12.06.20 – Say I Won’t

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

We have all experienced being underestimated in this life. In today’s broken world, there are hundreds or even thousands of reasons why this might have happened. Maybe it was because of your age. Your gender. Your race or your religion. How you look or where you went to school. Maybe it was because of your background or accent or dialect. Maybe it was because you still believe that a hug and a bit of hope can change us all.

I was thinking about the idea of being underestimated last night while running on the treadmill and listening to MercyMe’s new song called “Say I Won’t.” This song was inspired by the band’s longtime friend Gary Miracle, who worked with the band for many years on the road. Gary lost both arms and legs in January of 2020 after falling into septic shock. His story and the inspired song is one of strength and profound faith (see attached video – trust me, you will not regret watching it).

Listening to this song reminded me of occasions over the past handful of years where I witnessed or experienced moments of being underestimated.

I recall the evening of October 20, 2014 when we sat in the post-surgical room and listened to Dr. Fabregas describe to us how Grace’s rotationplasty surgery went and asking him: “How do most of your patients respond after waking up from this surgery?”

He replied: “Most patients don’t want to look at their leg and often they are depressed.”

After he left the room, my mom and I looked at each other and said, “Well, he doesn’t know Grace.”

Sure enough and true to form, when we greeted Grace for the first time in the hallway on our way to the ICU, she proclaimed, “I saw my leg and it’s awesome!”

The underestimation continued into the next day. Fearing that Grace would not be strong enough to eat, her surgical team decided to put in an NJ feeding tube. Early the next morning and to the surprise of her ICU nurse, Grace asked for pancakes. While trying to eat them, she said, “It would be a lot easier to eat these if you would take out this tube.” Which the nurse promptly did.

This type of event and exchanges continued throughout Grace’s illness, treatment, recovery and rehabilitation, relapse, and death. I recall hearing things like:

She won’t be strong enough.
She won’t be able to do that.
That’s too much for Grace.
Caroline isn’t old enough to hear that. Or do that.
Their marriage won’t make it.
They will lose faith.
Nobody has ever done that before.
It won’t work.
That’s not the way we normally do things.
You can’t keep this up.
You need a break.
She needs a break.
They will lose faith.

Those closest to me know this but I have never shared this more broadly – sadly and unfortunately, we did not have a good experience with Hospice. In fact, it was a very difficult and painful experience and we met and walked away from 3 different Hospice providers. Why? Because they were the most profound and talented underestimators I have ever encountered in my life.

It has taken me a long time to figure out what the breakdown was in our relationship.

But, I finally figured it out while running on the treadmill this weekend listening to MercyMe’s song.

They were right. We were not capable of doing all of the hard things that we said to them that we could do.

They simply failed to understand something vital that our family knew and understood.

We were never acting alone. There was always another One in the fire.

They underestimated us because we were playing out of very different playbooks. They were were operating out of their Hospice provider handbooks, and we were operating out of the Book of Philippians.

As MercyMe’s inspirational song reminded me this week on the treadmill, whether we are in a season of blessing or a season of trial, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. He gives us the strength to walk faithfully no matter what we face.

He allows us to proclaim the following when confronted with life’s underestimators:

Say I Won’t… and then we get to fill in the blank and prove them wrong. Over and over and over again.

I guess knowing and believing in this promise, underestimation can be our greatest weapon. Period. Amen. Let this be our New Year’s Resolution for 2021.

Say I Won’t…[fill in the blank]

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy New Year, and much love to all of you. 

I can do all things
Through Christ who gives me strength
So keep on saying I won’t
And I’ll keep proving you wrong

I’m gonna run
No I’m gonna fly
I’m gonna know what it means to live
And not just be alive
This world’s gonna hear
Cause I’m gonna shout
And I will be dancing when circumstances drown the music out
Say I won’t

08.27.20 – Put Me In Coach

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

What more could we ask for from life than to have opportunities?

Opportunities to love. To help. To learn. To work. Connect. Engage. Contribute. Provide. And to compete. To play.

I believe opportunities – even, or maybe especially, during a pandemic – are everywhere.

Sure, finding them might require effort. A little discernment. Good timing, sincere people, determination, and a little bit of luck. But the world isn’t hiding them from you. It’s the opposite. It wants to hand them out. Sometimes, it might appear as though the doors are closed, but I promise you, they are certainly not locked.

