An Unexpected Friendship

I sat on my blanket watching my kids play in the little paddling pool. This had been one of the best summers for us. My oldest was free to be anywhere in the pool on his own and the younger two were easier to manage then before. I was soaking up everyday with them and making memories. This day, they were happily entrenched in a big game in the little pool and I was enjoying some time on the side.

There was a pretty big crowd at the pool that day as the sun shone hot and I chatted with some ladies that I knew.

Another mom came with three young kids. I thought they looked so close in age and she seemed so calm. It suddenly dawned on me that my three would have seemed like that, a couple of years ago too. Wow, how did I do that? How did time go so fast?

The longer we sat there the more I was drawn to this fellow mama. Her countenance was so peaceful. I struck up a conversation about her kids. We exchanged ages of our kids, compared age gaps, discovered we had both been homeschooled for a time, and that she was thinking of homeschooling and was excited that I homeschooled my kids.

In that little bit of time we exchanged so much, except names. I left realizing I didn’t get her name, but I hoped she would be at the pool again.

Little by little, each time we came, we would be there together. Our kids began to connect. We never finished a thought, much less a full conversation, but each time we’d just pick up where we had left off.

I found out she was just in our town temporarily, caravan-ing along with her kids while her husband worked so they wouldn’t have to be separated and do long distance.

I respected this desire to protect their family unit immensely.

One day rain was in the forecast and so I invited her and her kids over to play with us. It broke down the barrier of simply being “pool friends” and suddenly an unexpected friendship was born.

We discovered so many things, like our mutual love for God, being former competitive gymnasts, our drive to educate our children and of seeing the purpose and passion of motherhood redeemed.

We started doing life together.

Truthfully, I wasn’t looking for a new friend. We had recently found out we were moving far away. I had other friends to connect with. It seemed like a time to be tying up loose ends, not forming whole other attachments. And yet here was this woman, plopped into my life, like a breath of fresh air to my summer and my day to day life. She began to encourage, inspire and impart so many valuable things into my life.

I learned so much from this surprising summer friendship. I learned that God has amazing people for us to encounter if we will open up our hearts and share our lives.

I learned that God’s plan is so much better and more exciting than anything we could conjure up on our own. My natural instinct was to sit comfortably on the side lines and take a break from being in the pool that day. I never could have guessed that God had a gift for me that just walked in and sat down.

I learned that making friends can be intimidating. It takes courage to be vulnerable with a new person. I have been overwhelmed at the thought of starting over with a whole new group of people. But new relationships are worth it. You never know when you will uncover a treasure of a friend who will understand your heart and add heaps of value to your life (and hopefully your’s to their’s too!).

I learned that saying yes to relationship is worth it. I’m grieving the fact that I have to say bye to my friend this weekend as she heads home and we begin to prepare for our move. I’m grieving every single one of my friends that I will be leaving behind here. But loving is worth it. Even for a short summer. Even for an incredible five years. All the friendships I have made here in Kipling are so worth it. As much as it hurts to say goodbye, I am the better for having said yes to them. A sad lie to believe is the one that says it’s better to never go deep so that you never hurt. Even the pain of parting is soothed by the richness of relationship that was there.

Yesterday, Kateri, my sweet-summer-friend, came and did an in home workshop at my house with some moms. She came early to get set up, and I welcomed her in with no make up, messy hair, dishes dirty and teeth not quite brushed. I smiled to myself, as she shut off my beeping oven timer and I picked up her crying baby, and realized I have never had a friend like her in my mothering years. I kind of think that’s sad for a thirty year old to say. Maybe I’ve been self protective and holding people at arms length. Maybe I haven’t had a great friend who has lived right in town to be with at the drop of a hat. But in that moment I realized this is what I want. These are the friendships I want to cultivate. These are the people I’m trusting God to bring into my life.

Kateri and I after our our workshop collaboration.

This is my next season’s brave yes.

Yes to friendship.

Yes to doing life with others.

Yes to being part of the village.

Yes to risking my heart and stepping out to connect with someone.

Yes to all that God has for me.

If you have been struggling with a lack of deep friendship in your life, or perhaps have had a fear of going deep, I hope my story of an unexpected friendship encourages you. I hope it empowers you to strike up a conversation. To share your life. To invite someone over. To trust that God has a good plan for your relationships. To forgive any friends who have hurt you in the past and believe the best of the ones to come. To say a brave yes because:

“We are certainly not those who are held back by fear and perish, we are among those who have by faith and experience true life!” Hebrews 10:39

Oh I love you guys. You readers and sharers of this journey. I’m so proud of all your brave yeses. Keep sharing your stories and stepping out. God’s got you! True, rich, meaningful life is worth the leap of faith!

