How am I so flattened with grace to get to welcome to the big farm kitchen table my oldest son, Caleb, steward of The Keeping Company, and his wife of a little over a year, whom I affectionately call Miss Melba Mills, with her own story of giving to mirror a giving story our son, Caleb, shared last year of ideas, dreams, and creations for the Glory of God! How we are in for a treat — and the loveliest collection of pies!
So, as you may or may not know, Caleb and I have been married a little over a year. Some of you may even know that before we dated, Caleb and I were both homeschooled, and took online classes together, classes in which Caleb had a bit of a crush on me and tried to catch my eye, and I was…otherwise preoccupied.
But, very few people may know that long before high school, when young Caleb was creating the first Cradle-to-Cross Wreath and The Keeping Company was just a twinkle in his entrepreneurial eye, I was – quite literally – cooking up some entrepreneurial schemes of my own.
(In fact, Caleb didn’t even know this story until just a few months ago. He stared at me in shock and awe, and I laughed: “How have I never told you the story of the pies?!”)
Ah…so, the story of the pies…
It started about this time of year, almost 23 years ago.
I was 5, making my Christmas wish list. I had a photo in a catalog of a beautiful baby doll, in a pink dress with a bow, with a little pram and cradle to match. I had no idea how much the beautiful baby doll might cost, nor how much my parents may, or may not, have budgeted for Christmas gifts that yea.r
I just knew that I wanted nothing else.
When I asked for the doll and her accessories, I was told gently, but firmly, that it was all a bit much for Christmas alone, and would I perhaps consider waiting until next year to ask for the pram and cradle?
My little 5 year-old self was vehemently against that idea; my mom and I had several conversations in which I tried to explain it was really an all or nothing situation, and given how much I wanted the doll, in my mind, it was really just an all situation.
So, my parents devised A Plan.
I could ask for the doll for Christmas, but if I wanted the pram and cradle, I would need to make the money myself. Apparently, for 5 year-olds, money making opportunities are scarce. But! Fortunately, I had just learned to make pumpkin pie! My favorite food ever!
My mom had an idea! Why don’t I sell Thanksgiving pies?
So, sitting down at our kitchen table, she helped me write “pumpkin pie” on a sheet of paper, and I went to my neighbor and asked if they wanted to buy a Thanksgiving pie.
I don’t remember how many pie orders I had, but I do remember making the pies and delivering them, with the help and guidance of my parents. When we counted the money I had made, we discovered it was almost 4 times what I needed! I was shocked! Even my parents were somewhat surprised!
I had to decide what to do with the extra money, and this was a daunting task for a little girl with everything she ever really needed. If I had the baby doll, pram, and cradle, there was honestly, literally, nothing else I could imagine wanting.
The next Sunday at church, we heard about an orphanage in India.
“I was going to give something truly meaningful to someone I had never even met.”
We heard about the children – my age – who lived there, what they liked to do, what they liked to eat. They loved fresh fruit, but rarely had access to any. The concept was foreign to me; I couldn’t imagine not having fresh fruit.
So, I asked if I could use my leftover pie money to buy fresh fruit for those children just like me. We found out that I could; the leftover money could give one child a piece of fresh fruit every single day for a year! I was so excited! I was going to give something truly meaningful to someone I had never even met.
The next Thanksgiving, I knew a child’s year of fresh fruit was ending, and I wanted to continue giving.
The pie sale entered its second year. We added cranberry walnut and pecan pies to the list, and kept the oven running, and made even more pies…
Fast forward a little (or a lot)…
Every single Thanksgiving, from the time I was 5 years old to my freshman year at Harvard, I made and sold Thanksgiving pies, donating the money, thousands and thousands of dollars, to orphanages in India. Eventually, I was able to add digging fresh water wells to the fresh fruit each year.
And as I told Caleb this pie story, I remembered so many sweet things about my pie making endeavors…
I remember standing up in front at church, announcing my Pie Project, and mingling during coffee hour in the fellowship hall, with a clipboard, taking orders.
I can still clearly remember getting up at 5am every morning of Thanksgiving week to get pies in the oven, while my favorite Christmas music played softly while I measured, stirred, and poured.
And I remember staying up late into the night to get the last of the pies into the oven, Christmas music blaring a little louder, whisk acting as microphone.
But mostly, I remember counting at the end of the sale, pencil to paper, calculator in hand, discovering how much I could continue giving.
I have never forgotten the children in India. Their impact on me was profound. As a 5 year-old who had everything she could possibly want in the form of a single baby doll, I felt a deep conviction to give children like me something, too.
The photo I received after I donated that very first year is still vivid in my mind.
I received a letter and a photo of a little girl who enjoyed the fruit, and the smile on her face lit up the room, even from the flat, matte photo paper.
I remember thinking she looked happier with her single piece of fruit than that baby doll ever made me feel.
“The ability to touch someone, to make them smile like that, meant far, far more than any doll or toy I could ever imagine.“
And I knew, even then, the ability to touch someone, to make them smile like that, meant far, far more than any doll or toy I could ever imagine.
At 5 years old, I discovered the joy of giving. And I discovered the joy of working for others in a selfless way. That’s not to say I never grumbled while baking a pie, but I learned:
“Nothing is as rewarding as giving of yourself – your time, your talents, your treasures, or even a little of all three – out of love and care, simply because.“
Nothing is as rewarding as giving of yourself – your time, your talents, your treasures, or even a little of all three – out of love and care, simply because.
And the story continues: today, in honor of the Pie Project tradition, Caleb and I are expanding our core mission of giving at The Keeping Company. Last year, with the support of families who celebrated the Holy Days with the resources available at The Keeping Company, together we all filled 41 farmyards and stables around the world through Compassion International (!!), impacting countless families and changing whole communities!
This year, we are committed to continuing the story of giving, by filling stables and digging wells.
Caleb and I are humbled to see how the heart and story of the Pie Project and the Cradle-to-Cross Wreath can weave together, with your family too, to bless others, to bring smiles to small faces, to share the light of the Gospel and the hope of Christ with the world.
Our mission, both little Caleb on a farm in Canada and little Melba in a kitchen in Colorado, has been to give, and as we have become creators together, the mission of our company has become creating to give to others, sharing the light of Christ so that all may know His love and grace.
Although I don’t bake pies en masse anymore, I still turn up the Christmas music and put pencil to paper to create meaningful resources that can accompany Caleb’s beautiful heirloom pieces, in the hopes that all of us who want to experience the daily company of Christ in these holy seasons can also continue our stories of giving.
“So, we invite you to join us! Wait with us in hope for the Hope we all so desperately need! Draw closer to the Light of the World! And keep company with Christ like never before.“
From my very first little book, The Light Gift, and its companion wooden Manger and carved wooden star overhead… to the family heirloom Cradle-to-Cross Advent countdown wreath, (accompanied by the Names of Jesus Advent Devotionals that were my “Pie Project” last year)… to any of our other beautiful handcrafted items…
Caleb and I truly love creating deeply meaningful and practical resources that are all beautiful heirloom traditions for families to keep company with Christ. And, through creating, we are humbled to partner with you to keep giving new hope to families in need around the world.
So, we invite you to join us! Wait with us in hope for the Hope we all so desperately need! Draw closer to the Light of the World! And keep company with Christ like never before.
And as we dream of pies and new ideas, we sincerely wish you and yours…
The happiest, warmest, and most joyful, Christ-filled Christmas.