8: New Year, New Me
Todd was far from religious or even spiritual when he started meeting weekly with a Latter-day Saint bishop in search of a new life beyond his addictions. What happened over the next four years, including an inspired trip to a roadside lemonade stand, changed the course of his life in real and lasting ways.
KARYN LAY: Welcome to This is the Gospel, an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.
I've seen people posting, "New year, new me," everywhere recently. And while it's mostly a hilarious joke about cheeseburgers and fries, I think that phrase actually reveals the hope most of us carry into the beginning of anything new. Whether you set New Year's goals or not, I think we can all agree that our belief in the power of change and transformation through the gospel of Jesus Christ is one of the best things about being a disciple. This week, our story comes from Todd who found himself in the midst of an addiction, fueled by a desire to be someone else and discovered something surprising about the path to healing along the way. Here's Todd.
TODD: Unfortunately, when I was a young kid, I got involved with drugs and alcohol. It started really simple, when I was age 11, I took a sip out of some liquor that my dad had in our house and I didn't get drunk or anything, but I just tried it and it was kind of a rush and no big deal. My dad wasn't religious at all, my mom was LDS but wasn't active. We didn't go to church, we didn't talk about God, we didn't pray as a family or anything like that. So jump a few years ahead, and I tried marijuana for the first time in my life and fell in love with it. And I had this all or nothing mentality when I was a young kid, I still have it now, which is a really good thing, but it can also be a destructive thing. And so I started partying and, basically starting in, you know, eighth and ninth grade, and it just increased and got worse and worse and worse.
High School, everything was fine, it seemed like I was a pretty happy guy. I had this reputation as a partier, I was doing a lot of drugs by the time my junior year came around and senior year is when things really started to change. I noticed a voice in my head, it was telling me I was no good, I was pathetic, that life's too hard, I can't do this, you know, no girls ever going to want to be with me. That kind of thing. And I was really depressed my senior year. Basketball was a big part of my life, though, too. We took state my senior year and had a really good experience with it. But again, I was, you know, partying more and more. So anyway, jumping ahead a little bit here, during the summer after I had graduated, I started practicing with the team that I got a scholarship with, which was a good thing because that was one of my goals that I had really strive for, and I got it. And then about two weeks into the practice, the coach pulled me into his office and basically just asked me what's going on. And I knew when he said that I was in trouble. And I said, "I know I'm not playing well, but I'll try harder." And he says, "You know, I don't have time to waste here, Todd. So I'm going to take away your scholarship."
And when that happened, I was devastated. At this point, I was having suicidal thoughts. Who practices, basically his whole life to get a scholarship, and then blow it because you'd rather get high? And so I became very depressed. I ended up trying out several other colleges here in the state of Utah, and got cut from every single one of them, which was also very deflating. And that voice in my head again, was telling me I was no good, I was pathetic, who does this kind of thing. and seriously contemplating on ending my life.
I'll never forget, it was a Thursday and I was living in a house with five other guys down in Orem and really depressed, still drinking and doing drugs every day. And reality kind of stopped me in the face, like basketballs over, you're not going to play anymore. And that was a very scary reality because that's where I put all my validation in, it's kind of how I define myself as a basketball player, and now it's gone. I thought, what's the point on living? And so I had planned my suicide.
And so Friday comes, I was attempting to go to school at Utah Valley Community College at the time, but I wasn't going to class and for whatever reason, I decided to go into the lunchroom where my friends and I would all just kind of hang out and socialize. And so I went there first, for whatever reason, but I still was planning on you know, going to end my life and, you know, maybe it was kind of like, my way of telling my friends, "This last time you're going to see me."
And so I go there, I'm sitting at this table, you know, and they had these big round tables in the lunchroom. And we're all sitting there and there was these two LDS girls sitting right next to me. And these two girls would sit with us every day and we'd always kind of wonder, why are they hanging out with us? We're partying and this and that, and here's these two religious girls who are doing good things and they were just really nice and positive. And we teased them a little bit about their religion and things like that. And anyway, this particular day, where I'm sitting there and these two girls are sitting next to me, I overhear their conversation and they're talking about fasting and prayer. I'd never heard that before, honestly, I didn't even know what fasting meant. I was like, what are they talking about? And for whatever reason, the word "fasting" really hit me. I wanted to know more about that, I'm like, what are they talking about? But I didn't dare say anything while we're sitting at the table because my friends were all there too, you know. So they get up to go to class and I kind of follow these two girls for a minute. And I'm kind of nervous to talk to them for some reason, but I finally just stop and I said, "Hey, were you guys just talking about fasting and prayer?" They said yeah, why do you want to know, and kind of gave me this look. And I'm like, "No, I'm being serious. I really want to know what this is about." And they said, "In our religion, we fast once a month. And what that means is, we wake up, we say a prayer, we don't have any food or water or any kind of drink that day, and we end with a prayer." And as they're explaining this, to me, I'm thinking of what's the point of this? I thought it was kind of silly, to be honest. And I asked the girls I said, "What's the point?" And one of them gets in my face and said, "If you want help from God."
