A few years ago, we had a change problem. Pennies and dimes would congregate on counters while quarters and nickels took up residency on the mantel. The first solution came when my brother Connor gave us a ceramic piggy bank for Christmas. All the change goes in the pig. Done.
Except, I like to be saving for something, so the coins in the pig became earmarked as the date fund. When we got enough change, we would use it to buy tickets to a baseball game and spend the spare on BBQ nachos. Then, as tends to happen, I got to thinking. What if we used the pig for something bigger than a day at the ballpark? What if we could make our change matter to someone else?
We rechristened the ceramic swine the donation pig and set out to start a new advent tradition. During our season of waiting, we count the money and use it to buy something for one of the many organizations in town that are close to our hearts. The idea is that as our child grows, he can help us save pennies, count quarters and decide who we can help. Greg and I want to make helping others a visible part of our family’s life, and we hope that using our spare change to do something to help somebody else as a family will drive that point home.
Last week we counted and rolled our pig’s treasure and came up with $28.49. We made a family trip to the store and bought three teddy bears, which the baby and I took to the Memphis Child Advocacy Center. The Memphis CAC’s mission is to help victims become children again by working with children who have been sexually and physically abused. Every child who is helped at the CAC gets to pick out a friend from the teddy bear wall in the lobby to go through all their interviews, counseling and court appearances with them.
Three teddy bears is a drop in a very large bucket of need, but it is something.
I have always loved advent; it is my favorite liturgical season. I like that it builds gradually but steadily, leading me on an outward journey while simultaneously causing me to reflect on what exactly it is that I am waiting for. Focusing on advent helps me remember that Christmas itself doesn’t start until the sun sets on Christmas Eve and that when it finally arrives, when the wait is over, we get the chance to celebrate for a week and a half.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m no Scrooge. I buy presents and decorate the house and mail out cards during these weeks of waiting. I go to parties and bake cookies and try to spread joy. But these four weeks help me focus on the bigger reason why I am doing those things.
In addition to the Christmas songs we listen to, I sing my favorite advent hymns. They are filled with a longing that I understand more each year that I sing them. We also have a homemade advent wreath that we pray over every evening before dinner, using the same prayers that I remember from my childhood. They are simple, short and beautiful. In fact, this week’s prayer is perfect for how I am feeling this moment:
Father in heaven, the day draws near when the birth of your son will make radiant the night of the waiting world. May his quiet coming fill us with true inner peace.
Waiting and quiet. Night and inner peace. These are the words that I associate with advent. May your own season of waiting bring you joy!
It’s been a rough two hours. Apparently, I broke the baby’s heart when I decided to shred the chicken for the soup instead of picking him up. At least, that’s what his plaintive wails sounded like to my ears. The shrieking was compounded by the fact that he a) has learned how to pull himself up and b) decided to crawl to my legs, pull himself up, and alternate the screaming with “kissing” the back of my knee. Only a callused heart could not feel for his baby emotional anguish. The complete melt down lasted until bedtime two hours later.
So while cooking and then eating and then cleaning up to that background, I realized that I was going to need to do something to make my brain feel better. We had a great day today–swinging and walking and napping and playing with blocks and reading–but all of those excellent hours were in severe jeopardy of being replaced with the reverberations of the yelling. Whenever I have this feeling of unwanted memory replacement, I find that I want to bake.
I love baking because it is simple. There is no inventing or wondering what should be done next. You follow the recipe. You do what the piece of paper says to do whether you are baking bread, creating cookies or making English muffins. It is basically the opposite of raising a baby. Where the one feels like constant improv, the other is a set art. If I do what the wise recipe creater said (and I picked a good recipe to start with), it will work. And today I needed to do something that I knew would turn out right.
My parents are amazing people. The word “amazing” gets overused, but the adjective suits them nicely. They gifted my brothers and me with enviable childhoods. There was food and laughter and discipline and dancing rainbows in the kitchen. They took us to interesting places like the beach and the mountains and the Alamo and the Rockies stadium. They taught us how to throw baseballs and ride bikes. How to be polite and eat green beans even if you don’t like them. They gave us standards to meet and a safe place to land. They gave me a wedding and a place to do laundry when our first apartment had no washer. Now they are gifting my baby with a loving second home, a place where he smiles when he is carried in the door because he is so happy to see his Ellie and Pappy.
Our original family of six has grown into a family with eight adults and one baby, and mom and dad are still giving to us. So tonight, the nine of us are gathering to celebrate the two people who made this life of ours possible. Pretty amazing.