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“When I ran for governor many years ago I estimated I shook 600,000 hands, and when I was president I visited all 50 states, and since I left office my wife and I have traveled to more than 120 nations.

“When I ran for governor many years ago I estimated I shook 600,000 hands, and when I was president I visited all 50 states, and since I left office my wife and I have traveled to more than 120 nations.

“I’ve known kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers. But the most extraordinary person I have ever known in my life,” said former President Jimmy Carter, “is Mattie Stepanek.”

Carter delivered the eulogy at the Mass of Christian Burial for the 13-year-old boy who wanted to be known as “a poet, a peacemaker and a philosopher who played.” According to his wishes, Mattie’s coffin was covered with a United Nations flag and sported a bumper sticker that said, “Be a peacemaker.”

Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek died June 22 from complications resulting from a rare neuromuscular disease, a form of muscular dystrophy called dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy. The disease that stunted his physical growth—he weighed less than 70 pounds—could not inhibit his moral wisdom and vision.

The limitations he faced, the pain and frustration of having to use all sorts of medical equipment, even knowing that he was going to die—none were enough to stifle his hope and enthusiasm for living.

He began dictating and recording poetry, essays and other thoughts at the age of 3. By age 11 he had become a New York Times bestselling author with the publication of his Heartsongs poetry collections. His writings about grief, nature, love, hope, life and peace simply but boldly call for a moral order that reveres God and respects others.

One thing, though, broke his heart: the war in Iraq.

Jeni, Mattie’s mother, recalled that when the United States went to war in that country, Mattie cried harder than he had ever cried from his own pain. He believed that world leaders had not tried hard enough for peace. He even dreamed of talking peace with one of the world’s most despised men, Osama Bin Laden.

Carter, who began as his hero and became a close friend, was impressed with Mattie’s knowledge of international affairs. Mattie proposed that the two write a book together, even suggesting a title: Just Peace.

“People tell me I inspire them,” Mattie said. “And that inspires me. It’s a beautiful circle, and we all go around together with and for each other. What a gift.”

While others argued about the best place to display the Ten Commandments—Hebrew Scripture’s ‘ten words’—a  young boy with a terminal illness had no time to join that debate.

Instead he quietly modeled the spirit of the law by living this personal motto: “Think gently, speak gently, live gently.”

Sounds like a pretty good way to honor the Ten Commandments to me.

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.

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