Reflections from a Christ-Centered Hanukkah

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

 It has been oddly mild for late December and I can't help but be glad for the not-so-wintery weather.  Last year we were in the midst of the biggest ice storm to hit Southern Ontario in years.  This year we've been playing with hens in the grassy backyard!  So much was different this year (not just the weather!).   Our home, our hearts, our new found celebration of Hanukkah - very new and very special.  I had to share from my heart...

Our embracing Hanukkah this year came after much prayer, reflection, and yes, good old fashioned research.  Last year, the day after Christmas, our hearts were incredibly burdened.  My husband and I sat on the couch praying about what was gripping our hearts so tightly.  It was Christmas.  We just didn't feel right about Christmas.  Or Easter.  Or Halloween.  Or Valentine's Day.  But we had always gone along with what we'd always done.  After all, that was the norm.  But we knew the Lord was prompting us to take a closer look at these 'traditions of man'.

We felt so torn up inside that we promptly started taking down our decorations and tree at midnight that night after watching a documentary on the roots of Christmas.

So, this year, we knew things had to be different.  There was no tree, no Christmas decorations, no Christmas at all in our home, actually.  Instead, we celebrated Hanukkah and spent the eight days of the festival reading about Christ Jesus as our Light.  After all, Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights!  Much in the bible points to Christ being conceived during this feast as well!  Imagine, the Light of the World conceived during the Festival of Lights!

The morning of the last day of Hanukkah the fog hung heavy all around our neighbourhood.  All that warm air blowing in, I suppose.  We took our weekly drive through the nearby country side to a free flowing spring where we fill our water jugs.  We could barely see trees across a harvested corn field and the twisting road seemed to lead to nowhere at all, for the fog.  I'd never seen fog so thick.

A street light was glowing far ahead as we rounded a sharp turn.  I spotted it long before anything else on the road, yellow lamplight and rings of haze all around as we approached through drizzle and low cloud.  A light was there - and we saw it, even though we saw nothing else.

I am the Light of the world.  Those who follow me will not walk in darkness but will have the Light of Life.  

This was our memory work for the week and my prayer is that this truth to be planted deep in the souls of our children.  I pray it would nestle down and grow strong roots in my own heart as well. Because I'm a girl in need of daily Light.   Just like the light of the sun brings breath to the flower, the Light of God brings the fleshy spiritual beat to our hearts.

And in all of life, doesn't every soul seek light?  Even when we don't know what we're looking for, all along we reach for it.  When wandering in the desolate dark, we squint for a small spark, a tiny glimmer - and then we run wildly toward it.  There's something about that light - about being able to see, that makes all the difference.


Every night, as we lit the Menorah, that ancient light in the darkness, all eyes around the table were fixed on the flickering flames.  The center candle is the lighting candle and it represents Jesus (Y'eshua in Hebrew).   When this candle lights the rest, we are reminded how Y'eshua brings the very light of life to us as well.  And yes, to any person, big or small, who calls on His name.  And we whisper to each other that we are also to be a light and spread His light in this world.  Yes, there's a whole lot of lighting going on, and it's a beautiful display of Christ's grace and love.

See, what moves me so profoundly about these feasts is the complete focus on our Lord.  There is nothing to distract.   No presents to worry about, no shopping to run around doing, just time with family, meals together, God's word, and simple life.  Everything is done to focus our thoughts and hearts on Him.  We humble ourselves and say, "Lord... show us how to honor You",  and He does!

Before we started the week of celebrating, I didn't have a plan together of what to do with the children.  The start of Hanukkah (Dec.16th this year) snuck up on me.  So, as I contemplated what to do to make this celebration special and meaningful, I prayed.  I prayed the Lord would show me what to do and how to do it.  And within a few hours, I had all my thoughts and plans together.  It was so special to feel like the Father was leading us in this way.

If you have never embraced the biblical feasts before, I would encourage you to pray and seek the Lord's face on this topic, it is so rich and so beautiful!  (And we're just getting warmed up!)

Be blessed today, tomorrow, and forevermore, friends!

A peak at how we embraced Hanukkah this year:

We used a Menorah that had 7 candles.  The traditional Hanukkah Menorah has 9.  We chose this one because we wanted to use the biblical Menorah found in the Old Testament.  

