Dear colleagues and students, friends and visitors!
I received the definite diagnosis yesterday on November 13th, 2008: I have a big inoperable malignant tumor in the throat (Nose-Pharynx Carcinoma). To cope with this news is one of the greatest challenges I've been confronted with.
It reaches me in the middle of Life. Jesusí promise from the Gospel of the John characterizes my past decades the best: ďI have come to bring life in its abundanceĒ. Evaluating my 61 years, one cannot wish more of life than what I have had. I consider myself quite privileged and am often astonished and wonder why God coddles me so much.
Professionally I feel myself on the top of my career. This year I published two textbooks and initiated several projects. Through my advancing age itís getting more and more exhausting to give classes and to care for students, but it also makes it increasingly fun and actually provides an increasing degree of fulfillment. I am aware that not everyone (students and colleagues) agrees with me some even might dislike me. But the large number of my master students and the increasing number of personal talks with students (beyond topics of computer science) show me that there is a number of them trusting me and for whom I am more than just one of their professors. I am persuaded that what costs more and more effort brings also greater fulfillment (work psychologists identify this by the notion Flow).
We live in a small town, in a spacious house with a big garden, easy to reach from my university in Berlin by car and by train. Financially we are secure. Even though the cost of living rises continually and the income of Berlin clerks stagnates since the Euro introduction, we still have much more than what we need. Through our connections around the world we can donate from our abundance where need arises Ė also an aspect of Life.
It looks similarly great in our parish. Our church is one of the most growing ones in Germany. In my neighborhood there are more and more people seeking deep relationships. They experience this first with people and then with God. I may play a certain role in this process, but I donít consider it as my own performance but as Godís special gift for me and for the people around me. Though there are heights and depths, controversial views and contradictions in the church, we are making obvious progress Ė I stand in the middle of Life.
However, the focus of my attention is my family. I have been married for 23 years to the most wonderful woman there could be for me. Even though our marriage wasnít always simple and we also have gone through troubles, our love to each other has been growing steadily. Where we stand today, we may be envied even by just married couples. Having been faithful to each other isnít our feat but Godís special mercy on us. The result is spectacular.
For our four children we can impart only our gratitude. Our two daughters are in college (the one writes her doctoral thesis in medicine in Toronto, the second one just started in Freiburg in psychology), the two boys go to high school; the older one is going to graduate next summer, the other is 15. All six of us love to ski together or to go on vacation, to play Nobody Is Perfect or to make music on our instruments. We prepare homework together or discuss research strategies for the thesis, talk about group constellation in the class and sexuality in puberty. Our greatest joy with them however is that all four of them live closely with God. It isnít surprising that the four children have no less a difficult time as my wife and I in processing the news about my illness.
However, you should know that the prospect of death is by far not so hard for me as outsiders would expect, as I have assumed it beforehand. The idea to come to God soon and to spend eternity with Him is fundamentally more attractive than to go through radio- and chemotherapy and to fight for my life, yet fight I must. I will explain this a little in detail.
Those students who enrolled in my master seminar or other classes with ďsoft skillsĒ know how much I plead for goal-oriented procedures (in the master thesis, at the draft of a presentation, but also for the college years, for the whole life). I also have told them about the time after I had became a believer as I was taught in a Christian student movement to discuss my life goal with God and paraphrase it in a written form. Having done this helped me oftentimes enormously, especially in important decisions of my life. I havenít told exactly this paraphrase in the seminar because it is a little personal; however, in my present situation I can share my secret openly.
Before having converted from an atheist to a confessing Christian, I experienced very hard times. The depression manifested primarily in heart-troubles. I was running from one cardiologist to the other and was not willing to believe them that I was as fit as a fiddle. I only paid attention to my rhythm disturbances and spent nights in panicóat what moment would my heart stop beating? This mortal agony experience (I think it is quite normal and natural) brought me to the idea that perhaps there might exist a God who then would be able to save me of this terror. Several years later I derived my goal of life from this experience: I would like to know God so well and have such a close personal relationship with Him that at the end of my life knowing Him would prove stronger than the natural reaction of my body, the mortal agony.
For decades I was doing so well that it was impossible to know how far or close I was from reaching my life goal. I was even somewhat puzzled: If I feel so good, it is easy to confess God; yet how will it be in hard times?
I got the answer some 6 years ago, next to a heart attack and an emergency stint implant. During the surgery I was awake, I could observe the intervention on the monitor, live. I was aware of the fact that the surgery could go wrong and that the artery could burst while expanded. To my own astonishment I was completely free of every fear of death and I experienced Godís presence on the surgery table more intensively than ever.
This experience helps me to face death now, too. If God would make up His mind to call me now or soon, I would be the one who would have the least against it.
However, I am not alone and cannot think only of myself. I have my family, my friends, people in my church, colleagues, and students who Ė in different measures Ė still need me. After knowing God for 32 years in close relationship and comprehending His paradigm, everything speaks out that He still would like to have me here. Therefore I am willing to go through the hardships of the therapy and I ask everybody, whoever can, to pray for my healing (whether by miracles or by the therapy). I am convinced that God is able to make me healthy with a flip of His finger, even though in our latitudes with high tech medicine He doesnít do this as frequently as in other parts of the world, where people are more dependent on His intervention. What does He want to do and will He heal me? As far I know Him (and this isnít a little), I think, yes. This is where I will begin, this is my expression of faith in Him and this is what I am going to fight for.
But I also know, ďHis thoughts are higher than my thoughtsĒ as I read it in the Old Testament, in the book of Isaiah. Even though I live close to Him and I have learned about Him a lot already, I donít catch on very well. So I canít but lay my expected healing into His hand. I donít have any doubt that He is trustworthy: He loves me, my family, my friends, and He has all power, to bring forth the best for all of us. What is the best, we humans have (unfortunately) very different measures than God, though. I have often experienced that He (apparently) didnít answer my prayers; but it has proven later that His solution was much better than what I have asked for! Admittedly there are matters where this (still) isnít so obvious. But He provided me with enough of Life, He built up in me enough confidence that I can trust Him also here fully.
So also with the diagnosis. It isnít nice, it is even ugly. The distress of the coming chemotherapy gives me angst. However I can put this also into Godís hand, entrust myself to Him and look forward the future with confidence. And this is of greater value than everything else I have already been given in this life.