Almost Heaven, Barely Habitable

President Trump’s promises to bring back coal jobs and simultaneously build highways hits home, literally. I  am proud to say I grew up in Kenova, West Virginia. The city sits on a tristate border with Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia. Its name is a blend of letters taken from the three. It has been nicknamed “The Southern Gate of the Mountain State.” The area has a rich historical and cultural background. Some may know it as the childhood home of the famous Christian song artist Michael W. Smith. Others may associate it with one of the founders of the NAACP, W.E.B. Du Bois. Still yet, many more may recognize  nearby Huntington as the site where the  movie We Are Marshall, inspired, tragically, by true events was filmed.

Talk to just about anyone who has lived in Southern West Virginia for any length of time and they will paint you two distinctly different pictures that make up their reality. They will proudly tell you they live in a beautiful State with beautiful people and that they wouldn’t have it any other way. Yet, they will also tell you they live in near constant stress and worry, barely getting by, paycheck to paycheck. Sadly, it is the latter for which my home has become known as America continues along the path of departure from the use of coal. Yes, I realize that article was written three years ago, but unfortunately, not much has changed. More recently, my old stomping grounds made National headlines to be recognized as the nerve center of America’s heroin epidemic. “Mountaineer Country” is also the record holder for America’s most depressed and unhealthy State and, at a whopping 27%, the National leader in the number of smokers (I myself am a former one). “Almost Heaven” West Virginia is hurting.

The genral consensus among Southern West Virginia’s residence is that more roads, indeed, more government intervention will cure all that ails the beleaguered region, but generations of politics that promised to do just that have proven the theory half baked with one notable exception. There’s another name famous in those parts, that of the late Senator Robert C. Byrd. He remains the longest serving U.S. Senator, but people here remember him for something else. Honesty, trustworthiness, and being a stalwart champion of the Mountain State on the political stage won him respect and nine full terms in Congress. 

Yet, even the billions of dollars Senator Byrd was able to secure for his constituents, enough to earn him the moniker “The Prince of Pork” from his critics, couldn’t purge the poverty stricken State. He was, however, honored with the distinction of having over fifty buildings, bridges, and highways named after him. He once said, “When I die and they open me up for the embalming of my body, they will find West Virginia written on my heart.” 

Senator Byrd was once quoted as saying, “One’s family is the most important thing in life. I look at it this way: One of these days I’ll be over in a hospital somewhere with four walls around me, and the only people who will be with me will be my family.” He  was deeply proud of his heritage, but he knew his home wasn’t really in West Virgina. It was and is in Heaven. His speeches were often sprinkled heavily with Scripture and reminders that it is God’s blessing upon America that made us so great, not politics. West Virginians, indeed, all Americans would do well to remember that. 

“Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame; let the poor and needy praise your name.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭74:21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭55:1-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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