A couple of Christmases ago, a staff member at a church I was serving gave me a decorative item. She knew it was something I would like and was excited to give it to me. It was a rectangle wooden block that was decorated with the image of a farm tractor, flowers, and other assorted items.
It was the words on the block, perhaps more than the actual painting, that she knew I would enjoy.
Country roads … take me home.
Upon receiving the gift, I immediately heard John Denver’s celebratory anthem of home in the mountains of West Virginia in my head. I went back to my childhood in Shady Spring, W.Va., and walking the streets of Morgantown while in college. That happens just about every time I look at the block, which is located across from my church desk.
She had no idea of knowing that the decision had already been made to return home to the mountains, to the valleys, to the hills of West Virginia. It was a decision that had long been at the back of mine, especially since I left for North Carolina and, then, Kentucky. It was, also, among the hardest decisions I have ever made. How could I uproot my family to move to a place they were familiar with, but never lived in? In December of 2018, though, we said yes.
It has been a little more than a year since I returned home to the state that, emotionally, I never left. The experience has been like the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
For one, coming back to West Virginia has, in many ways, rejuvenated my ministry and love for the church. I am with my people and those whom God has called me to serve. That will always give you more confidence and direction for ministry. There is something empowering to do ministry with people whom you love and your heart breaks for as well.
At the same time, though, coming back to West Virginia has been a difficult and harsh experience. I expected to return to the West Virginia of 2003, which was the last year I lived in the state and represented a known entity of connection and experiences. I quickly learned that wasn’t the West Virginia of today. I had to relearn the state and the people, even as I had thought I had kept up with what was going on.
There have been ministry highs and lows along the way. There have been personal highs and lows along the way. That comes with the territory of life and grace. The question I keep wrestling with is this: would I have made the same decision today as I did almost two years ago? Would I make the same call to leave Kentucky, my friends, community, and support network, and return home to West Virginia today?
The answer is yes.
For one, West Virginia has always been home. It is truly where I have long felt God calling me to serve, but the opportunity was never right. This is home.
Second, while we have struggled with his educational needs at his school, Noah has a better grip on his autism because of the move and the opportunities available for him here. Why? He has better access to therapy and individualized treatment. That has led him to be more independent, while still living within the challenges of being autistic in a world that does not fully understand that experience of life.
Finally, I cannot imagine being anywhere else. I love to travel. I love to explore. I love to experience the world and learn as much as I can. At the end of the day, however, this is the place where I am planted and desire to see fruit prosper. That shapes how you do ministry and build connection.
So, yes, I’m glad I made the decision to come home and would do it again, struggles and all.