And when she said that, man, that just hit me right in the face. And for the first time I can ever remember I thought, is there a god and would God help me?
And so I told them thanks, and I walked away. And as I walked away, I thought, you know what, I'm going to give this a try. So instead of going home on the weekend and ending my life, I thought, I'm going to give this one try and see what happens and see if this would work. Because I need help.
The next day, which was that Saturday, I decided I was going to try this fasting and prayer and the girls said, start with a prayer. And so I went and found this coat closet because I want my roommates to see what I was doing, and I literally have to get on my knees because this closets full of coats, and it's really teeny. And I just asked God, I said, "I'm going to do this fast and I need help." And that's all I said. That's exactly how I said it too. And then, I think I made it till about noon or one o'clock without eating or drinking, I didn't do any drugs, I was really kind of grumpy, to be honest with you. And the girls told me when you're done, end with the prayer, so I did just that. I got back in the closet and got on my knees and I just said, "God, I did this fast, and I need help, and I hope that you'll send help."
And when I ended, I thought, you know, God's gonna appear to me right now. I mean, if it's real, he's going to show up right now. These girls didn't explain to me that sometimes, you know, prayers take time to get answered and they didn't go through any of that stuff, so I was really naive thinking well, okay, I did this fast, I'm going to see some kind of a sign or God's going to show up. And nothing happened and I was actually a little disappointed. And I ended up getting wasted again that night and continued having these suicidal thoughts and not wanting to be here, but this went back and forth for the next month. And then I get a call, randomly, from a friend of mine who I played basketball with. He was a good kid, he had gone on a mission, he was now back, married in the temple, doing good things. I get a random call from him, you know, out of the blue and he said, "Hey, Todd. Where are you at these days?"
I said, "I'm down here in Orem."
And he says, "You know, I am too." And he goes, "I would really love to catch up with you, would you be willing to come over to my apartment and, and talk with me?" And I thought, Yeah, sure. And when I hung up the phone, I thought, that's weird, I wonder why he's reached out to me. It was just kind of different, you know, I wasn't expecting that.
So I go over to this guy's house, and he sits me down. And we just start talking, kind of weather talk, you know, just trying to catch up a little bit. And then, Rich starts saying all these really good things about me like "Todd, you're going to help so many people in your life and you're going to make a difference in an impact in children and adults," and he was just saying all these great things about me, and I thought what is he talking about? And I actually felt really uncomfortable because at this time, I wasn't living a good life. I was doing drugs, I was lying, I was cheating, I was stealing. And it was just really uncomfortable and I finally just stopped and said, "I don't know why you're saying this but, you know, I'm not in a good place, so I'd appreciate if you'd stop saying that."
And he said, you know, "Todd, I didn't go to work today because I had to share a message with you."
And I thought, "Well, what's wrong? Is everything all right?"
And he said, "No, everything's fine."
But I could tell he's nervous to say something. And so we're kind of sitting there in this awkward silence and, and he takes this deep breath and looks me in the eye and he said, "Todd, the Lord came to me last night, and said, we need you on our side today."
And he had said those words, I was just filled with the love of God. I had never felt a feeling like that before. It actually made me kind of scared, because I had never felt such goodness. You know how your mind can rewind back to moments, it went back to when I was fasting in that closet and I said, "Hey Rich, you know, I fasted about a month ago, asking for help."
And he gets in my face and points out mean says, "This is your help."
Both of us, Rich and I, were both sitting there in silence, blown away. And I kept thinking to myself, did I just get an answer to a fast and prayer? It was an amazing experience that was changing in the sense that I didn't want to die anymore. But I was still struggling. Rich spent an hour on the phone, after that conversation, tracking down who my Bishop would be. And I told him, I don't have a bishop, and he goes you do, you just don't know it. And so he tracked down this guy named Bishop Taylor and set me up an appointment for the next day. And I'm like, "Why do I need to go see this guy?"
And he said, "You need to tell him everything you've been doing."
And I'm like, "There's no way I'm going to tell this guy everything I've been doing. I can't do that."
