The story of
THE CEDAR GATE
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The Cedar Gate Story
I have been passionate for a long-time about the topic of generations.
The Chinese harvest magnolia trees, giant magnolia trees and then bundle them and submerge them into deep, deep water. They will then mark them and leave them submerged for 400 years before bringing them back to the surface. By doing it this way, the lumber will have been cured in the most perfect conditions for them to use to build their temples.
This is a generational thinking process because the people who cut the trees will never see the trees in their final form.
They are putting them in the process, and no one will see them for 400 years. Even more importantly, the Chinese are constantly putting trees in the process so that they can always be bringing trees out of it. This is a long-term, 400 years to be exact, big thinking, generational mentality. There will be many generations that pass between cutting and temple.
In today’s American culture, so many people think so short minded. Too often we think more about the next 30 minutes, not the next 30 days, or even the next 30 years. We’re thinking I want it immediately. We’re not thinking about the impact that every decision we make has on the next generation.
In 1967, when I was just three years old, we started renting the property at the Cedar Gate. My Aunt Vivian, at least that’s what I called her even though she wasn’t my real aunt, she was my grandmother’s best friend. Aunt Vivian and her husband, who had been hurt in the war and had come back disabled, owned the land but because her husband wasn’t able to care for it, they just let the farm go and they lived off of their disability check, just barely.
The farm had been abandoned, basically, and the people who lived in the area called it the worthless sand ranch.
The sand had been blown into piles during the Dust Bowl. They put in a shelter belt of trees on the south side of the property to protect the ground from being blown. Any of the hills on the property are a contribution from our neighbor’s land that blew over here during the Dust Bowl. It was covered with weeds as high as you could reach. It was overgrown with cockleburs as high as your crotch and covered with sandburs between there and the ground. It was so worthless that you couldn’t put anything on it, and you couldn’t raise anything on it either.
But dad saw potential in it, and he wanted Aunt Vivian to lease it to him.
She felt bad leasing it to him for anything because she didn’t know what to do with it. But dad was persistent, and she agreed. She told him he could do whatever he wanted with it to make it usable.
So, the first thing that he did was we came in and we plowed the perimeter of the fence. I’m not sure how many times, but I like saying seven because it’s a good biblical number of times to plow the perimeter. We should have, if we didn’t.
This is the earliest memory I have.
After the perimeter was completely plowed, they set it on fire all the way around the outside and let it burn to the center. The fire and the smoke were so big that we had helicopters flying out from the Oklahoma City news stations to see what had happened out here. People drove from the panhandle of Oklahoma, from almost an hour to the northwest, who saw the smoke and wondered what happened. We had a great burn. It was a cleansing of the land, and it burned everything.
There were no trees even before we burned it, but after we burned it even in the beginning, all the trees were gone except the big trees on the perimeter or in the creek bed.
When it was burned, then dad plowed the entire property. He turned the soil, there was a burning and there was a turning of the soil. Dad worked to break the soil and then he prepared the soil to plant the seed.
The weeds had been eliminated. The stickers had been turned underground. Now there was fresh soil to be sown with choice seed.
The first year they had a bumper crop. I have pictures of them standing with their arms out straight with wheat as tall as their arms from the harvest on that first year. And for several years, it was very fertile soil. It hadn’t been used in years.
In their faith and their hard labor, they let God and the sunshine do the work, and they had a great harvest.
For years after that, the land continued to yield a great crop. We had great wheat crops in half of the property and the other half of the property was used for cattle. Dad planted Bermuda grass and it became a great grass farm and then the native grass came back on over time so that it also became our hay field. It was just a beautiful piece of property.
Dad tried to buy the land for years but they never would sell it to him.
We used it as our nursery for the calves in their season and in the winter as our Christmas tree farm. After a few years the cedar trees started growing in the pastures and we would come over and cut our Christmas tree off of the property.
