I’m incredibly thankful to live in South Dakota. I never thought I would say that, but I have and will continue to praise the Lord for the gift of the state we live in. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m talking about the state and not the people. My heart has, of course, been incredibly thankful for our church family, neighbors, and the people of our community that we interact with each and every day! But I was never convinced I would be thankful for the actual location of this place we call home.
South Dakota is cold…really cold. In the middle of winter, the wind blows, nose hairs freeze and numbness seeps in all within the first 5 seconds of stepping outside. There were times when I was unsure if I would get to work on time because my car door was frozen to the frame! I never understood how important the words “feel-like temperature” were for determining how many layers I should wear until we moved to South Dakota. Zero degrees with a feel-like temperature of -20 degrees is MUCH colder than that “0” would typically indicate (as if that wasn’t cold enough already 😉 ).
And South Dakota is buggy….really buggy. When winter started to give way to spring and spring started to hint at summer, I was one happy girl. Then summer hit hard and fast and brought a humidity that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The bugs….oh, the bugs! Mosquitos and gnats were not just annoying pests, they were “joy-robbers” whose job was to turn the most beautiful evening outside into a battlefield of bites. Those bites led to swelling, itching, grumbling and complaining…followed by a white flag of surrender as I retreated from my back porch to my family room couch.
South Dakota is not for the faint of heart. It requires a spirit of perseverance and resolve, grit and determination. It requires layers of clothes and layers of bug spray. It embodies what it means to be a “mid-westerner” and has grown in me a respect for all those who were born and raised here.
The truth is, we have lived in places much warmer, with far fewer bugs and almost no humidity. We have, no doubt, lived in places that are more beautiful and aesthetically pleasing and yet, there is no place I’d rather be living than the state of South Dakota. Right now, for me, South Dakota represents freedom…a word that seems to be shrinking as the days and weeks go by.
I am so thankful for our governor, Kristi Noem, despite what the media says about her. She has earned my respect over and over again as she has walked with steadfastness and made decisions that allow us, as citizens, to walk in the freedom our nation was founded on. In so many ways, she has not taken away our rights to make personal choices in regards to how we work, how we play, how we interact and how we worship. This has enabled our town and our state to keep moving forward. Yes, Covid cases have been on the rise…just as they have in almost every other state in America. But last Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving with extended family. On Sunday, we gathered with our precious church family to worship the Lord together. Today, I’m headed off to substitute teach a classroom of first graders for the week while my boys head off to join classmates and finish dissecting the pig they have been working on. I’m making plans, freezing cookies and buying presents to, Lord willing, celebrate Jesus’s birthday with family from near and far on December 25th. I’m living a relatively normal life because I’m living in the freedom of choice that has not been taken away from me.
But I know that is not reality for a lot of people. I know that many are in a state or country that has restricted just about every area of their lives and the freedoms they have seem to be dwindling faster than last week’ groceries. I know there are many that are discouraged, frustrated and even bewildered. Some are starting to feel agitated and irritated…even ready to put up a fight. For others, their spirits have grown wearied by it all, and there is no fight left in them.
One thing we are all learning at a rapid pace is that earthly freedoms come and go. Just a quick look at the history of the world will show us that. The rise and fall of leaders (and apparently viruses) often dictates the rise and fall of freedoms. For two and a half centuries, the Constitution has kept our nation living in relative freedom with a level of checks and balances…but we have no guarantee that will continue, not even if we live in South Dakota.
However, there is one freedom that is guaranteed, only one freedom that we can bank our lives on: the freedom we can have from sin and from hell, bought for us on the battlefield of the cross through Jesus Christ.
“So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.” John 8:36
We all have bodies that can get sick, that can be “holed up” in a house, that can be told where to go and what to do. Our bodies…our human lives…can lose their freedom. But we also have souls. No leader, virus or mandate can ever take the soul. It was created by God and will live forever, either in bondage to sin and destined for hell or freed forever, clothed in the blood of Christ’s righteousness, kept safe in the hands of our Heavenly Father, and destined for eternity in Heaven.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2
No matter where you live…be it a different state, country or even continent…or what your level of earthly freedom is right now, I pray that your heart would know true freedom and rest in the love of Jesus Christ: the One who bought and secures the only freedom that matters most, the freedom of our souls. Nothing can separate us from His love and nothing can take us out of the hands of God!
“Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39