Living by the Todd Family Motto: "It behooves us to live."
Howdy. I'm Matt Todd. My wife and I have four kids and a dog,. I'm passionate about orphan care. I'm a die-hard fan of the Evansville Aces, the Indiana Hoosiers, and Star Wars. I'm trying to live life by the Todd family motto: "It behooves us to live!"
During the fall of 1998, Christy and I were newlyweds on the campus of Milligan College. I was finishing up my final semester of classes and Christy was working at a local childcare center. We were young, in love, and broke (as opposed to being old[er], in love, and broke like we are now 😉 ). In many ways, this final semester of mine was like a minor diversion before we took off on our journey of life dancing in minefields together.
When we first arrived on campus, we were the celebrities. It’s one of the advantages of being part of a small college community. Professors went out of their way to come see us on move-in day. It was…nice. Actually, it was pretty cool. I’m not sure you’ll find that kind of “welcome back, newlyweds” reception on most college campuses around the nation. But Milligan is pretty special.
Of course, many of our college friends had graduated and moved away. School and work and figuring out how to do this thing called marriage together took a lot of energy. So we really didn’t spend much time hanging out with our friends who were still in the area. And with Married Student Apartments being on the edge of campus, it’s not like we were in the middle of the campus commotion.
Looking back, I feel like the colder months of that final semester, with the early nights and living on the edge of the campus scene, it was kind of isolating. We didn’t really hang out with anyone else. Just each other. Don’t get me wrong. That was pretty awesome. But we were in a different life stage than the majority of the campus population. Even in classes, it felt like I didn’t really relate to any of the students anymore. It’s like I was just biding my time until it was time for us to move on. Continue reading Then Andrew Peterson made me weep. Again.
I’m not going to lie. The last few months have been hard. Heartbreaking, really. I went through a similar experience while preaching south of Muncie. I think I wound up conducting something like four funerals over the span of three months. It takes its emotional toll.
Back in November, we lost David, his mother, and his daughter. My grandma died right before Christmas. And then Dr. Phil Gerhart, a man who impacted my life and the lives of so many others in ways I cannot even describe (but will try to at some point in the very near future), died. There are moments when I feel overwhelmed with wave after wave after wave of loss. It’s almost like I’m drowning.
And that hurts.
In these moments of hurt and loss and sadness, it is inevitable that a song pops into my head and I find my heart pouring out in worship. The songs that keep popping up in my head? They are songs I haven’t heard or sung in years.
The Old Rugged Cross
It is Well with my Soul
Are you familiar with Audrey Assad? You should be. There’s a haunting beauty in her voice. And her story as the daughter of a Syrian refugee is especially poignant today. I admit that this was not the version of this hymn that has been churning in my soul, but it could be. It could be…
How Great Thou Art*
The majority of the congregations where I’ve worshiped and served over the past 30 years have leaned toward the contemporary side of Sunday morning worship. I’ve sung countless worship songs during that time. Many are deeply moving and have strong connections to my own personal faith story. And songs from the likes of Andrew Peterson, Rich Mullins, and Steven Curtis Chapman are woven into my story, too.
It’s an interesting thing, however, that the songs that I have found my heart singing over and over again these past months are songs from my childhood. Don’t read too much into that if you’re looking for me to take some kind of stand in the decades-old “Worship Wars.” I just think it’s a fascinating thing that during times of sorrow and heartbreak, I have found myself turning to the classic hymns.
Of course, it’s not just the simple music of the hymns. It’s not the creativity of contemporary songs of worship. It’s the One to whom these songs point. That is where real comfort, hope, love, and strength is found.
I don’t really have anything profound to say about this. I just pray that you are able to find some comfort in these songs that I’ve shared. And I hope they impact you they way they have touched me throughout the years.
*Yes, I know this is sung by the BYU Singers. Yes, I know BYU is a Mormon school. No, I’m not getting into any theological discussions or debates about that. The history of the hymn is powerful. Challenging. Inspiring. I don’t care who is singing it. The message remains.
One of the few bright spots from my middle school experience was my involvement in Boy Scouts. Scouting had a huge impact on my life because of the adults who were there to mentor me. We also had a great group of older Scouts who would guide us and teach us. One of those older Scouts in my early days in Troop 322 was David Rinehart.
I looked up to him. A lot.
I know he was flawed. We all are. This is no hagiography. I know David wasn’t perfect. But to a kid entering his preteen and teenage years, David was about as close to the embodiment of the Scout Law that you could get. He ultimately went away to a small Christian college in Kentucky and then came back to our home church to serve as a worship leader.
I hadn’t really been in contact with him after I left Evansville. Unfortunately, that does tend to happen. Even in this hyper-connected age of social media. I was still happy to see him whenever I returned home. I think it’s safe to say that I still looked up to him. And I thought about him often.
In fact, I think about him every time I use a Dutch Oven or a cast iron skillet.
