Friday, March 28, 2014

FAITH FRIDAY // GOD LISTENS

I am still developing my blog and trying to figure out what God has planned for it.  I have noticed that I tend to think a lot lately about my faith and how amazed by it (and Him) I am.  I thought it would be great to not just put random ideas about my faith on my blog, but every Friday do a post about anything faith related.  This might be about blessings I have experienced in the week, something I have learned at church, or a testimony God has put upon my heart to share.  I am learning so much as a Christian and I would love to share that, so someday I can look back and see what I have learned and experienced as a child of God.  

I have grown-up in church my whole life.  I attended the same little, white baptist church in the Tennessee Mountains my whole life until moving.  My church was filled with so much love and I am so thankful my parents raised me to go to church as often as possible.  Since moving to Knoxville, we go to a very different church.  It is huge compared to my tiny home church and it took a lot of getting used to.  It was very intimidating to go to a church so different from the one I was raised in, but the blessings going to this church has given me since attending, shows me it is the right place for us to be.  It is a church I am growing to love, and I love the way I am learning to be closer to my Savior.  

One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that God truly listens to me.  And not only does He listen, but He answers.  I have always prayed, but I think I always hoped God was listening and wasn't sure that anything life-altering would come out of it.  I knew it brought me closer to God and I knew I should pray for others, but in the end I thought that God had His own will and plan, so my prayers might not create the change I was praying for.  I guess as Christians it is easy to just get in a routine of going to church because you are supposed to and praying because you are supposed to, but never really having that personal relationship with God that He wants us to have.  I did that for a long time and I can't believe how much I missed out on.  God is real.  He is alive.  He isn't just a mythical being that we hope to be true, but He is real and He listens.  Many times during prayer you might not think God hears you.  How could a King who created the Heavens and the Earth care enough about me to do something about my silly concerns?  He has so much more to be doing, which is probably a lot more important than my prayers.  However, God does care.  He cares so much He sent His son to die for us and not just for us, but each one of us individually.  He loves you and if you pray with purpose, He will listen to your prayers.  

At church this past Sunday, I was amazed to see my prayers answered.  My prayers were addressed so specifically and so exactly that there was no denying that God had listened to my prayers.  Wow!  It was mind-blowing!  This isn't the first time God has answered my prayers so obviously, but every time He does I am in awe of Him caring that much for me.  This has been happening a lot here lately and I love knowing that my God is caring for me.

How do I know God listens?

1.  Russ and I were trying to find a church here in Knoxville to call home.  It was hard because there are so many churches and I worked many weekends.  Plus,  I was still wanting to visit my old church.  I kept praying about finding a church and Casey (the lady who helped me get my job and used to go to my tiny church) suggested Sevier Heights Baptist Church.  After attending many times, Russ and I started really liking this church, although it was much bigger than I had ever imagined.  At the end of every church service the congregation would hold hands during a song and raise their hands.  This made me uncomfortable and I just didn't like it.  This was my way out, and I made this my excuse to keep looking for a new church.  It made Russ sad, but I told him if it was the church for us then I would have different feelings and wouldn't mind holding hands at the end of the service.  We decided to go to Sevier Heights one more time and amazingly they didn't hold hands at the end and they haven't since.  Now, I wouldn't mind, but at the time God took away the only excuse I had left of not making this church our home.  Coincidence?  I think not...

2.  After going to Sevier Heights for a long time, we had yet to get involved.  We would go and attend the service then leave.  Although this is good, this is not what God wants out of us when we go to church.  He wants us to have support from others and not getting involved does not allow us to have that companionship we so desperately need.  I was scared.  The church was big.  There are so many classrooms and groups and I know no one!  I finally prayed to God that he would help us find a group (aka sunday school class) for us to join.  I was specific in my prayer, which I am also learning is a very important part of prayer.  "Lord, if someone could just take our hand and lead us to a classroom then we could get involved."  The next Sunday the church announced they would be having a "Group Link" where they would help everyone get plugged into a group that didn't have one.  We were able to find two groups to join and have been blessed tremendously from both.  Coincidence?  I think not...

3.  I have been praying for a long time to find and make Christian friends.  I wanted girlfriends, so badly, that I could go out with or find support from that were sweet people.  After getting involved in church, I felt a relief lifted from my shoulders.  I knew I was doing all I could to find other Christian friends and had faith that God would help me find those.  The other day I went out with a couple of girls from work, who are so sweet.  We had the best time and talked for hours.  After lunch was over, I thanked God for allowing me to have this companionship.  At the same time, one of the girls said, "This might sound cheesy, but I have been praying for God to give me Christian friends."  How crazy is that?!  God listened to us and answered our prayers.  Out of all the many nurses at work he lead us to each other.  Coincidence?  Nope!

