Creekbank Blog

The writing blog of Curt Iles and Creekbank Stories. Our mission: To connect hearts to God by using stories of encouragement and inspiration.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The following three (3) blog entries are sample chapters from my latest book, The Mockingbird's Song. I hope you enjoy them. Feel free to share with your friends and families about this book that is touching lives all across America. That is why I wrote it.

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On the journey,

Curt Iles

Preface: The Mockingbird’s Midnight Song
From The Mockingbird's Song by Curt Iles

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-But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).

It’s the middle of another restless and sleepless night. Being exhausted both physically and mentally, yet unable to get the thing you need most - sleep, is so frustrating. So I finally wearily rolled out of bed. That’s what all of the sleep books tell you to do when you have insomnia. Get out of bed and do something. Read. Eat a snack. Watch TV. Pray.

I’ve tried all of these night after night and very seldom do any of them work. My mind and heart seem to be racing along at one hundred miles per hour. Nothing seems to be able to slow down the sadness and anxiety inside me.
On this particular night, I decide to walk outside. It’s about midnight, cloudy, and there is no moon. In the rural area where I live, outdoor light is not overwhelming so the yard is very dark, even as my eyes adjust to being outside. I’ve always loved being outside at night - looking at the stars, tracing the path of an overhead jet, and just soaking in the soothing sounds of a country night..
But in my depression and insomnia, my soul feels just as black as the darkness surrounding me. I’m completely enveloped in it. I stand there, trying to concentrate and pray in the quiet darkness. I think back to the books I’ve read by those who’ve been depressed. These books all have something in common. They always describe their depression in terms of darkness, night, or blackness. One writer called it, “The black night of the soul.” Author
William Styron described it as “The black dog of despair.”[i] Winston Churchill, also a depression sufferer, called it “my black dog.”
Tonight the silence is deafening. It is as if even the night creatures, such as the crickets, owls, frogs, and barking dogs, have found a hiding place to escape the darkness.
Then suddenly from the river birch tree in our driveway comes clear beautiful singing. It is a mockingbird. If you aren’t from the South and haven’t heard this bird, it is hard to describe its song. It is loud and is made up of about seven sequences of sounds - some stolen from other birds or nearby common sounds. In the classic book, Louisiana Birds, [ii] ornithologist George Lowery tells of a “mockingbird that so successfully imitated a dinner bell that it frequently caused the farm hands to come out of the field expecting their noon meal.”
This midnight bird in our tree is a real singer who sits up high in the tree as the guardian of our yard. And he sings - and sings loudly - and with passion. To him, it doesn’t matter that it is a dark moonless night when any respectable bird should be silently sleeping.
This mockingbird is going to sing even if it is midnight - even if it is dark. - even if no one else hears his song. He is chirping away for the simple pure joy of singing. Moreover, the fact that he has the entire sound stage to himself makes his song seem louder and fuller. It is the end of the opera and the great soloist is singing the aria - he needs no accompaniment. Any other sounds would only diminish the incredible beauty of this virtuoso solo.
This bird unknowingly gives me a great gift - I’m reminded of how a follower of God can sing - even in the darkness - even in tough circumstances.
And I’m reminded by this bird, and really by the God who created both him and his song, that I will get through this time of darkness. There is still hope for the restoration of
joy and even though now it seems I’ve lost my song, it is still deep within me and one day will be sung loudly and joyfully once again.
I’d like to say my depression ended on that night, but that would not be true. The mockingbird that sang at midnight was only one of a thousand steps on my road to restored health and joyful living. I firmly believe it was a gift from God just for me. It is a gift that I now pass on to you.
The gift of a mockingbird,
in the darkness,
singing at midnight.

