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.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Measure twice, cut once

. . . In addition, I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded.
Exodus 31:

I’ve always loved watching an artist at work. To watch a skilled craftsman shape something with their hands—and heart—is a joy.

The work of a gifted craftsman is a gift from God as the above verse states. The fact that great artists have honed their skills with hundreds of hours of repetitious practice makes it no less a gift from God. In fact, it must please God greatly to see someone take a gifted skill and be a good steward in developing it.

Author Malcolm Gladwell ably sums this up, “. . . it takes about 10,000 hours to become really great at anything.”

In my hometown of Dry Creek, two artisans are my close friends. They both operate under the wise motto of “measure twice, cut once.”

Van is a carpenter. He is a tall sinewy man with a quick smile and strong hands.
He works hard and is known for doing good work and being dependable. As a carpenter, he knows all about “measuring twice before cutting once.”

Waste is not a quality for a good carpenter. Carefully measuring to get it right the first time eliminates a lot of grief later on.

Now you may not think of a carpenter as an artist, but they are. Webster’s defines an artist as “one who is adept at something.”

The other artist I want to mention is Van’s wife, Cathy. She operates the In Style Hair Salon in Dry Creek. As I go monthly to get my bald-headed man clipping, I’m amazed as I watch her hands move quickly as she cuts, styles, and shapes the heads of both the men and women of our community.

Cathy also operates by the “measure twice—cut once principle.” She recently told of a customer who made five trips in one day—each time wanting a “little bit more cut off.”

Knowing that “once it’s cut, it’s gone,” Cathy carefully trimmed a little bit more each time, knowing the customer was near the “I can’t believe I got that much cut off” line.

Measure twice, cut once. It’s a good motto for anyone, not just a hair stylist or a carpenter.

* * *
Cathy was the first woman to cut my dad’s hair at the age of sixty-three. He told me, “I did something today I’d never done. I had a woman cut my hair.”

A few years ago after my father’s death, as I sat in Cathy’s chair, she said. “You know, I still have a lock of your daddy’s hair. When he became so sick with cancer, I kept a lock in honor and memory of him.

That meant the world to me.
* * *

I’ve had haircuts in two foreign countries—Vietnam and Ethiopia. Both were events I won’t forget.

During my 2002 visit to Vietnam, I was amused at the barbershops in the capital city of Hanoi. In the parks, barbers would hang a mirror on a tree, pull a chair up, and cut hair with scissors and a straight razor.

I decided I wanted one of these outdoor haircuts. The only problem was that my barber didn’t speak English and I didn’t know Vietnamese. I figured sign language would work just fine. Holding my thumb and forefinger a half-inch apart, I gestured and said, “Just a little. Not much.”

The barber smiled, popped his apron, and put me in the chair. He quickly went to work. Because we couldn’t talk, there was none of the “story breaks” I was used to with Mr. Pete Harper (See next blog article below) who cut my hair for my first twenty years.

The Viet barber had me turned away from the mirror. Even without looking, I knew he was cutting off way too much. The amount of hair falling onto the apron and ground alarmed me.

When he got out the straight razor is when I’d had enough. He looked to be about my age and had probably fought with the Viet Cong or Communist army. There was no way he was going to put a razor on my neck.

Standing up, I looked into the mirror and saw that I’d been scalped. (At least on the sides. I was already scalped up top.)

I realized that my two-fingered gesture of “cut just a little” was interpreted as “leave just a little.”

I don’t recall how many 'dong' my haircut cost, but I definitely got my money’s worth.

When I rejoined our team, our leader exclaimed, “What in the world happened to you?”
“Oh, I just got a Hanoi haircut.”

Fortunately, we had another week left in the trip. By the time we re-crossed the Pacific and returned to America, my hair had mostly recovered from my Hanoi haircut.

You’d think I would have learned from my Vietnam experience, but in Ethiopia, I bravely entered a barbershop. DeDe was with me and probably thought I was crazy.

The shop was full of men laughing and talking until the “faranji” (the derisive term for foreigners) entered.

The young barber who motioned me into his chair was obviously nervous. I knew he’d never cut a white man’s hair from his trembling hands and the sweat popping out on his forehead.

He poured alcohol on his clippers, struck a match, and placed it in front of my face. I probably should have run right then.

However, I realized he was only showing me that he’d sterilized his clippers. Those clippers buzzed loudly around my ears as he went to work. I noticed that everyone in the shop stopped talking and the other barbers quit cutting.

They were intent on watching my haircut. I felt sorry for the barber. He was under the gun. As I watched the mirror, I would smile and approvingly shake my head in encouragement.

He finished and the entire room, including DeDe, seemed to exhale together. I paid my money, left him a good tip, and waved goodbye to the audience who’d watched my Ethiopian haircut.

The young barber walked us to the door, shaking my hand and talking in Amharic. I’ll always wonder what he was saying.

As I put my ball cap on and we strolled away, he looked up and down the street as if looking for the next furanji who might invade his barbershop.

A Dry Creek Haircut

This excerpt is from the Curt Iles book, The Old House. Visit to learn more

Pete Harper, who lived in the nearby Shiloh community, was a circuit-riding barber. By this, I mean he cut hair weekly in Reeves, Longville, and every Monday in Dry Creek.
When I first started being sheared by Mr. Pete (I use that word “sheared” literally, Pete’s one style was a crew cut.) he was located in Elliott’s Store across from the old Dry Creek School.
I was so small that I sat on a board placed across the chair. Years later as an older teenager, when I got my last Pete Harper haircut, he was still favoring the close cut haircuts of my preschool years.
* * *
One of the wittiest guys who ever grew up in Dry Creek was Mike Barrett. Mike, the brother of Jimmy and Don Barrett, always had a funny story for every situation. I didn’t personally witness this event, but Freddy Roy Atkinson did and related it to me.
One Monday, Mike, then a teenager, stepped up to sit in Pete’s chair. Pete said, “Mike how’d you like it cut today?”
Mike’s reply was, “Well Pete, I’d like it cut short on the left side and leave it longer in the back. I want this sideburn left longer than the other does. Then I’d like the front gapped up.”
With a puzzled look, Pete said, “Now Mike, I can’t cut your hair like that.”
Mike’s quick reply was, “I don’t know why you can’t, Pete. That’s how you cut it last time I was here.”

