Thursday, June 5, 2014

Cause Tonight's Gonna be a Good Night

Father, thank you that you are near.  You are good.  You are light in whom there is no darkness at all.  You made the trees and the birds and the flowers and every single one of us.  You are Lord over the skies and the seas.  You are Lord of all.  Not even a bird can fall from the sky without your knowledge.  You see us.  You hear us.  You are abounding in grace and love, when we have done nothing to deserve your kindness at all.  Thank you that your character is not like our own.  No one could ever love us more or better than you, Jesus.  I confess that often while I know you see me and delight in me, I am so quick to act as though that isn't enough for me.  I run to the opinions of others to find my value and significance.  I'm so sorry for devaluing your approval of me so often. I ask that you would change me.  Reveal to me, Lord, why I am so quick to look to busyness and fun and what others think of me to find myself valuable and worthy of love.  Speak through me, Lord.  Teach me.  There is no wisdom in me apart from you.  I trust you, Father, and I believe, by your grace, you will speak through me.  Thank you for saving me and committing to me forever and ever.


So from what I hear, most people have their wild child stages in high school or college, right?  My wild child stage, however, was a bit postponed, in that it didn't take place until my first year out of college.  I had moved to D.C. and was working for Teach for America.  Initially when I moved there, I didn't really know anyone, to be honest.  I had made a sweet friend from Louisiana from our little TFA Facebook group, and I had become friends with my roommate from one of our mutual friends from college.  But that was about the extent of it.  

Thus as most people do after graduating college, I was forced to pretty much completely start over.  I had to make all new friends, establish my identity, find a church, set up boundaries for myself, figure out how to be an adult, and more.  Lemme just tell ya, from my experience, the learning curve for adulthood is huge.  If you're not there yet, let me be the first to forewarn you.  Get ready.  They don't tell you these things when you're in college.  Or at least to the best of my knowledge, no one told me.

All that being said, let's let the fun begin, shall we?  

Embarrassing story time.

So my roommate, Chelsea, and I were just about to move into our new apartment.  TFA Summer Institute was coming to a close, and we were ecstatic to finally have the chance to get everything together and start our little lives -- two blocks from the Capitol in a beautiful, quaint building with wood floors and creamy walls, which I will forever hold near and dear to my heart.  We lived on the third floor in Apartment #5.  The Supreme Court graced us with its presence morning and night just beyond the picture window in our living room.  I remember standing in the middle of the apartment the first day I saw it, squealing and saying, "Lord Jesus, I can't believe you would do this for me!!!!!!"  The joy is filling my heart again, even as we speak.  It was so fun!  I love that city more than I can say.

Chels and I resolved to throw a little impromptu party at our apartment the night before we actually moved all of our things.  We didn't really have any food to offer anyone, let alone any tables at which people could sit.  So naturally we made a picnic consisting of chips and salsa on the apartment floor.  I remember thinking, "Wow.  This is so fun!!!!  I'm an adult.  I live in the freaking capitol city of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and I'm having people over to my house even though we have absolutely no furniture, nothing hung on the walls, and there isn't even a candle burning in the living room.  This defies almost everything I know about being a Southern hostess, and I love it!"

cue Pitbull/Ke$ha... "Let's make a night you won't remember. I'll be the one, you won't forget."

Lol... After that, however, I admit I don't remember much more because I had so much to drink that ... how shall I put this?  My memory evades me...  What I do remember -- quite vividly, in fact -- was waking up the next morning feeling as though a whirlpool of death was churning around in my stomach.   This is where it gets good.  So Chelsea and I had arranged to pick up a couch we had found on Craigslist that morning.  Our plan was to metro to the closest Zipcar location, grab our little rental truck, pick up our new (to us) white couch, and begin settling into our new home!  I had imagined that day would be filled with only the sweetest of memories -- new couches, laughter, maybe a little run around the National Mall afterwards.  What I did not quite envision was the unforgettable moment in which I had to ask the Craigslister from whom we purchased our couch if I could use her bathroom to throw up because I was so sick.

