Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hopes of a Happy Ending

Gems of Reflection, #52
I know I already posted a Gems post today, but seeing as how it's the last day of 2013 - and because I am a slacker and didn't get these out on time - I wanted to get this last Gems post out before ringing in the new year tonight.

I absolutely cannot believe that a whole year has gone by since we started these Gems posts last January. Yet here it is - New Year's Eve - and here I sit, nostalgically writing the last one.

It was more than a year ago that I stumbled upon a jar of journal prompts that belonged to my late mother-in-law, and it has been such a treat reflecting on each little Gem over the course of this last year. If you have the time, click here and look through some of these posts, then comment on your favorites below. It would be an awesome tribute to her, and a pretty neat way to ring in the new year. :)

Now, focusing on this final reflection, I feel kind of saddened by the fact that I don't really know a lot about my mother's wedding dress, or even the day they were married. My parents were married very young, and divorced when my older brother and sister were still really little. They then remarried a few years later, and that second wedding is the one of which I have more knowledge.

I remember seeing a picture of her in the silky, silver dress that she wore that day, and I believe they only had a small ceremony and get-together at our house in Henderson.

Sadly, my parents were divorced when I was a senior in high school, but my mom did get married again a few years later. I wasn't able to attend the wedding, as they were married on a romantic, Alaskan cruise ship, but she looked absolutely beautiful that day in her cream wedding dress and elegant pearls. I only wish that story had a happy ending, though, for my mother is one of the most loving, selfless people I know, and she deserves to be truly happy. Unfortunately, however, that marriage ended abruptly just shy of their six-year anniversary.

One thing I know about my mother, though, is that is she is a survivor. She has been through so many trials in this life, yet she always manages to stay true to her faith in Jesus Christ, maintaining an attitude of gratitude. If anyone has a reason to be bitter or hopeless, it is her, yet she continues to give of herself and love those around her unconditionally.

My mother has always been someone that I've looked up to as a pillar of strength, and I know that she doesn't need a man in her life to be happy; however, I still hold onto the hope that one day she will meet her Prince Charming, and will have her happy ending all the same. :)

Reflecting on Education

Gems of Reflection, #51
I absolutely loved school - both in high school and college. In high school, I played several sports, including volleyball, basketball, and track. It allowed me to have some amazing life experiences and meet some incredible people. I also played in the marching band my freshman year, and that was a blast too. I think all of these activities helped me to stay focused on getting good grades and making choices that would help me to maintain eligibility status, thereby having a positive high school experience.

College was a bit of a struggle for me, only because I was a single mother working full time AND going to school full time too. M, who was only a toddler at the time, went from daycare to daycare, often not seeing me but in the morning and at bedtime, and looking back, I think she may have really suffered from the lack of one on one interaction with me.

I don't regret getting my education; though, and I had many awesome experiences that shaped my thinking and molded me into the person I am today. College is where I really started to hone my love for English grammar - where I first started thinking that one day I might want to be an English teacher. I also really gained a love for the Spanish language in college, and it was this point in my life when I really started to become fluent. It was partly due to the several (five) semesters of Spanish classes that I took, but it can also be attributed to the opportunities I was given outside of school (at work, for example) to speak the language and communicate with others on a regular basis.

I got my AA in English in the 2005, and I am grateful for the scholarships I received, and the numerous family members who supported me through the process and helped me to accomplish that goal. I only hope that one day I'll be able to go back to school to complete my Bachelor's Degree - possibly with a minor in Spanish. Maybe by then, we'll be living in Utah, and I can get my BA from BYU. That would be awesome! :)

Source: twowritingteachers.wordpress.com via The Purple on Pinterest

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

This Christmas Eve...

Yay! It's Christmas Eve. I cannot express how excited I am that tomorrow is Christmas! L is 3-years old this year, and so it is the first time that he has really started to understand who Santa Claus is and that he comes to visit on Christmas, bringing toys and goodies for all the good little girls and boys. He even wrote his own little letter to Santa this year (with Mom's help, of course), and every day, he wakes up trying to convince me that it's Christmas so he can open his presents. Hehe. He asked to help me make sugar cookies and has also started requesting Christmas songs when we have our singing time right before nap.

Last night, we took the kids to Glittering Lights at The Las Vegas Motor Speedway and we had so much fun driving through the plethora of incredible light displays, jammin' out to Christmas music, and enjoying time as a family. Today, I made homemade bread and cinnamon rolls for us all to enjoy with our breakfast tomorrow morning after opening presents, and I can't wait to see the look on L's face when he wakes up to find what Santa brought him. Seeing the magic of Christmas through a child's eyes always makes the season so special for me. I love being a parent, and being able to take part in making the holidays special for my kids.