* * *
The second haircut story involving my dad occurred several years later. The fads and changes of the 60's had finally found Dry Creek. Boys were now wearing their hair longer, bushy sideburns were in vogue, and the lines weren’t as long on Monday afternoons at Pete’s shop.
During the late 1960's, my dad, as most men his age, hated the longer hair that was coming into style. His favorite saying was, “When you turn eighteen, you can grow your hair as long as you want, but for now, you’ll keep it short.
I was about fourteen and as I plopped down in Pete’s chair, I instructed him, “Leave it longer on the sides.” To my dismay I left the shop with the same old short butch haircut I’d always gotten.
Years later, when I was in college, Pete told me this, “Curt, your dad came in and said, ‘Pete, that boy of mine is going to come in and want one of those long-hair hippie haircuts. Just give him a crew cut no matter what he says. It’s my two dollars and not his.’ So Curt, I was just following orders from your dad.”
Maybe that was why after several of these short haircuts in a row, I rebelled and refused to go back to see Pete.
* * *
I don’t remember exactly when Pete Harper closed his shop in Dry Creek. The small white building is long gone. I believe it serves as a tool shed in Arthur Crow’s front yard. Pete is retired and has moved to DeRidder. The days of Pete Harper’s barbershop are long gone. From time to time, I still see Mr. Pete, and when I see him, I think to myself, “There is a very rich man. He is a man with so many friends and so many stories- how could such a man as this be considered anything but wealthy?”

This excerpt is from the Curt Iles book, The Old House.
Visit to learn more.

PS Mr. Pete, who had a great self-effacing humor, laughed hardest when I read this story at his 80th birthday party. Although he now been dead for many years, I still can hear his clippers buzzing in my ear, as I mentally my many Dry Creek haircuts.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

76 years of marriage—no, make that 77.

They were always together.

In my fifty years of knowing them, I can seldom recall seeing one without the other. And that’s how Uncle Gordon and Aunt Letha will live on in my heart.

With the recent death of my grandmother’s last living sibling, Letha Reynolds, a marriage bond of 76 years was broken.

On my last visit with them, they laughed as they told of eloping to Lake Charles. By going to the Calcasieu courthouse, they hoped to avoid the nosey eyes and ears of their hometown courthouse in Oberlin.

Uncle Gordon said, “It was December 1932 when we eloped. Arriving at the courthouse in Lake Charles brought an unpleasant surprise—there was a long line of couples snaking out of the clerk of court’s office. Texas had more stringent laws on marrying and most of the waiting couples had crossed the Sabine to get ‘married quickly.’”

With a sparkle in his eye he continued, “I’m sure folks thought we wouldn’t last, but they were wrong.”

Seventy-six years of marriage.

The last decade of their marriage was spent in their joint room at Kinder’s nursing home. They tenderly took care of each other and were greatly loved by the staff and residents.

On visiting, I was always amazed how their mannerisms and speech were so similar. I guess three-quarters of a century living together welds two hearts, lives, and even personalities into one.

To me they modeled grace and commitment. They didn’t have to talk about the strength of their marriage. It showed in every action and deed.

In the “lowlands” of temporary things and throwaway relationships, the towering marriage of Gordon and Letha Reynolds looms as Mt. Everest.

A marriage where two became one.
A joyful marriage where “unto death do us part” took seventy-six years to come.

Thanks for showing us how to do it, Aunt Letha and Uncle Gordon.

When she died last September, we all worried about Uncle Gordon. He was 98 and now alone—separated from his mate. How would he react to that first anniversary—December 25—spent apart. After seventy-six Christmas Days as man and wife, he would be alone on this one

However, that separation was short. Uncle Gordon followed quickly behind her, dying just before Christmas.

I fully believe they were back together for their 77th anniversary—with many more to come.

Thanks Uncle Gordon and Aunt Letha for showing us how it’s done.

A final thought on how they came to “resemble each other.” It was due to their sharing life intimately and with commitment to each other.

It’s the same thing for us in our relationship with Jesus. We should come to “resemble him” as the years roll on. Paul talked about this as “conformed to the image of Christ.*

We’re to “look like Jesus” in how we conduct our lives daily.
I fall so short of this in my own life, but it is the goal of my heart each day.

Uncle Gordon and Aunt Letha resembled Jesus. The Godly way they lived their lives in the small town of Kinder was a witness for Jesus. They both lived that—and finished well.

Thanks Uncle Gordon and Aunt Letha for showing us how it’s done.

*Romans 8:29

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

“You’re the Man”

I wonder if they’ll give Captain Sully his “Broken Wing” award. It’s a special aviation award for safely landing a disabled aircraft.
As you are aware, Chelsey B. "Sully" Sullenberger III is the pilot who saved the lives of 155 passengers of US Airways Flight 1549, when he safely landed the large jet in the Hudson River.

First of all, I like his name. It sounds as if he could be an English butler. From what I’ve read, he is a fine man who has dedicated his life to flying and flight safety.

Last week, that lifetime of training became reality in the short five minutes that US Air 1549 was aloft. After losing both engines due to a collision with a flock of geese, he belly-landed the plane in the river. In a tense time where life and death hung in the balance, Sully was “The Man.” He got the job done.

In the many interviews and news items after this “Miracle on the Hudson, a comment by Sully’s wife caught my attention. She said, “Sully and I often fly commercial. When the flight attendants are giving their safety talk on exits and procedures, he always gets the card out of the seat back and listens closely to their instructions.”

I thought how most flyers, like me, ignore the demonstrations with our head buried in a newspaper or book.

However, Sully spent his life in preparation. He had the discipline to listen—even when he knew the drill.

