• Personal testimonies

    How fellowship at a German Christmas market helped me fight depression

    Written by Madeline Twooney

    If you live in Germany, or have ever visited Europe during the Christmas period, you have most likely paid a visit to one of the traditional institutions on the German holiday calendar – the Christmas market.

    Open from the 24th November – 23rd December, the Christmas markets take place in multiple locations in every major city, town, and village in Germany. An attraction for both locals and overseas tourists, the markets draw an attendance of 85 million visitors every year.

    Despite living in Germany as an English ex-pat for the past 18 years, the whimsical atmosphere of the Christmas markets, with its fir-trimmed booths, Christmas music, and mouth-watering food aromas, still enthralls me every year.

    However, since being diagnosed with burnout and chronic depression three years ago, l have made an effort to keep my distance from the Christmas markets during the holiday season. Pressing myself through throngs of crowds easily overwhelms me; that coupled with loud noises and an over-stimulation of my senses, can lead to me experiencing a panic attack in public.

    That’s why it came as a great surprise to my husband Solomon last Sunday, when l accepted an invitation from Eddie and Joan, two acquaintances of ours from our church, to visit the Christmas markets in the city of Bochum, where we live.

    Since my husband and l moved from Cologne to Bochum last summer, l have tried to form friendships with people from our church. However irregular attendance due to ill health has made it difficult for me to connect to others thus far.

    For that reason, l was determined to accept Eddie and Joan’s kind offer to enjoy the festivities in the city’s bustling center, even if it meant braving the crowds on a weekend.

    As we approached the first of the wooden market booths, the gentle croonings of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” was playing over the speakers. Fairy lights festooned every vertical space and lit up the market area like a yuletide fantasy wonderland. I felt a tremor of anxiety about entering the market grounds, yet at the same time, l felt a tingle of anticipation for the delights that awaited us. I was going in.

    The festive ambience of the Christmas market had also clearly infected newcomers and seasoned visitors alike. Families and friends were gathered in groups, enjoying each other’s company over steaming cups of mulled wine. As people passed me by, l caught happy snippets of conversations in German, English and Dutch.

    Upon discovering the food booths, tantalizing wafts of food and spices offered my nose an olfactory bouquet of different delights: sizzling sausages, chocolate drizzled churros, and sugary roasted almonds mingled with the smoky scents of incense, anis fragrant black licorice, and sweet cinnamon. With rumbling stomachs, we ordered spicy hot sausages, deep-fried mushrooms, and sweet potato fries sprinkled with sea salt. The proprietor of a crepe stand exchanged an easy banter with us as she served us hot fluffy crepes filled with gooey marzipan.  

    Bellies finally full, we ambled past vendors offering handmade soap, colorful glassware and dainty silver jewellery. As l was looking at some star-shaped paper lanterns, l was surprised to find myself having fun: I had even managed to forget that l had health problems. Though the market was full of people, l didn’t feel crushed or penned in; I was too busy enjoying our new friend’s company that l hardly noticed the other visitors around me.

    With a new found enthusiasm, l joined Joan in buying some honey scented beeswax candles and thick woolen scarves for Christmas gifts. Afterwards, we all watched a children’s pantomime on the main stage. It felt good to laugh and share an enjoyable experience as part of an audience.

    Upon agreeing to come to the Christmas markets, l had internally steeled myself for any mental fallout. I had been prepared to endure psychological and physical discomfort, as well as unaccustomed social rituals for the sake of making much needed friends.

    What l didn’t expect to feel was a sense of belonging, joy, and an insight into what if felt to be normal.   

     I began to understand more clearly what Paul meant, when he wrote about the importance of fellowship in Thessalonians:

    “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”               

    1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

    Eddie and Joan’s kindness certainly uplifted me.  It made me thankful that God heard my pleading and prayers to give me the fulfilment of life as He promises in John 10:10. It gave me hope that He was going to heal me permanently from depression and burnout.    

    With the arrival of early evening, the four of us took a selfie to commemorate our special time together under a clear, inky black sky, with a canopy of fairy lights twinkling above us like hundreds of stars.

    As Solomon and l prepared to go home, I thanked God for blessing me with this beautiful day and for bringing him and our new friends into my life. It was a further confirmation for me that with God, all things are possible, especially healing.

    Note:

    The Christmas period can be a particularly challenging time for those struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health issues. Our inability to join in the festive cheer, coping with disrupted schedules, and over-stimulation from pre-holiday stress can increase our anxiety and stress levels and leave us feeling more socially isolated and alone than ever.

    If you have family members or friends who are struggling with these health issues, make extra time for them and let them know how much you value them. Your kindness can help shine a much-needed light into their darkness and give them hope of living a fulfilled, healthy life – free of pain, of mental distress, and of fear.

    Merry Christmas and God bless!

    Madeline Twooney

    Co-Founder of Jacob’s Ladder Blog

  • Articles

    6 ways you can prepare your heart this season

    Written by Madeline Twooney

    I can’t believe that the holiday season is already upon us. It felt like just a few short months ago that l pulled down the mistletoe, swept up the last remaining pine needles, and boxed up my Christmas decorations. 

    And yet, overnight, the world has set its alarm clock for the holiday countdown. In response, l find myself getting caught up in the frantic pace of getting the house holiday ready, planning festive meals, and buying and wrapping presents. 

    Years of experience have made us adept at preparing ourselves physically for the Yuletide period, but how much attention have we paid to preparing our hearts to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ? 