This past Sunday, we had Christmas dinner with my mom, grandma, and the rest of my family at my brother's house. We did a little family-gift exchange, decorated sugar cookies, the kids (eight cousins in all) colored little, wooden ornaments to exchange with each other, and we all enjoyed some yummy ham and Christmas fixins.

Family is definitely one of my most favorite things to celebrate throughout the holiday season, and I am so grateful that I have family close to share in the magic of the season.

So, from my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

This beautiful piece of art was gifted to M by my 3-year-old nephew. ;)

Monday, December 23, 2013

An Eye-Opening Job Experience

Gems of Reflection - #50
I have been fortunate in the fact that I have been able to be a stay-at-home mom for the last few years, so I haven't worked since before I got pregnant with my 3-year-old son, L. It has been such a rewarding experience to be able to stay home with my babies, to watch them grow, to be a part of every milestone in their lives, and to have an active role in raising them. My last few jobs before I started to stay home, however, were all in the legal field. I worked as a legal assistant for a few different law offices here in town, but my favorite jobs were the two jobs where I worked for a criminal defense attorney.

The most recent of those two attorneys had a large client base of women who had charges of prostitution and trespassing. The caseload was so large, in fact, that he employed one person specifically to handle only those types of cases - me. 

I handled everything where these girls were concerned from collecting attorney's fees to scheduling court dates. I managed every aspect of their case(s) (yes, most of them had several recurring charges) short of appearing in court for/with them, and I basically was responsible for dealing with client relations, and thereby was required to familiarize myself with the details of every case. At any given time, there were upwards of 200 clients under my stewardship, and it was definitely an eye-opening experience to work so closely with these women whose sole source of income was from such a questionable nature. 

Many of these women were married with children - some had husbands who were completely oblivious to what kind of lifestyle their wife was living. Some women would walk into our office first thing in the morning as they were just getting off work - to pay a bill or inquire about their case - all decked out in their mini skirts and "hooker heels" (as my oh-so-gracious husband likes to call them) with their kids in tow, and I sometimes felt myself feeling sorrow for the the "sad" life that these women led, as well as what their children were being exposed to. 

Before having worked that job, I might have been dismissive of these types of women - judgmental even - but as I continued to do my job and got to know them each on a personal level, I came to realize that they too are children of our Heavenly Father, and it was not my place to judge them. Though I didn't agree with their life choices, I was in no position to think less of them. I don't know, maybe it's naive to think that that particular situation could have changed my thinking, but I really came to see these women as normal human beings - like there was nothing setting them apart from myself, and I came to understand what it means to "love the sinner, hate the sin." Maybe this is what it means to have Christ-like love and acceptance for others and to see them as He sees them.  

Romans 5:8 says, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." I am not condoning the actions of these women, nor am I saying that I disagree with their method of earning income any less. All I am saying is that my perspective has changed a little in the sense that I have learned to look at those who would be deemed as "sinners" as nothing other than children of our Heavenly Father - who need our love and acceptance as much as we need these same things from others. And if I ever find myself sitting on a throne of judgmental condescension toward others, I try to remember this important lesson and reflect back on the wisdom that was gained in the process.

I don't know, working with these women was not the most glamorous job in the world, and I definitely got teased a time or two by my co-workers about being "the Mormon girl who worked with prostitutes," but I am thankful for the valuable life-lesson that I learned from the experience. It's one I definitely never expected to learn from such an environment.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Blessing of Friendship

Gems of Reflection, #49
So, I guess my answer to this question would depend on one's definition of the word, friend. I count myself lucky to know so many thoughtful people who sacrifice for the needs of my family, and to know so many wonderful souls who are willing to serve me in numerous ways, and so I have many people in my circle of influence that I am lucky to call my friend.

To me, a friend is someone that loves you as the Savior does and is there for you, should you ever be in need of something - spiritual or material - someone you would do the same for, should the roles ever be reversed. In this aspect, I am fortunate in the fact that I have many amazing, caring women in my ward, who have come to my rescue on numerous occasions - simply because of the fact that they knew I was in need. Many of these women have been there to uplift me spiritually, when I was in desperate need of comfort, and they were willing to listen to the promptings of the spirit and meet that need as well, while others offered to take the kids for a playdate (because they knew I needed the silence to regain my sanity. lol), or have offered to give M a ride to school or to mutual.

I know that Heavenly Father puts us in a certain place for a reason, as he puts certain people into our lives for a reason too, and I know that he knew I needed this ward. I am eternally grateful for the blessing of these sisters who have been such dear friends to me, and I pray that I can only return the favor and be a good friend to them as well.

