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Road trip: Riding shotgun

Travel was one of my first loves. I remember telling my mom at a young age that I wanted to visit all the states, each continent and as many countries as possible before I die. The desire to see the world likely comes from the frequent moves my family made in my youth. So much so that folks often ask if my parents were were military. They weren’t. They were simply okay trying something new for a better life. After making life moves with family, school trips with classmates seemed to be a good next step. Which led to vacations with friends throughout my twenties. My thirties was dedicated to exploring myself and solo trips became my therapy… until the therapeutic benefits disappeared. After a while, asking strangers to take horrible snapshots of me in front of historic landmarks lost its charm. I was tired of group travel with various personalities because the first couple of days were usually spent trying to get to know each other, while the last few days were spent putting distance between self and everyone else so we could all enjoy our own personalized experiences.

When solo travel fell out of favor with me, the only pleasure trip I could talk myself into for a five year period was a self-planned hop-on/hop-off train tour along the French and Italian Riveras to celebrate my 40th birthday. Absolutely no complaints about that trip. As the mother of all vacays, it was also the first time I consciously road shotgun with God. The whole trip was about embracing my solo status and a reminder to celebrate myself even in the absence of others.

Over the last two years, my life has been all about transition and transformation, which are happening at multiple layers currently. The biggest layer is moving from New York City to a suburb of Tucson, Arizona. Throughout the last year, I’ve traveled between the two cities preparing to end my life in one and begin anew in the other.

Because August is my birthday month, I view it as my primary new year and a symbol of renewal. For that reason it was important to spend August in the new place. It proved to be a much needed gift of time and space to myself. Before returning to New York City to sell my apartment in the autumn, I decided to take a road trip. The idea started off small-ish. A quick – perhaps overnight – trip to the Grand Canyon. Five hours each way split over two days seemed almost leisurely to me. It turned into a six day excursion I now call my Grand Tour of Arizona. Road trips and national parks are going to be a huge part of my future. 😌

At the beginning of my trip, words began settling in me. These words were a medition throughout my travel.





I felt a need to declutter my mind, my heart, my soul. A need to be more purposeful about decluttering my life. I didn’t think about fasting until I was on the road. At that point I was already tiring fast so not eating was out of the question. As I reflect back, the week before I began my road trip, I did indeed fast from life. I shut down. I refused to check email or follow up with the major stressors in my life. I decompressed. I vegged on tv. I did some gardening, some cleaning. Generally, I allowed myself to simply and quietly occupy my space.

That was a beautiful gift.

The Grand Canyon has become a symbol of perseverance and focus in my life. When I lived in Arizona as a child, we never visited the Canyon. For my relocation, I wanted to be a tourist early on, to see the wonder of my new home state before I fall into new routines.

I am so grateful for the time and opportunity to see some of the amazingly beautiful National Parks and monuments throughout Northern Arizona and the stunning landscape variations from the south to the north of the state. (Many photos will be shared on my Images + Life photo blog under the tag “Exploring Arizona.”) My Grand Tour of Arizona consisted of stops at Sunset Crater Volcano, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Navajo National Monument, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell and the dam that created it, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I camped in my car for the first two nights, found a bed and breakfast on the third night, then splurged on hotel rooms. Nearly three days were spent on Navajo Nation Land. My first camp fire was started at Grand Canyon Desert View camp site. I LOVED that spot! My fire burned for less than five minutes total, despite lighting it up about twenty times. Most amazing and unexpected was the boat ride I took on the lake in the middle of the desert! Who knew? There was so much natural beauty over such a vast amount of land, I grew tired trying to chase it all.

Within the first day or so, I knew this would become a regular, most likely annual, trip for me. Acknowledging that allowed me to relax a bit. There was no need to try to see everything or do more than my body was prepared to do. I made the trip all about photography. Capturing sunrises, sunsets and dark skies were my primary goals each day. The secondary photo goal was to capture some decent self-portraits. Note to self: hair and make-up should be part of the routine when attempting self-portraits on vacay. 🤭

This year has been exhilarating in many ways. I’ve purposefully taken action to change my life into something that represents my heart, spirit, vision and purpose. It’s taken a lot of energy and focus, so much so, I keep thinking I’m failing when I allow too many distractions or eagerly change or adjust plans as things come up. However, when I look around after detours, I see that I have not been pushed off-course. I’m exactly where I need to be. I’m developing and moving at a pace that has been calibrated for me. After all, I am not behind the wheel of my life. I’m riding shotgun. It may appear that I’m in control, but I’m not. It may seem like I can screw all this hard work up, but I can’t. I’ve already surrendered to the one who controls the universe. Any moment of uncertainty or chaos in my life is not going to disrupt the plans He already has in motion for me. Believing that, knowing it, and remembering it brings comfort and peace in a solitude full of communion with my Heavenly Father. My life, my pilgrimage, my journey is unfolding before me. With each step, I discover more and more good things that have been deposited in me for my good.

