My Most Important Story

 

 

My most important story

By Curt Iles

I make my living as a storyteller.
As a novelist, I create characters and stories. What I wish to share is a true story. It’s my story.

It’s a story of what happened inside me.
I grew up in a rural area of Louisiana. Our lack of material things was offset by the richness of living in a place where my family had settled nearly two hundred years ago. This gave me roots and a sense of belonging.

When I was fourteen, I realized something was missing in my life. There was a nagging emptiness, a longing for something more. I tried to fill this void with many things. Being from a religious family, I turned toward church activities and a desire to live a good life.
I quickly found this to be impossible and futile. The empty hole remained.
Then for the first time in my life, I became serious about reading the Bible. I began to explore the words and writings of Jesus.

At this time, the first modern translations of the Bible were available and I found the words on these pages alive, fresh, and life-changing. Through careful study, I realized what I needed was not religion. What I needed was a relationship — a personal intimate deep relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
I realized through what I read that I could have this relationship by simply asking in faith as I turned my life over to Jesus. I took Jesus up on his words,  “No one who comes to me will be turned away.”

Sitting in a car, reading a gospel tract, I invited Jesus into my life. No bells or whistles sounded, no flash of lightning. However, Jesus began something inside me that continues to this day. He kept his promise and filled my life.
I realized the emptiness in my heart could only be filled by a relationship with Jesus. That hole was God-shaped and nothing in this world could fill it. I went from a head knowledge about Jesus to a heart knowledge. It’s only about ten inches from the brain to the heart. However, it’s the difference that makes all of the difference.

I close with these words from Jesus,  “No one can come to the Father except by me.” John 14:6
It’s my story.
And I’m sticking with it.
And I’m just as excited about my story as the day it first happened.
It can also be your story.

 

Curt Iles

curt@creekbank.net     www.creekbank.net

 

 

Stocking Stuffers from the Creekbank

It’s Christmas and time to help you with stock stuffers and difficult gifts.

We are offering five of our Creekbank books for sale during Christmas.

Each book is for sale at a discount of $10 per book and to encourage multiple purchases, there is a total shipping fee of $5 regardless of purchase size. Each book is personally autographed.

You can easily order by responding to curt@creekbank.net

Here are the books:

Christmas Jelly

Christmas Jelly  Our classic short story Christmas collection. A perfect stocking stuffer.

Deep Roots

Deep Roots Our most popular short story collection. Sure to put a smile on any reader’s face.

 

A Spent Bullet

A Spent Bullet The historical novel set in 1940’s Beauregard Parish amidst the Louisiana Maneuvers.Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam  Illustrated children’s classic about the Wild Horses of Western Louisiana.

As the Crow Flies

As the Crow Flies Our latest novel set around the Westport Fight of 1882.

 

You can order your copies by responding to this newsletter at curt@creekbank.net.

Simply tell us what books you want, how many copies, and your mailing address. We’ll send an invoice with your order.

 

Merry Christmas,

 

Curt Iles

curt@creekbank.net

 

The Jericho Road Part II

A modern desert road in Chad, Africa.

 

Jericho Road Part 2

If you missed the earlier post on “The Jericho Road”, you can read it here.

https://mailchi.mp/creekbank/a-lesson-for-our-times-on-the-jericho-road?e=25f4266cad

 

We left a beaten half-dead traveler laying along the Jericho Road.

He is Jewish. The man who stops to aid him is a Samaritan.

The Samaritans were a race hated by the Jews. In return, the Samaritans hated the Jews. It was a hate that is always made worse when someone feels marginalized or looked down upon. The Samaritans felt as if they were viewed as second-class citizens by their Jewish cousins.

I won’t go into all of the long dysfunctional relationships of these two races.

A story from an earlier chapter of Luke’s Gospel sets the stage better than any words. It’s found in Luke 9, one chapter earlier than the Good Samaritan story. The Gospel writer Luke shares an often overlooked event:

As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. 53 But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to Jerusalem. 54 When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up[j]?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them.[k Luke 9:51-55

Jesus has started out on his final earthly journey from Galilee to Jerusalem where rejection, death on the cross, eventual resurrection and ascension to Heaven awaited.

He had a lot on his mind. The scripture above uses the strong word resolutely. I love how one of the older translations states, “He set his face toward Jerusalem.”

A geography lesson is in order. To travel from the Galilee area to Jerusalem meant traveling through the land of the Samaritans. Enemy territory for Jews. A region where Jews weren’t welcome. I can just imagine a city limits sign, “Jew, get out by sundown.”

Any self-respecting Jew would avoid Samaria even though it meant a winding loop across the Jordan River that added days and miles to the trip.

But that wasn’t Jesus’ way. He chose to go straight through Samaria. Jesus didn’t avoid people because of race, creed, or religious differences.

In the Luke 9 story, Jesus sends an advance team to prepare for his group’s arrival at a Samaritan village.

This team is rejected by the Samaritans. Their Jewishness and destination of Jerusalem is the reason for the rejection.

I can feel the racial discrimination in this encounter.

Two of Jesus’ closest disciples, the brothers James and John, immediately ask for permission to rain down fire from heaven to burn the village to a crisp. Jesus had nicknamed the two brothers as the “Sons of Thunder,” a name they are trying to live up to in this story.

The scriptures succinctly say that “Jesus turned and rebuked them.” I would have loved to heard what he said standing in the Land of the Samaritans.

Now back to the Good Samaritan Story . . .

This rejection story in Luke 9 helps us understand the deep prejudice that makes the Parable of the Good Samaritan (in Luke 10) so powerful.

The man who stops to help the naked bleeding Jew is a Samaritan. A despised Samaritan. Jesus is telling this story to the Jewish lawyer who started this parable with his question, “And who is my neighbor?”

