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Dewayne's Story > Chapters > My Entire Life

A Spiritual Journey 

 
Date Range: 12/19/2009 To 12/19/2010   Comments: 1 Views: 12135
Attachments: Yes [1 Audio]    

I began my journey in a hotel room the week following my fiftieth birthday.  That’s right, half a century.  Five decades.  I’m an airline pilot and I was staying in a hotel after flying to the Newark, New Jersey International Airport.  Mathematically, I could define my thoughts that day as:  fifty plus fifty equals one hundred.  Years.  For some reason, and I know now it was the grace of God, I pondered this simple yet sobering formula over drinking coffee and staring out the window.  If God was merciful, I was halfway finished with my sojourn here on earth.  I knew I needed to get busy if I was going to do anything significant for God.  I felt a desire to pray and so I dropped to my knees and asked God to help me find something to do for him.  As I prayed, I could feel myself being pulled in two very different directions.

For years, I struggled with a besetting sin.  It’s not important you know what it is; there is nothing criminal or illegal, just severely damaging to my own soul.  I know now this sin is the result of several things in my life: severe childhood abuse; living many years without love in my life; and the brutal reality of existing in a fallen, evil world.  Plus my own depraved heart.  I was always looking for a Bible verse, a sermon, a thought from a Bible commentator—something to help rid myself of this thing standing between me and God.  Lately, I was thinking more about the holiness aspect of my Christian walk due to sermons I downloaded from the internet.  Praying in the hotel room, the following quote from a famous Pentecostal minister popped in my mind. It spiritually slapped me in the face.  “You have a problem with sin because you have a problem properly fearing God.”  

My relationship with Jesus began when I was sixteen years old.  I sat in the musty corner of our basement in Oak Hill, West Virginia and hugged my knees as I asked Him to save me and take control of my life. That day I began an off and on relationship with Christ.  I attended church through my high school years and forgot about Him while going to college at West Virginia University.  My backsliding snowballed when I entered the U.S. Air Force.  Not that the military was responsible, I was responsible. 

I met a woman at a bar; eventually I married her and she divorced me when she fell in love with someone else.  I was devastated.  I ran after God and became that sixteen year old once again.  Only this time it was in the lonely bedroom of my apartment. 

After some time passed, and with God’s help, I recovered from my heartbreak.  Although I fell down and scraped my knees occasionally, my walk slowly improved.  Still I struggled with that persistent sin.  I was sure there were many sins in my life, but this one caused the most despair.  I repeatedly asked God to make me stronger, to help me fight the evil in my own wicked heart.  I repeatedly failed. 

One night I came under heavy conviction.  I took a shower to try to rinse off the filth I was feeling.  Unable to clean myself, I leaned my head against the cool ceramic wall and pleaded with God.  I said, “Lord I know I’m doing something wrong.  There is something wrong with my faith.  I can’t belong to You and keep doing this terrible thing over and over.  Please show me what to do.”  I prayed again before I went to bed that night.  Instead of asking for strength to fight the sin, I confessed my inability to stop sinning. 

Soon the Holy Spirit led me to a book in the Bible, Romans, chapters seven and eight.  With God’s grace, I learned from these chapters that there is nothing good in my flesh and there is no power in my new nature.  God has no plans to redeem my flesh.  It has to die.  And my new nature gets its power from the Holy Spirit.  So I was praying a prayer, hundreds of times over the years, which God could not affirmatively answer.  He would not strengthen my flesh to fight sin.  My flesh was incapable of winning that battle; it would be committing suicide.  The only way out was to ask God to help me yield to the Holy Spirit; let the Holy Spirit save me from my inherent sinful flesh like an older brother saving his little brother from the neighborhood bully.

