Catfish Lies: Straight from the Delta

“Catfish Lies”

When is the truth a lie? We talk about “little white lies” and half-truths. Is there such a thing? Here is one of my favorite stories. You decide for yourself if the parties involved told the truth or a lie:

American catfish farmers of the South are having a hard time economically. As is true in so many other fields, foreign products are selling much cheaper and undermining the American market.

About five years ago, this problem came home to catfish farming. A large influx of imported catfish hit the market and this glut depressed domestic catfish sales.

The “new catfish” was packaged and labelled “Delta raised catfish.” To any catfish connoisseur, which every Southerner considers himself, Delta catfish means raised on farms in the Mississippi Delta region of Louisiana/Mississippi.

Research and reading the fine print on this new Delta catfish revealed that it was truly Delta-raised. it came straight from the Mekong Delta of Vietnam!

Secondly, it is not the same type of catfish we are used to eating. It is a species called basa, a very distant cousin of our catfish.

About this same time I traveled to Vietnam and rode in boats along the Mekong River. It is an amazing river, alive with river traffic of every size and shape. The Mekong catfish farmers live on the river in small houseboats. They have floating wooden cages where they deposit small basa fish they’d caught in nets. As they feed them, the “catfish” grow and soon become marketable… and exportable; much of it to the U.S.

And it ends up in the Southern U.S. labeled as “Delta catfish.”

Once again, “truth in labelling” can mean many things!

It is a reminder to me, as a follower of Jesus, that I am to speak the truth in all things. Not some of the truth, but the total truth. As the oath administered in court states, “To tell the truth, and nothing but the truth.”

So I have a new definition: let’s call it “Catfish Lies”: It seems the truth, but it’s not.

The Pine Knot Pile: Earthly Treasures

The Pine Knot Pile: A Lesson on Earthly Treasures

All of a sudden, the February wind picked up and turned out of the south. Instantly what had been a small controlled fire in my back field became a raging monster.

The flames spread rapidly through the dead knee high grass – as fast I as I could, I ran ahead with my faithful firefighting weapon – a wet grass sack. But no one person, nor any wet sack, was going to curtail this fire. It seemed to have a malicious mind of its own as it raced northward.
DeDe and the boys came running out of the house. Armed with brooms, buckets, and a shovel, they ran to join me but were also driven back by the raging racing fire. All five of us knew exactly where the fire was going – right toward one of my most precious possessions: my pine knot pile.

Now before coming back to the fire, let me clue you in on what a pine knot pike is. Southwestern Louisiana was naturally populated with Yellow Pine, or as we now call it, Longleaf Pine. Every area of upland was covered with these slow-growing but stately pines. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, all of the virgin pine forests were clear-cut by large timber companies. Where huge tracts of pines had once towered only open fields of stumps now stood. The timber companies came in, cleared large areas for miles, and then moved on.

These Yellow Pines had many great qualities. Prime among them was the tree’s large heart, or inner core. This resiny heart, instead of rotting, turned into a rich, sappy wood. These remains of pine stumps were called “rich lighter” or “fat pine.”
Due to its thick rosin, lighter pine would burn easily and has always been the preferred method of starting fires in cook stoves and fireplaces for generations.
In the 1940’s, Crosby Chemical Company of Picayune, Mississippi moved into Beauregard Parish and began harvesting the remaining stumps for their turpentine mill.

Turpentine is the syrupy liquid in these pine stumps. It can be used for many commercial purposes. In addition to these industrial uses, country people gathered all of the rich pine they could for their personal use. Every older home had a large pine pile in the backyard or near the barn.
Every home proudly considered their pine supply a great prize. Fires were the method of keeping warm and cooking. During the winter a fire was usually burning in either the fireplace or cook stove around the clock. However, over the years as propane and electricity became part of our rural culture, cook stoves and cooking in the fireplace became lost arts.

In spite of these modern improvements, most people kept their fireplaces going. There is no substitute for sitting cozily by a popping and crackling fire as the cold wind moans and the rain blows against the house.

Because of the proliferation of fireplaces, nearly every country home continued to have a pine knot pile. When DeDe and I bought our Dry Creek home in 1985, I was excited to also inherit a huge pine knot pile in the corner of our back field. The land on which we now live had been a second growth forest until it was cleared for soybean farming in the 1960’s. This was during a time when the price of soybeans skyrocketed and many residents cut and cleared their pine forests to plant beans.

As they cleared the land I now live on, the pine stumps and knots were placed in an impressive pile in the corner of the field. This pile reached head high and was twenty feet wide.

I inherited this lifetime supply of pine when I purchased our home and the surrounding acreage. With pride I pointed this treasure pile out to my family and friends. I could feel the envy of men as they commented on this vast and valuable pile. There was enough here to easily last a lifetime and more. Starting a fire in our fireplace was easy with the pine splinters cut from these stumps.

I tried not to be completely selfish with this abundant supply. I shared wheelbarrow loads with my dad, family, and neighbors. Even after ten years of use, I hadn’t even made a good dent in my pine pile.

However, this hot runaway fire in my back field, started by me, was approaching my pine knot pile, and was going to make more than a dent in it. As suddenly as the brush fire got to the pine pile, it was completely engulfed in flames. The fire and thick choking black smoke billowed high into the sky.
If it’d been anything but my pine knot pile, it would have been enjoyable to watch …But it was my “lifetime supply” of pine literally going up in smoke as we stood and watched helplessly.

