Choosing Your Life
This story was written after an interview with Paula Johnson
When Paula Abbott was discovered at age 16 while working in a shoe store in Alabama, she didn’t consider herself to be popular or fashionable – what you might call “model material” – at the time. In fact, being a studious teenager, she was intent on winning a scholarship so she could go to college, and eventually on to law school, where she felt she would be able to gain the independence she so desired. Nevertheless, that same year after being invited to New York, she landed the cover of Cosmopolitan.
Even before it hit newsstands, Paula was thrust into the fast lane. “I was a traveling machine, on an airplane every few days to a different location, new crew, hotel and job. I worked all day, and studied on the plane at night. I was your basic traveling salesman, only I was selling myself,” she says.
Not quite grasping everything that was happening at the time, Paula’s fast-paced life left her trying to find someone or something to hang on to for stability in the midst of it all. At 19, while working in Europe, a deep loneliness and sense of emptiness set in despite having everything she thought she could ever dream of. No one seemed to understand this inner sadness, and she even questioned herself. What is my problem? What am I here for? What do I do with the rest of my life?
With every great job came the desire for the next one. Her relationships, although decent, were never fulfilling and her friendships never seemed to be what she wanted them to be. Nothing lasted. Friends were transient, boyfriends too.
Nothing seemed secure, stable and unchanging, and she just couldn’t take it anymore.
In Europe, Paula would sit in the back row of huge Cathedrals, talking to God in desperation. “I never knew how to “make contact” with Him. I didn’t realize at the time that He was right there all the time listening to every prayer.” Having prayed to receive Christ as a little girl, Paula was acquainted with Christianity. But it never seemed real to her. Church mostly served as a large part of her social life as a youth.
Turning back to Christ seemed to be an on and off again process as she got older, and getting involved with a non-Christian man proved to be a long three-year distraction from getting to know God.
“We were the perfect couple by sight,” Paula reflects. “He was a dream guy, everything one could ever want in a mate. All he wanted to do was marry me and have a family and take care of me.” Although the young investment advisor respected her desire for God, he couldn’t understand why it was so important to her to be able to share that with the person she would choose to spend the rest of her life with.
The relationship continued as Paula kept telling herself that she would get out before it got too serious. “I wouldn’t marry a non-Christian. I would get “back on track” just … later.” Soon enough their lives were deeply intertwined and all of the signs pointed to marriage. It was almost too late by the time he proposed. Paula realized that this wasn’t a game any longer. “Reality hit me that either I was going to go after God’s plan for my life and stop messing around, or I was going to continue down this path I had allowed myself to wander down and never have God’s best for me, which was what I so deeply desired.”
A week later before leaving for Paris, Paula gave the ring back to her devastated fiancé. Crying the whole way on the flight to France, she prayed that God would give her a church and some Christian friends. “I knew I wouldn’t last without that,” she said.
In His faithfulness, God led her to meet a model from Canada who invited her to join a French Bible study. The pastor’s wife translated everything into English simultaneously. Paula kept going and eventually learned French fluently enough over the next six months so that she could attend Bible school there at night while continuing to model during the day.
Once back in the US two years later, she continued studying the Scriptures at a seminary in Baltimore, Maryland while traveling back and forth to New York to do her bookings. Eventually the modeling agency got tired of dealing with her being away so much that they gave her an ultimatum: “Either you move to New York and work full-time or go to your little Bible college and stay there.” For Paula the choice was made; she knew in her heart that God called her to Bible school. So she left the industry for two years to finish seminary.
“It wasn’t easy; I can’t lie and say I was so full of faith,” she says honestly. “I was actually pretty devastated about the whole thing, but I knew I was doing the right thing and when I know that it’s God’s will, I know He is responsible for me and the consequences of following His direction. So I just followed His leading.”
All turned out for the best when soon enough Paula kept crossing paths with a missionary from Baltimore whom she had met years previously in France and whom she would eventually marry. It was a simple friendship that had grown over time out of respect for one another and a mutual love for God. Neither of them were particularly involved in dating relationships before then. “I always knew that if God was specific about the husband that He had for me, then I didn’t need to go around trying on guys to see if they fit like shoes. In God’s perfect timing He would bring this person out of the woodwork and into my path. He knew how to make our paths cross; I didn’t have to strive in it,” Paula testifies.
When asked about how she finds purpose in life, Paula says, “I don’t know that I completely know my purpose in life, but one thing I do know is this: I am on this earth to get to know Jesus Christ and to be conformed to His image.”
She understands the need for a dependence on God. “We don’t want to need Him, but we do. We don’t want to live dependent upon Him for every thought, word, deed. But we are so dependent upon Him that we wouldn’t have the next breath to breathe if He didn’t give it to us.”
“Resting in Him, who He is, what He’s done is a choice. Doing right is a choice, putting yourself in a place to hear the Word of God and be with other believers is a choice. Choice is the one thing God gave us. I can give my choice back to Him and let Him choose what is best for me or I can go my own way. You can’t think that if you do nothing you’ll just end up in the right way. You’re going to be involved somewhere; choose your life, don’t be a victim of just floating around.”
Paula’s life is a testimony that exposes the myth that one cannot be a good Christian while being in this “worldly” industry. “Well, who is a good Christian anyway?” she questions while affirming it is definitely a calling. “You’d better know you are called by God to be a part of this business, that’s for sure.” She makes the choice to seek God for direction every morning before beginning her day. “It’s vital for my thought life that day, to set my thoughts in alignment with His Word. I used to think I could just run out and carry on my day without Him. The key is knowing that Jesus comes first.”
She is also prayerful at work, asking the Holy Spirit to lead her to speak at opportune moments. “I am always looking for an open door to share the gospel with people but have found it is not wise to try to kick it open myself. Love is patient and kind with people’s capacity.”
Making the choice
“If you don’t know Christ personally, please don’t wait; ask Him now” Paula advises. “You are precious to Him – more than you’ll ever know. Before you ever even thought of Him, you were in His mind and heart. He is for you and He’s made a way for you to know Him. There is no peace outside of knowing Jesus.”
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God has given you His Holy Spirit to help you live life according to His perfect plan. He wants to turn your pain into something that can help you focus on Him. God wants to give you power so you can “GO” to others and share about His goodness in your life.
Why not pray this simple prayer and by faith invite God to fill you with His Spirit:
Dear Father, I need you. I acknowledge that I have sinned against you by directing my own life. I thank you that You have forgiven my sins through Christ’s death on the cross for me. I now invite Christ to again take His place on the throne of my life. Fill me with the Holy Spirit as You commanded me to be filled, and as You promised in Your Word that You would do if I asked in faith. I pray this in the name of Jesus. As an expression of my faith, I thank You for directing my life and for filling me with the Holy Spirit. Amen.