Four years ago today I had one of those milestone birthdays generally celebrated in a big way, making big memories. I don’t remember what presents I got, or what my birthday dinner was. I only remember one thing: the phone call saying Matthias Samuel was about to enter the world. I spent the rest of the day checking my phone every five minutes to see if he had arrived. Much to my disappointment, he waited two hours past midnight to make his appearance, but I decided to claim him as my birthday buddy anyway.
Mattie was born with Down syndrome, which we knew he would be, but he also had a heart condition, as well as some other physical complications. He got an infection when he was four days old which almost took his life, and that was just the beginning. We almost lost him so many times during his first year that I lost track. Through it all, Mattie was busy being Mattie. This boy had a smile that melted the hardest of hearts. You know at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas when the Grinch’s heart grew three times its size? That’s what Mattie did for us. Two months ago, on August 21, 2014, Mattie Sam met Jesus face to face. It was sudden, and it was a shock. We are still reeling from it, in fact.
There are those who say Mattie should not have been born because he was sick. Did he suffer? Yes. But guess what? He also loved. He loved and was loved. He had joy, he gave joy. He learned, he teased, he grew, he inspired. Through social media thousands saw the pictures Mattie’s mom posted of him daily and grew to love him. I’ve heard many people say when they had a bad day they’d log on to Facebook just to look through pictures of Mattie until they felt better. That was our little Miracle Mattie. Through it all, he was a trooper.
His parents are also troopers. Life with Mattie was hard: really hard. But if you ask them they will say that yes, it was worth it. Yes, if they had to choose, they would choose to do it all again, a million times over. His siblings, ranging from the age of 7 to 23 also say it was worth it. HE was worth it. Yes, life with Mattie was hard, but life with Mattie was also beautiful.
We all wish we had more time with Mattie, but we are grateful for the time we did have. Just like Mattie, we learned, we loved, we grew. We’ll see him again someday when it’s our turn to meet Jesus face to face. Until then, we remember, and we celebrate. Happy birthday, Mattie Sam!
(The above photo is Mattie at the age of two. His mom wrote a beautiful book explaining tracheotomies to help the many children who were following Mattie’s life understand what that thing on his neck was. The book has been used to inform and prepare many families across the country)