We used our nature tree, which we have used for so many family traditions.  This included the flags of Hanukkah (one had a star of David, the other had a candle to represent light), as well as tags handing for the daily themes and scripture verses.  This is always a fun and pretty addition to any celebration.

I listed all the themes and verses we used in my first post about Hanukkah.

Daily Themes hang throughout the festival to remind us of the truths we are learning and taking time to reflecting upon.

Once we read our daily scriptures, we wrote them out and posted them on the kitchen wall.

For daily themes and readings, I used small envelops labelled by day (Day 1-Day 8).  Each envelop had two decorations for our nature tree.  Each decoration was a simple piece of paper with rafia to hang.  They clearly stated the day's theme and listed the scriptures for us to look up and read.  Once we read,  we hung them during dinner each night when we lit our menorah.

Making and painting a Star of David banner.

Art Lesson - still life, painting a Menorah using Acrylic Paints.

Audrey's Menorah - love it!

Hanukkah Lapbooks/Memory Books:

Practicing the name of Jesus (Yeshua) in Hebrew.

Ha!  Love this interpretation by Simon...

Adapting for Alex (age 6).  He traced copywork on each page and drew a picture to reflect what he wrote.

I encourage you to read through Ephesians 5!!!  Such a gift and reminder of how we are to live every day...

Embracing the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

We're hanging lights and dancing around the kitchen in December again.  But this year there is a different feeling in our home.  There is a deep, indescribable peace.  A peace I've never felt before.  There are no gifts to purchase.  Nothing to wrap.  No stress.  No bustle.

This year, we are embracing Hanukkah for the first time.  Our Menorah shines pretty earth tones on antiqued brass - and beeswax candles all in a row.  And there is something breath-taking about the very Menorah God commanded in the Old Testament shining in the darkness of an old country kitchen.

This year has been a whirlwind of awakenings and blessings and the opening of our eyes to things bright and new.  It's also been a difficult time of trying desperately to express our hearts and convictions with those that struggle to grasp on to this new direction.  And we understand - changing traditions that have deep heart connections is not a simple or easy thing for many.  The only reason we can let go is because of God's deep grace and love for us.

This year, our home is not decorated for Christmas.  Nope, no tree, no garland, no gifts.  No advent readings, no focus on the story of Christ's birth (we celebrated His birth during Sukkot!).

But the crazy thing is, for big celebrators of Christmas in the past (and all our lives) - we don't feel a loss.  Not in the slightest, because I believe where there might have been a void, Christ is faithful to fill to flowing over.  And the filling is happening right as I type.  Yes, in our obedience to Him, He comes and touches us with His passionate loving embrace.  Oh, no, we're not missing anything.

Rather, quietly, simply, we prepare to rededicate our souls to the King of all Light.

The Feast of Dedication.
The Festival of Lights.

These are all one in the same.  The Hebrew holy time that appears in the gospel of John.  It was during the Feast of Dedication that Christ spoke of being the Light of the world and gave sight to the blind.  The Jewish people celebrate the rededication of the temple of Yahweh.  And as followers of Christ we also give thanks for all He has done and all He will do for His people, Jew and Gentile alike.  And we focus on our rededicating of our very own temples - ourselves.  Yes, these earthly, fallen vessels that Jesus Messiah so graciously calls His own.

Hanukkah is a Hebrew word - it derives from the verb meaning 'to dedicate'.

Although Hanukkah is not one of God's appointed Feasts, it holds deep significance for believers.  The themes of the feast are those of God's miracles, our dedication to our Saviour and the Kingdom life, as well as Yeshua (Jesus) is the Light of the world.  It is also incredibly prophetic of things to come!

This year we let go of Easter and humble and wide-eyed we celebrated our first Passover.  And through the learning and the gripping on to Jesus we were brought to tears and our hearts where overwhelmed by God's grace and love.  And then a few months ago we stood awe-struck during our week-long celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles.

Over and over again these biblical feasts and celebrations bring us to our knees and God shows us more of Himself.  The depth and beauty of truly opening our hearts to these biblically rooted holidays is beyond overwhelming.  All I can do is humbly give thanks that God whispers and reveals and somehow He has chosen our crazy family and adopted us as His own.  And now, we see the truth of His feasts and we shakily grip on to what we know He is calling us to embrace.

