"Deb, that thing on Jimmy Carter is going to be on in a minute."
Steve's reminder came floating through the air from his comfortable armchair in the lounge room to where I was busily cleaning the kitchen and preparing lunches for the next day.
I appreciated the prompt, but wasn't really sure that I wanted to watch the third and final part of the biographical series at all. I had a feeling that this last one may turn out to be a little depressing.
When Mr. Carter was sworn into office as President, I was just three days short of my sixteenth birthday. At that age politics held very little interest for me and even less interest when it related to a country other than Australia -- even one as powerful as the United States. Still, I remember thinking that there was something different about this gentleman who would be taking up residence in the White House. He didn't seem to quite fit the mould.
Twenty-five years later after having watched the first two parts of the "American Experience" documentary, I couldn't help but think that my teenage observation had been fairly accurate. Jimmy Carter's approach to his role as President did appear to be very different.
Although I had found the first two weeks of the documentary very interesting and was completely delighted by the lovely Rosalynn Carter, I just wasn't feeling all that enthusiastic about sitting through Part Three.
Finally I did decide to watch it; although my motivation really came from the fact that my legs were aching and I wanted nothing more than to sit down for a while and take the load off my feet. However that attitude changed completely by the time the final credits rolled.
I have to admit that the first 40 minutes of the final documentary were fairly depressing because there really is nothing enjoyable about watching someone's best efforts seemingly go from bad to worse. Yet in spite of the many problems besetting the Carter administration in the last half of his presidency, I still found certain aspects inspirational. For one thing there was his desire to be honest with the American people -- no matter what the cost personally; and there was also his obvious longing to be a peacemaker. Mr. Carter's faith and relationship with the Lord were, in my opinion, his greatest strengths.
As the story of Jimmy's one term in the White House came to an end, I cried. Not because of any political affiliation (as an outside observer I don't really have one) but rather because this Christian couple headed home to Plains, Georgia, under a cloud and largely shunned for the next year or so.
If the story had finished there I probably would have been better opting for a nice hot bath rather than my comfortable recliner that night. By that time my legs were no longer aching, but my heart was feeling awfully heavy.
Thankfully the Carter story didn't finish there. Although Mr. and Mrs. Carter went through twelve very hard months post-presidency, that overwhelming desire to serve others and act as a peacemaker eventually rose to the surface again. It started with a dream and vision for what would become the "Carter Center" and has now made the way for Jimmy and Rosalynn to make a difference in the world through their faith in action. When you visit the "Carter Center" homepage on-line, the mission is very clearly spelt out -- "Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope."
As the documentary came to an end I turned to Steve and with an awestruck sense of revelation said, "You know, I really don't think God ever intended Jimmy to be President long term. His time in office was just the means God used to open the doors for all the better things that he's doing now."
It was one of those light-bulb moments for me. Suddenly something I'd always known in my head became illuminated with revelation understanding.
I will never experience the same physical and emotional stresses that the Carter's lived through during the latter part of their time in the White House or the twelve months that followed. Yet in a relative sense, I do have to face my own times of hardship and trial.
In the midst of some of the darkest moments of life, we can be left wondering whether we've made a mistake somewhere along the way and may even find ourselves asking, "Lord, am I heading in the right direction or did I miss the turnoff?"
Those dark times where the very things that we had so strongly believed were major goals for our lives suddenly seem to fall apart or cause us pain, can leave us feeling very uncertain and disheartened. After all if we are heading down the path God has for us, shouldn't it be smooth sailing all the way?
It would be nice if that were the case, but it isn't always so. In fact, getting to God's perfect destination sometimes requires travelling through some fairly stormy seas. The problem comes when we make the mistake of thinking that what has become a "stormy sea" was our destination.
God's best and our best aren't always the same thing. From a human perspective we may think that we're aiming for the best we could imagine, but the One who is "able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20) is more than likely aiming at a goal way beyond our view.
When previously open "doors" of opportunity start slamming in our face and every step we take seems to be full of heartache and pain, we have to keep walking and believing that God's best is still ahead of us. When things seem to be falling down around our ears and the mountain top seems to be avalanching down into the valley, we need to remember the words of the Apostle Paul, who said:
If we've been called by God and have responded to that call, then we have to believe that He will be faithful to lead us into the life that He has prepared for us. That's a life in Christ that is satisfying, fulfilling and productive for His glory -- even if our journey doesn't always make us feel like we're heading in that direction.
You know I truly believe that when Jimmy Carter became the President of the United States he would have been quite justified in thinking that he had reached the pinnacle point of his life and was finally in the position where he would be best able to serve God and live for Christ. On that day of his inauguration as he and his family walked down the street to the amazement of all, he had no way of knowing that this mountain top of human success would actually turned out to be just another stepping stone for God.
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