Saturday, December 18, 2010

Only By God's Grace

December 18, 2010

It's been exactly one week since Bonnie went home to be with the Lord. In some respects is seems just like yesterday we were with her in the hospital as her soul was lifted from her body and united with Christ's for eternity. In other respects, it seems like this was just a difficult dream and at any time she'll pull into the driveway and open the door to say "I'm home!". The reality is, Bonnie IS home and she has been healed and has no more pain or suffering.

Reality is also setting in for us as the memorial service is now behind us and a NEW "new normal" is ahead of us and still unknown to us what it looks like. The initial "new normal" following Bonnie's bone marrow transplant never fully developed, so we need to regroup and refocus. The four of us are going to spend some much needed R & R time alone together over the Christmas break.

Please continue to pray that God will fill the void in our home and that He will give me the gentleness and compassion of a mother's comforting touch that children, no matter their age, earnestly yearn for during trials. Also pray that a plan will come together in the next couple of weeks in order to continue Caleb's and Callie's home education for the balance of this school year, including Caleb's graduation. We have close friends working on ideas while the four of us are doing our R & R.

Thank you for your prayers for Cassandra during finals at Spring Arbor. She received confirmation that she got 4 pts in both her Communications and Rhetoric classes. She has an incomplete currently in her Constitutional Law as well as her International Conflict Business Management class as she missed both classes on Wednesday for the memorial service. The faculty at Spring Arbor have been incredible working with Cassandra throughout this entire ordeal. We are grateful to them for creating an environment for her that is enabling her to succeed.

Finally, I want to share a poem with you that was written by someone Bonnie held in high esteem; Wanda Burdick, a friend, a homeschooler pioneer and advocate and founder of Teenworks. Wanda shared this poem with me yesterday and I asked permission to share it with you. At the memorial service, we heard about the phrase Bonnie used frequently while teaching our kids: "Let's be a blessing...". Another phrase I was reminded of in Wanda's poem was "It's only by God's grace...". So I will end with the poem and update you after our R & R.

Love Steve (and Cassandra, Caleb & Callie)

Only By God’s Grace
Wanda Burdick

Bonnie I met many years ago,
I don’t think she ever had any foes.
She was a friend to everyone
And she worked until the task was done.
But when asked why? She simply stated,
“Only by God’s Grace.”

She devoted her life to others,
As a helper, listener, wife and mother.
I know she got tired and weary,
But she still worked in a furry.
And I asked why? She simply replied,
“Only by God’s Grace.”

I watched her do the menial jobs,
Like cleaning toilets, and wiping door knobs.
I used to think, she is so willing,
If only the world had two Bonnies, how thrilling.
I still asked her why she did this and she still said,
“Only by God’s Grace.”

One day I had lost a loved one,
She listened and said loosing one is no fun.
She understood and comforted me,
And helped me to look to Jesus and to see.
As she said we will all someday be there,
“Only By God’s Grace.”

One sad day Bonnie was diagnosed with cancer,
But she did not dismay, but looked for the answer.
So she could continue to be a wife and mother,
Her desire was to get better to serve others.
When I asked how she was doing, she humbly replied,
“Only by God’s Grace.”

Bonnie prayed she would suffer well,
Even though she knew she would say her farewells.
She became so concerned for her family
As she so loved Cassandra, Caleb and Callie
She asked me how do I prepare them?
I said, “Only by God’s Grace.”

Bonnie did all she could do,
To be there for them to see them through.
The good times and hard times of life,
For she wanted only to be Steven’s wife.
But she knew it was,
“Only by God’s Grace.”

On December 11, 2010, the death bell rang,
And Bonnie went with Jesus as the angels sang.
Bonnie woke up in to the arms of Jesus,
To be a part of heaven and its sweetness.
She said to Our Father,
“Thank you for your Grace.”

Bonnie will be missed and remembered by many,
And there is nothing that can help us to be ready,
To deal with the pain and loneliness,
To deal with missing Bonnie’s closeness.
Except: As Bonnie would say -
“Only by God’s grace.”

Bonnie was a good friend and example to all. This is a tribute to a Godly woman who was given to us by God’s Grace. So often I heard Bonnie use this term and these were the last words I heard from Bonnie. “Only By God’s Grace.”