He’s a hero and he’s a role model. A lesson to me that we can spend an entire life preparing (or ignoring) for that five minutes when it all becomes real.

Captain Sullenberger had studied and prepared. When the exam came, he was ready and it saved his life, as well as the lives of over 150 others.

I have several flights coming up soon, two of them long international jaunts. I promise that I’m going to study those exits and listen about “the life preserver under your seat.”
As I listen, I’m going to say “Thanks Sully. You’re the man.”

There’s another man I want to tell you about. I’ve never met him either. He is helicopter pilot Edwin Steve Coleman, and I bet he and Sully would like to compare notes. The following story tells why.

Coleman, a U.S. Army Chief Warrant Office has done something very few pilots have done: He has won the Broken Wings Award twice. To win this medal, a pilot must safely bring a crippled aircraft. The problem cannot be pilot-caused and the pilot must get the machine down with minimal damage to property and life.

Coleman first won the award eighteen years ago in Czechoslovakia, but that is another story for another day. I want to tell you how he won his second Broken Wings in 2006 over the skies—and among the piney woods of Louisiana.

Coleman and a co-pilot were flying an OH 58 Charlie helicopter over a heavily forested area of Ft. Polk. Suddenly the copter’s engine died, forcing pilot Coleman to quickly make several decisions.

Anyone familiar with helicopters knows that engine failure normally results in horrific crashes, usually accompanied by fatalities. Landing a “dead copter” is a deadly undertaking.
From an article in the January 2007 Beauregard Daily News, Officer Coleman explained. “When something does wrong, you have to keep the rotors moving in order to have any control. Due to our low height of 400 feet and our speed of 40 knots, there was no time or room for error.”

This is when his training kicked in. He stood on the brakes to make the aircraft stand vertical on its tail. As gravity took over, he was able to negotiate the controls and maneuver the copter toward a small clearing.

Before impact, he told his co-pilot, “This is going to hurt.”

The landing was rough, but neither pilot was injured and the helicopter suffered little damage.
What happened next as the dust cleared and the rotors stopped turning is why I love this story. The two men looked in relief and amazement at the small clearing surrounded by tall pines. As they looked at each other, the younger co-pilot reached across the cockpit, shook Officer Coleman’s hand and solemnly said, “You are the man!”

You are the man. That says it all.

It’s the term we want those around us to say.

Most of all, we want our family to say it honestly to us.
You are the man. You are respected. Esteemed.

John Avant, pastor of West Monroe’s First Baptist Church, uses this life motto, “To be a man that God can use, and be respected by my wife and children.”
That says it all—you are the man. If God can use you, and your family holds you in respect, you are the man.

What others think—and say—pales in comparison if your Creator and family are pleased.
Conversely, for a man to be esteemed at work or in the world, but not by those closest to him—who know him best—that man is not a success.

Even more importantly, to be usable by God and seeking to please Him is the best success of all. It has nothing to do with being chauvinistic or domineering. Rather, it’s about servant-leadership. The towel-toting, foot-washing, life-sacrificing kind that Jesus lived.
Yes, Chief Warrant Officer Edwin Steve Coleman was “the man” in the skies above the Louisiana piney woods. He was a pilot who knew what to do.

I thought about him and his story last week when they started road construction on the highway we live on. The paving company has a vehicle with a large sign atop it reading “Pilot Car—Follow Me.”

To control the traffic flow through the construction zone, cars must follow this lead vehicle. As I put my truck in gear, I obediently followed in the pilot car’s exact tracks as it dodged potholes and meandered around equipment.

Pilot Car—Follow Me.

The inference is “I know what I’m doing and I know where I’m going, so follow me.”
Kind of like being in the cockpit with Captain Coleman.

The pilot car reminded me of what I am as a man. Others—my family, younger people, and those in my community are looking at my life. Whether I want to wear the sign or not, my life says, “Pilot Car—Follow Me.”

That thought is scary. Whether I lead right or wrong, someone is following me. Therefore, I had better lead in the right way.

That pilot car on Highway 394 leads a trail of vehicles past my house. I bet if it veered off the road shoulder at Mill Bayou and plunged into the creek, some of the vehicles would follow dutifully. And as their car bogged down in the mud and water, they’d holler out the window, “It said, ‘Pilot Car—Follow Me.”

As a man, I’m in the driver’s seat on the pilot car, whether I want to or not.
I hope I’ll lead, drive, and pilot in a way that those behind me, as well as in the cockpit with me, will say, “You’re the man.”

I’ll end this story with a short prayer. A prayer from the heart of the man writing this.
“Jesus, you’re the real Man. If you don’t lead, I can’t lead. Teach me to lead. Lead through me. Amen.”

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This is an excerpt from my third book, Wind in the Pines. As I watched today's inauguration of Barak Obama, I was reminded of an estimated one- million- man crowd I was a part of on the National Mall. This is a story of what God taught me there.

“From 'Big D.C.' to 'little d.c.'”

…Sometimes the best place to be is right where God has planted us.”

The first time I heard about this future event I felt “called” to go. it was in the Houston Astrodome. 35,000 men were gathered, not to cheer the Oilers or Astros, but to worship, sing, and praise God. This two-day men’s event was sponsored by Promise Keepers, an organization started by former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney.
At the end of the Houston meeting, Coach McCartney announced that in two years there would be a huge Promise Keepers meeting at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The name of the coming event was, “Standing in the Gap.” This theme was based on the verse in Ezekiel 22:30:

"I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.”