I remember at age 12, sitting on the hill where our lodge now sits with my mom watching the sunset after we’d cut our Christmas tree.
I told her that someday I was going to buy the property and build something important on it. Mom thought that was really nice and remarked that she hoped that it would come true. Over the years, dad continued to use it for farm ground and then when Marla and I got married, we lived in my grandparents’ house just two miles south of the property.
We would take walks past the south part of the property, sometimes we’d walk the property itself. We dreamed together of someday being able to buy this place and doing something cool with it.
In about 2005, we had the opportunity to buy the land because they finally decided to sell it. At my grandfather’s funeral, we saw Vivian Jeffries (Aunt Vivian) and her children. They told us that they were going to put the land up for sale and that they wanted us to know about it. They were planning on having an auction. So, I approached them and suggested that instead of auctioning it off, they could get it appraised two or three times and whatever the appraised value is as long as they felt comfortable with it, present it to me and if it makes sense I would just buy it. If that worked for them, I could just write a check, then they wouldn’t have to go through all the hassle of an auction. Additionally, they wouldn’t have to wait and we could just get it done right away. I promised to still honor the balance of the lease that Steve Macy had on the property for a few years and they thought that was a great idea. So that’s what we did.
I was actually anxious to do it because I had no idea what this property might sell for if it went up for auction. If they marketed it correctly to hunters or people looking for recreational property, out of Oklahoma City or other areas, it might sell for a whole lot more than what it appraised for at farm value. Thankfully they agreed to get it appraised and I bought it for its appraised value, and we were the new owners of the property.
At first, we just used it for our own recreational purposes. We brought the boys out here camping with all of their homeschool friends.
We actually dug one or two ponds with our own little dozer, and it gave us something to do. We would paddle around in the ponds. We parked an RV trailer on the property so that we could actually stay out here and have a shelter to go to. Then we eventually got water and electricity. We put some shipping containers out here for four wheelers and tools. Gradually, we just added onto it each year a little bit just for recreational purposes.
Marla and I went to a board meeting for the Young Life Leadership up in Rapid City, South Dakota. While we were up there, we would usually get to stay in a mountain cabin up in the Black Hills that one of the other leaders owned and graciously allowed us to stay in. Every time we were there we would say, this is so nice, I would love to someday have a place that was nice enough so that if anybody came down to our part of the country, that they would have a nice place that would be exciting for them to stay in like this. We don’t have mountains and we don’t have big lakes. So, while we were up there we started dreaming about and decided on that trip that what we felt like we were supposed to do with the Cedar Gate was build the Cedar Gate for generations lodge. We believed that it would serve as a reminder for generations of our heritage. We believed that it would provide my children access to our farming, small town, rural country place where my family had come from. We believed that if we built it that it would give our kids a reason to come back out here rather than just a piece of land that they’re not going to ever come use.
So, we decided that it was a great idea. We dreamed about the idea. Wouldn’t it be cool if someday we could actually even have a cabin for each one of the kids? It would be great if after they’re married or they are gone or whatever we could all come back and enjoy the land together? Wouldn’t it be great if we could all go to the Cedar Gate and their families could stay in their own cabin and we could all have plenty of space and enjoy the property for more than just an afternoon? We dreamt about someday potentially have a family reunion spot where all the kids and their families could always come use their own cabin whenever they wanted, and it could be part of their heritage. It was our dream and we decided that we were going to pursue it.
We drew the plans, we had pictures, we had it all figured out. We had a budget. We knew what it was going to cost or approximately what it was going to cost. We saved for a couple of years to be able to move forward with our plans.
Then one day I came back from a trip and my CFO, Ryan Humphrey told me ‘congratulations, you have the money to start building your lodge. I made the last deposit today.’