Be blessed as you go.

Working on my selfie game!

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Who Is Righteous Before God?

This post, “Who is Righteous Before God?” summarizes quite a bit of the process I’ve been detailing for years in my own walk. The process of being separated from worldly influences and desires. Not for the purpose of becoming “self-righteous” — for who can make themselves righteous before God? However, we can get right with God by submitting ourselves to His pruning, weeding, cleansing and watering.

“So who is righteous in God’s sight? It is the person who believes the true Gospel, repents, follows Christ, and obeys the law. Not the written code, but instead, the law of the Spirit. And what does that entail? It entails “circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit”. This is the person God will praise by declaring righteous.

“And what is this circumcision? It is a cutting away from the heart that which is corrupt, defiling, God-hating, idolatrous, sinful, and wicked. Just as a male’s foreskin is prone to harbor disease, so the sinful nature, infected with sin and susceptible to more vileness, grows in the unregenerate heart, hardening it toward God. It must be sliced off. And it is the Spirit who does this for the person who believes, repents, asks, and submits to the process by willingly crucifying the sinful nature. This process is rarely the time-span of a prayer, but a “birthing” done however God pleases, and of which we are not meant to know how to completely explain.” {Click to read the original post}

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Happy Anniversary, Homeowner!

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand,that we should walk in them.  ~ Ephesians 2:8-10

This past week marked the one year anniversary of me closing on my co-op apartment in Manhattan. Celebrating hadn’t crossed my mind until Friday when one of my neighbors suggested I should have friends and family over to mark the occasion. In the absence of both, I decided I will host a tea party with some of my neighbors – all of whom are also celebrating their first anniversary at some point this year too.

I closed on my new apartment home at the end of September 2013 and moved in a few days later on October 2. Both 2012 and 2013 were pressure cooker years for me. So much seemed to have gone wrong for me in 2012 that by the time I began to recognize increase and new direction, I could only respond to it all as additional challenges to get through even while understanding I was in the midst of blessings manifesting in my life. Because of this attitude I have not yet paused to tell the world what God has done for me. That failure on my part has been gnawing at me for the last few days. When it first came to me on Thursday, I decided I would post a status update on Facebook to share the milestone (a year later) with that network. Last night, I went to bed thinking of what I would say, how would I acknowledge the goodness and provision of God in my life? This morning I woke up before 7:00am and began typing on my phone. By the fourth paragraph I realized this was more than a status update.

Why I was trying to trivialize God, I have no idea. I can only say that I hid this blessing (shied away from sharing it) because friends and family didn’t help me with it and I didn’t want them to benefit from the knowledge of it. I didn’t want to share my joy with everyone any more.

Wow. And shame on me.

This morning’s sermon was on Luke 19:12-27, The Parable of the Ten Minas. Just in case I thought I was imagining God’s instruction and insistence that I share, the sermon this morning drove home His point in no uncertain terms. I’m not producing. I’m living within a blessing and I am still empty. I have become a disgraceful servant by not glorifying my King.

I know that everything I receive is not for my benefit, yes, I know that. Everything, absolutely everything I go through and receive is for God’s glory. My responsibility is to give Him praise and proclaim to the world all that He has done for me (Luke 8:39, Luke 17:11-19, Mark 5:19). Only… He is so GREAT that my proclamations may sound like bragging to the world. So… perhaps I do worry what people think of me. I don’t want anyone to think that I am doing so well that I deserve their jealousy – which is the most common gift I receive from family and friends: jealousy, hatred, resentment, disrespect, and disregard. Until they want something from me, of course.

I see my error. I should not have allowed anticipation of people’s reaction to my blessing to keep me from telling all that God has done for me.

This is the slippery slope: I didn’t hide with the intention of hiding. Honestly, I have decorated my home with the intention of hosting the people He sends to me. I bought a dining table that can seat eight people and have extra seating around the apartment because I truly anticipated hosting Bible studies and casual fellowships. I’ve been sitting in my new home resting at first (after two years of back to back adrenaline rushes), then I was waiting. Slowly the waiting turned to withdrawal. Over the course of this year, I’ve become more and more remote. Not because I wanted to. Keeping to myself is now easier than reaching out to people. I used to reach out and invite people into my life all the time. Rejection has taught me to be so selective that I issue no invitations at all anymore. (Invitation has also been on my mind this week and I have a post in the queue for you.)