I turned to our guys in the Astrodome and stated that I was going, and from that day on I began to plan toward it. It was going to be a trip from my D.C. - a place called Dry Creek to the other D.C. - our nation’s capital.
Many times, we loosely use the term “I feel called by God….” We should use that term carefully and with reverence. However “called” is exactly what I felt on making this trip. I knew I would only be one person among hundreds of thousands, but if being one small raindrop in a flood of millions would help, I would do my part.
If my simple attendance in Washington, D.C. on an October Saturday would help our country regain its spiritual footing, I would gladly be there.
October 1997 finally came and eight men loaded up into two vans and headed northeast. One of the vans was mine and the other van, a Chevy Astro, belonged to a special friend, Jimmy Fisher of DeQuincy.
Driving eastward all night across the Deep South, we were too excited to sleep. We were on a road trip and it was a road trip with purpose.
However, by the time we reached mid-Georgia, there was serious trouble with the Chevy van. Jimmy’s van was leaking transmission fluid badly. Traveling northward, we made more and more frequent stops where several quarts of transmission fluid were added.
By the time we reached Greenville, South Carolina, Jimmy finally said what we all already knew - He was going to be forced to stop and have the transmission replaced. Our first stop was at a Sears automotive store but no one could help us there. They sent us on to another shop. This was repeated several more times. By the time we reached the fourth, we were losing both our hope and an ever increasing stream of leaking transmission fluid.
This fourth stop was near the edge of town at a small transmission shop. Jimmy was visibly frustrated and tired as he went inside. He shared with the man at the front desk how he was from out of state and needed a rebuilt transmission put in. Knowing how far from home we were and being at the mercy of an unknown repair shop added to Jimmy’s stress.
The man behind the desk quietly listened to Jimmy’s plea and said, “Well, we’d like to help you but I’m not sure we can. We’re closing down early today. All of us are going tomorrow to that men’s meeting up in Washington, D.C.”
Jimmy stood there stunned, fully knowing that not incredible coincidence, but rather God’s leadership had brought him to this shop. Needless to say they quickly replaced Jimmy’s transmission for a very reasonable fee.
Now with renewed excitement, our caravan was back on the interstate. During the day we began to mingle with buses, vans and cars of men, many of them decorated with sayings and scriptures- all headed northward toward our nation’s capital.
In the crowded Smithsonian Natural Science Museum, right under one of the huge dinosaur skeletons, I saw “Dog” Lambert from Merryville. I poked him from behind and said, “What’s an old country boy from Beauregard Parish doing up here?” We laughed as we marveled at the odds of seeing a neighbor and friend here.
Several sights I saw that Friday are still vivid in my heart and mind - Inside the Capitol rotunda I saw three men face down on the marble floor weeping and praying for our nation. They lay prone right under the dome where the coffins of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy had lain in state.
That night we stood on the steps of the lighted Lincoln Memorial as a lone saxophonist played “Amazing Grace.” He stood up in the covered area by Lincoln’s “seat.” The echo of this beautiful hymn throughout the huge memorial was both eerie and touching.
On Saturday, the actual “Stand in the Gap” event took place… we rode the subway in from the Maryland suburbs. Everywhere there were men of every race, color, age and size. Many young sons walked beside their dads in a huge flow of men.
The National Mall is two and one half miles long from Lincoln’s Memorial to the Capitol. It seemed as if every inch of grass or concrete had a man or boy standing on it.
I hate to admit it, but I barely remember the speakers or what was said. But every part of this day’s experience was life-changing. It was just indescribable as to how it felt to be among this mass of humanity gathered to worship God.
We talk sometimes of “God speaking to us.” That is something hard to explain or describe. I heard the story of how a wise old man told how God “had spoken to him.” When asked if God had spoken in “an audible voice,” the man smiled and replied,
“Oh no, it was much louder than that!”

I would daresay that nearly every man present that day felt this special presence of God. I know it was sure true among our group of men. I’ll always remember the moment as I knelt beside one of my former students, Greg Spears. A large flock of pigeons flew over the vast crowd. It was nearly a visible picture of how God’s spirit was hovering over this gathering.
How did God speak to me? Well, like the earlier quote, it wasn’t audible but it was deep in my heart. Here is what God showed me:
I had come to Washington to be among a vast crowd of men to “stand in the gap” for our country. From comparing the moral direction of our country to God’s
unchanging standards, I felt (and still do) a sense of concern.
But what God showed me was not a message of despair. Standing there in “Big D.C.,” God kind of took me back to “my d.c.” - the special place where I have lived, worked, and raised my family.
That day on the National Mall I realized that my calling - my place to stand in the gap - was a place called Dry Creek. A place where thousands of young people come yearly to have a fresh encounter with God. A place where marriages are healed and families strengthened.
I saw that the best place for me to take a stand was right where I was. On that day in front of our Capitol, I was willing to go wherever God wanted to send me—I would even come live in a big city like Washington if that was what God wanted. (I would go, but it might take a burning bush to convince me that my marching orders were correct.)
However, I saw with the eyes of my heart, that my place of service- “my gap to stand in” - was Dry Creek, Louisiana, USA. My calling was, and still is, to be available to join with God where He is working… and the camp where I serve is definitely a place where I see God at work.
This is the story I took home in my heart, and seven years later I still feel the same way. I hope I’m always ready to go where He leads and willing to serve passionately where He places me.

May it be said of each one of us that we stood in the gap and were found faithful, regardless of our level or place of service. Let us be faithful, whether it is in “Big DC” (our nation’s capital) or “little d.c.” - that place sitting at the intersection of two rural Louisiana highways, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 1:6

My friend Jimmy Fisher died several years after this trip. He was "a man's man" and I still miss him. However, in my heart, I still see him on the trip that changed all of us.

I dedicate this updated version of the story in his memory.

Curt Iles

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Where is your prayer tree?

Jesus, in His sermon on the mount, talked about having a place to get alone with God. In the older Bible versions, He called it a “closet.” The New International Version states it this way:

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” Matthew 6:6

It’s important for every person to have that closet—the quiet place—the place where you close the door on the world—and open the door of your heart to God.

I have a story—and a name for that place: It’s called “a prayer tree.”
The following story is an excerpt from my novel, The Wayfaring Stranger. It explains about having that quiet place for God.