About this time, I discovered the writings of Simone Weil, a French philosopher and religious mystic.  In her book, “Gravity and Grace,” I learned two important concepts.  The first was the only thing I had to offer God was “self.” I had to surrender the “I” that rules within my flesh and let God rule instead.  This is not a “one time” sacrifice; I have to do it continuously.  Everything else I owned was given to me by His grace—the body I was born in, the time I was born in, the abilities I had to do anything.  The second thing was I could resist evil and temptation using my own willpower, but eventually my finite reservoir of energy to resist evil would inevitably disappear.  I must have energy outside myself, the Holy Spirit of God given by His grace, in order to resist evil for the long term.  Ms. Weil comments on the denial of Peter by saying, “Denial of St. Peter.  To say to Christ, ‘I will never deny thee’ was to deny him already, for it was supposing the source of faithfulness to be in himself and not in grace.”[1]

Now I prayed for God’s grace and mercy instead of being strengthened in the flesh.  I had more victories over the sin.  In the hotel room, I discovered the first and last step.  I had to fear God.  By fearing God I mean believing God.  I had to believe God when he says in His word that He will discipline and correct His children like a loving father.  I also must believe I can grasp God’s right hand of mercy—that if we confess our sins to Him, He will forgive us.  When the disciples asked Christ how many times they were supposed to forgive others, Jesus said seventy times seven times.  So, part of this fear is also believing in God’s mercy, applied through the sacrifice of Christ.  Just as the father with the demon-possessed boy asked Christ to help his unbelief, I asked God that day to help my unbelief.  I asked to have the proper fear of God, much like the type of fear a private in the Army has for a general officer that he loves and respects. 

Paul’s discussion in the book of Romans of how we are engaged in a war gives me hope when I’m struggling with sin.  The flesh constantly wars against the Holy Spirit.  My part in the war is to “mind” or obey the Holy Spirit as He guides me using God’s word, providence, and other believers, instead of the evil and base desires of my flesh.  I must rest in the fact Christ not only died for all my sins, He died also to deliver me from the power of my sinful nature, although I still live with that nature until God redeems my body through the shed blood of Christ.  So, God eternally sees me in Christ and not in my sinful nature.  We are born into, and live our lives in the presence of, an ongoing spiritual war.  We will fight until our dying breath.

  Sometimes I can only pray the shortest prayer in the Bible, a three word prayer, “Lord, save me!”  Peter prayed these three words to Jesus as the disciple sank beneath the waves after walking on water towards Christ (Matthew 14:30).  They were rapidly answered by Jesus, and if they are all you can pray in the dark night of your soul, they will be enough.  

With God’s grace and His Word, I entered a new phase of the battle.  I left the room that evening for the return trip to my home base with a renewed interest in finding a way to serve the Lord, and a renewed perspective in living the Christian life.

Greg is one of my best friends.  We met in a Bible study class and I attended a small group fellowship Greg held in him home twice a month.  His teenaged daughter, Lauren, recently completed treatments for an aggressive form of cancer.  The cancer is in remission.  We prayed many times for her healing in that small group.  Greg and I developed a close spiritual bond.  After returning from my trip, I asked Greg to get together for dinner.  I wanted to discuss my new-found urge to serve God.

We met at our favorite Mexican food restaurant, “On the Border.”  Waiting for our orders to arrive I told Greg some of the details of my experience in the hotel room.  I told him I felt like there was something I should do for the Lord, but I had no idea what it was.  Greg asked, “What are the things that interest you?  Is there something you have always enjoyed doing that God might be able to use?”   I thought for a moment and said, “I wrote some when I was in high school.  I wrote a science fiction short story that won first place in a writing contest…think I won ten dollars from an Oak Hill civic club.  I wrote recommendations for medal awards during my Air Force career.”

 Greg said maybe God wanted me to write.  We explored potential topics:  my Air Force career as a spy pilot and test pilot, the nine-year relationship with my United Way Little Brother, and flying as a night package delivery pilot with UPS.  Then I thought of my father and his fellow soldiers.  I said, “There are some interesting things happening at dad’s hospital.  Many of the men are heroes from World War II.  And I’m amazed at the way the people who work at the hospital care for the veterans.  Maybe there’s something there to write about.”  Greg agreed.  I went home that night questioning if I was crazy to think I could actually write something somebody would want to read.

