Todd Porter Graveside

We have gathered for a sad purpose today, to bury the ashes of our son, dad, friend, teacher and coach, Todd Porter. We want to remember and celebrate his life even as we seek to find comfort in this time of loss.

Today we come with a bunch of questions and most of them start with the word Why? Most of these questions have answers we cannot discover in this life. Only God knows the reasons.

What we can do is try not to let how Todd died keep us from celebrating the good things and blessed things of his life. What we can do is look to the Lord to fill in the gaps and to give us comfort in this time of confusion and sadness.

In Isaiah 42:10 God says to us,

Fear not, for I am with you;

Be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you and help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

God calls us to find our strength in Him. He promises that He will get us through these times…as hard as that is to believe.

Let’s ask for His help as we get started.

Our Father, we gather today with heavy hearts. Todd was such a gifted man and for him to die so soon seems tragic. Help us as we remember. Help us to find comfort in the midst of our battle with the staggering numbness we now feel. Draw our hearts to you. Remind us that you are with us and help us to turn to you for strength. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 Todd A. Porter, was born December 18, 1967 in York, Nebraska the son of Phillip Morris and Sheryl Joyce (Hewitt) Porter. (This explains why Todd was a big Nebraska sports fan). He was raised and educated in Monmouth graduating from Monmouth High School in 1986.

Todd began playing baseball early in life. It was a passion that grew within him. He started playing catcher because the little league catcher’s dad died and couldn’t play. No one else could do the job. Phil had been a catcher and knew the physical toll it took on a person but when Todd asked to catch, he got his chance and loved it.

When he was in High School, Todd was the winning pitcher in both ends of a double header. He caught the first game and came in at the end in relief. His dad said he had a wicked curveball. The team rallied and he got the win. He started the second game and won that game also.

Todd went on to play baseball in college. He graduated from Monmouth College in 1990. I’m told that when Major League baseball went on strike in 1994 Todd received 9 letters from major league teams asking if he would fill in. He wasn’t interested because he wanted to coach and teach.

Todd was a Social Studies Teacher at LaHarpe Jr. High for 22 years. He served as the Junior High and High School Varsity Baseball coach. He won a State Championship with his Jr. High team.

While teaching in La Harpe Todd met Molly Porter and they were married. They later divorced. They have two boys, Peyton and Jackson. Todd loved his boys and spent many hours with them passing on his love for sports and life.

Todd went on to get his Masters degree in School Administration.

He was an avid Chicago Sports fan. His favorite player growing up however was Dave Righetti of the Yankees.

Todd died of liver failure on Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at the Galesburg Cottage Hospital in Galesburg, IL.

He is Survived by his sons, Peyton Porter and Jackson Porter both of La Harpe, IL; his parents, Phillip and Sheryl Porter of Monmouth; sister, Jacqueline Payne of Nashville, TN and his uncle, Edward Porter of Monmouth.

He was preceded in death by both sets of grandparents and his aunt, Betty Porter.

 

Todd Porter was my friend. I was also his Pastor. I became well acquainted with him after I had the Ayerco Gas Station put on their sign “Happy 30th Birthday Todd Porter” on Todd’s 29th birthday!  He was a little sensitive about nearing the age of 30. I assume he finally found out it was me who did it.

Todd taught both of my children and coached Rick in basketball. He took Rick’s Junior High Team to the Elite 8. I saw the impact this man had on his students again and again. He was always one of the favorite teachers. Todd really cared for his students and the kids on his teams.

Once Todd was asked why he was spending so much time with an awkward student. Todd replied, “If I wasn’t his friend, he wouldn’t have any.” That’s the kind of guy he was.

The amount of people who are here today and the many who have sent notes indicate just how much of an impact Todd had on people.

Todd was a really smart guy. In the very earliest days of his life his sister Jackie tutored him. She instilled within him a love of learning.

He had a quick wit and loved to read. He was fascinated with the Civil War and just about all of history. I used to love talking to him as we walked or at our Saturday morning breakfasts about the books we were reading. I read several great history books because of him.

Todd was a bit of a perfectionist. Some would say he was Anal. He always wanted to (and did) look good. He was particular about the way the lawn was to be mowed. He was meticulous with stats and preparation for games. He was organized.

Todd could also get a little “intense”. We have all seen him yelling at players (or umpires). The members of the team however didn’t seem to take offense. They knew their coach wanted them to play their best. They knew he loved them.

This intensity, I’m told, also made it especially difficult to watch sports with Todd. He spent a good deal of time yelling at the television which made it a lot more unpleasant for everyone else.

Todd loved being a dad. It seemed like he was always either in the gym or on the ball field or fishing with his boys. He taught them how to focus and refine their skills. Todd was pleased to have the chance to coach his boys during the summer and in school ball. Peyton took on the family position of playing catcher.