[i] William Styron Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness ( London: Vintage Books copyright 1990)

[ii] George Lowery, Louisiana Birds (Baton Rouge: LSU Press
copyright 1960) 394

3 Webster’s Contemporary American English Dictionary (Merriam Webster Copyright 2003)


Index of stories from The Mockingbird's Song

The Challenge
The Thin Red Ribbon
A Word for the Journey . . .
How to Survive a Train Wreck
Burned, yet Blessed, by the Fire
A Tight Rope Held by a Tight Friend
Best Place to be in the Storm
A Friend Named Ivory
Twisted Vines
Ten Things
A Few Thoughts on Pondering
How Could A Man of God . . .?
Keep on Moving!
In the Rock Polisher
“An Ever Present Help”
R and R
A Bundle of Prayers
Being the Poster Boy
Tough or Hard – The Choice is Yours
A Jar of Marbles
Faith, Medication, and Healing
On Desperation and Resolve
Lost in the Fog
In the Valley of the Shadow
When Prayers Seem to Bounce Back
Traveling with Good Company
“Belum”- A New Word to Learn
Keep on Paddling
Without the Rocks, the River Loses its Song
Epilogue: Looking back
End Notes/Bibliography


Sample Chapter: The Mockingbird's Song by Curt Iles
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Chapter Eight: A Tight Rope Held by a Tight Friend

World Trade Center North Tower New York City September 11, 2001

Stairway 27C of the North Tower of the World Trade Center was a space of both life and death on the morning of September 11, 2001 after the first hijacked plane struck this tower. As terrified office workers, many burned or injured hurried down, courageous firefighters passed by on their way up to the impact zone around the 98th floor.

Many of those coming down recalled the faces of two men who were at this stairwell of the 27th floor: Ed Beyea, an employee of Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, sat in his motorized wheelchair awaiting the assistance of firefighters or rescuers to carry him down. Beside him stood co-worker and friend Abe Zelmanowitz.

Exhausted firefighters, weighed down with heavy equipment and safety clothing, assured the wheelchair-bound man that help was coming up soon. As Ed Beyea patiently waited, he understood that these passing firemen must get to the top to rescue any trapped near the scene of the impact.
Later as the unending flow of workers coming down became a trickle, a concerned firefighter, stopping to catch his breath, pulled Abe Zelmanowitz away from standing beside his seated friend and whispered to the office worker, “Why don’t you go?”
“No, I’m staying with my friend” was the quiet but sure reply of Abraham Zelmanowitz.

Newsom Cabin Bayou Chicot, Louisiana Spring 2002
. . . That type of loyal friendship as shown by Abe toward his friend Ed is what I thought of as I cradled the telephone in my now trembling hands. My hands were shaking and sweaty due to the words of my friend on the other end of the connection. His words were measured and filled with fatigue, “I’m calling to tell you goodbye. I’ve had enough. I’ve hit bottom and I can’t take anymore.”
Suddenly the telephone in my hand felt as if it weighed a thousand pounds. Here I was, over an hour away and physically unable to help this dear friend who was deep in the darkness of depression. I was staying at a cabin in the woods finishing a book manuscript when his call came. Normally a cell phone wouldn’t pick up here in the woods, but somehow my friend had found me.
How do you respond to a person on the telephone who is so deep in depression that suicide seems a possible and plausible answer? I knew my words over the next few minutes might make the difference between life and death. I breathed a prayer and began listening.
Because I had been with this friend many times over the last few weeks, I knew he wasn’t kidding or bluffing with his statement about checking out. He had reached the deepest and darkest part in “the valley of the shadow of death.” In no direction could he sense any light or relief. Not behind him, around him, and surely not ahead of him. I knew all of this because I had been there myself only a few short years before. I am a depression survivor. I’ve been to the bottom and come back out of the darkness.
My prayer that day at the cabin was: Lord, how can I communicate to my friend that there is light, hope, and gladness ahead if he will just hang on?
Listening, I tried to think of what to say. Suddenly an idea came to my mind. Looking back now, I believe it was God who answered my prayer and gave me this question. I asked my friend, “If our roles were reversed and it was me on the phone calling to say goodbye, what would you do?” There was a long silence that seemed even longer than it actually was. My friend replied in a short statement that has been a mantra of my ministry since that day, “Why Curt, I’d tie a rope around you and pull you close so you couldn’t get away.” .
And that is exactly what I did with my friend. I’m relieved to say that he came through this difficult time. Instead of ending his life, he decided to stay around and walk through the darkness. As all depression survivors know, there is always light ahead in the darkness if you just keep walking.
If you’ve read any of my four previous books, you are probably familiar with the name of Kevin Willis. Kevin is my brother in the Lord, close friend, and hunting partner. He is a big, “larger than life” character who just loves people and the Lord. During my months of being at home sick with depression, Kevin would call every night. He never talked long but simply checked on me and prayed for me. Kevin “tied on the rope” and refused to lose contact with me. That is what we should do to our friends who are hurting.