I visited the neighborhood bookstore and browsed for books on writing.  “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser caught my eye.  Mr. Zinsser is a well-known memoir writer and this book is a classic on memoir writing.  Reading it dramatically changed my perspective.  I was encouraged to write for my own soul’s sake.  Who cared if it sold a million copies?  Perhaps the writing would be therapeutic for me; perhaps family members would enjoy reading my work.  If one person benefited, then the effort was worthwhile.  I ordered all the titles by Zinsser I could find.  I read them on layovers, during my time off, and pedaling on a stationary bike.  I thought about what they said as I ran on a one-mile gravel track in a state park near my home. 

One day I took a notebook with me when I visited dad.  I found myself writing furiously as I sat with dad at one of the tables.  It was though my eyes were opened for the first time to the things that were happening there.  I took many pages of notes.  That day was August 15 and the notes by and by became the chapter of the same name in this book.  During the same time, I began a project to read every book in the Bible using the commentary by J. Vernon McGee as a guide.  I concurrently studied E. M. Bound’s extensive works on prayer.  Almost every morning I studied, prayed, made entries in a spiritual journal, and consolidated my notes. 

Over the next four months, until shortly before Christmas, I recorded what happened during my visits to the hospital.  I decided to become a volunteer because of the friendships developing with the veterans and the people caring for them.  I became a writer.

I made plans to participate in a Christian writer’s conference the next February, and earnestly started working to have something available to show editors at the conference.  Over a ten-day period in January, I became a hibernating hermit writer and completed a 35,000-word project covering ten chapters. 

In late January, something reminded me of an essay contest I won as a sixth grade student.  The subject for the contest was “What My Father Means to Me.”  One night in the autumn of 1966, before a proud father and mother, I read the essay at a special Parents and Teachers Association meeting.  During my writing in 2005, I tried to find the long-lost, handwritten essay; I knew it contained words of love from a young boy to his father.  I couldn’t find that essay, but I came across one I wrote during my freshman year creative writing course at West Virginia University (WVU).  It was an initial submission, and my instructor used a green ink pen to record his comments.  The date on the paper was February 8, 1973 and the subject of the essay was the WVU head football coach who had graciously visited our class to speak and answer questions.  That youthful coach was Bobby Bowden, now at Florida State University, and today he is the winningest coach in major college football history.

The WVU football team was shellacked 49-13 by Lou Holtz, destined to become another famous coach, and North Carolina State in the 1972 Peach Bowl, and irate fans across the state called for Coach Bowden’s firing.  My longhand essay, “Bowden:  Fire or Re-Hire,” heartily defended the classy coach, and three years later WVU returned to the Peach Bowl and beat North Carolina State and Coach Holtz in a hard-fought rematch.  On a whim, I sent the original, green ink-decorated treatise to the Florida State football administration office.  To my surprise and delight, I received a personal letter from the college football legend one week later.  I found several more essays from the creative writing class, and also poetry and the science fiction short story I had written in my high school senior year.

 

I went to the February writers’ conference thinking I was pitching a book.  It turned out differently than I expected.

Nick was the first editor to read my work.  I nervously handed him my manuscript.  Would he send me home to study my ninth grade grammar text?  He scanned and I sweated.  Nick finished his review, looked up and told me the writing was good.  What a relief!  He also said it was a good topic, but his company was looking for other types of writing.  Since I was an unknown author, maybe I should try to get a magazine article published.  Nick said publication in a magazine would get my writing out to the public and give me some credibility in the future.  Besides, if even by a miracle I got a book published as a new author, I would be fortunate to sell ten or twenty thousand copies.  A magazine article could reach millions.

The next two days I searched for contacts among the magazine editors at the conference.  I attended one panel discussion by three magazine editors.  One of the editors was Jeff, a senior editor at the Salvation Army national magazine, “War Cry.”  During the question and answer portion of the discussion, I asked Jeff if he was interested in material concerning dementia, disabled veterans, and God’s love for people with dementia.  Jeff confirmed his interest and asked me to submit my writing electronically.

I went home excited over the possibility of being published.  Soon I found distilling over thirty thousand words into a 1500 word article a challenging task.  I didn’t know how to do it.  Classic writer’s block raised its ugly head.  At my wit’s end, I decided to try fasting and prayer to find the answer to my dilemma.  After a feeble fast of twelve hours, accompanied by a splitting headache caused by the lack of my morning coffee, I sensed an urge to review my journal.  In one of the entries I recorded a prayer asking God to show me the reason He called me to write about my father.  On the next page I had made some notes about Psalm 139.  This Psalm asks in the seventh verse, “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?”  I knew at that instant what God was telling me.  He was telling me despite dementia, God was with my father.  Even though I could not understand how, He was walking through the valley with dad. 

