NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Like any dad whose child is undergoing a major health issue, Patrick Doughtie was convinced his son Tyler would recover from medulloblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor.
Though he had doubts about God and questioned his faith at times during Tyler’s fight with cancer, Doughtie envisioned being able to give a marvelous testimony on how his son overcame cancer.
“I thought there would be a happy ending and Tyler would be cured,” said Doughtie, a member of Grace Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn.
Tyler, however, died in 2005 at the age of 9.
Doughtie acknowledged that he went through a period of depression and anger following his son’s death. During those days of dark depression, Doughtie realized his son still left a testimony through his life and his love for God.
Doughtie began to think about ways he could tell Tyler’s story and also ways to bring attention to childhood cancer. He took a screenwriting class and began writing a script for a fictional movie based on Tyler’s cancer. In fact, Doughtie intentionally wrote himself out of the movie in order to be more creative. In the movie, Tyler’s dad died prior to him developing cancer.
Doughtie’s finished product was entitled “Letters to God.” After the script was written, Doughtie actually found a notebook where Tyler had indeed written two letters to God, which were basically prayers and questions that he posed to God during his fight with cancer.
The hardest part was then finding a production company to film and produce the movie, especially a company that would keep the faith elements in the picture.
Doughtie finally settled on Possibility Pictures. One of the company’s owners is David Nixon, a co-producer of the 2008 hit movie “Fireproof.”
Letters to God shows the love Tyler had for God and his faith, Doughtie. Doughtie’s pastor, André Dugger, said the film also demonstrates the importance of a loving church family in times of crisis.
Dugger recalled that he first met the Doughtie family shortly after Tyler was first diagnosed with cancer. Doughtie’s mother-in-law was a member of Grace Baptist and worked for two other Grace members who asked Dugger to pray for Tyler just prior to going to St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis.
After the Doughties returned from Memphis, they began attending Grace, where Tyler accepted Christ and was baptized.
As Tyler fought the battle for his life, the entire family was going through struggles. The construction company Doughtie worked for let him go because he had to take too much time off.
His wife, Heather (Tyler’s stepmother) was pregnant and could not work. Bills piled up as the family could not pay their mortgage or car payment.
Members of Grace Baptist Church stepped up and helped the family with mortgage and car payments and other bills that mounted during Tyler’s bout with cancer, Doughtie said.
“We have a history of demonstrating love to people,” Dugger said of his church which is now in its 100th year. “There are people here who took the Doughties under their wings and helped to provide for them financially.”
Said Doughtie, “Looking back I can see all the relationships God set up for me even before Tyler got sick.”
He, too, stressed that the movie highlights the role of a church family in times of trouble. “It’s important to have a relationship with a church family,” Doughtie said.
Two other key elements of the movie are prayer and hope, Dugger said. In the movie, Tyler exhibits hope through his letters which are actually prayers to God.
“We are really hoping an entire new way of thinking will develop as a result of this movie,” Dugger said. “We can write letters to God as a form of praying as easily as we can talk to Him.”
What’s more, he added, “with the letters we can be reminded of our deepest, darkest times and be reminded of how God walked with us and blessed us.”
“Five years ago,” Dugger said, “Patrick was at the darkest part of his life. Today, he is at a place where God has given him a platform to touch millions of people.”
The movie, Doughtie said, show the hope that can be found only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
“For those who are left behind (after the death of a loved one), the movie shows the hope of eternity through a life with God,” Doughtie said. “That is the message of hope I most want to get across.”
The former construction worker knows that to have written a movie script that was picked up by a producer so quickly is a testament to God’s hand at work.
“There were so many doors that were opened,” he said.
A typical movie (script to screen) takes anywhere from seven to 10 years, Doughtie said. His “script to screen” took only three years.
“I feel blessed.”
Doughtie also hopes the movie will bring attention on childhood cancer and will inspire people to give money for cancer research. He has developed a wristband that says “John 3:16 — Believe” on one side and “Love, Tyler” on the other. Proceeds from the sale of these wristbands will be used for children’s cancer research. (The wristbands are available on his web site, www.patrickdoughtie.com.)
Both Doughtie, who also co-directed the film, and his pastor, who served as associate producer, have written companion pieces that can be used in conjunction with the movie or as a stand-alone. Doughtie has written a children’s book and a novel based on the movie while Dugger has written two books, including Prayer: Your Own Letter to God, which is a practical guide to help people better understand the purpose and practice of prayer, he said.
The other book written by Dugger is Dear God, a gift book/devotional book which contains actual letters that were used in the movie and photos of scenes from the movie. In addition to their books there are three other “Letters to God” products being released, including a Bible, a journal and a book on hope.
“How many average Joe construction workers have written a screenplay that glorifies God and honors his son?” Doughtie asked.
Both Doughtie and Dugger are available to speak to church groups. For information, contact Dugger at Grace Baptist Church at (615) 865-6262 or his web site at www.andredugger.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. A review of “Letters to God” is available here.)