Here’s the revelation as I write: I have been waiting for God to send me the people I am to focus on, but He had already sent me to be the light of His Word and I’ve been hiding myself within His bounty. He called me and sent me into the world and there are people waiting for my invitation. I am to get up and go, not sit and wait.

Amen! My Heavenly Father is being heard today!

The triumphant story…

I’ve had poor credit for as long as I can remember. Getting a whole bunch of retail credit cards at age 19 did me no good. I’ve never filed for bankruptcy, but I have thought about it many times. In September 2005, I moved to New York City with no money, no job and no family or friends. I struggled every day – so much so that I have to actively remind myself now that I am no longer in that struggle. I did random work for six months until I landed a temporary administrative assistant role at a top bank. That temp role led to a full-time role at a mid-size bank. A year later I was temping at another big bank, having left the full-time gig due to personality conflicts with my manager (all this is covered in my book, My God and Me). I’ve been at my current company ever since; July marked seven years. Throughout most of this time, for six and a half years I lived in a studio apartment in Harlem. All my worldly possessions were in that apartment and in a corner of the basement below me. I tried to upgrade from that apartment for years, but my credit and income were usually the problems. I was finally able to move out of my studio to a one-bedroom apartment in November 2012. Three months later I got the call to purchase my new home.

My studio after the movers and a clean up - home for 6.5 yrs.
My studio after the movers and a clean up – home for 6.5 yrs.

What that transition re-enforced for me was to move when God tells me to move. My landlord would have been happy for me to stay in that studio forever or until I got married. He never had to worry about his rent money – I would go without food before not paying him and he knew it. He welcomed me to his dinner table for all those years to keep me comfortable with paying first. I am convinced that had I not moved when I was urged to move, I would not have gotten my new home last year. The move was preparation. It was a stretch and it was scary. The move-in costs to my new one-bedroom rental amounted to a down payment for a home in other parts of the country, but more importantly the monthly rent payment was $500 more than I had been paying in my studio.

Can you guess how much more than my studio my mortgage and maintenance fees are?

I remember 2013 for the extreme stress of getting my finances in order so I could purchase my Manhattan apartment. Only a few of my co-workers know the details of the ordeal – I mean, blessing 🙂 – because they watched me go through the whole roller coaster ride. They call me lucky, but I know it’s God’s provision. And I’ve been remiss in not sharing what He has done for me.

New York City has affordable housing lotteries (both rentals and ownership) for low and middle incomes. The apartment lotteries provide housing units in the five boroughs of New York City at a discount of market rate. The price you pay depends on your income bracket. I’m not sure if other cities have the same or similar program, but I encourage you to look if you’re interested in home ownership. I had been applying to lottery apartments for about five years and had been called back for at least four before I got the call for this one in early February 2013.

Mine was something like the 1164th application reviewed out of 5000 for a new co-op apartment in a 123-unit development. In my mind it was a miracle that they had even gotten to me. I viewed five apartments during my interview and picked one on the 9th floor – it had an extra window in the bedroom and a view of a corner of Central Park from the living room… not to mention a great evening view of the City.

View from the 9th floor co-op apartment living room. 10-12 ft long window bank.
View from the 9th floor co-op apartment living room. 10-12 ft long window bank.

I had ten days to sign the purchase agreement and hand over my 10% down payment. This is where the battle began and I got my head into strategy like never before. End goal: owning an apartment in this building. I love it! It was everything I had been praying for in my next home in the City – modern, space, location, convenient to work. After all the apartment rentals I had walked through in Manhattan, this was GOLD.

For this development, financing terms were better if I chose one of their two preferred banks (both sponsors of the project) and dealt with only one banker at each. One of the banks was the bank I work at. That banker wanted nothing to do with me. He told me point-blank he was not going to put in a mortgage application because I was too high of a risk and I should contact him in a year to see if I was less of a risk.

The other guy, Dave at Chase Bank, saw my high risk and said, “I can work with this. Just do what I tell you to do and you’ll get your apartment.” Dave worked with me from late February until September 2013. Due to his instruction, my credit score improved by at least 80 points during that time. I can’t thank him enough, even though I know he was divinely positioned to help me. He obeyed and that meant the world to me.

I couldn’t get a mortgage loan in time to get the 9th floor apartment with the extra window and view. I cried in frustration because I was trying so hard to deliver everything everyone was asking for. I thought I had lost the opportunity to claim my slice of Manhattan.