Back to the World Trade Center
The soul-touching story of Abe and Ed Beyea is gleaned from the excellent book, 102 Minutes, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn.[i]

2,749 people died in the New York attacks on September 11, 2001. They each had a story and a life. Large numbers don’t stay with us. But when those numbers were changed into names and faces, each came to mean something personal and emotionally touched us.

Let me continue to the story of two of those thousands who were in the Trade Center on that day - one who could not escape - and one who chose not to escape.

Ed Beyea was on the 27th floor when the first plane hit his building at 8:46 am. Ed was a quadriplegic who had become paralyzed in a diving accident twenty years earlier. He was escorted to work each day at Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield by his aide Irma Fuller. She had hung up his jacket and set him up with the mouth stick he used to type. Irma then left and rode up to the 47th floor cafeteria to order breakfast.

As Irma came down after the initial plane crashed into their building, she found Ed in his wheelchair at the stairwell for the 27th floor. By now the mass evacuation of the North Tower was in full force. With the elevators evidently being out of service, the stairs were the only way out.

With Ed’s size (he weighed 280 pounds due to kidney problems) and his heavy motorized chair, it would take four or five big men to carry him down.

Irma saw another co-worker standing by Ed Beyea’s chair. His name was Abe Zelmanowitz, another Blue Cross employee. He worked one cubicle over from Ed and they shared a very close friendship. These two men had worked together for twelve years. In spite of great differences - physical, cultural, religious, and age - wise they shared a special friendship that extended beyond work hours.

Ed Beyea was Catholic and Abe Zelmanowitz was an Orthodox Jew. Beyea was thirteen years younger and twice the size of the thinner Zelmanowitz. While the wheelchair-bound Beyea talked and laughed loudly, his friend Abe was soft-spoken and unassuming.
As is so often the case in life, their friendship extended across these differences and the bond of their relationship was strong. This connection they shared was to be tested and sealed in the coming hour.

Irma Fuller came upon these two men as she walked onto the stairwell landing at 27C. Everyone was moving in the stairwell - all those above getting out and a now steady stream of rescue workers coming up, headed for the impact zone far above. By now everyone had began to sense how serious the situation was.

This included Ed, Abe and Irma. Abe Zelmanowitz told Irma to go, “I’ll stay with Ed.” Beyea also insisted that she leave. They both told her to find someone downstairs to come up and help.
As Irma Fuller rejoined the long procession of workers snaking their way down, Zelmanowitz hollered, “Irma, we are on 27C.”

In the coming hour hundreds, if not thousands, passed by the landing at 27C on their way down to safety. Many told of passing the wheelchair-bound Ed with his friend Abe standing beside him.
As you’ve probably guessed, both Ed Beyea and Abe Zelmanowitz died when the North Tower collapsed at 10:28 am.
No one carried Ed Beyea down to safety. He probably could have begged rescuers to stop their upward climb to bring him down but evidently he didn’t.
Even more remarkably, Abe Zelmanowitz could have easily walked down the 27 flights of stairs to safety and went home that day. But he didn’t. Instead he chose to stay with his friend. He made a conscious choice to remain with his friend - win, lose, or draw. It would be easy to say he lost. But I’m not so sure that is how he would define his decision. An earlier Jewish philosopher named Solomon stated it this way, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

Abe was that kind of friend to his Gentile friend. He lost his life that day, but no man who demonstrates that kind of friendship can ever be called a loser.

