John and I were attending a Good Friday service at our church when all of a sudden a vision appeared in front of me. It was a simple image: I saw the two of us at a retreat center, a place of beauty and safety and spiritual healing.
I shared the vision with John and a couple weeks later, on my birthday, he took me to an art gallery in Grand Rapids and said he had a gift for me. But the gift was not a painting to take home, but simply a beautiful image of a cabin in the woods. He said he wanted to provide a place for me to work on my novels.
We prayed about my vision of a retreat center and kept our eyes and ears open to possibilities. One day as we left a beach on Lake Michigan, we saw a realtor’s sign with the name Tad DeGraaf. John said, “That must be Tad who runs a gallery in Saugatuck.”
“No,” I said. “There are lots of Tad DeGraafs in southwest Michigan.”
We got into such a disagreement that we decided to go to the gallery and settle our debate.
John was right. Tad was not only an art dealer, but also a realtor. We told him we were looking for a writing studio/retreat space and Tad gave us a Multiple Listing book and marked properties that were both aesthetically pleasing and might meet our needs. The first listing—the least expensive—was a small cabin perched on the edge of a ravine surrounded by five acres of woods, wetlands, and a creek. The beauty was in the property, not the house, but I could see even that had great potential.
We moved from Grand Rapids, gutted the house, rebuilt just what we needed on the original footprint, added a garage/studio/guest house, cleared paths in the woods, and built a “corduroy” path through the wetlands to the creek. When our local newspaper published an article about an old Sears and Roebuck log cabin that had been removed from its original site, we bought it and had it reconstructed in our woods. I built a moss-covered labyrinth, a large raised-bed garden, and a poustinia—a prayer shelter in the woods. Many people who came to visit—but most of all John and I—have been blessed and comforted by this holy place where God’s presence is a palpable reality.
One day as I lay on my back on the cabin’s deck, I looked at the sky and asked the Lord to use this place of retreat to bring deep healing. At that moment an eagle flew overhead. Later I climbed down the stairs into the ravine and crossed the corduroy path to the creek. There on the narrow sandy edge of the water was a huge footprint—the eagle—another fingerprint of God’s love.