The word fool can refer to an unwise person, a jester (court fool), an ardent enthusiast (dancing fool), or “one who subverts convention or orthodoxy or varies from social conformity in order to reveal spiritual or moral truth” (holy fool, American Heritage Dictionary).
Is it foolish or unwise to share this story here? Perhaps from one perspective. It might tempt people to discriminate against Nels, such as not booking him based on his beliefs rather than his performance. Is it unconventional? Sure. This is a very personal account on a public website. Does it reveal truth? Hopefully. Here it is in his own words.
• • • • •
I told my mother I was going to run away and join the circus. She thought it was a good idea! That makes sense when you consider my mom was a mime and fire eater, among other things. And my dad was a minister. Odd, but true.
At eight years old I was introduced to juggling, mime, clowning, and more through performing arts ministry workshops. After that I developed my skills and antics at every opportunity, especially with my best friend Andrew at Christian camps and events where our foolishness reached new heights. Life was good. Though not all of it.
In my teen years it became clear to me that we’re all broken people in a broken world. Without going into private details, I witnessed the effects of anger, abuse, and separation. Then my dad died. Through all of this I made a lot of bad choices, most of which I kept hidden from others. As I struggled with lying, stealing, pornography, anger, and other stuff, I knew I needed a change.
Going off to college seemed like a fresh start. Then I met this girl. Our relationship grew romantic. Near the end of our sophomore year she became pregnant.
Suddenly everything was topsy turvy again. We felt lost and anxious about many things – our relationship, our faith, our future. Fortunately, we found support and counsel through wonderful, caring people from a crisis pregnancy ministry.
We also had the support of friends from a campus ministry. One suggested we spend time apart to seek God first. So I did what any noble young man would do.
I ran away with the circus.
. . .
Listen… If you’re ever running away from God, don’t join a Christian circus!
Okay, I’m half joking. By grace I was seeking God, not running away. However, my friend Andrew and I did tour the northeast U.S. with The Circus Kingdom, a ministry which promoted joy and good will in all kinds of venues, from fairs and festivals to hospitals and prisons. (Talk about captive audiences.)
During that summer, I read scriptures and prayed a lot. Others were praying too. Thankfully, I recognized I needed not new circumstances but a new heart and mind – to love and trust the Lord in all my ways – and I believed Christ died for me and rose again so I might find this new life in him.
As if that weren’t enough grace, I’m glad to say my girlfriend and I got back together.
. . .
The following months brought many changes. Elizabeth and I found a church where we could mature in faith. Our daughter was born. We were married. And though we made mistakes and had struggles, we knew God was working in all of it.
Over the next few years I completed degrees in mathematics and education. Logically, the next step was to become a full-time performer, speaker, and oddball. (??) That’s a story in itself. In short, the “silly” stuff I learned as a youth and with the circus have brought joy to many and supported my family.
By the way, Elizabeth and I now have five kids. As our family has grown, so has our love and joy.
But please don’t hear what I’m not saying.
. . .
It’s not that turning to Christ solved all of our problems. We still face temptations and trials. In fact, it’s often through them that we learn and grow the most. (Like how to keep the fun in dysfunctional.)
It’s not that we suddenly had all the answers. We’re still seeking to know Christ and to understand biblical paradoxes like living through dying, finding through losing, greatness through humility, and freedom through serving others.
It’s not that we were blessed because we did “the right thing.” In such situations, blessings might come through many means, such as single moms who faithfully care for their children, mothers who prayerfully give their babies for adoption, and loving couples who adopt and provide foster care.
The point is we are sinners saved by grace. Our story is part of a greater one.
. . .
I know and respect people who identify as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, and otherwise. I believe our shared hope is one God and Father of all, who is making himself known through loving people of varied traditions and reconciling the world to himself through the gospel or good news.
Here’s a short version of the good news…
God created us to be blessed and to love him and others. Instead, we all fall short and deserve judgment. But Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again. Through repentance and faith, we can know God and his true love, peace, and joy in Christ.
Here’s a longer version, with links to scripture for further reflection…
God created us to be blessed and to love him and others. We do this as we trust and follow God, for his ways are just and loving. In this is lasting life and joy. Unfortunately, no one does this on their own. †
Instead, we all fall short and deserve judgment. Like prophets before him, Jesus Christ pointed to the sin or wrong we do out of self-centered pride, hostility, lust, greed, apathy, and so on. Because God is perfectly holy and just, Jesus warned of God’s judgment. Because God is loving, he calls us to repent or turn from sin and to believe in the gospel or good news. †
Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again. More than a prophet who brings news, Jesus claimed to be the good news… The Son of God who saves all who believe… The way, the truth, and the life… He backed up his claims by living a perfect life, being crucified for our sins, and coming back from the dead. And he promised to return and reign forever as Lord of all. †
Through repentance and faith, we can know God and his true love, peace, and joy in Christ. Our faith walk can begin or be renewed with a simple, sincere prayer: “God, I confess I am a sinner. Jesus, I believe you died for my sins and rose again. Thank you for forgiveness and new life. Help me to trust and follow you as my Savior and Lord.” Our faith is strengthened as we grow in Christ and share these blessings with the world. †
Unfortunately, Christians can be stumbling blocks to faith, because pobody’s nerfect. It’s a good thing we trust in Christ, not in Christians! And the more we know him, the more we grow in him. Bearing fruit of love, joy, peace, and more. Working together as one body, with one Spirit. Forever changed and ever changing. †
I’m still a work in progress. (Just ask my wife and kids!) Yet there is hope in Jesus for me and you. May he fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we may abound in hope.
P.S. This may have stirred more questions than answers. If so, start reading here and ask the Lord to lead you. Find others who will support you on your journey. For that matter, feel free to contact me if you have questions or comments, or just want to talk or pray.
• • • • •
Meet Nels’ Family.
Return to Ministry Programs.