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It's more like a step forward and a kick in the gut


By J. Hogan

It's the end of baseball season, a time of year where I usually feel a sense of loss as my favorite sport disappears until Spring.

This year, to be honest, I'm barely noticing.

My emotions are much more conflicted than the whimsical, nostalgic sense of Summer passing into deep Autumn and taking the Grand Ol' Game away once again.

No, this year, as I travel through the south from one speaking engagement to another, I find myself celebrating many things for which I have great gratitude – from ministry successes and church gains, to seeing the people our children are blossoming to be and cherishing the wonderful above-my-station wife and marriage I'm so blessed to have.

Yet as the miles roll by, I'm spending much time fretting. Weeping as I pray for my 20-year-old neighbor, shot in a drive-by shooting feet from my front door while I was in the air.

Contemplating a conversation with my traumatized bride about her concerns about the safety of our own family in a house where stray, malicious bullets have already paid unwelcome visits.

I spoke at a prison the other night, offering hope and true transformation to men who need to see and hear that we don't have to be defined by our worst moments for the rest of our lives. One inmate I spoke to afterward was moved to tears at the prospect of overcoming his past, encouraged when I shared that my own mother – who I lied to over and over in my own addicted, lawbreaking past – comes to worship with us often at the church I pastor.

Later, I received a notification on my phone of another shooting back home.

In the morning I did a remote interview with KDKA radio. Larry Richert asked me if I ever want to throw in the towel as we discussed the mass shooting on Pittsburgh's northside that claimed the lives of two innocent bystander and killed another.

I don't. But often the victories of ministry feel like a step forward and a half-step back. Fairly often it's more like a step forward and a kick in the gut.

I thought about Mr. Richert's question off and on all day as I headed to a big pastor's meeting where I was preaching, and found myself grateful for the surety of my call.

I don't think of quitting, even when it hurts, because I trust God has me here for His reasons, His glory… and it's God to whom I've dedicated my life.

As I was preparing to speak, three younger friends of mine walked through the door.

I met all three of them when they were just entering adulthood. They drove in from an hour, an hour-and-a-half, and three hours away to hear me speak and hang out for about 90 minutes together before they had to all head to their respective lives at home.

I prayed again,as I laid down for the night, for my young neighbor – I've known him since he was 3 – and his family, sad that I couldn't be at their side when this atrocity occurred.

My heart was heavy.

I thought of what a privilege it was to have Ashley, Christina and David travel that far for so little of my company, and dozed off knowing that – pained or not – I'm a blessed man.

Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.



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