DeDe went inside and called the fire tower to inform them as to the source of the thick black smoke. The tower observer replied to her, “Ma’am, go easy on your husband; It’s a tough thing on a man to lose his pine knot pile.”

It had all happened so quickly and was over in a matter of minutes. There, where fifteen minutes earlier my huge pine knot pile had towered, was now only charred ashes and smoking chunks of wood.

I think back to my precious pine knot pile when I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 6. He reminds us that all earthly treasures someday will rust, corrode, rot, become moth-eaten, be discarded and abandoned, or as in my case – burn up.

When you see someone driving a new car off the sales lot, remember that one day the new and shiny car, will be junked, smashed, and melted down.

Jesus told us to hoard heavenly treasures – the things that really last: eternal things. The only things I’ve seen that really last are God’s word, His love, and people’s souls. :Therefore, that’s where our treasures should be.

Earthly treasures have their place, but we should never forget they are only temporary. Just like my pine knot pile, they can so quickly and unexpectedly leave us. However, the things of God are the only things that really matter – and they last forever.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21

Eliza’s Amazing African Journey

 

 

Eliza Iles in the Belgian Congo circa 1920.  She is second white hat from left
Eliza Iles in the Belgian Congo circa 1920. She is second white hat from left

 

Aunt Eliza in the Congo

The following fascinating article is from a Beaumont Daily Journal article in November 1920. It features a letter from the Belgian Congo, Africa written by my great-grandfather’s sister, Eliza Iles:

 

Aunt Eliza in New York City 1920
Aunt Eliza in New York City 1920

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Headline: Miss Eliza Iles writes of trip to Congo, Africa

Miss Eliza Iles, who was deaconess for the First Methodist church in this city for three years and is now in Africa doing mission work, has written an interesting account of her trip to her uncle, Dr. D.C. Iles of Lake Charles.

The letter was written November 12, 1920 from Wembo, Niama, Lusambo, Congo Belgi, Africa, and the following extract from the letter tells of her trip:

“We reached here November 3, making three months and three days since leaving New York City. Suffice to say, we had a great time shopping and sight-seeing in London, though we were delighted leave that chilly country. Spent a part of three days in Brussels and saw lots and enjoyed it. Then came the three weeks from Plymouth, England to Africa on board the Albertville. Caught glimpses of France and Spain. Stopped at one of the Canary Islands. Tenerife, and at Dakar on the west coast of Africa and then straight on to Bama, the capital of Congo Belge, and then to Matadi, where we left the ship.

Here we spent a week with Dr. Sims, who has been in the Congo as a medical missionary for nearly forty years and has only had three furloughs. He is in charge of the Baptist Mission at Matadi.

We went from Matadi to Kimbasa by rail and it was an awful trip. Fifteen of us were in a veritable box car that had only twelve seats. We traveled all day, almost next to the engine that burned wood, and several of us caught fire, but put it out before much painful damage was done. I might add that the clothes that we used on that trip were not used thereafter!

We spent the night at a small placed called Thyaville and resumed our awful trip in the afternoon to find no place to stay, so we went on to Leopoldville, a few miles further on, and spent two nights and a day at an abandoned Baptist mission. We did our own cooking, slept two on a single bed and paid $10 for a sugar cured ham that I am sure must have been as old as I.

We were a happy crowd when we learned that we could go on board a river boat the next morning. We were three weeks coming up the four rivers and the scenery along the journey was beautiful. We saw hippos bobbing up out of the water, monkeys swinging from trees, and crocodiles sunning themselves and the natives all along were most interesting, and I learned to love them long before I got here.

We had goat meat, mutton, and Irish potatoes on the trip, with not much else but fruit, as it could be bought along the way. I sure enjoyed the sugar cane and bought it every chance I got.

Dr. Mumpower gave us medical lectures on tropical diseases, as we came up the river, and he also taught us the language. We reached Lusambo, October 18 and my, but we were glad. Mr. Shadel from our own mission was there to meet us. A man from the Presbyterian mission met us also and we stayed with them a week until our caravan came here for us.

It was a thrilling sight when188 men came marching in, keeping time to a hammock song, and say: but we were glad to see them. There are larger men than some of the other tribes and are a proud people for they have never been slaves and have never been conquered save by the Belgians, who own the Congo.

Congolese bürden bearer
Congolese bürden bearer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We left Lusambo on the long, long trail for our destination on October 25. The first thing we encountered was an awful hill and one of the men had to go ahead and partly pull me up, for we could not ride up the hill in our hammock. We traveled about three hours that day and spent the afternoon and night at a native village. At each village is a “red house” put up by the chief for travelers. When we got there the natives crowded around so thick that we could hardly turn. The chief had his natives bring us fruit, such as “paipais”, bananas, peanuts, mangoes, and egg rice, cassava root and other vegetables. We had two boys along to do the cooking and a couple more to look after our beds. We slept on army cots and had to have mosquito nets. The nurse in charge here had sent a special boy along for me and he was quite handy in looking after my canteen, raincoat, sweater, and the pillow for my hammock.

We would get up between 3:30 and 4:30 o’clock and get started by 4 or 5 o’clock. We would travel until 11 or 12 o’clock when we would stop at a village for the afternoon and night. At last on the ninth day we came to Wembo Niama.