I think I was in seventh grade, serving as Assistant Patrol Leader. It was late one evening and we had just finished dinner. I’m not sure why, but I was the one in charge of my Patrol. The Dutch Oven we had used had burnt food that was caked onto the bottom of the pot. We decided to fill the Dutch Oven with water and sit it on our camp stove. This was somewhat standard procedure. The idea was that the hot water would help release the burnt food while you scraped the bottom with a metal spoon.
Shortly after turning our camp stove to a high flame, all patrols were called to an evening Troop meeting. Thinking it would be a quick meeting, we left the camp stove on so the water would reach a boil. I know. Big mistake. But I wasn’t really thinking. And even if I was thinking, I’m not convinced I would have known better, anyway.
With the stove set to high, the water started boiling pretty quickly. During the Troop assembly, I forgot about the Dutch Oven. We took our time getting back to our campsite. When we did finally make it back, I was shocked to discover that all of the water had evaporated and the camp stove was just burning the burnt food even more. Our Dutch Oven was a carbonized, unusable mess.
I went to the adult leaders. They asked David to come to see if there was any way he could help salvage the Dutch Oven. Late into the evening, we scrubbed and scraped and rinsed. At one point, as we started to make some progress, he stopped, looked up at me, and chuckled, saying,
“Don’t ever do this again.”
Then he continued scrubbing and scraping away.
This moment is etched in my memory. I think of it every time I cook with cast iron. In my mind’s eye, he looks up at me and says “Don’t ever do this again.” Then I chuckle and go back to cleaning the skillet or Dutch Oven. It reminds me of his servant’s heart. And the more I look back at those middle school and early high school days, the more I realize I really looked up to him.
Things will be different now.
In the early hours of Sunday, November 13, David, his mother, and one of his daughters died in a horrific traffic accident. They were on their way home from an amazing, season-ending performance at the Bands of America Grand Nationals here in Indianapolis.
Since learning of the news, I’ve seen countless testimonies about how David led worship with all of his heart, ushering others before the Throne and joining them in praise to Our Father. I’ve been reminded of how passionate he was when he directed a choir. And I can only imagine what kind of choir music he might be directing in heaven. What a glorious sound that would be.
After seeing David kneeling down with a servant’s heart, I hope I see this image in my mind’s eye the next time I’m cooking with cast iron. I hope to see him leading worship with everything that was within him. Maybe I’ll even catch a hint of the melody. And I’m sure I’ll have to swing and sway along with the beat. Just like he did.
In that moment, I will remember that there will be a day when He will wipe away every tear, as I shed a tear of my own. And I will long for a day when there will be no more death, no more mourning. No more crying or pain. I will see the beauty that will rise out of these ashes.
But for now…Now I weep. I weep for a man I haven’t seen in over a decade, but who had a much larger impact on my life than I ever realized. And I know he touched countless others with his life, too. So I join the chorus of those countless others, saying (or singing) the words that I long to hear someday. I am confident he heard these words early that Sunday morning.
“Well done, David. Well done.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me. I think I need to find a cast iron skillet and fix some dinner tonight.
I think this is my favorite song on Tobymac’s newest album. Because of the reunion of dc Talk on What Love Feels Like, it already made me feel kind of warm and fuzzy all over. But then I heard Mister Mac’s (or should it still be Mister Tobymac’s?) intro to the song at his concert in Indy a few months ago.
He shared that he wrote the song in the wake of his father’s passing. CCM.com has a great writeup on the song. You should just go over there and read it. Go ahead. It won’t take you very long. I’ll wait.
Powerful stuff. Right?
I have loved this song since the first time I heard it. Its sound kind of echoes dc Talk’s style from a decade ago. I’m sure that’s an intentional nod to the beautiful music Toby, Kevin, and Michael made together.
But the more I hear this song, the more I think it describes our adoption adventure. There have been times where the process has been frustrating – especially when it has come to waiting. And there have been some days where we’ve felt disheartened and maybe even a little defeated.
As I sit here in the airport, waiting to board my flight to Ethiopia, I m must say that I’m pretty spent. I’m physically exhausted. My nerves are a bit raw. And last night I felt like I was on the verge of a meltdown while helping a guest in the middle of the store. Not a temper tantrum type of meltdown. More like the way you feel when you cry so much that you’ve kind of melted into the floor. Yes. That kind. Anyone else ever feel that way?
I’m completely spent.
And that’s where I really love this song. Because empty never felt so full.
But ready to fight tooth and nail for this boy I’ve never met.
Just like I will fight for the rest of my kids. Because in my heart and in my soul, this child is mine. I hope the judge in Ethiopia agrees.
It happens every time there’s a baptism service. Of course, part of the reason the tears start to fall is because I’m reminded in a very powerful way about how deep and wide God’s love is for me. And then I remember two of the most amazing moments of my life: baptizing Aiden and then baptizing Aly a year later. Then I think of how I hope and pray that Mihret will choose to be baptized one day, which makes the tears flow even more freely.
And then I think of other people I’ve had the honor of baptizing. People like David, Ginny, Peter, Jerry, Tom, and Jim.
This inevitably leads me to thinking about the people who had such an impact on my own story while I was growing up. Now, some may argue that I haven’t grown up. They’d probably be right. But that’s not the point. I’m talking about people who stepped in and made a difference in my life during my formative years.