The words of another Jewish teacher come to my mind. Jesus, whom I follow as Lord of my life, stated, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

That great love is the type that was exhibited on that horrible day on floor 27 of the North Tower.

We’ll never know about the last minutes of conversation between these two men--one who couldn’t escape and the other who chose not to. Reading the details of the last minutes of both towers (the South tower, although struck second, fell twenty-nine minutes before the North Tower) informs us that those inside knew something terrible was occurring as the building shook, groaned, and vibrated in its death throes just previous to total collapse.

I can see Ed Beyea telling Abe Zelmanowitz to leave… run… flee… He still might have time to get out. The stairways were now clear and a man Abe’s age, flooded with adrenaline, could quickly cover many flights of stairs going down.

But Abe had decided to stay with his friend… no matter what. No matter the cost. I’m sure that Ed eventually realized that Abe would not, and could not, leave.

It is not carrying it too far to imagine these two friends calmly talking at the end, reliving work stories and meals enjoyed together. I can hear Ed Beyea saying, “Abe, thanks for staying.”
And his soft-spoken friend’s reply, “Don’t mention it. You’re welcome.”

A friend named Abe who tied a tight rope on his friend Ed and refused to let go of the rope. Who kept a tight grip on his friendship when he could have instead fled and saved his own life.
We face this same challenge when someone we love is in the terrible grip of depression. As difficult as it may be, don’t abandon them during this time. Love them in spite of their condition. Keep that rope tied close and keep them close to your heart.
Remember the story of friends Ed and Abe:
Two men,
Friends in life and work.
Two men,
Joined together by the tight rope of friendship.
Joined together even in death,
To always be remembered.
Greater love has no man …

This book you are now holding, The Mockingbird’s Song, is meant to tie a rope tightly around your heart. You may be in the midnight blackness of depression, ready to check out. If so, my prayer is that these stories will help you believe there is light ahead … and joy … and healing.
Maybe you are reading this book because someone you love is suffering through depression. I hope these essays help you understand them a little better. Being the loved one and caregiver for a depressed person is hard work and at times extremely frustrating. I pray these pages will help you “pull the rope tighter in love” around that person.
Finally, you may have lost a loved one through depression. If so, may the words of The Mockingbird’s Song bring you comfort, understanding, closure, and peace.
As depression survivors, we are obligated to reach out to others as we share our stories. Though I may never meet you, our hearts are now tied together - connected together and pulled close by that rope that is these written pages.
There is a code from the Arabian Desert called “the sin of the desert.” It details about a binding tribal code that is still adhered to in this arid and dry area of the world. The sin of the desert is this: To find where water is located in the desert, yet not tell others.
I am still a fellow struggler along the road of depression. I do not have it all figured out. However, I have learned much, and been taught greatly by God, through my journey. This small book you hold is simply my attempt to avoid the sin of the desert.
It is my story. As you grasp the rope and pull closer, my wish and prayer is that this story may also become yours.

[i] Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn 102 Minutes, (New York: Times Books copyright 2005) 43, 178.


The Mockingbird's Song by Curt Iles
Chapter Four: The Thin Red Ribbon of Hope pages 8-15

My first thought was, “Hey, who turned out the lights?”

Here I was in the woods between the main campgrounds and “The White House.” The White House is our adult center that is loved by all. It is an old two story white school building.
On this particular night I was rolling Mrs. Beverly Crider, seated in her wheelchair, from the Dining Hall, through the woods trail, to The White House. As another lady used a flashlight to illuminate the narrow trail through the darkness, Beverly and I had laughed and talked. She and her late husband, Bob, had been two of Dry Creek’s greatest supporters for over forty years. All four of her children have worked at the camp. She is a very special friend and it was a privilege to escort her back to her lodging.