4.  Last week I started to feel extreme guilt.  I had wasted my whole Spring Break.  I let technology distract me and laziness take over to the point to where I had not studied God's Word, read any devotionals, or devoted any time to prayer.  It was time to make a change.  I decided to set away fifteen minutes to pray with purpose.  I prayed about witnessing to others.   I struggle as a Christian to show others what I have.  It is hard to put it into words, except knowing that it is the best thing that has happened to me.  I also prayed about judging others.  I don't want anyone to think I am judging them, but if we are close enough and others are wanting my opinion then I want them to know what God's Word says.  However, if it does not support what that person is doing then people can say you are judging them.  I want to show love, but also truth.  After going to Sunday School, the exact discussion was brought up.  Other people in the class were saying the same exact things that I had prayed.  And not just similar, but the exact concerns that I had prayed about.  How it can be hard to witness if you do not feel prepared about knowing the word, do we as Christians have the same authority as God to witness to others, and how we face these challenges in our everyday lives.  Although, I did not get a straight-forward answer, it showed me that other Christians struggle with the same issues that I do.  Most importantly, it showed me that God had listened to me.  He listened and cared so much that He put it on our Sunday School Teacher's heart to discuss the exact topics that I had prayed about.  There is no coincidence in this and it once again showed me that God listens and He answers.

God has answered my prayers in the past and blessed me my whole life, but here recently it blows me away how much he cares for me to listen to my concerns and prayers.  The Bible tells us that God listens to our prayers and answers them.  That should be enough.  However, we as humans have little faith.  I am thankful that God has shown me how much he loves me and that my prayers matter.  I can make change with the prayers I say.  They can make a difference in my life and in the life of others. In the process, we focus on God and become closer to Him.  I encourage everyone to pray with purpose daily and see how prayer can change your life because God really does listen.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Two years, Too long

Two years ago today we lost someone very special to us.  Christina was only 16 years old when a car accident claimed her life.  It is such a blessing to know that Christina lived her life for God and loved Him with all of her heart.  We know that we will see her again one day and that is the best gift that you can give anyone is allowing them to know that you're saved.  Christina constantly made us all laugh and loved to tease my family.  From the pew behind her in church, I was able to watch her grow.  I can remember her being just a little baby looking over the back of the pew grinning at us, to Amanda, my best friend and her big sister, taking her to the potty constantly, to singing in church, and finally growing into a beautiful, young lady studying God's word.  She was always wanting to be involved when I would sleep-over at Amanda's house, when we would decorate parties for the church, or go to Dollywood together.  She lived life to the fullest.  When she was too small to ride rollercoasters she would wear cowgirl boots, so she could be tall enough to ride the big rides (which I am still too scared to ride).  She was never afraid!  Singing in front of the church, playing the lead in the Christmas plays, diving right into the pool... She was also gorgeous!  I still remember the last time I saw her.  She was wearing a polka dot dress and just looked so beautiful.  I thought to myself, "Wow! She needs to go into modeling!"  Right at that moment, our song-leader asked her and another girl if they wanted to sing.  She turned around to the girl behind me and gave the prettiest smile ever.  That moment stuck in my head like slow motion, and now I know, it was God's gift to me to keep that memory of her forever. 

Christina was in the homecoming court right before the accident and was able to meet her new niece too.  Amanda gave birth to her daughter Layla just a month before Christina went to be with the Lord.  I was fortunate enough to be at work that day and watch Christina look through the nursery window at the sweet baby.  She was so excited and proud to be a new aunt. 

I struggled a lot after her death.  I couldn't get her out of my mind.  Everything reminded me of her.  I knew she was in Heaven and it was God's timing for her life, but I still could not come to terms with her passing.  One day as I fell asleep on the couch, I had the most amazing experience of my life.  A feeling of peace that I cannot explain washed over me and I saw Christina.  Only she looked different.  No longer did she have braces on her teeth and she was radiating with beauty, even more so than before.  Her smile was contagious.  Her teeth were so pretty, straight, and white.  She still looked like herself only a Heavenly form of herself that I cannot explain.  There was so much light, radiance, and an intense feeling of peace.  When I awoke from the dream, I had tears streaming down my face.  I knew that what I just experienced was no ordinary dream. 

Since that time, I have had such peace about everything because I know how happy she is.  She wouldn't want us to live our life in mourning.  She would want us to live it to the fullest and keep God first in our lives.  So that is what I try to do, everyday.  Her family has handled her death with such courage and grace that amazes me and inspires me continuously. 

Her life has changed me and I am eternally grateful to have had her in my life.

