God Is In the Messy Places: Ted Heinecken

Luther Memorial Church is experiencing a “Big Messy Summer” of renovations to the building. To go along with that, we are doing a series of stories shared by members called “God Is In the Messy Places”. Read more Messy Stories here.

As I thought about which of the messy places in my life that I wanted to talk to you about today, I was confronted with a bunch of choices.  Not surprising, given the fact that the first one that came to mind took place around the time of World War Two, and others were scattered through the seven decades since.

I considered the time when, in my early twenties, I borrowed my father’s car to attend a high school reunion; on the way home from the Philadelphia suburb where it took place, I decided – helped along by more than a few beers – to see if I could get the car to go 100 miles per hour.  I could, but barely slowed enough at the turnoff to avoid a serious crash with a stone wall.  The car was a bit less fortunate than I, and even though I could drive it home it required some repair work.  I know that God did some repair work on me too at the time, and when the event re-occurs in my mind’s eye from time to time, I am humbled by the fact that He was with me that night, saving me for a fruitful and productive career.

There were of course other messy places on the long and winding road since, not the least of which was the untimely death of our older son three years ago; as grievous as that was, it had the happy result of my finding my way to this church and its fellowship.  But I have chosen to speak chiefly of the most recent messy place that I am still in as of this moment.

About a year ago, not long after our grandson was baptized here, I had an episode of shortness of breath which was severe enough for me to make an appointment with my cardiologist.  He prescribed some medication as well as a colonoscopy and EGD.  So I went through that, and shortly after was informed by the gastroenterologist that I had cancer in my duodenum which would require a “serious operation.”

For whatever reason, for almost four months I told no one about this diagnosis, but of course God knew.  And I knew that at my age I would never commit myself to a “serious operation” regardless of the consequences, and God agreed.  As did my wife and son, when I finally told them in October that I had made an appointment with an oncologist.

The CT scan that ensued revealed Stage Four, meaning that the cancer had spread somewhat to my liver.  This precluded an operation, so I never had to make that decision, and I commenced with chemotherapy in November.  In December I shared the news with relatives and former close business associates, and was told by many that they would be praying for me (including several I know to be agnostics – maybe those will be the most effective of all).  The chemo is continuing with no termination in sight, since there has been progression revealed in recent scans.

Throughout, I have been blessed by the absence of any symptoms beyond some weight loss, as well as most of the uglier side effects of chemo, so to that extent the prayers are being heard.  My own prayer is that Thy will be done, and that in the time remaining to me I can be useful to my family and friends and my church.  Your prayers are of course welcome as well – but please, no Stephen ministers yet.

I think I know now how my gay friends must have felt when they came out publicly for the first time.  There is a sort of hushed stigma attached to the word cancer, as opposed to any other illness.  Perhaps because it connotes the termination of life more than any other.  But all life terminates.  And, God willing, begins again.


Ted Heinecken started attending LMC in 2014 and became a member on Easter Sunday 2015.

When his older son died suddenly in spring of 2014, Ted and his wife decided to memorialize him at a Lutheran church and were directed to LMC by the funeral director.  They had not been active in any church for almost 50 years, even though both were children of Lutheran seminary professors – nevertheless, Ted always considered himself a Lutheran, a fellow traveler so to speak. He was much impressed (read blown away) by Pastor Tim’s organizing of the service and his sermon for his son.  He began attending Sunday services and, following coffee with Pastor Tim and participation in the “Great Conversation,” during which he was mentored by (Legend in his Own Time) Dieter Schulte.

Ted’s favorite part about LMC is the wonderful sense of fellowship within the congregation.  On the few occasions over the years when he encountered the new (at the time) practice of Sharing the Peace, it made him uncomfortable and almost embarrassed – here at LMC one can feel the love and warmth, and it seems the most natural thing in the world to do. Ted adds that his first encounter with the Caemmerer windows was love at first sight.

Most of Ted’s working life has been spent in the weird and wonderful world of book publishing.  He has always considered it a holy calling – truly – which might explain his estrangement from the church until after his retirement.


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