Driving mile after mile through Charleston marshland, I lose count of how many tiny Baptist churches pass by. The two-lane highway winds through the countryside until I arrive at a nondescript turnoff. Snaking my way down a dirt road, I weave between towering wooden structures sitting amidst the tree branches. Seth and Tori Bolt, both disarmingly kind, walk me through the property to one of the unfinished treehouses and tell me how they’ve arrived here today.
Seth: I always wanted a treehouse when I was a kid, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Then I spent all of my twenties pretty much in cities. I noticed that every time I got back into nature, I felt like I could really exhale. I felt my spirit lift. I knew that I needed a place to get away from the busyness of modern life and the treehouse seemed like a really fun and creative place to do that.
Fast forward in life—I traveled the world with my band when I got the opportunity to come back home and build with my dad. I drew the design for the first treehouse on a napkin, and because he’s such a good carpenter, he could build anything. During the construction, it occurred to me that I had the opportunity to make the treehouse nice enough for my honeymoon. I hadn’t met Tori yet but I knew whoever I did meet would really appreciate the thoughtfulness of building something with that in mind. I met her not too long after; we were married on my parent’s farm and honeymooned in the treehouse.
Within a year’s time that treehouse grew to be the number-one Airbnb in South Carolina: Bolt Farm Treehouse.
Once we saw the results the treehouse was getting, both for ourselves, and also from the reviews we were seeing in the journal entries, we could tell there was a spiritual component to the treehouse. And of course there’s a spiritual component to nature. When you’re surrounded by stillness, when you’re surrounded by creation, it makes you stop. It makes you think. It makes you appreciate life in a different way because you’re not focused on yourself. All of a sudden you’re looking outward at the beauty which allows you to look inward in your heart and your head—all that might need to be processed. For us it’s the place where we process life.
I heard someone say treehouses are the closest thing we have to time machines because it’s one of the few things where no matter your age, when you go into a treehouse, you feel like a kid again. There’s a very human innocence that embraces you and returns to you when you’re up here in the trees.
“Treehouses are the closest thing we have to time machines. There’s a very human innocence that embraces you when you’re up here in the trees.”
What led you from building one treehouse to four?
Tori: It seemed like the only complaint we had [on Airbnb] was that the waitlist was so long. We had one treehouse and it holds two people, so you can only host one couple at a time. Our waitlist was six months, plus. We realized, “Okay… there’s a big need for modern people to get away and have true soul rest. So let’s do more of that.”
How did you find the land?
Tori: It just started with an online search. I kept finding these properties online and we’d go check them out. They would check maybe two out of three boxes—come kind of close. We would think, “We just can’t settle on this.” We know we’re putting everything we have into this next step so we have to feel God’s peace about it. We finally found this thirty-acre piece of property. It was far out of our budget, but when we came out here we found peace instantly. We said, “This is going to be it.” I knew it was going to be our place but had no idea how we were going to afford it. It was a bit puzzling feeling called but not being able to take action on it, not on our own at least.
Originally, we were the only people interested. Then as we were going through the closing process, more people found out about the property and the next thing we know there’s a bidding war. We were only looking at a portion of the land when the realtor told us, “I want you to meet the other people who are looking at buying the remainder of this property. You guys are going to be neighbors and need to agree on your property line.” So we’re like, “Okay, this should go well.” And surprisingly, it really didn’t. The minute they met us they decided they didn’t want us here.
We’re scratching our heads, thinking, “We don’t get it God, we felt all this time that you’re pushing us here, but this feels like a harsh no.”
Seth: Open door, open door, open door, and then closed door.
Tori: Our [potential neighbors] said, “We don’t want you here on the island and neither do other people.” And they name dropped, “The So-and-so’s said that they don’t want you here either.” [The couple they quoted] sounded familiar. Turns out we had met them at a community meeting. They had said a quick hello and were really gracious. They knew about Seth’s band and gave us their business card.
When our potential neighbors claimed this couple didn’t want us here, I thought, “That doesn’t line up—they were really great.” So we called them. “We would love you guys to be out here. We believe in your vision. And we’re upset that someone would twist our words,” they told us, “Now we feel invested. Now we want to help out.”