Thank you Wanda!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December 15, 2010

As this long day draws to a close, I can’t help but reflect on how incredibly blessed we are as a family. We are so grateful for all of you contributing in different ways making this day, mixed with heartache and sorrow, one that was special and to be treasured for a long time.

Some of you were unable to attend Bonnie’s memorial service due to various reasons, but were still with us in spirit praying fervently that God would be glorified through the remembrance of how He used Bonnie for His will. Thank you for those prayers and for continued prayer for our family. Based on the number of comments shared following the service, this prayer was answered tenfold.

Those of you who could attend, thank you for being a part of our rejoicing and celebration of Bonnie’s life. Thank you for your encouraging words, offer of support and continued prayer.

Thank you to Trinity Church and all the many volunteers who donated of their time and talent to assist with coordinating everything from A/V, ushering, food preparation, and overall coordination. What a blessing it was to all of us to be able to spend more time with family and friends during this difficult time.

Today was the essence of who Bonnie was and how God challenged her and used her. Through the tears we had smiles in our hearts. God has healed Bonnie and that in and of itself is an answer to the prayers of thousands. You may say though, but God didn’t heal how we wanted Him to heal her. God is mysterious and unfathomable and we cannot even being to fully grasp His purpos in a situation like this, but we trust him that he knows best.

And now we move forward attempting to learn a new normal of life without mom. Bonnie will be missed, but the seeds she planted and the seedlings she has been nurturing in our kids have been watered by your prayers. If you are looking for a tangible answer to your prayers here is one. I know many of you, including myself; have been praying for the spiritual strength of our children. Back during the week of Thanksgiving, my mother brought to my attention that my 15 year old (Callie) had a blog. So like all responsible parents who don’t know their child has a blog, I searched for it and found it and was stunned by some of her posts I read.

As I read Callie’s blog, tears of joy were running down my face because of God’s mercy in answering our prayer that our kids were persevering throughout this trial and were willing to accept one of the most challenging emotionally painful events a teenager probably has to endure. With Callie’s permission, I have pasted one of her blog posts. I do this not as a proud father, but as evidence of answered prayer. The depth of thought in this post is nothing Bonnie or I can take credit for. As I said in the previous paragraph, seeds were planted, but were watered and fertilized with your prayers and the fruit of those prayers is one example from a November 12th blog entry from Callie’s site:

Friday, November 12, 2010
Recently, I had a friend ask me how I could stay a Christian and still love God, even through my circumstances. This came as a huge shock to me, especially from a Christian Homeschooler that would ask me this. I continued on to tell this friend that it's not my choice what circumstances come my way, and that it’s ALL up to God. The conversation continued on and went down a path that I didn't expect. Basically to sum up what went on without mentioning names, this friend said to me: "I just can't imagine how anyone could not be angry at God for making life so terrible..I can't even do it and my life isn't as half as bad as yours." I realized that this was the PERFECT opportunity for me to share one of the closest things to my heart.

I started to explain that God will never give us more than we can handle. Sure, it’s extremely hard having cancer in your family but that doesn't mean we just forget about God, put him in a drawer and only open it if life is going great. We have to take the good with the bad and THANK God constantly for whatever he is doing in our lives. It's for his ultimate good and purpose. I know sometimes a lot of people don't seem to understand this topic. I have found that you truly don't understand the idea of fully relying and trusting the Lord until you go through trials. Before any of our family trials happened, I used to always think "Oh I get the whole idea of relying on the Lord." But I didn't fully realize until my parents got cancer, how much God wants us to trust Him. It’s amazing to see. I've learned so much through this situation.

The other day I was reading this book by Elisabeth Elliot about suffering. One of my favorite quotes by her was this: "He is not all that we would ask for (if we were honest), but it is precisely when we do not have what we ask for, and only then, that we can clearly perceive His all-sufficiency. It is when the sea is moonless that the Lord has become my light." I have that quote taped on my mirror. It daily reminds me that at times we might want something more, but the only thing we really need is God and his all sufficient self.

The basic name to label this is Faith. If we don't have faith, we don't have God in our lives. If we don't trust him no matter what comes our way, we don't have God. He is the ULTIMATE way, truth and life. A really important Bible verse that puts faith into perspective for me is Matthew 17:20: "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this to this mountain: 'Move from here to there.' And it will move."