So, if you hear a follower of Christ say they celebrate the biblical feasts and it sounds very strange and new to you - I understand.   If they even sound a bit crazy, I get it.  I felt the exact same way.  Then, I got on my face and sought God for truth.  And I was astounded at what I found.  My husband and I sit still amazed at all this truth and wonder that we hadn't seen before.  Is it a little foreign?  Yes.  Is it off the beaten path?  Oh, yes.   Is it wonderful?  Yes.  Powerful?  Yes.  Anointed?  Yes.  God-breathed?  Yes!  Life changing?  Absolutely.

And the more we embrace this different way of life, the more people are drawn to ask us why.  And we are discovering over and over how powerful God's feasts are.  The gospel is written all over them and it reveals truth to even the hardest of hearts.

And as we watched the challah rise tonight, once again, I felt the warmth of celebrating God's holy days stirring again in my heart.  And nothing can compare to that feeling, friends.  As we lit that first candle and read God's word together as a family, the kitchen couldn't have been more cozy and beautiful and twinkling bright with the light of the candles and the Light of the world all around us.

His spirit, so alive, so present as we embrace what the Word calls us to embrace - obedience to Him.

I don't by any means have this Hanukkah thing completely figured out - or anything, for that matter.  But, I promised I would share my thoughts and plans (Lord willing) for celebrating, so, I want desperately to stay true to my word.  Below I've included a print up of our ideas for embracing a simple yet deeply meaningful Messianic Hanukkah season.

Hanukkah isn't about gifts.  Hanukkah is about spending time with family and meditating on God's truth.  In this time, as followers of Christ, we are rededicating our 'temples' to Him.  Our temples are our very bodies, hearts, minds, souls.  As a family, we will be lighting the Menorah every night for the 8 nights.  We chose to purchase a biblical Menorah (with seven branches not the traditional 9 on the Jewish Hanukkah Menorah).  So, we are improvising with the lighting of the candles but it is just as magical for the children (and for us!).

After the lighting, we read scripture together, which is themed by day.  I made 8 small envelops and hung them on a clothes line in the kitchen with Day 1-8 printed on them.  Inside each envelop is 2 little papers decorations, one that says the theme of the day and one that has the scriptures printed.  Once we read, the children take turns placing them on some branches we have in a mason jar on the kitchen table.  

We decorated our home with mostly lights (this is the Festival of Lights, after all!), stars, a banner that reads, "Jesus is the Light!", and of course, the Menorah.  There are countless ideas for decorating and celebrating on Pinterest, and various blogs.  We kept it simple and used all reused crafting items and decorations we previously had - we just revamped them! 

We are also creating a Hanukkah lapbook, which, Lord willing, I will share at the end of the celebration!

Below, I'm sharing the plan I came up with (it is inspired by what I read in A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays but I changed quite a bit and used my own scriptures).  I'm sharing in case you would also like to read similar verses with your family either this year, or maybe even next!

Readings for Celebrating the Feast of Dedication:

Day 1:
Theme - God is Light
Scripture - Rev. 21:22-23, 1 John 1:5

Day 2:
Theme -  Lord is our Light
Scripture - Isaiah 2:5, Psalm 27:1, Isaiah 60:19

Day 3:
Theme -  The Word is Light
Scripture - Psalm 119:105, Psalm 119:130

Day 4:
Theme - The Messiah is the Light of the world
Scripture - John 8:12

Day 5:
Theme - When Christ is Your light, you are transformed
Scripture - 2 Cor. 4:6, Acts 26:18, 1 John 2:9

Day 6:
Theme - The Light overcomes the darkness
Scripture - Prov. 13:9, John 1:4-5, John 12:46

Day 7:
Theme - We are to be a Light in this world
Scripture - Matt. 5:14-16, Eph. 5:8,  Phil. 2: 14-16

Day 8:
Theme -  Let your light shine!
Scripture - Luke 11:33-36, John 12:35-36, John 13:34-35

I pray that as you read this, the Spirit stirs your heart.  It is my heartfelt prayer that more and more families will seek and find the truth.

Praise God for His truth and His Light!