A quick background: Joe Moore, the main character of the book, is a teenaged Irish immigrant, who has stowed away on a cross-Atlantic ship. After this “wayfaring stranger” arrives in New Orleans, he begins a new life in mid-19th century Louisiana. After the great Mississippi River flood of May 1849, Joe works his way on a steamboat up the big river and then the Red River. He lands in Alexandria, Louisiana and through a series of misadventures, ends up in the isolated section of western Louisiana called “No Man’s Land.” Upon arrival in this piney woods area, an old widow named Miz Girlie befriends him. She is a tough Redbone woman whose gruffness hides a heart of gold. She takes Joe in and begins to teach him about life in this pioneer area. Here is the passage I’ve named “The Prayer Tree.”
Joe slept each night on the porch. Miz Girlie gave him an old quilt and moss-filled mattress to lie on, and aside from the mosquitoes, it was a fine place to sleep.
Every morning about daylight, he’d hear the old lady leave the house. She’d be barefooted and trying to slip out quietly, but invariably he’d hear her footsteps.
After the third day of watching her leave each morning, his curiosity got the best of him. When she returned an hour later through the tall pines, she greeted him at the porch. “Mornin’ Irishman.”

Joe didn’t know if it was the early morning sunshine or something else—but her face seemed to have a glow to it.
As she ascended the front step, he asked, “Miz Girlie, now I ain’t trying to be nosey or nothing, but, uh, where do you go each morning?”
The old woman smiled. “Baby, you come with me and I’ll show you where I go. It’ll be a sight easier to show it to you than tell you about it.”
They walked out of the yard and into the tall longleaf pines. The shafts of sunlight shone through the tall canopies and Joe Moore was reminded of why he already loved the Louisiana piney woods.
Miz Girlie led him to an old twisted pine that was obviously in its last stages of life. The woodpeckers had drilled holes all up and down its thick trunk. Under the tree was a homemade bench that showed evidence of long use.
“Joe, this here spot was what my momma called her ‘prayer tree.’ It was where she started her day all the years I can remember. It didn’t matter how cold it was—raining or August hot—she came out here every morning.
“Son, it was her place to start the day with the Lord—under this here prayer tree—just her and the Lord, and a cup of coffee. When she passed in the year 1827, I just adopted it as mine. It’s now my prayer tree—a place where I meet every morning with the Lord, and we jes’ visit.” She smiled in a way Joe would always remember, “It’s my place to meet with God.”

From The Wayfaring Stranger by Curt Iles.
Click here to read the opening chapter.

We all need what Miz Girlie had—a prayer tree—a place to meet with God.
As I tell this story to dozens of groups, I always ask folks where they go for their quiet time with God. Many times, it is a room, a specific chair, even the bathroom, or an outdoor place of solitude.

For me, that place is best when it’s outside. The wonderful writer Wendell Berry said, “The Bible was written to be read outdoors.” My best times with God have always been outside, whether it was a porch swing, a woods walk, or on the seat of a tractor.

The place doesn’t matter as much as having a place.

Secondly, Miz Girlie had a time. For her, it was early morning. Personally, I think it is by far the best time to meet with God. It sets a stamp on the day and gives us a foundation for whatever may come our way in the coming twenty-four hours.

Once I spoke to a group of young people at Northwestern State. After sharing with them about the priority of starting your day with God, a student related the following. “I’m an animal science major and work with sheep. Research has shown that early morning grazing is the healthiest for livestock. The dew is still on the grass and this combines for them to receive not only water but also more nutrients.

She smiled. “It’s the same for people, isn’t it?

Yes, mornings are the best. However, there is no bad time to meet with God. Anytime is good. One of my sweet older friends, Mrs. Rhedia Skiles, quotes Psalms 119 “Seven times a day I praise thee.” This is her wise commentary: “We ought to get up praising God, go to bed praising God, thank him before each meal, and then bow our head to him at ten in the morning and two in the afternoon. That’s seven times.”

Like Miz Girlie, Mrs. Rhedia makes time for God.

Another thing in Miz Girlie’s story is she made it a priority. She said ‘My momma came out here no matter how cold it was—raining or August hot.’

It was her priority. I’m reminded that we’ll always make time for what we believe is most important.

Finally, the Rebone Miz Girlie Perkins had a purpose in her morning visit to the prayer tree. It was to meet with the very person of God

As she sat each morning on the rough bench under the old pine with her cup of coffee, she knew why she was there. She had an appointment with God.

One of my favorite writers, T.W. Hunt once shared this: “Sometimes I have a little trouble remembering that God is right there with me in my quiet time. In good weather, I always have this time on our back patio. Once I was struggling with feeling as close to God as I wanted to. Therefore, I did something strange. I took two cups of hot coffee out to the patio. Pulling up a second chair beside where I’d placed the other cup, I said, “Lord, I need to feel especially close to you today. I want to invite you to sit right here and enjoy a cup of coffee with me.

As Hunt told this story, a look of joy was on his face as he continued, “God was already there. I just needed a visible reminder.

Yes, we need a prayer tree. A time, a place, a priority, and a purpose all to meet with God.

PS Miz Girlie’s prayer tree was fictional, but the idea wasn’t.

A few years ago, I visited two of my sweetest friends, Phil and Trelvis Thomas. They live north of Leesville on the “home place” of Trelvis’ family.

She led me out to a stand of pines near their house, and pointed out an old weathered pine—exactly like the one Miz Girlie prayed under daily. She shared how this had been her mother’s prayer tree before it became hers.

Mrs. Trelvis gave me a great gift that day: the gift of showing me her prayer tree.
It’s a gift I pass on to you. It’s also a gift you can give yourself: a personal prayer tree.
A place to meet alone with God.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalms 46:10


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Thoughts from Curt Iles

I've made a new friend via the Internet, Doug from Canada. He had several questions on self-publishing and perseverance. Here are some of my thoughts.

On Rejection:

Rejection is the badge of honor of any writer working hard to be published. In spite of the success God has blessed me with (sales of over 20,000 cumulative on 7 books) I’ve dealt closely with rejection. There is a saying in publishing: “All you need is one more submission than rejection.”

On learning more about the publishing world:

One book I'd recommend is Sally Stuart’s annual book, The Christian Writer’s Market Guide. It shares about the great opportunities out there.

