Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Not Who I Once Was

The other day while checking out music websites and upcoming concerts, I happened upon an old video interview of my all-time favorite singer, James Taylor.  I couldn't ascertain the date of the video, but James was very young--I would guess in his early twenties. I grew up listening to his music, so it is strange for me to realize that at the time of this interview, I would have either been an infant or perhaps not even born yet.  It feels like I grew up with him, though in actuality, he'd been around a while.  I had never seen this particular interview, and it stunned me how totally different James seemed in it compared to how he appears in current-day interviews and shows.  The young man in this video was no one I have ever encountered in concert or any other form of media.  In it, his insecurity as a person and a musician are palpable.  He seems painfully unsure of nearly every question posed to him.  He speaks with uncertainty of his success and whether it would even be fully realized. His humility is endearing in the video, but it is actually rather hard to watch.  You just want to grab this young man, shake him lovingly, and say, "Don't you know how wonderfully talented and valuable you are to God and humankind?"  You can see the depression and deeply-hidden pain there, as well.  The few times he smiles in it, it feels forced as he exhibits such a lack of confidence.  He also acts extremely uncomfortable and mistrusting of the interviewer.  He is oddly somewhat withdrawn at times in the interview, and appears fearful and even sad.  The James Taylor I have seen in concerts too numerous to count, and whom I have watched on television every chance I get, is nothing like the person I watched in this old video.  It is so cool to see what an amazing, confident, grateful, cheerful person he is today, and be able to look back on who he was and see all the amazing things God did for him throughout his life and career (and is still doing).

I recall many years ago talking about James Taylor with my husband's aunt, who I adore, and who has also been a huge, lifelong fan of James.  She is a generation older than I, and attended U.C. Berkeley in the Sixties.  Throughout his entire ascension to fame and well beyond, she has watched James as a loyal, devoted supporter.  Over twenty years ago, she copied articles from the Sixties about him that she had saved, and gave them to me (I still have them).  I remember reading the articles and lapping up every word like a curious dog.  In many of them, James shared of his battle with serious depression and his drug abuse in coping with it.  He spoke honestly and in detail of the day he checked himself into a mental hospital.  I remember being totally captivated with these old articles and thinking, "What an amazing guy--to share of his life so transparently with the world...so fearlessly."  As I watched this young man in this old video, I recalled the history I had read about him so many years ago.  Being the colossal weeper I can be, I shed a few tears watching it and seeing his pain in action.  It's much different to view something like that than to just read about it.  It saddened me to recall all the misery through which he walked due to doubting himself, lacking faith, and lacking trust in God.  Having the hindsight to know that it all works out for the best makes it even more difficult to watch.  It feels so unnecessary that he had to walk through life for a time feeling no real assurance, purpose, or joy.  All the negative, hurtful things with which he was dealing and facing may have been warranted at the time, but when you look at how his life turned out, it seems like such a waste.  I wept thinking about how that is really the story of all of us, too.  We start out our lives (and each day, for that matter) not knowing how it's all going to play-out.  We either believe and trust God, or we don't.  And God looks down on us and sees our pain and doubts. He feels it all and longs to shake us, because He knows how it all turns out.  He sees us for so much more than we appear to be, and He longs for us to see and know Him for Who He really is--a God that can be trusted.  We all make life so much harder than it has to be at different points in our own journeys.  But we all have to walk our own paths and work through our individual struggles, and sometimes life just hurts.  God understands this and He doesn't condemn us for it.  In fact, the Bible says that, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit," (Ps. 34:18).  I personally have found this to be nothing but true.  In my moments of deep pain and loss of hope, God always shows up--maybe not on my time-frame, but He shows up when it is absolutely necessary.  If only we could trust Him all the while knowing that He has the plan all worked out for us.  How much easier life would be!  We must always remember that He knows us better than we do, and He loves us more than we could ever hope to love others or ourselves.  He is so intimately acquainted and concerned with us, even the hairs on our heads are numbered with Him.  That is some serious love, care, and concern.  And that is some major sovereignty. 

So I stopped for a moment and I gave praise to God while watching that old interview of my beloved JT.   I praised Him for using James' pain to prompt wonderful songs of healing, love, joy, and peace that have passed down through generations and given great delight and peace to millions of people.  It amazes me how God loves us so very much that He even brings purpose to painful things (Ro. 8:28).  I praised God for what He has done to bless James' life. I praised Him for how monumental his music has been in mine--how it taught me to harmonize when I was only three years old.  I praised Him for all the joy and special memories that I have attached to James' music throughout my life with my husband, Matt, and our daughter, Allie.  To this day I can't ski down a mountain without having my favorite JT songs playing over and over in my head through my ear buds. I can envision my little girl blazing ski trails ahead of me down the mountain in time to those songs.  They just suit the occasion of that sport, with its vast beauty and serene moments.  I praised God for seeing James through all his hardships and proving Himself to him.  I prayed that James would know God and Christ personally, if he doesn't already, and that one day, he'd be leading praise and worship in heaven where I could hear that unique, pure, crystal clear voice forever (and perhaps, be his backup singer from time to time--pleeeaasssse, Father?!)!

But I also praised God that just as James is not the man he used to be, I, too, am not who I once was.  When you look back over the course of your life at all the things God has brought you through, and who you were as a young, dumb kid, it is truly humbling to realize that He has been there the entire time.  Even in the times when you thought He wasn't.  Even in the times when you didn't want Him there due to pride or shame alike.  I thought about the quote by Joyce Meyer that states: 

“I may not be where I need to be, but I thank God I am not where I used to be.” 

I love that quote. It reminds me to trust God with everything in life because He was there in the past, He is here with me in the present, and He knows my future.  He sees me for who I was, all that I am, and who I will become--and He loves me in spite of it all.  With His mercy, grace, and strength, and If we know Him as our Lord and Savior, we can trust that He is there, changing us for the better--every single day.  Even when it seems nothing is changing, He is there working. So there really is no place for fear, hopelessness, or depression in our lives if and when we fully believe, love, and trust God.  If you find yourself in the desert at this point in your journey, don't despair.  God is with you.  He sees the future and He knows it's all going to be okay, if you'll only trust in Him and rely on Him.  Even in death, He will be there.  God said it; I believe it; that settles it.  Praise be to God.  

Corroborating Scripture (many of these are my personal faves and have brought great comfort and encouragement to me in tough times):

Psalm 139:16, "You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in Your book!" (Great verse versus abortion, in my view~timely with the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade this week)!
Isaiah 46:10, [God said,] "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.'"
Lamentations 3:21-23, "This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's loving-kindness indeed never ceases, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness."
Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." 
Philippians 4:6-7, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."  
Psalm 121:1-3, "I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip …" (Great snow skiing verse)! 
Psalm 139:8, "If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there."
Psalm 143:8, "Let me hear Your loving-kindness in the morning; for I trust in You; teach me the way in which I should walk; for to You I lift up my soul."
Psalm 27:14, "Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord."
Psalm 71:8, "All day long I'll praise and honor You, O God, for all that You have done for me."
Romans 8:18, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." 
Philippians 1:6, "Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
Psalm 48:14, "For this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death."

Again, God said it; I believe it; that settles it. Amen!