One Place I Can Turn

casey kenley
Bill, Ray, Leo and Casey Kenley

I don’t have all the answers, but I used to think that I did, or at least I thought that I could figure it out on my own if I just read the right articles, talked to the right people or embraced the right behaviors. Thought leaders, best-selling writers and psychologists who offered up ways to achieve happiness, success and fulfillment were the gurus who had all the answers I needed.

Raised by wonderful parents who instilled in my two siblings and me a strong sense of who we are and what we stand for, I fancied myself pretty smart on my own as well. But adulthood can be tough, and all those people with all those smart answers, they’re just people with opinions. They’re flawed and searching for answers just like me.

I know a few things deep inside, though, things no one can change my mind about. I know that love should always come first, above vanity, greed, selfishness and fear. I tell my boys, ages 7 and 10, that everyone deserves our respect, no matter how severely we differ in our opinions or how we choose to treat one another — the notion of disrespecting someone because of skin color or “class” isn’t even an issue up for debate.

Ray and Leo Kenley.
Ray and Leo Kenley.

Over the past several months, I found myself talking to my kids over waffles and sausage about the person who would become our next president, and I didn’t relish the options. We are all sinners. No one is perfect. I don’t expect our presidents to be just like Jesus, but I do expect them to lead with love. Love for our country, love for our people, love for the promise the United States offers to others. Leading means action, inspiring others to carry out acts of goodness and greatness, and love.

Our political leaders are human. For the most part, I think they believe that they are doing what is best. But just like those self-help gurus, however life-changing and useful their 12 steps or Top 10 lists might be, our leaders are flawed. They are selfish, disrespectful and unkind sometimes, just like us. They say things that offend and do things that hurt. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of left, right and center, you likely feel at least a little uncertain about where the next four years will take us.

When I went off to college in 1993, I stopped going to church. There were too many parties to go to and friends to make to get me out of bed early on a Sunday morning. I’ve always believed that Jesus was the son of God. Why would I go to church when I already knew that? Not until about 2013 did I start going to church again. I had a slow awakening that all those books and blog posts I was relying on weren’t really enough. The counsel of my friends and husband wasn’t enough. Running marathons, being successful at work, being admired by others, having a nice house and kids — none of it was enough. I needed a plan or a direction that wasn’t flawed and imperfect and up for negotiation. I needed church again, or rather, I needed God again.

Church is not perfect. Everyone knows that, and if anyone tells you their church is pure and full of love all the time, they are delusional. Church is full of people, so it’s inherently flawed and messy. But the church is led by God, who is perfect. When people I love disappoint me — and I return the favor — when I find that I don’t have all of the answers, when I think the country is going to hell in a handbasket, I have God, and I have First Presbyterian Church. As a well-educated Gen X-er, going to church isn’t cool or intellectual, but I’m too old to try to be something that I’m not — thank God — and I’m not too proud to acknowledge that I can’t do this life all by myself. I need help sometimes.

Especially during this stormy, divisive time in our country’s history, I am grateful that I have First Presbyterian Church in my life. I know that the people there believe in God and believe in love; I see it every Sunday in their eyes and smiles, and I hear it in their words. I hear it in the voices from the choir and the sermon from the pulpit.

My boys will likely stray from church at some point in their lives, but they will always have a strong foundation of not only Christian teaching but also community and love from First Presbyterian Church. My hope is that FPC will be a place in their hearts they can go to no matter where they are. For me, when the world can feel like an onslaught of hate, conflicts and beliefs I will never understand, FPC keeps love first.

Casey grew up in a First Presbyterian church in Milan, Tennessee. She is a freelance writer and marketing consultant who works out of her home in downtown Noblesville, where she lives with her husband, Bill, and two boys, Ray and Leo.