On the other end of the woods trail, headlights shone in from her son Lee’s car. Lee Crider and his wife Missy took Beverly for the next leg of her journey. After we said goodbye and remarked about the wonderful evening it had been, we parted with a warm feeling in our hearts. We had just experienced a wonderful evening session at our yearly Bible Conference. Additionally, I had enjoyed the company of so many special friends like Beverly Crider.
All of these warm thoughts were on my mind as I walked back on the woods trail toward the main grounds. Suddenly, the entire world went black. They had turned off the car headlights and the flashlight was in the hands of the other lady who was with Beverly.
Instantly I was plunged into total darkness. It was cloudy so there was no moonlight to guide me. I could see the faraway night lights of the camp and nearby grocery store, but where the two-foot wide trail went, I had no idea.

I thought back to several years ago when a ladies group, armed with flashlights, had gotten turned around on this same trail. I had gone to check on them and there were twenty beams of flashlights shining in every direction throughout the two-acre heavily wooded area. It looked like giant fireflies were in the woods as lights shone in every direction.
Standing by myself in the darkened woods, I didn’t have a flashlight or any lightning bugs, so I knew I must ease along carefully. Off the trail was a boggy area as well as thickly treed and briar-filled areas. As I took small steps, something brushed against my left arm. It had a feel to it that was not a bush or tree. Instinctively, in the black darkness, I touched it. All at once I realized what it was and gladness filled my heart. It was a string of inch wide plastic ribbon.
Several months before, someone (probably a camper who’d gotten lost in the dark like I was right now!) had taken red surveying ribbon and starting at one end of the wood’s trail and continuing on the trail until the other end, had tied an unbroken red ribbon along the trail. The type of ribbon he or she used is commonly seen along roadways and property lines. Usually it is seen in bright colors such as orange and red. It is a thin tape, but does a great job of flagging areas.

When I had first seen the long unbroken red ribbon along the wood’s trail earlier that year, I had wondered how many rolls of flagging it probably took to do this entire trail. It is over 100 yards from one end to the other. Earlier, I had started to tear the ribbon down, roll it into a ball, and throw it away. In my estimate, it looked kind of tacky through this beautiful wooded area. Still, for some reason I had refrained from pulling it down.
Standing tonight in total darkness grasping the red ribbon, I was thankful someone had put it up and that I hadn’t torn it down. I knew that this ribbon went onward to the north entrance of the wood’s trail. It was simply a matter of sliding my hand along the long ribbon. When I would come to where the ribbon was attached to a tree or shrub, I would simply feel my way along to the next section of flagging.

Doing this, I made my way in the dark back to the main campground. It didn’t take long and I did it by simply grasping the guiding ribbon and following it section by section, step by step.
It was later, as I thought about the red ribbon, that a few spiritual principles grabbed me:
First, the red ribbon would take me where I needed to go if I would only grasp it. However, I had to “hold on loosely.” If I pulled too hard on the stretched plastic ribbon with its paper-thin thickness, it could easily break. If the taut ribbon broke, each end would have dropped into the woods, and I would have been forced to get on my knees and feel for the ends to find it.
So, carefully in the inky blackness of this night, I grasped the red ribbon. I confidently took hold of it but also realized that I must tenderly remain connected with it.
Thinking of the past struggles that I’d faced, this long red ribbon came to represent hope. In life we are also guided by the thin, fragile, essential red ribbon of hope. As long as we have hold of a “heart-thing called hope,” we can make it through the darkness. It is simply a matter of carefully and slowly taking it step by step, trusting the ribbon of hope to take us where we need to be.

However, if that ribbon snaps and we find ourselves in the darkness, seemingly alone, lost, and confused, it is one of the scariest places to be. You see if a man or woman has hope, they can endure practically everything. Conversely, when a person loses the precious gift of hope, it seems impossible to carry on.

In my life during the deepest days and weeks of depression, there were times where it seemed that my ribbon of hope had broken. It was too dark, the pit was too deep, and I could not seem to move. It seemed as if the simplest and best thing to do would be simply to give up.
However, always in that darkness I would fall to my knees searching for the ribbon of hope. It seemed as if I sometimes would never find it as I scratched among the leaves, twigs, and grass of my seemingly broken life. Then every time when I had nearly given up on finding hope, someone (or Someone) would place the broken but intact end of the ribbon back into my hand.
I now know, and I’m sure you also, that it was God who placed it back in my hand.
Sometimes He did it with a verse from His word, the Bible.
Often He restored my hope through the words of a friend.