Standing near Jesus is his traveling entourage. It includes the disciples. And it includes James and John, probably still smarting from the earlier Samaritan village rejection story and Jesus’ rebuke.

I bet St. James, St. John, and the rest of the disciples are just as amazed as the crowd that the hero of this Jericho Road story is a doggone hated Samaritan.

As Jesus continues his story, the Samaritan doesn’t just feel compassion. He acts on it:

Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins,[e] telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

Take care of this man.

I’ve always wondered if the Samaritan even knew the race of the traveler he saved. This man. It really doesn’t matter.

The Samaritan saw a hurting human being. That’s how we are to look at others.

Jesus comes to the end of his parable where he lowers the boom on the Jewish lawyer who had started this encounter and story with his earlier question, “And now who is my neighbor?”

Finishing the Good Samaritan parable, Jesus asks, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?”

The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

The lawyer had a speech impediment. He couldn’t say the word “Samaritan.” It was a vile word for a vile people. Instead, he simply said, “The one who showed . . . mercy.”

Who is my neighbor?

Anyone I encounter

What does it mean to Love your neighbor as yourself?

_______________________________________________________

Sadly, in my world travels, I’ve seen people who wouldn’t even say the name of a rival tribe, race, or culture without adding a curse word or epithet.

Since 2000, when I didn’t even have a passport, I’ve been privileged to travel to seventeen countries. I’ve been a long way from my home in Dry Creek, Louisiana.

I’ve been in four Asian countries. Eleven countries on the African continent.

In every journey, I’ve found friendship and the kindness of strangers. I guess you find what you’re looking for.

However, I’m yet to visit any country that didn’t have deep divisions over race, tribalism, and culture.

I’ve seen up close the deep distrust of the Irish toward the British.

In Asia, the Chinese hate the Vietnamese, who despise them in return. They both hate the Cambodians.

I love Africa and its peoples, but there is tribal hatred everywhere. The Dinka and Nuer of South Sudan are fighting an ongoing civil war due to tribal prejudices. We all know about the troubles of the Tutsi and Hutu of Rwanda. One million dead in one hundred days.

However, I’ve lived most of my six-plus decades in the country I love called America. I still recall during my African sojourn times when I visited the U.S Embassy and saw our flag waving proudly. It also touched me deeply with homesickness and pride for being American.

I don’t believe the prejudices of America are any better or worse than in other places.

Racial prejudice is wrong regardless of skin color or storyline.

I could go all over America and list the prejudices one can find.

But there is one place and type I know best.

It’s the Black and White divide that is found throughout our country.

I use the term Black and White not because they are perfect descriptors, but because they are markers in discussing race

Racial prejudice was wrong in the past.

It’s wrong today.

And if I’m a true Jesus-following Good Samaritan-living man, I cannot hold a grudge toward another man due to his skin color.

I grew up in a lily-white section of Louisiana. The school I attended for twelve years had few minority students or teachers.

I was fortunate to be brought up in a home where race was never an issue. I’m thankful for my upbringing.

If I truly profess to be a follower of Jesus, I must put the words and parables of Jesus into practice.

The Good Samaritan parable tells me all I need to know. My neighbor is the man or woman who needs my help, friendship, and compassion.

It transcends race, creed, even religion.

Who is my neighbor?

I hear the words of that Good Samaritan, “Take care of this man.”

There should be no room in the heart of a believer for anything less than love.

The Jericho Road

 

High on the Jericho Road

 

It’s a story that disturbs me each time I think about it.

In Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air, the author describes the tragic day of May 10, 1996, when over a dozen climbers died during a blizzard in the upper reaches of Mt. Everest.

On the Tibetan route near the summit of Mt. Everest, two Japanese climbers found an Indian climber in the snow, frostbitten and barely alive. The Japanese team continued climbing, not wanting to risk their summit attempt. Despite the winds and adverse conditions, the Japanese make it to the summit, but on their descent found the Indian dead. When asked why they didn’t stop and render aid, one said, “We didn’t know him.”

So they reached their goal but lost a chance to possibly save the life of a climber.

What a sad story. Too focused on their goal to stop and help. Not willing to help a stranger because “we didn’t know him.”

Thinking of this, I find myself on the Jericho Road and the story we call the parable of the Good Samaritan.

It’s probably the most famous of Jesus’ stories. The parable of the Good Samaritan.

As my country has faced some of the toughest racial conflicts of my life, I’ve found myself drawn over and over to this story that has endured over the centuries and affected different cultures of the world.

I want to share a multi-part simple Bible study on the Good Samaritan.

Being sixty-four years old, I’ve seen enough of life to apply this story to my life and culture. Being this age also gives me a long view and insight into this story and how it relates to my life as an American in 2020.

To best understand the Good Samaritan, we must remember it is a parable. Parables are often called “earthly stories told with a heavenly meaning.” Jesus was the master of using powerful stories to drive home a truth.

Any story that has endured two thousand years is definitely an example of a powerful parable.

I’ve often wondered: was this story true? Was there really a good Samaritan that set a high bar of compassion for readers of every century?

We don’t know. The thing that matters is that Jesus had it ready to share when a fellow Jew, a lawyer, asked the question, “And who is my neighbor?”

What a telling question. One that we’re all confronted with daily: and who is my neighbor? Don’t miss those pronouns. Who? My?

Jesus answers the Jewish lawyer’s question with the story we call the Good Samaritan.

Before we explore further, a little background will be helpful.

The setting of the story on a road is integral. The listeners of that day understood what I’m sharing here: The Jerusalem to Jericho Road was a winding mountainous eighteen-mile trek. The parable begins with the statement, “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho . . . ”  (Luke 10)

Going to Jericho entailed a long descent of nearly thirty-five hundred feet. Jerusalem was over 1000 feet above sea level while Jericho was 2200 feet below. From my backpacking days, I remember that that much change in elevation is a tough journey. Hikers know that climbing pushes the lungs while descending is difficult on the joints and legs.