I feel like everyone can agree when you pick something up you've purchased on Craigslist, it's a get-in and get-out scenario.  You don't want to stick around, and they don't want you sticking around.  But literally the last thing you want to do is spend more than 10 minutes in the Craiglister's bathroom -- throwing up for what seemed like an eternity.  This is especially the case for germaphobe #1 here, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Such a shining hour in the life of Caitlyn Kutch.  Quite a valiant, respectable, and lovely precedence I set for myself those first few weeks of life in the District...  Heavens!

Though I promised myself I would never do that again, this pattern continued quite regularly throughout the course of the fall.  I can't tell you how many Friday nights I thought, "I just want to have fun!" and how many Saturday mornings I thought, "Was that really that fun?  And was that fun really worth it because now I feel like death.  I will NEVER do that again."  Until next weekend.  It's all for the sake of being fun, right?  Being liked?  Fitting in?  Having fun?  Feeling full of life?  Even though I would have never admitted it, those were undoubtedly the thoughts running through my head.

Yet while I was having "more fun" than I'd ever had, I'd never been more miserable and depressed in my life.  

Have you ever felt that way?  "I'm supposed to be having so much fun.  I'm living the high life.  I have enough money to go out on the weekends and buy what I want, within reason.  I have friends.  I'm living in this glamorous city, doing all of these glamorous things.  I should be so happy, but I'm actually miserable."  The irony...

I remember one Sunday morning in November, feeling horribly sick and sorry for myself (just call me the pity party queen).  I pulled myself out of bed and walked to the Starbucks closest to my house, ordered a cup of coffee, and sat down to spend time with the Lord.  I slowly and quietly approached His throne that morning in a Starbucks on 3rd and Pennsylvania with a blue pen in my hand and my head hung low.  

"Father...  Father, I never thought I would be in this place.  Why?  Why am I seeking after all of these things to satisfy me?  Why do I so desperately want to have fun?  Why do I so desperately want to be fun?  Lord, when I'm really honest, this isn't fun!  Maybe I have fun for an hour or two or maybe four, but it's never enough.  It's as though there is this deep, insatiable hole inside of my heart that I'm trying to fill, and no matter what I do it's never enough.  Whenever I go out, I am consumed with thinking about what others are thinking about me, 'Do they like me?  Am I fun enough?   Am I being weird?  I just want to be known and liked and loved and valued.  I hope they like me.  What can I do to be more likable?  What can I do to be more fun?'  It's horrible, and all I can think about is myself.  

I'm so depressed that I end up throwing myself into these situations that I think are going to change the condition of my heart and fill me with joy, only to find that the next morning, I'm right back where I started -- if not worse.  Father, I have sinned against heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your daughter.  I have looked to my job, this city, friends, beer, wine, boys, what others think of me, my reputation, how 'fun' I am, and more to find the satisfaction I'm so desperately searching for, when deep in my heart of hearts, I know that kind of satisfaction is found in you alone.  What am I doing?  I'm scouring the world, hoping to find fulfillment, freedom, joy, value, significance, and love, when you've already offered it to me freely.  

I'm so broken.  I have been so ungrateful and hard-hearted.  I've known you as my Lord and Savior and closest friend, and it's as though I've abandoned you for all the things of this world.  I've exchanged you -- the one, true, holy, perfect, just, gracious, and loving Lord -- for the broken things of this world.  I've looked to things that are broken to fix my brokenness.  I have refused to receive your joy and your plan and sought to find and create it on my own, only to discover that I can't find true joy apart from you.  I have spoken so many words of complaint.  Oh Jesus, I'm so sorry.  I don't -- "

It was almost as if He stopped me right there.
It was though in an instant everything has been forgiven and cast into the sea of forgetfulness.

"Quick!"  He said with overflowing love and compassion, "Turn on some Christmas carols, and let's deck the halls with boughs of holly because my baby girl is home!  Where's the dazzling radiant silk?  Let's dress her in the finest.  Let me look at you.  Ohhh you're so beautiful.  How I've missed you!  Can I spin you?  I know how you love to spin...!  I love you.  Oh I love you so much, little one."

