This character sketch is not fictional. Todd was real and although I have trouble remembering some of the details, this is my best recollection.
It feels right to use his real name. Todd is no longer with us. He left far too early. Everyone at the service was aware of that reality, and the church was full. This is only part of his story, but it’s the part I know best.
I first saw Todd in our backyard, at night, in the back row of people gathered around a small bonfire. He was part of the youth group that was re-enacting the experience of the persecuted church. They had come, one or two at a time, being very quiet and trying not to attract attention. It was my first witness of Todd’s faith and his willingness to express it. He was not the average young person there.
My husband started talking with Todd that night, and he started appearing at our home. He was a football player in a high school nearby, but was also a serious enough student to want to do well academically. My husband had taught math and sciences and Todd wanted help from time to time. He would appear after practice, around supper time, but wouldn’t come to eat. It took a few years until he felt comfortable going into the refrigerator or joining us at the table. He was extremely polite and unassuming. Gradually he began to feel more like one of the family.
There were quite a few people who saw a promising character in Todd. His high school coach, youth leaders, families like ours and friends. He wanted to overcome a troubled background, and he was doing it.
Todd did well in school and was something of a celebrity at graduation time. He was accepted at a state university, recruited to play football and declared a double major in social work and criminal justice. On breaks and in the summer he would come back to the hometown and work, stopping in to see us (or to do laundry). Like any young person going to college, he needed money and other kinds of support. My husband and I felt almost like proud parents when Todd graduated college and invited us to the ceremony.
After his team won the national college football championship Todd played NFL football for the Titans and the Packers but was plagued with injuries. He finally left the sports scene and came back to our hometown. He had a heart for youth programs, coaching and motivational speaking. He desperately wanted to be a role model for young men.
As I think over our time with Todd, what I see that he was trying to find was family structure. He was looking for a father and a family, a place where he belonged that didn’t depend on his physical or academic skills. He loved being able to come to us whether he was expected or invited. He would sit and talk with my husband for hours into the night. When his back was against the wall financially he wanted someone to care enough to help. He wanted a place to leave his “stuff” in between jobs and residences. He wanted a safe place to come when he was sad or disappointed. He wanted someone to listen to his news when it was good and be glad with him, and someone to listen when it wasn’t good.
Todd didn’t tell us he wasn’t feeling well. I don’t think he was aware of how serious a problem he was experiencing. He was found dead in his apartment at the age of 35. We weren’t blood relatives and had no access to results of the autopsy, but to our knowledge it was not drug related. That would not have been in his nature. God gave us a lot to think about through our relationship with Todd, and we are grateful for the time he was in our life.