Now, there are also several family members that I have grown close to and consider my friends. My husband and my mom are probably my best friends in the world, but I also have sisters-in-law that I have come to know and love. I am thankful for each of these relationships, for the strength and comfort they provide in trying times, and for the way my life is blessed because of their love. I know my Heavenly Father loves me and puts these people into my life to bless me daily. For that, I am so truly grateful. :)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The 12 Days of Service

With the official kick-off of the holiday season this past weekend, I have been pondering a lot lately on how I might invite the real spirit of Christmas into our home, instilling a sense of charity in my children's hearts, and teaching them about the true meaning of Christmas. The first thing that came to mind, was service.

How can I implement this lesson in a way that will appeal to their impressionable minds; though, without the situation seeming pre-meditated or preachy (they seem to learn certain life lessons more profoundly when they are delivered in a natural, easily-relatable way)? Then it hit me: The 12 Days of Christmas. Instead of giving gifts to someone each day for the duration of 12 days, however, maybe we could perform little acts of service for others instead.

So, I have been racking my brain these last few days, trying to come up with some ideas for little acts of service that they could perform for The 12 Days of Service, and this is what I came up with:

1. Bake a plate of cookies for a neighbor. Place it on their front porch, ring the doorbell, and RUN!!! Hehe;
2. When going through the drive-thru, pay for the person in line behind you;
3. Put together little baggies of Hershey's kisses (or hugs) with a note that says, "Here are some kisses/hugs from someone who wants you to know you are loved." Then, attach the baggies to several random windshields in a parking lot (at church, for example);
4. Send "thank you" notes anonymously to a few people (teachers, or missionaries serving from your ward, for example) who have made an impact in your life;
5. Put together a few "care kits" in 1-gallon ziploc bags (with toothpaste, a toothbrush, soap, gift cards for fast food, a spiritual message, etc.) then keep them in your car. Give them to homeless people who may be in need of these little necessities (I totally stole this one from a friend. Hehe). For some additional ideas on what to pack in the kits, I found this website. It had some really helpful info. :)
6. Make a tie-quilt (an easy DIY project that doesn't require sewing, and the kiddos can easily help out), and give it to a child or person in need. For those of you who want to learn how to make one, here is a cute tutorial that will show you how. The tutorial recommends using 2 1/2 yards of fabric, but you can make it smaller or larger, depending on the size of the child/person you intend to give it to. One thing I would also recommend (that the video doesn't address) is for you to make sure that you cut off the selvage edge of the fabric (usually has the brand of the fabric printed down one side) and then make sure both fabrics line up perfectly BEFORE you start cutting. I usually put a few pins through the fabric before cutting the strips as well to make sure the fabric doesn't slip;
7. Go to the dollar store and pick up a few boxes of crayons and a few coloring books. Wrap a box of crayons with each coloring book, then secretly leave each wrapped package anonymously on the door of a child in your neighborhood;
8. Leave a few extra stamps at the post office - I stole this one too, although I have to admit that I am ashamed for not thinking of it myself. A few days ago, I took L-Bear (my 3-year-old) to the post office to get a stamp and mail his letter to Santa. The lady that was in line in front of us had a bunch of packages that she was trying to mail off, but when she saw that I only had the one letter, she asked me, "Do you just need a stamp?" When I told her, "Yes," she offered to let me go ahead of her, but then said, "Ya know what? I have an extra stamp. Here you go." And she totally gave me a one of her stamps. I thanked her over and over, and knew that the experience was a call for me to pay-it-forward. So, I definitely need to do this one. This woman's kindness also inspired the next act of service:
9. Let someone cut you in line at the grocery store or post office;
10. Donate some books to your local library or to your ward nursery;
11. Leave a basket full of chocolates anonymously in the Relief Society room with a note that says, "Thank you for all you do"; and
12. Leave a plate of cookies in the office (for the office staff) of your child's school.

If you have any other ideas for acts of service that you would like to share, please leave a comment below. I plan to implement The 12 Days of Service initiative into our family home evening next week so we will have plenty of time to prepare for our acts of service in advance, and I look forward to hearing what some of you guys come up with. :)

Thank you all, and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Testimony of Life and Marriage

Gems of Reflection, #48
First off, I want to apologize for all the Gems posts lately. I have been trying desperately to get caught up on November's posts so that I would be able to write the first of December's posts today, since it is the first Monday of the month - and woo hoo! I did it. Hallelujah. Hehe.

It's a miracle, I know, but hopefully I will be able to stay on task through all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season so that these final few Gems posts will appear every Monday, as regularly scheduled, until the end of the year.

Man, I can hardly believe that we only have 4 short weeks left (after today) until we reach the end of our Gems of Reflection challenge. Even moreso, I can't believe that such little time remains until the commencement of 2014. The older I get, the faster time seems to fly on by.