Before we were nearly here, many natives from the village met us, also native drummers- and what with the drums beating and all of the natives singing and keeping time to hammock song, and the men trotting with our hammocks, we were somewhat stirred up. We had to pass through the native village of Wambo Niama first and at last halted within our own gates of the mission and the missionaries came running to meet us. I was overjoyed to see my friend Kathron. My, but she had had some experiences. She has been the only physician, nurse or dentist within two weeks travel, for three years.

My, how the missionaries and natives love her. Her furlough is due and she and Mrs. Shadel will soon be leaving.

We surely have lots of servants—mostly boys—and they do not want us to do a thing. I am not finding the language hard. Of course, it will be some time before I have a working knowledge of it. We have chicken every day and get 80 eggs a week from the natives. Also have ducks, antelope, and goat meat. I enjoy the sugar cane and Mr. Shadel makes good syrup.

This fascinating article was supplied by my aunt, Lloydell Iles Mullican. If you have any information on Aunt Liza and her life, please post it as a comment on this site. I would love to compile a booklet from stories and comments.

Thanks so much! Curt

 

Eliza Iles and Leroy Harris on their wedding day  Belgian Congo
Eliza Iles and Leroy Harris on their wedding day Belgian Congo

92 Dry Holes

 

 

Deep Roots contains short stories that inspire, encourage, and inform
Deep Roots contains short stories that inspire, encourage, and inform

 

92 Dry Holes  

A story on perseverance and resolve

 

Several weeks ago DeDe and I visited Ft. Worth, Texas where our son Clay, his wife Robin, and our grandson Noah live. Among the places they took us was the Amon Carter Museum of Art. It featured wonderful examples of Western Art, especially the sculptures and painting of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell.

Our tour guide told a story that impressed me as much as any of the art: Amon Carter was a West Texas oil wildcatter. Mr. Carter drilled 92 dry holes before he struck the gusher that made him a very rich and famous man. He later started American Airlines, owned a professional sports team, and amassed a vast collection of art and antiques. However, his first fortune was made in drilling oil wells.

92 dry holes… that is a lot of failure!
I wonder on what dry hole most of us would have stopped trying?
Would we have made it to 40… or maybe 56?
Surely, very few of us would continue on to 75… or past 90.

But Amon Carter kept drilling until he hit pay dirt and became instantly wealthy. However, let me re-phrase that: There was nothing instant about his wealth and success. It was the result of much hard work, sacrifice, investment, and persistence.

There is that word again: persistence. It is the dogged determination to never give up.
It is gripped by having the grit to stay with the job.
The resolve to not turn back until your goals are met.

Call it persistence, determination, grit, or resolve… Amon Carter had it.

I wonder how many oilmen had the same goals and dreams as Carter? How many potential oil millionaires quit on number 92… just before success? They went to their graves still dreaming of that gusher. Amon Carter just kept drilling. I wonder how many more he would have drilled had number 93 been dry also!

Once again, I write this as a reminder to myself that success in life is in large part simply refusing to quit, showing up every day, pushing, sweating, and working hard.
Resolve: It is defined as “to act with determination…. steadfast and faithful.”
It’s a word I like. I want to learn more about it.

Join me on this blog as we continue to share stories on resolve.
If you have a comment or a story, feel free to share it. This is your blog too!

Resolved,
Curt Iles

 

“92 Dry Holes” comes from the Curt Iles book,  Deep Roots

 

 

A Word Called Resolve

A Word Called Resolve

It is one of my five favorite words.* It is the word resolve. There are several uses of the word, but I love the definition that speaks of persistence and grit. Webster’s defines it as “to act with determination, boldness. To be steadfast and faithful.”

Resolve is a trait found in the lives of all great leaders and difference makers. It is that willingness to carry on no matter the cost. It is the fixed and focused intention to achieve a desired end/result.

We see resolve in the life of Jesus. In the ninth chapter of Luke, Jesus (who is in Galilee) has turned His face and feet toward Jerusalem. It is time for Him to begin His final journey to the cross.

As he begins this journey, the disciples believe they are going to a crowning… a coronation of the Messiah. But for Jesus Christ, it is a death march. He is moving toward the cross, not a kingly coronation. No golden crown is waiting – only a crown of thorns that will cut his head and draw blood.

So Luke 9:51 is a great verse to examine the resolve of my Jesus. It states: “As the time drew near when Jesus would be taken up to heaven, he made up his mind and set out on his way to Jerusalem.” (NIV).

Listen to the same verse from The Message: “When it came close to time for his ascension, he gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem.”

The NKJV says, “… He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem.” I can see the jaw of Jesus clinched tightly. There is purpose in every step as He begins the journey southward. I can imagine His eyes taking on a deeper focus and intensity.

Jesus in now ready to do what He was born to do. He was born to die – to die for the sins of all mankind, including you and me.

When we need resolve and determination to take on a tough job… or to finish a difficult task, there is a place to turn for strength, understanding, and guidance.

We can turn to this same Jesus who set His jaw, gathered up His courage, made up His mind, and started the long, lonely journey to Jerusalem

He will give you the resolve you need. Ask Him. He is faithful.

In coming blogs this week, we’ll continue to look at stories of resolve, persistence, and determination.

Tomorrow’s Blog (Wed. October 25): 92 Reasons not to Quit

 

If you’ve enjoyed this blog entry, feel free to copy it and pass on to a friend.

 

* I’ll share my 5 favorite words in a future blog. In the meantime, be compiling a list of your own and we’ll compare notes.