    If you too are getting swept up in the madness of the holiday countdown, the following are 6 ways that will help you to take a step back and prepare your heart this season.

    1. Remember what Christmas is really about

    It’s easy to get tunnel vision from the commercial enticement and the societal expectations of the holiday season. Every wreath-festooned street and festively dressed shop window is an ongoing reminder for us to participate in a global enterprise of consumerism and culinary indulgence. It is a sharp comparison to the humble entry of Jesus, who was born in a stable and placed in a straw-filled manger.

    However, as Christians, we know that greater is He who is in us than He that is in the world (1 John 4:4). So, although it’s lovely to participate in holiday traditions, we need to remember that this season is about more than a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, expensive presents, and a sumptuous Christmas Day banquet. It is a time where we can commemorate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. For without His Ministry on earth and consequent sacrifice on the cross of Calvary, we would still be held in eternal bondage by sin. 

    Although the build-up to Christmas may last weeks, Christmas Day is just that – a day. However, the relationship we have with God through the death and resurrection of His precious Son is eternal. Jesus is Immanuel – God with us (Matthew 1:23).

    Photo credit:  Walter Chávez on Unsplash

    2. Focus on your Provider instead of only providing for others 

    At the beginning of every holiday season, l  start formulating to-do lists of all the things l need to prepare for the holidays, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. It’s important to me to provide my family with a wonderful holiday experience, and l want to make sure that l haven’t forgotten anything.

    However, in the process of making endless preparations, l can easily lose sight of the One, who provides me with life, peace, and all my needs – not just during the holidays, but every day.

    At such times, l need to take a breath and re-set my mind to what should be my most important priority – honoring and worshipping God. 

    Therefore, if you also tend to get swept up in the frenzy of holiday preparations, switch your focus to God by making Him a priority. By doing that, you’ll see that He will provide you with peace, energy, and joy for the season. 

    Photo credit:  Raychan on Unsplash

    3. Have an attitude of gratitude

    The holiday season is a time for many of us to enjoy the fruits of what we have achieved during the year. We have our homes and our families, we have a bulging fridge full of food to eat on Christmas Day, and we have financial resources to buy presents for our loved ones. 

    However, there are people around the world who experience the holidays differently. Many spend Christmas alone feeling abandoned and neglected. Families who have hit hard financial times are having difficulty providing their children with a happy Christmas experience. Too many people are living on the streets without the opportunity to enjoy a hot Christmas meal and a stable roof under their heads.

    Therefore, as you enter the holiday season, take a moment to thank God for all the ways He has blessed you and your family this year and say a prayer for those who are struggling during this period.

    Photo credit:  Freshh Connection on Unsplash

     4. Spend time with God and the Word

    Regular routines go out the window during the holiday season, including spending regular time with God. However, seeking God’s presence is exactly the thing that can bring us peace, charge our batteries, and keep our eyes on Him amidst the flurry of social engagements and holiday planning.

    For that reason, make it a priority to allocate time every day for God. During that time, spend time in prayer, worship, and thanksgiving for the upcoming season. You can even sing some Christmas songs!

    In your quiet time, also delve into God’s Word by reading scriptures that will encourage you to have peace (John 14:27), feel joy (Proverbs 17:22), and inspire you to love others (Romans 12:10).

    Additionally, scriptures that herald the coming of Jesus (Matthew 1:23), declare His glory (John 1:14), and speak of God’s promise of Salvation through Jesus (John 3:16) will keep you focused on what Christmas is essentially about – the birth of Jesus and His gift of eternal righteousness with God that He gave us. 

    I also like to follow an Advent reading plan from YouVersion, the creators of the BibleApp. Additionally, l read Advent devotionals, such as the ones offered at Crosswalk.com.

    Photo credit:  Joel Muniz on Unsplash

    5. Enjoy the whimsy of the season

    The holiday period brings with it an infectious atmosphere of fun, gaiety, and anticipation. It is the home stretch to a celebratory ending of an old year and the anticipation of a promising and eventful new year.

    Children can be our best teachers in embracing the frivolity of the season. When experiencing the abandoned delight with which children embrace holiday experiences, it is easy to see why Jesus says that we should become like little children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3).

    So, take a leaf out of your child’s book and wear a cheeky Christmas tie to work or don a pair of Christmas bauble earrings (mine are pink). Crank up your favorite Christmas song and prance around the house like Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen. After all, ‘tis the season to be jolly!

    Photo credit:  Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

    6. Bring the Good News to others

    Our priority during the holiday season is to look after our families and provide them with the ultimate holiday experience. 

    In the Kingdom, we are all God’s children, yet many people are unaware of the Good News of the Bible and that Salvation through the grace of Jesus is available to them. 

    In Luke 17.21, it states that the Kingdom of God is within you. Therefore, reach out to someone, who needs to know about the message of hope, love, and Salvation that Jesus came to share with us. 

    Ask your neighbor over for a holiday cup of candy cane coffee and Christmas cookies, or ring up a friend whom you haven’t heard from in a while and ask them how they’re doing. Invite someone, who is alone, to spend Christmas Day dinner with you and your family. 

    Sharing the Gospel is not only done through biblical instruction, it is also conveyed when we share with others the love of Jesus that resides in us. It is the ultimate form of worship, especially during the holiday season.

    The holiday period is a season to be enjoyed with all that it has to offer. It’s a time of love, laughter, and joy. All the more reason that we need to prepare our hearts by remembering the ultimate expression of love from God – His gift of Salvation through the death and resurrection of His son Jesus Christ.

    Photo credit:  Jon Tyson on Unsplash