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KEEPING THE FAITH | How to keep the past from defining your future

“One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide.” While this quote’s author is unknown, there is so much truth contained within it. 
The Rev. Lewis W. Macklin

I am constantly amazed by God’s graciousness and mercy during this pandemic. 

Despite my own fears, trepidations and even losses in 2020, I have used the triumph over prior challenging experiences as a point of reference that “troubles don’t last always!” 

I once preached a message, “A Setback Is a Setup for A Comeback!”

To fully appreciate this missive, it is best to examine the meaning of the words within the phrase. A setback is often an unexpected event that delays a process. Some setbacks may be considered a hiccup that slows you down; it is not intended to stop you. The setup is designed to advance you forward, yet it can be an occurrence or situation in which someone is deliberately made to look bad in the eyes of others.

Nevertheless, you must press your way forward while enduring the hardships and affliction. God can redeem time and circumstance on your behalf. What was a burden can become a blessing. The comeback is in your perseverance and determination. You cannot give up in the midst of your struggle. You can achieve success after failed attempts from your setbacks.

Your opposition will recognize the victory over the odds, humiliation and defeat.

The experiences of Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, are well documented in the Book of Genesis. He was thrown into a pit by his own brothers because of jealousy — "The Setback."  Then he was cast into prison after being falsely accused of attempted sexual assault — "The Setup."

However, his gift to interpret dreams gave him favor which ultimately placed him in the palace. Now in a high position, the brothers who discarded him are now standing in his presence — "The Comeback."

Some obstacles and situations we face in life may actually intend to advance us — not hinder us — while helping others.  

Just as important, your situation may even be a template for others to understand their purpose. “One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide.” While this quote’s author is unknown, there is so much truth contained within it. 

Some people are late bloomers because it might have taken them a while to get planted.  In fact, we must resist the urge of trading God’s time with our deadlines. Yet we should never discount the journey or the lessons presented along the way. 

A case in point: There was a young man who was removed from seven elementary schools and locked up for burglary at age 11. He was kicked out of three middle schools and had to repeat the eighth grade.  As a high school senior he was treated for a gunshot wound while skipping classes. That incident changed the trajectory of his life.  In the midst of his physical healing, he embraced the love of God which transformed his mind, body and soul. 

He began to see himself as a victor and not a victim in life. He began to associate with people who had a positive outlook and plans for their own lives which became a source of hope. He acknowledged that, for the first time in his life, he began to dream and envision a better life for himself.

Despite his less-than-stellar academic experiences, in 2007 he became the first high school graduate in his family. He went on to attend college on a basketball scholarship and obtained a bachelor of arts degree in education. Paying it back, he became an educator in the same school district he once attended.  

Realizing his story needed to be shared, he authored his first book “A Dark Journey to A Light Future,” while working on his master of arts degree in child development. This young man today is respected and recognized as Dr. Tommie Mabry, after recently being conferred his doctorate degree from Jackson State University. 

Don’t allow past or current circumstances to define your future, even if it is veiled to you and others. The Rev.  Jamal H. Bryant, pastor of the New Birth Baptist Church in Atlanta, whose own life journey as a youth traveled a path similar to Mabry, contends that you should never “place your dream in a safety deposit box.”  A high school dropout, he eventually obtained his GED and is now recognized as an influential voice in the arena of community empowerment and social justice. 

These men, and many others, are committed to nurturing this current generation into greatness instead of nursing personal past failures, hurts and disappointments.  Alma Bazel Androzzo was inspired to create an anthem “If I Can Help Somebody” for the National Tuberculosis Society. The song was often performed by gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King during his civil rights assembles. The message is a daily opportunity to impact the lives of those around us.

If I can help somebody, as I pass along
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song
If I can show somebody, that he's traveling wrong
Then my living shall not be in vain

Do not judge the story of others by the chapter you walked in on. Avoid that at all cost because the story – theirs and yours-  is not complete and the narrative can be changed. Perhaps it is your assignment to encourage or help them along the journey.  We must always be mindful that the race is not given to the swift nor to the strong but to the one that endures until the end. So don’t give up on yourself or those God placed in your life.  You must travail until you prevail and keep the faith.

The Rev. Lewis W. Macklin II  serves as the lead pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, chaplain for the Youngstown Police Department and local coordinator for the African American Male Wellness Walk of the Mahoning Valley. He resides in Youngstown with Dorothy, his partner in marriage and ministry. They share the love and joy of six children and seven grandchildren.

— All biblical citations are New Living Translation unless noted otherwise