West Virginia Porches
So I wrote this little ditty three years ago after experiencing my first 4th of July in West Virginia. The only thing that has changed is the fireworks have gotten more fierce and we now try to manage two "picnics":
Last night our family celebrated the Fourth West Virginia style. Let me explain.
About seven years ago my family moved out of our home state. We had lived in Frederick, Maryland (my hometown) for the first seven years of our marriage. In search of a bigger yard that we could afford for our family, we moved into the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. Sure, we had heard the many West Virginia jokes growing up. But hey, Martinsburg is only thirty-one miles from Frederick. The Panhandle is a bit of a melting pot of its own since its narrow strip boarders both Maryland and Virginia. After doing our research, it seemed kind of exciting to take the plunge. Seven years later, I want to share some things I've noticed, and connect them with my church's sermon from Sunday.
Ironically, our neighborhood is named Federal Hill. That still cracks me up. I mean really, who are we kidding? Yet, many of my neighbors have also relocated from Maryland and Virginia. It is pretty common around here for people to commute to D.C., Rockville, and Frederick. The natives to this area don't usually fall into the typical West Virginia stereotypes. They are well-educated, have all their teeth, and keep their front porches clean. However, I gradually noticed some cultural differences just from my short move.
My first keen observation was the West Virginia pride. It is strong. I realized that I never really had strong Maryland pride, but now I try to have both. It seems that no matter where you went to school, everyone around here is a huge WVU fan. You will see their logo everywhere: on many cars, windows, flags...heck, my son (who technically was born in MD even though we lived here) has a WV room complete with the trademark bedspread, flag on the wall, and, for extra male toughness, camouflage touches. You live here; you ARE a fan.
The Fourth of July was a difference I learned a little later. For a while, we were still trekking to Frederick for our usual concert series at the park and fireworks--until we got invited to one of our neighbor's "picnics." West Virginians play a game called corn hole (don't laugh, well, okay, go ahead). It is a bean bag toss onto a raised wooden board with a hole. Of course the ones around our parts are decorated with the trademark WV colors, and the homemade models are way cooler. Anyway, there's a serious corn hole tournament on the Fourth. We draw names and get put into brackets. The retired Wood Shop teacher next door makes official corn hole trophies that are coveted by all participants. There is a mini ceremony to present them (yes, they wondered why the ESPN truck was not present). As the kids swim, we play corn hole, eat ribs, and listen to loud music.
But watch out when it gets dark.
That's when the crazy WV fun begins. Fireworks are brought out that were purchased in Chambersburg, PA. They are the good ones. They are illegal. Nobody cares. Sure enough, grown men find it their duty and greatest pleasure to put on a fireworks display right on their driveway. I stand amazed at the beauty and intensity, stunned by the pounding boom in my chest, and worried that we all might catch on fire. As I look around, many surrounding neighbors are doing the same thing. It's really quite beautiful and surreal. I could go on and on, but I need to get to my point.
One of our elders preached a good sermon on 1 Kings 19:1-18 this week. This is when Elijah was at about the end of his rope. He was on the run to save his life, while at the same time asking God to take his life. After his miracles professing the true God and his ministry as a prophet, Elijah felt like he was no more effective than those who went before him. Mike focused on encouragement as a major application of this text. In fact, through sleep, strength (food), and a personal encounter, God encouraged Elijah.
During the sermon, I got to thinking about being a Marylander in WV. I also thought about being a Christian in this world. Although I've been living here for seven years, I still consider myself a Marylander. Will we ever move back to MD? Who knows. But I do know that I am a pilgrim wherever I live. My true destination is a new heavens and a new earth. And just like my awesome WV friends, I have some peculiar marks as a Christian. Christians are stereotyped as uptight and judgmental. Just like my WV buds, we have to work even harder sometimes to debunk our bad rap sheet. Are we known for our encouragement? And is our encouragement in Christ?
Mike's Sermon encouraged me in Christ, the true prophet who was killed on our behalf. We are his beloved, to whom he gives strength. Like Elijah, we are fed by his presence through the Lord's Supper. And we wait, we long, for that personal encounter. Those fireworks reminded me of the strong wind, earthquakes, and fire that preceded God's encounter with Elijah. But it was the tender, merciful, small voice that made Elijah aware that he was in the presence of God. And that is the age in which we now live---the age of God's grace. May we continue to encourage one another with this marvelous news. And like Elijah, we can be encouraged to continue in our pilgrimage because it is not our work, but Christ's. May my West Virginia front porch be one of encouragement.
Happy Fourth everyone---even you, Carl.