Happy Birthday, West Virginia!
If you have been following my posts for any length of time, you know that Janet and I love the Greenbrier Resort and, more generally, the state of West Virginia. I first stopped in the state more than 40 years ago on a business trip I had to make to the city of Elkins, WV. The area was full of timber and there was a woodworking mill there that we were trying to do business with. The weather was rainy and there was mud everywhere but I remember driving through the “hollers” of the area and being mesmerized by the beauty I saw around every bend in the road.
Yes, the poverty was terrible – barefoot children running up and down gravel driveways, mothers making clothes for their many children and fathers working in the coal mines trying to keep food on the table for their families. But the families were genuine, authentic, salt of the earth people who were compassionate, caring, trustworthy and welcoming to visitors t0 their great state.
I can’t help but think that God gave West Virginians an extra dose of beauty when he created the earth. The state is rich in natural resources including oil, gas, coal, timber and water. Beauty abounds everywhere and that was certainly my impression of the state when I first visited.
I always wanted to get back to West Virginia and, as you know, Janet and I now travel there several times a year to stay at the Greenbrier. We eat at the local restaurants, have befriended many of the local townspeople and have forged friendships with many employees of the Greenbrier as well. The area seems to ground me in the important things of life – friendships, real relationships and God’s bounty.
It’s sadly true that West Virginia is near or at the bottom of the ladder in several important areas, including education. Governor Jim Justice, owner of the Greenbrier, is working diligently to change the country’s perspective of West Virginia – and it shows. Some public servants are getting pay increases, the people of the state can now travel the tollroads for $8 a year (yes, per year) and he is doing everything possible to improve the educational standards and other important metrics to help improve the way of life for people in the state.
The history of the state is interesting. Back in the early 1800’s, WV was the frontier of the great state of Virginia. But the folks on the frontier didn’t have slaves and they cared for issues that were more important to them than the agenda that most Virginians had. Richmond was a bustling city and since slaves were counted in the population for purposes of representation, the eastern part of the state was more heavily represented than the western frontier. Eventually, President Abraham Lincoln, on June 20, 1963, after much discussion and posturing by various politicians and groups, admitted West Virginia as the 35th state in the union after a referendum was passed. That means that West Virginia celebrated its 155 birthday yesterday!
Interestingly, some folks from the south say that it was really the 24th state as 11 states had already seceded from the union over the issue of slavery. But today, it is commonly accepted as the 35th state and that is the celebration that was held yesterday in Charleston and throughout the various counties.
There were all kinds of celebrations, the recent adoption of “Country Roads” (in 2014) as the state song, a large cake and choruses of “Happy Birthday” sung across the state. But the most interesting thing I saw was the declaration that West Virginia will officially adopt a year of prayer, beginning yesterday, that will conclude with 55 days special days of prayer after two stages of 155 days each. The final 55 days will be dedicated with a specific day of prayer for each of the 55 counties in the state. It was an awesome announcement and started with a communal prayer, referred to as the “Prayer for West Virginia”, during the celebration service. The prayer will be available for distribution to the people of the state and across the nation if they wish to pray that specific prayer during the year.
Our verse for this evening highlights words from the book of Job that speak to God’s creation. We are told, in Job 12:7-10, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”
My encouragement tonight is that God created everything as the perfect “nest” for His people. And some places, such as West Virginia, were especially blessed with nature’s abundance. My prayer is that each of us may excel in every area important to the Lord, and moreover, that the folks of West Virginian will be victorious in their desire to improve the standards of living, education and reduction of poverty in their most beautiful state. Happy Birthday, West Virginia. And to all of you, have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…