Seth: They agreed to drive out here and look at the property. We told them there was a bidding war and unless we found somebody who wanted to buy the other half, it was a dead end.
Tori: We were strangers to this couple. But very early on we connected with their faith, and Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker. We both had read that, and if you’ve read that book, it will challenge your prayer walk and help you have big faith. During their visit, the four of us held hands in a circle and prayed over this property—for God’s will to be done in it.
Seth: They said, “If it’s meant to be, then we’ll just pray that it becomes yours.” All of a sudden, out of nowhere, we had people willing to come alongside us and help with our dream.
The realtor was driving by and we said, “Let’s just introduce you and we can talk about this tomorrow.” We had agreed to sleep on it because it was a lot of money. But that day the realtor surprised us with the paperwork saying, “If you want it, you’ve got to sign the papers now.”
In that moment, we were both cringing. We felt we had put [this couple] on the spot. They thought they were just coming to check it out and the next thing you know they’re under a lot of pressure. So we were afraid they were going to walk away from the deal. Who wouldn’t?
Things got real—fast. That’s when an answer to prayer happened. About three weeks earlier, Tori and I were riding around—I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by the dollar signs on all these properties. Everything we’d looked at previously was good, but not great. We wanted something that was gorgeous, a place where the land itself was beautiful and inspiring. I prayed, “God, if you could send me some kind of sign to let me know where we’re supposed to be, then I’m willing to step out, regardless of what that looks like. Show us some kind of sign when we’re there.” And then jokingly I added, “If it could be an eagle, that would be awesome.”
And then I kid you not, as soon as that contract came out for us to sign, a bald eagle spread its wings and landed on the corner tree, on our land, and just sat there. It sat there for the entire time as we signed the papers. I couldn’t help but cry.
I told the couple, “You’re not going to believe this, but I literally prayed for a sign and I specifically asked for a bald eagle…”
They said, “We’re in.” They even wrote on their check “because of eagles”.
They gave us the money we needed to buy all thirty acres. They said they didn’t want to be paid back, they didn’t want their name on the title, they wanted nothing in return. It was as if this place was supposed to be ours.
Tori: They just said, “Consider us your anonymous donors.”
At first I was skeptical, thinking, “No one does this, what’s the catch?” It took a minute to wrap my head around it. Who does things like this? Only God.
Do you think God has a plan to bring a specific kind of person into these treehouses, or meet a specific need through this place?
Seth: I recall a conversation I had with God when the first treehouse was completed. My heart was for people who needed some sort of restoration, people who needed reconnection. Maybe their life’s been busy, life’s been hard, or they lost sight of what’s important. Maybe they can find it again in a place like this. That was my desire.
Tori: Life is so busy and so loud. There are a hundred things pulling for our attention, most of them come from a four-by-three inch thing in our pockets. This is a place where we prompt you to sign off. People miss all these moments to experience God and his peace because they’re running around.
Seth: Our culture rewards busyness. If you’re busy that means you’re important, but nothing could be further from the truth. It means you don’t know how to prioritize your time. Now that people can work from anywhere, they work everywhere. Now they can work anytime, they work all the time. That striving mechanism never turns off and that’s the blessing of the Sabbath; you can actually be defiant to work and say, “I am not defined by my job, I do not keep the world spinning.”
“Maybe their life’s been busy, life’s been hard, or they lost sight of what’s important. Maybe they can find it again in a place like this.”
The guest books in the treehouses feel like much more than just a guest book. What kind of things do people write and what insights do they give you?
Tori: Reading through the guest books is one of my favorite things because it’s a reminder of why we’re doing this and the impact it leaves on people. Sometimes people will write about revelations, or things they realized about themselves, or a broken relationship that needs to be poured into, or something that God put on their heart while they were here. One person wrote, “We stayed up till three in the morning talking and I don’t remember the last time we did that… We had the best conversation we’ve had in our entire marriage here because we had nowhere to be.”
Do you still keep in touch with your anonymous donors?
