“I Learned the Truth at 17”

Janis Ian As we begin a New Year, let’s begin by looking back to what may seem a “time long ago and far away.” Musical artist Janis Ian won the 1976 Grammy for Best Pop Female Vocal Performance.  She sang the song “At Seventeen” at the Grammy’s before she was presented the award by comedian and actress Lily Tomlin.

Contending for the Grammy were other very well-regarded female artists and their titles: Helen Reddy (Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady), Olivia Newton John (Have You Never Been Mellow), Linda Ronstadt (You’re No Good), and Judy Collins (Send in the Clowns).

Ian, just a few years ago, her dark brown hair having now turned silver, would tell an audience “I’ve sung that song in Ireland and watched 30,000 people sing it back at me.  And I’ve sung that song in Japan and watched an entire crowd of people who don’t speak a word of English sing it back at me.  I mean I’ve watched people do that all over the world, and I said, ‘don’t you think that every writer like me dreams of one day hitting a universal, just one time in your life, it’s like that major pop fly right of the park?’  You dream that you’re gonna hit one song, one time where everybody who hears it is touched.  And everybody who hears it feels like it belongs to them.  And I said, ‘if you get once in your life to write something that crosses race, and gender, and culture, and all the other things that we put up between ourselves to make sure we don’t get too close to one another.’  If you can do that for just one moment, then someone like me thinks, ‘well, this life was very much worth living.’  How could you get tired of that?”

If you are my age, which is to say you were also a teen when Ian first performed the award winning title; or, if not, perhaps you heard Taylor Swift more recently introduce Celine Dion as she performed the song at the Grammy’s, you will be hard-pressed to get those haunting words (universal words as Ian describes them) out of your head:

I learned the truth at seventeen,

that love was meant for beauty queens,

and high school girls with clear skin smiles,

that married young and then retired.

Why is it those words would be universal for so many?  And why is it so hard to feel loved and accepted by such a beautiful Triune God?  Could it be that in our fallen state “those of us with ravaged faces, lacking in the social graces, desperately remained at home,” like Adam and Eve hiding in the bushes, afraid they weren’t worthy of such a beautiful Triune God?  C.S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, described it as “Here was an enthroned and shining god, whose ageless spirit weighed upon mine like a burden of solid gold.”  For Adam it was not the result of truth, but a lie.

The truth is, to such a beautiful Triune God, we aren’t that “brown eyed girl in hand-me-downs, whose name He never could pronounce.”  All of us, no matter our physicality, are truly that beautiful “rich relationed hometown queen, who marries into what she needs, with a guarantee of company, and haven for the elderly.”  Jesus guaranteed that company for eternity.  Jesus has overcome Adam and our fallen state that so easily and universally makes us feel less than everyone else, and especially as we stand before Him.  The lie no longer holds power over us.

The truth is, also, my friends, in God’s economy there are no ugly duckling girls or guys.  The creator of all beautiful things thinks we are every bit as much.  He loves us, adores us, and chose to lavish that same love and adoration that existed before time between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, upon us.  He stopped at nothing less than the Cross to forever include humanity in their circle of life.  Jesus paid the price for all humanity and said, “It is finished.”  Our ledger will never state “exceeds accounts received.”

As we begin the New Year, be encouraged, the truth you learned at 17, and “to those of us who knew the pain,” that time is no more.  We are forever held in God’s loving arms as the most beautiful, cherished, and adored that creation will ever know, because we are His children.  That is the truth in 2014.

~by Craig Kuhlman

4 comments so far

  1. Tom Quiner on

    Beautiful post! What a great way to start the year. Thanks for your inspired insights.

    • kuhlmancraig on


      Thanks so much, my friend.

      So glad you were inspired, as I was too!

      Warm regards,

  2. iamjean9 on

    Just getting caught up on this today, Craig. What a beautiful, touching post. A very important topic to we women, in a narrowly defined beauty-obsessed culture, especially.. Thank you!!!


    • kuhlmancraig on

      Thanks, Jeannine! Your words of encouragement are always appreciated.


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