Christina Hope Gargala 10/24/95 - 03/25/12

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Break in Pigeon Forge

This past week Russ and I were on Spring Break.  We still had to work, but it was a much needed break from all of the school stress.  I thought I might work ahead, but decided to just relax, so I could be recharged and ready to go when school started back.  We wanted to do something fun on the weekend, since we were both off.  We decided to go to Pigeon Forge/ Gatlinburg.  It is only 45 minutes away from us and has a bunch of fun things to do.  My parents were planning on going to Dollywood because it was their opening weekend.  Russ and I wanted to rent a cabin and invited my parents to go in with us and get one.  However, trying to find a cabin for only one night was a headache! Literally.  I had a migraine by the time I found one, which was the actual day we were spending the night.  However, it was totally worth it.  The cabin was gorgeous, really clean, beautiful views, and most importantly had a hot tub.  I loved getting to spend time with not only Russ, but also my family.  My brother and his wife came late at night and surprised my parents, which was so much fun!  My dad grilled steaks and my mom and I got to have girl time going to the store.  After spending the night, Russ and I went to the Tanger Outlets and shopped 'til we dropped!  For lunch, we ate at Russ' favorite restaurant there then headed home.  Our original plan was to watch the Soggy Bottom Boys play for the first time together in Gatlinburg, but decided we'd rather just spend time at home with our fur babies.  We had a wonderful Spring Break and weekend.  Now its back to work and reality.... And graduation very very soon! :)

I love my Tennessee Mountains!

Beautiful cabin!




Ready for dinner!

Morning coffee with a view!



My brother and Russ talking on the porch.





The only pic I have of Jared and Jessica and Jared is holding a jug of milk...

About to eat at Russ' favorite restaurant in Pigeon Forge: The Old Mill Pottery House Cafe and Grille
Happy Spring everyone!

LOTS OF LOVE,

Christy

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Our Trips for 2013: Disney World and NYC



After Thanksgiving, Russ and I headed for a quick getaway to New York City.  Russ had been once before with Lee University for his cross-cultural trip, but he hadn't gotten to sight-see much due to being in a conference room the majority of the time.  At the beginning of this year, Russ and I decided to take trips around the holidays so he didn't have to take off much from his new job.  I chose (no surprise) Disney World for the tenth-million time and he chose New York City.  


I wanted to stay in a nicer resort in Disney World just the two of us before we had kiddos.  We went around Memorial Day and stayed for four days.  I wish I could have stayed a week!  It was lovely! We stayed at Coronado Springs, which is a moderate resort.  I had always stayed in the value resorts before, so this was a real treat!   I had read about it being a pretty large resort, so I doubted that we would stay there with kids in the future (at least when they were little) because of all the walking it took to get around the resort.  

Image via https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/coronado-springs-resort/
I loved the resort!  We had a little pool outside our room and it was away from the main sites, so more peaceful, and close to the bus stop.  If I remember right, this resort had three bus stops it was so large!  I love staying in the Disney resorts because of all the perks they bring like extra magic hours, disney transportation, the disney mugs that can be refilled, and just the disney atmosphere in itself.  If you don't take Disney trips often then I would definitely invest in a Disney Resort.  They truly complete your Disney experience and are a must if flying to Orlando.


Huge resort! But gorgeous!
Excuse our pale legs, but the hammocks were wonderful by the water! So peaceful looking up at the palm trees.  It was great to nap before returning to the Disney Parks.


View from our room.
The Main Pool
The Lobby
Our room. Russ snoozing after our first day at the Park. Love the Mickeys made out of towels!

We were spontaneous and tried a restaurant at the resort we were staying at.  The Maya Grill was one of the yummiest places I've ever eaten in Disney World.  It was Mexican food and it hit the spot.  Russ and I are planning on going back the next time we go to Disney it was so good!



It was worth the Foody Pic!
We went to all four parks while we were there.  The neatest part about our trip was that the Magic Kingdom was open 24 hours, so we got get there extra early and the castle looked beautiful!

Here is a Disney Tip!  When you get to the Magic Kingdom get your family's picture in front of the clock and then get another picture when you leave so you can tell how long you were in the park!  Notice the time on the clock the morning we got there! So exciting!

I love how the castle looked so early in the morning!  It was great to get the Disney Cast to take photos of you with their professional cameras and put on your Disney Photopass, that you can buy later.  They will also take your picture with your own camera too, so don't be afraid to ask!
Warning: My hair was awful during this trip!


The absolute best part of this trip besides being at Disney with my love (my two most favorite things!) was seeing the new additions to Magic Kingdom, which included the Beauty and The Beast Restaurant!! I am a little obsessed with Beauty and The Beast... Always have been and probably always will be.  Don't judge! ;)

They let us have a sneak peak that morning, but I had reservations for another day!  I was speechless!