Caroline recently learned and experienced this wonderful fact.

This summer, she tried out for a competitive soccer team. Caroline is athletic and coordinated and loves playing soccer. But the reality is when it comes to competitive youth soccer, there is a certain window of opportunity – or so I thought.

We happen to live near a YMCA, which means that we drive by soccer fields every single day. Even from her backward-facing-car-seat vantage point, Grace was always intrigued by the children running across those fields. Once she was old enough to formally participate, we let her play on one of those soccer teams. I think she was 3. Although she liked playing soccer, what she really loved about playing soccer was all of the running.

And that is how it began for the girls. Grace played soccer which meant that so did Caroline. Later, Grace joined the Walton Youth Cross Country/Track Program which meant that so did Caroline.

Since Grace and Caroline enjoyed both sports, they split their time between both – which was so wonderful for us as parents because they had a shared love and common experience – plus we only had one place each season in which to drive both girls.

But then August 2014 arrived. And everything changed. Everything.

Ultimately, Grace changed her focus from running to swimming. Caroline tried over the years to continue with organized running and even experienced success, yet something was missing. And that something was Grace. Caroline continued playing soccer but never made the commitment to a more competitive experience because she ultimately just loved spending time with Grace. She would rather be cheering Grace on at a swim meet than competing in a weekend soccer tournament. When it came to Caroline, spending time with Grace always came first. Always.

Fast forward to June 2020. Caroline was offered an opportunity to try out for a competitive soccer team. Up until that point, Caroline had only played on what we suburbanites call a “recreational soccer team.”

And guess what? She didn’t make the team. But that’s not how the story ends. Because guess what? As our family knows, hope has no finish line.

Following try-outs, I received a phone call from the coach. By his tone, I knew what he was about to tell me, so I interrupted him and said, “Listen, I want to make this easy for you. It’s ok. This is not going to be the worst phone call I have ever received.” He replied with, “But I’m not finished.”

The coach went on to say that he saw potential, but that Caroline had a great deal of work to do if she wanted to make his team. But this coach offered Caroline something. He offered her a chance. He offered her an extended try-out. He offered her an opportunity. He outlined what she needed to do if she wanted a chance at making the team.

And guess what? She did all of the things he asked her to do. All of them.

And guess what? She made the team.

Although I firmly believe that opportunities come from above, I don’t think that they just land in our laps. Rather, I think they arrive through a combination of divine intervention, strong relationships, hard work, and the correct attitude that puts you in the right place, at the right time, with the right set of skills.

To say that I am happy for Caroline just might be equivalent to me saying that I miss Grace. 

But if you think this story is about soccer, you are missing the point. It is not about soccer for Caroline. Just like swimming was never what it was about for Grace. It is about something far greater. Soccer and swimming are just the backdrops for the stories.

As Prince Harry states in the recently released Netflix documentary about the Paralympics entitled “Rising Phoenix,” ‘There isn’t anything else in the world that can bring you back from the darkest places than sport.’


PS – Kate T. Parker’s latest book called ‘Play Like a Girl” was released last week. She photographed Caroline for the book. You can see her on Page 90. Guess where that photograph was taken? At the same soccer field that Caroline now calls her home field – The Roswell Santos. Thank you Kate.

“Stretching yourself hurts, it’s supposed to.”  (Caroline Bunke)

07.01.20 – I Love To Tell The Story

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

Many people consider Ernest Hemingway to be the gold standard for fiction. One of the distinctives of his writing is simple and clear prose. Legend has it that friends, who knew how much he despised flabby and florid writing, once challenged him to write a story using only six words. He accepted the challenge and wrote: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

If you have a pulse, those six words probably stopped you in your tracks. And that’s because stories, even if comprised of only 6 words, are powerful. They are like seeds carrying within them something mysterious, compelling, and potent. That might explain why we love hearing and telling certain stories over and over again.

I was recently asked to share a story. A story I know well – so well that I know each and every single part by heart. But if I am being honest, some parts of the story I don’t really like. In fact and had it been up to me, I would have written some of it differently. Very differently.

Which reminded me of an old church hymn I also know very well. The hymn is “I Love To Tell The Story” which is based on a poem written by Kate Hankey. The poem that inspired this hymn actually had two parts. The first part was entitled “The Story Wanted” and the second part which inspired the hymn I mentioned was called, “The Story Told.”