It gives me chills to this day.  Our Father receives us in our brokenness, in our wickedness, in our callousness, and He doesn't only open the door to let us in His home, He runs to us with open arms and abounding joy.

The Lord ran to me with deep gladness in His heart that morning, as He had done many times in the past, has done many days since, and by His grace, will continue to do so for the rest of my life.  I continually find myself in sin, and somehow in He continually shows me His grace and steadfast love, which will never depart from me.  Thank you, Jesus.  Not only did the Lord receive me with gladness that day, but He was so gracious to teach me what was going in my heart -- something I have been learning and re-learning over the past two years.  

He began to teach me how and why "having fun" and "being fun" had become such an unhealthy idol in my life.  In all honesty, there wasn't particularly anything wrong with the type of fun I was having.  I don't think there is anything inherently evil about alcohol or dancing or staying up late or having a good time.  A good drink, a fun dance, and a sassy dress can be so much fun.  Heck, I'm all about those things!  There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to have fun or being a fun person.  I am convinced Jesus is more fun than anyone we know.  Furthermore, I believe He created us to have fun -- to laugh, to play, to sing, to be filled with His joy -- so we could experience and worship Him.  But the problem was that my "fun" was not leading me to praise, thank, and worship God.  What I sought to receive from my "fun" was glory for myself and satisfaction for my soul that only God can provide.  

I wanted to be fun, 
so other people would think I was fun, 
so then I could really have fun,
so my soul would truly feel

He showed me that "having fun" becomes destructive in my life when I'm using "fun" and the opinions of others as a source to supply me with a greater sense of worth.  While I know that I have the complete approval of the Lord because of what Jesus has done on my behalf, I am quick to say, "That's not enough for me.  Perhaps I have your approval and love, Lord, but what I really want is the love and approval of all of these people.  I want them to think I'm fun and cool, and if they do, if they think highly of me, I will feel more significant, valuable, and worthy of love."

How messed up is that??!!!?!!?!  Not only was I serving this idea of "fun" but I was serving the opinions of others and ultimately myself.  The Holy Spirit helped me to realize that if I left an evening not feeling like I had the complete approval of everyone I was with, I didn't consider it to be a fun evening.  And even if I did go to sleep feeling as though I was liked by everyone I had spent time with that night, I always woke up the next morning fearing, "What if they decide they don't really like me after all?"  I had become a slave to the approval of others and finding fulfillment in my experiences and things apart from the Lord.  

And yet in His perfect wisdom and grace, He reminded me, "Your value isn't found in what you do or in what other people think of you, but in who I say you are and what I think of you."  Your value isn't found in what you do, but in who you are.  Your value -- for the good or the bad -- isn't found in what you do.  Your value -- for the good or the bad -- isn't found in what others think of you.  Your value isn't even found in what you think of yourself -- though your opinion of yourself does tend to have a huge affect on how you live.  Your value is found in who the Lord says you are and what He thinks of you.

When I first heard that, I distinctly remember thinking, "There's no way that's true.  How could someone -- let alone God -- ever just love me because He loves me?  How could His love for me and approval of me not be dependent upon what I'm doing and how I'm performing?  That's literally impossible."

But what do you know, it isn't impossible, and it's completely true.

God doesn't love you because of what you do or what you don't do.  He doesn't love you because you're the good kid or you share the Gospel with hundreds of people or you feed the homeless or you have memorized the whole Bible.  He doesn't love you because you come from a good family or you go to church or you work hard at your job.  As much as sometimes I act as though my value is found my performance, it isn't.  I am no more valuable when I'm work from 6 a.m. to midnight than when I don't work at all.  I'm no more lovable when I wear a size 2 than when I wear a size 8.  My worth does not increase when others think highly of me and tell me I'm worthy of love.  His love for me does not decrease when I fail miserably, when I cry out in anger, when I harbor bitterness in my heart.  Likewise my value and worth do not decrease when I'm spit upon, rejected, and considered ridiculous.  

For those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus, we have been given the very value and worth of Jesus Himself.  Thus for those who are in Christ, when God looks upon us, He sees the very works of Jesus.

It's what theologians like to call the great exchange.

And it is just that.  It is the greatest exchange.  