I was stunned and excited, I didn’t even know we were so close. I had a meeting to go to in Little Rock, Arkansas. I told Marla that when I get back, that I wanted to talk about what it would look like and how we were really going to move forward with what we had planned. So, I took off driving. I got about an hour out of town on I-40 and somewhere between Shawnee and Fort Smith, Arkansas. I went from being really excited to confused about what I felt like we should do first. I was driving and thinking about it, and suddenly I felt very anxious and worried. I have this voice that travels with me that reminded me: “Maybe it’d be a good idea if you asked God what he wanted you to do with this money first.”
So, I asked Him, “God, thank you so much for helping with and giving us the ability to do this. We’re so excited. And just want to know what you think? What should we do with this money first?”
Subconsciously, I was thinking that he would pick from my list, but he didn’t.
He said, “Well, if you want to know what I want you to do with it first… I want you to give it away.”
And I thought well, I’m talking about the money, God must have misunderstood what I was talking about.
But I heard His voice again, “Yes, I know you’re talking about the money and I want you to give it away.”
Immediately I began to respond, “No, no, no, no. I’m talking about the big stack, for the lodge that we just spent all this time saving for that vision that you gave us.”
I heard Him again, “Yes. I want you to give it away.”
And at that point, I tried to cast him out of my pickup thinking this surely can’t be God. It has to be Satan. Get out of my truck.
But He assured me, “You know, it’s me.”
So, we argued on our way to Fort Smith and I lost, and I realized, what am I just stupid? I asked God what he wanted me to do with the money that he had enabled us to save. And he said he wanted us to give it away. So now I’m just going to say no, thumb my nose at him, tell him to take a hike. That’s not going to end well.
So, I told Marla what I felt like God was telling us to do with the money. She asked me where we were supposed to give it. I told her I didn’t know. I just I knew we were supposed to give it away. And so, she said, “Well, let’s give it away.” Together, we divided the money into five different stacks and portions and gave the money to five different ministries we were supporting at that time.
Then we went back to saving again, then about two days later in the mailbox, do you know what I found?
Nothing was inside, not that day, not the next week, not the next month, not 10 times to the penny. It didn’t happen that way for us. I know it has for others. But in our case, what happened was that our vision for us to build a legacy lodge for our family, for our legacy and generations went from a good idea to a God idea.
Now he still wanted us to give it away, except now He wanted us to use it and to steward it for him.
God didn’t give it to us just for us. He entrusted it to us for Him. Of course, He wanted us to use it when it’s available. Ultimately though, He entrusted it to us for a bigger purpose for him.
Today, we now have the Legacy Barn Event Center, we have five cabins, we have the Legacy Lodge, we have the bunkhouse, we have the shooting center, we have the offices and we have so much more.
Often people ask if you knew what you know now, about all that has happened, would you have done it any different. I always tell them that if I knew what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have done it at all.
I probably wouldn’t have ever even started because it’s so much bigger and more costly than I ever imagined.
It doesn’t make sense. I couldn’t have made sense of it. I couldn’t have afforded it. I probably wouldn’t have done it at all. God so wisely brought us along on this journey from A to B to C to D and then now to a place that I never thought we would be. What’s more is, I believe we are just beginning.
Before we even finished the construction, I could tell that the Cedar Gate was going to be an anointed place for connecting and impacting people for generations.
God was already giving us a glimpse of the kind of impact that He had planned for the property even in the construction process. While we were building the lodge, I spent a lot of time out at the property overseeing the build. I didn’t realize the amount of division that was normally between different groups of people on different construction crews.
We’re an hour outside of Oklahoma City. I didn’t realize the burden it would be for a lot of the people to travel back and forth every day to do the work. So, while we were pouring the concrete for the lodge, I’d already realized some of the challenges. And I asked how much it would cost extra for them to go ahead and pour a pad site for a bunkhouse. I told them my plan was to build a bunkhouse for the workers to be able to stay in and enjoy and live out of while they were working, so they wouldn’t have to drive back and forth. So, we proceeded, I marked it off, I cleared the pad with the bobcat, I leveled it out, we formed it up, we put a piece of PVC pipe where we thought the drains were going to go and we poured the concrete that same day as an extension of the lodge. When the framing crew came, they framed it up in no time at all and we had the beginnings of our bunkhouse. That’s when I realized not everybody on my construction crew got along really well. But food has a way of bringing people together. So, every day for as long as the crews were here, I brought lunch every day for as many people as on the property. We would have onion burgers one day, we would have pizza, and then one day we’d have barbecue. We would have Mexican food on Thursdays and on payday Fridays we’d have Eichens chicken.
