Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fall Update

Summer came and went with no update, so here's an early start on the Fall:

The strawberry plants continued to send out runners apace, and did a good job on covering up the mudpatch beside my walk.

Alex and I did get some fresh strawberries to eat, but the neighbors keep assuring me, "It takes a year to get a strawberry patch up and running."

It turned out that competition with the birds was not my problem, but rather the crawly bugs that found the strawberries to be a sumptuous breakfast (and lunch, and dinner).

I found that if I could keep the berries from touching the ground, I would have to share fewer of them with the creepy-crawlies.

Summer was quite eventful for Alex, thanks to Ambridge Youth Ignite, which ran a daily sports camp and arts camp through the end of July. Alex played soccer, lacrosse, baseball, flag football, and "ultimate frisbee." They capped off the season with a free trip to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play major league baseball. Eric Geisbert and the crew of young folk at AYI deserve high praise for the dedication and love they poured into the children of Ambridge.

After spending the month of August playing with his friends in the neighborhood, Alex was really ready for school to start again. He is excited about being in the fifth grade, and has joined the choir and the band.

His face really beamed the first day he brought home his saxophone. He said, "I'm going to practice every day! This is while I'm thinking, "How can I make that fun for him?'

He's looking forward to a visit from his mother this weekend. In part due to the recession, she had some significant business reversals this summer, and was unable to take Alex with her for a while as she had promised.

As a result, I had to cancel my own plans for a short vacation. I've been on the job for almost two years now, and could really use a break. But God is faithful, and He knows what He's doing. We remain targetted toward Alex re-joining his mother full time for his next school year.

Please put in a prayer for Alex and I, and for his mother's success in her new job search.

And may God richly bless you all.

Postscripts: The marigolds that Alex planted for his mother;
The tomatoes that grew up through the deck;
And the red berries among the fall colors on the tree in our front yard.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Michael Melendrez II


In February 2007 I received a letter from my sister Lucy about her grandson Michael, who had received the Lord in prison after years of substance abuse. Michael had been a carrier of HIV for 10 years and had infected his wife with the virus, and had been near death many times from his use of drugs. However, after his conversion he experienced a miraculous recovery: The doctors, in repeated tests, were unable to find any trace of HIV in his system.

Lucy wrote: "He ended up doing study courses on the Bible, and sent us the certificates he completed. He accepted Jesus as his Savior, and his Mother Sally could not believe the change in every aspect of his self. He has been given supervised work duty outside the prison, a big privilege."

Here is Michael's testimony at the time: "It began in 2005 when I turned my life over to the care of God, and no longer live for me, myself and I, only for our Father in heaven" He also gave credit to the Church, family and his personal prayers. Michael said "I have received the ultimate blessing of a lifetime. The power of God's healing hand is resting upon my soul."

By December of the same year Michael had been released from prison. As I travelled from Mississippi to Pennsylvania I was able to meet him in Cartersville, Georgia, where I attended Sunday church services with Michael, his mother Sally and two of his children. He had moved in with his mother, was looking for a job, and was participating fully in the life of Liberty Square Church. On that day he was invited onto the podium to give his testimony before the 1000-strong congregation of the church.

In this photo are Michael and myself along with his son Garret and daughter Ashley, now aged 10 and 6. He also has a son by different mother: Gevin, age 13. All are living with grandparents.

The tragedies in this family began a generation earlier, with the drug involvement of Michael Melendrez I, which ended in his father's death while Michael was still a toddler. Those tragedies have now returned.

Some time after I met Michael II, he won a disability benefits appeal and was awarded a substantial cash settlement. Those of you who know recovering drug addicts recognize the dangers such an award poses.

Michael's life again jumped the tracks, leading to his re-imprisonment for parole violations after spending most of the money. After months in prison without medical attention, he became too weak to walk. He was suffering from Hepatitus C, and is now in the final stages of liver failure. He is due to be transferred from the prison hospital to a hospice, and that may already have happened.

I invite your prayers for Michael and his family: his children and their two mothers, and his grandmother. I invite your prayers also for all those still in addiction to these tools of the Enemy, ravaging the families and youth of our nation. Michael is 35 years old.

My Lord, I thank you that Michael has accepted your saving grace and that you will call him to you at the time that you choose. Grant us the strength to serve those that suffer and to help those who fight against this scourge.

In Jesus name I pray,