When Kelly Parkison and her significant other, Ron Young, decided to try to mend their relationship, there was more at stake than their potential nuptials — there was $1 million on the line. The pair appeared in the seventh season of the hit reality show The Amazing Race, and after coming in third place, they amicably broke up.
Viewers of that season will recall the ways the pair endlessly bickered on the show, but they will probably also remember that Kelly openly professed her Christian faith. Kelly’s faith remains a central part of who she is as a public speaker, wife to a pastor and mother of five children.
Kelly has written a book about her adventure from reality star to the unexpected journey of motherhood. It is called He Knows Her Name: An Amazing Pursuit to Adopt from India, and will be released next month.
- Can you give us a quick primer in the mechanics of how it works to star in a reality show? Basically, how much of it is staged, and how much feels authentic as you’re filming?
Filming The Amazing Race was an authentic experience throughout the entire journey. I never felt as if the actual competition was staged, but obviously the actual race tasks are staged. The tasks are designed to give the race participant a taste of what that particular culture experiences or practices. Occasionally, the racers were asked to re-film certain scenes to make sure the footage was viewable, but it all seemed pretty close to the real thing. However, when we first started filming, it felt odd to have a cameraman and sound-man following me around everywhere, but I soon got used to it and it became very natural.
- I was single when I watched you and Ron on The Amazing Race, and it was the first time I realized why attraction wasn’t going to be enough to build a good relationship. What did you learn about yourself and marriage in that high-pressure situation?
I learned a lot. The production crew arranged lots of interview sessions in which they constantly asked racers how they felt about certain aspects of the race, other teams, their experiences and their race partner. These interviews became a great time of self-evaluation, and I became more aware my strengths and weaknesses. For example, I learned I was way too competitive. One particular task, in which we delivered items to an orphanage in Africa, opened my eyes to realize I was missing so much around me because I was so consumed with winning.
The race did not really teach me about marriage. It solidified what the Lord had already made clear: that my teammate and I should not be dating. We had actually already broken up before the show was filmed, but agreed to give it another shot while filming. But you are right — attraction is not enough! Marriage and life are messy, and they usually don’t come with a million dollar prize. It is commitment to the Lord and one another that gets you through marriage, but that’s a whole other interview. I recall something someone shared with me while the show was airing. She said, “Don’t worry, Kelly. My husband and I argue just preparing to take a vacation a few hours away. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if we were trying to win a million dollars, racing other people, losing sleep, not eating and in a foreign country.” In other words, high stress situations are going to arise in marriage and life — I just realized it was important to have the right person beside you when they come.
What I did not realize is how much more I would grow as a person when it aired on television. I received many negative comments and emails, and I was bashed publicly from the way I looked all the way to something I said or did. I had to cling hard to the Lord, His Word and His promises. I also learned to not take things so personally, and to learn to laugh — even at myself on television.
- You promised yourself you’d never go back to India after your experience there with The Amazing Race. However, because of a little girl, you returned for another adventure. That little girl is not only your daughter; she’s the subject of He Knows Her Name. After all that has happened in the past few years, are you ever afraid God is going to turn your life upside down again?
I am never afraid of what God has for me. I can be uncertain at times, and I question Him, asking, “Why me? Why now?” But as I have grown in my discipleship, I have chosen to live radically and relentlessly for Him, even when it seems tough. I have learned through my life experiences that when it is difficult, I grow closer to Him, and that makes it all worth it. As the Word says, “Let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
But it’s funny you should ask this question, because God recently did turn my life upside down again. We were in the middle of our adoption process, and I felt the Lord telling me He wanted my family to do more than just adopt. After a couple of years or prayer and seeking His plan, my husband and I have started a non-profit called LOFT218.org. It is a ministry to “the least of these” in India. We are working on building an orphanage and shelter for sex trafficking victims and equipping them to be strong leaders and influencers in their communities. It seems like a daunting task at times, but we are just trusting in Him.
- Why do you think Millennials will want to check out a book about an adoption story?
Besides the fact that Millennials are the largest generation of adopting families, I think they will enjoy He Knows Her Name, even if they are not considering adoption, because it shares three traits in common with this generation: adventure, hope and value. In the book, I write about some of my adventures on The Amazing Race and the way life itself can be quite an adventure when you set out to do the hard things you feel called to do. The underlying message of the book is about heeding God’s call and being drawn to the adventure of making uncomfortable moves for Jesus.
Our story is full of hope, but how can it not be when God can take very flawed people and use them to do some pretty incredible things? If He can do that with me, He can do that with anyone! I am very transparent about our weaknesses and struggles in the book, and I believe the reader will connect with the story in the realization that God can use them to do great things as well. In addition, there is the hope of love, family and the ultimate hope that we have in our Heavenly Father.
Millennials love things of value that have purpose and meaning. When a Millennial purchases He Knows Her Name, they aren’t just purchasing a book to read for enjoyment; they will be purchasing a book that makes a difference, as all the proceeds will go toward LOFT218.org and help build an orphanage in India.
- You went from being Miss South Carolina to a reality TV star to a pastor’s wife who is raising five kids. Is it hard being in a stage of life where your ability to be noticed is significantly diminished?
It was an adjustment at first, but I am not defined by those titles. What I soon realized was that I was not given those opportunities in the past for me to get noticed but to make a difference in the lives of others. God quickly showed me how crucial my role is as a wife, a mom and a pastor’s wife, and how I could use my past achievements (and failures) in my new role. I have the privilege of partnering with the Lord in raising five little people whom I believe He can use to impact their community, our nation and the world. I get to serve alongside of my husband and with my church in leading people towards truth and hope, and ministering to those in need. I feel so fortunate to get to do the “little things” I do everyday. Basically, I love my life!
I want to encourage any reader who may not have ever competed on a national stage for a title, starred in a reality show, written a book or started a non-profit: God has great things for you. He wants to use you right where you are — in your home, in your job and in your community. Seek Him and He will show you. Who knows? He may just take you around the world!
To follow Kelly, you can find her on Twitter @KellyParkison.