Basically to sum up this post, never stop trusting God, no matter what comes your way. He sustains you and holds you up through the hardest times. He is our ultimate hope, and King.

Posted by Callie Marie

Thank you for the many ways of expressing love to our family during this very difficult period in our lives. Today’s service was like a dissipating storm cloud with the bold rays of the sun shining brightly through. We will be forever grateful for your care and concern.


Steve, Cassandra, Caleb and Callie

Sunday, December 12, 2010

December 12, 2010

To all our family and friends as well as acquaintances who have found us on this blog,

Thank you again for the outpouring of love on our family during this difficult time. We are still numb and have many “reality sinking in” milestones ahead of us and have already confronted some head on like meeting with the funeral home, planning a service and coming back home with one less chair occupied at the table. We will have more of those as time for us here continues and appreciate all of your prayers for strength and endurance.

With that said, we have a few parting words. First of all, we have confirmed that the memorial service will indeed be held this Wednesday, December 15th at 11:00 a.m. at Trinity Church located at 3355 Dunckel Road in Lansing, with visiting family an hour prior to the service and lunch following. Over the course of the past year and a half, we have heard that there are people reading this blog who we have never met. We know Bonnie would have loved to meet you and to learn more about you. Bonnie never liked the focus to be on her, but we are planning to celebrate her life and glorify God on how He used Bonnie right up to the end of her physical life here. Even if you never met Bonnie and only know her through this blog, we would like to extend an invitation to you to attend this service.

Finally, as I sat down this morning to catch up on my daily Bible reading that I missed yesterday, how fitting it was that part of my scheduled reading included Revelation 7, particularly with an emphasis on verses 9 through 17 below:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever Amen."

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."

"For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. "They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes."

Bonnie is with a multitude in heaven, has been made clean by the blood of the Lamb and she is without a doubt serving Him already and will have unlimited strength and energy to serve Him for all of eternity. The last year and a half she has experienced hunger, thirst, and after the transplant was always concerned about the sun beating down on her, be she now has the freshness coming from the springs of the water of life. I’m sure she’ll have some tears; tears of joy with the Savior, maybe tears for us, but the comfort and tenderness of God will gently wipe them all away.

We love you Bonnie and will miss you!

Steve, Cassandra, Caleb and Callie.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

December 11, 2010

Bonnie Opper (7/31/1962-12/11/2010)

This morning Bonnie’s journey here with us ended and started afresh with the Lord. After a year and a half of battling leukemia, her body gave in to a terrible infection that couldn’t feasibly be overcome. Central to all of the complications was the loss or rejection of the stem cell transplant she had a year ago. For some unexplainable reason, her graft stem cells were not present in her most recent bone marrow biopsy, thus the inability to produce white blood cells which were needed to fight the infection.

Normally in past blogs we took the time to explain in detail some of the medical aspects as well as the challenges Bonnie was dealing with. We no longer need to focus on that, but instead need to reflect on the positive impact Bonnie had on people around her.

Bonnie never put herself first; before me, the kids, family, friends or acquaintances. She would be the one eating a cold dinner after making sure our children were provided for. She would work all day teaching and then be correcting papers late at night and encouraging me to go to bed to get rest.

Bonnie never liked the attention to be on her. No matter the situation, whether she was having a good day, or bad day, sick or healthy, she would always brighten up when she encountered anyone. I remember one instant when she had just received her bone marrow transplant last year and had severe mucusitis pain in her mouth and was wrenching in pain and when the doctors came in she had a smile on her face and asked how they were doing. She didn’t just do that as a custom, but rather sincerely wanted to know how they were doing. She didn’t want her pain to be a burden on them. For the caregiver (me) it was difficult because I knew how much pain she was in, so I would quietly let the staff know how Bonnie’s personality was wired.

She left a huge impact on the doctors and nurses at both Sparrow Hospital and Karmanos. The nurses in ICU have been amazed at the number of staff (nurses, doctors, assistants, etc.) that have come over from Karmanos’ wing of the hospital to ICU to see Bonnie. They’ve said “she must have left quite an impression on the staff in the Bone Marrow Transplant unit!”

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I came into Bonnie’s room at Sparrow Hospital early in the morning. She said she felt the sickest she has felt and said “I think I’m going to meet the Lord today”. Well, that day came and went and so did several more in between then and today. But today, she is meeting the Lord and I’m excited for her, yet grieving for us and praying that God will fill the void she has left here.

