WE’RE MOVING TO WEST VIRGINIA!
Before you ask a million questions, let me clarify some things. By ‘we’, I mean Zack and I, along with 34 other of our friends from our
current church in Athens, OH. By West Virginia, I specifically mean Morgantown. Succinctly speaking, our church is sending a group of individuals and their families to Morgantown, WV to plant a church. Our current church is a part of a network of churches whose mission is to continue to plant churches in college towns. 7 years ago, our current church planted in Athens in order to reach the students of Ohio University. Initially, the church was not suppose to plant until 2020 (due to census numbers within the church and the budget), but God has asked us to go, so we are willing to move when He says so.
Although that brief blurb probably answered some of your initial questions, I’m sure you’re still a little bit confused. Specifically you may be thinking, “Ashley, isn’t the church that you were attending during your season of confusion and heartache?” Why yes, yes, it\ is. And I’m so glad you brought that up. Here’s the link if you need an update. God has worked in resounding ways within the last few weeks and months: breaking down walls, bringing reconciliation, and asking BIG things of both Zack and me. Despite all the craziness, I’ve found some common threads that have brought peace through this process.
I’ll start from the beginning. Around the beginning of November, an associate pastor at our church announced that he would be taking a team to Morgantown, WV to plant a church there. He explained that this was not in the original plan, but after many months of praying, he felt God moving and he intended to follow. Thus, he invited the church to pray over whether God, too, would be calling them to Morgantown. Many knew that night. Many were confirmed in the coming weeks. However, towards the beginning of January, stragglers were beginning to file in and the solidarity of the team had taken form.
Around this time, another of the pastors from our church approached Zack after a Sunday morning service asking if he or I had considered going with the plant. Our names had specifically come up at a pastoral retreat as two individuals who had potential to fit well within the church planting team. Zack was flattered but matter-of-factly told him that it hadn’t been on our radar. Our pastor respectfully understood and asked that we’d pray and consider it as a possibility. Zack was cordial and said thank you, not fully convinced it was the right thing for us.
Immediately after this encounter, Zack came over to my house to tell me the news. I hadn’t gone to that Sunday service and instead stayed home to watch my home church from Maryland online. I was instantly livid. I had gone through so much pain with this church and I was about timed out. The last thing I wanted was to dedicate the next few years of my life to a group of people that did not make me feel the least bit safe. I expressed myself in a colorful way, to his surprise, leaving no thought left unspoken. Zack was gracious and patient (granted, a little scared) and encouraged me to pray about it. My initial thought was to go right into the church office the next day and have a conversation with our pastor. So that’s what I did. However, Zack made it clear that this conversation ought to be in the name of reconciliation, not biting his head off. I (reluctantly) agreed.
I met with our pastor the next day. And let me tell you, I had never been so nervous in my life. I went in feeling quite sheepish and began by asking why he had invited Zack and me to begin praying about the plant. He had a very innocent answer, informing me of the same events he had Zack, simply thinking that we’ be a good fit. I was quiet for a while, holding back tears. This poor guy had no idea what was going on with me. I finally broke down and told him why I was so offended that he’d asked. I told him every little detail of the past few months. All the pain I’d experienced and the hurt that had come about from miscommunication between myself and individuals in the church. I hated that I looked weak by crying, but he received me in grace.
All he replied was, “Ashley, I’m so sorry. None of that should have happened to you.” Those few words lifted a heavy burden I’d been carrying for months. The bitterness, resentment, and cynicism evaporated. I fell apart in his office, crying tears of pain that had yet to be mourned or felt. Reconciliation began to blossom in my heart within places I didn’t know would be healed. We continued to process and towards the end of the conversation when spirits were lifted, he encouraged me again to pray for the church plant and whether I had a place within it. I agreed but with very little intention to actually pursue the idea. I was just satisfied I had my needs met and felt safer coming back to church. The church plant was nowhere near on the horizon.
That following Thursday, I got a call from Zack after our respected small groups had disseminated. He informed me that some of our dearest friends, a couple Zack had known since college, were going on the plant. I felt a deep heaviness in my heart for them. We were going to miss them so much. But the kicker came when Zack informed me that the first individuals they thought of after making their decision to go were himself and me. Shock fell over me. This was the third time in a matter of 5 days where the idea of considering the church plant had fallen right into our laps. We decided it was time to get serious and pray. We did right then and there over the phone. It was a long prayer, full of pleading and ‘please, God, don’t make us do this.’ But also, ‘Your will be done.’ We ended the prayer with heavy hearts, feeling a sense of loss as if Athens was about to be in the rear view mirror.
The next few days were filled with emotions treading all over the place and affirmations that Morgantown was in fact our next destination. Full of a heaviness of mourning along with fresh excitement of a new adventure, Zack and I each came to our own conclusion that this was where God was calling us, together and as individuals. We met with the lead pastor of the plant team and told him the news. He was understanding of our emotions, but excited as we were moving towards God’s will for our lives.
After this week, packed full of a month’s full of changes, I had a chance to reflect on the common threads Jesus had been weaving in and out of my life from a young age that has brought me to this moment. Ever since the summer before I started high school, I had been attending West Virginia University’s gymnastics camp. I instantly fell in love with the school and the program. WVU became my dream; but come the winter of my junior year, my heart was shattered when they didn’t offer me a spot on the team. My first real heart break left me in pieces, wondering what college would look like for me now as I embarked into the unknown of finding a new school, potentially without gymnastics. For years, I felt deep seeded bitterness for anything WVU related. I knew several people who attended university there and were even on the team. I unfollowed girls on social media and removed anything from my attention that reminded me of the rejection I felt.
Healing pursued me and I had a phenomenal\ club gymnastics career at Liberty University. I fully believe that God placed me there for a reason and brought so much joy from competing on a team that’s only goal was to represent Jesus well. By this point, I had forgotten almost entirely about my dreams of WVU, chalked up as a lesson learned but never to be returned to.
Now, 23 years old and 7 years removed from not making the cut, God is sending me BACK to the place where I once fell in love. Back to the place where He deeply rooted a passion for the people and the university. God’s love for my heart and for the details has been intricately interwoven throughout my life since I was 13. Who else has a love as deep as His for me?
In addition to bringing me back to WVU, He’s fulfilled numerous other details in my life that I never had thought twice about. I love the mountains and grieved the thought of moving to the Midwest after living in the Blue Ridge\ Mountains for three years. Low and behold, Morgantown has more mountains that I could have dreamed. WVU also has a PhD program in Sports Psychology that I’ve considered since undergrad. I hope to apply for the fall of 2020. I’m also just obsessed with college and never want to leave. Now I’m entering into a church network that only plants in college towns; how cool is that?! And even better yet, for the first time in five years, I’ll live closer
then 4 hours away from my parents. God’s heart for me is written ALL over this move.
This long winded post is meant to say this: the crazy things that God asks you to embark on with Him are full of His heart for you and every little detail that you’ve never told a soul that makes you unique, He uses to bring you joy and glory to Himself. I’ve been brought so much closer to Him in the past few weeks and months since deciding to follow Jesus on this plant, whether it be through these little fulfilled dreams, reconciliation through my community, healing from past hurts, or simply enlightenment and better understanding of His love for me, I wouldn’t change this journey for anything.
Never once would I have thought that I’d be moving to West Virginia. It complicates things and honestly, I have never been interested in making that a permanent home. But when God writes His will all over a place, you go with joy in your heart. Here’s to new beginnings!