I am currently reading a book on self publishing companies entitled Top Self Publishing Firms by Stacie Vander Pol. It explores the pros and cons of the best self-publishing/POD ("Print on Demand") companies such as Outskirts, iUniverse,, Authorhouse.

What about submission services like “”

I’ve submitted two books to Writer’s Edge. One was rejected (The Mockingbird’s Song) and it has been my most fulfilling book. The second one was accepted (The Wayfaring Stranger my first novel) but I never received “a bite” except from an African publisher.

On getting your foot in the door:

My advice from my vantage point is to look for an agent. Most publishers only work with a reputable agent. Stuart’s book will list many agents. Check references and find agents who have satisfied clients. My agent is Terry Burns of Hartline Agency.

Having a platform
Because I have an active speaking platform (0ver 100 events per year) and have built a strong reader base (2500 solid mailing addresses and 1200 email contacts) I've had success with self-publishing. However, it is not for the faint of heart as you are putting your own money on the line.

Can you tell me about the pros and cons of self-publishing?
Yes. Pros of self-publication: control of product, reward, satisfaction.

Cons: Risk of having a closet full of unsold books. No one can produce a book as good as the pros.
Constant need for marketing, speaking, and promotion . Another con of self-publishing is distribution. Most of the chains do not deal with independently published books. Therefore it is difficult to reach beyond a regional audience.

Also, if I do decide to pursue self-publishing, do you have a preferred self-publishing service that you would recommend?

See the books I mentioned. Also google the Jenkins Book Group website and look at their IPPY awards. (These are for self-pub books.) Look at the publishers that show up over and over. They’re the best.

A parting shot

Go for your dreams as God leads. Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.
There are two kinds of writers: Both have been rejected countless times. The first type gives up out of disappointment and frustration.

The second type, the kind you and I want to be, gets back up after rejection and keeps writing, submitting, and never quits doing what he/she feels called to do.

I firmly believe many writers in the first group are as talented, if not more so, than the latter.
The only difference is the traits of resolve and persistence.


Curt Iles


At The Old House my "writing room" guarded by my writing assistant Ivory.

I'm a member of a wonderful writing group called "Ripplers." We have a weekly discussion topic.

This week's topic is "finding inspiration to write." There are several ideas I have. As always, your comments and ideas are welcome.

Writing Inspiration

Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working. -Picasso

Don't we all struggle with inspiration and "putting our seat in the seat and writing?" Even though I "write full time" it is a daily struggle for me also. I constantly juggle the tension of "fresh writing" with marketing/promotion/speaking which help allow me to write for a living.

I'm just thankful for the privilege and joy of writing. It is hard work but makes me feel most alive.

Here are three things I try to do:

1. Use a writing calendar. On my desk calendar, Outlook calendar, and journal, I sketch out story ideas and goals. Emmett Smith (former NFL star) said, "If it's in your head, it's just a dream. When you write it down, it becomes a goal." Good advice for any endeavor.

2. Have a secluded place(s) dedicated for writing that has limited interruptions. (My "greatest interrupter" is named Curt Iles and the many distractions he can see.) My best writing place is our old family ("The Old House") log cabin in the woods near my home. There are no luxuries, phone, it's at the end of a dead road, and my "Dry Creek paper shredder" (the fireplace) works great. There's something about tossing old pages into a fire that is very fulfilling. I'm sure some psychologist would like to study this habit of mine.

We each need various "old house" types of places to write. They must be created or found.

3. On my windows Desktop I use the feature called "Briefcase." It is my "fresh writing" folder where I go to review what short writing I'm working on. Next to it on the Desktop is my folder "Maternity Ward." It's where I keep the current book projects. I use silly names but they remind me what I'm doing.

Thanks for allowing me to share about this subject every writer, at every stage, struggles with.

Curt Iles

"Duty makes us do things well, but love makes us do them beautifully."
-Zig Ziglar

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Living in a “headlight culture”

Curt Iles

Maybe it’s a Southern thing (like fried catfish and pink flamingos in front yards) but I’ve always liked headlamps—or as we call them headlights.

In our rural community of Dry Creek, it really gets dark. No streetlights and few houses make for beautiful nights.

On these ink black nights, I love putting a headlight on my young grandsons and taking them outside. Proudly they follow me to our nearby campfire, afraid of nothing due to their bobbing lights.

(Curt Iles with Noah Iles.
Clint Iles reading to Jack Iles )

Last night I decided to walk to church for Wednesday prayer meeting. After nearly a week of rain, cold, and dreary weather, I was anxious to get outside. The beautiful clear sky beckoned and I decided it was too pretty to drive, so I walked.

I live less than a half mile from church, so it wasn’t a long walk. I strapped on my headlight, tucked my Bible and journal under my arm, and tromped across our open field. I was glad I had on my boots, as the ground was still sloppy.

The short days of winter meant it was already pitch dark and the stars really were bright. As I crossed the field, I switched off my light to best enjoy the sight of Jupiter, bright in the evening sky. In the east sky, I greeted my favorite constellation Orion the Hunter, rising above the nearby pines. A waxing moon peeked above the trees, casting shadows from the pines along my path.

When I reached my neighbor’s field of pines, I turned on my light to see clearly the narrow path. On my right were the hardwoods and oaks bordering the fence, and a gentle breeze wafted through the pines on my left.

The wind in the pines is one of my favorite sounds in the whole world. I recalled the song Daddy often sang, “Whispering Pines.”

Out of sight of the highway, I moved along toward the church. Cutting through a gap in the fence by the road, I stepped up on the highway at the big curve near our church driveway.

Walking along the highway, I heard a barn owl calling from the edge of the woods. I called back and he answered several times, making me feel as if I’d made a new friend.

As I neared the church, a thought occurred: I wonder if there’s anyone else anywhere who is walking to church, Bible in hand, wearing a headlight over their ball cap?

The woods, fields, owl, stars, moon, and wind all pointed me toward their Creator. The more time I spend out in His creation—on walks just like this—the more sure I am of His existence and blueprint on the world.