But the elevation wasn’t what made this a trip to be avoided. This rough mountainous road was nicknamed the “Way of Blood.” Its desolate outcroppings were a haven for gangs of bandits and robbers.

If possible, no one traveled this road alone. The Road to Jericho was not a journey to take lightly.

As Jesus begins his parable, the key character, who is at the beginning and end of the parable, is simply called “a Jewish man.”

Jesus, a Jew, was telling this story to a crowd of Jews. His listening disciples were Jews. This was a Jewish story, although the hero will turn out to surprisingly be non-Jewish.

A quick look at what brought about this story:

In Luke 10:25, a Jewish law expert, sometimes called a lawyer, tests Jesus with a penetrating question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

What a question! I’ve always admired how Jesus loved to answer a question with his own question. He does it here: “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

This Jewish expert knows his scripture. He answers, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

I imagine a slight smile on Jesus’ face. “Right! Do this and you will live!”

But the Jewish lawyer, like many scholars who love to talk, had to get in the last word:

 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’

And who is my neighbor?

That’s all of the opening Jesus needed. He replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

This lone Jewish traveler had the bad luck or bad timing to be attacked by bandits. Not one but a group of them.

He was attacked.

He was beaten.

He was stripped of his clothes and left naked.

They left him half-dead.

The bandits took everything he had. His money and possessions. Probably even his traveling papers and any ID he had.

He was left for dead. No clothes. No money. No papers even telling who he was.

Then Jesus tells of two men who pass by. I don’t mean to skip lightly over the two travelers that Jesus introduces us to. The first is a Jewish priest. The second is a Jewish expert in the law, oftentimes identified as a Levite.

A priest and a Levite. These two Jews had similar encounters:

They saw the beaten man.

The crossed over the road to avoid him.

They left him as they found him.

I won’t go into the various ideas of why these two religious men chose not to be involved. Maybe they were too busy or too clean. Maybe they lacked that most wonderful of human emotions: empathy for a hurting man.

Maybe like the Japanese hikers on Everest, they had somewhere to be.

Or maybe they just said, “I don’t know him.”

Regardless, the two travelers moved on, and out of our story.

Then Jesus lowered the boom on the listening crowd. “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.” (Luke 10:35 New Living Translation)

Several words stick out.

A despised Samaritan.

We’ll learn in the next lesson about the fractured relationship between the Jews and their despised Samaritan cousins.

One more word: the despised Samaritan . . . saw the beaten traveler . . . and felt compassion for him.

Compassion. Empathy. Concern. Love.

Great words that always lift humans up.

In the next study, we’ll continue the story with how the Samaritan traveler shows his compassion with action. We’ll learn why Jesus made him the hero of this story.

 

Thoughts from the Road

On the Dangerous Side of I-49

I sped along Interstate 49 on the way to Lafayette. Looking ahead, I changed lanes at the sight of a disabled vehicle on the right shoulder.

A woman stood in the ditch, watching a squatting deputy change the flat on her car. His patrol unit, blue lights flashing, sat ahead on the shoulder.

It was a typical June Louisiana humid day. And I was on I-49, the only road in our state where you can drive 75 miles per hour. The kicker is that no one drives the speed limit. Most add five or ten miles per hour to the posted limit.

I once changed a flat on my truck in this same neck of the woods. I got off the interstate as far as the shoulder and wet roadside allowed. Unluckily, the flat was on the driver’s side. I’ll always remember the swoosh of the wind as speeding 18-wheelers sped by behind me. I was so thankful to get the tire changed and safely off the roadside.

I guess that’s why the deputy changing the woman’s flat caught my eye. He was in the same position I’d been in. I wondered how often he performed this act in the course of a week’s patrol work.

Then, I remembered that term. Protect and Serve.

This Good Samaritan Deputy was doing both. He was protecting and serving.

I wonder if it’s in his job description to change flats for stranded motorists?

Probably not, but it’s a part of protect and serve.

There’s a sidenote to this story: I’m not sure of the race of either of the two characters in my Jericho Road-Samaritan-I-49 story.

Maybe I was going too fast to see if either of them was black, white, or brown.

Maybe it was due to learning to look past the color of someone’s skin and see a helpless need or an act of service.

I’ve watched in despair at videos in the past month of needless brutal acts of violence against helpless citizens. I’ve felt both anger and sadness. Those videos, whether of a dying, choking George Floyd or a running Ahmaud Arbery, have burnt a hole into my consciousness.  I so love our country but am convinced we can, we must, and we will, do better.

However, I have a corresponding balancing video loop of an officer along a Louisiana highway protecting and serving.

If you see him before I do, or catch him doing good, tell him thanks.

____________________________________________________________________

With your permission (and reading) I’ll be writing in the coming days about my attempt to look at our nation’s current racial crisis through the prism of the words (and stories) of Jesus.

 His most famous story of the Good Samaritan is always worth a second look. Join me as we dig into the meanings of the Savior’s story about getting past race, our prejudices, and reacting in love.

____________________________________________________________________ 

Jesus speaking in John 10:

. . . The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” …

29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied with a story . . .       (New Living Translation)

 

Growing,

Curt Iles

Memorial Day- The Gift of Life: 24,550 Extra Days

Herman Clemenson lived 24,500 days after Sgt. Leroy Johnson saved his life on Dec. 15, 1944.

The place was Leyte Island, Philippines.

The story is one for the ages.

24,550 days. That’s a long time. 

That’s 67 years and over two months.

Close to a lifetime.  And Herman Clemenson,  a North Dakota soldier had this gift of a lifetime thanks to the sacrifice of a fellow soldier from Pineywoods Louisiana.

Yesterday on this blog, we shared a reader’s favorite, “A Soldier’s Story.”