They used to love going to professional games together. Once they sent a whole bunch of baseball cards off to players asking for autographs. They received a bunch of those cards back signed by the players.

They all enjoyed swimming together in the pool in their yard. And the boys have picked up their dad’s quick and wry sense of humor.

Todd became a member of the Union Church and we talked a great deal about faith and what he was reading in the Bible. One day we even prayed together on his porch. I believe Todd not only understood what the Bible was teaching, he also embraced it. I enjoyed watching him grow in his faith.

As many of you know, Todd battled an addiction to alcohol all his life. He was not proud of his drinking. In fact, he worked really hard to hide his addiction from everyone. But like most addictions, once something gets hold of you, it is very difficult to overcome it. Todd tried but failed.

It was this addiction that cost him his marriage, his job, and ultimately his life. The worse things became in life, the deeper the hold of the addiction.

Did this make Todd Porter a bad man? No. He was still an exceptional guy who faced an enemy that was stronger than he was. That is not an excuse for the choices he made. It is just a reminder that the struggles we have in life do not necessarily define us.

 

This may raise a question for many of you: What now? What has happened to Todd Porter? Is he disqualified from Heaven because of his alcoholism?

You could just as easily ask if an elderly person was disqualified from Heaven because of their dementia which led them to do many inappropriate things. Is someone disqualified from Heaven because they were raped or abused? Are they disqualified because they got a divorce or went bankrupt?

Such thinking shows a complete misunderstanding of the gospel.

Every one of us is messed up. We all have issues and demons that dog us through life. For some it is eating too much, for others it may be a bad temper, some suffer from depression, still others are impulsive in their spending. We are all messed up. We all sin. We all know what God wants us to do and we regularly choose to do the opposite. Nobody can get into Heaven by being a “good guy” because there is no such thing.

Our only hope is for God to rescue us. And that is where Jesus comes in. God took the form of man in Jesus, and lived the one perfect life there ever was. He, as the Son of God, traded His goodness for our mess. He took the punishment that we deserved and offered us the relationship with God that we could never earn.

What determines whether or not a person goes to Heaven is what they do with this offer made by Jesus. To be a Christ follower three things need to be true.

  1. You admit that you are a mess
  2. You recognize that Jesus is the only One who is qualified to rescue you.
  3. You run to Him and ask Him to help you follow Him.

When you do this you begin a relationship with God that hopefully grows deeper every day of your life. But it doesn’t mean that the problems stop. It doesn’t mean the difficulties go away. It is a struggle to keep relying on Christ.

The Apostle Paul said, “There is now No Condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). That verse is written in the Greek in such a way as to say if a person has truly and genuinely put their hope in Christ, they will never, no matter what, face condemnation.

I believe Todd Porter did put his trust in Christ. I think he knew he was a mess. I believe he knew Jesus was the only one who could help him and I think he did run to Him. It is true that Todd wandered from the Lord when he gave in to his drinking but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t still crying out to the Lord. And think about it:  don’t most of us wander even though we know it is a foolish and wrong thing to do?  Even though we know only Jesus can save us, we continually try to fix ourselves on our own.

At the end of Romans 8 we read these incredible words,

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

You tell me, does alcoholism separate a believer from the love of God?

I do not believe that Todd Porter is in Heaven because he was a good man. I believe He is in Heaven because God is gracious and merciful.

Of course, only God knows for sure, but I think Todd has finally been released from his demons. To be honest, I think he probably looked forward to dying because the struggle wore him out. Now He is free.

The man who felt he let everyone down has been embraced by the Lord of the Universe. And if I know Todd, he is grateful beyond words.

That’s my read on the life of my friend, Todd Porter. I will miss him. I will miss his laugh, his sense of humor, his love of books, his analysis of Chicago sports teams, but most of all, I will miss his friendship. Sometimes you just need someone you know will cry with you. And that’s the kind of guy Todd was.

I ache for you Peyton and Jackson. You have lost someone special. I hope as the years go by you will realize that even though your dad died much too soon; and even though he had some very real problems; what you had with him . . . was something very special; something to cherish for the rest of your lives.

Let’s pray together.

Our Father, we ache today. We ache for our loss. We ache because we know Todd was caught up in something bigger and stronger than he.

Today we gratefully remind ourselves that we are not made right with you because we are good, but because you are gracious and merciful. We entrust Todd to you. Welcome him into the kingdom none of us deserves, but which has been offered to anyone will put their trust in You. Grant Todd, and grant us the peace that comes from Christ alone.

Draw his family close to you that they might know your comfort, your grace, and the strength that only you can provide. Grant comfort to Phil and Sheryl. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. Their pain is intense. Grant comfort to Jackie. She tried so hard these last months to help her brother. Grant strength and clear and wonderful memories to Peyton and Jackson. May the words of encouragement from their father echo in their ears for the rest of their lives.

Help us all to remember the lessons you taught us and the blessings we received through the life of Todd Porter. We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.