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Mike Todd: Turning Trauma to Triumph

Mike Todd: Turning Trauma to Triumph

When Nathan was 13, he tried out for the middle school boy’s basketball team. At only 5 foot 3 inches — his growth wouldn’t happen for three more years — he knew it was a long shot. But he practiced for weeks after school, missing a lot of hoops but still holding onto the hope that the coach would give him a spot on the team. The day after tryouts, Nathan found out he hadn’t made it. Since then, he can’t seem to get rid of the voice in his head that tells him he’s already failed before he’s even started.

And then there’s Jamie. Ever since she was a kid, she knew she wanted to get a law degree at Harvard. (Legally Blonde clearly had an impact on her life choices.)

She spent her entire academic career studying for hours, spearheading student council meetings and volunteering at local shelters to boost her application. When she finally made it to Harvard, she couldn’t believe it. She experienced a different kind of disbelief on her graduation day when she felt empty while looking back on her accomplishments.

Years later, she still isn’t quite sure if the sacrifices were all worth it.

Maybe you can relate to these stories, or maybe you have a different story of trauma. The point is, whether it’s made a big or small impact on your life, you’ve likely dealt with some level of trauma. And if you think to yourself that you don’t have any trauma, think again.

“In this exact moment, so many different people are going through hard situations,” Mike Todd, pastor of Transformation Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, explains. “Especially since 2020, so many people have been discouraged in business, in parenting, in relationships, you name it.”

As Todd puts it, we all have our different versions of trauma. It’s not just tragic events. It can be anything that has a major impact on your life and alters your perspective.

For Todd, he’s been through a lot of trauma, but one of the biggest was the “trauma of success.” In this mindset, Todd couldn’t just let things be good; they had to be great. The pressure to do more and better constantly ate away at his joy and his confidence.

Eventually, Todd found he was stuck in a cycle of constantly questioning his life’s value. His trauma paralyzed him and kept him from walking into his true calling. And through prayer and community, he was able to break the cycle of trauma and experience true freedom in life.

Now, he’s helping others do the same. In his latest book, Damaged But Not Destroyed, Todd walks readers through a journey of healing and learning that there’s a whole new world to experience on the other side of trauma.

Where did the message in Damaged, But Not Destroyed come from?

I wanted people to know that value is still in you. I’m looking at so many different people right now who’ve gone through hard and disappointing situations — people whose faith has been disappointed or people have disappointed them — and it’s taken something from them. They feel like their worth has been challenged, their identity has been scarred and maimed. They’re wondering, “Do I still have value?”

But when I look through the Bible, it’s amazing to me how many people God uses who had damage in their life, whether it was jacked-up families or messed-up decisions. He chose to partner with people who are not perfect. He used their damage to be a gateway to their destiny.

In our culture, people try to make you feel ashamed by saying things like, “Man, you messed up. That’s who you are.”

But what you do is an event. Who you are is who God says you are.

I want people to know, no matter what has happened to you or how damaged you think you are, there’s value still in you. God has put value in you that nobody can take away. You have to believe it to start actually dealing with some of the trauma and that’s when you can turn all that trauma into triumph.

What you do is an event. Who you are is who God says you are.

In your book, you share how we can “turn our trauma into triumphs.” Why is that a message we need to hear today?

The message of the book is: The value is still in you, because every day people are trying to devalue you, like they’re trying to force their opinions on what you feel like you’re supporting. They do this in comments, emails and especially through  passive-aggressive communication.

Ever since 2020, a lot of people have become more pessimistic than positive, and they’re not really looking at the bright side. They say things like, “I’m just keeping it real,” and “This is 100% facts.” But, while yes, I believe we have to be real with where we are, that’s not where we have to stay.

I believe that faith begins where understanding ends. We need faith after it doesn’t make any sense. “Peace that passes all understanding” — that means in my understanding, this doesn’t make any sense. But now God’s peace works in, and things start clicking.

So many people, specifically since the pandemic, have been discouraged in business, parenting, and in what they believe they can have in relationships.

But I need people to understand that how you see it is not how God sees it. He sees past the valley. He sees the mountaintop. And sometimes He doesn’t deliver us from it. We have to go through it.

Many times, in my own life, I’ve had to go through trauma, but I didn’t stay there. That damage wasn’t against me. It was a gateway or an opportunity to go back to God and allow Him to take everything that was broken about me and turn it into something that he could use for his glory.

Before we go further, let’s define something: when you talk about “trauma,” what does that entail?

The Mike Todd definition of trauma is simply “anything that impacts you greatly.” A lot of times, people think trauma is just bad things. But in this book, I talk about the trauma of success, because that impacted me greatly.

I think that trauma can be anything from the coach not letting you play when you were in seventh grade on the basketball team to a brother and sister always telling you, “Stop touching my stuff,” to not being accepted into the college that you wanted to attend, to graduating the top of your class but not actually loving what you spent all that time doing.

On the other side of your greatest hurdle is a great victory.

Trauma can happen through anything. It reminds me when the Bible said, “In this life you will have trouble.” I like to say, “In this life you will have trauma.” Trauma, like the trouble, will cause trauma, but the truth of the matter is every trauma, every trouble, is actually an opportunity for you to learn something about yourself and learn something about God.

Unfortunately, a lot of times people use the trauma as an excuse to stay where they’re at instead of the platform to go to where God has them to go.

I can think in my own life how many times my greatest problems in one season became my greatest victories in another. For example, I used to have an addiction to pornography. I remember being so deep in that valley of perversion and thinking, “Will I ever be free from this?”

And actually, saying something about it, confessing to the community I was around, letting the people who actually cared about me know — that was the hardest battle for years. But once that dam broke and I was able to release that, help started coming. Now it’s been a decade and a half that I’ve been away from that addiction.

So I can relate to people now who are still in it. It became my platform. And that’s what I’m just trying to tell everybody: If you face the pain, face the trauma, face the hurt with God’s help, it actually turns your pain into your platform. On the other side of your greatest hurdle is a great victory. Every fail has the potential to turn into something in your favor.

What’s a practical first step for someone who wants to start their healing journey?

The truth of the matter is, most people are so aware of everybody else’s problems that they won’t admit their own. But we’re all damaged. We live in a fallen world. We are surrounded by sin every day. My flesh wants to do the wrong thing every day that I wake up. If you don’t acknowledge something, you’ll never change it.

Many times, acknowledgment is the first step to actually getting healing. So I would just encourage people to look at your life. Look at why you hold on to things. Look at why you don’t answer phone calls when people are trying to get close to you. Look at the things in your life that are normal for you and just trace it back and see, is there any reason why this is happening, and could this be a result or the fruit of something that I haven’t really dealt with?

In the church, we’ve done a bad job of just telling people to pray about it. I do believe prayer is a catalyst and it is the ointment around all of the hard work that we have to do. But I don’t think it’s a cure-all fix-all one time thing. It’s not, “I prayed at the altar or I prayed with my small group person and now I’m done.”

I can’t tell you when I was in youth ministry, how many people were like, “Oh, I feel different now.” And I was like, “Yes, you feel different now, so do a different step now. Go to counseling, go to therapy.” Like now that you feel different, cut those people off. But a lot of people try to walk into the same lifestyle after a moment or an encounter with God.

It took a journey to get where we are, and it’ll be the journey out of it.

What are ways the Church can help other believers on their healing journey?

We’ve got to listen better. When we get people to actually open up to us and tell us that they’re struggling with lustful thoughts or infidelity or abuse as a kid, we don’t have to solve it. We’re not the savior. Most people feel intimidated by people’s problems because they think they have to fix it. You don’t have to fix anybody’s problem. You just have to point you to the One who can fix the problem.

Next, I think that all of us have to do a better job at doing our own work. I’ve found the more that I’m doing my own work — go to counseling, participate in small group, talking and processing things with my wife — it’s easier for me to be there for people who are going through the same thing.

Whether it’s loss, transitions or minor changes, I think that helping somebody means helping yourself. If you start there, that will be so helpful for everyone.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve been able to help with counseling because my wife and I have been in four years of intensive counseling. I know language now, I can refer books to them, I can do those different things.

The third thing is, point them to the hope that Jesus can change your situation. We have literally tons of examples in the Bible of people being demon-possessed, of people being literally stoned and cast out of communities, and Jesus still touched them. He still went to their situation to heal them.

We know in situations that look dead, things that we have thought there’s nothing that can be done about it, we can have hope that Jesus he can perform a resurrection.

Hope is the fuel for faith. We’re called to encourage people to hope, and not just for a moment. It’s supposed to be sustainable. If you want sustainable healing, it has to come from a place of being accepted and loved and dealing with your issues and being able to be comfortable to keep walking through it. Because we know that our journey with Christ is about progression, not perfection.

For someone who has to take a big step, like leaving a relationship behind, how can they do that in a healthy way?

The first thing I would say is that considering yourself is a great first step, because many people live their lives only considering what others think of them and what others will do. But it is hard to do. The Bible says you can only love your neighbor at the level that you love yourself, and sometimes the greatest thing you could do for everybody around you is to get yourself in a healthy place.

Something that’s important to remember is that what’s not transformed is transferred. If you don’t deal with your trauma, it’s going to someone else.

The Bible talks a lot about the sins of your fathers and the things that are passed down. A lot of times because it was not transformed in you, it’s transferred to another generation. If you can’t figure out how to deal with your issues for yourself, consider the ones you love and actually deal with it for them because There are people on the other side of your healing, as well as on the other side of your damage.

You’ve clearly gone through a lot of healing on your own. What’s it been like on the other side of that journey?

The one thing that I can say at 36 years old is I feel like I’m really living now. I’ve gotten to see how beautiful life is, and I’ve gotten to be more grateful. I’ve gotten to slow down and notice how full of favor my life is because I’m not trying to white-knuckle my way through everything anymore. If something hurts, I acknowledge that it hurt.

It’s almost like you’re watching something in black and white, and then the color comes in. That’s what life is on the other side of healing.

Then you’re able to see other people on the journey and think, “Oh, I know where they’re at. I know they’re in denial right now. They don’t think nothing’s wrong with them, and so I’m not going to tell them nothing’s wrong yet, but I’m going to love them until they trust me.”

Then I could throw a seed and somebody else can water and then it’s God who adds the increase. Basically, and I know it’s cliche, but the journey is better because there’s joy on the other side of it. And it’s a joy that is unspeakable.

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