If you missed it, it’s a read that’ll make you value freedom never has been, nor ever be, free.

 

 

Johnson Memorial in Oakdale, Louisiana.
Johnson Memorial in Oakdale, Louisiana.

After I researched and wrote about Leroy Johnson and the brave act that saved three fellow soldiers at the price of his life, I had one bit of unfinished business.

I dreamed about finding one of the men who had been given life that day in the Philippines. With the years ticking on, I knew the odds were slim. I wrote the 32nd Division Red Arrow Brigade newsletter and inquired about this.

It was an email I’d dreamed of :

“Sir, I’m contacting you because of your research on Medal of Honor winner, Sgt. Leroy Johnson. My father, Herman Clemenson, was with him in Company K on December 15, 1944. In fact, he saved my father’s life with his brave act . . . and my father is still alive.” 

Jim Clemenson

Washington, D.C. 

Herman Clemenson in later life.
Herman Clemenson in later life.

 

In subsequent conversations, Jim Clemenson shared how his father, Herman Clemenson, still found it hard sharing about the horrors of war in the Pacific.

He was with Leroy Johnson when he performed his heroic act.  The younger Clemenson only discovered his father’s involvement years after the war when he showed his father a picture of Leroy Johnson in the 32nd Division’s official history book.  “Dad, he was in your company.  Did you know him?”

“Yes. I held him as he died.”   That led to the story that Clemenson had been one of the three soldiers with Sgt. Johnson when he covered the grenades with his body.

The next day (Dec. 16, 1944) after this, Clemenson received severe grenade wounds that ended his active service.

 

 

I began to plan to visit him in North Dakota with his son’s presence and permission.

His son said, “I want to warn you. My father is so deaf that he’s difficult to converse with. Secondly, any mention of the war causes great emotional pain and tears.”

Jim Clemenson spoke with his father several more times on this and finally told me, “I just don’t think he’s able to talk about it. You’re more than welcome to come up but I’m not sure you’ll get any information.”

I thought and prayed about it.

As much as I wanted to meet this hero, I had no desire to cause further pain for him.

In 2012, I received this email:

Curt, I thought I should tell you my Dad’s battle came to an end in the first part of March 2012.

He struggled with pain every day and nightmares every night since WWII. He was in the VA Hospital here in Fargo and was really struggling to breathe.

After watching this for a couple of days, I finally told him to relax, go see Mom and our sister that had passed.

I also told him his war was over and that he won.

He started to relax and slowly and peacefully went to sleep.

We miss him but it was nice to see him finally at peace.

Thanks again, Jim Clemenson

Read his obituary.

I was reminded that casualties of war don’t always receive medals and some wounds never heal. That makes them no less heroic.

 

Clemenson Veteranscropped (2)

WW II vet Herman Clemenson (center), with his grandson Eric (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and son Jim (Vietnam).

This is the type of family that our American freedom is built rock-solid on.

 

I was reminded that casualties of war don’t always receive medals and some wounds never heal. That makes them no less heroic.

I have an idea: 

Would you make a commitment for the next year?

Until next year’s Memorial Day, please thank every veteran you encounter.

When you see a man or woman wearing a Veteran’s Cap or shirt, take time to simply thank them. It doesn’t matter what war. They deserve our thanks. The reaction from them will move you deeply. Especially the Korean and Vietnam vets who feel so marginalized and forgotten.

Clemenson Veteranscropped (2)_face1If he’s wearing a World War II cap, go shake his hand.  Tell him thank you. There are only a few years left where you’ll see this cap on a wizened head.

 

Clemenson Veteranscropped (2)_face2

If he’s wearing a Korean War cap, thank this person who served in our “Forgotten War.” They often feel forgotten and neglected.

If he’s a Vietnam Vet, be sure to shake his hand.  Like Jim Clemenson,  he answered our nation’s call and served in a difficult place and time.  They no less deserve our salute and respect.

Clemenson Veteranscropped (2)_face0

If like Eric, this man or woman is wearing a hat from our Middle Eastern wars, go thank them.  Many of them left family on successive tours of duty.  Thank them.  They’ll appreciate it and you’ll feel good too.

One willing to do so one could live.
Sgt. Leroy Johnson. One willing to do so one could live.

And don’t forget heroes like Leroy Johnson of Oakdale, Louisiana.

One willing to die . . . So others could live.

 

 

 

 

 

A Lesson from King Mockingbird

King Mockingbird

The Northern Mockingbird, that most Southern of birds.

Each day he sits up there—on the highest limb on the tallest oak. I call him “King Mockingbird.” The area around the oak and our back yard belongs to him. He is the biggest and loudest mockingbird around. It is easy to recognize him high up in the tree. His beautiful, loud singing soars above all the other noises of city life.

Other mockingbirds dare not fly into his territory knowing a good pecking awaits any intruder. Resident cats and dogs steer clear of his territory knowing from past experience how fierce he is. Even as I walk under his tree, I go with all due respect, knowing the inviting target a bald-headed man makes for a territory-loving mockingbird.

And can he sing! There’s nothing prettier than the song of a mockingbird on a clear morning. As I hear him cheerfully sing, I’m reminded that things may be bad in many parts of the world, but in his area, all is in order.

As I think of King Mockingbird, I’m reminded of the great God who oversees our lives.

In addition to creating the beautiful song of this bird, God is continually working in the lives of people all across our country and world.

Chances are you have a resident mockingbird around your yard. Be sure to stop and listen to your own King Mockingbird.

And be sure to remember, and worship, our great God who created him.

 

Fledgling Mockingbird

 

A Time to Read … and Grow

Listen to an Audible audiobook free sample of As the Crow Flies.

A Time to Read

 

There have been so many challenges and opportunities during this time of uncertainty.

I’m reminded of a quote in The Art of War by Sun Tzu, “In the midst of chaos, there is an opportunity.”

