Cottonwood Creek

Camping in a pearl necklace (this post is good summary of our whole blog, full circle)

This is a post that I’ve waited several years to write.  It’s extremely special to me.  The timing had to be right before I shared this with you.  I can’t believe I’m finally able to say it all.

We aren’t “done”, quite yet, if that’s what you’re thinking; we still need a porch ceiling and exterior lights, and a few other things….but we’re getting there.

We receive brand new readers from around the world (over 100 countries) every single day who just stumble upon these posts, and don’t know the story behind them.  So, this post will summarize the entire blog in one package, for convenience.  

For you regular readers, I’ve included information you’ve never heard, and current updates.  So, I hope you’ll read all of it. I think it will bless and encourage you…(if any pictures don’t show up, just click on them)

First, I need to begin with a short story that ties this entire post together.

There was a little girl who had a fake pearl necklace. Whether playing or sleeping, she never took it off. She treasured it.

She also loved her father. Her daddy put her to bed one night, and while exchanging goodnight kisses, he asked his daughter if she’d be willing to give him the pearls.

Her immediate response was no…but felt badly, because she loved her dad, and didn’t like saying “no” to him. This same routine happened several nights in a row.  Each time he asked, her eyes welled up with tears at the very idea of giving up her pearls.  He never got upset with her.  He just smiled and kissed her goodnight.

Finally, one night, he came into her room, but something was different. She was sitting up in bed.  Without saying a word, tears streaming down her face, she reached out and handed her father the fake strand of pearls. She told him between sniffles that she loved him more than she loved the necklace.

He took them from her.

Smiling, and full of compassion, the father reached into his pocket. He pulled out a small box. Completely puzzled, she opened it. Laying inside the box was a strand of genuine pearls.

He wasn’t wanting to take away her treasure.  He wanted to give her a better one.

I heard this story 20 years ago, at a time when I didn’t trust God.  I was told that God is just like the father in this story.  Intrigued, I tucked it away in my heart.

We’ll get back to this Pearl Necklace story in a minute.  For now, go with me to the past….

Back in 2006, my husband and I bought 2 separate tracks of land that were side-by-side.  Each was 1.25 acres.  We built a house on one lot, and left the other untouched.  It wasn’t the log house that we have now, but the 4 of us built it together, as well, with our own hands (except the framing and foundation).   We loved the house and extra land, and fully intended to stay there forever.

Around 2010/2011, times changed economically.  Gas prices had gone WAY up, food had gone up, etc.  Steve was hoping to retire from the fire department soon, and we had a daughter who’d be heading to college within a few years.  We started praying about it, asking God to please show us what we should do to be wiser with money.  Never in our wildest dreams would we have expected His answer to be to buy land and build a Bed and Breakfast….because those things cost money….extra money that we didn’t have. 

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that the first 2 posts (“Welcome to Cottonwood Creek” and “Buying a 25’ teepee”) tell in precise detail exactly how God guided our process by giving both my husband and me an unexpected “vision” in our minds of a Bed & Breakfast.  As Steve and I talked about the “ideas” we had in our “imaginations”, we realized we were visualizing the exact same structure…including a teepee and pond out front.  It was odd.  

After tons of prayer daily for a week, and seeking wise counsel about it, we finally realized that God was putting His next Plan for our lives in our minds…(His solution to our financial prayers).  It was then up to us to obey it…which was daunting.

The first 2 posts of this blog explain how He guided us from a mere “vision”, to the actual buying of land, and how He supplied the money for electricity, water well digging, and pond digging, without any extra money coming out of our pocket or bank account.

Then, He guided us to very specific people at very precise times.  Through those people, God gave us all the necessary exterior and interior wood, metal, furniture, etc to fulfill the vision of the Bed & Breakfast that He had given us.  It was all FREE.  The only things we paid for were the framing wood, insulation, and wiring…(which we never asked Him for.  If we had, He probably would have given us those free, too.). The details are all in the first 2 blog posts.

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As we were building the Bed & Breakfast, it seemed as though His answer to our financial prayers was going to be to rent it out, and receive an additional income.  That would be logical, and obviously an answer to prayer. But, as it turns out…that wasn’t the final answer.

During the building of the Bed & Breakfast, every visitor that came out suggested that we sell our house and move out to this new land.  After many people suggested we move out here, I started to wonder if it was God telling us to sell and move, but using people to convey His continuing Plan to us.  (That’s one way He communicates, but the message/advice needs to agree with the Bible.)

Our response was “no”.  We didn’t want to move.  We loved our home and 3 acres of land.

More and more people suggested we move.  And, God was “nudging” my heart about it.  Steve said that the only way he’d consider moving is if we could be totally mortgage free in the end. So, we looked into that possibility….

We knew how much equity we had in our house.  After extensive research into building costs, building options, etc, that’s when we learned about the Log Home Builder Association.

We took their class, and realized we could actually do this…and end up mortgage free.  However, there were a few obstacles still in the way.