Love to you all this blessed season.


Why it's truly a Black Friday and where we find Light.

Friday, November 28, 2014

I find it deeply ironic that it happens on the day after the American Thanksgiving.  Yes, on the day after a nation sits around the table of thanks - that table cloth is quickly yanked from under the piled plates.  And the race begins to buy, buy, buy.

People pour into stores snatching up the latest gizmos, gadgets, toys, clothes, stuff.  Because don't we all need just a little more stuff?  It's one of the biggest 'shopping' days of the year as retailers compete for the first real burst of Christmas shopping insanity.  And it's insane alright.  The scenes look like a bunch of crazed, starving animals attacking their prey. The prey is the stuff and the prey is each other. Websites have "Black Friday Death Counts", a woman attacks her neighbour with pepper spray for the best TV, a man is shot (yes, SHOT) for a parking space.  Crowds push down doors at Wal-mart, kill an employee, and trample elderly women and children.  All this for a waffle maker on sale.  Or an X-Box at a 'door breaker' price.  And yep, the door was broken.

And so are the souls.

Yeah, there's a reason it's called Black Friday, friends.

Because greed?  Greed is always, always black.   The darkness of all darkness is found in the emptiness of consumption, pleasure, and entertainment.  This want for more stuff of this world - it always leads to that deep black space.  In fact, the Word of God says the love of money - the love of STUFF - it's the root of all kinds of evil.  So we blaze around like fools and we grasp at evil.  There's no other way to put it.  More for me, more for us, more, more, more of everything we don't need.

While we know, yes we KNOW people are starving.  Right this very moment, children are starving to death while people fight to the death for the newest flat screen.  And children are smuggled for dirty desires.  And our sisters and brothers are abused so that we may have more of our cheap goods.  Injustices reign supreme in the world of big retail - and when we swipe that card, we buy in to the big, bloody mess.

My heart has been aching lately, friends.  I mean, really.   Last year, I cried myself to sleep the day after Christmas when my soul broke in pieces for the greed I saw creeping into our children's hearts after the 'I WANT MORE' mentality of all those gifts.  They piled high in the living room and on boxing day, they craved to shop for more.

And are we much better?  We point to children but we are so much the same.  A new wall colour, a new shirt, new shoes, new mud room, the latest kitchen gadget, a new mixer, and we can always find something we want.  And once we get what we want, we want something else.  Because greed and the thirst for more stuff is never, ever quenched.  Ever.  That is the nature of sin.  The very life of greed is that it breeds more greed.

And the truth we all know is that true beauty - what really matters in this world can't be purchased at any store.

The kids and I watch videos from Gospel for Asia about how Christmas is Forgotten.  The masses chant "KEEP CHRIST IS CHRISTMAS" when in reality, Christ was never in it to begin with. Very little about our conventional Christmas points to the Saviour at all.  And if we would all dig a little deeper, we would see the roots of Christmas have absolutely nothing to do with God, Jesus, His birth or our salvation.

This year, we aren't putting up a tree or hanging sparkly lights.  We aren't running around like maniacs buying the next thing we need to 'celebrate' or the best gift for each other.  We are saying no to what this world says is unavoidable.  Because we believe everything should be put through the fire of the Word of God.  Everything should have to pass the gate of, "why do we do this, really?", and the door of, "what is the root of this tradition?"

And we've seen the roots and we've seen the whys and we believe a change is in desperately needed. And though in some ways it isn't easy and in many ways it isn't understood by others - we are choosing to be still.  We are lighting a simple Menorah and reading the best book ever written and we are desperately clinging to truth.  We are embracing the Festival of Lights when Christ Jesus Himself claimed to be the very Light of this world.  And I can't help but see the contrast between the Light of Life and the Blackness of consumption which has become Christmas.

All of the world's a stage and the theme of the Western script is buy, buy, buy so you can find joy, joy, joy.

Keep on consuming until you're full to capacity and finally, you will be happy!  Isn't that the North American billboard?  But this is the crazy thing - it's an upside down paradigm where the very thing that is preached to bring peace, brings chaos and unrest at best and complete despair at worst.  Once the fix of the next great deal is achieved, the feeling doesn't last.  Just grasping, clawing for the next hit.  And it is utter insanity and it is nowhere near what we are called to as Christ followers.  We are actually called to the complete opposite lifestyle.