Webster’s defines opportunity as a “good chance for advancement or progress.”

I have chosen to view the Covid-19 Pandemic as an opportunity to learn, grow, and care.

I do not take lightly the severe pain this pandemic has brought on others.

Many have lost jobs and security.

Others have lost family members and friends.

Regardless, I choose to learn from this time. I’m at a season in my life that I’m able to have more discretionary time than in my younger years. I realize that a stay at home order with five kids is tough after six weeks, so I have empathy for everyone.

We need to cut everyone some slack due to our having not walked a mile in their moccasins.

I also recognize that many people’s jobs have become much more difficult. I so admire the millions who are pushing ahead, working long hours, and keeping America going.

I’m still working daily but our school is closed and quiet. I have lots to do as we stay in touch with students, parents, and teachers. I’m thankful for my job and the routine it provides.

I believe all of us can learn during this time, regardless of our station or season of life.

That’s why I make time to read.

Reading is such a gift. It’s also the best way to learn and grow.

During past times of depression in my life, I lost my desire to read.

I’m so thankful in 2020 to have my passion to read intact.

I want to share a short list of what I’m reading and why.

Many of my friends and family have commented on the new depth of Bible study in their lives. My sister is currently reading the entire Bible. I’ve watched my wife grow in the Word. I’m camping out in Judges (I’ve just finished the wonderful story of Gideon in Judges 6). Additionally, I’m reading the book of James, written by Jesus’ half-brother.

I highly recommend the Bible. I’ve spent a lifetime reading and studying it and am still amazed at how old passages breathe with new life.

 

I’ve been reading a lot of history. I’ve been reminded of the complexities of the Middle East in 1967: The Six-Day War.  I’m currently re-listening to Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers. What a fine book (and series). I’ve just finished the Rick Atkinson trilogy of World War II in Europe. (Pack your lunch if you start it.)

 

 1918 Flu Pandemic
1918 New York City. This poem from that time is so relevant today.

Probably the book most affecting me right now is The Great Influenza by John Barry. It’s the story of the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. It’s like reading today’s headlines with NYC empty, everyone wearing a face mask, and thousands needing hospital care. Before the virus left after the second wave, over 600,000 Americans had died. Here are some takeaways:

  1. Our country (and the world) has been through a terrible pandemic before. We will get through this time as a nation and individuals.
  2. Medical research and breakthroughs take time.
  3. We must band together as a society to get through this pandemic.
  4. It is difficult to predict the length of a pandemic. The Spanish Flu had a deadly second wave, then it disappeared as quickly as it’d exploded earlier.

 

Speaking of reading (and listening), I’d like to invite you to download my latest book, As the Crow Flies.

It is available at Amazon.com in various formats.

You can also download a free sample of the Audible book, then purchase the entire book if you wish. Narrator Whitney Jenkins delivers a knock-out performance of As the Crow Flies.

 

Click here to see our Audible page.

 

Thanks to all of you who are connected with us.

Stay safe and keep looking ahead and up.

 

Curt Iles

curt@creekbank.net

 

 

 

 

 

Trail Magic

The Appalachian Trail in Georgia.

Trail Magic

“Be ye kind one to another.”

-Paul in Ephesians 4:32

Frank and I climbed up a steep ridge on the north Georgia part of the Appalachian Trail. We were on a remote and dry portion of the Trail and were parched on this warm day.

Our water bottles were empty and we consulted a guidebook for the next water source. It was several miles ahead. We’d be thirsty for that trek.

Then we came upon a sight I still see vividly in my mind:  An orange five-gallon Igloo water cooler with a printed sign: ‘Trail Magic. Enjoy the water! From a former hiker.”

The water was ice cold. Probably the most satisfying drink I’ve ever gulped down. We filled our water bottles with the clear cold water, raising a toast to the kind soul who left the cooler there.

It was truly Trail Magic.

I’d better explain what Trail Magic is, since I’ve been the recipient of it so many times when hiking.

It’s unexpected kindness on the Trail, most often from a stranger.

A cold drink of water.

Two RVers atop Fontana Dam cooking pancakes for hungry hikers.

A ride to a nearby store.

Candy bars left at a highway crossroads with a sign, “Help yourself!”

I was once on the Trail in North Carolina along the Nantahala River.  I walked to a trailside hiking store where an employee worked for most of  an hour on my balky camping stove. He gave me a primer on the care and use of my small stove. When I tried to pay him, he waved me off, “It’s Trail Magic, pass it on.”

That’s the thing about Trail Magic. It’s good to receive, even better to pass it on.

I’m still trying to pay it forward on that wonderful cold water that Frank and I enjoyed years ago.

I had a message recently from a fellow hiker. He said, “Do you think during our current Coronairus crisis that Trail Magic still exists?”

He and I both agreed that it is still alive and well even in a time of social distancing. We simply need to be creative on how we reach out and show kindness to fellow travelers, who like all of us, are carrying a heavy load.

It happened last week. DeDe and I were in the drive-through line at a coffeeshop. When we got to the pay window, the cashier said, ‘You don’t owe anything. The car ahead of you paid for your order.”

I watched that car pull out onto Jackson Street Extension.

I’m still trying to figure out who it was. Was it someone we knew or simply a person passing along a little anonymous Pandemic kindness?

Yes, the thing about Trail Magic is that it’s best passed on.

I’m going to be kind to everyone I meet, even at six feet apart. I never know if that masked stranger I pass at the grocery might be the person who paid for my coffee and donuts.

Trail Magic.

Let’s pass it on.

The view from atop Mt Katadhin in Maine on the Appalachian Trail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lightening your Load

Good thoughts for an uncertain time:

 

 

Lightening your Load

 

I love to hike along the Appalachian Trail (or the “A.T.” as it is called.)
One thing backpacking quickly teaches you is the priority of traveling light. When you are carrying a 30-40 pound pack on your back for 10-15 miles per day, you quickly learn what not to carry.

