“We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts… to nurture, to offer, to accept.”
Mattie J.T. Stepanek
Exciting news! “Mattie’s Mosaic Blend” – a dark roast coffee representing the diverse flavors of beans grown in Latin America, Africa, and Indonesia – is now available for order and shipping. Whether enjoying a cup or gifting a bag, this is a treasure that tastes great and that supports our work at Mattie’s Foundation to continue his mission of spreading hope and cultivating peace.
In “Morning Coffee” (Chapter 2 of “Messenger: The Legacy of Mattie J.T. Stepanek & Heartsongs” – the memoir I penned about Mattie several years ago), I share how and why Mattie became a regular coffee drinker at the age of 7.
Yes, he was quite young when he took those first sips. And no, it was not intended or planned. But, drinking coffee actually ended up being medically helpful – in that we were able to decrease the caffeine medication he had been prescribed since infancy to stimulate his breathing.
For half of his life, Mattie very much enjoyed a good cup of dark roast brew as he began each day. Morning coffee became part of his routine ritual as we chatted about newsworthy facts and world-weary-or-wonderful truths and personal realities, and as he considered and jotted mental or tangible To Do and To Tend To lists that might serve as templates for moving “forthward” with purpose – and with hope and with peace – as times and truths shifted by chance and by choice from what-was to what-is, and most importantly, to what-next.
By the time he had his final sips in the weeks before what would have been his 14th birthday, coffee had come to symbolize “three Cs” for Mattie – commitment, comfort, and connection.
I had never been a coffee drinker before I started having children. My mornings began with a two-mile run rather than caffeine. So when I began craving coffee for the first time ever in the spring of 1985, I wasn’t even sure how I wanted to drink it. A week later, I found out I was pregnant with my first child, Katie, and immediately stopped drinking it due to concerns that caffeine may not be healthy for an unborn baby.
The same thing happened just before realizing I was pregnant with my second child, Stevie, born in 1987, and my third child, Jamie, born in 1989. I craved a good cup of black coffee each morning, then immediately ceased drinking it a week or so later after a positive pregnancy test.
When Jamie was born, I decided not to have any more biological children. Katie and Stevie had died from a rare medical condition (a diagnosis that wasn’t even identified or named for several more years). Like his siblings, Jamie was also impacted from birth with the same poorly understood symptoms that wreaked havoc with autonomic stability, and that by then was deemed genetic in nature.
It was still not clear exactly what was happening medically to my children. And the diagnosis – dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy – was not available until 1992. It came when I began having muscle weakness, and new types of biopsies determined that I had what is now recognized as a progressive adult-onset neuromuscular disease – a debilitating condition that shortens the lifespan. This led to the children’s diagnosis of an infant-onset mutation – a condition that is not compatible with survival. But in 1989, even before the disease had a name or a direction to lay blame, and even though I was still working and volunteering and coaching and running several miles a day, I took many precautions not to become pregnant again.
So when I suddenly craved a cup of coffee upon waking on Christmas Eve 1989, I started crying.
It was devastating to have this wonderful feeling that I was likely carrying a baby, yet also to be weighted with wondering if this child might miraculously be spared from what was still a mystery condition, or whether I would give birth to another child who would only be among us for a bit of time measured by handfuls of days or years, rather than by decades on decades.
I poured myself a deep cup, sipped it while meditating on knowns-and-unknowns, and headed out the door to confirm what I already was sure of in my gut…
I then spent time in conversation with my pastor, who reminded me that I had already been a part of giving life to this new little being, which he called “a gift from God.” We talked about the strength from within and from beyond that could help me focus on dedicating my choices – not to the “why” but to the “how” of celebrating this little life.
I realized right then, and have never doubted since then, that this baby – while not intended or planned – was also not an accident or a mistake. This child was simply a spirit meant to be. I decided that if the child was a boy, I would name him Matthew – which means “gift of God.”
And, I made a commitment to God, and to this child, and to the world, that I would fill every day with gratitude and a celebration of life, doing everything that I could to help this child realize purpose in being – despite brevity in length of living or challenges that were likely to be a part of the journey.
Fast forward about seven years, when I was trying to warm my little boy up from the inside out and told a shivering Mattie to take a few sips of my hot coffee.
Despite many prayers, and bargaining-with-God attempts, and gut-wrenching fears, my youngest child came into the world with the same condition that led to the deaths of his three siblings. In fact, Mattie was the sickest of the children at birth; but, being the youngest, he also had the blessing of “medical hindsight” and of advances in understanding how to slow the progression of this rare condition.
Around this time, he was beginning to need a wheelchair off and on for mobility and endurance (something that I had been relying on for several years by then), and he had always been dependent on oxygen and monitors and machines and medicines to support his breathing and autonomic stability.
This particular day was during some of our roughest years of financial insecurity. Mattie – a very responsible and autonomous little guy – was hesitant to tell me that he had left his travel mug of hot chocolate back in our basement apartment. He knew I was running late for work and navigating slowly on icy roads, and he knew that we didn’t have spare change to stop and grab hot drink from a convenience store. He also knew that it was taking forever for warm air to come through the vents in the van, and he could feel his heart rhythm slowing.