Many times the ribbon returned to my hand through a compassionate card or note.
Several times it was simply the fact of being outside in the sunshine and hearing the birds singing.

Fortunately, God used some gifted doctors to put hope back in my hand and heart. However, each time it was God. However he chose to do it was His business, but it was His mighty hand that helped, guided, and encouraged me.

Hope is such a big four letter word. Although a small word, it is an irreplaceable word in the heart of a human being. Amazingly, it can be found in the worst of circumstances and equally amazing, a person with no trials or sorrow can also lose hope.

Late August and September of 2005 is a time we will never forget in south Louisiana. Our experience with Katrina evacuees from the New Orleans area was a life-changing time for them as well as our camp that hosted them. Their month with us taught me a great deal about what hope really means. I saw the difference hope makes.

Because of their city being flooded, many of the evacuees didn’t know what to do or where to go. They were stunned. On about the third day after the flooding of the city, we called a meeting of leaders of each of the families and church groups present. As they sat down around our office conference table it was quickly evident how they were all under tremendous stress and despair. We let this group share and talk and they had a lot to get off their chests. It was emotional and heart-wrenching as they shared. There was definitely a tension in the room that was hard to describe.

After listening to their concerns and problems, we simply told them, “Folks, our staff has talked and we’ve consulted the board that operates Dry Creek. A decision has been made to be your hosts and treat you as guests until things clear up.”

An audible gasp came out of the men and women gathered around the table. Several leaned back in relief while others openly cried. Our staff present in that room realized that the evacuees were carrying a fear that we were going to evict them. In fact some probably came to that room expecting eviction to be the very reason for our meeting.

This group of leaders, whom we designated as the Dry Creek City Council, became the nucleus of the wonderful relationships that occurred during our month of working together. It was during that first post-Katrina week when we named our shelter, “The City of Hope.” We had come to realize that these New Orleans area folks needed hope much more than they needed voucher cards, long term lodging, jobs, Red Cross supplies or FEMA funds.

So our mission was clear - to provide hope for these souls by taking care of their needs. Our job, as led by God, was to place that thin, fragile, red ribbon of hope squarely in their hand. Many times during that September these evacuees would drop that ribbon. They would receive bed news - the confirmed death of a missing loved one, a quick visit to New Orleans only to discover their home had eight foot of water standing in it. They battled financial woes and the uncertainty of jobs, benefits, and security. But each time in the midst of daily crisis, they were reminded of the importance of hope. A belief that things could, and would, get better in the future.

Paul Powell, one of my favorite speakers and writers, told a personal story that says more about hope than anything else I can write or say. I close this chapter with his account:
Dr. Powell was speaking at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall. One of the school administrators told him of a 20 year old student who was in the local hospital with advanced leukemia. When he was asked, Dr. Powell readily agreed to go visit the student. He told of entering the hospital room to encounter a beautiful yet very ill young woman.

They made small talk, and then she shared honestly about her illness and told of her dreams of school. After this there was silence as the two of them sat there quietly. Finally, the young student looked him directly in his eyes and seriously inquired,

“Dr. Powell, do you know what it’s like to lose hope?”

Paul Powell related that he mulled this question in his mind as she intently awaited his answer. Finally he honestly answered, “No, I have to really say that I don’t know what it’s like to lose hope.”

The young woman, still intently looking at him, smiled as she replied, “Well, neither do I!”

Hope… it’s a small four letter word.
It is also a thin red ribbon that you need, especially if you are in the dark.
If you’ve got your hand on the ribbon of hope, hang on, and follow it.
If your ribbon of hope has broken, get down on your knees. I know Someone who knows exactly where it is and He wants to put it back in your hand.