You can follow along with my new friend on Instagram, @KateriMarie, as she shares her inspiring motherhood journey and her Montessori-inspired way of life.

Love,

Monica

Our FAVOURITE Audiobooks (for kids!) on HOOPLA

The world of audiobooks  is an exciting one! There are so many wonderful titles that have now been recorded, but there are also incredible voice actors that read these stories and they become alive in a new way.

My kids and I are listening to “On the Banks Of Plum Creek” at the end of morning time as we work on our handicrafts or projects. Cherry Jones reads the books with a slight twang and brings Laura’s world to life for us. I can close my eyes and hear her voice exclaim “Laura!” in Ma’s way and it makes me smile. Or when the ox’s foot fell through the roof (oops, spoiler!) and she read those words with genuine surprise and shock.

As I’ve shared pieces of our homeschool days I’ve received many questions about audiobooks, such as what would you recommend for younger kids? What do your kids do while they listen? Does this count as reading or entertainment?

These are all such great questions and I LOVE that you’re asking them! This is not just a “homeschool” thing, it’s a great tool for all families who want to find creative ways to cut down on screens and increase a love of literacy, while not being tied to the couch reading when things like supper need to happen!

I’m sharing titles that are on HOOPLA because it’s free, but if you have another audiobook service you should be able to find all of these easily!

Before I dive into some book titles, I want to give you some ideas that have worked for us. My kids are 8, 6 and almost 5. They each have very different personalities, and I find that different techniques work for them.

My almost five year old has grown up reading a lot more than my oldest. My oldest still was read to a lot, but just by way of being the youngest, he’s learned to sit through chapter books, long pictures books and has a high stamina for listening. I didn’t force this, it happened naturally. He hated being left out of what his siblings were doing, so he fought through his urge to run away and play. Now he is the one who hates when read alouds are over!

  1. Make audiobooks more special than screen time. Audiobooks are becoming expressions of warmth and comfort in our family. This has taken intentionality but slowly the idea of being cuddled up in a cozy corner you’ve built out of some favourite pillows and a blanket, with special bluetooth headphones that only you can hear, and a little snack, is more exciting than having to agree on a show with your siblings. My oldest listened to almost an entire novel on the swing in the backyard the other day! Fresh air AND literacy! That’s a big win!
  2. Have some activities they can do while listening. Now that cozy spot I described can hold my six year old for a long time. She doesn’t need much else. Her imagination is so vivid the only thing that might interrupt her is a urgent desire to find me and quickly explain what is happening and why it makes her feel so wonderful! But the younger one will eventually need some activities if he wants to keep listening. Things like playdough, lego, blocks. colouring pages, drawing,  Where’s Waldo or other Look & Find books, cutting and glueing all help. Once I even caught my youngest jumping up and down on his bed while listening. I didn’t mind! He wasn’t being wild, he was just moving his body to keep himself going on his book. I wasn’t forcing him to keep listening, By providing activities and allowing him to jump on the bed, I was just empowering him to keep doing what he wanted to do, which was find out what happened to the Boxcar children!

    A note from my six year old: If you can close your eyes while you listen, you will find that a whole story plays out right in your head. It is imagination.

  3. Stagger some of the same titles amongst the kids if age ranges allow it. When my three first stated listening to the Boxcar children, whoever had finished the first one was pacing around the living room waiting for the other to finish. When they walked out of the room they both exclaimed at the same time: BENNY IS SO HILARIOUS! And then dove into a deep conversation about the book. I through in a little question here and there just because I was jealous of this beautiful connection (haha!), but otherwise this book club culture (that Sarah MacKenzie at Read Aloud Revival talks about) came about organically.
  4. Invest in comfortable headphones. It took us a while to find the right ones for our daughter. She is a lot like me, and we both have tendencies toward HSP (highly sensitive personality), and things like fabric, sound and light can bother us. We finally found the right bluetooth headphones at Best Buy that were smaller kids sized ones, with padded ears. My oldest will be driven by pure motivation to listen and will tough out uncomfortable ear buds missing the rubber piece if he needs to, but not having the right equipment will stop my daughter, which we don’t want! We also prefer bluetooth so that our children don’t have to carry a device around!

All right, without further ado, here are our favourite audiobook titles on HOOPLA! All you need to use HOOPLA in a library card and you have four borrows a month. You can get movies and ebooks on here too, but we only use it for audiobooks since they are expensive to get through subscription somewhere else! If you get everyone in your family an account you can increase the amount of titles a month. If you are listening at the same time, it has to be on different accounts. So if all three of our kids are listening I have one logged into my phone playing from that, one from the laptop and one from an old phone that we use for white noise and audiobooks! If my husband is home we can also play off his device.