Seth: Yeah, they’re good friends. They’re the kind of people we aspire to be one day. They had an opportunity to invest in us and were faithful to answer that prompting. They gave open handedly and deserve credit for the amazing things that will happen in people’s lives here.
That striving mechanism never turns off and that’s the blessing of the Sabbath; you can actually be defiant to work and say, “I do not keep the world spinning.”
After our conversation with the Bolts, we knew we had to meet these “anonymous donors.” They agreed to talk with us about stewardship, generosity, and the decision to purchase the land for Bolt Farm Treehouse.
How did you meet the Bolts?
We’d been attending a monthly community meeting for about year when out of the blue Tori and Seth wandered into our world. We could tell from the outset that Seth and Tori were intent on their desire to build something special together as a married couple, something that struck a familiar chord in our hearts. After the meeting we felt called to let them know that we, as fellow believers, would help in any way we could.
What inspired you to help a couple you hardly knew?
Sometimes God speaks to you about your dreams and sometimes he speaks about other people’s dreams. Oftentimes the latter is misinterpreted, misheard, or simply missed altogether. We just happened to be in a season of listening for next steps in our journey and God made it clear to us that this one was a backseat adventure for us. But it’s still incredibly fun to see how God works through obedience, even if it’s obedience to someone else’s God-given dream.
Did you have any hesitations giving that amount of money away? Were you worried it would be mismanaged or irresponsible of you to donate it without oversight?
That’s the funny thing with living out “blessed to be a blessing.” It’s super easy to say that, but hard to live it. God has God-sized vision for us, for our talents, for our money, for our future, so if we live in a space where we try and pack him into a box that fits our scope and vision—I think he feels a little slighted. He has infinite scope, so if we believe his promise in Ephesians that, “He can do exceedingly more than we can ask or imagine”—what’s stopping us from claiming that promise?
The other reality of this whole transaction is that I’m incredibly financially driven, I’m the CFO of two companies—I manage money all day, every day. And this is not a decision any financial advisor wants you to make; which is right in line with God’s mindset on money. We had some pretty raw discussions with Seth and Tori early on, but both of us felt strongly that this was not our dream to micro-manage. Which is very freeing, actually. Our only stake in this was to toss up a softball, and watch someone else hit it out of the park.
Do you feel a specific calling to financially bless others?
Yes, absolutely. We didn’t come from wealthy families; in fact, we both had jobs from the time we were 10 years old and worked to put ourselves through college when our parents couldn’t afford it. But we believe God has honored our (sometimes crazy) life decisions and blessed us with more than we need to just pay the bills and get by. As a CFO, I have a lot of pressure to pour that excess into investments and retirement and college funds and life insurance and… you name it, to pad our future. But we feel strongly that a large part of the legacy we’ll leave our boys is tied up in the fact that we give with “Kingdom abandon”—not reckless abandon, mind you. But where God leads us, we give to make a Kingdom difference.
There are definitely areas where we’ve been asked to give to great causes, but if we don’t feel the Spirit leading us, we don’t give. It’s not an easy thing to explain, but we really do feel God has Kingdom purpose for our finances and he cares deeply about where we direct our resources so we are very strategic about where and when we give. The reality is he doesn’t need our money, so I think it’s a lesson in obedience to figure out where he does want to loosen your grip of it and have it impact the world for good.
What does stewardship mean to you?
The Bible is very clear about the way God apportions “talents”. A lot of people misquote the parable of the talents to assert, “to whom much is given, much is required.” But that’s actually a quote from Luke about the urgency of obedience. We’re not meant to sit on our blessings and wait for the end of our life to divvy them up. We’re meant to steward what we have, now. Feel the Spirit leading, seek God’s will, and act, now.
What piece of advice would you give someone wanting to practice generosity?
Seek God. Don’t just give to whatever cause comes your way, seek what God would have you give your money, time, and talents to. After all, he gave them to you, so he has a vision for what they should be used for. Ask him, you’ll be surprised at how clearly he answers you.
The idea for Nations Media was birthed out of a sabbatical season, and the practice of rest remains integral to our work. Read more about Sabbath in this essay. For further resources, check out Wayne Mueller’s book Sabbath and Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker.