Monday, January 16, 2012

Eulogy for Michele Bonk


I do not typically say a Eulogy at funerals, but I was asked to prepare one for parishioner who had suffered a very long time with a terrible, debilitative disease and whose life and faith made a great impact upon many people. I was happy to do it.

On July 7, 2012, it will be ten years that I have been ordained as a pastor. All ten of those years will have been served right here, at The Lutheran Church of Christ the King, my first and only call. Though these words are to be, and will be, about Michele Ann Bonk, I believe that it is important to establish why I was asked to share these words about her.

Michele attended my ordination service here at Christ the King on July 7, 2002. I remember that clearly and profoundly, for, as my eyes scanned over the faces of strangers, whose immortal souls I was being placed in sacred stewardship of, one person stood ought particularly – that person was Michele. Michele came to Holy Communion that day; she walked on her own two legs, supported on either side by her mother and father. I was privileged and blessed to serve to her the precious body and the holy blood of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the first time.

Pastor Harry Schenkel of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Sayville, NY – where I had served as Vicar in 2000 and 2001 – preached the sermon at my ordination. Peter Bonk has remarked on several occasions over the past years how impressed he was with Pastor Schenkel and his words that day. Well, about a week after my ordination, I had lunch with Pastor Schenkel out in Sayville to talk about my new assignment. I’m pretty sure that I never told Peter and Paulette this, but Pastor Schenkel had shared some prophetic words with me today, prophetic words that have surely been fulfilled. He said, “That young woman who was helped to communion by her parents…, that family is going to be a defining part of your ministry in that place.” I can attest to you that he was so very right, in so many ways.

Through ministering to Michele and Peter and Paulette, I have gotten to know them in a deeper way than many others --- that’s the natural result of being with people who are suffering and hurting. I’ve been privileged to see their faith and their core values, because these things were under attack, they still are. I believe that the value that most defines the Bonks is family – mutual commitment, sacrifice, the bond of love, and with faith as its core. This is, after all, how God created us to live saying, “And the man shall be joined to His wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” When God’s institution of marriage is upheld, life won’t be trouble-free, but there will be fortitude and strength to persevere and ward off the fiery darts of the Enemy.

After ten years of blessed marriage, Peter and Paulette received the gift and blessing of a daughter when Michele was born to them on August 19, 1978. She was baptized, confirmed, and received her first communion all right here at Christ the King. Another value of the Bonk family, related to that of family and faith, was education. It was important that Michele be educated in a way that was consistent, and not contradictory, to her faith and values. Thus, Peter and Paulette sacrificed much to see Michele through Catholic parochial schools: St. James the Apostle in Carmel and School of the Holy Child in Rye. Throughout her school years, Michele showed a love for sports, especially basketball, track, and hockey. At Holy Child, Michele ran both cross country and the mile sprint. She also played hockey with the Pawling Youth Hockey League, Bantam team. Though she was the only girl playing at the time, Coach Reed was very impressed with her will, determination, and toughness. Michele also sang in the chorus and became adept at public speaking. She delivered the eulogy at her grandmother’s funeral and, on vacation at Fire Island, she read the lessons at the small Catholic Church there. Michele even delivered a few children’s sermons here at Christ the King. Michele was a beautiful, smart, kind, caring, and loving young woman whose future everyone figured to promising, hopeful, and bright.

But, already, in her junior year at Holy Child, things were beginning to change. What began seemingly as a sinus infection and strep throat, ended with seizures, coma, and hospitalization for over a month. Though Michele recovered enough to attend school again, her life from that time forward was interrupted by periodic seizures and fear of their onset. Michele’s health stabilized enough that she desired to go away to college. So, off she went to Concordia University in Mequon, Wisconsin. It was in 2001, while she was away at college, that Michele’s condition took the turn for the worse that has lead us to this point today.

The past ten years have been, needless to say, horrible. I’m no doctor and I’m certain that I do not understand completely what exactly Michele suffered, but from what I’ve heard from Peter and Paulette, and from what I’ve observed with my own eyes, Leukodystrophy is one of the most horrible diseases you can imagine. I felt, and likely you did to, that Michele was slowly stolen, piece by piece. Though she could walk with assistance on July 7, 2002, within a few weeks Michele was permanently confined to a wheelchair. And, when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. This was Michele’s life for ten years. This was Peter and Paulette’s life for ten years. And, on several occasions in the ICU or the Emergency Room, they were told that Michele would not make it. And yet, she did.

And that brings us to the unique and wonderful part of Michele’s story and life. Even after the terrible disease set in, God granted Michele ten more years of life through which He preserved her and kept her, according to His wisdom, through suffering. As I talked about in the sermon, there are a lot of “Why?” questions to be sure. But, despite the suffering, Michele’s suffering, but also the suffering of all who loved her, Peter and Paulette were, and are, thankful for those ten beautiful years.

Perhaps you’re asking silently, where’s the beauty in such suffering? It’s a fair question. The beauty in suffering in found in faith in the Beautiful One, Jesus, who has suffered for us, and who suffers with us, and who sustains and keeps us through suffering, through death which He has defeated, and into His life which He gives to us as a free and perfect gift.

Throughout her life, Michele lived in joy, giving thanks for the good blessings she received, and never complaining , but remaining strong in faith through difficulty and suffering. She knew blessing in life and health and in sickness and death. Michele reflected the light of Christ in this world of sin, death, and darkness. Well done, good and faithful servant. Now she dwells in light, where there is no lamp or sun, for the Lamb upon His throne, Jesus Christ, is her light. Though we miss her, we cannot wish her back, but only that we could be with her in joy and peace, in light and life. We will be there, one day, through faith in Christ. And until then, we can be with her in the Communion of Saints, where heaven meets earth; where, in receiving Jesus’ body and blood, we gather with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven – yes, Michele is now in that company – singing, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth; heav’n and earth are full of Thy glory.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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