By Rosalind Lauer
How would you define joy?
A glorious happy dance? The word “joy” suggests one of those wonderful moments in life when we experience a burst of good feeling from head to toe. A sparkly happiness that lights up your soul and fills you with jubilation.
For me, the happy dance says it all.
The next question has to be, “What brings you joy?”
In a recent survey, most people reported finding joy in three aspects of their lives: family, service, and mindfulness. There was ecstatic joy in holding a newborn grandchild for the first time or learning of the success and achievement of a family member. Some people found joy in doing for others. Simple acts of kindness brought joy, as well as more substantial charitable acts that had the power to change someone’s life. Others found joy in being present in the moment. Walking in a spring rain, watching the sun rise, or simply warming up by a fire on a chilly day. As a writing instructor once told me, “Small moments make BIG memories.”
When I created the Joyful River series, I wanted the books to have a name that depicted a wonderful place where Amish and English folks could find happiness and joy. Sure, there are conflict and problems that come hand in hand with humanity, but the characters in my story seek to share love and joy. Joyful River is a place where neighbors help each other, where people band together to help someone in need, where folks value family, a job well done, and a tasty, home-cooked meal. The sort of place where residents “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” as written in Psalm 100.
Of course, this is a fictional town. I realize that there is no such heaven on earth, even in an Amish town where folks live close to the land and follow their age-old traditions of plain living. To outsiders, one of the attractions of Amish life is its simplicity. The charm of traveling to the general store in a little buggy drawn by a majestic horse. The quiet spaces created by the absence of television, radio, laptops, and phones in Amish homes. Homemade foods, community gatherings and simple clothing dictated by local culture. For many of us, a week on an Amish farm seems to offer the peace and serenity of a luxury spa.
But beyond the pastural image of a horse and buggy clip-clopping past shimmering wheat fields awash in the rosy gold light of sunset, what is it about Amish life that brings the Amish joy?
While joy is a very personal experience, many of the elements that bring us joy are strongly woven through Amish society.
Family is the foundation of Amish life. Most Amish people live in communities with members of their large extended family nearby. On Lancaster farms, the elder generation of grandparents often live in a small “Dawdi House” on the property, allowing them access to the family along with a bit of privacy and room for each woman to have her own kitchen. Amish publications are filled with joyous accounts of weddings that are attended by hundreds of folks from town. Newlyweds tend to live with one set of parents for a year or so until they can save enough for a place of their own. Beyond the sphere of family is the Amish church community, where social events are filled with friends and family members. With a broad network of people who know and care about them, Amish folks know the joy of family.
If joy can be found in service to others, it’s no surprise that the Amish have joy in their daily lives. Service and charity to others is a key principle in the Amish faith. The Golden Rule is taught to children and reinforced by church leaders. In Amish schools, teachers focus on cooperation, obedience, respect and kindness. Amish values are lessons that outweigh reading, writing and arithmetic. For families that suffer financial difficulties such as medical expenses, the community maintains an emergency fund and might schedule a charity auction to raise necessary funds.
Although you probably won’t find Amish folk at your yoga class, mindfulness in the community comes through focus on God and small tasks. Sometimes I think that the rule that keeps Amish homes “unplugged” from electronics gives Amish folk more opportunity to live in the moment. Daily tasks like baking, cleaning or working a field distract from stress (which Amish folk experience, too) and bring the doer joy in her achievement.
This ties into the joy of work. “Joy in work?” you ask. Isn’t that a myth, like finding the silver lining in a cloud or spotting a unicorn? Amish life has a built-in work ethic which contributes to the survival of the clan, as well as instilling a sense of purpose and accomplishment in young people. One Amish teen who works in a pretzel factory maintains that her job is not so much work as a chance to enjoy the company of her friends, other young women who’ve mastered the art of pretzel twisting.
One of the marvels of joy is that it comes in many forms and seasons. Whether you find joy in curling up with a soft blanket and book in winter or walking in the surf in summer, look for the small moments that bring you joy. The laughter of a child. Birdsong in the morning. Find your happy dance.
Inspirational author Rosalind Lauer debuts on the Kensington list with a new series filled with small-town coziness. An Amish Homecoming introduces readers to the patchwork quilt of life and love in the Pennsylvania Amish community of Joyful River, where new beginnings and old ways meet with faith, hope, and compassion…
Essie Lapp’s birthday is doubly blessed. There’s a delicious meal to savor with her family, and the sweet gift of time spent with her beau, Harlan. Over two years they’ve forged a bond as strong and hopeful as a tree reaching for the sky. To practical-minded Essie, there’s comfort in knowing exactly what her future will bring. Yet Gott has his plan, and it soon turns her family’s world upside down…
Essie’s widowed English uncle has brought his troubled teenage daughters back to their mother’s Amish community, convinced it’s the fresh start they need. Essie strives to welcome her cousins, but adapting to plain living won’t be easy, even if the rewards are great. As cultures clash and hearts collide, Essie feels the first stirrings of doubt about Harlan’s commitment to her. Yet as the seasons change, and the heat of summer gives way to crisp, ripe autumn, this homecoming might mean a bountiful beginning…