(Photo courtesy of Keni Kirkwood)
Celebrating the Family God Gave You
By Keni Kirkwood
2020 has thrown the spotlight on family, thanks to quarantine and COVID-19. For me, that’s something to be grateful for. I’m blessed to have been born into an especially unique family, some might call “unconventional.” However, this year, as the world turns upside down, I can honestly say there is no place I’d rather be than right here with my parents.
See, while this year’s been anything but normal, my life was never what most would call “normal” to start with. My life is quite literally a circus, in the best way. To explain this magnificent phenomenon that I call normal, let’s start at the beginning and I’ll tell you about my parents. They’re both extraordinary humans. My Dad lived an exciting life even before he built one for me. He’s worked at a zoo, played professional basketball in six different countries, been on staff for numerous ministries, and now he’s been in the circus business for 17 years. My Mom’s life sparkles with adventure too. She got her college degree in dance and has performed and taught for years, even getting to use her talents for ministry. She balances all this between a career in theme park management and the circus life.
My parents met as performers at a theme park. Together, they founded their own entertainment company, “Team Kirkwood,” specializing in circus arts and clowning. When I say “clowning,” I mean that my Dad studied under the last living master clown from Ringling Brothers Circus. Yeah, I’m pretty proud of him! As for me, I’ve always had the spark for performing. I was on a theme park payroll at two, and I’ve been a clown with the family business ever since.
So, growing up in a theme park, circus and ministry, you can see where I’d get a pretty unique perspective. But as enchanting as all that is, it’s not the most special thing about my family. It is, however, what most people ask about. The best thing about my parents is how they live their faith, and how that relationship has shaped my identity. I’ve grown up with God as part of my everyday life, every day of the week, not just Sunday. As far back as I remember, I’ve started my mornings having devotions with my Dad.
I’ve been taught to think for myself, and not do things “just because.” Thus, I’ve grown to have a living relationship with the Bible and gained a passion for faith in action. That is something I can be eternally grateful for.
Where our “Kingdom focus” and “eccentric” lifestyle really collide is in our celebrations. My family celebrates things well, both milestones and little moments. Birthdays go on for days and errands with Dad or Mom always end in a mom/daughter or dad/daughter date. But celebratory living extends beyond events and into relationships.
Stemming from a thankfulness for all God has given (James 1:17), my family has always sought to celebrate who God made each of us to be, and we seek genuine connection and relationships with those around us. When we love others not by who they are to us, but by who they are to God, our perspectives change. The pressure to “fit in” fades away. God loves uniqueness.
For the Kirkwoods, we make those connections by sharing joy, and bringing people together with uplifting humor. Now I’m not saying we’re perfect at all, or even that we agree on everything. But I think it’s important to remember the cool things about those we love; it helps us love them even more. My Dad is witty AND wise, and every day he chooses me and Mom. My Mom is a great creative partner and she rocks at listening. And if I’m honest, I don’t thank God enough for those things.
But now, let’s talk about you. Maybe your family doesn’t typically dance in stores, but I know they have awesome, unique things about them worth celebrating. Remember, even if just now it seems they’re driving you crazy, they’ve impacted your story and helped make you, you. So think about them this season, looking for what you’re grateful for. You don’t have to write an essay on it, just think of a few things. Then, thank God for them. And if you’re feeling especially festive this gratitude season, go ahead and tell your family those things you thought of. They might just thank you.