Shanah Tovah: Celebrating Each Year of Your MS Journey
I became a Christian when I was 8, and though I’ve wrestled with my faith at various points in my life, I’ve never once doubted my decision to follow Christ. Multiple sclerosis didn’t change this fact in the slightest. In fact, my illness made my faith stronger and taught me to rely more fully on the Lord.
The Christian faith is full of beautiful symbols and ceremonies. I love watching baptisms and weddings, participating in communion, lighting Advent candles, and extinguishing lights at a Tenebrae service. Each of these things, and many more, adds a level of intentionality and richness to my faith, helping me experience it with my body and heart as well as my mind and spirit.
I’ve also witnessed some lovely Jewish celebrations including Rosh Hashanah, which was observed last week (beginning at sundown on Sept. 20 and lasting through nightfall on Sept. 22). This High Holiday marks the beginning of the Jewish year and is filled with many observances such as blowing a shofar, reading prayers, lighting candles, saying greetings such as “Shanah tovah” (“Good year”), and feasting.
All the meals are filled sweet foods — things like apple slices dipped in honey. Before they’re eaten on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, Jews will make the ha’eitz blessing and then say, “May it be Your [G-d’s] will to renew for us a good and sweet year.” Many people also eat a fish head, expressing their wish to be “a head and not a tail” in the coming year.
Rosh Hashanah means “Head of the Year,” and just as our noggins control the rest of our bodies, the rituals completed during Rosh Hashanah have a major impact on how Jews live the rest of the year. It helps them focus on the true source of comfort and deliverance. These two days are a time to turn to G-d, to celebrate his good gifts of life, and praise him for his continued care for the universe and those who inhabit it. (So much better than getting rip-roaring drunk and waking up with confetti in your hair and a paper hat full of regrets!)
From Judaism and Christianity, I’ve ascertained that intentionality in all things is important if we are to make the most of our days.
It’s nearly the end of September. Fall is upon us, and the holiday season isn’t far behind. How many times in 2017 have you looked at a calendar and said, “It’s _______ already!? Where has the year gone?” And the older we get, the more quickly a year seems to rush by. But time isn’t changing; it doesn’t move one bit faster or slower than it did on those days when we tore around the neighborhood on our bikes and drank out of the garden hose.
That’s why we have to make time to bear witness, to focus on our lives and what gives them value. Birthdays and anniversaries are great for sure, but what about other days that merit attention and reflection?
For instance, do you remember the day you were diagnosed with MS? I do. It was Jan. 25, 2004. I was in the hospital for one week, and I learned I had multiple sclerosis on day four. Three days of steroidal treatment (and tears) followed, and I was released with my diagnosis weighing heavily on my shoulders. I went in that hospital one person and came out a different one. That deserves some recognition.
That’s why I mark Jan. 25 on my calendar every year, and on that day, I take stock of my life. I recall that first scary utterance of “multiple sclerosis” and the hard days that followed. I remember all the ways it changed me (for the good as well as the bad). I take time to say a prayer for each and every person who has helped me on my journey as well as other MS patients I’ve met along the way. I look at how much I’ve grown since that day and recount my successes as well as my failures. I count my blessings and thank God for everything he’s allowed to come into my life. Doing all this helps me keep things in perspective and appreciate the next set of 365 days I’ve been given.
To you who are also on an MS journey, I say Shanah tovah. Mark your day. Remember it. Celebrate it. May you have a good and sweet year.
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