I recently had the opportunity to speak with Patrick Doughtie the writer and co-director of Letters to God. The interview flowed as a natural conversation and was a little different for me because of my own personal appeal to the movie.
Letters to God is based on Patrick’s son Tyler. I had my own experiences with a little boy named Tyler Graebener who died from cancer when he was 9. I did a lot of work with Tyler over the years and will be forever impacted as a result of my witnessing of the tremendous courage and example of this little boy. Letters to God is a personal journey and story of Patrick’s son who succumbed to a rare form of brain cancer. There is something about the honesty, and life of a child that teaches lessons and has value. Letters to God is a movie and story that shares the wisdom of a child. While there are liberties taken in the story, the lessons, the examples, are very much a part of the reality of Tyler.
As I did a little research on the film I had a spiritual experience. Without me knowing, I discovered some associations with the film. Among those associations included is music from the band Stars Go Dim. I have gotten to know these guys over the last year or so and was surprised to discover one of their songs on the soundtrack for the film. I also discovered that Patrick is based out of Nashville, a city where I have many friends and once lived near. There is also the common concept of both of us losing a loved one to cancer, both who happened to be named Tyler. While much more personal for Patrick, as it is the story of his son, the research still brought back memories for me of the little boy I loved named Tyler. I was reminded of the boy I loved named Tyler and of how movies can impact the lives of people like I had once written of Tyler Graebener.
Patrick shared with me ‘the story of Letters to God is about a little boy who has cancer and writes letters to God, and was inspired by my son. The film version shares how he impacted people and it touches on his childlike faith. In the story he has an impact on a down and out postal worker.'
I asked how different the story was from real life and Patrick responded: ‘A lot of the conversations between the son and mother are actually conversations between me and my son. The movie is really Tyler’s cancer story wrapped in fiction. The letters are a metaphor of his life and his love for God. In real life, Tyler was his own letter to God. He was the messenger who had to share the story. Actually, I later found some letters that were passed off into the production company. There are a lot of fictional characters in the movie but some, like one of the little girls is based off a friend he met at St. Jude’s Hospital.’
One of the things I appreciated is the work being done to help raise awareness and help agencies that do work. As a part of the work being supported by the web site and movie include, charities such as, Hope Kids, The Arnold Palmer Hospital, and Give Kids the World Village. The web site for the movie, www.letterstogodthemovie.com also has a site link that allows individuals to share their own stories. It doesn’t take long to realize the impact this movie has had on multitudes of grieving loved ones.
In regards to the stories that have been shared, Patrick shared: ‘The stories have been phenomenal! There have been on a daily bases Facebook messages and others at my own web site www.patrickdoughtie.com others forward messages to me that deal with things they have heard. The one thing that sticks out in my head was my thought that if just one person comes to Christ through the story then the entire experience was worth it. There is a woman who contacted me through Facebook and she gave me permission to use her story. She was diagnosed with leukemia at 14 and was considered cancer free for 5 years. For all of her life she was agnostic and didn’t believe in God. She is now 28 and was recently diagnosed with a new kind of cancer with no cure. Her mom asked her to go see the movie, she went reluctantly and came out and messaged me. She wanted me to know that she wanted to live the rest of her life for God and the next week would be the very first time she ever stepped foot in the church.’
Patrick continued with his thoughts, reflecting as he told me; ‘I wanted to see one person come to Christ and impacted by the story, but instead I have seen hundreds of people who have gone through similar circumstances and the story has provided hope.’
Having some experience in knowing what it feels like to garnish some success due to work with such a personal subject, I reluctantly asked how it felt to try and balance everything, including the success with the personal experience of losing his son, Patrick had thought of this before, but was gracious to answer the question freely; ‘Ultimately the entire process has been healing. I went through a period of depression and into a slump for almost 2 years. I was mad at God, I asked the questions of why, it’s not fair, and I started thinking back of when I was in the hospital looking for him. The church I was in gave me the book The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren and I started seeing a purpose for everyone. I saw Tyler’s purpose as being on the planet to impact the people he impacted and had an effect on. It’s a roller coaster of emotions. I am blessed that I have been used by God in this manner, there are so many that have lost children that don’t have an opportunity to make a movie about their child. Each one of them touches people in their community and their family’s lives. There is definitely a purpose in each person’s life.’
I couldn’t help but relate to what Patrick had said here. I had seen and experienced the same type of thing with my friend Tyler. In fact, I had asked the same questions, came to the same conclusions. I couldn’t help but think that the consistency of the message gave a type of guarantee that the message really was from God.
In my own personal experiences, I also realized, time has to go on, there has to be a future. I asked Patrick what the future included for him. ‘I am still writing and raising funds for a movie I am now working on. I have a screen play, actually several that I am developing in novel format and they are being pitched to the publisher. The book hit the NY times best seller list so that helps and doors open. I also write a political column and I also just signed with Single Source Speakers Bureau, all in all, life is pretty busy.’
While the movie is getting mass marketing from Wal-Mart among other retailers, the possible impact from the mega giant isn’t lost. Patrick shared, ‘Wal Mart is a huge outlet for us, they have picked up a couple hundred thousand copies, LifeWay is also promoting it pretty well, I haven’t spoken to the marketing team but am hoping they also put more advertising on television. I also know the movie has been released in other countries. Hopefully more people will know about the release. It is also available at Red Box.
I realized as we proceeded, a lot is happening for Patrick. I was impressed; impressed with a lot of things, from similar experiences, to the life his son must have led. I was wondering though, had his purpose, had his desires changed so I asked about his wishes for the future: ‘Honestly, my only wish and goal is like from the start; it is that as many as possible will see the movie, it isn’t really about the sales and all of that, I’m just hoping now that millions can see the movie, be touched by the story. How that helps, or if I make a lot of money doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as that Tyler’s story touches lives.’
As I concluded the interview, I could relate, relate to a real guy who has had to go through tragic events in his own life to make him who he is. I was challenged, in fact moved, the reality is, many of us, whether we realize it or not, do in fact have a purpose in life. We unfortunately come to the conclusions we do through difficult circumstances. All too often, many of us focus on the negative, the negative of how we relate to others, or how we feel about our circumstances. There is certainly a time for grieving as is illustrated in the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, but there is also a time for healing, a time for joy, a time for living. It is in all of those times that we become who we are, and who we are will determine who we impact and the reality of maybe, just maybe we can be used by God to touch others with meaning and purpose. I think Patrick gets that, in fact, I am certain he does, thankfully because of the gift of his son, now many more, hopefully millions will as well.
The following is a video of an interview with Patrick, to see the video, just click on the video, if the video doesn't appear, click on the following link:
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