  1. The Boxcar Children Series – Four orphaned children band together to survive and live in an abandoned Boxcar. Subsequent adventures have them solving mysteries. Our kids, aged 5 to 8 love it. By Gertrude Chandler Warner
  2. Anne Of Green Gables – the Classic Starts Series (many more titles of these classics that have been modified for children. We have read the “Little Women” version of this.) My 5 and 6 year old have been enjoying this one. Adapted from Lucy Maud Montgomery.
  3. The Hardy Boys – Brother duo solves mysteries. I prefer the original books, but Hoopla has some of the newer audiobooks. Because of intensity only our 8 year old has listened to this.
  4. Basil: The Great Mouse Detective (there are 5 of the titles in this series on HOOPLA). Because of intensity and intrigue this one has been just for our 8 year old. With less sensitive children you can probably listen younger or with a parent! By Eve Titus.
  5. A House At Pooh Corner (also available: Winnie-The-Pooh, and Christopher Robin’s poems: Now We are Six and When We Were Very Young, by A. A. Milne) – All ages.
  6. James Herriot Animals Stories (also available: James Herriot’s Dog Stories). My six year old devours every possible story centred around animals and she listened to this huge treasury in one go! Suitable for all ages. Written by James Herriot.

Here are some other titles that are on HOOPLA as audiobooks that we have read. So we haven’t listened to these ones as audiobooks, but we can attest to the quality of the story!

  1. Aesop’s Fables – We love these timeless stories teaching character lessons.
  2. Bible Stories – search kid’s bible stories and lots of good options will come up!
  3. The Moffat’s – My 5 & 6 year old are doing this as a bedtime read aloud right now! By Eleanor Estes
  4. The Orphan Train Series – This has some intense moments dealing with tragedy and hardship, but Arleta Richardson does a fantastic job of weaving in how God is working and inspiring courage. Our whole family enjoyed this series.
  5. Grandma’s Attic Series – a little girl hear’s stories from her grandmother’s days as a pioneer. Another wonderful one for the whole family. Also by Arleta Richardson
  6. The Children’s Book of Virtues (by William J. Bennet) – A compilation of stories, fables, and poems that impart virtues. We had so many favourites from this story!

If you’re looking for the Little House On the Prairie series it’s unfortunately not on HOOPLA, but it is available in CD form from our library system, so it’s probably in yours too!

The Read Aloud expert, Sarah MacKenzie says that audiobooks absolutely count as much as if you read aloud to your own child! And the benefits of reading aloud are massive (check out Read Aloud Family by Sarah MacKenzie or The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease if you’re curious to learn more about it’s superpowers)! So a healthy mix of audiobooks along with your own wonderful gift of reading aloud will give your kids a rich literary experience!

We hope you enjoy this list of audiobooks! Let us know what some of your favourites are and if they are on HOOPLA so we can check them out!

Happy listening,

Monica (with help from my graphic designer Caleb, and content input from Amayah & Eli)

The “boiling hot” ones.

When I opened my little shop a couple of years ago I received so many words of encouragement, congratulations and immense praise.

Truthfully, it felt pretty good to be seen as brave and contributing in a big way. I didn’t do it for these reasons, I started out with a powerful word from God and a passion to follow through on what he asked me to do.

When I sold the business and followed the voice of Christ back into my home full time, there were very few left with words of encouragement. No praise or accolades followed me, just a good dose of condescension from a few who believed I never should have worked in the first place.

Honestly, I am sure it’s a little confusing watching me live out my life of faith at times as I seem to yo-yo between calls. I don’t have anger or bitterness. I don’t blame anyone for their words or lack of them.

My point is not to compel compassion. It’s this: You are responsible to guard your passion.

Guard your passion.

Not the thing you love doing. Not the person you’re passionate about. Not the job that you do on the daily. Not simply your zeal for life.

Your passion for Jesus Christ, the Anointed One. The Messiah. The Saviour of the World. The Way, the Truth, the Life.

This kind of passion is what’s going to carry you through.

Watch what steals it. Be aware of what slowly lulls you to sleep. Be alert and on guard to where your passion is at.

Guard it regardless of outside encouragement, popular opinion or even the negative voices inside your head. (Side note: let’s be people who celebrate obedience over position! I am not as interested in what you’re doing, as long as you’re being obedient to Christ. I want to to celebrate THAT!)

Be enthusiastic to serve the Lord, keeping your passion toward him boiling hot! Radiate with the glow of the Holy Spirit and let him fill you with excitement as you serve him.