This had gone on for a few weeks, but soon the Hispanic workers expressed their dislike of the Mexican food that I was bringing. So, instead they started cooking their own Mexican food on Thursdays for everybody as well, I just paid for it and they would share it. Soon, every day at lunch, we would enjoy eating together. All I asked was that during lunch, that we turned the music off that they were listening to and that we would pray together and then we’d eat and that was it. We did that every day. Some of the different crews would stay sometimes in the bunkhouses. We had two different bunkhouses, the bunkhouse and the bunk barn, and some would stay in each. They started cooking out in the evenings together and getting along better. As a result, construction was going faster and better and everybody was happy. I had a friend of mine, Greg Gunn, that came out for a pastor sabbatical and asked if he could stay in the bunk barn, and I told him, sure. I just had to get some of my guys out of the bunk barn to move into the bunkhouse so that he could have it. Greg went with me when I went to talk to my guys in the barn. I said, “Hey guys, a pastor friend of mine is going to stay in the barn and I was going to ask if you guys would move into the bunkhouse.”
The construction crewman said, “Oh, well, shit, don’t tell him I cuss.”
But I said, “Well, this is him right here.”
He was so embarrassed, and he apologized and said, “I’m just I’m an old sinner.” He was kind of down after that even though he moved on.
Greg was there for two days sabbatical and he’d come over and join us for lunch. The day that he was leaving on Friday, he came over for lunch, and we were having chicken.
It had been after several months of us having lunch together, in different groups.
I said, “Hey, Greg’s going to be leaving. Glad you guys got to meet him. I have asked Greg to pray for lunch today. If there’s anybody that would like to visit with him afterwards or get his information or anything, he’d love to stay in touch with you.”
And so, Greg prayed and we ate. But after lunch was over Greg got to visit with seven of our guys. They asked to meet with him and they each gave their life to Christ.
I remember thinking, if that is all that happens, this whole thing was worth it.
God didn’t stop there, we continued to see incredible unity and harmony.
Many of those construction workers told us that they had never experienced anything like that before. Usually when one of the crews was finished and they had nothing else to do so they had to leave. Most of them came to me and told me they didn’t want to go. They’d ask, “Is there anything else we can do? We’ve never experienced an environment like this before, we’ve never felt treated with respect, never been honored. We’ve never been understood, and we still don’t know why you feed us. It makes no sense.
We’ve never had anybody feed us or care about us. We’ve never had anybody share with us. Everywhere else it’s all about take and no give. We’ve never had anybody pray for us. We’ve never had anybody treat us like you all have.”
And the list just went on and on. I don’t want to leave, they’d say. There were a lot of the guys that when they started, they literally would help us do anything and everything, odds and ends and different stuff, they would come back just to help us put tin on a roof.
It was so cool that God allowed us to begin to see and experience His vision for the Cedar Gate.
We knew very early on that this was a special place set apart to do some really special things.
Originally when God asked us to give it all away, He was looking for us to surrender it to Him. When he knew that we were willing, then He took our good vision and transformed it into a God vision and then called us to pick it back up.
Honestly, God’s plan didn’t make any sense. In fact, I have never really known how it’s going to work. I knew that it was going to take a lot of work and a lot of money, but there is great comfort because ultimately, it’s His and not mine.
God has asked us to just keep walking out in obedience all that he asked us to do and that’s what we’re trying to do still.