Journal entry by Vicki Bunke
I know a very special carpenter. Well in fact, I know two, but only one of them was Grace and Caroline’s Dodgen Middle School’s chorus teacher. The girls call him Mr. Whit. I call him Chris. Our family owns two of his woodworking creations. One was commissioned by Grace and the other one by Caroline. The first piece resides on a bookshelf in the sitting room adjacent to our master bedroom, the second one rotates between our backyard and garage depending on the weather. Both of them are beautiful and bring me joy every time I walk by them; and collectively, they inspired this post.
At some point in January 2018, Grace began planning her funeral. As you will recall, she chose to be cremated and for her ashes to be spread in the Sea of Galilee. When you decide on cremation, you also must select some form of urn or container. Grace googled different types of urns but was dissatisfied with her search. That’s when she remembered that she knew a special carpenter – Mr. Whit.
One late afternoon she said to me, “I know that Mr. Whit makes the best cornhole boards. Do you think he would make my urn?”
“I’m not sure,” I responded, “but I am more than happy to ask him for you.”
She replied, “Tell him that I don’t want anything fancy. I don’t want it to look shiny. I want it to look like it’s been around for a long time.”
“Ok,” I answered.
To which Grace responded, “Tell him to think Old Testament.”
“I will reach out to him tonight,” I replied.
And I did. And Mr. Whit made an urn just as Grace described.
Fast forward to 2020 and the pandemic. Just like everyone else in the world, beginning in March, our family spent a great deal of time at home in need of things to do. Remembering Grace’s assertion about this special carpenter’s cornhole-board-making talents, Caroline asked if I could order a set for our family.
And I did. And Mr. Whit made us a beautiful set of cornhole boards just as Caroline described.
This past month, I decided to do two things: register for a class on Bibliology (thank you Jennifer Bell) and finalize plans regarding The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour. In my Bibliology class, the instructor referred to the Old Testament as Act 1 and reminded us that following Act 1 (or the Old Testament) there was a 400-year intermission. 400 years of silence. 400 years without a prophetic word.
Last week as I walked past the cornhole boards in our garage on my way to go swimming, I could almost hear Grace utter those words from January 2018: Think Old Testament. And it reminded me of other words spoken by Grace and why I decided to follow through with my commitment to complete The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour this year. These other words were shared by Grace in her Rally Foundation speech in November 2017 and they go like this:
“So, here is the part where my story doesn’t wrap up in a pretty bow. Just as doctors predicted, in July, my cancer came back. Again. Relapse #2. But this time, the cancer invaded my spine – not good. The goal of my treatment switched from being curative to being focused on my quality of life. Correction, the quality of my end-of-life. Because guess what? I am going to die. I am going to die because of osteosarcoma. I am going to die of a disease whose treatment has not changed in three decades. Three decades.”
Grace reminded us that if you want to know about the current state of standard treatment for osteosarcoma: think Old Testament. If you are unsure if that is true, I have a closet full of prosthetic legs to present as evidence. But even worse, the current state of treatment for relapsed osteosarcoma is similar to that long intermission or silent period. As Grace also shared in her Rally speech:
“There currently is NO standard treatment for RELAPSED osteosarcoma.”
In other words, the medical world has been silent on this issue. Nothing. Not a single standard treatment has been developed for relapsed osteosarcoma even though it is the oldest form of cancer ever documented. And if you are unsure of the truth of that statement, I have an empty bedroom in our home to present as evidence.
But as Grace also shared in her speech, “Although none of this sounds very hopeful, I still am.”
Which is why I am happy to share with you that yes – yes, I am planning on completing The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour 2021. I plan to swim in 14! open water events, and I encourage you to join me in some form or fashion. Here is a link that outlines the AG Tour:
So why do I swim? I swim with the hope that one day in the future when another young person who believes like Grace that the Sea of Galilee is the most sacred body of water on the planet, that they can travel to Israel with their family and stand along the shoreline as a tourist rather than as a heap of ashes in a wooden box made for them by their middle school chorus teacher. That is why I swim. Like Grace, I swim for hope. I hope you will consider doing so as well.
“The teacher is always silent during the test.” (Unknown)