Romans 12:11 TPT

This verse holds some keys to keep our passion boiling hot. First it encourages us to be enthusiastic serving the Lord.

I will be the first to admit that the Lord has allowed me some pretty exciting ways to serve him. I have co-lead pastored a church with my husband, spoke at some exciting retreats and events, opened a business and published a book. Now, I am a full time homeschooler, trying to juggle even posting a blog once a week! IMG_6439

Some of those have been a little more exciting and adventurous than others. However this verse doesn’t say to be enthusiastic serving the Lord simply when he gives you a world changing, glamorous or public position. The encouragement is to be enthusiastic serving the Lord. Period.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17 ESV

In my role as mom especially, I can be a woman of excuses when it comes to my relationship with Jesus. I can feel that everyone else gets the first fruits of me and Jesus gets what’s left.

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But only I can make that choice. No one has the power to take away my commitment to staying close to Jesus.

I have become so passionate about staying passionate for Jesus and I think it’s partly because 2019 has placed me in a more stretching, humbling place than I’ve ever been.

There is no “adrenaline rush” for what I’m doing right now that’s going to carry me through my days. In this, at times, isolated place of raising and educating my school aged children at home, it is my job to do it enthusiastically for the Lord. It’s my job to “let him fill me with excitement” as Romans 12:11 says. I have to open my heart to the Holy Spirit to allow him to do that!

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Here is what steals my passion:

  1. Not spending time with Jesus, reading the Word, praying, journaling and worshiping through song.

Here is what keeps me passionate:

  1. Spending time with Jesus, read the Word, praying, journaling and worshiping through song.

It’s seriously that simple for me. Spending time with Jesus is the most important part of my whole day. It transforms every aspect of my life, examines my heart and orders all of my priorities. It isn’t simply a one moment a day thing, although my morning time with Jesus is the largest piece.

It is what has kept me emotionally sound and mentally strong through being treated like a superstar as a business owner (perhaps over stating that slightly, haha!), to being hidden at home.

Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

Philippians 4:12-13 MSG

I don’t know if I can fully say that I’ve learned to be “quite content” in ALL circumstances. I have so many days that I whine and wonder if I can follow through on all God’s asked me to do. And yet, at the start of each day, in my favourite chair, with whatever seasonal mug I’m drinking out of at the time, I know that the Holy Spirit is going to fill me with his power and I’m going to have fresh passion to serve Jesus enthusiastically, right where I am. Whether I’m feeling like a classy business lady, or a hot-mess mama. I can make it through in the One who makes me who I am.

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Stir up our hearts Lord!

May Jesus, the Anointed One, increase your passion dramatically and exponentially today! May he illuminate what is trying to steal your passion and may he lead you into creative solutions for carving out the time and space, physically, mentally and emotionally, to keep him the greatest priority of your life.

May we be the “boiling hot” ones for his glory!

Love,

Monica

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Grace to you, child.

“Mom, sing Amazing Grace.”

For years the bed time song has been Jesus Loves Me. Without fail, every night. Until my child recently learned the story of John Newton, a violent slave trader who came face to face with the grace of God, renounced his horrific actions, determined to serve the Lord with his remaining years and penned these emotion filled words:

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me…”

How we need grace. With each year that passes I am more aware of my need for grace and how merciful God really is with me.

Oh, how a child needs grace. Grace to a child is like cold water after they’ve ran around, climbed a tree and jumped on a trampoline. They must know that God has an immeasurable amount of grace for their mistakes, and that as we grow in our love for Jesus and dwell in his grace, we seek to demonstrate it to them in person.

As I’ve watched my own son be drawn deeply to the story, author and words of this song I have relived the times in my own childhood where I felt there was grace for everyone but the child. A standard of immediate obedience, or else. And then what do we do? We place that on understanding on God. I must immediately obey…or else.

My “brave yes” journey has been my response to an invitation to say yes to God simply out of a desire to please him. No fear. Just perfect love. It’s growing from a place of understanding that I have been given the freedom to choose and this kindness from God has led me to a place of repentance and desire to surrender my life to his perfect will.

Grace is this beautiful, undeserved favour, that is so wonderful to be the recipient of, and so hard to be one the one extending.

And yet to a young heart, next to the love of Jesus, there are no words so peace-filled as the words of grace over their less than perfect life.

I’m in a unique season where I am the primary caregiver and teacher of all of my children. I’m the first responder to all injuries and the referee to every fight. In the course of my day there are so many moments that require grace – of course for me, but for my children. I see shame creep across faces, anger burn, and greed descend. At least in my house, we all know we are sinners saved by grace yet individual moments present me with the choice: do I represent the law or grace?

