By Paul Schlaver
When Paula asked me to consider talking today about one of the Advent themes she offered some biblical background and thoughts about JOY that resonated with me as I thought about how JOY might be discussed with my own life in mind. This quote she offered really motivated me to write about JOY: Joy is not the equivalent of happiness, but rather the deep conviction that we are called to be present in the work of bringing about “great things” — a better world for those who need it most.
Since I was only allotted a limited amount of time I thought I would speak of my Maine years and not the fifty plus years that predated my 2003 purchase of my Saco home. Let me just summarize my earliest years by saying I really had a pretty idyllic childhood in the Midwest with two loving parents, two siblings, and financial security. My life challenges only began in my college years and beyond. So joy in my life was not always right there nor was peace and love! I had to face many challenges in my ten year marriage, then in my many single parenting years, and my career path. Time constraints keep me from reliving all of that with you today!
So as I approached retirement and faced the opportunity for the first time in my adult life to again have financial stability and to own a home I had to figure out a way to bring more joy into my own life and my new path so I might bring meaning to others as well.
Would I be alone now in Maine and only occasionally see my children and other family and friends? Would I be forgotten by them and also miss the security of a familiar daily routine of going to work and my humble but satisfying daily life in Cambridge Mass.?
Well, maybe all the challenges in my adult years and the distant memory of a peaceful childhood all happened to give me the wisdom and strength to tackle my new life in Maine.
Could I bring about some “great things to make a better world” that would bring joy to myself and others? First of all I knew that after reflecting on my valued home life as a child and the great satisfaction that came from the decades of trying to make sure my kids could have memories of joy in their childhood to carry with them in their lives…..I needed to continue being a parenting force in their lives even now from Maine and in my retirement years. Finding ways to do that would be JOY number one!
So I made sure I had a home and homestead that benefited my family, not just my own comforts. My big house and gardens became a joyful place for my kids to visit and many friends too. Once again I was playing host and cooking for many. When a grandson came alone I vowed to be the best grandparent possible. This meant going to New York to babysit on occasion and to host young Cotton here in Maine for week-long visits and then taking train rides with him back to NYC. Very special moments for both of us.
Soon my family was moving here to be near me! I would not be alone and forgotton. Julian and Roxi and Cotton moved here first. Then my brother David moved here and to my great joy my son Benjamin moved from California after 20 plus years away and has lived with me for seven years now. I believe that my efforts to bring them some joy has worked and now they bring me great joy. They have also been able to surround me with love and support when I have faced some health challenges. They are living the joy felt in their lives as a part of a family by returning it in their action toward me.
Joy number two would be what I could do for others in my work and community as that has always been another force in my entire life that kept me going in a meaningful way. My father had been devoted to his community, in ways always beyond his work and family duties. He was a mayor, Lions Club member, and leader of the Chamber of Commerce in his last job. My mother was active in her church and other community work. My own career really was almost always in public service and I found time for many other community involvements no matter how challenging my life might be.
So my challenge was set, namely to find ways in Maine to bring Joy to others through my devotion to some new challenges found here, and consequently bring meaning to myself at the same time. So first came my joining the local garden club and I was soon to be its Treasurer and shared in its public service approach to gardening. Then came Union Church and all that my 16 years in it has meant to me in a leadership role and its community outreach work especially. This prompted a long stint as President of the Saco Meals Program Board of Directors and it valued service to so many. Lastly, I even worked for a time as an employee of Angelrox, the family business but more importantly continued to be a devoted grandparent so Cotton’s parents could focus so much of their time on the business.
So I would like to think that in my Maine retirement years I did accept the challenges presented to bring joy to others and in the process to myself.
As a footnote I want to mention that the big story in the news lately about the life and now passing of Rosalynn Carter has prompted me to really see Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter as an ultimate example of people that devoted their whole life to ALL the themes of Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy and and Love. First of all by manifesting them in their daily life and relationship and then in their endless service to others. I have found joy in my years in Maine by some of the ways I have described in serving family and others, but please look at the Carters as the ultimate model of how to conduct one’s life to bring and find joy.
I feel moved to add a second footnote after an experience this past Thursday. As you may know the Community Outreach Committee decided to make the beneficiary of this year’s Advent Giving Program some families in great need of some extra assistance this Christmas season. We raised enough funds, thanks to you all, to purchase sixty-one $50 Walmart gift cards for distribution to needy families with kids in the Biddeford Schools. We contacted some known Guidance Counselors or key staff people in the five public schools in Biddeford to give out the cards to families they knew were in need of such assistance.
I offered to deliver the cards on behalf of Union Church to these school staff people Thursday morning. I had five brief but moving conversations and hugs with them and received such praise and thankfulness from them about Union Church and its generosity. This was a priceless example of bringing JOY to them and feeling JOY back from them.
I hope you all now discern what Advent Joy really means.