So I thanked God that I live in a place where I can walk to church through an open field as well as a pine forest. I recalled the words of one of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry: “The Bible was written to be read outdoors.”

At the church, I put my light in my coat pocket and took a back seat, then opened my Bible and continued worship along with my church family. Our pastor, Bro. Benjie, led in a study on the “love chapter” of the Bible: I Corinthians 13. Our time together was sweet and I was glad I’d come.

And the reason I think I got so much from this evening worship time was that I’d already worshipped before I arrived. I’d worshipped as I walked, under the dark January night sky along the edge of the woods, wearing a headlight.

Curt Iles


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The first short story in my first book, Stories from the Creekbank, continues to be one of our reader’s favorites. It is entitled “The Evening Holler” and I’ve told it and read it to literally to hundreds of groups over the past ten years.

At the end of this short story is a special picture from Africa and a postscript to this story.

The Evening Holler

I sit in the woods on a cold still October morning. I love this time of year when the weather becomes cool and the sky is usually clear. I also like the beginning and end of each day as the sun rises or sets. As daybreak comes across Crooked Bayou swamp, it is so still and quiet. A mile through the woods I hear a neighbor’s roosters crowing. In another direction, I hear my brother in law’s loud voice scolding a dog. I’m always amazed at how sound carries so clearly and distinctly in the woods.

As it gets quiet again and I shift on my deer stand, a lone owl gives his eight-note song. Soon he is joined by another sentinel way across the swamp. These two barred owls converse back and forth in their unique eight-note call:
“Hoo hoo-hoo hoo, hoo hoo-hoo hoawww” Always when I hear this owl, I recall old-timers describing his call as, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?” Even when you know it’s an owl there’s something spooky about his eerie cry. As I listen to them, I’m drawn back to one of my favorite stories of the settling of our community.

Always when I hear those far off sounds in the woods, I recall the story of "The Evening Holler.” My great grandparents, Frank and Dosia Iles, told me of this event. This unique call, a tradition going back to the pre-Civil War settling of the Dry Creek area, was a primitive means of communication among these early settlers. The first white settlers in Dry Creek lived in the woods along the creeks and streams. They were surrounded by vast tracts of pine forests. This area of Southwestern Louisiana was a neutral strip claimed by both Spain and the United States. There was no law. Later on when there was law, the nearest officer was in Opelousas over seventy miles away. Indians, though friendly, stilled roamed the woods. Bears and mountain lions were common in the swamps.

Because these pioneers were homesteading tracts of land, they seldom built homes right next to each other. They were forced by necessity to depend on each other. Therefore, they developed an ingenious method of checking on the welfare of neighbors. Late in the evening at dusk, each man would stand in the yard or on the porch of his home. Just as the sun dropped behind the wooded horizon, the ritual would begin.

Each man would begin hollering his own individual yell. Each of the pioneers had his own unique hollering style- easily recognized by his own pitch and voice. The closest neighbor would answer back. The next neighbor down the creek would join him. As the evening holler passed down through the woods, each man would then be assured as to the well-being of his neighbor as he heard an answering yell in return. In spite of the distance between home places, the hollering carried for long distances. Remember, this was a time before televisions, air conditioners, or vehicles. There were fewer artificial sounds to drown out the evening noises. If you’ve ever really been out in the woods, you’ll understand what we mean when we call it “an eerie silence.”

My ancestors told me of how if a man did not hear the call of his neighbor, he would holler several more times at different intervals. If he still did not receive a reply, he'd go check on his neighbor. My great-grandmother told of seeing her father saddle up his horse to go check on a neighbor who did not answer. Even though things were usually fine at the neighbors, he went each time to double check. To him it was simply a matter of being a good neighbor. These early settlers took care of each other. The evening holler was kind of an early version of today’s Neighborhood watch. Sometimes when I'm enjoying the quietness of a fall sunset, I'll hear the owls begin calling to each other across the woods. Or in April, I'll listen to the whip-poor-wills as they answer each other with their own version of the evening holler. It's at times like this that I think about the evening holler and what it meant . . .

It reminds me of how our ancestors took care of each other. They truly considered a neighbor . . . a neighbor. In our modern busy crowded life, we seldom know our neighbors- much less check on their well-being. Even with all of our marvelous modern communication tools from telephones to fax machines to e-mail, we usually know much less about our neighbors than our ancestors did.

As I sit here thinking about these things and how much we’ve lost in "neighborliness.", my neighbor drives by in his truck. He honks as he sees me sitting on the porch. His truck is loaded with firewood. All fall and into winter, he cuts firewood for the widows and needy of our community. He's on his way with a load to give someone right now. Then the thought hits me: maybe the evening holler is not as dead an art as I think it is.

Then I recall another neighbor who daily checks on an elderly woman who lives alone. He makes time to take care of this person. Then I think of my parents who’ve always picked up the mail for another home-bound senior adult. I then remember the times, when after a house fire in our community, people have banded together to supply needed items and volunteer to help rebuild the home. I recall the time-honored Southern tradition of supplying food to families who've had a death.

As I think of each of these, and many more I could name, I realize how much good and caring there still is in people.

Yes, times have changed. We don't live in as close contact with our neighbors as we should. As humans we need to take ownership on the care of our neighbors. It is a decision that each of us can choose to do. It is a positive decision that many of my community neighbors have chosen to do. As I take time to really look, I still see the spirit of the evening holler alive and well in a small community I love called Dry Creek.


Last summer (2008) DeDe and I traveled to South Africa for a mission trip among the Zulu people group on the eastern coast of that country.

My assignment was to tell stories and relate them to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I was excited about this because I love stories and love Jesus.

However, I was also somewhat intimidated. I knew I would be using a Zulu interpreter. So much of storytelling is in the timing, specific wording, and gestures. I wondered if that would be lost in translation.

Most of our time was spent with the Zulu young people in an area called “Sweetwaters.” We immediately fell in love with these new friends. Additionally, my interpreter, Syvion Myeoni, was great and fun to work with.

