Remembering Mattie Stepanek


Ten years ago this week, America lost a young hero, Mattie Stepanek. His name may not be widely recognized, yet, his poetry and his passion for life touched the hearts of young and old alike. Mattie Stepanek achieved more in his short life – just 13 years – than most do in a lifetime.

I first discovered the poetry of Mattie Stepanek while standing in a bookstore in 2001. A table near the front door was filled with dozens of copies of a featured book entitled Heartsongs. It was the cover’s whimsical design and vibrant colors that captured my attention. I opened to the first page of the book. Greeting me was a photograph of the author, Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek, along with his biography. I began reading his heartwarming story. In this book of poetry, I selected and read several poems. As I read his story, I learned that Mattie was born with a rare disease, Dysautonomic Mytichondrial Myopathy, which interrupts the body’s automatic functions, like breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and digestion. It also causes muscle weakness.

Mattie began writing poetry at the age of three. From an early age, he accepted his disease, even though he required a ventilator, regular blood transfusions, medicine, therapy, leg braces and eventually a specially designed power wheelchair. As a prolific author of several New York Times best sellers, he appeared on all of the major television networks (yes, he appeared on Oprah), cable and radio stations and was featured in most major print publications.

His message was simple: Love life and love one another. Despite a life-threatening disease, he joyously embraced life and treasured each day. The disease claimed the lives of Mattie’s three older siblings and then in 2004, it claimed his life. He wrote seven books and created several audio recordings. He regarded himself as a peacemaker because he truly cared about the global community.

I keep his poetry books on my bedroom nightstand, ready to be picked up and read any time I need to listen to Mattie’s words of hope, love and joy. To learn more about Mattie’s legacy and the continuing work of his mother, Jeni Stepanek, Ph.D., and the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, visit Be sure to sign the petition by July 17, 2014 to officially create a Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peace Day.

“Peace is possible…it can begin simply over a game of chess and a cup of tea.” Mattie J.T. Stepanek


Reflective Action Enhances Your Attitude

629903_autumnWhen the walls of negativity are closing in, take the time forĀ reflective action, to activate your senses with your mind and body to enhance your well-being and become more positive. Here are three tips to get you started:

  1. Retreat! Imagine getting away from everything that is familiar to you, allowing yourself to experience something new. In the process, you get to know yourself at a much deeper level. That, in essence, is what a retreat is designed to do. Focused quiet time can change your perspective. Some retreats are self-directed; others are organized for you. When you plan a retreat, do it with an open mind and open heart. You will return home feeling rejuvenated and more focused.
  2. Be inspired by other people’s stories. From time to time, you may have “down” days – those gray days when you just don’t feel like yourself. Negative thoughts can take over, and before you know it, you feel inadequate. Reading about other people’s stories of struggle turned to celebration will inspire you. I keep a file of inspirational stories from articles that I have read about people who have overcome difficult obstacles in their lives. Two of my favorites are about the lives of Mattie Stepanek and Kyle Maynard. Seek out their stories on the internet and reflect on what is possible in your life.
  3. Bring beauty into your life every day. Beauty almost defies description because its definition is so subjective. I define beauty as anything that enriches your life or that stops you and beckons you to take the time to absorb, embrace, or admire it. Adding beauty to your life can be admiring a beautiful morning, listening to relaxing music, or examining the intricate weaving of a dew-covered spider’s web. Don’t turn your back on beauty. It is all around you. Take the time to invite it into your life.

Reflective actions like these will give you a fresh perspective on what exists and what is possible in your life.