Thursday, October 11, 2018

Being Real about Christians, Mental Health, and Suicide: Tommie Kessler’s Story

I have begun freelancing for Spokane FAVS. My latest piece, "Being Real about Christians, Mental Health, and Suicide: Tommie Kessler’s Story," is one I'd like to share with you on my blog. It's a heavy topic, but one I tried to approach with hope and great care.


Being Real about Christians, Mental Health, and Suicide: Tommie Kessler’s Story By Cassy Benefield

Tommie Kessler is an active Christian, a missionary kid, a passionate servant to individuals with special needs, a Jesus lover, and someone suffering from bipolar disorder who has survived multiple suicide attempts.

Kessler, age 13, with her dad, Tom, and brother, Tim, their first week as missionaries in Colombia, South America/Contributed

And on Friday her story, along with the stories of others affected by suicide in some way, will be displayed in black and white photographs as part of Grace June’s “Survive Project Art Show” that will take place at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church (1832 W. Dean Ave.), from 5-8 p.m.

Kessler’s story with mental illness and suicide is not an uncommon one, but it is an uncommonly known struggle in many of the Christian circles to which she’s belonged.

For Kessler, she thought there was something wrong with her because she believed she was not supposed to have mental health struggles as a Jesus follower.

“I struggled with my faith. Why, if I’m saved, why don’t I have peace?” Kessler explained. “The Bible says, if you’re saved you have peace, right? You know. Or, if you’re saved, then you have joy. Those are the byproducts of being a Christian, and so I didn’t understand why I didn’t have those things. So I really struggled in my faith and not knowing what to do.”

Monday, August 28, 2017

What Charlottesville Teaches Me

There are many articles about Charlottesville and its symbolism of current race relations in our country, from what the president said to our nation to what pastors are saying in their pulpits, from what families are discussing at their dinner tables to what our Facebook friends are saying on their feeds. While many events have arisen since that fateful day, I still think there is something I need to say. I am not sure I can add anything to the discussion that hasn’t already been said. But I am compelled by the Holy Spirit to add my voice to the mix about what this event in our history has taught me and is teaching me still.

One thing Charlottesville has taught me is that I need to reprove the works of darkness (Eph. 5:8-11). This was so eloquently done by a preacher who recorded his reaction to the events on YouTube that one of my Facebook friends shared on her feed.[i] Pastor Mike Kleitz of Calvary Road Baptist Church in New Albany, Indiana, doesn’t have thousands of Facebook followers. I don’t know him personally. He’s not a known TV personality with millions of followers on Twitter nor does he have his own late night TV show. He is a pastor who is charged with the care of a flock of people God has brought into his church, and he spoke against the works of darkness in the white supremacy movement, emboldened (but not new) in our day. He took a stand, and that spoke volumes to me that I, too, must do the same. My Christian testimony is on the line and my witness is being scrutinized through the lens of Charlottesville. So, let me say, very simply, like Timothy Keller did in his own reaction to the events, “Christians should look at the energized and emboldened white nationalism movement, and at its fascist slogans, and condemn it—full stop.”[ii] The Bible tells me so.

Another thing that Charlottesville has taught me is that I am afraid to speak what I believe because I care about what people think of me, not necessarily what they think of my Savior. I live in a climate that is so divided and split—even among my friends and those I love—that if I even hint at an unpopular opinion that goes against one side or the other, someone is going to be offended, get mad at me, think I’m not a Christian worth my salt, think I’m holier than thou, etc. This ought not be the reason I remain silent. So, let me say the white supremacists were in the wrong at Charlottesville because their philosophy is wrong. They do have the right to speak what they believe. The counter protesters also have that same right and some of them were in the wrong, too, in how they demonstrated their opposition. The supremacists were itching for a conflict to happen, and this leads me to believe guns or weapons should not be a part of free speech gatherings because of it. Largely in part because of our current racial climate, I’m okay with Confederate flags and statues of past Confederate leaders being taken down in public places, as well as in private places if the organization that has these wants to do so. Individuals have a right to their own personal decision to fly a Confederate flag or honor the Confederacy how they wish, and people have a right to protest that. Propagandists are having a heyday with changing the narrative of the events[iii] that even good people I know are being deceived. Our president is also changing the narrative and making this event like many, if not all, things in his work as president, about himself not our country and is using it to continue to demonize those that disagree with him or are critical of him. Most importantly, this event has shined a light on my own apathy of race issues in America and convicted me of my silence. God has much more to show me as I reflect on these events, and He’s going to turn it into good for me and for those who love Him (Ro. 8:28).