And we need to think deeper on the issue of Black Friday and this overall black consumption.  It's not just about how it affects us or our children.  It's about how it affects the soul of the world. 

 It's about how what we buy hurts our planet, our neighbour, and our neighour's children.  It's about how almost all the mass produced products we buy are made by people who suffer greatly so that we can have our new iPad or camera or TV.  Or our new clothes from brand name stores.  Or toys from third world countries where little hands have screwed together the parts our children will roll along our new kitchen floors.

Tears roll down my cheeks and yes, the truth hurts.  And my soul is crying out this year for change.  For justice.  I mean, that crazy GROANING the bible speaks of where only the Spirit can properly communicate your deepest heart twistings to the One who knows all and sees all.

And I can't ignore these deep pains any longer and I know it is the Holy Spirit whispering right back to me.  Through that still, small, grace-filled voice I hear it: "Say no to the craziness and grasp on to something real.  Grasp on to Me.  Do not store up treasures on this earth because it will make you a slave to this earth.   You are not of this world when you are in Me.  Start living as I've called you to live.  Do not be afraid.  My way is always the best way..."

The frenzied buying that happens at Christmas (and all year 'round, for that matter) reminds me of a quote from C.S. Lewis:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Oh, how those words have pierced me deep.  And right along with drink and sex and ambition we can so easily add greed and the lust for more material things.  The things that promise immediate pleasure.  And aren't we all far too easily pleased?

We grab at the stuff of this world when the Lord of all Light gives us real, unending, everlasting joy and life.  When He says 'follow me' He doesn't mean to the shopping mall.  He means to the slums.  To the home in East Africa where children find hope after living alone on the street.  To the well in India where women now find clean water for their babies and the very Living Water who can save their souls.  To the hopeless and homeless.  To the family table where children hear truth and feel warmth and know they are far more valuable than just getting piles of presents.  That they are worth our time and our truth and our very soul longings to raise them up to know what is real and what brings fullness of joy.  

Black Friday breeds a black saturday.  And sowing greed brings a harvest of a lust for more stuff and less Jesus and less of what actually matters.  We need to break free from the nonsense and stand against the lie that buying stuff will fill us up.  

Simple as that.  And then, we need to model it and teach these truths to our children.  Because buying junk we don't need never fills, it empties.  

I can't wait to share with you how our family has felt led to shake it up this year... more is coming this week offering ideas and (hopefully!) inspiration for making this year a very different 'holiday' season for you and your loved ones.  All is a big pile of wonderful grace, friends.

Albert - Five in a Row Volume 4

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I haven't been posting a ton of our homeschooling stuff this year.  The main reason is that it takes a really (really) long time to upload all the images and describe every detail of our studies.  Also, I often forget to take photos as we are doing activities, and then forget what activities we even did or where I found them online or elsewhere...  so I'm not the best at blogging for homeschool, to be honest!

So, this year, I hope to share bits and pieces of our homeschooling in an easier way.  These will be snapshots of our studies or days and small captions with the photos.  Hope this works to still give a glimpse into homeschool life as well as provide some ideas/inspiration!

Be blessed and I hope you enjoy a peek at our first 'row' in Volume 4 of Five in a Row, Albert, by Jim LaMarche.

Main areas of study for Albert:

  • nests and nesting birds
  • Cardinals
  • embracing and enjoying nature
  • gentleness of heart
  • facing fears
  • whimsical tales
  • city living
  • maple trees and maple syrup
  • language arts: adjectives, descriptive sentences, list making, letter writing, symbolism
  • art: working with water colors and pencil crayons, sketching nature, sculpture
  • music: Vivaldi, the Four Seasons
  • drama: pantomime and miming
  • science: noise and decibels, the human body - joints

On a hunt for nests in the woods.

Bark rubbings.

Comparing leaves in our neighborhood.

On a hike, looking for cardinals and birds of all kinds.

Feeding the Chickadees.

Art project: using self-drying clay to make a cardinal and her eggs.

For our study of 'city living' we created a house out of two shoe boxes.

Some of the resources we used.

Our Lapbooks:

Thanks for reading!

Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground