One day, Todd went for a drive, found an empty parking lot, turned off his music and roared at God.
Not long before, Todd had taken a three-week trip to Honduras. When he returned to America, to North Carolina, his past was waiting. He still felt that old terror, those old memories. He still felt the pain.
Who knows where it really began. The most likely point of blame is when his Christian school kicked him out. (For going to a Stryper concert.) His life was hell from then on.
At his new public school, he got beaten within an inch of his life after nearly killing the football team’s star player in a shop class accident. A hammer had slipped out of Todd’s sweaty hands and gashed the kid’s cheek open. Later, the guy’s teammates ambushed Todd in the shop garage, hog-tied him and beat him until he threw up. Then they hung him, by his underwear, on the bumper of a Chevy Nova sitting on a lift, and raised him it and him eight feet in the air. The lunch bell rang, and the football players left.
Todd had been taught about God all his life. He never doubted his existence. But that day, Todd decided God hated him.
At some point, someone slipped in. He wore nice clothes, and blond hair draped halfway down his back. They called him Druggie. The nickname begged no explanation. He was the only person at the school nobody hated.
Druggie lowered the car, untied Todd. Wiped his face. He said, “I’m sorry. Don’t let this ruin you.” And then he embraced him.
“He was like my messiah,” Todd says. “He saved me. He walked in and did everything a messiah would do. He said he was sorry for something he didn’t do. … I decided that’s who I wanted to be.”
Over time, Todd learned that drugs numbed everything. When he started dealing them, he found a surprise. Popularity, and moreover, acceptance. He found peace.
As these things go, however, that peace crumbled. One night, long gone on a high, he was molested by a friend’s uncle.
A few tormented years and three halfhearted suicide attempts later, Todd, then 20 years old, went to Honduras on something of a monk’s pilgrimage. “I wanted to put myself in solitude so I could hack it out with God, and just let Him have it,” he says. “There were just too many things I just didn’t understand. By this time, I believed that it was OK for me to give God whatever I had, and just wait for the lightning bolt, or live.”
In Honduras, he stayed with a missionary, a Christian unlike most Christians Todd knew. The missionary never claimed to “hear a word from God,” or to be prophesying. He never made a big deal out of whatever he said to Todd. They just talked. That’s it. He let Todd decide what he meant; he never tried convincing him anything meant anything. And, after two decades of being preached at by pastors and parents, simply being loved saved Todd.
“Sometimes, he would say things that I just knew, ‘OK, that’s God,’" Todd says. “For the first time in my life, I knew God was trying to tell me something.
"And it wasn’t, ‘I hate you.’”
One afternoon, soon before Todd was to leave Honduras for reasons he still doesn’t fully understand, he told the missionary about his past. The missionary raged, punched the steering wheel, cursed—not at Todd. He cursed principalities and powers. He cursed the destruction of Todd’s youth.
In that rage, Todd saw God.
“He’s the only person,” Todd says, “who ever, in my life, got angry at something other than me.”
In a moment, the missionary calmed. Wiped sweat from his forehead and mouth. Punched the steering wheel again. Then he made Todd’s life make sense.
That missionary in Honduras showed Todd how Druggie had become what Jesus had died to be. “Somebody the enemy knew that, if he could get in at the right time, then I would place everything I believed in that person,” Todd says. “And it would eliminate the need for God. It became so clear to me.”
And there, in that dust-filled truck in the middle of Honduras, days from home on so many levels, Todd believed God could love him. “It just blew my mind that this absurdly Christian person, to the point where he’s a missionary in a foreign country, is mad,” Todd says. “And it wasn’t my fault. That really freed me to go deeper, to look more at God.”
When he came home, his past awaited, mocking him with bitter memories that said what he’d felt in Honduras was nothing but weakness, nothing but a crutch to which only the weakest of mankind would clutch.
So Todd went for a drive himself, found somewhere to be alone and took his turn yelling. And man, he yelled. Where were you? Why didn’t you protect me? Why’d you let this happen? Why am I even here? Why do I feel all of this? How can you call someone your child, and then let them go through that? How are you good?
Deep in Todd, the roots of legalism, and its demands for perfection, were far stronger than he thought. As he yelled, he was assaulted by fear. Surely, he felt, such defiance would bring on devastating consequences. He somewhat expected lightning to destroy his truck, end his life. He deserved it.
But then he felt, rather than heard, a still, small voice.
Then everything faded.
When addicted, Todd had used drugs as painkillers. Thing about painkillers: they always wear off. This felt more like something being dug out. Removed, like poison from a wound; like a tumor by a surgeon. Todd’s spirit eased, like it had been drowning and then pulled from the sea.
Again, he felt the voice.
“Now, let’s try this again.”
Todd’s roots were ripped out.
Today, many years later, Todd lives on, working at his dream job as a morning radio talk show host, where, when he’s not goofing off with his co-host, he’s telling people what God told him.
“God doesn’t care what you’ve done or who you are,” says the man who once knew God hated him. “All he wants is for you to know that He loves you.”
Brandon Sneed is a journalist, blogger and debut author with the publication of The Edge of Legend (Port City Publishing, 2010), an incredible true story about a son and his father, generational curses and broken dreams, and a relentless pursuit of redemption.