The main issue God spoke to my heart about through these events, however, is the nature of sin, its consequences and our reactions to sin and the sinner, including in ourselves.  God used John 3:16-21 and v. 36 to teach me this point in my own heart:

 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God. … He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

What spoke to me in particular in this section of Scripture is that all of us are loved by God. While we ought to and should condemn the philosophies of hate and the reactions of hate they inspire, we ought not condemn the individuals who hold those philosophies. Jesus didn’t come into this world to condemn us but to save us, so I ought to live in accordance toward others to reflect Christ’s mission. I read those verses this way in context to Charlottesville. God loves the white supremacist protester and he loves the antifa protester. He loves Heather Heyer and he loves her killer, James Alex Fields Jr. His overwhelming love for humankind is more astounding to me because He loves us while we are under His wrath. And we are under His wrath because of our sin (and none of us are outside of that wrath (Rom. 3:23)). He knew we could not in ourselves remove His wrath, so He sent us His Son to remove that wrath for us. That wrath remains on us unless we trust that Christ died in our place to atone for our sins, that He paid the penalty for our sins. Because we live in the church age, like Jesus, God is not calling us to condemn one another, but to condemn sin. All this so we see we all have need of a Savior. You see, in our time, God is calling people to salvation not condemnation. And if I don’t act like I understand His mission in our current time, I will only react in a way that does not bring Him glory and honor. In other words, on the one hand, if I don’t reprove the works of darkness (namely, the hate filled rhetoric I saw on part of many protesters that day[iv]), and on the other hand, if I don’t come to a place where I can be a testimony of God’s love for even the individuals I disagree with, I am not being the testimony I need to be for my Savior.

Beyond that, I see one more vital lesson. God showed His love for us that day in providing His protective Hand over the Charlottesville protests. While the events of that day were tragic and horrifying, they could have been much worse. I read an article on the Intercessors for America website that really inspired me and drew me into the call of God for all His children to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).[v] The article reports on a group of Christians who were also counter protesting, only they were doing so by prayer and by song. In response, the hate-filled rhetoric on both sides came to a stop for a time. People didn't know how to respond to them and so were silent for an hour. Who knows how else God used that form of protest that day.

I’m sure the days ahead will bring more lessons from this and other events that take place in our nation and our world. I only hope I am willing to continue learning from them and then to boldly take a stand when God asks that of me. For His glory and His alone.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Yes, Jesus Loves Me

Spokane, WA  (August 2016)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”John 3:16-18 (ESV)

Sometimes a verse arises from its page, its place in Scripture, and gives me a hug. One that comforts my soul and reminds me, “Yes, Jesus loves me; the Bible tells me so.” And what joy it is to my heart when my loving, heavenly Father condescends to me in such a marvelous way.

John 3:16-18 is one such passage of Scripture for me. God loves me so much, He gave me His Son so that I might be reconciled to Him. Jesus is my Savior, the mediator of my life. A life that was once in utter condemnation but is now completely righteous in Christ. And why? How is that possible? Because by His grace, I believe in Him. I believe His testimony is true and that He is God almighty. I believe there is no god beside Him.

Think of it. What god out there knows our condemnation and yet offers His Son on our behalf—not to condemn us (which we deserve!)—but to save us? He is a just and holy God, and this side of Heaven, instead of judgment, He offers us hope and eternal life in Him. He offers us freedom and release from our sin. Our sin, which we were born into. Our sin, which separates us from the love of God. Our sin, which our Creator responded to by sending us His Son to save us from sin’s eternal consequences. Our sin, which drew the Savior to earth, to die on the cross, so that the condemnation we justly deserved was laid upon His shoulders.

So, I can’t help but believe. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible does indeed tell me so.