One thing Bonnie would want more than anything is to have you know that she is safely home with Christ and had a peace knowing that when this day came she would be with Him for eternity. The reason she was so sure is by the simple steps she took so many years ago of acknowledging to God that she was as sinner; born in a sinful state because of our fallen world; separated from a holy God because of her sin and unable to do anything, any good work in and of herself to satisfy a holy God’s wrath; knowing that it would take someone perfect to appease God’s wrath which Jesus did for her and by putting her faith in Christ, asking or inviting Him into her life, she knew her sins were forgiven and she would spend eternity with Him. Anyone who comes to God confessing their sin, putting their faith and trust in Christ Jesus, inviting Him into their heart, loving Him, and living their life for Him will certainly have the same assurance Bonnie was confident with.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9

So, as we draw this blog to a conclusion, my family and I cannot begin to express our gratitude for the outpouring of love and kindness that has been poured out upon us during this very difficult time. We are so grateful for each and every one of you and appreciate your prayers. We are planning a memorial service for Bonnie which is tentatively planned for 11:00 a.m. this Wednesday, December 15th at Trinity Church in Lansing. Once all arrangements have been confirmed we will do one last post of the date and time.

With love,

Steve, Cassandra, Caleb and Callie

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December 8, 2010

Another day of medical education combined with wondering, waiting and watching as Bonnie continues to be fully sedated as the components of life support perform their job. As Bonnie rests in the ICU, the multiple IV meds fight a terrible infection that has been identified. For now she is stable, but in critical condition

The blood cultures have tested positive for an infection which is the same positive test from Bonnie's mouth secretions from a few days ago. It's good that the specific type of infection has been identified so the medical staff can treat it with appropriate regiment. Because Bonnie's immune system is either suppressed or non-existent, the infection became severe enough that it taxed her body and as a result the failing vital signs.

Combined with the infection was Bonnie's body's reaction to the infection called Sepsis, which is a potentially life-threatening condition the can injure the body tissues beyond the original infection. It can affect the function of vital organs temporarily or long term.

Because of the low blood pressure yesterday along with the sepsis, harsh antibiotics and other meds, Bonnie's kidneys are failing based on the limited amount of urine output and the level of creatine in her blood. There are times kidney failures can be reversed, but this is something yet to be determined.

On the positive side, the amount of oxygen has been somewhat reduced, which means the blood oxygen has improved a little, although Bonnie has a ways to go until consideration would be given to removing the breathing tube. In addition to the oxygen, ICU has been able to slowly reduce the volume of IV med used to sustain Bonnie's blood pressure to an acceptable level. She is far from being off the IVs, but it certainly is headed in the right direction.

Bonnie had another bone marrow biopsy today. The initial results show that no leukemia is present in the bone marrow. The balance of the results are supposed to be returned on Friday and the latest being Monday. It should give some indication as to whether Bonnie's body has rejected the stem cell transplant of the infection has destroyed the immune system or suppressed her immune system.

We are praying and hoping that the infection has only suppressed Bonnie's immune system. If that is the case, the hope is that her immune system might rebound, IF she can recover from the infection, the sepsis, and the damage that has occurred to her system and organs.

On behalf of our entire family, thank you again for your prayers, notes, cards, visits and overall support.

Steve and Bonnie

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7, 2010

This morning as I was walking into the Bone Marrow Transplant unit at around 6:50 AM I sensed things weren't going well in Bonnie's room as I saw one of the RNs walking about 100 feet ahead of me carrying what looked like ice packs. As I arrived at the room and saw the attending night physician in the room with two other nurses I learned that the fever Bonnie had spiked to 101 last night had crept up over 103. In addition her blood pressure was very low (70s over 40s), blood oxygen low (81) and heart rate elevated (150ish). The team worked vigorously to improve Bonnie's vital signs but in a short period of time determined she needed to be immediately moved to ICU, where she is now.

To say she is on "life support" sounds so terminal, but in reality, it is IV meds that are artificially keeping her blood pressure at acceptable levels and her heart rate moderate. The ICU team had to insert a breathing tube (intubation) to get Bonnie's blood oxygen at or near acceptable levels. So tonight Bonnie rests under heavy sedation and pain meds, in addition to the other meds, including antibiotics and her ongoing meds since the bone marrow transplant.