Eleanor, my other guide in this process, worked for the building sales manager. She had interviewed me because the person I was scheduled to interview with had an emergency that day. (God is visible when He moves, you just have to know what to look for!) Eleanor was also the one to tell me I lost the apartment to someone who was ready. Then she told me this, “What is for you is for you. Don’t worry about what doesn’t work out, what God has for you is much better. Just hang in there and be ready when you’re called again.”

She called again at the end of May – a one-bedroom model unit was available; it had been the sales office. Did I want it? “Eleanor, I’m on my way right now!” I wasted no time in signing the preliminary documents. They had my down payment within the next couple of days and Dave was instructed to process my mortgage application ASAP!

Unfortunately, Dave was not able to get my mortgage approved. After about six weeks of processing and back and forth, it was declined. Dave, the dear, determined man that he is, insisted on tweaking my application and submitting again. By this point, I was more than determined that this apartment was meant for me and it was for me to follow-through. Even as Dave resubmitted, I emailed the banker who had refused to work with me earlier that year and informed him of everything Dave had worked with me on, how my credit score had improved and how Chase had declined the loan on a technicality. That banker was on vacation. The banker covering for him responded promptly that he would be happy to work with me and began processing the mortgage loan. His name is Noori. I looked his name up immediately because I knew he was a message. Noori means “light” and his surname means “God has healed”. I later told him his mother named him well because he was a light and a blessing for me in that process.

God is so very good! If you get nothing else from this long report, please get that whatever God has for you, He will walk you into step by step. As frustrating as my home purchase process was, I KNEW I was going to finish well. I KNEW I was going to own a home at the end of it. I KNEW God was telling me what to do and who to trust in every step of the process.

Gratitude isn’t enough…

I don’t think a week has passed in the last year, that I have walked into my home without feeling awe. I’m impressed. At least once or twice a week I walk into my home and thank God for giving me such a beautiful place to call home here. The way He brought everything together still stuns me. He’s amazing!

My last manager told me that where I lived was an impressive tidbit for her to share in her circles. She would tell people, “My administrative assistant just bought an apartment on Park Avenue.” She would report how big their eyes would get. I would remind her that I was OFF of Park Avenue in HARLEM. She would respond: “It doesn’t matter. You’re on Park Avenue, that’s all anyone cares about.”

I supported her for five years and the only thing she ever told me she told others about me was about my home purchase close to a neighborhood that should have been out of reach for a non-connected Midwest transplant working in a support role – the Upper East Side of Manhattan (that’s why Park Avenue matters).

I wanted to matter for more than my purchasing power. I was deep in the weeds of trying to secure a home in the impossibly expensive Manhattan real estate market, but what I can admit now is that the world only sees value in the dollar and what looks prestigious.

I’ve been extremely grateful for God’s provision, but I haven’t been vocal about it. This is me being vocal in the way I know best. This year has not been a financial burden to me. Indeed, I have fared far better than I would have thought had I had the energy to think of my possible situation a year later.

To me I say: Happy Anniversary, Homeowner! I’m so glad I trust God with my finances and everything else. He is the best guide and partner anyone could have.

Me on moving day. The moving truck is behind me. I road my bike between the two apartments all that day.
Me on moving day. The moving truck is behind me. I road my bike between the two apartments all that day.
My patio within the larger Community terrace - private outdoor space in the City. Very GOOD!
My patio within the larger Community terrace – private outdoor space in the City. Very GOOD!
One of the beautiful pieces decorating my home. This was taken in the transitional/training apartment.
One of the beautiful pieces decorating my home. This was taken in the transitional/training apartment.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—

    the Most High, who is my refuge[b]
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.  ~ Psalms 91:9-12

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If you can’t move your mountain…

During a conversation with a friend recently, she mentioned how difficult it was to move the mountains in her life.

My response: “if you can’t move your mountain, beautify it.”

It was an automatic response. We both laughed. And we both pondered it. I’m still pondering….

I’ve learned that heavy lifting of any sort – especially whole life make-overs, overhauls or re-designs – takes some training. And perhaps plenty of planning about how to go about the training. In short: preparation is required before anyone can conquer and move a mountain in their life.

Basically, we need to get to know the mountain we’re trying to move. That getting-to-know period may take much longer than anticipated (read: years). So while you’re living with that mountain in your life, plant a tree or a garden you can enjoy until you build the muscle required to get that mountain out of your way.

Today’s lesson: The size and difficulty of a challenge changes according to the perspective you gain from preparation and experience.