Rich is one of those guys that will make you commit. He's like, you better promise me you're going to show up. And so I started meeting with this bishop and my first interview with him was like, the most amazing thing, but one of the scariest things I've ever done. I ended up spending three hours in this guy's office and I just unloaded on him everything that I had been doing. I'm sitting here thinking, man, he's gonna throw me out of his office. And he just kind of smiles and he says, "Okay, I got four things I want you to do."
I'm like, "Okay, what's that?"
He goes, "Can you say one prayer a day like you did when you were in that closet?"
I said, "Yeah, I think I could probably start doing that."
Then he hands me a set of scriptures and he goes, "Have you ever read these before?"
And I said, "Nope, never read them."
He goes, "I want you to read one verse a day." And I didn't even know what a verse was. He actually literally had to open it up and go, here's a verse. And he goes, "Just read one of those a day, can you do that?"
I go, "Yeah, I think I can do that."
And then he says, "I want to meet with you every week for one year."
And I was like, "There's no way I'm doing that."
And he goes, "We're going to take it a week at a time, but that's my plan. I want to meet with you once a week for a year." And then he said, "I need you to be honest with me."
And I said, "Well, I've just told you everything. I'm pretty sure I can do that." And I go, "But what do you mean exactly?"
And he goes, "When we meet every week, I need you to be honest, if you drank, if you did drugs, if you lied, if you cheated, if you stole, I just need you to tell me. Just be upfront and honest."
And I said, "Yeah, I can start doing that." I started meeting with him on a weekly basis. I ended up meeting with him close to a year and a half, actually. But it took eight months before I could look him in the eye and say I made it three days clean this week. And he, again was so patient and so understanding he, really, was like my rehab. He was always encouraging me to be more spiritual and to connect with Heavenly Father, which I was trying to do, but I was still kind of struggling there.
I was working, still, as a bartender, which is not a good idea for where I was at. And I would get change from the waiters and waitresses and then anyone at the bar, obviously, get tips from them, and all the change I would get, I'd keep the change in the cup holders of my car. And it was pretty full, I tried to keep it pretty full because I'd use it as gas money or unfortunately, sometimes buying drugs with it. Well, I was still struggling about this eight-month mark that I had with the bishop, three days clean. It was a Saturday and it was a beautiful, sunny day, and I was driving in my neighborhood, and I'm driving down the road here and out of the corner of my eye, I see this little girl selling lemonade. No big deal, I just kind of look over and glance and I just keep on driving. And then I have this impression come over me that said, "Turn around and give her all the money in your car." I thought wow, that'd be really cool, because I had like $40 with quarters, nickels and dimes in my car. I thought, "Wow, that'll be pretty cool to give her that money. She'll be blown away," right? And so I flipped my car around, roll down my window, I asked this little girl how much she said 25 cents. And I said okay, I'll take one. So she pours it, hands it to me, I set it on my dashboard and I tell her to cup hands together and I just start scooping all this money into her hands. And she's just blown away, she's like, "Thank you so much!" And I'm like, "Hold on, I got more." And I just keep scooping all this money in her hands. And all of a sudden, when I'm done, she takes off into the house. And I'm thinking, she's going to go tell her parents some dude just gave her a million dollars.
As I pull away, I actually have to pull my car over and put my car in park and I put my face in my hands and just sob. I cry like I've never cried before in my entire life. I call it a cleansing cry, I was crying so hard it feels like it was cleansing my soul. I mean, I felt good, I didn't want to use in that moment. To know that I could make an impact on a kid's life, it was so powerful. And I realized man, not only can I make an impact in someone's life, but I just had this feeling that I was okay. Like, there's a reason why I'm here on this earth that wasn't to be a drug addict and alcoholic. And that "all or nothing" mentality kicked in and I thought, if those girls are next Saturday, I'm going to give her all my money. And that's what I started doing. Sure enough, I show up next Saturday, there she is, and I give her all my money. And I do this for two and a half months, every Saturday, and I give her all my money. And every time I pull away, I just start to cry. And, again, the spirit was telling me that there was nothing wrong with me, that you're a good person, and that I believe in you. It was just, it was just so surreal. It was really truly a defining moment in my life.
After the two and a half months of giving this girl my money every Saturday, I decided I was going to go attend church. And I hadn't been going to church, I was just doing those four things. The bishop was very patient with me. And so I decided to go attend church and I'm nervous, I've never been before, I'm sitting in the back by myself, and I look over on the other side of the chapel, and there's that little girl, lemonade girl, with her mom. And they're waving at me like, oh, and she's like, "oh, there he is, there's Todd." And I'm like, wow, this is kind of cool, but I'm a little nervous too. And when church was over, they come walking over and the mom gives me this big hug, and she's got tears in her eyes and she's like, "Thank you so much for what you've done for my daughter." And I tell her, "Oh, you have no idea what this has done for me. No, you don't even know."