The Rich Life of Carl Ford

The Rich Life of Carl Ford
Sunday, October 15, 2006

They buried one of my heroes today. In a steady rain, Carl Ford was laid to rest by an Air Force honor guard at Shiloh Cemetery. The 21 gun salute and playing of taps both echoed off the pine trees and emotionally touched everyone present.
Carl, a retired Air Force serviceman, was given a worthy and honorable send-off for a hero. A member of the honor guard gave the folded flag to his wife Sugar as she sat between her children, Mike and Pam.

However, the fact that Carl Ford was my hero was due to something else beside his honorable service to our country. He became my hero during my teenage years. Here is the story:

When I first began to drive (legally) in Dry Creek community, the place I most wanted to go was the Sugar Bowl Skating Rink at Wye, Louisiana. It was the main hangout for teens in the East Beauregard area (Dry Creek and Sugartown) as well as the surrounding communities of Fairview, DeRidder, and Pitkin.

The Sugar Bowl (also known as Morel’s) had been run by the Morel family for years. When I first started going there, it had just been taken over by Carl Ford and his wife, Chaery “Sugar” Morel Ford. Carl had just retired from the Air Force and he and Sugar had returned home to run the skating rink.

The Sugar Bowl could be a rough place. As with every teen hangout, there were constant problems and challenges, many dealing with alcohol. My mom’s parting words on going to the Sugar Bowl were always, “You park your car on the south side of the highway close to the rink. I’d better not hear about you being across the highway.”

Needless to say, ‘across the highway” was the parking area where most trouble took place. Being pretty square, I stayed away from there. I didn’t go to The Sugar Bowl to fight, get in trouble, or get drunk – I went to skate, laugh, shoot pool, and be among my friends.

Carl and Sugar Ford ran the skating rink in a way that made me respect and love them both. That is when both of them became my heroes. This couple made the perfect team. Sugar was so sweet (she is the most aptly named person I’ve ever known.) Her positive personality made her loved by all the teens. No one wanted to disappoint her or cause her problems. Because of that, most everyone behaved well.

Carl was respected for a whole different reason. He just had the aura of the kind of man you did not want to mess with. He had a strong jaw, a quiet manner, and a friendly but cautious manner. Because of these qualities, even the most onery teen boys wisely chose not to cross or disobey Carl Ford.

He was well-liked by all as well as slightly feared by the rural teen boys who frequented The Sugar Bowl. I never remember him having to get rough with anyone. His quiet words and manner defused problems before they escalated.

Carl Ford reminded me of several men from that era- the hero of the Westerns: whether it was Matt Dillon keeping Dodge City safe or John Wayne cleaning up a cattle town, this quiet yet powerful manner of addressing problems made an impression on me that lives on to this day. I learned this not from the stars of the screen or television but from Carl Ford at The Sugar Bowl skating rink in 1972… and 1973… and 1974.

Carl and Sugar ran the skating rink in a way that prevented most problems. They modeled for me how to deal with teenagers. For my entire adult life, I’ve worked with teenagers. I firmly believe the Fords helped shape me during those impressionable years.

Thinking back: Even now I can hear the screen door slamming behind me as I enter the loud skating rink on a Saturday night. Smoke on the Water (by Deep Purple) or Linda on my Mind (by Conway Twitty) booms from the jukebox. Jimmy Garner and my other friends lean over the pool table enjoying a game. In the next room you can hear the skates colliding with the hardwood floor of the rink.

Behind the counter stands Sugar Ford. She is flipping those famous Morel’s burgers on the grill. That wonderful burger smell permeates the whole area. Her husband Carl, always working hard, walks briskly from the kitchen to check out another pair of skates, then back to unjam the pool table that has jammed and taken someone’s quarter.

Over the next thirty-five years of my life, I worked with Sugar Ford for years in our school and community. I always enjoyed visiting with Carl whenever our paths would cross. He continued to be my friend, and probably unknowing to him, my hero.

Yes, Carl Ford. Always my hero.

Blessed yet Burned



Burned, yet Blessed, by the Fire

This is one of my reader’s favorites. The original story is in Wind in the Pines.

This updated version will be in my new book, The Mockingbird’s Song. (It is due out in early 2007.)

 

 

 

 

The once green pine forest, now charred and blackened, lifelessly stares back at me. As far as I can see to the west of the highway, sad black lines of burned pine trees extend in the distance. It seems as if another stand of pines has succumbed to a late winter forest fire.

Normally in February, after several months of killing frosts, the piney woods of Louisiana are often be the scene of numerous forest fires. Whatever the source of these fires, whether control burning or woods arson, the result is often the same: Smaller trees, grasses, and shrubs all killed by the hot wind-driven fire.
Surveying the charcoal-colored field I before me, I realize that this is a stand of Longleaf Pines. Although seemingly lifelessly charred by the fire, the resilience of this species will reveal itself in the coming weeks as spring arrives.

There is an amazing story behind the effect of fire on Longleaf Pines. The history of the Longleaf Pine, Pinus Palustrus must be understood to truly grasp this story. This native tree, also called the yellow pine, ruled the virgin forests of the South from Virginia to East Texas. Because of its hardiness, adaptability, and ability to grow in shallow, sandy soils, it covered much of the acreage of the southern United States

These beautiful pines existed in vast tracts called pine savannahs. These were upland areas where the pines were scattered throughout grassy areas. Because of the tall grasses, fire was always a reality during the dead of winter, when frost had killed the surrounding vegetation. The first to burn the woods were the native Indians. They burned the savannahs to be able to see game animals better and lessen the chance of their enemies hiding nearby. Later, white settlers burned these same grasslands to make better grazing for their cattle and sheep, as well as to kill pests such as redbugs and ticks.