God loved us so much that while we were still sinners and wanted nothing to do with Him whatsoever, He sent us Jesus, who came and lived a completely perfect life for us.  The fact that we're sinful means that we've chosen other things over God.  We've gone our own way and done what we thought was best in our own eyes.  We've ignored God, and though He is Lord of all, we've tried to give ourselves that title -- controlling and manipulating countless circumstances to work out the way we see best fit.  

The punishment we deserve for our sin is death, but Jesus took on the punishment that we deserve and died in our place.  Though He never once sinned, though He never so much as even thought an impure thought, He took on our sin on our behalf, so that we could be free.  He knew we would never be able to free ourselves.  We would never be able to fix ourselves.  We would never be able to make ourselves clean or fill ourselves with joy and peace that lasts forever.  But He loved us so much that He came.  Knowing we would reject Him, He came.  Knowing we would spit upon Him, He came.  Knowing He would endure the most brutal suffering of all time, He came.  

Jesus was crucified, and He rose from death.  

In His death, Jesus took on all of our sins, and He gave us His righteousness.  It was the only way we would ever be able to have a perfect relationship with God.  God is so perfect and so holy, that nothing but that which is perfect and holy can be in relationship with Him.  Obviously we are far from perfect and holy in ourselves, and nothing we do can truly change the sinful condition of our hearts.  But Jesus made a way for us to be made right with God and have a relationship with Him forever.  

When you place you faith in Jesus, God forgives and saves you from all of our sins.  You are made new by His power, and every good thing Christ ever did is now attributed to you.  Think about that.  Every good thing Jesus ever did is now yours.  When God looks at you, He sees the very works of Christ.

When we truly receive this identity, we no longer have to be consumed by whether or not others think we're fun or cool or likable or worthy of love.  We have been shown the unconditional love of God through Christ, and our value is now found in Him.  It no longer matters if we're the "fun" friends because we have nothing left to earn or prove.  We have all of the value and significance we could ever hope for.  God loves us, delights in us, and enjoys us.  He fills us with the Holy Spirit and satisfies the deep needs of our hearts.

When we truly believe that, when we look to Jesus to find our value and worth, we can enjoy things and people without crushing them.  We can have fun without serving fun, constantly worrying what we ought to be doing or how we ought to be acting or how we hope others would perceive us.  We can go backpacking through Europe and know that the adventure itself will never satisfy the deep desire for adventure in our hearts, but Jesus can.  We can have a drink with friends, knowing that experience will not satisfy the deep needs of our hearts, but Jesus does.  Furthermore, we can be confident that any good and pure adventure or great drink or fun experience is a reflection of our good, adventurous, and fun Father in heaven.  Thus we are drawn into deeper intimacy with Him and desire to give Him glory and honor for how wonderful He is.

When I think about the most fun moments in my thus far, they've been moments in which I have felt safe, loved, secure, and free to really enjoy the situations around me.  They've been moments in which I've been able to escape the idea that what other people think of me determines my value because my value is secure.  I'm free from fear.  I'm free from worry.  It is in those moments that I am resting in who God has made me to be in Christ.  By God's grace, I wear the robes of righteousness, which I'm pretty sure will sparkle and shine for miles in heaven one day.  He has not only called me His own, He has made me His own.  He continuously fills me with His goodness and His life, and He is enough for me. 

"Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water I will give him will become in Him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'" -John 4:13-14

"O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  So I will bless your name as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.  My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me." -Psalm 63:1-8

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore, I will hope in Him.'  The Lord is good to those who wait for Him." -Lamentations 3:22-25


Lord, help us to draw near to you.  Help us to believe that you are enough for us.  Convict our hearts regarding areas of our lives which we are beginning to use for our own glory instead of allowing them to lift our hearts in praise to you.  Thank you that you are so fun!  Thank you that you've made us to be fun.  Thank you that you satisfy our hearts.  Thank you for settings us free from our enslavement to the approval of others.  May we walk intimately with you today and truly receive the identity you've given us through Jesus.  Thank you that you never give up on us, Lord.  Thank you for making me your own.  I love you forever.

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