Anyway, onto the topic at hand. I have a firm testimony in the Plan of Salvation, and I know that we lived with our Heavenly Father before we came to this Earth, that we chose His plan, and that we are here to prove faithful to Him in all that we do, to follow the example of the Savior and to endure to the end so that we can return to Him when the time comes.

I know that our loving Heavenly Father does not expect us to be perfect, but because of the sacrifice of the Savior, we are able to be redeemed through Him and become perfected as we strive to live the commandments and emulate the example of our elder brother, Jesus Christ.

I am so grateful for the gospel in my life, and for the knowledge I possess that gives me purpose in this life. I am grateful for my family, for the gift of motherhood, and for the many beautiful and wonderful experiences, which that blessing affords. I know that Heavenly Father wants us to experience joy in this life, and that He has promised us so many blessings if we only remain faithful and righteous - and though I don't dare to claim perfection, I do strive to let the light of Christ shine through me, that I might teach my children the importance of the gospel in their life, that they may come to gain a testimony of their own, and to know in their hearts that Heavenly Father loves them and has a plan for them too.

I love my family, and I am so grateful for the blessings of marriage. I have a firm testimony in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, and I know that those words were received through revelation from our Heavenly Father. I know that marriage between a man and woman is ordained of God, and that through the power of the priesthood, families can be together forever - bound together eternally through the Abrahamic Covenant.

I love being married to a man who honors his priesthood and strives to better himself because of his love for the gospel and his family. Marriage is not always easy, but it brings me such happiness - striving as a union toward raising a family in righteousness, and fumbling through this scary thing called parenthood - together. Our relationship is not perfect, and we definitely don't always see eye-to-eye, but I can't imagine my life without my eternal companion, and I thank Heavenly Father for the gift of marriage daily. I have become a better person through the trials we have overcome together, and I know that as we strive to be righteous parents for our children, going before the Lord in prayerful supplication, He will guide us and will bless us with the strength and wisdom to be the parents that each of our children needs and deserves.

Please feel free to share your own testimony of life and marriage in the comments below, or post a link where we might visit your blog to share in your thoughts on this topic.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Remembering Beloved Aunts and Uncles

Gems of Reflection, #47
One of my favorite uncles is my dad's brother, Lyle. I always thought he looked a lot like my dad, and I've always thought he has such a goofy personality. He is silly and fun to be around, but he also has kind of an eccentric/brilliant side that makes him incredibly unique.

He always talks about things that are so far above my head (lol), and I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be as intelligent as he is. Still, he is never condescending, and the first thing he does when he comes around is wrap his arms around you and tell you how good it is to see you.

He and my dad used to crack us up on family camping trips by telling us some of the crazy things they did growing up, and they spooked us a good time or two with their creepy campfire stories. I have a lot of memories of family reunions, and prayers said by my uncle in Chinese (he served his mission in Hong Kong), as we silly children sat around the dinner table trying to stifle our giggles. We all thought he sounded silly then, but as an adult, I realize what an asset it is to be able to speak a second language, and I admire him for having served a mission - in China, of all places.

Picking my favorite aunt is a little more difficult, as I have some pretty spectacular women in my family. My great aunt, Helen (my grandma Ruby's oldest sister), is the one who has hosted the Christmas party at her house every year, which I have mentioned in previous posts. She has just always provided an atmosphere of love and acceptance, and no matter how long it's been since you have visited her home, you always feel like you belong.

She knits the cutest little hats for all of her great grandchildren, and has even given a couple to my kids and to my siblings' children. She has stood beside me in her kitchen teaching me how to make her famous homemade biscuits, and has walked me through the process of making a quilt. She always opens her home to loved ones for a visit, and is the epitome of selflessness. I only hope that I can learn to be as loving toward others as she has been to me.

Another one of my favorite aunts is my great aunt, Joy (another one of my Grandma Ruby's sisters). She passed away a few years ago, but I have always had a special bond with her. When my siblings and I were still little, she brought over some treats for my family one Valentine's Day, but as she was addressing the treats, she could not remember my name (lol). She had always loved the name Jolene, so instead of writing my name on the valentine, she wrote all of my siblings' names and then addressed it to Jolene as well. Haha. From that day on, I was her little Jolene.

She moved to Logan, Utah some years later, but every time I would talk to her or see her, she would ask how her little Jolene was doing. She always asked my Grandma Ruby about me too, like I was her special, little niece. As I became an adult, I started signing letters and Christmas cards to her with the name "Jolene". It was our little inside joke, and it made me feel loved and unique. I miss her terribly, but I think of her often - especially around Valentine's Day. ;)