I cushioned my head on my desk and asked God to help me write the article.  I then had my first spiritual experience.  I wept and my hands began to shake.  Picking up my pen I wrote, “Something tragic yet wonderful is transpiring in the Eisenhower unit.”  I continued to write with the central idea being that God has not forgotten the veterans and neither should we.  I finished four articles using the material from four months of note taking and submitted them to the Salvation Army editor.  Anxiously I waited for his reply.  It came a few days later.  The editor said my writing was clear and well edited.  He wanted to consolidate my work into a primary feature article and two sidebar articles.  The first sentence of the published articles was, “Something tragic yet wonderful is transpiring in the Eisenhower unit, a hospital ward for military veterans stricken with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in Wilmore, Kentucky.”

 

*                             *                            *

 

The articles were published in the magazine’s Memorial Day issue. Circulation of the magazine was approximately a million copies for this occasion.  I anticipated a favorable reaction to the articles.  Eagerly I waited to hear the accolades.  One month passed, two months.  Nothing.  Not a word from anyone.  Maybe nobody even read the articles.  Greg encouraged me by saying just because I didn’t know anything did not mean God wasn’t using the articles.  Then God seemed to say to me, “I have given my Word and people don’t read it.  Are you surprised if you don’t hear of people reading your articles?  Don’t worry about the result, keep working in faith.” 

I turned my attention from writing to filming a documentary.  My plans were to make the entire hospital the subject; interview patients, family and staff members.  The response from state-level supervisors was cautious and eventually non-existent.  I felt stymied. 

Previously I filmed the interview with Gwen and Marion, and interviews with other members of Marion’s family.  I decided, instead of approaching the subject from a wide perspective, to investigate dementia from a narrow focus using Marion and my father.  With the footage I had already, I began the process of creating a documentary.

I spent months learning how to use professional-level video editing programs.  The film went through dozens of revisions.  I used internet royalty-free music to provide a sound track.  Greg’s cousin John, a successful commercial artist, gave me pencil sketches for the project. 

One volunteer activity I pursued while this was going on was working in a church food pantry.  One day in the volunteer break area I read a note someone posted on the bulletin board.  It talked about a missionary to our country from Argentina who worked in the Spanish ministry of my church.  Gustavo had a two-year-old daughter with cystic fibrosis, Aldana.  His family requested prayer and financial support.  I sent him a gift and we started to correspond.  We met one day and I learned Gustavo was a talented musician, singer and composer.  He agreed to compose two guitar instrumentals for the documentary.  Gustavo came to my house a few weeks later to work with me on music for the film.

One Friday night before we got together, I was restless and could not find anything to settle me down.  I couldn’t write, work on the film or even watch television.  So I downloaded a sermon from the internet and forced myself to listen.  A few minutes into the sermon, something the minister said stuck in my mind.  “Jesus asked the people to roll away the stone from Lazarus’ tomb so he could raise him from the dead.”  I went to bed after the sermon and that sentence went round and round in my head.  For two hours I rolled from one side of the bed to the other.  Line after line, some kind of chant or poem or prayer appeared in my consciousness.  Once completed, I fell asleep.  The next morning I went to my computer and wrote the lines from the night before:

 

Roll away the stone, from my heart

Roll away the stone, from my heart

Roll away the stone, sweet Jesus

Lead me to your light.

 

Take away my sin, and sadness

Take away my sin, and sadness

Take away my sin, sweet Jesus

Lead me to your light.

 

No matter where I roam, please find me

No matter where I roam, please find me

No matter where I roam, sweet Jesus

Lead me to your light.

 

Call me from the grave, and raise me

Call me from the grave, and raise me

Call me from the grave, sweet Jesus

Lead me to your light.

