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By December 1, 2023 7 Comments

The church was packed. Mom would have liked that. And all five “first ladies” were in attendance–she would have liked that too. She would have appreciated that Melania came, even though her husband dldn’t–and that wouldn’t have surprised her either. 

Wonderful things were said. All kinds of people gave Rosalynn Carter unending homage for her zeal in caring for “the least of these.” Mom would have noted that was something we’re all called to do.

Today, Mom would have appreciated President Carter’s startling move of including Rosalynn in cabinet meetings. Mrs. Carter insisted on it, but then so did he. Jimmy, the POTUS, always claimed that any successes he’d ever achieved came his way because of his able and attentive spouse, who was more than happy–insistent even–on offering her opinion on political matters. Years ago, Mom might have thought Mrs. Carter’s insistence unseemly.

Mom appreciated the way Rosalynn and Jimmy, when retired, filled their pockets with nails, picked up a hammer and saw, and helped out on Habitat homes, a former President and his first lady sweating in the noonday sun–imagine that! And she would have appreciated the little anecdotes people told, like her son’s story of how his mother had pulled out a Tupperware tub right there on the plane and started making sandwiches for fellow passengers, who “couldn’t believe it,” her son told the mourners. “But she loved people.”

I think Mom might have been surprised to realize, as some claimed, that Rosalynn Carter, throughout her life, had a special regard for the down-and-out, those disadvantaged by life itself, and for her unending work on the part of care-givers. Mrs. Carter was a global humanitarian who worked for nothing less than peace, even in the Middle East.

Mom might have even shed a tear when she heard Rosalynn’s longtime aide describe her thusly: “Wife, mother, business manager, political strategist, diplomat, advocate, author. Yet what I remember most about her was her tireless dedication to taking care of others.” 

Tuesday, November 28, was Mom’s birthday. She’s been gone for just a decade. One November Friday of 2013, an oncologist told her she had inoperable cancer. On the Monday next, she died, her quiet and sudden leave-taking a very special gift.

I thought of Mom during Rosalynn’s tribute service in Atlanta, remembered it was her birthday on November 28, and couldn’t help imagining what she would have thought of the whole event. She walked into my memory when that packed Atlanta audience sang “Blessed Assurance! Jesus is Mine.” If I know my mother, she would have shed a tear just then–‘oh, what a foretaste of glory divine.” My parents’ headstone is engraved with the opening line of that fine old hymn.

Right then, Mom’s knees would have buckled, her breath would have staggered, and her lip would have curled. She would have reached for a Kleenex from that little TV table that, by the end, held just about all she needed to get along. “Blessed Assurance” would have brought Mom to Mrs. Carter’s Atlanta celebration, despite the dark reality she could not possibly have forgotten: just like her husband, Rosalynn Carter was a Democrat.

Just exactly how someone like my mother–so much more like Rosalynn Carter than Melanie Trump–could end her life as a torchbearer for the Orange Jesus is a question I’d love to hear her answer today, a decade later, in realms of glory. 

But should she have been watching a massive big-screen TV stretches across a heavenly sky, and should she have seen that Atlanta tribute, I’d like to think she would have loved every minute of it, every last thing. 

Who knows? Maybe the two of them would have watched it together. Why not? In the new heavens and the new earth, lions and lambs snuggle. “This is my story/this is my song. . .”

You know the words.

James C. Schaap

James Calvin Schaap is a retired English prof who has been something of a writer for most of the last 40 years. His latest work, a novel, Looking for Dawn, set in reservation country, is the story of two young women joined by their parents' mutual brokenness and, finally, a machine-shed sacrament of reconciliation. He writes and narrates a weekly essay on regional history for KWIT, public radio, Sioux City, Iowa. He and his wife Barbara live on the northern edge of Alton, Iowa, the Sgt. Floyd River a hundred yards or so from their back door. They have a cat--rather, he has them.


  • mstair says:

    lovely remembrance…grateful for your sharing…

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Oh yes, we know those words. At age 89, on his birthday, in hospice, on his cancer bed, my dad sat up and sang those words (along with, by heart, Now Let Every Tongue Adore Thee, from the New Christian Hymnal).

  • Deb Mechler says:

    Sounds as though your mother and mine were kindred spirits, unknown to each other but in a great company of like women. Mom noticed the people everybody else ignored, and poured out her love selflessly. Like Rosalyn. May your mother’s example live on in us, following Jesus. Thank you.

  • Pam Adams says:

    Jim, Your mother would love Rosalyn as a mother and caregiver as she loved my mother-in-law who had so many of the same characteristics as the former President’s wife. Both your mother and my mother-in-law were Republicans but that shows us at our core we are children of God. My mother-in-law read the Bible each morning and tried to live it out. This went to her being a person who took care of infants up for adoption, her preaching to those who wanted to hear, and her preaching to those who did not think they were interested. Such is the glory of God in us.

  • Jane Brown says:

    Your memory sharing was so vivid- appreciated reading and the blessed lives you brought to life in what you shared.

  • Linda LeFever Dykstra says:

    How well l remember your sweet mother and her beautiful voice. I loved sitting near her at Messiah rehearsals in Oostburg. I remember her coming to me after your class had graduated and asking ” Do you correspond with Peter? ” She was such a lovely lady. How fortunate you were to have her in your life for so long. I’m sure you miss her.

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