Journal entry by Vicki Bunke
This past Saturday was the 14th stop of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour. It took place at Lake Lanier. Not the same venue, but the same lake in which Grace swam in back in September 2017. The perfect day is how I will always remember it. And this year was no different. Perfect in every way, except Grace was not there – at least not in body. Ask anyone who was present. Grace was definitely there in spirit.
In fact, Grace’s spirit was at every stop of the tour. She was in every city, in every body of water, and was a part of every story that I told along the way. I had the honor of speaking at all of the events. As such, my goal was to share Grace- and hope-filled stories which is why I refused to have a “stump speech.” Rather, I wanted to be in the moment and knew that Grace would always make sure I had the right words to say and stories to share that might have an impact or touch others in a meaningful way.
As human beings, we are story-shaped creatures. Because of that, over the years and whenever Grace and Caroline asked me any of life’s big questions – Is cheese a vegetable? Where does the sun go when it’s dark? Is Santa Claus real? – I told a story.
This didn’t change after Grace was diagnosed with cancer. In fact, following Grace’s diagnosis and subsequent relapses, Grace and Caroline’s questions only grew more complex and more difficult to answer: Why did Grace get cancer? What if Grace’s cancer comes back? When I get to Heaven, how will I know where to go or what to do? How am I supposed to live without Grace?
As their questions matured, my stories and story-telling skills needed to become exceptional. And more importantly, my stories needed to be full of hope.
As their mother, I believed that the single best way Grace and Caroline could conceive and embrace a hope-filled existence amid a seemingly hopeless situation like Grace’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent death was through stories.
Stories engage all of what we are – mind, emotions, spirit, and body. But hope-filled stories do even more. Hope-filled stories call us to live in a certain way, not just to think in a certain way.
Hope-filled stories also share another quality – they have the power to change us. They are quite aggressive in that sense. They say, “You must be different because of what you have heard. Your life cannot be the same now that you know this story.”
Grace taught us that hope has no finish line. But that is just a proposition. A declaration. A statement. And by itself, it doesn’t have a lot of impact. It hangs suspended in the land of abstract assertion. To be meaningful to others, this idea that hope has no finish line must be given the body and blood of a story.
I hope that is what I have accomplished through The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour. I hope that I was able to share hope-filled stories along the way that has made a difference. I hope that the people I have met since May realize that fragments of Grace’s story have now been woven into theirs, and as a result, a bridge of hope has been built to a new way of understanding and living.
In order to truly embrace the idea that hope has no finish line, people do not need proof from a preacher or a tip from a psychologist like myself. They just need a piece of a story, something real and full of life and blood and breath and heartache, something way more than an idea, something that someone has lived through, a piece of wisdom earned the hard way.
My wish is that when others ask anyone who has heard any of my stories throughout this journey, “Oh really, hope has no finish line? How do we know that hope has no finish line?”
They will answer with, “It’s true. Let me tell you a story. A story about a girl named Grace.”
And here is another story…there is a 15th swim.
There always was. The 14 Swim Across America open water events of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour 2021 represented the 14 years of Grace’s life in her earthly home. The 15th swim will represent her life in her eternal home.
I have gathered a small bit of water from each event. We will take the combined water with us to Israel where we will place it in the Sea of Galilee at the same location in which Caroline poured out Grace’s ashes back in November 2018.
We are not sure when we will be able to travel to Israel. But until then, we will do our best to honor Grace’s life by living ours knowing that there is no finish line in Hope. I will continue to share Grace- and hope-filled stories here as I am led until the 15th swim. The last entry in Caring Bridge will be the story of our return to Israel – that seems to be the most fitting way to finish. I will finish where it all began.
Thank you so much for all of your love, support, prayers, and generosity!
Here is a video from Saturday: The Amazing Grace SAA Tour – Atlanta
And now I’m singing along to Amazing Grace
Can’t nobody wipe this smile off my face
Got joy in my heart, angels on my side
Thank God almighty, I saw the light
Gonna look ahead, no turning back
Live every day, give it all that I have
Trust in someone bigger than me
Ever since the day that I believed
(Something In The Water, Carrie Underwood)