And then the mom goes, "Well, she was saving for a trampoline. Your money help put her over the top and she just thinks you're like the greatest ever."
And I was like, "No, you have no idea what this has done for me."
Then they asked, "Hey, we have a favor of you," and this little girl's name is Lindy, "would you take Lindy to a daddy-daughter date on Wednesday?" And I'm sitting there thinking oh wow, and I say sure. You know, I'm a little nervous to say yes. And I'm like well what about her dad? And she said, "Well, you know, we got divorced when she was little and she would really love to go. Would you be willing to take her?"
I say yes and Wednesday comes, and I go pick this little girl up, I don't even know her, I'm scared to death, driving up to the canyon where the picnic site is, I'm asking her questions like, "So, how was recess today?" And it was just really kind of awkward. And so we get up to the picnic site and all the dads are there with their daughters and I don't know anybody. I mean, I don't even know her, right, this Lindy girl. And I'm a little nervous and they start playing games like, and one of the games was "How old you know your daughter, How well do you know your dad?" Like favorite color, favorite food, that kind of thing, and I tell Lindy I'm sorry, you know, we can't do this. And she says, "Let's just guess." And I'm like, "All right. Let's guess."
I kid you not, had I not been there, I wouldn't have believed it, we got almost every answer correct. We're like high five and each other and everyone's freaking out and, and I'm like, man, this is unbelievable. I'm sitting going here I am with this pure, innocent little girl, doing good things right now. There's no drugs or alcohol, we're actually having hot dogs and Kool-Aid. Well, they gather everyone in after we played these games to say a blessing on the food, which I thought was strange, because I'm like, you know, why do we have to bless the food is there like something wrong with it? And so I'm following everybody's lead, everyone's folding their arms. So I fold my arms and this guy just starts saying this simple blessing on the food. Well as he's saying this blessing on the food, I had never felt the spirit so strong in my entire life. I hear this voice in my head that says, "Todd, you're in the right place, doing the right thing. You made an impact on this girl's life that she will never ever forget. And I love you."
And I start, I mean, I'm bawling mid-prayer, they finish the prayer and I'm just over there crying my eyes out. And everyone's looking at me like, man, are you okay? And I'm like, yes, I'm fine, these are happy tears. And it was in that moment when I said, you know what? I am never ever doing drugs again. I'm never going to do it. I want to make an impact on people's lives, I'm going to spend and dedicate the rest of my life to helping other people, including kids like Lindy, for the rest of my life.
Since that time, I've been clean close to 29 years now. I'm an active member now, I've been married to my beautiful wife, Bonnie, for 27 years now, we have four amazing kids. Two of my kids have served missions. You know, I never served a mission and to see my kids do it was pretty remarkable. I look back on my story and what I've been through and I can see His hand and all of it.
The most common theme I continually get from our Father in Heaven is that there's nothing wrong with me. You know, the times when I still even sometimes struggle, that's the message I get from him is like, "Nothing to worry about, Todd, you're good. There's nothing wrong with you." Because I used to believe something was wrong with me. That's a reason what fueled my drinking and doing drugs was that I thought something was wrong and I tried to fit in and feel like I needed to be someone I wasn't.
I think it's it's not about creating a new me, I think it's more about realizing who you really are. When we know who we are, it's the most freeing thing. When I say there's nothing wrong with me, I know I make mistakes, and I gotta be better and work on things and that'll always be the case. But to my core, I'm good, I'm okay. Just like I believe that about everybody.
KARYN LAY: That was Todd. Today, Todd continues to give to his community as a motivational speaker, inspiring people to embrace who they are, and accept their inherent worth right now. And isn't that the truth about those New Year's resolutions? True change requires us to love ourselves as we love God, and trust that he's filling in the gaps of our efforts at every turn. So as we lean into our very worthy resolutions to do more yoga, eat less sugar, or hug our kids a little more, I hope we'll all find the deep grace that comes from putting our own "new year, new me" into the hands of a loving father in heaven.
Thank you to Todd for sharing his story. And thank you for joining us for this episode of This is the Gospel. If you have a story to share, call us at our pitch line 515-519-6179 and leave us a message with a short synopsis of your story. And of course, be sure to check out past episodes at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel. If you love the stories we've shared, rate us on Apple or anywhere you listen to your podcasts and tell your friends, it'll help more people find us. Have a great week.