Gaston's Tavern with my LeFou's Brew in my new Belle cup!  And I still drink out of this cup on a daily basis haha





In Gaston's chair!

Dinner reservations at Belle's Restaurant.  The ceiling was gorgeous!

It was hard to take good pics with my camera inside!


The West Wing was pretty neat, but we ate in the ballroom.



Desserts!
Of course we had to get our picture made with The Beast! We were burnt to a crisp at this point!

We had a great, amazing time on this trip! The biggest problem is that it wasn't long enough!  I have many more pictures, but thought I should move on to the NYC trip before this post gets too terribly long!  Speaking of the NYC trip, it wasn't nearly as great and amazing as my Disney World trip.  However, it wasn't really Russ' or NYC's fault.  It was the awful, terrible stomach virus' fault!!!  


We decided to go to NYC on Black Friday and stay for four days.  We got a great deal on our plane tickets and hotel room.  Thankfully, our hotel room was large and clean, since we spent a lot of time there!  We got there Black Friday afternoon and left Monday evening.  I got sick Saturday morning and Russ got sick Monday morning.  It was rough!!  But we conquered NYC despite all of our obstacles and got to see everything we wanted to see.  They even moved our Broadway tickets for the Lion King (yes I'm obsessed with Disney... It is a real addiction!) from Saturday to Sunday since I was stuck on the bathroom floor, literally.  We made the most of our of our little weekend getaway and learned a very important lesson;  Do not travel right after Thanksgiving, or any other holiday for that matter.  (Everyone got the stomach bug from my Mamaw's house on Thanksgiving and I def should have worn a mask on Christmas just in case!)

Times Square

Lady Liberty!

First restaurant in the Subway... Grand Central Oyster Bar!
Neat restaurant and I got my first "taste" of sticker shock! Expensive but the best clam chowder soup ever!

Got to shop at my favorite store on Black Friday!!  I saw multiple Loft stores while in NYC, so it is probably a good thing I don't live there or I'd be broke!





In the Disney Store... see I told ya!




The Rockettes!



The True Meaning of Christmas
Pizza we bought and took to our hotel room late at night after the show!  It only cost $8!


Breakfast before the virus hit! :(


So happy we got to go to Macy's before the stomach virus made its nasty appearance!


And this is when I got sick!  Somehow I made it back to the hotel and stayed in the restroom the rest of the day...

After many visits to the pharmacy (not the way I planned to spend my shopping money) and being heavily medicated, I was able to get ready and make it to the Statue of Liberty.  The boat ride over was difficult, but I am so thankful I was able to make it to see Lady Liberty.  It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.







After looking at the Statue of Liberty, we decided to head over to Chinatown, so I could try and eat some Wonton soup.  Thankfully, we found the perfect spot and had a wonderful lunch before seeing The Lion King on Broadway.








The Lion King was awesome!  I would love to watch it again someday... Maybe with our kids though ;)



At FAO Schwarz to buy Russ' name gift for little Miss. Kaybri! She loves Hello Kitty!


For dinner that night we ate at Tony's and it was my favorite meal!  It was very romantic and I am so blessed we were able to enjoy this time together.







We had a wonderful evening together despite all that had happened, which is a good thing since the next morning Russ woke up with the bug!!!  Thankfully, we knew what was coming and had a whole pharmacy in the hotel room (practically) to give him.  We had to check-out of the hotel that morning and really wanted to see The World Trade Centers.  Russ was a trooper and we caught a taxi.  I don't know if you have ever played the game "Crazy Taxi" but our taxi driver had nothing on that game.  He would speed up as fast as possible and then slam on the brakes as hard as he could.  It took a little while to get to our destination and a crazy taxi ride plus the stomach virus just don't go well together.  Poor Russ was green!  By the time he let us out, Russ ended up puking right off the sidewalk!  I guess you can say we left our mark on New York City!! What a crazy trip!

Packing up to go home... but the flight wasn't until late that night!







Truly heartbreaking to see all the names of those who lost their lives on 9/11.






Max Brenner's Chocolate Bar

Too sick to eat :(

Wonderful hot chocolate!

Doesn't everyone take a nap at The Museum of Natural History?

Bless us!


Central Park



Rockefeller Center.  We didn't get to see the Christmas Tree light up, but at this point we were ready to come home anyways.


Relaxing back at the hotel waiting on our ride to take us to the airport!


At the airport.

Yay! Heading home!

Even though NYC had some unexpected challenges, I am still thankful we were able to visit during the holidays.  It was fun to have two smaller trips and getting to do something we both wanted to do.  I got Disney and Russ got NYC.  I love being married to my best friend and getting to take adventures like these together!  We are truly blessed!

LOTS OF LOVE,

CHRISTY