When I saw the blue tinge in his lips and the pallor on his face, I handed him my travel mug, warned that I didn’t add sugar so it would likely taste bitter to him, but told him the warm liquid would help get his heartrate back up to a normal level.
Mattie took one sip, then another, then said, “This is the best stuff I’ve ever had in my life.”
I thought he was being polite (or desperately grateful for anything warm!) but across the next few weeks, he pleaded with me more and more to let him have the last bits of coffee in the pot.
After chatting with his doctor, it was decided that we could try letting him enjoy a cup of morning joe in lieu of his routine syringe of a prescription caffeine medication. And that was that!
For the next 7 years, Mattie delighted in brewing and serving a rich dark roast to friends and folks at home and in community.
He savored his morning mug as he and I considered yesterdays-into-todays and as we contemplated todays-into-tomorrows.
He appreciated conversation over cups served at meetings and conferences that he attended as an ambassador of hope and a messenger of peace.
And he found comfort in the familiar warmth of coffee as he dealt with more and more personal and global challenges.
By the time Mattie was 10 years old, he was, in many ways, not really different from other pre- teens who enjoy Legos and video games and movies and hanging with friends.
But he was also an incredibly wise and well-respected local poet and philosopher, who guest lectured at universities and who taught Sunday school and who had already penned many of the books that would later be published in his Heartsongs poetry series or his Just Peace essay collection.
And, this kid with barely a decade of memory-making was also transitioning from a child who had a life-threatening diagnosis, to a young man for whom science and technology were running out of medical options and stalls. Even as he considered his future and what he might “be” if he were to grow older, Mattie was beginning to actively die from his disabling condition.
During his final three years, Mattie enjoyed some mountaintop moments – like becoming a New York Times bestselling author and being a frequent guest on tv and news programs, and like being close friends with some of his heroes and mentors – including Jimmy Carter and Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou, and like traveling the country by van while giving speeches and engaging in conversations that helped people diverse in age and ability and aspiration really understand why “hope is real” and how “peace is possible.”
Most of his energy during those final years went into his choice to delineate what now serves as the #Pathways2Peace resources and programs for his namesake Foundation, and his desire to create #UnityInCommunity by helping people realize that “we have, we are, a mosaic of gifts – to nurture, to offer, to accept” and that “peace is for all people.”
Much of his time during those final years though, was spent in the pediatric intensive care unit as his body declined around a spirit that remained resilient and strong. Whether dealing with his own burdens or helping others navigate a purposeful and worthy “what next” after a personal or community or global crisis, Mattie was, and is, an eternal source of optimism and other’ness, as well as practical wisdom and tips and tools for coping with tough stuff and celebrating life.
Mattie was dearly loved by the hospital staff and by other children and family members dealing with medical challenges. Despite fear and pain, he maintained his deep and prayerful faith, his inspirational way of sharing messages of hope and peace, and his incredible wit and sense of humor. He remained committed to reading and writing and striving to learn more and more about people and his world. And he continued enjoying opportunities for more and more conversation – sometimes silly and oftentimes
serious or spiritual – especially over a cup of good coffee.
Nurses and doctors and social workers and other parents all enjoyed bringing Mattie coffee from local shops, which tasted so much better than what came from cafeteria canisters or the reheated cold cups that came on meal trays. And Mattie loved that these brewed treats offered him an ongoing connection to the outside world, and to his purpose as a messenger, despite the confines of his bedspace and his medical realities.
Celebrating the Mosaic.
Mattie and the “three Cs” of coffee is a story that begins on that long ago winter morning in 1989 when I realized I was pregnant with a fourth child – a gift that was unplanned, but meant to be. It is a story that continues onward to that summer evening in 1990 when Mattie J.T. Stepanek entered this world, and then forthward even beyond his mortal passing on what was the brightest day of the year back in 2004.
This is a timeless story really, because the essence of Mattie’s existence is ever-flowing with purpose that touches our world with a gentle strength, and that continues to tend to the mosaic of humanity with genuine concern and simple kindness.
I think of my son every day, especially as I sip my morning coffee and contemplate the shreds and threads and leftover burdens and uplifting blessings that might make any cup seem half empty or half full in any moment or any hand. And while my heart will always ache with the reality of loss, my spirit also soars with the remnants of Mattie’s Heartsongs – which have the power and purpose to ever-teach us about choices that root us in hope and that cultivate peace.
So many years-of-mornings and cups-of-coffee after his passing, I am most certain that my son – the late teen poet, peacemaker, and philosopher who played – would be excited to know that “Mattie’s Mosaic Blend” has been created in his honor.
And I know for sure that Mattie would be mega-excited that this special dark roast blend symbolizes the essence of his messages of hope and peace: celebrate the diverse “mosaic of gifts” that we have and that we are – both in-need-of and as-sources-of those “three Cs” – commitment (to worthy matters like choosing peace), comfort (as we cope with burdens and celebrate blessings), and connection (as we tend to the treasured bits of the mosaic of humanity).
Mattie’s Mosaic Blend (whole bean or ground) may be ordered in our online Peace Shop. Several of Mattie’s book titles, the Messenger book about his life story, a variety of inspirational #MattiesMessage cards, and other gifts and treasures are also available. One hundred percent of sales and donations support the mission and peace work of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation.