Mike Joyal at Northview Manor, Englehart, northern Ontario, Canada
This piece is dedicated first to my Lord, Mike Joyal and everyone who has challenging disabilities. Keep shining your light. It is a powerful witness to others that the darkness has not won. God has because His love shines out of you to hurting hearts and broken lives even as you struggle with breathing, sight, hearing, energy, mood, mobility, ability to remember, swallow and any disability whether visible or invisible.
If I could have five minutes of your valuable time, I would like to tell you about a dear friend and fellow brother in Christ, Mike Joyal. It is my earnest prayer that as I describe our friendship, something said will encourage you to shine your light in your challenging circumstances.
Mike’s last name of Joyal sums up the essence of his character. He is a blessing of joy to all, so his last name really should be Joyall.
Mike lives at the Northview Nursing Home in my beautiful town of Englehart, northern Ontario. Canada. He has an advancing neurodegenerative condition, which is affecting his ability to speak, move around and remember things.
I think all of the residents and staff who interact with Mike would agree that he is the embodiment of this Ralph Waldo Emerson quote. “A friend is one before whom I may think aloud.” In the two years I have known Mike he has always been that trusted friend I can be real with. If I’m feeling down Mike never tells me to get over it. Mike accepts me as I am with all of my imperfections. He allows me to be open about everything I’m feeling.When I forget things because of oliviopontocerebellar ataxia, which is a rare neurodegenerative condition that also affects my mobility, at times my speech and ability to swallow and breathe, Mike never judges me because of this. He never teases me about it as some have. He never says to try harder like some people have, who don’t really know me, nor do they take the time to understand that I am doing the best I can with God’s help.
There are far too many disabled people like Mike who are falsely judged, who are treated as malingerers seeking attention. Thank God for the people who don’t cast aspersions on the character of others. You are so much needed as God’s healers for people like Mike, who need your compassion and understanding.
While I am away on a retreat at Northview, I watch Mike as he plays a game with other residents where you throw a disc into a box. It is called the washer game. Each disc is a washer. I take time to watch Mike as he throws his disc. He throws it with enthusiasm and a graceful athletic strength. The child of joy comes alive in him. The sunshine as it streams through the outside deck lights up his face.
Mike loves to joke with everyone. I tease him that he is a card. He should be dealt with. Mike jokes as a way of expressing his love for others.
He loves to sing songs about the love he has for his Lord. One of his favourite hymns is Were you there when they crucified my Lord? I listen with my heart as he breaks out with this hymn while having his supper. I feel the passion Mike has for that spark of Christ’s love to be ignited in everyone.He sings the hymn with depth and conviction. It is his way of saying thank you to Christ for His willingness to die on the cross of cruelty, which He transformed into the cross of His forever love for all of us. Singing is one of the many ways my beloved friend witnesses for his Lord. The light of Christ’s compassion in Mike causes both staff and residents to light up inside; it is infectious.
Mike teaches me to be even more passionate in my own witnessing. How many people do you know who sing hymns and songs to lift people’s spirits while they are eating supper or especially at breakfast, before many of us are fully awake? I picture the Lord smiling down on Mike every time he sings. I would not be surprised that when Mike finishes God’s Kingdom work, that there will be a spot for him in Heaven’s choir.
Whenever I think of Mike the image of him playing with children comes to mind. Mike is laughing as he plays games with them. He is not in a wheelchair. He has strong muscles. There is no withering of his body or his mind. He is in perfect health. Perhaps, this image my Lord gave me is to comfort my dear friend. Whenever he is overwhelmed by his circumstances, he can close his eyes and see himself the way God sees him — made perfect in His image, fearfully and wonderfully made, a joy to His Father.
In God’s eyes you have no imperfections in your body. You are beautiful. You are loved. You are cherished. You are amazing and so is Mike.