The favorite story of the Zulu people was the one you’ve just read—“The Evening Holler.” I tied it in with Jesus’ parable of “The Good Samaritan.” We shared about how when people are hurting, we should go to them and help. This was very poignant, as I knew all of those listening had been touched directly by the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic of their area. (Zululand has an estimated 40% positive HIV rate)

During our final week there, we returned to areas we’d visited. Walking up a dusty trail, we were greeted by the boys in this picture. When they saw me (bald-headed white men stick out in Zulu land!) they began hooting just like a barred owl.

“Hoo hoo-hoo hoo, hoo hoo-hoo hoawww”

Just as I’d done during my story, they cupped their hands to their mouth and imitated perfectly the call of our local southern owl. Being an oral society, Zulus capture a story and sounds much better than we distracted Americans. These boys had it down perfectly.

It was a seminal moment for me. I realized that a story transcends culture, continent, race, and background.

The mission statement of Creekbank Stories is “connecting hearts to God through stories.” It is the desire of my writing and speaking. I’m not sure always how well I do that, but I’m convinced that a story I told in a dusty yard in a former South African township connected.

I’m convinced that those words, gestures, and emotions will continue in a ripple effect.
That’s what it’s all about.

To hear the call of the barred owl, click here.

Pictured above is my friend, brother, and interpreter Syvion Myeoni. He’d read several of my books and requested these two pictures.(on right with us facing away.) He commented, “You’re always facing away on the book covers. Let’s take a picture like that.”

To learn more about The Evening Holler and the book it came from, Stories from the Creekbank, visit us at


My beloved uncle, Bob Plott, died last week after a long illness. My mother’s only brother, he never married. Uncle Bob lived with my grandparents until their deaths in the early 1990’s.

He then moved full time to his fishing camp on TexasSam Rayburn Lake.

He was so good to my two sisters and I. We will miss him. Uncle Bob bought me my first shotgun, took me on my first fishing trip, and helped pay my way through college,

Bob Plott obituary

Robert Marvin “Bob” Plott, 77 died Tuesday, December 30, 2008 in Hemphill, Texas.

Chaddick Funeral Home of DeRidder will handle services. Visitation will take place at the funeral home on Thursday from 6:00 pm until 10:00 pm followed by graveside military services at Dry Creek Cemetery at 11:00 am on Friday, January 2.

He was born April 2, 1931 in DeQuincy, Louisiana, and grew up along the Kansas City Southern rail lines from Missouri to Louisiana due to his father’s work for the railroad. Bob Plott graduated from DeRidder High School and was soon afterward was drafted into the U.S. Army.

He proudly served his country during the Korean War. After completing his military service, he enrolled under the G.I. Bill at Letourneau University where he completed a degree in engineering.

Bob Plott worked as an engineer for DOW Chemical and later worked for the Army Munitions Plant at Minden, La, from which he retired.

Plott lived most of his adult life in Shreveport and later owned a camp on Sam Rayburn Reservoir near Brookeland, Texas, where he lived until his death. He was an avid fisherman and hunter until his health declined.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Sidney Plott and Leona Ellis Plott.

He is survived by two sisters, Grace Plott of Brookeland, Texas and Mary Plott Iles of Dry Creek, La. as well as a nephew, Curt Iles (DeDe), two nieces, Colleen Glaser (Gordy) and Claudia Campbell (Jody) all of Dry Creek, and nine great nephews and nieces and three great-great nephews.

Memorial gifts may be made to Dry Creek Baptist Camp, PO Box 332 Dry Creek, LA 70637.

Last Friday (January 2) we had his funeral at Dry Creek Cemetery burying him next to his parents.

As you can see from the schedule below, it was a family-led funeral. The service celebrated Uncle Bob’s life and lifted up Jesus. I firmly believe that is the two things a memorial service should always do.

The defining mark of the service was the rendering of “Taps” on the trumpet played by his great nephew, Kyler Campbell. As it echoed off the woods surrounding the cemetery, there was a feeling that I’ll never forget.

Order of service Bob Plott

Friday, Jan. 2 11:00 am Dry Creek Cemetery

Welcome/Scripture/Prayer Terry Iles

Obituary and remarks Gordy Glaser

Song Brady Glaser and Kyler Campbell

Remarks Curt Iles

Song Jody and Carson Campbell

Military honors Jody Campbell and others

Taps Kyler Campbell

Closing scripture and prayer Brady Glaser


Jody, Kyler, and Carson Campbell

Gordy and Brady Glaser

Curt and Terry Iles


Thursday, January 01, 2009

On beginning the year of 2009

Being a writer, I always equate the first day of a new year to the blank page in a new journal. As I open the notebook and leaf through its empty pages, the potential for what I will write there is limitless.

However, from being a journal keeper for nearly thirty-five years, I know some of my entries will be sad and painful, as well as joyous and funny. That is the nature of life.

As the world enters the new year of 2009, the pages are blank and no human knows what this year holds. Never in my adult life have I seen such uncertainty and concern. From war and confusion in all corners of the world to an economic meltdown that has shaken the confidence of many, we face uncertain days ahead.

The end of 1939 was much like that... especially in Europe. War had commenced with the German invasion of Poland and subsequent involvement of most of the continent's nations.

In England, the days were especially dark. In was in this bleak time at Christmas 1939 that King George VI made his annual Christmas message to the British people.

He quoted from a familiar poem by Minnie Haskins entitled "The Gate of the Year."

"I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,

"Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown."

And he replied, "Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way"

The rest of the King's speech is lost in the past, but his appropriate use of this inspiring poem stirred the British people, as it still stirs us over a half century later.

It's a good poem and thought as we enter a new uncertain year.
God is in control.
There is no panic in Heaven.

As long as we hold onto his hand and follow his guidance, we'll be all right.

". . .my God shall supply all of your needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19

Blessings for a new year from The Creekbank in the Louisiana piney woods.

Curt Iles
Creekbank Stories
PO Box 332
Dry Creek, LA 70637

e-mail us at

1 866 520 1947