Long-distance hikers are famous for the lengths they will go to reduce their pack weight. I’ve met hikers along the northern stretches of A.T. who had pared their pack weight down to under twenty pounds. They didn’t even carry much water in their canteens (Their comment: “Man, I drink lots of water at every spring and carry my water ‘inside me.’ “ )

One of the prime examples of traveling light is the backpacker’s toothbrush. It is a toothbrush with the majority of the handle cut off. A true backpacker will say, “That long handle is just for city people. You don’t need all of that extra weight.”

I checked a toothbrush on a postal scale. The toothbrush weighed 6 ounces (not quite half a pound) before I cut off the handle. After I had removed most of the handle, it now weighed half of what it had weighed- 3 oz.

Most often you’ll not find really heavy items to remove from your pack. Lightening your pack requires twenty small decisions to remove/lighten items. All of a sudden, your pack is now 6 pounds lighter and that makes a real difference!

 

So it is important to “de-clutter” and travel light. Here are my 5 items to eliminate from “my backpack” this week as I travel on my life’s journey:

Negative thinking– I will choose to think positively believing that “all things are possible through Christ” as Paul states in Philippians 4:13.
– Bitterness- This heavy weight loads down anyone who carries it. It is the one emotion that nothing good can come out of. I will forgive, forget, and reconcile to avoid this “cancer of the soul.”
– Being afraid of what others think or say. I will not “set my sails” due to the whims and criticisms of what others may expect of me. To have the approval of God and my self-respect is all I need. The only way to please everyone is “to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.”
– Living a life of regrets from the past. Carrying the heavy stones of regret from the past only robs today (and tomorrow) of joy. Because I have the forgiveness of God, I will not dig up my past sins, shortcomings, and failures.
Jealousy I choose not to carry the extra weight of comparing everything I have to someone else. “If you look at what you do not have in life, you don’t have anything. If you look at what you do have in life, you have everything.”

 

Happy Hiking!
Travel light! Travel joyously!

 

We believe that every journey has a story, and every story involves a journey.

 

How to Fight a Bear

How to Fight a Bear

I’ve got hiking fever. It’s strikes me several times a year and I find my heart, if not my feet, on a trail in Arkansas or the Appalachian Mountains.

In both of these hiking locales, encountering black bears does occur. I want to share a few good bear stories along with information from a “Bear Facts” brochure from one of my favorite hiking places, Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

First of all, you don’t want to fight a bear. For one simple reason: you will lose. So this brochure is about safely encountering bears in their habitat of the mountains. At the end of these ramblings, I have a few spiritual insights to add.

1. Don’t turn your back on a bear. I’ll never forget my first bear encounter in the Smoky Mountains. I walked right up on one near the top of Shuckstack Mountain. There we were face to face and he seemed surprised, while I was terrified. Following the wise guidelines, I quickly backed away putting space between us as quickly as possible. I’m not sure if I wet my pants, but it wouldn’t have surprised me one bit!
I once saw a picture of a group of Asian natives in Bengal Tiger country. The native in the back of line had a human face mask worn on the back of his head. It was a guard against the tendency of a stalking tiger to slip up behind a person. They’d found that the face mask amazingly caused tigers not to pursue or pounce.
So don’t turn your back on a black bear, (or for that matter, a tiger either.)

2. Don’t get complacent. Most hikers and tourists get into trouble with bears because they get too comfortable and forget they are in the presence of a truly wild and dangerous animal.
I was told this story by an Appalachian Trail (AT) hiker: a group of tired hikers were cooking supper over a shelter campfire in the Smoky Mountains.
Suddenly a good-sized bear ambled out of the nearby woods. He had a comical gait and seemed to nearly be grinning as he squatted near the hikers. They were all amused and quickly got their cameras to take pictures of the friendly bear.
Just as quickly and suddenly, the bear charged the group. His intended target was not them, but a food bag beside one of the hikers.
The bag’s owner was just taking a photo of the bear as it charged. (The narrator called it a “true Kodak moment.”) Being a long distance hiker and low on food, the man diligently fought the bear over his food bag. Granola bars flew everywhere as man and beast vainly vied for possession of the bag.
The bag finally ripped and the bear happily trotted off with the bag and its remaining contents.
It all happened because they were complacent with an approaching (and granola- loving) bear.
A sidebar to this story. This bear had the appropriate nickname of “Sneaky.” Sneaky the Bear made his living by enacting this same scenario over and over at this campsite. He was eventually captured by park rangers and removed. (I assume he is now doing this same routine at Jellystone National Park.)
Don’t get complacent!

3. Beware of erratic behavior. I guess “Sneaky’s” above behavior was erratic. Once I saw a large bear eating berries. While a long distance away, the bear stood on its hind legs, snorted aggressively, and watched me. That was enough erratic behavior for me to choose another path. As I left, I then noticed two nearby cubs. They were the source of the mother bear’s behavior.

4. Don’t run
That is much easier written about than done. But running from a bear is an invitation to be chased. They can sense fear and when you run, they see fear and will react accordingly.
I always think of Shelby Foote’s anecdote in his book, The Civil War. He tells of a Tennessee Confederate soldier named June Kimball at the battle of Gettysburg. Kimball was part of the famous advance called “Pickett’s Charge” where the Southerners were repulsed by the union soldiers who shot from behind stone walls.
When June Kimball realized that to advance further was only to join the other thousands dead or dying, he said, “I began walking slowly backwards. I was determined if a Yankee bullet got me, it wouldn’t hit me in the back. I walked probably a half mile backwards, still facing the enemy, until I knew I was out of range. Then I turned and made tracks for the safety of our lines.”
If you come face to face with a bear, don’t run.

