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I love traditions.

Traditions are the unique signature of family life. They are the touchstones upon which the years unfold; the simple predictability that says: This is how we celebrate, this is how we love each other, this is our home.

Whether boring or full of fun, carefully planned or without much effort at all, traditions often become the memories we carry throughout our lives, worn into our brains by sheer repetition.

While I was raising my little family, we had our share of traditions. We always played kick ball on Thanksgiving day, long raucous games with family members young and old that were both brutally competitive (for the older players) and sweetly inclusive (for the younger ones.) We always decorated a tree in the woods for the animals on Christmas Eve, making birdseed, popcorn and peanut butter ornaments. We spent time on Cape Cod, one week each summer, always visiting the Candy Manor and Provincetown and a dozen well-worn stops along the way, all as familiar as a drawer full of favorite sweatshirts.

It’s just a guess, but I think it takes three years to create a tradition. The first years is just an event. The second year you notice the repeat. The third year you celebrate something that is uniquely yours.

And so it is here at the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission. I’m back for another visit, braving the hot temperatures and high humidity to take part in a tradition unlike any other: The annual Summer Games celebration!

Two years ago, during my first extended stay here at the Mission, I helped throw a summer camp for the kids, an over-the-top, month-long party of games, trips, surprises, new experiences and memories for the fifty youngest children at the orphanage. We did it again last year. And the tradition was officially confirmed a few days ago when we held the opening ceremonies once again.

As always, we held a ribbon cutting ceremony with Chief Guest Rick Shipway doing the honors; we selected the team captains; we had the kids create their team banners and buffs; we posed for official team photos before the corny parade of champions around the playground. It’s all becoming comfortably familiar for the kids—which is something I love to see.

Summer Games Teams 2016

Summer Games Teams 2016

Captain Kamal, looking for his first win as head of the Cobra team

Captain Kamal, looking for his first win as head of the Cobra team

Saloni and Jenny wearing the latest in Summer Games fashion

Saloni and Jenny wearing the latest in Summer Games fashion

I’m guessing there wasn’t a lot of tradition in the lives of many Mission children before arriving here. Many came from abusive homes or extreme poverty. Many barely knew the tradition of three meals a day and daily tooth brushing, much less a family kickball game once a year. And so to give these children a lavish month they can expect feels like a gift worth giving. Plus it’s fun for me. So win-win!

“What’s the first event?” I asked the group.

“Scavenger Hunt!” many of them called back with big eager smiles.

It can be crazy at times (See the Zombie Day post from last year’s games or the Pirate Day post from the inaugural event.) But to me, these games are much more than an annual party. They are the memories that happy childhoods are made of, something precious to look back on in a past that began for many of these kids so forgettably. Most of all, they say what all good traditions say: This is how we celebrate; this is how we love each other; this is our home.

And for an orphaned or abandoned child, what could be better than that?