No matter the reason for these fires, the Longleaf Pines continued to grow. Whereas non-native pines, such as Slash and Loblolly, are easily killed by wildfire, the Longleaf seems to thrive because of fire.

Longleaf Pine grows much slower than the other pine species. Because of that reason, most replanting of pines today uses the faster growing non-native species mentioned above.

The early stage of a Longleaf Pine is called the grassy stage. The tree has hardly any trunk above ground and the long green needles more nearly resemble a wild type of grass than a tree. The pine will stay in this “long straw” stage indefinitely until a fire sweeps through.

During this stage, the tree will remain dormant in growth due to what is called Brown Spot Needle Blight. This fungus attacks the top growth area of the young pine, called the candle bulb.

The combination of the tall grass around the tree competing for sunshine and nutrients, and the Needle Blight keeps the young pine tree from growing upward.
The surrounding grass keeps the area moist, which is the condition the Needle Blight needs to attack the small pine’s topmost candle bulb. The result is that the Longleaf sapling will stay in this grassy stage indefinitely – still alive, but never growing upward.

A Longleaf Pine will never reach its potential until a fire rushes through, killing the grass and other trees competing with it for water, sunlight, and nutrients. Additionally, the Brown Spot Needle Blight is killed by the heat of the fire.
Due to its thick bark, this species can withstand most hot forest fires. Unfettered by the competing grasses and trees and free from the stunting blight, the tree is ready to grow. The bushy Longleaf Pine is freed by the fire to grow to its intended height and size – and doesn’t a Longleaf grow tall and beautiful!
One of the reasons I love these pines is because of their resilience. In the succeeding weeks driving along the highway, I inspect the field to see any new growth. Finally, in March the tops of the trees begin to show new green growth. Soon healthy candle bulbs, some nearly a foot long, begin to reach upwards. Over the coming weeks and months, this candle bulb turns into a tree trunk and sprouts fresh pine straw, and this once-dwarfed Longleaf Pine will never again have to compete with the grass for water, sunlight or food.

Knowing about this species, I also know that this same growth is taking place underground. If you’ve ever seen the exposed tap root of a Longleaf Pine, you know that it has a deep strong foundation for growth. This deep root enabled most of these pines to endure the strong winds of Hurricane Rita in 2005.
There is a spiritual application from the story about these pines. Just as these pines need the fire to prod their growth, in our lives we need the fire of trials and challenges to grow into the person God wants us to be. None of us desire these times of heat and pain, but God uses these times for the shaping of our heart for maximum growth.

During these fiery times, we will often wonder where God is. Even though it is often difficult to feel His close presence in the fire, He is beside us as never before. It is good to be reminded of his faithfulness and steadfastness.

We see a memorable example of this “burned yet blessed” experience in the wonderful Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The book of Daniel tells of these three young men being thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to bow to the idolatry of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.
The fire was so hot that it killed the soldiers tossing them into this furnace. Our three heroes were thrown in tightly bound, as good as dead. In a few minutes the King and his advisors were amazed to see them walking around in the fire. His words tell the story better than we ever could:
“Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Daniel 3:25)
In the fire, God did not desert them but showed up personally to stand by them. Also, in this fire “what bound them” was burned off. Just like the Longleaf’s fungus blight was burned off, this hot fire burned off what was holding our heroes back.
We will all experience being in the fire at various times in our lives. None of us are exempt. Your fire will probably be much different from mine. Regardless, God wants to use this fire to shape you and use you.

Throughout history the people God has used the most have been those who had worked through difficult circumstances to grow to their “maximum” height for use by Him.

Why God chooses to deliver us through the fire instead of from it is a secret that only He can reveal. I’ve learned that He can be trusted just as reliably in the fire as when we are in the cool and refreshing shade of an easy stretch of life.

Are you in the fire? If so, remember that God has not abandoned you. Just as Shadrach and his two partners were joined by God in the Babylonian fire, you are not alone.

And you can rest assured that your faithful Father is using this fiery trial to shape you and use you as never before.

When you see one of these tall longleaf pine towering sixty or seventy feet above the ground, remember that its height and strength are due to being burned, yet blessed, by the fire.

Ready to Move Out

Ready to move out

This summer DeDe, Terry, and I took part in a youth camp in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This area of majestic mountains, covered with vast stands of tall Ponderosa Pines, is one of my favorite places in America.

To get to camp, we wove deeper and deeper into the Hills following a long snaking dirt road called Pasa Sapa Road (This is the Sioux name for the Black Hills.) Upon arriving at Kamp Kinship, we were greeted by the friendly staff and soon made ourselves right at home.

One of the first things the Camp Director did was to instruct all drivers to park their vehicles outside the front gate. They were shown how to park in lines with the vehicles pointed out toward Pasa Sapa Road.

My inquisitiveness at this was answered by one of the men who had lived in this area all of his life: “Up here in the Hills a forest fire can spread very quickly. This time of the year is when dry lightning storms rake across this area. One lightning strike in these dry hills can spark a spreading dangerous inferno that destroys everything in its path. We are parked like this in the event of a fire coming near the camp. In that eventuality, the camp bell would ring non-stop and everyone would sprint to the vehicles, load up, and evacuate immediately. Our instructions would be to not even go back to our cabin to grab anything.”