5. Talk strongly, but don’t argue.
Once, I was on the Appalachian Trail (AT) with my son Clay and nephew Adam. I had told them we would end our trip after we saw a bear.
We cooked supper one evening at our shelter as the sun went down and darkness came to the mountains. (The rock shelters on the AT had a hurricane-fence covered open front with a gate. This allowed hikers to sleep away from the bears. It was kind of a reverse zoo. The humans were inside the fenced area and the bears, who roam mainly at night, were outside.)
At dusk, Clay and Adam went to wash our supper dishes and soon came sprinting back saying they’d encountered a bear. I laughed at their fear until my flashlight shined the bear’s face as he came right into our campsite.
As we quickly gathered our cooking gear (and food bag!) and retreated behind the fence, I talked strongly to the bear letting him know this was our campsite and he was not welcome. This caused him to slink back into the dark.
He soon returned and quickly commandeered the campsite. The only strong talking was our hollering to get inside as we closed and locked the gate. I wasn’t going to argue with him. The campsite was now his.
As we watched Mr. Bear in the distance, Adam innocently asked, “Does this mean we can go home now, Uncle Curt.”
I had no argument with that either. We hiked out the next day and drove home to Louisiana.
I’ve been on more fine hiking trips since then. However, it was, to my knowledge, the last trip either Adam or Clay ever went on.

6. Travel in groups Most trouble between bears are avoided if hikers will travel in groups. One of the most recent human-black bear fatalities in the Appalachians was a female camper traveling alone. There is truly safety in numbers.

In closing, I’d to mention a few spiritual applications. The Apostle Peter wrote, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. I Peter 5:8

If Peter had been in the Smokies, he would have compared the devil to a black bear. He calls him our adversary and tells us to be vigilant and on guard.

Don’t turn your back on the devil. He is real and active and always wants to destroy the lives of humans.
Don’t get complacent. When we picture Satan in a red suit with a pitchfork, we underestimate his intent. Like Sneaky the Bear, who looked friendly but was sinister, Satan can seem “an angel of light” but his motivation is always evil.
Beware of erratic behavior– the devil wants to attract and disarm us with his appeal and enticement. Beware and move back.
Don’t run. Stand your ground, but also don’t stay around waiting for trouble. Walk backwards and get away.
Talk strongly, but don’t argue. Jesus talked strongly to Satan. He used the powerful word of God to each of Satan’s temptation during the 40 days. We are best equipped against the enemy when we know, and use, God’s word against temptation. However, don’t waste your time arguing with the enemy. Get behind “the fence” and get safe.
Travel in groups. One of the reasons I advocate being part of a good church is there truly is safety in numbers. I need the encouragem
ent and stability of a positive group to keep me safe and straight. I find that in my local church.

“Uncle Quincy’s Goose” from ‘Wind in the Pines’

 

Uncle Quincy’s Goose

 

(From Curt Iles’s third book, Wind in the Pines.)

“He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” -Proverbs 21:23

 

You are probably familiar with the old story of the gossip who was confronted for spreading an untruth throughout the community. The offending “tale-bearer” apologized and volunteered to go back to everyone to whom she had told the lie.

The offended person, who was also very wise, took the gossip out on the front porch and tore open a tattered feather pillow. The wind blew the small downy feathers in every direction. Looking at the gossip, the wise person said, “Trying to track down everyone who has since heard your story is like trying to gather back all of these feathers is impossible.”

 

This “featherweight story” is a good thing for all of us to remember – Once our words are spoken, they are “recorded.”

______________________________________________________________________________________
My great-great uncle Quincy died before I was born. All that I knew of him came from his niece, my precious Grandma Pearl.

She loved telling stories of her mother’s family and their lives in the Cajun community of Oberlin. Mama Pearl had many good stories, but the one she loved telling best was how her Uncle Quincy escaped from Angola Prison by swimming on the back of a mule across the Mississippi River.

As I became older, it amazed me at how the Godliest person I’ve ever known – my grandma, could be so proud of her uncle who had escaped from prison. But she loved her family and was always glad to tell the story one more time.

She told this specific story about a goose hunt Uncle Quincy went on. He and two other men were hunting in the rice fields near Oberlin. They had an extremely successful hunt, shooting down many geese.

Laying out their collection of dead geese they were surprised to see that one of the birds had a large metal band on its leg. Closer scrutiny revealed the band had a number and instructions on how to forward this number to the National Wildlife Service.

A further count surprised them that they were one goose over the limit. A quick recount confirmed the fact they had one too many geese to be legal. They were not about to leave a goose behind, so they picked up their geese, tying their legs of the geese together and hoisted them over their shoulders.

Nearing the edge of the field and their vehicle, they decided to leave behind one of the geese at the fence corner. This would mean they would be right on the limit of geese. Their plan was to come back and get the lone goose if they didn’t encounter a game warden at their vehicle.

It was a good decision because a federal game warden was waiting for them in the bushes near their vehicle. Together the men laid their geese in a line for counting, placed their guns on the ground for inspection, and took their licenses out of their wallets.

It took a while for the inspections and counting to take place. There just seemed to be need for a little small talk to make the time move quicker, so Uncle Quincy decided to liven up the conversation with this innocent remark, “You know one of those geese we killed had a metal band on its leg.”

 

The federal game warden stood up from his inspection. It was evident he was very interested in

Uncle Quincy’s statement. He asked, “Really, I’d like to see it and record the number for our study.”

The hunters and the game warden began to look for the goose with the metal band. After several attempts sorting through several dozen geese and finding no leg band, the warden looked up quizzically at Uncle Quincy.

Now, you already know what Uncle Quincy and his hunting buddies knew: the goose with the leg band was “hiding” back in the weeds at the fence corner.

Finally, after the four of them searched through the geese once more, the game warden’s stare met Uncle Quincy’s eyes. Uncle Quincy couldn’t think of but one thing to say,

“Well, I guess it must have fallen off between here and the blind.”