 

Let me live with you, forever

Let me live with you, forever

Let me live with you, Lord Jesus

Lead me to your light.[2]

 

 

I wrote the song in my head that night using the story of Christ raising Lazarus, together with my own experience with Jesus.  It was nothing like anything I’d written before and I had no idea what to do with it.  Thinking of Gustavo and the songs he composed, I chuckled to myself and wondered if I fancied myself a songwriter.  Gustavo brought his guitar to my house the next week and I recorded his instrumentals using the video camera microphone.  I asked for two songs from him; one describing my feelings when I visited dad and one describing Gwen’s emotions when she remembered her years with Marion.  Gustavo’s work was just right.  We named the selections “Remembering Dad” and “Gwen and Marion’s Song.”

Gustavo was preparing to leave my home when I thought of the “song” I wrote earlier.  He said he’d like to see it.  We went up to my office and I printed a copy for him.  Gustavo studied it for a few seconds and said, “This is a rock and roll Christian song.”  The chorus, he believed, was the last stanza.  The American missionary picked up his guitar and sang the first few lines to a driving, fast paced guitar accompaniment.  I begged him to wait before singing any more and ran downstairs to set up my camera in the living room.  I knew I wanted to record Gustavo’s first interpretation of the lyrics. 

He sat on my living room couch, laid the paper with the lyrics on a foot stool and began to sing.  I watched in amazement in the chair opposite the cream-colored leather couch as the camera recorded the moment.  I can’t describe the emotion of hearing something I wrote expanded into a musical creation.  My hands shook like the morning I wrote that first sentence.  Gustavo’s comment when he finished was, “That’s a powerful song baby!”  I realized God gave me this song for the veterans; this song was the prayer the demented veterans prayed as they communed in an unknown way with God.

 

*                               *                               *

 

Gustavo’s music, and the song we created together, completed my work on the film.  I still needed a title.  I remembered a session from one of the support group meetings.  Rachael, the Eisenhower social worker, encouraged us to keep visiting our loved ones by saying, “They are still there.”  I used her advice as the title of the documentary.  The final recorded version of “Lead Me To Your Light” is offered as an audio file below.  

Since its completion, I have entered the movie in film festivals around the country.  The three-line synopsis on the back of the DVD case says, “Even though they dwell within the desolating cloak of dementia, loved ones afflicted with this relentless disease are not hidden from God.  He has not forgotten them, and neither should we.  This documentary declares their spirit still survives, and they still deserve our love.” 

I finished the book, “Fading Away at Wilmore,” using the transcripts of hours of film I shot for the documentary.  Tape-recorded conversations with the staff and my friend Ray from the USS Sterett also were responsible for several chapters.  According to my writing mentor, William Zinsser, selling the book will not define its success.  The success of “Fading Away at Wilmore” will be defined by the work it does in my heart and soul.

Pain.  Suffering.  Evil.  Both in the world and in ourselves.  Mysteries we will never resolve fully on this side of eternity, and perhaps not even there.  The Cross provides the complete answer God has furnished, in perfect love, to all our unanswerable questions.  Simon Weil says, “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.”  May God lead you to find a supernatural use for your suffering, as He has done for mine. 

 

Note:  My  next segment, “Taps,” to be posted in a few days, will describe how the film was shown across the country.  “They Are Still There” can be downloaded for free at www.crossandflagproductions.com.  The film’s website is www.theyarestillthere.com.  For more on Gustavo, see www.gustavorenovalez.com and http://www.myspace.com/gustavospot .  The West Virginia University Mountaineers are playing Bobby Bowden's Florida State Seminoles in the Gator Bowl on January 1, 2010 in what will be Coach Bowden's last game.  I will find it hard to root against this highly-respected, honest, and tremendously successful college football coach. 



[1] Weil, Simone, “Gravity and Grace,” Bison Books, 1997, University of Nebraska Press.

[2] “Lead Me To Your Light,” Dewayne Rudd and Gustavo Renovalez, Cross and Flag Productions, Louisville, Kentucky, 2006.



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Member Since
Dec 2008
Dewayne Rudd said:
posted on Dec 19, 2009

I have written four songs with Gustavo that we have used with music videos.  You can watch them at http://www.youtube.com/user/bsae76 .  Thanks!