How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
By: Stuart Christopher Townend

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Moral Compass

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”—Romans 12:2

“For God is not the author of confusion but of peace …”—1 Corinthians 14:33a

Processing what is going on in the world is something that takes its toll on my spirit. So much of what takes place in my generation goes against what I know to be true, right, and dare I say logical? Confusion abounds. Media loves to add to this cacophony for their own profit, which makes the discussion among the masses often one of contention rather than polite discourse.

Sometimes the best help for me as I process these thoughts is having an open and judgment-free space and a willing ear. I can then lay it all out there and sit back and listen to the wisdom of those I love and respect, who themselves desire to walk with God in a way that pleases Him. Many times when I share my thoughts with others in this way, God brings me peace in the midst of the confusion, by recalibrating my mind on what is true, kind, noble, of good report, pure, etc. (Philippians 4:8).

Recently, I have had two such open spaces, one with my dear husband and another with my close friend. Both of them hit the “Cassy-sharing-is-caring” jackpot when I burst out of my seams with some of what confuses and bothers me about the world we live in. I really needed to understand how God sees what’s going on in our world and how to move forward in that understanding, both personally and spiritually. How do I approach living in the world but not being of the world as a parent, a relative, a friend, but most of all, as a Christian? How would Jesus act and react to these goings on today and how should we, as His ambassadors on earth (1 Corinthians 5:21), express to others what He would do?

My desire is to be Christ-like in the face of such confusion—not to condemn those who I believe are making choices contrary to God’s Word, some of whom are truly soul-searching and trying to find a place and a voice in this world. I know Jesus didn’t come to condemn us, but to save us (John 3:17). So, should someone ask my opinion on this or that matter, I could lovingly speak the truth of God’s Word into their hearts (Ephesians 4:15).

As a Christian, I believe the Bible is the Word of God and the final authority for all my decisions in faith and life. So, I am to make decisions as best as I know how based upon God’s Word, and not what Christians refer to as the “world’s standard” or doing what I think is right in my own eyes.[1] Again, I am not to conform to the world around me but to renew my mind. I do this by reading, studying and meditating on His Word. Through that process, I am transformed in that renewal so that I may prove the perfect will of God.

As God’s people who live in this world but who are not of this world, our “job” as Christians is to offer a lifeline to those who may also be looking for answers in the midst of all the confusion. We are encouraged in Scripture to do this in a winsome manner (1 Timothy 2:23-25). We aren’t to condemn others for making decisions that stand in opposition to what God states in His Word (John 3:17). We aren’t to condemn ourselves or other Christians because of a perceived spiritual failure on our part that opened the gates to whatever confusion exists.[2]

Satan is at work here (Ephesians 6:12). We as Christians need to realize this and not only that, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). I will give you that perhaps whatever “new” thing you may be facing may not have been as open in the past or as talked about as it is today (e.g., our 24-hour news cycle). But I guarantee whatever you and I are struggling to understand has happened in the past and is not new to the world. More importantly, it is not new to God. I find comfort in this thought, because I am so often like a deer caught in headlights and shocked and baffled when confronted by all the new theories that abound about all manner of topics. It heartens me to know, God has seen all this before and He not only has an opinion about it, He has a plan to use it for His glory (Romans 8:28).

The answer to all my heart’s questions is simply this: God’s Word is a steadfast and sure moral compass. It does not change because He does not change (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). Its truth, its principles, its wisdom can be applied to all generations in all types of situations. I have faith in Christ. I believe the Bible to be His Word. And that is my moral compass. He steadies me in the storms of our day and my prayer, my heart’s desire is to reflect Him to others in this world in case they, too, are looking for answers beyond the world’s conclusions. I hope they will see in me someone who has a peace that is beyond human understanding and someone who can explain to them lovingly, kindly, and in truth how they, too, can have God’s peace (Philippians 4:7).

The opposite of His peace is the world’s peace, and it changes daily. One day the world will give you peace, and the next day it will be taken away because of this new study, that knowledgeable person’s opinion or this person’s experience. It’s never the same.

I don’t know about you, but I am desperate for guidance and peace in the midst of all this confusion. If you, too, are looking for direction, I can suggest nothing better than His Word to show you the way. It not only tells us how we can have a peace beyond human understanding, it guides us to our true Compass, Jesus Christ.

