"Why not do it?" I thought as I scanned the website calendar. I was only three-and-one-half hours away. When would I ever get an opportunity to actually meet a president in my lifetime? It was a once-in-a-lifetime-experience I decided to grab. So, at 6:30 a.m., while the Georgia sky was still dark, I rolled out of my sister's garage and headed south to Plains, home of Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States of America. In the backseat, Maya, still in her jammies, drifted back to sleep.
By 10:00 a.m. we entered the parking lot of Maranatha Baptist Church between the two squad cars posted on either side of the driveway. I changed Maya out of her jammies, did her hair, double-checked that my camera was in my purse and we were ready. Off we headed past the three secret-service agents on the lawn to the front entrance and security. Maya hung back a little, while the secret-service agent inspected my purse (no pocket was left unopened) and scanned me with a hand-held metal detector. She quickly scooted past him (he deftly scanned her on the scoot) to join me on the front step and into the church we went.
Plains is a dot-on-the-map town with a population that barely reaches the 700 mark. Boasting only a handful of shops and eateries, it is the place Jimmy Carter proudly calls home. It is also where he worships ... and invites others to do the same.
If you want to meet Jimmy Carter, you must first come to church. You must meet his God, before you meet the man. Although Jimmy Carter has carried many prestigious titles in his lifetime, (governor, president, humanitarian, Nobel prize winner, etc.) his most important title is simply "child of God." Flanked by secret service agents, he and his wife knelt humbly in prayer, lifted their voices in song, and participated in a church service with all the other ordinary folks in the congregation, including me. I was thrilled to see such a public figure live a life that is so REAL. Like Joseph, Daniel, and Esther of the Bible, he has reached the most public of offices, yet remained true to God.
Of course, once the church service was over, the line quickly formed for taking a picture with the president and his wife. Maya, who is generally fearful of strangers, walked right up to them as if they were her grandparents. Rosalynn smiled warmly, pulled Maya close, and said, "You'll have to come up and see us some time." President Carter wanted to know her name. We smiled for the camera and it was over.
Maya and I walked back to the car. Maya was ready for lunch, but I was busy sorting through the cloud of thoughts swirling through my head. Today, I had experienced a once-in-a-lifetime event. I had finally met someone who had achieved the highest honors this world could offer, but who had never lost focus on his Maker and King. I was truly honored. And someday, when Maya is older, I will show her the pictures and teach her the lessons I learned from praying with the president, President Jimmy Carter.