The Rising and Setting of a Golden Son: A Personal Tribute to José Melendez

 

imageAs the sun rises each day, it gives light and warmth to the dark and cold places of the world. It uplifts our moods while invigorating us to make our days pleasant. On August 18, 1997, the sun crossed our horizon as José Melendez came into the world with a loud cry that spoke volumes. As the sun rose and set that day, I would like to think that a blue moon followed, leaving positive particles of dust in the atmosphere affecting our lives with fierce determination like a volcanic eruption.

I met José many years later at the Cultural Academy for the Arts & Sciences. His warm smile was infectious as he walked through the noisy hallways with his sister and his friends. His genial and avuncular nature earned him both love and respect from his teachers and his peers. I soon grew to love him like a son. He and his family became an extension of mine.

When José was first diagnosed with bone cancer, he was filled with steadfast determination that he would beat this disease. After the first surgery in which his leg was spared, he gained more hope that he would defeat cancer. With each surgery and subsequent chemotherapy treatment he was never in despair. We all knew the mountain facing him, but it never stopped him from doing everything he wanted to do. Although he missed many days of school, he managed to pass all of the state exams with high scores. He completed all of his assignments, even performance based projects. Most noteworthy was his desire to be discharged from the hospital so that he could complete his performance of scenes from Romeo and Juliet. The day before the scheduled performance, he left a voice mail message on my phone that said, “Hello, Ms. DeLoatch. I’m in the hospital today. I will try my best to go tomorrow because Centhya and Kieleek have been working hard and I may not be as good as I am supposed to be, but I’m going to try my best to go tomorrow.” I called him back trying to dissuade him, knowing the severity of his illness. He was resolute. He came to the school as we were beginning the performance.  He performed his two scenes with grace, watched his peers perform, and then left the school, unfortunately, never to return.

I learned much from José. He taught me how to persevere in the midst of difficulty. He taught me to not complain, but to smile. From the beginning of his diagnosis, I told him that his life was full of purpose and that he was going to have a high impact on the world. He never outwardly questioned his suffering, for he knew that earth was not his home. He taught me never to run from difficulty, but to face it head on. One day a couple of summers ago, he, his sister Auriana, his brother Marco, and I, along with members of my family, went to Coney Island to enjoy the warm weather and Luna Park. We sat there on the beach soaking up some rays, and enjoying the amusement park rides. We ate Nathan’s fries and hot dogs like they were going out of style. That day, he never complained about his illness. I knew that I was in the midst of greatness, and that José’s hand print would reverberate around the world as fast as the speed of light.

In the final days of his life, he acknowledged the power of God in his life. He had accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, and was recently baptized. He told me that he was “still alive because of the power of God.” He did not want anyone crying for him because he knew that on his last day he would rise to be with the Lord.

Thus, on January 27, 2016, José went to be with the Lord. Although the golden sun set, this golden son is still giving light and hope to those he knew. Every day this son, lights up the world with resounding brilliance and melody in our hearts as his voice continues to be heard, and as his countenance gives us hope for tomorrow. This son will never set. Although the sun has physically set, let’s remember words from a Dylan Thomas poem: “Do not go gentle into that good night…Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Let’s let José’s mighty life and light live forever in our hearts and minds.

We may never know why José was called home at a young age, but God has a plan for all of our lives. What legacy will you leave? How many lives will your life touch? Long after our deaths, will we continue to live in the hearts of others? If we do, we will live and not die.

May God comfort those who mourn.