1 There are many verses in the Bible about mankind doing right in his or her own eyes and how that is the way to bring troubles upon oneself. The most telling verses on this topic are found in Judges, which is the book of the Bible that is the most descriptive (and frankly, one of hardest books for me to read because of it) of how wicked man can get morally when he is left to his own judgments. (See Deuteronomy 12:8; Judges 17:6; Judges 21:25; Proverbs 12:15.)

2 Don’t get me wrong. We should regularly ask God to show us sin in our lives, personally, and from there confess our sins and repent should God prick our consciences about where we as individuals are not walking with Him. What I am referring to here, however, is a fault-finding spirit that is divisive and not one of unity. One that criticizes and puts down others, especially other believers, instead of lifting and building up. If we as Christians maintain a habit of putting down fellow believers for this or that thing, the world may see us as not having love for one another. And it is this love that Christ commands us to have, so that the world knows we are His disciples, thereby being able to point others to Him (John 13:35).

Monday, April 11, 2016

Children Are a Blessing

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.”
—Psalm 127:3

“Children are God’s gifts, a heritage, and a reward; and are to be accounted blessings, and not burdens”—Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on This Passage (

I’ve been meditating on this verse a lot lately. I have a three year old, and I’ve been needing to meditate on this verse. I’ve come up with my own paraphrase, “Children are a blessing.” And I’ll say it over and over because I need to remind myself of this. Here’s why.

This verse keeps me centered on truth and not how I feel in any given moment. (Did I mention I have a three year old?) Sometimes, I just have to take God’s word for it that children are a blessing because much of the parenting of my personal little one feels like a slog, and I wonder to myself regularly will this stage ever be over?

I derive little pleasure in continuing to "train" my daughter to go potty, something we began over a year ago. And something, quite honestly, she knows how to do!

There is also the fact that about 20 times a day, I need to tell my daughter, “Now, how do you ask nicely?” I do this to try and soften that demanding three-year-old tone to my ears so that I feel like better serving her (I know, very servant-like of me).

And then, there is her turtle-like slowness to obey my wishes, a simple one being, “Honey, please stop being silly for the next minute so I can put your pull-up on after bath.” It’s these silly episodes that make me really feel my age. I wonder if I was at least in my early 30s would I be more patient with her sillies.

I don’t know.

I do know though that it’s in these moments and many others like them that I catch myself before I get too frustrated and speak this truth into my heart and mind: children are a blessing.

I have to sometimes admit to God, okay Lord, I’m just going to have to take your word for it because right now in this challenging moment with my little one, I don’t feel like children are a blessing. It really feels like the opposite of that.

And yet, something changes when that truth sinks into my mind and heart. The parenting cup that was half empty is all of a sudden half full, and I see a glimmer of that truth in her. Oh it may not be in big bursts on par with how she can just come apart over having to wear a long-sleeved shirt “coat” over her purple T-shirt because in her mind it just isn’t right!

What I see are little glimpses of the person God made and then placed in my husband’s and my care. I laugh at her humor (even her sillies!). I share joy in the things she enjoys. I’m in awe of her already adventurous spirit that often asks, “What next mommy?” I love hearing her daddy chuckle at her reasoning when she says something like, “But it will break my brains … what’s my brains again?”

I even love the smile she brings to my face when she says so matter of factly, “Princesses don’t wear jackets.” That is, until she goes outside and realizes it’s too cold and we go back in the house to put on a “princess” coat.

Truth is, I have been having a difficult time dealing with my emotions and feelings since I became a mom. It has not been an easy road for me. I have been wondering what’s wrong with me because I actually do not love being a mom. Parenting is hard and I feel it’s especially hard for me in these early years of my daughter’s life. 

It's because of these feelings that I get trapped in negative, “less-than” thoughts. I feel inefficient, lacking, and somehow deficient. Frankly, I feel out of my depth as a parent. Unfortunately, this not only distorts my own vision of myself but also how I see my daughter.

Thankfully God’s word is always true and always dependable. It contains the windshield wiper fluid and the wipers themselves that clear up my vision. Then, I see more clearly, albeit still very imperfectly, how my child is a blessing from the Lord and not just because God says so.