I grew up in a God-fearing home. Some of my earliest memories revolve around church and being scared of the Preacher’s Wife because I thought she was mean to me when I had to sit by her during Sunday evening service. How dare she expect me to sit still and be quiet while the service was going on? Even with that legacy of faith that my parents established for me, I still had to take this faith I had inherited and make it my own story. I came to that realization because of people who surrounded me and encouraged me to make that faith my own.
So while I witnessed the baptisms today, I couldn’t help but think of the people outside my family that God has used in ways they can’t even imagine.
Cheryl Stroud led some pretty amazing children’s choirs and challenged me to be more than I thought I could be.
Todd Bussey baptized me, married me, and ordained me. I think you could say he’s a pretty special guy.
Dr. Gerhart (we always referred to him as “Mr. G.” in Scouting circles) has always encouraged me and challenged me to continue to work at becoming a better man as a leader and as a disciple. He has been a shining example for me, reminding me that scholarship and faith are not mutually exclusive. He also taught me how to worship God when surrounded by His creation.
Scott and Corri Brooks were like second parents to me during high school. A small group of us met in their house every Wednesday for the better part of four years. Their shared desire to follow Jesus at home and in the workplace couldn’t help but rub off on me.
There are other faces that show up in my mind’s eye, too. People like the Teskes, Nova Conner, Judy Taylor, Jack Arney, the Hedwalls, Jack Bruce, the Gowers, the Linges, Pam Jordan, the list can go on and on…
I guess you could say they are my own personal cloud of witnesses. God used them to shape my faith. God used them to shape my story. So I thanked God for them again today. I prayed for them again.
And yeah, I cried for them, too.
Who has had an impact on your faith? Who is in your cloud of witnesses?
I cried when we moved down here. There, I said it. I cried when we said goodbye to Kevin and Liz after they helped us pack up our moving van. I cried when I drove said van out of Mooresville to begin the trek down here.
Shoot, I even cried when they had a little going away party for me my last night at Pizza Hut. They gave me a card that everyone had signed and our manager brought in some cupcakes.
When we moved back down here, we had in our heads that we’d be moving back up to Indiana after three or four years. That was always the plan. We figured it would be as easy to move away as it was when we left Milligan for the last time. Of course, all of our friends had already moved away and we didn’t have any strong relational connections here anymore. Returning home to Indiana should be easy.
Then I came around the bend in the moving van and saw Buffalo Mountain again. I saw the Pepsi sign that never goes away. I drove through Johnson City and felt like I had returned home.
Then we got involved in Sonlife/Southside/Summit/whatever you want to call it. We became friends with people who weren’t moving away in four years. We began to grow roots. Here. In Johnson City.
It’s going to be hard leaving everyone here. Before we moved down here, I never thought I’d say that. But it’s true. Yes, we’re excited about being closer to family. Yes, I’m excited about the preaching position. But no, it’s not going to be easy to leave the Tri-Cities. Not as easy as we thought.
On the day we moved down here, Christy went to Food City to pick up some groceries. After she picked up her jaw off the floor after seeing the price of a gallon of milk down here, she purchased her groceries and walked outside. The sun was setting and the mountains were a deep purple against the sky. She told me when she got home that she just stood there for a minute in the middle of the parking lot – and realized we were home. It felt good.
Now, every time we leave Food City and see the mountains in the distance, we wonder how many more times we’ll get to see that view.
Aiden is starting to catch on. He’s beginning to talk about how he is going to miss his best friend down here.
Is this what the song means when it says, “Rocky Top, you’ll always be home sweet home to me”?
There are very few songs that make me cry. In fact, I think there are only two. I don’t always cry when I’m singing them, but it is not unheard of for a tear or two to fall during these songs:
Blessed be Your Name
This song carried a lot of meaning before this Summer. It always used to make me think of my friend Greg, who died suddenly last year.
Then, we sang it at Jaron’s dedication and funeral services. Now, I can’t sing the song during a worship service without weeping. It’s not that I don’t believe the words – I do with all my heart. There’s just so much more power to those words now.
I had forgotten about this song until we sang it in Chapel today. It’s old-school contemporary, if that makes any sense. I remember singing the song in church (back when it was Cullen Avenue – not Crossroads, like it is today) a lot right after my Grandpa died (over 15 years ago!) of a massive heart attack. Needless to say, it was unexpected. I remember thinking, How can I give thanks when something so terrible has happened to me? Can I honestly say that I am rich and strong because of what the Lord has done for me? I don’t think so. Of course, I know now that I can sing those words with conviction, but that’s what I remember thinking at the time.
I don’t know how long it has been since I sang this song as part of a worship service, but I do know it has been a long, long time. As we sang it this morning, all of those emotions and questions and struggles I was wrestling with after my Grandpa died flooded my memory and I wept. I almost had to leave the room because I was concerned about making a scene.
It is amazing to look back and see how far my faith has come. At the same time, I wind up asking the same questions from different perspectives. Have I really grown that much, yet learned so little? I think that is part of the journey of humanity.