Catalyst, Great Stories

A Tribute to Matt Stone

IMG_0636Matt Stone was part of the first ever Catalyst Award Hero Holiday in 2011 after receiving the award in 2010. He was chosen in part for his ambitious dream of becoming an engineer and medical doctor, desiring to develop technologies that could make the lives of patients, particularly children, better. With a remarkable intellect and dogged determination he had the combination of personal qualities that made it easy to imagine him being very successful. More than that however, Matt had the rare perspective of having survived cancer as a young teen himself. That experience seemed to only enhance his compassion and gift for valuing each person he met as intrinsically valuable and fascinating. Our selection committee found it easy to make him one of our recipients. Last Friday was Matt’s memorial service. The aggressive treatment that defeated cancer in his bones and lungs had damaged his lungs in a way from which he never fully recovered. Over the last several months they progressively failed. He took his last earthly breaths on May 19, 2014 at only 23 years old. I have known Matt and his family since 2000 when I became the youth pastor at the church where his dad, Mike, has served as lead pastor for nearly two decades. As an adolescent Matt was small, skinny, bright, and thoughtful. He played tackle football with a determination that made up for his slight frame, loved the Dallas Cowboys, quietly pursued an enormous range of interests with skill, and asked questions that demonstrated a willingness to apply his whole being to exploring his faith. After one summer his straight blonde hair extended below his shoulders, and he welcomed the teasing he received with a trademark shy smile. Much of his high school years was lost to cancer treatment and recovery, but Matt continued to be a core member of the church youth group, deepening friendships with peers who unanimously acknowledge him for his insatiable intelligence and sincere care for each of them, even while he was suffering. I remember the night we gathered on his back deck where about a dozen of us shaved our heads in solidarity with Matt. Never wanting the spotlight himself we had to cajole him repeatedly before he took the clippers to his older brother’s thick, dark hair. Two episodes from our trip to the Dominican Republic highlight Matt’s character. On a day when we were helping to build a home for a family in a village formerly called Agua Negra, Matt was assigned to put a hole in a newly built cement block wall. Despite the heat, he stood in that same spot for well over an hour chipping away from every angle with inferior tools. I could see his mind figuring out better ways to solve the problem in the future even as he refused to stop until it was accomplished. It was only the tugs on his sleeves from the local children that eventually got him to take a break to play with them. Another day, as we were travelling from one community to another, Matt decided that it would be a good idea to explain the concept of Schrodinger’s Cat to the rest of the group. He patiently explained this complex idea from the world of philosophy and physics to a group who were partially interested, and partially in disbelief that he understood and cared about it himself. I guess Matt just felt like it was something everyone should know. Matt lived a life of profound faith. It shaped everything he did and for him it was both experiential and intellectual. He had an abiding belief that he was loved by God and expressed his love of Jesus with humility and conviction. That faith has made the unimaginable loss his friends and family are bearing more manageable. I miss Matt. I knew him for roughly half of his life. I admired his courage and his determination, and I am beyond sad that he is no longer among us, and that it will fall to others to pursue the dreams he aspired to. Even so, the crowds at his memorial and the lives he impacted right to the end make him an exemplary recipient of our award. His influence will extend far beyond his brief years here. Matt was, in so many ways, a Catalyst.