This plan to “be ready to move out” made an impression on me, especially after Wednesday night. After ending a wonderful evening service of singing and sharing, we headed back toward our cabins. In the distant NW sky over the mountain, one bright flash of lightning split the sky after another. My friend Stan said, “Yep, that’s coming from toward Wyoming. This is just the type of storm that sets off fires in the mountains.”

After midnight the storm roared over the camp. There was no rain but plenty of howling wind and bolts of lightning and thunder. Fortunately, no fires were ignited near Kamp Kinship. Only later did we learn that several fires erupted at different locations in the Black Hills. Later that weekend we traveled into Wyoming and saw a huge wildfire that had been burning since the Wednesday night lightning storm.

Parking the vehicles pointed out at camp “ready to move out” gave me several thoughts about being ready. Here are a few:

Being ready to live – If only we would daily decide to live as if this was our last chance to suck in oxygen and see the sunset. Man, I want to be “ready to move out” and attack life with passion and joy.

Being ready to die– “No man is ready to live who is not ready to die.” No one gets up in the morning and says, “Well, I believe I’ll probably go out and die today.” Deep down inside, we humans all secretly believe we’ll be the one exception to the rule and live forever.
One time after the sudden death of a beloved young man in Dry Creek, an older person said, “When you put your shoes on in the morning, you don’t ever know who’ll be taking them off you.”

“Living ready to die” for me entails living in a personal relationship with Jesus. He is my rock, friend, savior, confidant, and guide. I’ve trusted Him for every aspect of my life, including my eternal destination. I can confidently face death knowing He is holding not only my hand, but my destiny.
Living ready to die also includes keeping a short account in my relationships with those around me. I choose not to let hurt feelings or a bad experience keep me from being in touch with others. If there is a problem, I go to them. As needed, I will apologize and seek to make things right. That is a part of living joyfully and with gratitude.
I’m going to also point the vehicle of my life so I can be ready to go… or content to stay. Many of you have heard me speak of Brett Thornton who has a tattoo on each arm. One says, “R 2 G”, while the other arm states, “C 2 S.”
These tattoos sum up his life mission: “Ready to Go, Content to Stay.” It is an attitude of readiness to go where God leads: Ready to jump in the vehicle and spin out if the bell of God’s Holy Spirit rings out. At the same time, possessing a quiet peace that we can trust God if our instructions are to stay put and dig deeper where we are.

Ready to live
Ready to die
Ready to go… content to stay.

Always ready to “move out” when needed.

Moving up… and moving out,

Curt Iles

The Mockingbird’s Song

Info on my new book… The Mockingbird’s Song

The wheels are turning for the release of my fifth book, The Mockingbird’s Song.
Tentative release is scheduled for November 2006. This new book by Curt Iles from Creekbank Stories will be printed by Wise Printing of Sulphur, LA.

To learn more about this book and my other works, visit www.creekbank.net

This book will be different from my previous four books. It is woven together with stories and essays from a time of deep depression in my life in 2000-2001. Although it is a book on a sober and timely subject, it is full of hope, light, and compassion. It is built on the firm belief that not only does God not abandon us in our dark and fiery times – but He uses the fire the shape us to be better instruments for His glory and to help others as they journey along.

Although this may not be a book that every faithful reader of mine will find useful, it will fill a great need for anyone (and their families) who is going through depression, despair, or discouragement. That is my sole reason for sharing these stories from my heart.

Please help spread the word on The Mockingbird’s Song.
Feel free to copy this blog and e-mail it to your friends.

The Mockingbird’s Song
by Curt Iles
Copyright 2006 Creekbank Stories
ISBN 0-9705236-4-5
Inspirational/Self-Help

Thanks for all you do to encourage me in my writing ministry.

Curt Iles

I’m Staying Here . . .

Two friends: Sept. 11, 2001 “I am staying with my friend…”

Of all of the soul-touching stories from September 11, 2001, I believe the story of two friends named Abe and Ed is the best. It is gleaned from the excellent book, 102 Minutes, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn (Times Books copyright 2005)

When the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, practically everyone below the impact zones between floors 90-100 was able to escape before the tower fell over an hour and half later.

Sadly no one above the impact zone lived. All elevators and stairways were blocked. When the north tower fell 102 minutes after the initial impact, there were no survivors from the upper portions of the North Tower.

2,749 people died in the New York attacks on September 11, 2001. They each had a story and a life. Large numbers do not stay with us:
-250,000 missing or dead from the Asian tsunami.
-1667 dead from Hurricane Katrina
-Over 3000 dead in New York Washington, and Pennsylvania on that infamous morning Americans will never forget.

But when we changed those numbers into names and faces, they come to mean something personal and emotionally touch us.
Here is the story of two of those 2,749- 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 crash we 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 thin 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 27 C. 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, “l will 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 man and his friend standing beside him.

Firefighters passed by on their way up. Everyone assumed that later rescuers would come up to bring Ed Beyea down to safety.

One firefighter stopping to catch his breath stood by Abe Zelmanowitz. “Why don’t you go?” he asked the office worker.

“No, I’m staying with my friend” was his quiet but sure reply

As you’ve probably figured out, 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 could have probably begged rescuers to stop their upward climb to bring him down didn’the evidently didn’t.

