Our dream house was a 120-year-old three-story Victorian home. It was just a few blocks away from one of the loveliest parks in the city, and the same distance from the church I pastored. I could literally walk to work, and did so on many mornings. How convenient!
Unlike the other brick houses that lined the streets nearby, this one was painted pale yellow and stood apart from the rest. Plaster reliefs of baby angels wrapped around the base of the house. They represented the children of the original owners, making the structure even more unique. It also had a three-car garage at the back of it. Few houses in this older section of town had one as large, and many people resorted to parking on the street. But not us! On just an average salary, we had bought one of the nicest places to live in the area. We had thought about doing a few add ons like an accessory dwelling unit for later on in life, but we had put that in the maybe pile at that moment.
I had always dreamed of owning a Victorian home. Right before we moved to our new city, I had performed the role of Professor Henry Higgins from the musical My Fair Lady. So I was primed to live the life of the English gentleman, sipping tea in my beautiful old house. I loved the old wood, the stained-glass windows, and our “penthouse suite” for my wife and me on the top floor. We’d be sequestered away from the noise of our little girls playing below us. It all seemed so ideal.
But it turned out to be anything but ideal. Our “Golden House,” as our little girls came to call it, was not so golden. In fact, our dream house almost killed us, quite literally.
One afternoon I got a call at the church. It was Dawn, my wife, and she was sobbing hysterically. Finally, I was able to make out enough of her words to understand what was happening.
“I fell…come home!”
Almost 20 years ago, my wife had been in a bad car accident that crushed her right leg. I remember it like it was yesterday. The car accident was just horrible, and as much as it pains me to say it, she is lucky to be alive today. If you even glanced at her car at the time of her accident, you would immediately think the worst. I know I did. She spent quite a long time in hospital after that, and if it wasn’t for her car insurance policy (check out something like these farmers insurance reviews as an example), it would’ve left us in a terrible situation. I can count our lucky stars that Dawn had taken the time to insure the car as soon as we bought it. It really did save her life. I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that I’ve been worried about her ever since. So, when I got the phone call saying she had fallen, I immediately expected the worst because I knew that the ankle couldn’t turn at all. Without a moment’s hesitation, I ran the 5 blocks to my home, I knew what had happened.
When I got to the house, I found Dawn in the basement. She was headed to the washer and dryer there and had misjudged a step going down. She hit the concrete floor hard.
After getting her to the hospital, thankfully, we learned nothing had been broken. However, that would be just the first of several falls for Dawn down those steps. We eventually moved the washer and dryer up to the second floor, which helped a little. But the bottom line was that a three-story house with narrow stairways was not meant for a woman who had challenges with mobility.
I also learned having your bedroom on the third floor is not a good idea for a chubby guy in his mid-50s. There were a few days I wondered if I’d still be alive by the time I reached the top floor. Though I began on the stairway to the bedroom, I might end up on the stairway to heaven.
Then there was the city. Dawn and I always loved culture-restaurants, theater, and all the things a great city has to offer. So, living there, we felt like kids in a candy store. There was always some new restaurant to explore, a show playing somewhere, and interesting people living all around us. It seemed ideal.
Except for crime. And taxes. Many cities are big on those, and ours was no exception. We had both in abundance.
One of our regular nightly diversions was watching the notifications on our community’s “Next Door App” alert us to recent shootings and hold-ups around us. One of us would hear gunshots, and I’d watch for the posts to pop up. I’d then calculate how close it was to our home. Many were within just a few blocks, some just down the street.
We would occasionally get notices of some tax we hadn’t paid. Usually, we neglected to pay because the city had neglected to ever send a bill. Then one day, you get a notice you’re being sent to a collections agency, even though you still hadn’t received a bill yourself.
Once we got a bill for trash pick-up. We were confused because we paid a refuse bill on time every month. But a lady on the phone informed us what we had paid was in fact only the garbage bill. There was a completely different bill that was a tax for just having trash pick up available to us in the city. This bill was paying for the “possibility” our trash might be picked up. No kidding.
I’m sure they’re still probably working on a way to collect a tax on our taxes.
All of this added together was a painful lesson on the difference between perception and reality. When we first moved to that city, we were still living in an apartment, I would walk down those very streets and fantasize about how wonderful living there would be. When we found the Golden House, we rejoiced and basically cried out, “Here, take our money” to the realtor.
But the view from the outside of a situation is always much different from the inside. Nothing is ever quite what you expect-with houses, or with life.
The problem with so many of the things we want is that they are too often based on an illusion. We think a thing, a person, or a situation will bring happiness. But happiness is never found in those things outside us.
Real happiness only happens from the inside out.
There’s an old-fashioned Bible word for this foolishness: covetousness. The prohibition against coveting is actually the tenth and final commandment. It’s easily skimmed over in favor of the more R-rated commandments against murder or adultery. Simply wanting your neighbors’ stuff as opposed to stealing it or killing for it seems like no big deal in comparison.
But coveting is like a powerful drug. The addict never gets enough. Once he gets that one thing he’s obsessed over, he’s disappointed to realize it doesn’t fulfill his needs, and he moves on to something more. The new car he’d wanted all his life now sits in the garage most days. She can’t even remember why she bought that purse now. That’s how coveting works: whatever you get, it’s never enough. You’re always left wanting something else, and even more addicted to your desires.
Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; And this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. – Luke 12:15
There was nothing wrong with us wanting a house. But it was very wrong of me to think that it would bring us so much happiness on its own. The ideal life and fulfillment I was expecting from a house were unreasonable.
That kind of happiness only comes from God’s address, not mine.
Inevitably, we become like kids on the day after Christmas. We’ve opened every package, played with every toy, and we’re already bored with them. The newness of the gifts wore off in a day, all because we were expecting too much from them to begin with.
Most homes stop being dream houses the minute we walk into them. Reality inevitably sets in, and the “house porn” on the realtor’s website is now just a bunch of plaster and drywall.
We finally made it out of our dream house before it killed us. No, we didn’t run screaming from it in the middle of the night like in The Shining or The Amityville Horror. When we left, it did take quite a bite out of our finances, and we had to sell for quite a bit less than we’d paid. But the wound was worth it for the lesson we learned.
We’re in a new place now, in a much smaller city. We’re renting a little one-story house we’re hoping to buy soon. We’re in a little neighborhood where we hardly ever lock our front door. It’s pretty boring compared to city life, but that’s perfectly fine with me.
I’ve discovered what really makes a “dream house.” The dream is not the house, it’s the people you put in it. Regardless of the size or location, those people are what make life worthwhile.
Everything else is just a dream. And all that glitters is not a golden house.
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.