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  • Shawn Thornton

Granny & Grandpap Join the Circus

Sunday - May 3rd

Today's Scripture to Read: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31


Lesli and I returned home from a family vacation at the beach in August of 2005 to discover that my in-laws had joined the circus while we were away. We were only gone for two weeks. I guess it doesn't take much more than that to join the circus. Our three children (Jon, Katie, and Megan) were in elementary school at the time. Never in my craziest thoughts had I anticipated telling my children that their grandparents had run off with the circus. But, Lesli and I did just that. "Well, guys, Granny and Grandpap joined the circus."

It wasn't exactly the circus. It was actually a traveling carnival. Maybe I like to use the term circus because its harder for me to say that my in-laws are "carnies." Google the word "carnies" and see what you get. "Are carnies dangerous?" "Do carnies all have criminal records?" Can I trust the carnies my daughter is hanging out with?" 

Let me back up here. Lesli's parents, Bill and Gwen Russell are educators. They both have master's degrees in education, and he has an earned doctorate. She taught elementary-age children for nearly four decades. He served as a high school math teacher in the early and later parts of his career and worked the bulk of his career as a school principal. While starting out in the public education setting, most of their working years were served in a private Christian school setting in Baltimore, Maryland. Are you getting carnival types here? I didn't think so.

A friend in the private education world referred my in-laws to a Christian family who owned a traveling carnival based out of Florida. This carnival would set up in a shopping center parking lot or at a state fair (think Conejo Valley days in Thousand Oaks). The owners of the carnival hired experienced teachers to travel with their team from location to location. They recruited Christian couples, gave them a school-house trailer, and a trailer/RV for their home. This carnival had a couple who had to leave in the middle of the carnival season in 2005. After hearing about the opportunity to complete the remaining months left in the season, my in-laws grasped the opportunity.

They traveled from state fair to state fair, from local festival to local festival, and from shopping center parking lot to shopping center parking lot. They ran what would be a one-room schoolhouse for the dozen or so children of the carnival workers. My father-in-law also served as the chaplain for the group, holding brief worship services on the floor of the bumper cars ride early each Sunday morning. While they were at the Florida State Fair in Tallahassee, Florida, our family met up with them. Our kids stayed overnight with them in their RV in the middle of the carnival worker compound of trailers and mobile homes. Of course, the kids loved it. Granny and Grandpap's co-workers showered them with free rides, games, and cotton candy. Come to think of it, who wouldn't want carnies for grandparents?

Every time I think of that three-to-four month season, my in-laws traveled with the carnival; it makes me smile. I have been smiling the whole time I have been writing this. They genuinely saw this as a ministry opportunity and approached it that way every day that they were a part of the experience. While a unique calling, they believe God called them to this. 

1 Corinthians 1:26-33 reminds us that God has a way of calling people to special, out-of-the-box opportunities or seasons of service for Him. Abraham was seventy-five years old when God promised him a son (for whom he would wait another 25 years). Moses was a shepherd in the wilderness when God called him to lead His people from Egypt to the promised land. Esther was queen to a pagan emperor when God used her to save the Jewish people. And many of the disciples were fishermen when God called them to preach the Gospel. God has a way of taking us from our comfort zones and putting us in the center of something unfamiliar, something that does not make sense, but something that is also at the center of His will. For some, that might even be a traveling carnival!

Often as I think of how God called and now uses me, I am humbled. Who am I to be used by God to declare the eternal mysteries of God's amazing grace? Have you ever thought about God's calling on your life? We often assume that God's call either involves something extreme, like a carnival or something full-time, like pastoral ministry. But, Paul told the Ephesian church that God calls all of His children to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). God calls all of us to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39). God calls all of us to be salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16). You might respond, "Who me? I am not prepared for that." 

Let God call you into whatever He wants to invite you into according to His plan and His will. Maybe he isn't calling you to the circus or the carnival. Perhaps He isn't calling you to be a pastor or a missionary. But, God is calling you as His child to serve Him. Has He been prompting you to check on a neighbor? Has He been urging you to write a kind text, email, or letter to someone who needs encouragement? Has He been nudging you to share your faith with someone in your life?

Don't worry about how out of character, beyond your experience, or outside your comfort zone God's calling is. Ultimately, 1 Corinthians 1:31 points out that when He uses us, we get to boast in Him, not in ourselves. God uses carnies, retired teachers, kids from Indiana, and you! 

God may call you to something that seems crazy, but if He calls you there, He will use you there!

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