For personal meditation and reflection read: 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18

José’s photo: courtesy of David McGill

Christian Witness: The Face of Christianity

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An old adage says we are what we eat. Of what does your diet consist? I do not mean the food that is eaten, but everything else that is ingested. When I was younger, I used to think that I could watch, read, or listen to anything and not absorb the material’s negative content. I knew, however, that bad company corrupts morals. Yet, I did not realize that the same premise relates to what we take in through both our eye and ear gate. Ungodly content corrupts our thinking. Christians are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. We are Christ’s holy priests and through his mediation we offer spiritual sacrifices that please God (1 Peter 2:5). As a living stone, let’s be careful of our actions because Christians and non Christians are watching us. As difficult as it may seem, we should neither love the world nor the things therein (1 John 3:18). Those things have a tendency to draw us away from Christ. Let’s be mature in our faith and not be conformed to this world, but let the renewing of our minds transform us (Romans 12).

How do we achieve transformation? How do we get to the point in which others see Christ within us? Spending intimate fellowship with Christ through prayer and meditation on God’s word will result in becoming an effective witness for Christ. It may not happen immediately, but if one consistently spends time at the feet of Christ, meditating on his word day and night, he or she will be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that bears fruit in its season (Psalm 1: 2-3). God knows the thoughts and the intents of the heart (Jeremiah 17:10). He knows if we are sincere in our walk with him, if we spend time either communing with him or whether our time is totally spent engaged in carnal matters. As believers, we must be mindful that our conduct is displayed to the world. We do not want to be a stumbling block to others who are seeking Christ. Both a transformed and renewed mind have the effect of drawing others into God’s kingdom. Young woman reading bible

If we are the best witness of Christ at home, at work, and in our communities, Christ’s name will reverberate throughout the earth. If our actions are reprehensible to the world, then others may not want to be part of God’s family. Our righteousness is in Christ; thus, let’s have a clean heart and a right spirit within us.

God, search me and know my heart, try me and know my anxieties, and if there is any wicked way in me, lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139: 23-24). That is my prayer.

For further reflection and meditation: Read Psalm 139.

 

Why I Believe What I Believe

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My beautiful mother (she will be turning seventy-two next month) and I at my brother’s wedding.

I grew up in a household in which my entire family attended church every Sunday. My mother also enrolled my oldest sister and I in a Lutheran school, Prince of Peace Christian Day School, and enrolled my oldest brother in Villa Maria, a Catholic school in Lynchburg, Va many years later. From the age of seven, my mother made sure that I had my own Bible, learned about the books of the Bible, and learned to pray. At church, however, I was more asleep than attentive. All of my mother’s (my parents separated for the last time when I was seven) noteworthy actions, however, did not teach me about true Christianity and the love of Jesus Christ. Moreover, after the death of my father when I was eleven, my mother married a pastor. That action, unfortunately, had the effect of driving me further away from true Christianity. It was not until the age of twenty-one, that I was told that Jesus Christ was seeking a relationship with me. At that point I began to accept that Jesus was not just my savior, but that He could be lord of my life. I asked him to forgive me for all of the sins I had committed and I allowed him access to my heart (Romans 10: 9-10).image

Shortly thereafter, I joined the Brooklyn Tabernacle where I was later rebaptized.  I began methodically studying and praying daily. Yet, after many years, I felt that I was missing the “fervor” of serving Christ, and I desperately wanted to obtain it. The only way that I knew to get that fervor, was to pray and spend time in the presence of the Lord. I went on vacatation to Jamaica where I spent time at the beach before sunrise. I asked God to fill me with his spirit and to use me in ways that I had never experienced. I did this everyday for nearly a week. When I came back home, I knew that I had had a fresh encounter with the Holy Spirit. The best part of all of this was that I was able to pray for my mother and to ask God to intervene in her life. He answered my prayer.

After the newness of life, I began to experience intense difficulties physically, financially, and spiritually as I began sharing the word of God. During this time, I learned to trust in God for everything. I learned to have faith and to take God at his word.  While working for myself, I saw God provide daily for my financial needs. I struggled in so many ways, yet I continued serving God and sacrificing my tithes to the Lord. During this time of intense difficulty, I also continued praying and studying the word of God. Often I cried because of all of the difficulty. I had multiple surgeries and car accidents, a cancer scare, barely enough money, no nearby biological family (I lived in Philadelphia), and mounting student loans. I brought children with emotional disturbance and with developmental delay into my home several times at God’s prompting (all done through fasting and prayer). As a result, I know what it’s like to be a single parent, to be physically ill, and to be poor. I wish that I could say that I was always pious during this time, but I made many mistakes. I knew, however, that I had to continually seek God for deliverance. Because of this “crucible”, I know that He answers prayer (James 5:16). I know that God works everything out according to the counsel of his own will (Ephesians 1:11). For about twenty-one consecutive years, I had intense difficulties. If it had not been for all of those difficulties, I would not have learned to have faith in Christ. I learned to trust that He would heal, provide, deliver, and guide me. I learned to trust in his word. As a result, I give my life in service to others. I encourage and try to meet the needs of others who are going through challenges. I am not the person that I would be without Christ in my life. I love Christ because He first loved me. I, therefore, strive to show the love of God to others because faith without works is dead (James 2: 14-26). God will continue to perform a work within me until He returns (Phillipians 1).

Come to Jesus with all of your failures, your disappointments, and your heartaches. He is waiting for you with open arms. He is the only one who satisfies. And if your life is great, still come.

Lord, I pray that you will intervene in the lives of those who do not know you. Be their burden bearer and show them boundless love.

For further reflection and meditation, read Romans 10 and James 2.

Showing Love and Mercy: A Tribute

I began this week, along with other prayer warriors, in deep prayer and in biblical meditation and reflection. We asked God to intervene in a dire situation. He intervened. I do not profess to know the extent of God’s intervention, but I do know that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, that God’s mercy is new every morning and great is his faithfulness toward us. (Lamentations 3:22-23). Without faith, it is impossible to believe, but we must believe that Jesus exists, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

One of my students, José, has been battling cancer for the last two and a half years. I have had the privilege of knowing him and his family during this entire ordeal. I have never met a person as courageous as José. Furthermore, I have never met a family that endured as much difficulty, with grace, as this family has. Battling adverse financial conditions, learning a new language, and having no additional family in this country, this family embodies boundless tenacity. Rarely have I met a family as grateful as this family, for they continue to be appreciative of all the love poured on them.  They have given the school community an opportunity to show them both love and mercy (through many fundraisers, hospital visitations, a hug, food, etc.). I am proud of all of those who have touched this family, allowing the family to see that God provides help even before we realize we need it. I believe that José and his sister were divinely placed at my school, The Cultural Academy for the Arts & Sciences.

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José receiving a hug, at last year’s prom, from Ms. Tache, our assistant principal

This week the student council at my school had the opportunity to engage in altruism and to encourage sacrificial giving. When they were told that José was critically ill, they decided to conduct a fundraiser to help his family financially. They went around everyday to all of the classes asking their fellow students to donate money for the needs of the family. As the students went around the school, they told their schoolmates that no donation was too small. Any amount was accepted. They then put up a poster reminding the other students of the ongoing fundraiser. Additionally, many students visited José at the hospital. One student, Rosemary, wrote a poem for him, and read the poem to him. José gave her a thumbs up because he could not talk with the oxygen mask. Students bought him flowers and wished José well. Jennifer, a teaching artist, played cultural music for him, leading him to sing and dance. At the beginning of the week, I thought he would not survive, but each day, he woke with a fierce determination to live. I believe the visits of his family, his peers, his school family, and others have helped him gain some inner strength.

Sometimes we do not know why we suffer. Sometimes suffering gives us the opportunity to show love and mercy toward others. It allows us to reach deeply into our hearts to treat others in a manner in which we would want to be treated. For this is the golden rule- Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. For truly, this is the will of God.

As a result of José’s illness, all of our lives are forever changed. May God continue to fill him with his spirit and extend immeasurable grace to him and his family. Please pray!

For further reflection and meditation read Hebrews 11; Lamentations 3, and Matthew 7.