With that the game warden snorted disgustedly, abruptly stopped his inspection, and left without saying another word.

After the game warden got out of earshot, Uncle Quincy made a classic statement to his hunting partners,
“Well, they’ve never sent a man to the pen for keeping his mouth shut!”

I often think of Uncle Quincy’s goose when I get in a bind due to excessively running my mouth.
The wise writer of Proverbs said it well, “Where there is abundance of words, sin is not absent.”
Even James, the brother of Jesus said it so well, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
Jesus best summed it up:
“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
-Matthew 12:36-37

It is good to remember that our words are recorded by those around us . . . And most importantly they are both heard, and “recorded” by the very ears of God.

The Proverbs reading plan:
Several times in the story above I have quoted from the wonderful book of Proverbs. It is full of short, wise sayings written especially to inform and educate young men and women.
I’d like to encourage you to read a chapter a day from this book of wisdom. Because of its’ length of thirty-one chapters, you can read the chapter that corresponds to the day of the month, reading through the book each month.

Travel Light and De-Clutter: A Backpacker’s Toothbrush


A Good Time to “De-clutter”

 

As many of you know from my stories I love to hike in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and along the Appalachian Trail (or the “A.T.” as it is called.)
One thing backpacking quickly teaches you is the priority of traveling light. When you are carrying a 30-40 pound pack on your back for 10-15 miles per day, you quickly learn what not to carry.
Here are items a hiker quickly learns to leave behind:
-Blue jeans [when they get wet (and they will) they weigh a ton]
-Anything in cans. The metal containers and packing water weigh down your pack. Saws, axes, big tents, Bowie knives, too many clothes, bulky sleeping bags, skillets, lawn chairs (I’ve seen hikers toting each of these and more.).

Long distance hikers are famous for the lengths they will go to reduce their pack weight. I’ve met hikers along the northern stretches of A.T. who had pared their pack weight down to under twenty pounds. They didn’t even carry much water in their canteens (Their comment: “Man, I drink lots of water at every spring and carry my water ‘inside me.’ “ )

I had one proud lightweight hiker brag that he only rationed himself “four squares of toilet paper per day.” My dignity would not let me ask him to elaborate on his technique but I sure knew I didn’t want to sleep next to him in a shelter!

One of the prime examples of traveling light is the backpacker’s toothbrush. As you can see from the picture, it is simply a regular brush with the majority of the handle cut off. A true backpacker will say, “That long handle is just for city people. You don’t need all of that extra weight.”

I checked it on a postal scale. The toothbrush in the photo weighed 6 ounces (not quite half a pound) before I cut off the handle. After I had removed most of the handle, it now weighed half of what it had weighed- 3 oz.
But as any serious hiker will tell you, “Every ounce counts.” For those who walk the entire A.T. in one season (that’s 2160 miles from Georgia to Maine) it is estimated that it takes over 5 million steps. 5,000,000 x 3 oz. ounces can actually translate into lots of weight!
Most often you’ll not find really heavy items to remove from your pack. Lightening your pack requires twenty small decisions to remove/lighten items. All of a sudden, your pack is now 6 pounds lighter and that makes a real difference!

So it is important to “de-clutter” and travel light. Here are my 5 items to eliminate from “my backpack” this week as I travel on my life’s journey:

Negative thinking– I will choose to think positively believing that “all things are possible through Christ” as Paul states in Philippians 4:13.
Bitterness- This heavy weight loads down anyone who carries it. It is the one emotion that nothing good can come out of. I will forgive, forget, and reconcile to avoid this “cancer of the soul.”
– Being afraid of what others think or say. I will not “set my sails” due to the whims and criticisms of what others may expect of me. To have the approval of God and my self-respect is all I need. The only way to please everyone is “to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.”
– Living a life of regrets from the past. Carrying the heavy stones of regret from the past only robs today (and tomorrow) of joy. Because I have the forgiveness of God, I will not dig up my past sins, shortcomings, and failures.
Jealousy I choose not to carry the extra weight of comparing everything I have to someone else. “If you look at what you do not have in life, you don’t have anything. If you look at what you do have in life, you have everything.”

Happy Hiking!
Travel light! Travel joyously!

A fellow traveler,
Curt Iles

One Step at a Time

One Step at a Time

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. 

-Psalms 32:8

 

I grew up in the woods at the end of a dead-end country road. Clayton Iles Road was unpaved a mile long, and extremely dark on moonless nights.

It’s on that road that I learned one of life’s enduring lessons. This experience happened when I was a sophomore in college and home for a semester break. I had not declared a major and was listed as a general studies student.

It was time to select a major and I felt unsure about making this life-determining decision. Feeling the weight of this uncertainty, I took a nighttime walk on that long, dark gravel road.

As I prayed for guidance, I felt that God spoke to me. Here’s how I interpreted what He said:  “You’re walking on a dark road that you can’t see to the end. However, you don’t need to see the end, you only need to take one step at a time to reach the end of the road. There is enough light for one step. One step at a time.”

I realized I only needed to trust God and take the steps on the road directly in front of me.

That was over forty years ago and I still reflect back on the lesson of that night. The “one step at a time” has served well over a lifetime of decisions and crossroads. I only need to discern God’s will one step at a time

That “One step decision” back in the seventies led me to select teaching as my major. I’m convinced that this was God’s will for that season of my life. I’ve had several careers, but in each one, I’ve felt God’s guiding spirit assuring me of God’s guidance one step at a time

 

P.S. I’m on another one-step journey in my life. I am the new principal at Alpine Christian School in Pineville. It is an exciting opportunity to serve God, our school, and precious students. You can learn more at www.alpinecs.org or our Facebook page.

 

Much of my Life Long Learner Journey has taken place on Clayton Iles Road.

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