We moved to Philadelphia four years ago. This is the first time in our lives where we didn’t have an exit strategy. What I mean is that in every other season of life, we’ve known that we were only going to be in a certain place temporarily. When I was in high school, I knew I was going leave the nest for college. When I got to Albany for college, I knew it was going to be four years and out. When I went to seminary in Boston, I knew my time there would come to an end. But our move to Philadelphia was different. We have no exit strategy.
That being the case, it’s the first time we ever gave serious thought to buying a home. Renting made sense in every other place. This is the first time where we were putting down permanent roots; the first time where we desired a home. Now the question was which home and where.
Now by nature, Shainu and I are both suburbanites. We grew up in the suburbs. We like the suburbs. The suburbs have good schools, nice homes, backyards, and trees. Shainu loves trees. The city has bad schools, so-so homes, cubicle-size backyards, and concrete. Shainu hates concrete. So we were torn. On the one hand, we wanted to be in the suburbs. On the other hand, how could we move out of the city? The church’s building was in the city and the heart of the mission was in the city.
I didn’t want to move out of the city because I was afraid and lacked faith. At the same time, I didn’t want to stay in the city because I wanted Tim Keller to be proud of me and that’s what real church planters do. So all of that left me paralyzed. I’m indecisive to begin with and the weight of making the “right” decision for my family and church made it even worse.
And here’s how my indecision and paralysis played out. We would go and see some homes in the suburbs and then go see some homes in the city. We would talk about home-schooling and then get ready for public school in the suburbs. After months of what felt like mild schizophrenia, we were pressed to make a decision. Our apartment complex was going to raise the rent making it close to a mortgage payment. Interest rates were historically low. And then Shainu and I got into an argument. She basically said, “I’m ready to go to the city or the suburbs, to send the kids to school or homeschool, but you have to make a decision.” To her credit, she had been super patient and willing to follow if I would just lead. On my end, I felt like I had been praying as hard and as consistently as I knew how. It just felt like God was not leading one way or another.
So I went back to prayer and that night I said, “Lord, you have to show me where you want us to live. In fact, if you want us to buy a home and stay in the city, give me Jim and Leena’s home.“
Now some background. Jim and Leena (my cousins and members at Seven Mile Road) are getting ready to move their family as missionaries to Mumbai to fight human trafficking through Bombay Teen Challenge. So they were selling their home. And their home was perfect. They had remodeled it beautifully. It was one mile from our apartment and three miles from the church’s building. And it was in our price range. The only thing was that their house had already sold. They put it on the market and in about three weeks, it was under contract.
So back to me praying that night. I said, “Lord, if you want us to live in the city, you have to give me Jim and Leena’s home. I know it’s sold, but it’s perfect.” I even said, “Lord, I’m not telling you to screw anyone over. You know that man who bought the home and that he needs a house, but I’m just saying that if you want us in Philly, you have to make it that clear by giving us that home.” I didn’t know what else to pray. So I prayed that for about a week. At the end of a week, Shainu and I resumed conversation about buying a home and I told Shainu that I didn’t have any answers but filled her in on what I was praying.
The very next day, we were in the car and I texted Jim to make plans for the following day. He wrote back saying that he wouldn’t be able to make it because he had to put the house back on the market and that the sale fell through. Shainu and I stared at each other stunned. We couldn’t believe it. It was exactly what I had prayed.
And now to make a long story short, we are the proud new owners of Jim & Leena’s home in the city.
In the words of Paul Miller, “Prayer made a difference after all.”