 

Understanding the Providence of God

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Understanding the hand of God is often a stumbling block to would be Christians and non believers alike. People often believe that Christ exists, but they decline to follow him because they do not understand why He allows suffering throughout the world.  We tend to want a life without suffering. How would we ever know who God is, if we never need him? Why would we ever draw near to him, if our lives were perfect? The Bible tells us in Romans 12 to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. We must not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we will know the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God for our lives. We must sacrifice our own desires by delighting ourselves in the Lord. His desires will then become our desires. By spending time in His word, we will begin to recognize the perfect will of God.

God wants us to draw ourselves to him. If we draw near to him, He will draw near to us. Sometimes He uses suffering to get our attention because He knows that many of us would not acknowledge his presence if we had no difficulty in life. Sometimes good things happen to God’s choicest servants. Even Job was a righteous man that eschewed evil, yet God permitted him to go through some devastating situations. These situations caused Job to seek and question God’s divine plan. Others around him thought he had sinned and that he should curse God and die. God chose his servant to showcase the glory of God. In the end, after seeking to understand  the providence of God, Job was restored manifold.

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God does indeed hold the world in his hands.

Let’s not ask the Lord to remove all of the difficulties in our lives. Instead, let’s ask for grace to get through the situations. We should desire to be part of God’s team, to get in the game, and not be on the sidelines. We may get hit while in the game, but we know that the Lord is our shepherd. God told Joshua, the leader of the Israelites after Moses, to be strong and courageous, not to fear and to obey the word of God by not letting it depart from his mouth (Joshua 1). Thus, if we obey the word of God and meditate on it, God will be with us wherever we go. He will prepare the way. Just know that the light affliction that is felt, according to the Bible, is but for a moment working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Let’s not look at the things which are seen, but at the unseen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but things unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians  4:17).

I pray that Jesus will give us both patience and grace to run the life He has placed before us. Additionally, I pray that  we will search the scriptures to know the will of God, by presenting our lives as  living sacrifices. Remember let’s be fishers of men. Amen.

For further meditation and reflection read: Joshua 1; Romans 12;  Job 40 -42; 2 Corinthians 4.

Pressing Toward the Mark

imageAs we begin a new year, let’s desire to grab ahold of all that life has to offer. We can accomplish it by reconciling ourselves to Jesus Christ. Likemindedness in Christ will enable us to accomplish many things for the Kingdom of God, and will give us great satisfaction. Jesus promised in John 10:10 that He came so that we would have life, and have it more abundantly. What is an abundant life? Is it a life filled with affluence and with opulence? Is it a life of greater weight than money? Neither poverty nor wealth connote piety. Using both one’s talents and abilities to make the world a better place, while celebrating oneself, can give us the abundant life of which Christ speaks. Arguably, we are happiest when we are meeting the needs of others. The Bible in I Timothy 6:6 says that godliness with contentment is great gain. Therefore, according to Phillipians 3, let’s press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God, forgetting those things which are behind us and grabbing ahold of all of the things for which Christ apprehended us.

If we make ourselves available for God’s purposes, then we can be His hand extended. There is such great need throughout the world. Why not choose someone that can be helped through your talents and abilities? If one has musical talents, volunteer  time to teach someone to play an instrument. Teach someone to read and write. Mentor a young person. Wherever one’s strength lies, he should use it to the best of his ability.image

After serving others, take time out to enjoy life. Attend a performing arts program. Go for a leisurely walk, read a book. Whatever excites your  passions, do it. These activities energize us and equip us to continue serving others.

Let’s pray that this year will be the best year of our lives and that we will be an effective instrument for the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus, I ask that everyone who reads this post will be used greatly by You. I ask that Your hand will be upon our lives, and that we will submit our will to yours. For those who may not know You as savior and Lord, I ask that your Holy Spirit will draw them unto You. Amen.

May God bless you and may you be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that bears fruit in its season (Psalm 1:3).

For further reflection and meditation read: John 10, Timothy 6, and Phillipians 3