After trying out a variety of religions and practices in a search for contentment, a dog trainer finds that God’s Word alone fills his soul.
Buddhism, Mormonism, and Episcopalian teachings. West Todd has experience with all of them, and many more. “I constantly tried to find something that made sense and that I could hold to,” he recalls. Nothing stuck.
When he came across WELS during his adult years, however, a long pattern was broken. “The fact that I don’t have to be 100 percent perfect to be a child of God was the most wonderful message to me,” he says. “The peace of forgiveness came shining through.”
A LARGE SAMPLING
Todd grew up in Virginia. As a child, he spent a lot of time with his grandparents, who attended a Southern Baptist church in the area. He became particularly close to his grandfather during this time. “My grandparents were very religious, and I went to church with them almost every Sunday,” says Todd.
He also went to other churches with his father. “Dad was always looking for God,” he recalls. With his dad, he attended a Methodist church and an Episcopalian church for a while. But even though he went to church services, Todd found it difficult to connect to a particular religion.
When he was in high school, Todd’s father and stepmother at the time became Mormons. Todd did too. He was even called to go on a mission as a Mormon, but he declined. “I didn’t think it was the right thing,” he explains.
Finding what was right proved to be difficult. Todd was active in theater during his high school years and loved singing too. He grew attached to these activities and not to anything related to the church. “I memorized poems and plays, but not spiritual things,” he says.
Then, when Todd was in college, his grandfather passed away. “I took it really hard,” he notes. Overwhelmed with grief, Todd searched for something to help him feel better. “I tried everything, drugs, alcohol, to feel whole,” he says. Instead of healing, he sunk down further. “I felt worthless and guilty and that I had made so many mistakes I wouldn’t be able to get out of this hole.”
Todd’s life continued to dip into a downward spiral. He says, “I realized if I continued on that track I would kill myself.” Finding a solution seemed impossible. Todd turned to Eastern religions for a while and delved into Buddhism. “Everyone seemed so happy and peaceful, but even with meditation and yoga and trying to find myself, I never felt peace and never felt good enough.”
The rocky path kept going. Todd entered into a marriage that soon failed. “After that, I worked with a therapist for quite a while,” he recalls. Together they came up with a list of ten things that Todd’s future wife would have to have. “The list was so long I thought, ‘There’s no woman in the world that can meet all these things,’ ” says Todd.
At the time, Todd was working for a company in Virginia. He earned an award at the company and was invited to attend an event to receive it. The event brought in employees from a number of different states. During the event, Todd met another employee, Jennie, who was from Wisconsin. She was there to receive an award as well.
The two hit it off right away. “I grilled her for six hours and couldn’t find a single reason not to like her,” Todd remembers. She met all of the criteria he had mapped out with his therapist, and there was another interesting fact about her: she was Lutheran. “I loved the fact that she was religious, it was very grounding to me,” says Todd. “She told me church was important to her, and I said, ‘Not a problem. I’ve been to church before, and I can learn.’ ”
The two began dating, and Todd soon moved to Wisconsin. He took Bible instruction classes and became a member. Then, in 2007, West and Jennie got married.
GROWING IN FAITH
Todd’s initial impression of WELS was that it focused on truth. He appreciated that its stance on certain issues, such as creationism and homosexuality, was based on the Bible. “I had seen other religions that followed the Bible but pretended parts of it didn’t exist if they didn’t fit with an issue,” he says.
At the start of their marriage, West and Jennie continued to attend a WELS church. Then their daughter was born, and the couple knew they wanted her to attend a Lutheran school.
When his daughter turned 3, Todd went to sign her up at a nearby WELS school for preschool. While there, he began chatting with the pastor. “Pastor Marggraf asked me, ‘What spiritual things do you do with your daughter besides pray at the table and pray at night?’ ” The question struck Todd to the core. “I wasn’t doing anything more than that and thought I was doing a great job,” he says.
That conversation did more than just take Todd aback; it made him think about what he was doing in the home for religion. He started more daily activities, such as reading from a children’s Bible and sharing Bible stories with his daughter. “She was still really young, but it started me on the right track,” he explains.
Not long after, the family moved because of a promotion Jennie received. At the time, the couple had a daughter and a son and a baby on the way. The shift took them to South Carolina. “We started our home search by looking at where the churches were,” says Todd.
With the help of the WELS locator, the family found a church, Hope, Irmo, South Carolina, to attend. When they arrived, without any family in the area, they were immediately welcomed with open arms by the congregation.
And they, in return, found ways to help out. Todd taught a class to the teens at church, an activity he grew to love. “I told them about my past and let them know God will always be there for them,” he states.
Thirteen months later, the family moved to Michigan, again due to Jennie’s job. They were able to find a house that was close to a WELS school and church.
After 10 months, the family relocated once more, this time to Indiana. As before, with the help of the WELS locator, they found a congregation and school in the city of Granger. Now Todd stays at home during the day with the family’s three young children. He works as a dog trainer in the evenings and on the weekends. He and Jennie are active in church.
Getting into the Word and learning about Jesus’ amazing forgiveness has motivated Todd to show love to others. He is involved in the “Please Open the Door” initiative, which looks for ways to reach out to Mormons. “When I was a Mormon, no one pointed out to me where I was wrong in the Bible,” he explains. “I want to help plant the seed and try to help others see how happy they can be too.”
Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Michael Hartman, serve in León, Mexico.
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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 102, Number 4
Issue: April 2015
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