their experience. My friend, Allison Armstrong chose to have the song “It is Well” played at her funeral and it forever changed the way I heard and understood the power of those words. Now, in the middle of my own experience, I can’t help but feel an even deeper, soul-reaching sense of peace when I listen to the lyrics. For anyone who does not have a relationship with Christ, I hope you can see His presence in my experience. He didn’t cause this, but He will carry me through it. Enjoy this beautiful version… “This mountain that’s in front of me will be thrown into the midst of the sea.”