Even more remarkably, Abe Zelmanowitz could have easily walked down the 27 flights of stairs to safety and safely went home that day. But he didn’t.

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.”

Abe was that kind of friend to his Gentile friend. No man who demonstrates that kind of friendship is ever 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 he lay down his life for his friends.”
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. To read the details of the last minutes of both towers (the South tower, although hit second, fell twenty-nine minutes before the North Tower) informs one that those inside knew something terrible was occurring as the building shook, groaned, and vibrated in the death throes 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 flooded with adrenaline could quickly cover lots of flights going down.

But Abe had decided to stay with his friend no matter what. No matter the cost.

I am 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 friends reply, “Don’t mention it. You’re welcome.”

Two men,
Friends in life and work.
Two men,
Joined together in death,
To be remembered.

Greater love has no man …

Ricky’s Story: Dragons by a TKO

The Battle of the Dragon and the Yellow Jacket

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Today is a special day of remembrance. It’s been four years since my friend Ricky Gallien died. His family and thousands of friends still miss him… and always will. On this day, I want to relate one of the finest and funniest stories he ever told: It is the story of the Dragon and the Yellow Jacket.

Ricky was good at so many things. His ability to work with others and get the best out of them was an attribute that made him a standout person and talented leader.

No where was that strength more evident than from his years as a basketball coach. I watched him coach at every level- Little Dribblers, Junior High, High School girls, and High School boys. He had the knack for getting the very best out of his teams and that is the mark of a true coach: taking what you have and developing it into a team.

The year that the story of the dragon/yellow jacket took place was probably Ricky’s best year of taking a team to a higher level. He took a good DeRidder High School boys team to a level no one expected: the state quarterfinals. (I believe it was 1984.)

The quarterfinal game with New Iberia High was scheduled for DeRidder’s old Pinewood gym. This was due to a rule that prohibited teams from playing in their home gym. This fine old wooden gym was packed with a huge pumped up crowd.

Here is how Ricky related what happened during warm-ups:

“DeRidder’s team, the Dragons, and the New Iberia team were warming up on the court. The packed stands, separated from the floor by a retaining wall, were full of fans from both schools. The DeRidder mascot, a student dressed in a dragon suit with a long tail, paraded up and down the sidelines exhorting the home team fans to cheer loudly.

As the New Iberia players shot lay-ups, their mascot, a student in a yellow jacket suit excitedly ran up and down the other side of the stands. He also had a tail on his outfit, but it was short. It was a hard piece of plastic representing a stinger.
As the two mascots were cheered on by their respective fans, the inevitable happened– the dragon and the yellow jacket came upon each other right by the scorer’s desk- Right in front of the coaches bench.

The two mascots began playfully jostling with each other much to the delight and attention of the crowd. However the wrestling and grappling soon became a little more rough than playful. It is at that point that the yellow jacket began turning around and aggressiveoy poking the dragon with “his stinger.”

By now the dragon mascot had had enough. On about the third sting, the dragon reached out and punched the yellow jacket, landing a good right hook that sent the yellow jacket sprawling on the court, down for the count.”

Ricky would tell this story with a gleaming twinkle in his eye coupled with his special smirky smile. He said pandemonium broke out as the yellow jacket lay prone on the court to the astonishment of the crowd, coaches, and fans.

DeRidder Dragon fans whooped with laughter at their mascot’s action. The New Iberia Yellow Jacket faithful were (excuse this phrase) “mad as a hornet.” Ricky said that a near riot broke out. With the help of administrators, coaches, and law enforcement, the crowd was brought under control and order was restored. The Yellow Jacket, none the worse for wear, received a half-hearted handshake and apology from the Dragon and the game then started.

Even though the Dragon won the undercard, the main event was won by New Iberia’s team. They narrowly defeated DeRidder and advanced to the state tournament at LSU.

It’s been a long time since the battle in Pinewood’s gym. However I can still see it in my mind as Ricky stands there trying not to laugh as the yellow jacket goes down.

That unique smile, those twinkling eyes and his warm expression are what I will carry with me today, September 7, 2006.

Le Petit Baton Rouge


Le petit baton rouge*

By Curt Iles Creekbank Stories copyright 2006
Of all of the memorable places to visit in my home state of Louisiana, Avery Island is one of my favorites. Situated on the coastal marsh below Lafayette, “The Island” is an elevated area that rises above the surrounding flat marsh. It is not really an island but is a high area due to sitting above a salt dome.

It is home to many species of waterfowl as well as alligators that may be seen when the weather is warm. We always encourage our Northern volunteers at Dry Creek Camp to visit Avery Island which is about 150 SE of us.

When you step out of your vehicle at Avery Island, a sharp pungent odor burns your nostrils. It is the smell of hot red peppers in the drifting in the air.

You are now standing at the home of Tabasco Hot Sauce. Avery Island is where this famous unique hot sauce is processed. Among the three major ingredients needed for hot sauce (salt, vinegar, and peppers) salt is in great supply there in the nearby underground salt mine.

A few years ago while touring the Tabasco plant, I first saw the red stick shown in the picture. Our tour guide explained about “le petit baton rouge”* as it is called in French (or “the little red stick” in English.)

Every pepper picker for Tabasco carries a stick like this in their hand. As they harvest the peppers, they use the little red stick to insure that they are picking the fruit at the exact color shown on the stick. When the pepper is at this redness, it is perfectly ripe to give the exact taste needed to produce the Tabasco taste that millions enjoy daily.