Romans 6 says, and I’m summarizing, that grace grants us freedom to choose our own master: sin or God. And when we choose for ourselves that we will serve God, obedience becomes heart deep. 

In that past I may have been more concerned about day to day obedience that simply kept my life in tact. But as the years go on and I see little humans turning into bigger ones who have real dreams and aspirations. I want to see a grace-work in their lives that is heart deep and stays with them every single day for the rest of their lives.

In the mornings my kids and I read and pray together and we have opportunities to develop character and cultivate beautiful truths. It is in those emotionally diffused moments where hearts are vibrant and open, energy is fresh and we can dive deeper. But truthfully I am finding that the moments of tension, fighting and struggle are where grace simply must shine the brightest.

“All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down.”

Romans 5:21 MSG

Grace wins, hands down.

That, my friends, is the message I want my children to grow up with every day of their lives. A knowledge that mama was an aggressive forgiver and an extender of second, third and one hundredth chances.

I believe we must disciple, mentor, and seek to cultivate all that is good, pure and lovely. Then over all of that we must seek to model Christ, with grace, heaped upon grace, heaped upon grace (John 1:16).

Boy, this is a journey for me, because the patience required to dish out grace upon grace when we’d just like to do hand out justice upon justice, is tough. And the good news is, there is grace for me as I walk in grace (grace, grace, grace!).IMG_6366

If you’re a practical person that likes something tangible to try here are some questions I’ve been asking throughout our day. When life gets challenging with my children, as I practice grace upon grace over rules upon rules these help me in my endeavour to create space for this great grace to be actively demonstrated:

  1. Can we calm down together?
    1. Is there a way we can calm down, take a break, remove ourselves from the distressing situation (yes even if it’s centered around a toy reeking havoc on turn-taking) and start over in a bit. I am finding it takes as many minutes as their age to calm down effectively. When I stay with them to calm down it is less like they’re in trouble and more like we’re just resetting to take a fresh look at the situation.
  2. Are their basic needs met right now?
    1. Are they hungry? Thirsty? Exhausted? Do we need to deal with one of those things first before working through the problem? I have one child who simply can’t function when remotely hungry. Grace to them – because I’m so much like that too! Also, a few minutes laying down with an audiobook does wonders to renew energy in my house.
  3. How am I (as mom) doing right now?
    1. If I’m not doing well or I’m stressed, exhausted, or haven’t spent anytime with the Lord on my own, chances are I’m already not handling the situation great. I might be the one who needs a few minutes before we work through the problem so this train doesn’t go completely off the tracks! Distressing texts or stressful emails really effects me and I have to be careful not to open up messages that could take away from my energy to be the mom I need to be in that moment. Those things have to stay in a tight parameter to allow me to prioritize the first things. It’s different for everyone. How are YOU doing?
  4. Can we deal with this more effectively later?
    1. Is there a better time to go deep with the issue? I have found that our devotion, scripture memorizing, prayer time is a much more effective time to talk about being kind and loving to one another. We read a book called “is it right to fight?” which had our kids in deep conversations for days over how they feel when they get angry. I learned a lot, like the fact that one of my children is often suppressing the urge to bite their siblings when angry. I am seeing their outburst and feeling frustrated over the general noise volume, and yet they feel triumphant in that moment because they’re letting their anger out by yelling instead of biting (I was so proud of that child when they found words to express that big inner conflict!). That book also opened the door to how they feel if my husband and I argue (yep, that was a tough one to hear!).
  5. What’s the atmosphere like?
    1. Are you somewhere that is getting the kids really riled up? Is it overstimulating? Too loud? Has the tone not been set for what’s expected of them? What conversations are taking place? If they are expected to wind down for bed, does the house reflect that? Is the lighting soft? Is the music calm? Have the issues of the day been laid to rest knowing that there is new mercy for the morning? I have found that asking questions about what is happening is one of the fastest routes to a turnaround. Before homeschooling we were rushing a lot and I quickly found out my kids did not respond well to rushing. It was sucking joy right out of our atmosphere. Some big changes needed to be made to cultivate and protect the environment we desired.

These five things that create some breathing room and a moment to pause and prioritize grace over the letter of the law. They are human beings, just like us adults, and need to be nurtured, cared for, protected and prioritized. They need grace. Excessive, over the top, almost a seemingly absurd, but perfectly natural, amount of grace.

I hope this is helpful to someone and that hearing from another mama in the trenches encourages you that you’re not alone in the quest to do your best and not simply take the shortcuts that lead to immediate results, or turn a blind eye. In the words of John Newton:

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come
‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home

Grace to you!

Monica

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