I find those titles interesting…The Story Wanted and The Story Told. Why? Mainly because in my experience those two things don’t always match up. In other words, the story wanted is not always the story told.

That is certainly true of the story that I was asked to share more than a few months ago at the Swim Across America Summit in Nashville. Along with Dr. Wasilewski, I had the opportunity to share Grace’s story. It was called: The Story of Amazing Grace Bunke. Swim Across America was kind enough to record it and with the assistance of many professionals including one of Grace’s friends, Hannah Aspden, our presentation was put together and can be seen here:

The Story of Amazing Grace Bunke

If you watch the video you will see that Grace’s story is not a story about cancer or illness, but rather a story about love and faith and hope. Regardless and despite how much I love to tell her story, it was not the story I wanted. It most certainly didn’t end the way I wanted it to end. No, the story I wanted was not the story told.

At the end of my presentation, I formally announced my plan to honor Grace’s life and memory by swimming in 14 of the Swim Across America open water events in 2020. We even gave my plan a name. We branded it: The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour 2020. However, due to COVID-19, the plan and tour is officially being postponed until 2021. Again, the story wanted will not be the story told.

I think this year – the year of 2020 – everybody can relate to this idea. The story most people wanted for 2020 is not the story that is being told. The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour is definitely not the only event or experience that has been postponed or changed. But what if we were able to change our perspective on this year and our experiences thus far?

As I watched the on-line Mt Bethel UMC service this past Sunday in my living room with friends, I was struck by Gaylyn Kelly’s sermon and her questions posed at the end. She asked:

What if 2020 is exactly the way it’s supposed to be? What if it’s supposed to be hard and difficult, scary, raw, challenging? What if it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be?

In other words, what if we embrace the story being told and let go of the story we wanted? What if we rely on God’s faithfulness as we remember the promise of Romans 8:28: “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Trust me, I get it. I will be the first to confess that God’s providence can, at times, read like a mystery novel that doesn’t make sense this side of heaven; but in the end, His story line for those who trust Him is always wise, specific, and good. What if we believe this to be true – even when the story we want does not match the story that is told? In my experience, that’s what trusting God is all about. And that is a story I will always love to tell.

“When we leave the pen in His hands we will never be disappointed with the story of our lives.” (Eric Ludy)

05.21.20 – More Hope, Less Dread

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

During this shelter in place period, I started what I have affectionately called COVID projects. Things I have wanted to do for years but never seemed to have the time. Until now. One of the projects on my list included printing out photos and putting them in albums. It has been ages since I have done that so the project was equally tedious as it was rewarding. As the photos began to arrive in boxes on our doorstep, I began sorting them into piles on the kitchen counter. One afternoon, Caroline and our neighbor Cooper were looking through the photos.

Caroline was excited when she came across pictures from a trip we were generously gifted a handful of months before Grace died. Grace loved many things, but at the top of her list were water, swimming, and pigs. Yes, pigs. Knowing this, two families planned and funded a trip of a lifetime for our family to a private island in the Bahamas where we were able to swim in the ocean with pigs.

As Caroline and Cooper sifted through the photos from that trip, Caroline said, ‘That was the best trip of my life. I will never forget it. I just wish I could go back and do it over again, but this time without the dread of what I knew was coming.’

Her comment stopped me in my tracks.

but this time without the dread…

Without the dread. Living without dread.

Is that even possible? I think so. In fact, I know so. But how?

I think it is possible by choosing faith over fear and hope over dread.

If faith is the substance of our hope, then fear is the substance of our dread. Basically, dread is fear on steroids – an extreme uneasiness in the face of pain and uncertainty. It is like an armed robber, forcing us to empty our emotional bank accounts while staring down the barrel of what we view as impending doom.

As we live through this current pandemic together, I don’t think it has ever been more universally clear that life can be difficult and that not every day is going to be filled with good news or enjoyable tasks. But God never intended for us to be miserable or live with dread even when things are not going our way. Instead, He wants us to expect good things and remain hopeful, regardless of our circumstances. And here are two thoughts that help me do that: Stay hopeful and don’t dread.

When you dread something, it simply means you’re expecting to have an unpleasant experience, which is the exact opposite of hope. Without even realizing it, I think a lot of people dread their way through the day. Prior to this pandemic, I think we were guilty of dreading things like rush-hour traffic, doing the dishes, doing laundry, paying the bills, cutting the grass, grocery shopping, cooking dinner, etc. Since the pandemic, it seems that we are more likely to experience dread by worrying about things that might happen or things we can’t control or change.