This stick, painted this very particular shade of red, is used as the standard for picking. Picked too early when they are still green, or too late after they’ve lost some flavor, is not acceptable. The pickers carefully compare the fruit on their bush to the red stick. Only those with the right ripeness/color are picked.

Here’s a neat application to le petit baton rouge:

As the world looks at the followers of Jesus, they are seeking to see a difference in our lives that is caused by our Savior. They are not as interested in our churches, music and preaching as they are in seeing a difference in our lives.
Here is what they are looking for: It’s a simple word called love.

When folks look at our lives, they will compare our lives to the teachings and love of Jesus. In other words, they compare our fruit to the le petit baton rouge of the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus very clearly emphasized the defining mark (or color) of a Christian in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (New International Version)
There it is: the fruit of my life as a follower of Jesus is to be the color of love. A love that begins by loving those around me as in “love one another. . . ”

But it’s also a love that refuses to stay indoors among our own kind. This Jesus-kind of love flows out in a ripple effect where lives are changed and enriched. Others are watching. They are using their petit baton rouges to judge and compare our lives. But here’s the scary part: Jesus himself, the living Son of God, is also applying his red stick to our lives.

We can never come close to meeting his standard. He was perfect, is perfect, and will always be perfect. However, by growing closer and closer to Jesus… we will take on “His Color.”

…And His Color is always love.

His “petit baton rouge” was not really petit (or little.) It was large… a large wooden cross… an instrument of death.
And just like the stick from Avery Island, it was dipped in red.
The red color on the cross was from the very blood of the Son of God.

And here is the best part: He willingly went to that cross personally for you… to pay for your sins.

What will you do personally about that? You have two simple choices: Embrace that love-gift of Jesus and commit your life and heart to Him personally… or walk by it rejecting the chance to be in relationship with the very Son of God.

You have permission to copy this story and share with others. Please acknowledge authorship and copyright.

 

* Our state capital Baton Rouge was so named by the early French explorers who while coming up the Mississippi noticed how the local Indians had driven red-painted sticks along the riverbank. Therefore this spot became known as “Baton Rouge.” Even today in Baton Rouge there are many businesses and addresses featuring the name “Red Stick.”

Stuck on Devil’s Tower


Stuck on Devil’s Tower

. . . I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.

 

 

 

On October 1, 1941 parachutist George Hopkins did something incredibly stupid. He parachuted onto the top of Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower.

Recently while visiting this impressive national monument, I read about Hopkin’s stunt. He did it to get attention and got much more than he had bargained for!

His Plan A went fine. He guided his parachute down onto the semi-flat rocky top of the Tower, which is about the size of two football fields.

But Plan B went awry when the same plane that he jumped from failed to properly drop the long rope and climbing stakes he planned to use in descending down the 865 foot high volcanic plug.

Now, George Hopkins was stranded atop Devil’s Tower. For the next week, Americans followed this saga of the stranded parachutist. Finally, after six days a group of experienced climbers ascended the mountain and brought poor George down

This story from Devil’s Tower is a good example of starting good but not having a rehearsed plan to finish well. This is true in our lives as well. Steve Farrar’s excellent book, Finishing Strong addresses this subject. I would encourage every man to read it. (Wives, buy it for your husbands. They’ll tell you thank you later.)

The story of being stuck atop Devil’s Tower also has another spiritual application:

When we land atop sin in our lives, it is a lot easier and fun (even the Bible speaks of the temporary “pleasure of sin for a season” in Hebrews 11:25) landing on it than it is to get off. An old adage speaks of this:

“Sin will take you farther than you want to go.
Sin will keep you longer than you want to stay,
and sin will cost you way more than you want to pay.”

Yes, on Devil’s Tower is not a good place to land. Although the journey there looks great, once you arrive it is barren, rock, waterless, and unmercifully hot.

And it’s a whole lot harder to get off Devil’s Tower than to get on it.
Be careful what you jump for. It’s not always easy to get off!

Don’t believe me? Just ask an old daredevil named George Hopkins.

P.S. If you are ever in the Black Hills of South Dakota or northeastern Wyoming, visit Devil’s Tower. It is very impressive and awe-inspiring. The fact that it sits majestically alone in a wide flat river valley makes it something to stand beside. There is a two mile trail that winds its way all around the base.

The Mockingbird’s Midnight Song

Today is Tuesday, August 22. I am working today on a re-write of my upcoming book, The Mockingbird’s Song. Listed below is the first chapter. I hope you enjoy it. All comments are welcomed.

Which of the sub-titles do you like best?

P.S. If you know someone depressed or discouraged, share this with them. There is more at our website, http://www.creekbank.net

Working title: The Mockingbird’s Song

Sub title:
1. Essays of Encouragement for Overcoming Depression
2. or: Essays of Encouragement on Overcoming Depression

By Curt Iles
Copyright 2006 Creekbank Stories

Preface: The Mockingbird’s Midnight Song

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 roll 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 can seem 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 I live in, 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.
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 Stryon described it as “The black dog of despair.” 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, orthrinologist George Lowery tells of a ” 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 midnight . . . Even if it is dark. . . Even if no one else hears his song. He is singing for the simple pure joy of singing. And 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.

Source: Louisiana Birds by George Lowery p. 394 LSU Press copyright 1960