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An Ambassador for Life

Donna Maccaroni

  • Stacey Ake

    How wonderful that you got to attend an angel "unawares".

  • Patsy N Velez

    I was very touched by this account. As a homecare nurse, in the past I have cared for babies who only had short lives. One in particular, always had a little smile and no complaints as I cared for him. He was very precious. Thanks for sharing this experience.

  • Bruce

    WOW !!!!!

  • Michele De Lorenzo

    Donna, what a beautiful message that is to all of us and a true lesson. Too often in life, we get caught up in all that is plentiful often missing the bigger picture. The gift that you and your family exchanged with Matthew is one that would be hard to surpass in other forms. Thanks for sharing this with us. It is truly touching.

  • nicky

    As usual, Donna, you get to the heart of the matter, in all ways. God Bless.

  • Sallie Smtih

    What a wonderufl story- and how wonderful that there is an adoptive family for him. But I would argue with your comments about those who are choosing to die- we have to realize that modern medicine may be wonderful but it also often blurs the line between life and death- often with no thought of the person. To choose to die a peaceful death may indeed be God's will.

  • Jeanette Wanner

    Matthew's adoptive parents are very special people. Donna, you can rest easier knowing that he is surrounded by love in his new home and amongst his church family.

  • Rebekah

    A wonderful woman in whom I have great admiration gave me the following quote. "Risk more than others think is safe, care more than others think is wise, dream more than others think is practical and expect more than other think is possible". To live your life this way takes faith and a total surrender to the will of God. It can also be exhausting, but in our weakest moments he is making us strong. Donna, thank you for radiating your strength through your words and actions.

  • Pat

    Thank you Donna, for sharing Matthew's story with me, for your grace, and for coming into my life; I'm a better person for it.

  • Claire

    Besides the beautiful descriptions of all that Matthew brought to your family, the other key is the recognition that while we all know God is ultimately in control, we still try daily to take back the steering wheel. A good reminder, thank you.

  • maryann ednie

    the story of matthew is one of the most touching i have heard in some time. donna, you and your family are an inspiration to us all. matthew could not have shared his time with a more loving and compassionate family. god bless all of you for the commitment and love you shared. and most of all god bless that little boy

  • Maureen

    Thank you for this beautifully written and inspiring essay... Peace, Maureen Quinn

  • Kimberly Van Havere

    He is a little saint, and so is the family that fostered him along with the adoptive family!

  • Alison Fischli

    Donna, thank you so much this encouraging article, these are the people who we need in this world. Anyone like this gives so much more than any of us. Thank you again and keep up the good work.

  • Karen

    What a beautiful passage, Donna. It brought me to tears. The world is blessed to have souls like you and your family to put their lives aside for a child who had no future. Even though you knew his days were limited, you and your family never faltered in your commitment to make each hour the best they could be. Congratulations on your success in that!!

  • Craig McKay

    Matthew I believe is a Disciple on earth doing Gods work, Donna Maccaronni is an Angel on earth doing Gods Biding.

On June 24, 2013, a missionary came to live in my home. He arrived without pomp and circumstance, but demanded that every member of my family participate in his mission. We welcomed him gladly, little knowing how much he would change us for the better and teach us about the meaning of life.

He could never walk or talk – or even see or reach out a hand toward us. In time, he brought complexities, challenges, and, yes, suffering into our home. He required our energy, time, and resources. How, then, could we call him a missionary?

Let me tell you about Matthew. Born nine weeks early, he came to us after spending the first three weeks of his life in the NICU. His mother, knowing she would be unable to parent him, surrendered her parental rights after birth. She hoped Matthew would have an adoptive family who could more adequately provide for him. We took him in as a foster child until a permanent family was found.

At first, Matthew seemed to be a healthy baby who would be easily placed in a loving adoptive home. As weeks turned into months, however, it became increasingly clear that Matthew was unable to meet even the simplest developmental milestones. Matthew could not roll over, crawl, lift his head, sit up, or even move his body slightly to relieve an uncomfortable position. He suffered from a seizure disorder, and the medication he needed to control it made him lethargic. At times he was too weak to eat, and when he did, he suffered from digestive problems. He was often in respiratory distress and could not engage in play. Although his eyes were beautiful and structurally fine, a neurological impairment claimed his sight. At twenty-two months of age, Matthew had a list of medical conditions, medications, and treatment plans that easily surpassed those of my five biological children combined.