Rather than giving into feelings and thoughts of dread, I suggest that we have an attitude that proclaims, “I’m not going to lose hope regardless of what is happening in my life. I may not have planned for or wanted this to happen, but I know God can work everything out, even this, for my good.”

We need to remember that regardless of what life brings our way, God has a plan to make it better – a plan filled with hope and good things.

We need to remember that hope is stronger than dread.

The way I look at it, if Grace could face death without dread, then our family can certainly face life without it too. Ironically and ultimately, the only way I believe we can live our lives without dread is to live our lives with hope and grace. God’ grace.

I hope all of you and your families are doing way better than well!

Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
(Psalm 91: 5-7)

04.07.20 – Grace, We Want You Back!

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

Periodically I check Grace’s e-mail account. Why? I have no idea. But today when I checked her e-mail account, I was shocked to see that LA Fitness feels just as I do. They recently sent her an email with the subject line:

Grace, we want you back!

This shared sentiment reminds me of this upcoming Good Friday. On that very first Good Friday, I can only imagine that all of Jesus’ friends and family and followers must have thought the same thing as LA Fitness and myself. They must have thought, “We want you back!”

I think this is what makes Good Friday so hard. It is the day when all our easy answers fall flat. Death wins. Hope dies. Which explains why people might like to stay away or skip over Good Friday. Palm Sunday and Easter are celebrations; Good Friday interrupts their joy with the stark reality of life in all its awfulness. We don’t need church to remind us of that; it’s already all around us. Especially now with the current global pandemic.

Which reminds me of an interesting article that was written by Diane Cameron several years ago. In her article was the quote, “We live in a Good Friday world, but we are Easter people.” She goes on to describe a time in her life that was her “lowest point,” a time of crushing depression when everything seemed to be lost. It was her own personal Good Friday.

A lot of people reading this might be in the middle of what seems to be an interminable Friday. It is hard to accept suffering and illness and disappointment and uncertainty. These experiences and feelings can make Friday seem like it will never end. I think that is because if every Sunday is “a little bit Easter,” that leaves six remaining days each week to be “a little bit Good Friday.” To feel wronged. To feel forgotten. To feel God’s presence suddenly vanish, leaving you to wishfully plead, as those first Easter disciples did, “We want you back!” Or maybe for many people under the present circumstances, “We want our lives back!”

Our own family’s experiences have taught me what I think many people are feeling right now: that life is incredibly beautiful and terrifically hard. Sometimes simultaneously, though more often, these opposite features of life are proximate and subsequent to one another. I know what it’s like to feel humbled and fortunate for casseroles and cards dropped off at one’s door, while at the same time feeling incredibly alone, scratching your head and wondering, how is it possible to go on in the middle of a personal Good Friday?

I think that’s where faith comes in. I have found that the persistence of faith hinges on my ability to feel comfortable in the not knowing. I have found that the more I can incorporate mystery and contradiction into my understanding of God, the easier it is to believe even amidst personal pain and Good Fridays. In fact, faith is what allows me to believe that the story did not end on Friday. Faith is what permits me to accept that although we might live in a Good Friday world where we yearn for things to be different, where I and the folks at LA Fitness can’t help but place this wishful thought in our daily subject line: Grace, we want you back!; at the very core of it all, we remain an Easter people full of hope.

Thankfully, this week is not just about Good Friday. The hope of this season and our lives is all about Sunday. It’s all about Easter Sunday. It’s all about Easter Sunday when Jesus triumphantly told the world: I am back!

‘It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin’!’ (Tony Campolo)

PS – This week, several families from our wonderful middle school life Group delivered wooden crosses to our home as well as to the Hillis’ to remind us to choose faith over fear. After Caroline and our neighbors decorate it, we plan to place it in our backyard underneath Grace’s birthday/baptism tree. It will serve as reminder to me that as much as I would love to see and hug Grace right now, I should not want Grace to come back. Why? Because she is already home.

03.29.20 – Do Not Be Afraid

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

Like many of you, today our family spent part of this morning watching our church service on-line. On-line church is clearly not everyone’s favorite manner in which to ‘attend’ church, but for now it is the best we can do. And although I would much rather be sitting in a pew in the sanctuary rather than a chair in my family room, watching sermons on-line and through my air pods is not an unfamiliar means of worship for me. Although I love listening to music when I run or take Skye for walks, I also enjoy listening to on-line sermons. I even have some favorites. Several of which I have memorized since I have listened to them so many times.

One of them that came to mind today was a sermon delivered by Dr. Randy Mickler, a friend of Grace’s and of our family, at Mt Bethel UMC on the morning before Grace’s rotationplasty surgery in October 2014. It is called: Heroes of the Faith: The Man Who Succeded Moses.

You might assume I had church and Randy on my mind this afternoon because today is Sunday. But you would be wrong. I was thinking about Randy because I was cleaning out Daisy’s cage. Who is Daisy? Daisy is Grace’s guinea pig. Why does Daisy remind me of Randy? Let me tell you why…

As I have shared here before, during Grace’s last hospital admission that lasted 4 weeks, Randy visited Grace every day, each time bringing her a milkshake as she told him how much she enjoyed them. After one of his visits, I stepped out into the hallway to tell him goodbye.

Before he left, Randy said, “Is there anything else we can do for you? Is there anything else you need? We are here to help your family in any way possible.”

I looked at him and jokingly said, “Yes, you can go to our house and clean out Daisy’s cage.”

Without missing a beat, Randy said, “Sure, no problem. I’ll send Diane.”

Since that day, it has become an ongoing joke between myself, Randy, and Diane. I keep waiting for them to come over and clean out Daisy’s cage, and they keep providing me with an excuse why they can’t make it. Their latest excuse is – you guessed it – social distancing. They wouldn’t want to take a chance of getting Daisy sick. That is just like Randy and Diane, always thinking of other people first, even guinea pigs.

So why did this particular sermon come to mind? It is because the sermon was based on the following scripture from Joshua 1:9: This is my command – be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Back in October 2014, I thought the purpose of Randy’s inspired words were so that Grace would feel safe and secure as she prepared for her partial leg amputation surgery the next morning. But now I think those words and sermon were spoken to remind me and anyone else who recalls that sermon of something very important. As Randy told everyone in his sermon that happened to be delivered during the Ebola outbreak of 2014:

“Don’t fear the things that can harm the body, only fear that which can harm the soul.”

Randy also referenced the fear that people experienced during the polio epidemic in the 1950s. Interestingly, my mother was one of those children affected by the polio virus. As a result, when she was only 4-years-old, she was quarantined in the hospital for 3 months from her family and later endured multiple surgeries and hospitalizations due to this disease. My mom and Grace used to sometimes joke around with each other about who had experienced the most surgeries and hospitalizations due to their different diseases. I can’t remember now who won those debates, maybe they both did?

The important thing to remember, however, is that just like Randy stated in October 19, 2014, viruses and pandemics and leg amputations and cancer might be able to harm the body, but they are not capable of harming the soul. Not when you have the right perspective and remember the promise that God has made to us all: I am with you always.

Tonight I plan to re-watch Randy’s October 19, 2014 sermon. And before I go to bed tonight, I will recite the prayer that he spoke at the end of that sermon.

I also want to point out that although that sermon and prayer will bring me comfort, guess what else would? Randy and Diane cleaning out Daisy’s cage. Perhaps they will finally make it over to visit with Daisy once we can all get together in person again. Until then, I will just hold tight to the closing prayer that Randy gave in his October 2014 sermon:

Father God, we give you thanks for heroes of the faith. Help us as we consider those that have truly never lost a sense of your presence, never forgotten the purpose or the promise, and have the finest perspectives. Help us to emulate their lives, not just for our own but for those who are coming up so that they won’t be afraid when challenging, difficult times come their way. May they be secure in your love and in your presence and in your promise and in your purpose. May their perspective reflect that security. In Christ’s name. Amen.

PS – If you do watch the sermon, you just might get a glimpse of another Hero of the Faith and friend to Grace, Robert McMichael.

03.26.20 – Broken?

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

Sometimes life hits us, and it hits us hard. So hard in fact that it breaks us: the loss of a job, a cancer diagnosis, divorce, the death of a child or spouse or parent or any loved one for that matter, or in this current time, a global pandemic.

Things like this can take anyone, no matter how strong they are, and shatter them on the floor like a vase. Brokenness is not beyond anyone. The right circumstances, at the wrong time can break the best of us, but the Japanese art of Kintsugi shows us there is beauty and value in brokenness.

What is Kintsugi?

The word Kintsugi is the combination of two words: Kin = Golden and tsugi = Joinery. It is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed or dusted with gold. But it really is more than just repair. This method brings new life to pottery pieces by highlighting their brokenness. It reminds us that breakage is not the end – cracks are not flaws but are natural elements that happen in life – proving flexibility of use and embracing change and brokenness as inevitable.

Kintsugi provides us with a framework to consider our own lives – its ups and downs, fragility and sensitivity, brittleness and toughness, trauma and reparation. It reminds us that repaired things can be more beautiful and of greater value than unbroken things.

Yesterday marked 2 years since Grace left this world. Today would have been her 17th year on this planet. Our family had anticipated celebrating these past few days differently. In preparation of these celebratory plans, I had purchased etched wine glasses that mimic Kintsugi pottery to give to these friends so we could properly toast and recognize both days. However, given our current state of social distancing, those plans changed.

But that is ok. Why? Because as the Kintsugi tradition reminds us, wounds and hurt and disappointment become the places where we are the strongest; the place where the pain does the holding together. It is the profound understanding that the more broken, cracked, or chipped an object is, the more precious it becomes. In other words, the breakage and mending are an important part of the story. And, most painfully but crucially, the shattered object surrendered itself to allow Another’s hands to fix and heal and glue it back together.

That’s how I see our family. Broken but beautiful. And that is also how I see our world right now. Every time the global map of the pandemic is displayed across our television screen, all I see is a Kintsugi portrait of brokenness. I see waves of gold traveling across the broken map of sickness. I know without a doubt that our country and world will survive this pandemic. And just like our broken family, this broken world will be way more beautiful once He puts it all back together.

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” (Ernest Hemingway)

03.24.20 – Ellipsis of Life

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

The ellipsis, a row of 3 dots, stands for an omitted section of text. It can also be used to represent an unfinished thought or simply a pause. I think we can all agree that we are currently living in an ellipsis. An ellipsis of life. The dizzying number of closures, cancellations, postponements, and ordered restrictions on our lives prompted by the COVD-19 pandemic just keeps growing. America, as we know it, is on pause. We are in an ellipsis of life.

As our family approaches two years living on this planet without Grace, I am reminded how familiar we are with the feeling and experience that is touching our entire globe. The experience of living in an ellipsis – the feeling of not knowing what might come next. The feeling of having one’s life placed on pause or hold because of an unwanted medical diagnosis.

Without question, a new life started for me on the day of Grace’s diagnosis and again several years later on the day of her death. I wish I could have learned these important life lessons taking a class or studying a book; but instead, I learned the painful and inspiring lessons firsthand.

I learned to be more accepting, tolerant, and inclusive, preferring to err on the side of grace and forgiveness than righteous indignation. I learned about context and perspective. I learned a new definition of community. And, I learned about random acts of generosity and kindness in the most unexpected places from the most unexpected people. I think perhaps that is what the rest of the world is beginning to learn as they confront on a global level what our family has confronted and experienced on a personal level.

Interestingly, over a month ago I redesigned the pictures and artwork on one of our family room walls. As can be seen by the accompanying photo, I placed a tambourine (inspired by Gaylyn Kelly’s sermon at Mt Bethel UMC from November 2019) in a shadow box. I planned to take this tambourine with me on each of the 14 stops of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour 2020. I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with the tambourine, but I knew for certain that it would be worthy of displaying in a shadow box in the middle of our family room following this swim tour.

Look at what I wrote over a month ago on a yellow post-it note and placed on this un-used tambourine?

I wrote: Stay tuned…

Stay tuned…

Although it is difficult to know that an idea that was truly inspired – the idea of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour 2020 – is on ‘Stay tuned…’ status, I know without a doubt that it will all work out. How do I know this? I know this because it wasn’t my idea in the first place. It was His.

I also know that each year almost 10 million people across the world die from cancer, of which 80,000 are children. As I type this, it is my understanding that 17,000 people across the globe have died from COVID-19. What is my point? It is definitely not to suggest that the COVD-19 pandemic is not important or life-changing.

I suppose on the almost-2-year anniversary of Grace’s death, I just want to remind everyone that many things are not placed on pause despite the mandated closures and restrictions due to COVID-19. And one of those things is cancer.

Telecommuting, distance learning, shelter-in-place orders, and social distancing might place a pause or hold on the spread of COVID-19, but it does not do a single thing to stop the fact that adults and children will continue to hear these 3 words even in the middle of this pandemic: You have cancer…

I used to think the punctuation of life begins and ends with an exclamation point. But what I have learned over the past handful of years is that the punctuation of life is more like the ellipsis. And during this particularly difficult Lenten Season for the world, I am reminded that the most important ellipsis occurred on Good Friday.

On Good Friday, death thought it had won. But instead, God said stay tuned…

Stay tuned…Easter is coming…the story never ends.

Knowing this gives me hope, as it should all of you.

Please stay healthy and inspired and don’t lose hope. Remember, there is always hope. Always. Hope has no finish line.

“When faith takes a journey, it packs a tambourine.” (Gaylyn Kelly)

03.21.20 – In the Midst of the Mess

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

It is a frightening and uncertain time. We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, with cities and even entire countries shutting down. And all of us are watching the headlines and wondering, “What is going to happen next?” For many people, the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is the hardest thing to handle. We don’t know exactly how we will be impacted or how bad things might get.

This widespread uncertainty is partly rooted in the realization that our cultural clock has been reset, if not broken. To curtail COVID-19’s spread, our government and institutions are calling off the community activities by which we measure time. It is as if the month of March – and, so far, a good part of April – has been canceled or at least postponed.

As an employee of our local school district and with our schools being closed, I am home with Caroline. Our routines have changed. I am telecommuting and she is engaged in digital learning. Her recreational soccer season is on hold and the pool I swim in several times a week is closed. However, we both continue to exercise. She is riding her bike, jumping on the neighbor’s trampoline, and walking Skye. I, on the other hand, have returned to my first love – running. I run every day which means I listen to music everyday as well. I have created a new playlist called Palm Sunday/Easter. I listen to it on every single run each and every day. As a result, I quickly developed a favorite song on my self-created playlist.

The song is entitled, “The God Who Sees” and is a modern-day oratorio written by Kathie Lee Gifford and Nicole C. Mullens. The oratorio tells the stories of Hagar, Ruth, David, and Mary Magdalene. As the lyrics of this song convey through each of their stories, God is always there – in the desert, in the wilderness, and even in the garden. This song reminds me that God is always watching and forever present whether we are afraid, uncertain, or worried.

This aspect of God’s nature may not be as important on a day when our banners are waving and the crowds are cheering and life is going as we had planned. In the seasons when we feel secure and celebrated and surrounded, God can easily become just another set of eyes in the bleachers. But when we’re running for our lives or wandering through the wilderness of isolation, fear, or despair – the discovery that God is always watching is worth everything. Trust me, there is a God who sees us amidst the messiness of life – whether we are in the middle of a pandemic, dealing with the death of a loved one, confronted by a dreaded medical diagnosis, dealing with loss of a job, or struggling with worry and uncertainty.

This past week while running and listening to my most favorite song on my current playlist, “The God Who Sees,” I was reminded of something that happened in mid-January of 2018 as we left the hospital for what I thought was the last time as we thought we were going to be able to manage Grace’s end-of-life care at our home. In the lobby of Grace’s treating hospital is a player piano. As my mom and Grace and I walked past that player piano toward the parking garage, I heard a familiar song. It was familiar because it happened to be the song that I softly played on a CD player in the girls’ nursery as I rocked them back to sleep after they woke up in the middle of the night. The song is a classic so I am certain most of you are familiar with it – the song is “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

What is the life lesson here? I guess for me the lesson to remember is that even when you are walking through a children’s hospital lobby with your terminally ill child, even when you are in the midst of unspeakable sorrow, even when you are afraid and feel alone, and even when you are in the middle of a pandemic, God is always with you. You always have someone watching over you.

We may not know what awaits us tomorrow as it relates to this pandemic. But this is what I do know:

God is bigger than this.
God is intimately aware of all of this.
God is more than prepared to love all of us throughout this.
God will use us if we let Him.
Our country is uniquely and masterfully set up to survive and withstand this.
In tough times like these we have a great opportunity to love others so let’s focus on that.

Many people have asked me this week what will become of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour 2020. I have simply told them to stay tuned. You might be able to cancel school, prom, graduations, parades, golf tournaments, and basketball seasons. But there is one thing that you can never cancel and that is hope. Hope has no finish line.

I will be the Rock of your salvation
I’ll hold you up by the strength of My right hand
And the power of My Spirit
Will free you from all fear
In the hour of your deepest need
You’ll find that I am near
I am here

And I will be a ring of fire around you
And I will be the glory in your midst
And the power of My presence
Will bring you to your knees
Then I will lift you up again
For I’m the God who sees
(The God Who Sees)

PS – Every time I listen to this song – which is every day, I hear it as if the Mt Bethel UMC choir is singing it in my air pods as I run down Sandy Plains Road. Hint hint…wouldn’t this be a perfect anthem for them to sing when we all gather back together in the sanctuary?

Here is the video of the song: The God Who Sees

03.04.20 – Hard

Journal entry by Vicki Bunke 

Last week, following Ash Wednesday, Caroline and I were discussing our personal plans for this Lenten season. Caroline loves sweets, chocolate in particular. So that’s what she chose to give up for the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Sweets. During our conversation we talked about how Lent gives us 40 days to make a personal sacrifice and open our eyes to what remains when certain treasured comforts are gone. Forty days to remember what it is like to live by the grace of God and not by what we can provide for ourselves. Sounds like a great idea, right? We think so, but we also acknowledge that Lent is not easy. Don’t believe me, then ask Caroline. In fact, after we talked about the importance and reasons behind Lent, Caroline said to me, “Then why is it so hard?”

Why is it so hard?

Caroline’s words and question resonated with me. Mainly because that’s not the first time I have heard one of my children utter those words during this time of year. The first time I heard those words and question was in March 2018.

After Grace’s first relapse in October 2016 and while sitting together with Kerry Jones, one of Grace’s most incredible helicopter teachers, in her hospital room post-lung-surgery, Grace jokingly asked us, “Does this mean I get a second Make-A-Wish?”

I laughed and said, “Sure, why not?!? What would you wish for?”

Grace replied, “I would wish to hang out with Todd Chrisley.”

For those unfamiliar with Todd Chrisley, he is the patriarch of the Chrisley family who are featured in a reality TV show called, “Chrisley Knows Best.” Both Grace and Caroline enjoyed watching this television show during overnight hospital stays when it first aired in 2014 during Grace’s initial cancer treatment.

Knowing this, when Ms. Jones heard Grace proclaim what her second Make-A-Wish would be, she pulled some strings and surprised Grace with a video of Todd Chrisley wishing her a speedy recovery from her lung surgery.

Fast forward to March 2018 when Grace was back in the hospital, but this time there would be no speedy recovery. This time there would be no hospital discharge. As a result, this time instead of sending a video, Todd Chrisley decided to come to the hospital to see Grace. While he was there, Grace told him, “You know that I’m dying.”

Todd replied, “I know Grace. But God has a plan for you. Your journey’s just beginning.”

Grace responded, “Then why is it so hard?”

Why is it so hard?

This time of year serves as an annual reminder to me that things can be hard. Life can be hard. Interestingly, however, that is kind of the point. Even though Lent is somber and repentant, it is a beautiful time. During Lent, we learn not to rely upon ourselves. When we are weak and tired or just sad, God tells us to lift our eyes and have hope.

As I have mentioned a few times recently (smile), soon I will embark on The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour 2020 where I will participate in 14 open water events with others to raise money to fund cancer research.

This week as I thought about Lent, Grace and Caroline’s question of “Why is it so hard?” and the first stop on the tour – Houston – I was reminded of President Kennedy’s 1962 speech in that same city about going to the moon. In his speech, President Kennedy stated, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” 

Those first attempts at moon exploration did not go well, but scientists and astronauts never gave up. They kept trying. Why? Because hope had become part of the collective American mindset. The willingness to pursue the unimaginable and achieve the impossible was far more powerful than scientific discoveries that were not quite ready and ultimately unsuccessful. And that is because when choice becomes a decision and a decision becomes a challenge, that challenge gives us hope.

Hope. That is what Lenten season and this swim tour is all about.

I encourage you to choose the difficult, make the decision, and take the challenge to join us on this swim tour of hope. First stop is in Houston on April 18th: The Amazing Grace Tour

Wishing everyone a very special Lenten season.

‘Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.’ (Catherine of Siena)