Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Contagious Words, Part II

Bethie was in desperate need of a diversion. Now, I love words. So when my children lack enthusiasm (I shan't call it boredom), I invariably suggest some type of word game. To relieve Bethie of her despondency, I racked my brain for something new . . . and found something old. It was called, "Hinky-Pinky."

Bethie was quick to catch on, and soon the whole family was a part of the word war. The rhymes leaked over to Papa and Noni's house, reviving the embers of that campout from long ago. Soon emails were exchanged, leaving cryptic clues such as "single biscuit," "feather dress," and "steel teapot" (that was Bethie's!) in various family inboxes. Heads hit pillows once again with elusive words spinning and dancing.

Last week I popped into Costco with the kiddos. We had been throwing around rhymes all morning, and Bethie was still stumped as we approached the customer service desk. "Okay. Think about it -- the clue is 'female ringlet,'" I reminded her, while turning to the woman behind the counter. I managed to carry on two conversations at once -- one with Bethie guessing words, the other with the Costco employee.

"What's another word for female, Bethie?" I hinted. Aidan offered his help, too, but they were both drawing blanks. "Now you've got me curious!" came the voice from behind the counter. I spun around and quickly filled her in on the rules. She was hooked. "Girl!" she shouted, temporarily ignoring her keyboard. "Right!" I encouraged my new student. And then the words rushed and tumbled as everyone figured it out at the same time: "girl curl!" We laughed together, happy to have shared words with a not-so-strange stranger.

I wonder how often my words are heard by strangers. The Psalmist worships with the words, I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. Could you imagine what it would be like if we were to take this literally? What would those around us think if only pleasant, edifying words were to fall from our lips?

When Jesus walked this earth, those in His presence were mesmerized by the truth of His word. We who have joined Jesus in His walk have the amazing privilege of sharing in that same truth. And as that truth spills from our lips in the way we speak to our children, address our spouse or even conduct a simple transaction at Costco, someone just might pull us aside and say, "Now you've got me curious!"
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Contagious Words, Part I

It all started thirteen years ago. Jamie and I, newly married, joined my family on a camping trip to Rainbow Falls near Chehalis, WA. The Beaudry and Donahue families met us there as well, adding yet one more memorable adventure to the many stories our clans had shared over the years. Each evening around the campfire we looked forward to swapping stories and playing games.

One evening, amid s'more building and insufferable puns and jokes from the patriarchs, Jenae and Katie Donahue announced, "Hey -- we have a new game!" Every eye zeroed in on the girls. We loved games. We were ready for this one. "It's called, 'Hinky-Pinky.'" Katie went on to explain the rules. "The idea is to come up with a rhyming word pair, such as 'glad dad.' Don't tell us the words, but instead give us a pair of synonyms that serve as a clue to the rhyming words. For example, I would give the clue, 'happy father,' and you would try to guess my rhyme, 'glad dad.' Okay?"

The game was an instant hit. It didn't take long before our clan was ensconced in a thick, smokey whirl of rhymes, eyes and embers sparking simultaneously. At first we tested the waters with simple clues like "warm pan" (which really meant "hot pot") and "distant automobile" ("far car," naturally). Then, we got serious. One syllable words did not suffice. Two and even three syllable words raised the bar considerably.

Words volleyed more quickly than the chips and marshmallows. The escalating volume attracted the attention of nearby campers. We became ruthless as to what constituted an actual rhyme. No, "goose" does not rhyme with "tooth!" Yes sir, it had to be an exact rhyme. After countless word pairs, we finally retired, laughing, to our tents. Our heads hit the pillows and slumber overtook us (only to be disturbed by dreams filled with odd images of "cheap sheep" and "nice mice").

We continued to toss around word pairs for the rest of the weekend, until it was time for a final goodbye. With the new game tucked away in our memories, we parted ways. The game cropped up unannounced every now and then as time wore on, but for the most part it remained rather subdued.

Subdued that is, until last month . . . .
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Big Game

It was destined to be the highlight of Drew's weekend. Thomson Acres (a.k.a. Poppy and Granny's house), was the destination of our big family camping adventure. The kids were thrilled at the prospect -- sleeping in tents, roasting marshmallows, singing songs around the campfire, eating at picnic tables -- we were going the whole nine yards.

Or perhaps I should say the whole nine innings. For in addition to these camping must-haves, we planned an impressive assortment of physical activities: water balloon wars, tetherball, an obstacle course, a giant slip-n-slide, ladderball, horseshoes, ring toss, croquet . . . Oh -- and also a family baseball game.

It was the baseball game that gleamed resplendent on Drew's idyllic horizon. He'd been thinking about it all week. How perfect it would be! A huge field with the entire family shouting and cheering, sliding and stealing. He would help coach the younger siblings and cousins while tossing around cool baseball jargon and stats with the adults.

With his eye on the prize, Drew began to prepare for the big game the minute his tennis shoes hit the field that first day. His well-worn glove came off at mealtimes and perhaps while sleeping, but otherwise it was his constant companion. Cousins were recruited for numerous practice sessions. Siblings were drilled on speed and the recollection of various terms. It would be a game to remember.

By Saturday morning, Drew was ready to get the game going. The only problem was that the game hadn't actually been scheduled to occur at a specific time -- just "sometime." But Drew wanted the sometime to be now. So he determined to begin herding the little people.

Little people, as we all know, have short attention spans. As soon as Drew had convinced Aidan and Justis to warm up with some throws, Bethie and Olivia wandered off to practice the three-legged-race. While Drew patiently gathered in the stray girls, Aidan and Justis saw their opportunity to sneak in a little croquet. Meanwhile, the flower-gathering pixies, Avery and Braelynn, wove their way in and out of the ball's path, creating a significant (albeit charming) hazard.

Drew finally realized that he needed some help. Adult help. He appealed first to the womenfolk. Mom, Granny and Auntie Jo could get the ball rolling. They were sympathetic and enthusiastic, and they knew all about organizing little people. The first order of business, he learned, was simply to schedule a time and a day. He still held onto the hope that the time and day would be now, but he was open to other options.

Unfortunately for Drew, the men were already engrossed in an epic ladderball battle. So I took my son aside, putting my arm around the shoulder that had somehow sprouted up over the summer. "Drew, I know you're excited to play this game," I began. "So am I. But I think you'll have a lot more fun if you wait patiently for the right time to come. If you force it to happen now, not everyone will be ready to play, and it won't be the game you've been hoping for. Talk to Dad, and he'll help you figure out the best time."

Drew, as the oldest sibling and cousin on both sides of the family, is accustomed to waiting. And now, once again, I was asking him to temporarily set aside his plans. My son rose to the occasion. He understood that waiting would be better in the long run. "Okay, Mom," he said. "I'll ask Dad." And so he ran it by Jamie and the other adults, until it was determined that the game would take place Sunday afternoon, on Granny's birthday.

The sun peered out from behind the clouds just in time for the first batter to step up to the plate. Every family member was on that field. Poppy, the ump, dutifully kept the plate clean and called 'em like he saw 'em. The dads kept alive the brotherly tradition of impressing the crowd with endless home runs. The boys followed in their fathers' footsteps with some pretty impressive smacks of their own. The girls screamed and cheered and giggled (and sometimes fielded the ball). The moms cast aside their dainty facades and wielded the bat with surprising authority.

And Drew? Drew beamed. It was just as he had envisioned. In fact, it was even better. The whole family was there, and everyone was having a great time. He didn't have to coerce, beg or bribe. He could simply throw his heart into the game and play. He was a carefree kid, glowing in the realization of his highest aspiration for the weekend.

Like Drew, I am learning to wait. I struggle daily with the desire have my own, impatient way. I frantically try to pull details, schedules and goals together, glibly expecting my life to glide smoothly along on a placid, undisturbed sea. But my Father has asked me to be patient. Be still and know that I am God, He gently murmurs to my heart. When I take this first step and still my soul, I realize that His timing is perfect. And guess what? The game always turns out even better than I had envisioned.

Photo credit: Josie Lawson
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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Some Traditions Are Meant to Be

I'm a mom who likes traditions. Some are grand and involved, such as the annual Thanksgiving shadow puppet theater (which seems to grow more complex each year). Others are small but still meaningful, like serving tea and scones every Sunday afternoon and commissioning my creative girls to provide the centerpiece.

Some traditions have been in the family for years (Mom's ravioli on Christmas day), and some are on the brink of becoming embedded into the system -- just a little more persistence on my part, and they'll be sucked into the Lawson family calendar for good.

Such is the case with a more recent diversion. The kids, admittedly, are still wary. Drew is slightly embarrassed. Bethie? Blushing. But sometimes you just have to jump in and try something new. Like, say for instance, the Lacamas Valley Sheepdog Trials. Yes, I said Sheepdog Trials.

You've seen the movie, Babe, haven't you? You know, the one with the talking pig who learns to herd sheep? Well, I happen to love that movie. You might even call that a tradition -- my family watched it more than once growing up, eyes glistening every time the unassuming Farmer Hogget danced Babe back to health.

So you can imagine my delight last summer when I happened to pass a sign in my very own town, pointing the way to the local trials. I did a little bit of research and found that, sure enough, the sheepdog trials were quite open to the public. Jamie happened to be out of town that week in August, so it was up to me to introduce my children to this local phenomenon . . . and perhaps even begin a new tradition. We prepared the night before by watching Babe (of course), and then loaded up the next day, anticipating a brand new adventure.

It was a very hot, sticky day, but our enthusiasm waned not. We were at the Lacamas Valley Sheepdog Trials. We were among the very few at the Lacamas Valley Sheepdog Trials. The dogs and sheep were doing what dogs and sheep do, and they looked very much like my beloved, cinematic "Fly" and "Ma."

Now, I have to admit that the events weren't nearly as intense and polished as they are in the movie. Not once was I tempted to bite my nails. But that's to be expected. Real life isn't scripted. It was definitely a treat, however, to witness the real deal so close to home. We stayed until the kids were at the melting point, and then returned to our Little Brown House with a new phrase in our vocabulary -- I beamed every time my toddling Avery referred to "the sheepdog trials" with clarity and authority.

This year, as August neared, I started to think about the trials again. Would they be back? If so, would this be a tradition worth pursuing? So last night I hopped online and goolged "Lacamas Valley Sheepdog Trials." Sure enough, they'll be back in town this month. I scrolled down to get all the spectator info, and lo and behold, there was a picture of my very own family at last year's event. Well that settled it. If we're in the annals, it's officially a tradition.

So in a couple of weeks, you'll find my family watching Babe, anticipating a new year at the sheepdog trials. My children will probably laugh and roll their eyes a bit, and my dear, obliging husband may choose to refrain from comment, but I bet this will be a tradition we won't soon forget. It will be just one more strengthening chord that further defines who we are as a family, and who our family is in Christ. Not because of what we do, but because of the sacred unity that grows in these shared moments.

That's the whole point behind traditions. They can be silly and simple, or stately and extravagant. It doesn't really matter, just as long as they happen. I generally tend to steer toward the simple -- it's easier for me to keep the traditions alive that way. But this year I just might branch out a bit more. Perhaps I'll rope in some extended family to make the sheepdog trials a serious tradition. I'm sure there will be plenty of hay bales to go around.
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