In classic “Jimmy Carter style”, the former President, at age 90, walked before a crowd of reporters, family, and friends on Thursday — dressed in blue jeans and a sport coat — to talk about his medical condition — cancer in his liver from an unknown place of origin and lesions on his brain. With solid faith, wit, and unfiltered honesty, he answered questions and shared his feelings.
As one who fights illness worldwide through the Carter Center in Atlanta, he was going to follow his doctor’s suggestions and fight cancer.
Jimmy Carter knew great moments of success and happiness — 69 years of marriage — a successful farm life — election as Governor and as President. The PEACE ACCORD between Israel and Egypt might have been one of his finest moments.
He knew very low moments — he never thought he would be defeated by Ronald Reagan, but he was. He saw Americans in long lines to get gasoline. Americans were held hostage for more than 400 days in Iran — only to be released on the day that President Reagan was sworn in. In Thursday’s news conference, when asked if there were things he could do over again, he replied … “I would have sent in one more helicopter to rescue the Americans held captive.”
As an ex-President, once a man of great power—- he had to re-create himself after 4 years in the White House. Ridiculed by many as an ineffective President, scorned by his own political party — he returned home to teach Sunday School and to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. And then — through the Carter Center, now sustained with an endowment of more than $600 million dollars — he builds homes around the world — with a trip to Nepal planned for November. He and his wife have traveled the world to monitor elections and to fight diseases.
He is a man who speaks his mind — true to his spirit. He has broken with his Baptist tradition to support the ordination of women and same-gender marriage.
And now, at age 90, he begins a new chapter of his life — as he himself said. Because his doctors say, there is reason to fight cancer. Following his press conference, he took his first course of radiation treatment.
Contrast this with “many of Jesus’ disciples … John 6:60-69 … who found that “this saying is hard” and who questioned, “who can accept this?” Picture those disciples who “returned to their former ways of life.” IT WAS TOO HARD. It wasn’t the show they signed up for. It wasn’t like they thought it was going to be.
People can say many negative things about Jimmy Carter. NO ONE can say that he is a quitter. No one can say that when things got hard or when people turned against him — he gave up. He never gave in to pressure.
In the Book of Joshua [24: 1,2, 15-18] the people were challenged to choose the God they would follow. Joshua declared that regardless of what others were going to do, “he and his family were going to follow the Lord.” The Lord was going to the God of his household.
Making this choice for God — or for ourselves — is more than an altar call or a profession of faith. Making the choice of God, for God — means accepting “this saying that is hard” … it is accepting the cross and all the hard things, the disappointments, the failures, the hurt, the illnesses, and death — which is a part of life. Choosing God means not turning away, not looking for the easy way.
God is with us through thick and thin — and so we live for God with that confidence — that we can deal with anything because God is with us.
One reporter asked Mr. Carter “what part his faith” was playing in his response to the news that he had cancer. He responded with candor — at first, he thought this meant he had a few weeks to live. Then, he said, he knew it was all part of “God’s plan” and he would allow things to unfold. He placed his trust in the doctors and because they seemed to believe there was reason to fight, he would do so.
Faith has been the rudder of Mr. Carter’s 90 year journey. Faith has sustained him. Mr. Carter seems to have lived with a sense that life was not merely for him — but it was about living for others — and that would not be easy. The journey would not always be comfortable.
Bad things do happen to good people — bad things occur in the lives of those who do lots of good. We may not get what we think we deserve for all the faithfulness we have shown.
Let us not whine or complain. Let us not say, “this is tooooo hard.” Let us not wonder if God is with us.
With a strong faith and a sense of determination, let us go forward to deal with whatever challenge might come our way. Mr. Carter said that he was pleasantly surprised that he felt no anger, despair, or depression. For those who have followed his life, that he is optimistic is no surprise. He says he is “ready for whatever comes.” I hope and pray we can all say the same thing.