What Songs Does Your Heart Sing?
By Carol McClain –
Life can drag us down, and regardless of our religious philosophies, we don’t always get what we want, even if we do everything right. In my case, I divorced at thirty, and although I always wanted a large family, I only met my new husband long after I could no longer have a second child. My life wounded me. In high school I believed myself to be an outcast. I grew up in poverty under the hand of my family’s alcoholism. The consequences of sins I’ve committed in my youth left scars, reminders I’d rather forget. Loneliness stalked me, sometimes nearly devouring me.
And I’m not alone in my pain. Several friends battle breast cancer. Another friend’s husband died suddenly of a heart attack, and she found him in the back yard. Odd genetic abnormalities plague the children of a sweet, young family. Each person reading this could add to this list and attest to the fact that life can devour us.
However, several years ago I met a young man whose life made mine look like the pity-party it was. His life convicted me of my sin. I never met him in person, but only through his book of poetry, Journey Through Heartsongs and a few TV appearances.
Mattie J.T. Stepaneck was a peace ambassador for MDA. Born with mitochondrial myopathy, a degenerative neuromuscular disease, his life has been plagued with a chronic decline and loss of motor control. He’s had to breathe with a respirator, had a tube in his heart for medications, and endured weekly blood transfusions.
This disease eventually killed him as it did his brothers Stevie and Jamie and his sister Katie. It also afflicted his mother who discovered she had it only after she’d had four children.
What amazes me most about Mattie is not what he suffered, but the faith and grace that characterized how he faced his pain. Mattie had incredible poetic talent. He began writing at age three, by seven he wrote poetry with enviable sophistication. As a poet, Mattie tried to bring reconciliation to the world, and his poems speak poignantly of disabilities, hope and an indefatigable faith in God.
He knew sooner or later he would be “buried into heaven,” that he is an “echo caught between two worlds,” that his brother Jamie sent him gifts from heaven when he was sad, and that he was remiss if he failed to notice them.
In one poem, he asked his mother if God would extend His right or left hand to him when he died. His mother responded that God would extend both. In a hug. Mattie couldn’t wait for that hug which he received on June 22, 2004, three weeks before his fourteenth birthday.
Reading about this young man who earned a black belt in karate, who dreamt of being a grandpa, who wanted to hold on forever to his holy family, and who held on to a holy God, convicts me. What is my pain? How frail is my faith? How unseemly is my attitude toward God?
I need to remember, I’m a part of a holy family and will ultimately be hugged by God.
(Poetic excerpts taken from: Stepaneck, Mattie. Journey Through Heartsongs. NY: VSP Books—Hyperion, 2001).