The lady stood over me with her hands strategically placed on her hips as I sat at a table in the camp dining hall with her hands on her hips and a wrinkled scowl on her face. My earlier years from being a high school principal had given me a sixth sense of when a good eating out was coming from a parent. The sudden sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I put my hot dog down and looked at her let me know that she was not happy.
It was during the last meal of girl’s camp at the church camp where I served as manager. I was innocently trying to quickly finish my hot dog, chips, and brownie before the final service started in a few minutes.
It was in the middle of this wolfed-down meal that the lady stood over me. In an emotional and passionate voice she started, “Mr. Iles, when are you going to finish that book you’re writing on depression? There are people out there dying waiting for your book!”
I felt a lump in my throat and it definitely wasn’t from the hot dog. I looked up and a middle-aged church counselor from a north Louisiana church was squinting into my eyes through her glasses as she wagged a finger at me. I felt as if I was back in third grade and had been caught putting glue on the classroom door handle.
My “teacher” continued, “Now, I’m serious about this. What you’ve written can save lives. People need it.” She then pointed across several tables to a younger lady, “That girl there lost her daddy when he jumped from the high Red River Bridge several months ago and they’ve never yet found his body.”
The younger woman walked over and joined our conversation. With hesitation she began, “I’ve had such a hard time getting closure on his death – body to bury – so many unanswered questions.” We talked a long while before she turned and silently went out the door.
My appetite was gone. What could I do but accept this lady’s blunt challenge to finally put this book into print! The book you now hold I’ve had in manuscript form for several years. I’ve made copies and mailed it out to folks all over America. It has been part of my ministry as a depression sufferer and survivor. However, I’ve hesitated about putting it into true book form until now.
It may or may not be a big seller, but I know it will touch lives because I’ve seen it happen over and over in these past few years. People and families in the relentless grip of depression need help and encouragement. Yes, they need medical help, counseling, medications, prayer, and countless other aids. But oftentimes what they most need initially is the voice, guidance, and hand of someone who has traveled this road and come out on the other side -back into the light and joy of life.
That is my job and calling. Because I’ve been as deeply depressed as you can get and still survive. Now, I’m living walking proof that you will make it through.
Recently a friend from another community called me outside at a meeting we were both attending. He put his hand on my shoulder and looked deeply into my eyes. His question was short but piercing: “Curt, will I ever get my joy back?”
The answer in this simple book is “Yes.” There is joy ahead. There is light in spite of the darkness you are in. This book is my testimony. My statement is that there is joy awaiting you.
Depression sufferer, you didn’t get where you are overnight. Therefore, you cannot expect depression to leave you instantly. Some days it will be two steps forward and one back. On other days it may seem as if you slide two back as you reach for one step up. But you will get there!
Yes, this book is my story… of how there is victory over depression.
It is a collection of essays written from my heart.
Hopefully these inspiring stories will connect with your heart.
Others, while sad, carry a message of hope that others need to hear. Some are written from the days of the depth of my depression, while many are written looking back at this dark time from the perspective of months and years.
Webster’s [i] defines an essay as a “literary composition dealing with a subject from a limited or personal point of view.” That is exactly what this book is- a collection of essays written from my heart. They are very personal and intimate. I have chosen to share them to help others. Many times we can identify with someone who has earlier walked where we are walking.
It is told that the Native Americans had a unique approach to the treating of the victim of a poisonous snakebite. In addition to the potions and liquids they would administer to a bitten tribe member, they would bring in the local “snake man or woman.” This was a member of the tribe who had survived an earlier, serious snakebite.
This snakebite veteran would simply sit with the afflicted person and stay with them, all the while assuring them that they too would survive this dangerous condition.
Hopefully, that is what The Mockingbird’s Song will be for you – a companion and guidebook to sit with you through the dark time you may be in.
Reading these essays, you will detect a common thread: Getting through depression and overcoming it was a spiritual experience for me. I cannot, nor would I wish to, separate my faith in God from these difficult times. I am very sure I survived because of the strength of God and prayers and support of my Christian friends.
Being lost in the darkness of clinical depression tested everything I’d ever believed about God and life. But those days, weeks, and months of testing left me with a much stronger and deeper faith in both the goodness and faithfulness of a personal God. I’m reminded of a story told by Ruth Bell Graham in her book, It’s My Turn.[ii]
“A young man went to a delightfully sane bishop to confess that he ‘had lost his faith.’ As the boy shared of his deeply held feelings, the wise pastor interrupted him: ‘Nonsense! You haven’t lost your faith,’ replied the bishop, ‘You’ve lost your parent’s faith. Now go out and get one of your own!”
Before my time of depression I already had a personal faith. God had seen me through a lifetime of joy, challenges, trouble, and opportunities. But the personal faith that came out of my dark time is a more mature faith. It is one that has been tested. I have an unshakable faith that God is present and powerful even when I am not strong. Even when I cannot see His mighty hand, I’ve learned that it doesn’t mean that He has forgotten me. Rather, I know God is personally with me.
The wise words of another earlier depression sufferer, Charles Hadden Spurgeon, still ring so true, “God is too strong to be confused, and too kind to be cruel, so when I cannot trace His hand, I simply trust His heart.”
In life we must make the decision as to whether we will trust in some things we cannot see. That is what faith is all about: Believing in something, or in this case—Someone whom we cannot see but we choose to trust and rely on anyway.
Researching as I wrote The Mockingbird’s Song essays, I came across another word that appears similar to essay. It is a fascinating word, assay. It is a word closely related to the testing of gold ore and drugs. Several dictionaries refer to the process of assaying as “trying,” “judging,” “putting to the test.” My favorite term, from the Oxford Complete Word Finder [iii] is “the testing of a metal or ore to determine its ingredients and quality.” This same reference book states that in chemical use, assaying means “to determine the content or strength of a substance.”
Any time of testing in our lives reveals what is inside of us. There is a wonderful and true quote that states, “Character isn’t made by trouble, it is simply revealed.” Life’s troubles, which come to us all, serve to “assay our lives.” It reveals, puts to the test, and examines everything we are about.
May these essays on the process of assaying, even as they honestly show my weaknesses and flaws, also reveal that the strength of God is the main strength needed to walk through tough times.
May the challenge you face right now cause you to take proactive action in addressing your situation. Just as I was forced to take on The Challenge to publicly share the stories in this book, presented to me by the lady from Colfax.
[iii] Oxford Complete Word Finder (Oxford University Press Copyright 1996)[ii] Ruth Bell Graham, It’s My Turn Ruth Bell Graham (Grand Rapids: Revell Publishing copyright 1984)
[iii] Oxford Complete Word Finder (Oxford University Press Copyright 1996)