We were not initially prepared to care for a medically fragile infant. But because Matthew’s story unfolded slowly and his ailments increased gradually over time, caring for him did not overwhelm us. The medical equipment arrived as needed, nursing care was set up in our home, and doctors were added to the team. We discovered that Matthew’s older brother, placed with the same agency thirteen years prior, had died as a foster child at age three of complications from an unknown genetic disorder. Might Matthew be a victim of the same genetic disorder that had claimed his brother’s life? Because the agency still had case workers’ notes from his brother, we were able to find similarities in Matthew’s condition and make more informed decisions regarding treatment. We felt God’s grace guiding us throughout.

Loving Matthew was not for the weak of heart, though, for every day with him was a reminder of his imminent departure from this world. There are no words to adequately express what it felt like to know that his genetic disorder was pulling him toward an early death, while simultaneously feeling immense gratitude for every moment spent in his presence. Each moment was a moment of surrender. All too often, the boy I had put to bed the night before was replaced by a child with new symptoms, new ailments, and new difficulties the next morning. As Matthew’s family, we welcomed each new version of him and learned to accommodate his growing needs, while simultaneously grieving the person he had been just days before. Every morning, we were simply thankful that he was alive. Without an intuition that Matthew’s precious life had a spiritual purpose, the daily letting go of the boy I had come to know and love might have seemed impossible. Through Matthew, surrender to the natural ebb and flow of life was written into our hearts. We felt privileged to be the ones closest to him because he transformed us from people who were merely living to people who were living with purpose.

We may recognize that God alone has control over each of our days, yet all too often as soon as our feet hit the floor in the morning we jump behind the wheel to navigate our own path, neglecting to consult the divine map created for each one of us by God. More than anyone else I know, Matthew was weak and helpless, relying completely on prayer, grace, divine help, and the loving care of those around him. His life was like a car without a steering wheel. We had to trust God with the steering of Matthew’s life and, as a consequence, our own. Life with Matthew was a lesson in surrender, in giving up all control. Matthew allowed us to care for him. That is why he was our missionary.

Someone recently asked me, “Why did you waste a year and a half fostering that boy when you could have been making a difference by fostering a healthy child?” Although a well-meaning question coming from an individual with a deep love for God, it stung me profoundly. Have we forgotten that we, as human beings, are called to do more than just live healthy and successful lives? Have we forgotten that we are called to do more than simply nourish our bodies? Have we forgotten that we are called to give, that we are called to community? Have we, as a culture, given up on the intrinsic value of each human life?

Every day we hear stories of broken people who are choosing to die because of challenges or illnesses; we hear they are choosing a “dignified death” over a life of suffering. Sometimes their loved ones, while perhaps not applauding their decisions, support their choices to end their lives. This can only happen when people fail to understand the value of life or its true purpose. So many people spend their lives eating and drinking, sleeping and waking, working and seeking entertainment. Their bodies may be living. But until they embrace the service to others that we are each called to, they will never become truly alive.

Perhaps they have never had the opportunity to learn from a teacher like Matthew. He represented all that we are called to be as members of the human race. He was commanding as he delivered his message, causing all who knew him to pause and pay attention. We witnessed firsthand his power to bring grown men to tears. We saw him bring people together through his love, his needs, and his gentle smile—people who would have otherwise had no reason to unite. We experienced his ability to change our perspectives on the marginalized, on service, and on life. And over time, we watched his purpose in life increase, even as his body deteriorated.

A few weeks ago, Matthew moved across the country to his adoptive family. I watched the faces of his nurses and my family and friends as they said their goodbyes. They were not the faces of people unaffected. They were the faces of people who had been deeply touched, changed forever. They were people grieving at the realization that their time with this great person had come to an end. His absence would be their loss. Each one had been touched directly by the love of God bestowed on earth in the form of a broken body: a beautiful boy named Matthew.

As I fold the few remaining shirts and pajamas that Matthew left behind, allowing myself to feel the pain of letting him go, I realize that I am truly alive. I have a mission beyond myself and my immediate family. The pain I feel is a testament that Matthew has done his missionary work well. He has enlightened minds, softened hearts, and drawn many souls nearer to God.

Matthew, a boy with profound disabilities, smiling and responding to love. Matthew
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