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Mike Maloney: Choosing to find joy amid life’s struggles

Where do we find joy? Where do we find that inner space where we are at peace with ourselves? These are questions that many of us ask without finding an answer. We get distracted with just getting through the day.

In August of 2012, I was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Having a neurologist look you in the eye and say, “I believe you have a fatal disease with no known cure and no effective treatment” is sure to stop you in your tracks. Having that neurologist say, “You should begin to get your life in order because the life expectancy is approximately three years” places the world in a different light.

I’ve been fortunate to beat the odds and have been given more time than the average person with ALS. Although my body fails me more each day, my mind remains active. Certainly, the disease is unforgiving, but it does give me and others like me time to ponder.

The question of finding joy came to me through another question that I began to ask shortly after my ALS diagnosis: “why me?” It seems like a very natural question. Whether because of a diagnosis like ALS, or another difficult disease, a family tragedy or trauma that has jeopardized relationships, the loss of a job or upheaval in our personal life, the “why me” question is only human.

Certainly in the months after my diagnosis, I asked the question over and over. Up until then life was good. I had a great job, good health, a marriage of over 40 years, a wonderful family growing with grandchildren and surrounded in love.

My world turned upside down when I heard the words, “I believe you have ALS.” I went into a deep depression. How could this be? Why would this happen to me?

But slowly, with the love and support of so many, I came to realize: “why not me?”

Did I ask “why me?” when three beautiful daughters came into my life? Did I ask “why me?” when every day I woke and enjoyed good health? Did I ask “why me?” when I enjoyed work that I never considered a chore? The question was turned around: “why not me?”

God works in mysterious ways. In ways we do not always understand. Being diagnosed with a terminal disease like ALS opened the world around me that I may not have taken the time to appreciate – to ponder. I do a lot of pondering these days.

ALS has opened a world of seeing what is unseen, of appreciating things often overlooked, of trusting in God’s plan and of being open to receiving the love and support of others.

I’ve made the decision not to spend my time waiting to die but to see my world through my new eyes – the flowers in our garden, the hug of a grandchild, the beauty of a summer day, the smile of understanding on my wife’s face, the laughter of family and friends.

There are very few “first world problems” for me because having ALS has taught me what is truly important.

So, where do we find joy and inner peace? During my pondering, I have realized that the world is bigger than me and that joy is a choice I must make. That choice can be made against seemingly overwhelming obstacles. Don’t allow yourself to be stuck in old routines or habits. We must not get distracted “on the journey.” We must search out joy and embrace it. We must make the choice. Choose wisely – choose joy.

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