HAWLEY, Minn.—As she talks, her blue eyes sparkle, and her wispy, raven hair cascades down her shoulders, moving with her motions, a light emanating outward from within.
But Taunya Todd says it hasn’t always been this way, not like now.
Undoubtedly, she’s always carried brightness within her, first through music. From her earliest years, Todd was drawn to the dream of singing on stage, wowing with her voice and stirring hearts as those she’d admired had hers.
“I wanted to be Dolly Parton or Reba McEntire,” Todd says with a grin.
It all came quite naturally, growing up in a family that enjoyed going out dancing together wherever there happened to be lively music and a thumping beat, along with her raw vocal talent.
So Todd chose a college south of her Iowa home — Northwest Missouri State University — just to be closer to Nashville.
“My backup plan was to be a fashion designer,” she says.
Soon after arriving, she joined a Christian worship band that traveled some. But Todd yearned for more, and on visits home during college breaks, she’d hang out in bars just to listen to the musicians.
She’d just turned 20 when a sound technician asked her to be lead singer in a traveling country band he was forming.
And she was all in.
“That first band was based out of Iowa, but when I was 21, I left that group to go to another, based out of Eau Claire (Wis.) and the Twin Cities,” Todd says.
In each, she was the only woman, and it didn’t take her long to see reality of life on the road.
“You go into it thinking of all the fame; on TV, you see the lights and buses,” she says. “But in reality you get roach motels and greasy burgers and band apartments and trailers, and you get sucked into that life.”
Though Todd wasn’t raised in a Christian home, during her childhood years, several friends had introduced her to the faith, and she was baptized a Methodist in high school.
At one point, having noticed her inward spark, a woman pastor pulled Todd aside and suggested she go into ministry. But Todd wasn’t ready. Though her Bible came with her on the road, it mostly collected dust.
Those were her “lost years” in terms of faith, she says, but she marvels now at how God kept her guarded.
“The guys in the first band were old enough to be my dad, in their 50s and older. But they all had daughters, so they protected me a lot. They kept my rose-colored glasses on,” Todd says. “But I also grew up really fast because of that lifestyle, and I made choices I’m not proud of.”
Todd remembers going to the grocery store at one point and feeling envious of “the mom with the screaming child.”
“She had someone to go home to; she had a home and she had children she could take care of. I wanted that life.”
Then in 1996, her band performed at Pistol Pete’s in Moorhead. The weather that January evening was “freezing cold.” But inside the bar, warmth emanated from a certain corner.
“This guy went dancing by in Wranglers and a black hat. He was really cute. He smiled at me and there was something about him,” Todd says. “So I grabbed my wireless mic and made my way around to sing with him.”
What happened next dumbfounded her. Rather than the usual response — perhaps a pinch in the behind — the cowboy simply smiled and said, “Thank you, ma’am.”
“I had not heard that in years. I knew he was different,” Todd says, noting that the mystery man turned out to be an off-duty, rookie police officer from Fargo. “I remember looking into his eyes, and we just knew that was it; love at first sight.”
Three months later, the man, Steve Todd — now patrol division commander for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office — asked her to marry him, and life on the road vanished.
Taunya Todd says despite her past regrets, her years traveling helped shape who she is today — a woman dedicated to God and family, including her children, Tyler, 15, and twins Shane and Kaitlyn, 12, and passion for enlivening other women through her speaking, fashion and music ministry.
She’s currently lead singer for a Christian group called One Fine Day.
Todd says she needs the strength of her faith for ongoing challenges, including a health ordeal that began in 2009 with a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. But she’s found a way to move through these crises gracefully, with God and other “first responders” in her life.
Those key people include her mother-in-law, Gunnie Erickson, whom Todd says breaks all the mom-in-law stereotypes.
“(Taunya) has been totally a gift to our family,” Erickson says. “She’s blossomed and turned in a different direction, not singing in the bar, but singing in the Lord. She’s matured and grown in her faith. When she speaks, it’s like she’s speaking right to you.”
Heather Nelson works with Todd at Hawley Alliance Church, where Nelson excels at research and administrative duties while Todd flies with creative challenges.
“Taunya is constantly seeking out God’s will for her life. She doesn’t want it to be about her,” Nelson says, adding that her friend “loves to see women connect with each other, and if they find that support and friendship, it makes her happy.”
Todd says her heart toward women has come from the blessings she’s received from those who have helped her along the way, especially in the way of faith.
“(God) can take all the guilt, the shame, the regret,” she says. “I was living with that, and it was a huge relief to let it go, and all it took was asking (God) to take it away.”
She wants others to experience this same surrender. “We all need those constant reminders that he’s still there,” she adds. “Even when we mess up, he’s there.”
To learn about Taunya Todd’s speaking, music and fashion ministry, visit her website: taunyatodd.com.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The above piece ran in The Forum newspaper on June 27, 2015.]