My sweetie is a blessing. Let me continue to count the ways.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Profitable Labor

“In all labor there is profit.”--Proverbs 14:23a

Ali'i Kula Lavendar Farm 
Kula, Maui (Feb 2016)

The first Monday of every month, I meet with a group of ladies at a local church for a group called Temple Restoration. This group gathers to discuss honoring God with our bodies, souls, and spirits. We spend a good deal of time discussing honoring God with our bodies through our health choices. I have met with these ladies for a year now and have been so blessed by their fellowship. Also once a month, one of us writes an eVotion in this theme. What I'm sharing with you today is the last one I wrote for the group. It specifically addresses health choices, but I believe this can fit into any situation you are trying to overcome and receive God's victory in. 

Full confession. I am not at the best place spiritually and physically with honoring God with my health choices. If someone were to back up and view from a distance the overall picture of my health journey of late, they could easily conclude she’s been eating more sugar, more processed foods, less fruits, and less veggies than she was about a year ago at this time. She exercises less than what she should, especially less than what she did before she met her husband. Let’s face it. She’s gained weight and she’s gotten out of shape for the third or fourth time these last several years.

And they would be right. However, that voice has the shrillness of another’s voice we have come to regard as our own, but it is not. It is the voice of our accuser, the one who whispers in the ear of our Savior and says, see, she can only be healthy as a single person. She wastes precious time resting when she should be exercising. See, look at her eat (fill in the blank) she shouldn’t eat. What a waste of time You are spending on her in this process and this monthly gathering of ladies for “Temple Restoration.”

And then, my Savior, and His voice of truth comes like a refreshing wind and lifts my spirit, while advocating on my behalf. My child, don’t listen to that voice. I said in my Word, “In all labor there is profit.”

So, while I may not be at my best place toward the health of my temple, the strides I have made do count for something. Am I where I was? Do I know more about honoring God with my temple Biblically? Do I find encouragement and strength walking side by side with others on a similar journey?

Yes, there are struggles. Yes, I find myself taking one step forward, two steps back. But this verse gives me hope. That one time I said no to that extra bowl of cereal at night. There was profit. That time I had a hot cocoa instead of a candy bar. There was profit. The other day, when my daughter was in her ballet class, and I squeezed in 30 minutes on the elliptical machine at the YMCA. There was profit. And in all these little profits, in these small steps of obedience to the Lord in His direction of what to eat and how to keep moving, God in His grace, gives me strength. Oh, that I would walk with Him more deliberately with this truth in mind.

Beautiful in Its Time

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”—Ecclesiastes 3:11

Ali'i Kula Lavendar Farm 
Kula, Maui (Feb 2016)

It’s time to begin again. It’s time to share the insights God graciously gives me as I read His Word. It’s time I glorify His working in my life with all its highs, lows, and everything in between. It’s time for me to worship Him. To enjoy Him. To magnify Him. 

And humble myself.

For as John wrote: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Lord, please help this verse cover the words of this blog.

It's time I do this again out loud. Or in writing, as this particular case may be.

You see, after 609 days (I just can’t believe that!), I have taken a step in faith to begin this blog again. What was supposed to be a summer break in 2014 became a one-year-and-eight-month break. In the last few months, I have begun to feel the tug on my spirit by His Spirit to begin this again.

Trusting this pull, perhaps He is saying to me, it’s time for me to make your words beautiful again. Beautiful in the sense that strangers, friends, and family will be able to share in my walk with the Lord as they read my journal-like devotions. They will see the beauty of His Word applied to just one life in His great mosaic of created beings. And in that seeing, they will also enjoy the beauty He has for them individually.

So, let this be my first post of many to come after my long break. I hope you join me on this journey, and I hope you are blessed by what you read. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

He is (The Names of God) by Eric Ludy

I hope you are all having a blessed summer. The youth pastor at my church closed last Sunday's sermon with this video below. It is so powerful and gorgeous and will get your eyes upon the Savior of our lives. 

One of my favorites, "He is my Husband." Whew!

I encourage you to take the time to give it a watch and let me know what "He is" to you. God bless you. 

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