How were we supposed to clear land for a house, and lift heavy logs? We’d need a tractor. We didn’t have the money for one.

How were we supposed to pay for logs up front? We didn’t have the money.

We ran all of our questions past Steve’s wise and godly mother.   We told her about building a log house…moving….buying logs and a tractor….etc. We really expected her to roll her eyes and think we were getting ahead of ourselves and rushing things.  But, to my surprise, she was all on board. She thought this “plan” was ideal for us….

She advised Steve to sell the 1.25 acres of extra land next door to our house, and that money would easily buy both a tractor and pay for the logs and beginning supplies.

My land???  My treasure??  So soon???

It was hard enough to even accept the fact that we’d be selling our home that we loved so much, and had countless memories of our children helping us build it (all recorded in “Butterfly, fly away”).  We both wrestled with that enormously, and did NOT want to sell or move.  However, I was equally as sentimental towards that extra land.  I loved my trees.   If we sold it, someone would start building on it.  IF we were wrong about building, and never ended up buying logs…I wouldn’t have my land by my house anymore.  This might seem simple to you…but it was enough to make me sick.

As soon as Dixie and Steve started talking about selling the land, I went to the bathroom to cry.

I begged God to make it crystal clear to my head and heart IF we were REALLY supposed to build a log house on our new land, and if we were supposed to sell our 1.25 acres of extra land by our house in order to proceed.  

Suddenly, the only words (idea) that entered my mind in that minute were, “Pearl Necklace.”  No other thought entered my mind.  Just “Pearl Necklace”.

I knew exactly what the words meant.  They had been tucked away in my heart for 20 years.  The girl who was willing to give up something she deeply treasured, out of love for her father, because he asked her for it.  She loved him more than she loved her treasure.

I hadn’t thought about the Pearl Necklace story in years.  But, He knew that it was embedded in my heart, and that simply bringing up those 2 words would fill me with instant understanding of my next direction to take.

Jesus said, “ first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

(Sigh.)  I love God more than I loved my land…so, ok.

Here is the street view of our land the day I put the sign up.

Literally, the day after we put the sign up, it sold.

We used that money to buy the tractor and logs.

That’s such a short and easy sentence to say and type, but there are God-stories behind them, as well.   The post called “New Wheels” tells precisely how God guided us to a very particular tractor owned by a man who had been asking God for help.  The post called “Loggers and Quick Sales” tells in detail how God literally closed the doors to every logger we called, except one…which had a miraculous story behind it, as well. 


Looking back on it all now, I remember the day when Steve put up the ropes and stakes to indicate the corners and perimeter lines of our new log house.

I sat down in front of the ropes, knowing that within just a couple of weeks we’d receive our first load of fresh cut logs and start building.  I reflected on the “Pearl Necklace” reminder that He had given me.

In that moment, I told Jesus that I wanted Him to be fully in control of the entire build, especially because HE’s the one that got us out there in the first place…through relentless nudging (and prying…and tush kicking?) on His part.  I desperately needed HIM to guide this entire venture, because I felt clueless about the whole thing.  We had never built a log house before!

I told Him that I wanted this land and our home to be used for whatever HE wanted it to be used for (Jeremiah 29:11).

Lastly, I told Him, “Cover this land from corner to corner with Your Presence and never leave it.”

At that very second, a big bird rose up in front of me, in the front right corner of our property, rising above the trees, without flapping its wings…and soared diagonally to the back left corner of our property…11 acres away.  The precise timing of the bird doing that, with the very second that I asked God to cover this property “from corner to corner with His Presence” stunned me. I’ve never forgotten it.  That was 2-3 years ago (today is October 2016).

Since then, during this past 2 years, in the middle of building and construction, God has already been using the house, like I asked Him to.  We’ve already housed several praise bands, several guest speakers, and a Christian illusionist couple ( who travels and shares the gospel while doing their tricks.  The people you’ll see in these pictures were from out of town and stayed with us…

Also in the midst of the last 2 years of construction, readers of this blog have contacted us.  Several have come here from out-of-town to meet with us.  We’ve had a great time meeting new people, and hosting family and friends.

As great as this has all been…I have to say that this whole building experience came full circle this weekend…

Weeks ago, our new church contacted us, and asked if we’d be willing to let them have their annual father/son camp”in” at our land.  They usually have it inside the church, but thought our land would be more fun.

Reiley, Reese, Steve and I have spent the last few weeks preparing our land for this campout.  100 people arrived Friday night at 6 (September 30, 2016).

100 people.   Camping.  On our land.

25 cars were parked all along the road in front.  Fathers and sons with their tents and gear filled our property. Port-a-potties (outside, private toilets) were brought in…

We used our tractor to clear many different camp sites, pathways, and areas for archery, fishing, hatchet throwing, and survival class.

A couple from our church (the Pinnells) created this father/son program, and have a team of volunteers at Grace Bible church who are their right-hand helpers (Hudells, Billings, Dugi, the Fouch boys, Chet, and Scott).  They made fantastic signs to get around the property easier (they were real pro’s), brought in archery targets, hatchet-throwing targets, fishing rods, bait, kitchen supplies, coolers for drinks, beverages, tables, and far more.

My family and our friend Joe Rios were in charge of cooking all the food.  The Pinnells and their team of church volunteers covered all of the stations to help the kids.  Sammy Young was our speaker, and Martin Bencik was our worship singer.  My girls, Mike Stewart, and I took pictures.  

Can you BELIEVE THIS??  In our very first blog post (“Welcome to Cottonwood Creek”) I told the story of how it seemed God was telling us to buy land and build a Bed &Breakfast.  He put a vision for it, a teepee, a pond, and using it for the ministry in both Steve’s  and my minds.  It didn’t make any sense at the time to either of us, even though we could clearly see it in our heads.  We didn’t have the money to do it…but as we willingly obeyed each step that it seemed God was pointing us to, He provided it all….and now look it it….here’s a map this crew created of our land for the church campout!  There’s the B&B, teepee, and pond from our original “vision”!  And now 100 people were coming to use them, and to grow closer to Him. 

Some kids caught their very first fish.  Some kids learned to shoot bows and arrows for the first time.  Hatchet throwing and making fire was new to many of them, as well.

We served chili for lunch, using 40 pounds of venison that was donated by another fireman (plus more meat).  We also served Native American fry bread, and fried alligator (donated by that fireman)…which were new to most of them.  It was a weekend of “firsts” for sons and fathers to experience together.

I was also stationed in our house for a period of time Friday night and Saturday after lunch to give tours to anyone interested in seeing the log house, and hearing the story of how Jesus got us out here in the first place.  

The entire purpose of the weekend was to help fathers and sons bond more to each other…but more importantly, to bond closer to Jesus.  They played together, and they prayed together.  They attended worship, sang, and listened to the speaker together.  They read scripture together, and discussed it…father/son…

As we listened to the worship music Friday night, I looked around at the sea of flashlights and glow necklaces…fathers and sons singing together. Flashlights were glowing all over our woods…(fathers and sons still assembling their tents as it got dark).

The song everyone was singing was, “Maker of Heaven and of earth…Ruler of all the Universe…to You be the glory…and it’s all because of Jesus I’m alive….it’s all because the blood of Jesus Christ….”. (If you want to see videos, and hear the singing, we’re on Instagram. OurCottonwoodCreek)

I could hear little boys’ voices singing along with their fathers.  Grown men were sharing their sheet music with their sons, by the bonfire… by the teepee… by the pond… by the Bed & Breakfast… (the “vision” Steve and I were given 4 years ago)… covering our entire land with their tents…in back of our log house….

Then they sang, “He will not delay….my Refuge and Strength always….I will not fear…His promise is true…my God will come through….always….always…”

As I listened carefully to the words of the music, and heard the little boys’ voices singing with their dads, I watched the flashlights flickering through the trees, all the way back to the property lines….  I dropped to my knees.  Tears just streamed from my face. I was in absolute awe, because God reminded me in that moment of the day when I asked Him to “fill the land with His Presence from corner to corner”, and the bird rose up into the sky and crossed over the land.

(Can you believe this?????)

Once again, He answered that request, too.  He was giving me another God-wink.  Every father that came was there to bond more with their child, and with Him…so His Presence was everywhere they were, meeting them there, all too happy to love on His sons.  It’s so much for me to take in and process.

All I know is, He gave us a “mental picture ” of buying land and building a guest house with a pond and teepee, and a gut feeling that we were supposed to actually DO it, in spite of the seeming financial barriers.  At the time, none of it made any sense to us.  We were scared and very reluctant.  He took care of any obstacles along the way…as we’ve obeyed His instructions. 

The Old Testament is filled with historical accounts of Him doing exactly the same thing with others.  Every account and person in the Old Testament is 100 percent true and factual.  The same God who told Noah to build an Ark, who guided the Israelites across the dry Red Sea, and who gave specific, crazy sounding instructions to Joshua, Moses, and so many more is the exact same God who told us to build out here, and you can see the outcome of our obeying His instructions.  None of this was our idea or plan.  None of it.  Not one structure, not the land, and not the campout.  No one can ever convince me that God isn’t real, and Jesus Christ isn’t God.  

Remember when I was in the bathroom praying…begging God to make it clear to me if we were supposed to sell our 1.25 acres and use the money to buy logs and a tractor and actually build a log home that we had 0 experience building?   His immediate response to me was “Pearl Necklace.”  Our Heavenly Father exchanged our old land and home for this new land and home.  Cottonwood Creek is our new and far better “pearl necklace.”

Did you know that “Gretchen” (my name) means Pearl?  How’s that for irony?

He has ideal plans for your life, too.  He loves you equally as much.

What’s your pearl necklace?  Are you willing to give it to Him, if He asks for it?