Chest xrays show some lung infiltrate which could be a number of things. Blood cultures from this morning have returned positive for an infection that is being narrowed down currently and may be determined by tomorrow morning.

She may have an infection in her lungs, it may be in her blood, it may be both and what is currently being analyzed. Once the infection has been identified, the doctors feel the status is reverseable, however there may be damage to her lungs or possibly other organs, due to a number of things, including the low blood pressure and meds being pumped through her.

Key in all of this is Bonnie's immune system or lack thereof. In normal situations the doctors believe this is reverseable, but the variable in this case is that Bonnie doesn't have a normal immune system, but rather a compromised system. As of this morning her white blood cells had dropped to .1 or 100 (as a refresher 4000-12,000 is considered normal range).

The prayer is that her bone marrow will start to produce new white blood cells and that her numbers will come up to an acceptable level. Bonnie knew the best place for her was Karmanos, but once we arrived over a week ago, she shared with me a concern of her failing and being stuck in Detroit, 90 miles away from home. For now, her concern is being realized, as she lies in ICU unaware of her situation.

Tomorrow Karmanos plans to do another bone marrow biopsy. If you have followed this blog in the past you are aware of the anxiousness Bonnie has in anticipation of this procedure. Because she is under heavy sedation, she has no clue this is going to happen and won't be awake during the actual procedure to care. Hopefully the biopsy will give the BMT doctors a clue as to why Bonnie has been neutropenic (no WBCs) since the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving.

At this stage, there isn't any indication how long she will be in ICU. I was told it could be days or weeks, depending on how she responds to treatment. So, please continue to pray for God's will. Obviously our desire is for the reversing of her current status so she can return to Lansing.

Thank you for your faithfulness in keeping us in your prayers.

Love, Steve (and Bonnie too!)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

December 5, 2010

For those of you who have at one time or another planted a vegetable garden, you know what it is like to wait for the seeds to sprout, stems to grow and the leaves to unfold with the hope of blossoms forming, being pollinated and growing into something to harvest weeks later. Sometimes seeds are planted too deep and take longer to poke through the surface, sometimes the seeds sprout but have a deficiency or disease, some grow into plants with blossoms and no fruit and others produce a harvest that is tenfold.

What does a vegetable garden have to do with an update on Bonnie? As one day becomes night and another day rolls around, the sitting, waiting and wondering about positive results are like watching the surface of the soil waiting for a seedling to poke through wondering if it will be one that grows or withers. Thus far the past two weeks have produced few results.

From a positive perspective, the fevers are under control with the last one being over 48 hours ago. Whatever her body was trying to fight has been neutralized by 5 different heavy duty antibiotics. Another positive is Bonnie’s will to fight. She has forced herself to get out of bed to walk ten laps around the floor yesterday and eleven today. The energy may be due in part to the temporary steroid she received four doses of Friday and Saturday.

The four doses of steroids were given to Bonnie with the hope that it would be like a bomb to attack the Graft Versus Host Disease ravaging through her mouth. Unfortunately the steroids did not prove to be an effective treatment, as there has not been any improvement or relief in the slightest.

Her blood counts remain low and the collective wisdom is that until her white blood cell count increases the sores will persist. So while we wait to see if and when the counts come up, Bonnie is left with various concoctions of ointments and rinses to find temporary relief combined with the stronger IV pain meds that have been causing nausea. We thought we found an anti-nausea solution yesterday without the drugged up effect, but later found that many times a bad headache accompanies its use. So it is a vicious circle with no immediate light at the end of the tunnel.

We wait and try to focus on God’s faithfulness. The verse that we are claiming and is written on the grease board in our room is Isaiah 40:31:

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

Please pray Isaiah 40:31 for us. We are so grateful for your prayers not only for Bonnie and me, but also for our kids. In addition to how you’ve been praying we do have a special prayer request for Cassandra who is away at college and to a certain extent feeling all alone. She has finals coming up over the next couple of weeks which will require her undivided attention to accomplish the goals she has set for herself to maintain her academic scholarship. She has the ability to compartmentalize a little, but with what is going on in our family’s life, it’s a challenge for her to forge ahead with the focus she needs to succeed. Pray that she will be able to focus clearly on her studies and that she would not feel any guilt about being away actively involved with school.

Thank you!

Steve & Bonnie