Choosing Your Life

Written by Stefanie Coutinho

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.

Reality check

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.

Desiring God

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.”

Turning back

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.

Divine purpose

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.

12 Responses to “Choosing Your Life”

  • Randy Maske says:

    Hello Paula. I doubt you will remember me but for a short time I was the manager at the infamous shoe store you were discovered in (Feet First). I remember you as such a sweet young girl. I used to have to fuss at you to come back into the store because I would always find you sitting next to some elderly man sitting at the fountain in front of the store in the mall. You would tell me how you felt bad for them and they looked lonely. Such a sweet girl. Contrary to some of what I read on here I personally thought you looked exactly like a model. When I left to take another job we had my going away party and you and your boyfriend Counce ( hope I spelled it right) came to the party. Last time I saw you. That was in March. Then I’m walking by a checkout stand in November and see a cosmo. Wow…. that looks just like Paula…. Didnt pick it up because like I said you looked like a model so I just thought it was just me. Then Christmas comes and I come home to Montgomery from Florida only to read an article about Paula the model.Wow! What an awesome event to happen in your life. I always wondered what became of you because there are the movies that portray these successful mosels that live in the fast lane and have these dark lives. So refreshing to hear the decisions you have made in your life. You made such a hard choice at such a young age and most people would have made the opposite decision. It shows true strength and character at even such a very young age. Your story is so inspirational. You may not have continued down the path of super model but your choices lead you to be a Super Roll Model! So glad to hear that you are achieving your own success and have owned your life. Congratulations Paula. God bless.

  • Jennifer says:

    Dear Paula
    I Think About You Alot
    I Last seen you years ago at pastor Jeans Church.
    I hope you are doing well I lost my dad last month he was 72 and I know you remember mama and bobby they are still living in same house where i grew up in yancey ave :-)
    I Remember when we were kids you liked iced coffee do you still ?

  • Jennifer says:

    Hi Paula You Probably Remember Me As Jennifer Deupree We Were Good Friends As Children We Both Lived On Yancey Avenue In Capitak Heights Area.My Mom Is Brenda
    I Think About You And Your Mom Betty Alot And I Pray You Are Both Doing Well.
    IHave A Wonderful Man IUn My Life His Name Is Drew We Have Been Together For 17 Yrs Now.
    I Have No Children But I Have 3 Neices And 7 Nephews.
    I Would Love To Hear From You :-)

  • karen sullins says:

    Dearest Payla,
    I have emailed you privately but I just wanted to share with everyone else about my friend Paula, who was a new girl at my school (Goodwyn Jr high). She was beautiful even in 8th grade. One of my fondest memories was spending the night with her after attending a church event that was so much fun! (Imagining that we were 8th graders…)

    Anyway, I always admired Paula for her strong sense of standing for what she believed. Anything that was not right or just…her bottom lip would get pouty and her voice would change as she stood for what she believed :)
    I grew up to be a therapist, working with lots of young people. So often I find young people that are lost it stuck in the dumps of “life”…evidently my gift is to encourage them to search for what is missung ; often times missing the unconditional love of Christ sadly enough.

    I’m so happy to have stumbled on this interview. I’ve looked for Paula for years and years. Having her on my heart and praying that she was having an abundant life!
    Hallelujah :)

  • Paula was one of my students at Goodwyn Jr. High in Montgomery, Alabama. I was the band director and Paula played flute. The lasting memory I have of Paula is the work ethic. Once she saw where the standard was, so rose to meet it, whether it was band or algebra or anything else. Back then, I would not have predicted the road would lead her to becoming a super model. I would have predicted she would grow up to be a good person with solid values and successful in whatever field she chose. I am glad to have run across this page about Paula after all these many years.

  • Brenda Miller says:

    Hi Jenny and Chris,

    Thank you so much for leaving your regards for Paula. If you would like to send her a message, she put her email address in an earlier response, five down from this one! God bless you, and I pray you keep logging in to this site!

  • Jenny says:

    Hi Paula :)
    It Is Jenny Your Chidhood Friend Friend Capital Heights Neighborhood
    I Hope You Are Doing Well!
    I Think About You Lot’s And I Also Hope Your Mom Is Doing Good :)

  • Chris James says:

    Hi Paula, Don’t know if you remeber but I played guitar in an 80’s band Crosslight (From Norway) on Manhatten and met you the week before you apeared og the frontpage of Cosmo in 1988. BTW you looked awesome, and I remeber how great it was to se your face on every NY Corner :-)
    You and Rachel hung out with us in the village for coffee. I remeber you gave me your number and asked me to give you a call. I never got the currage, I was a young struggeling musician, dead broke. I also was an Christian but didn’t know you were at the time. Then you made it to the front cover of Cosmo and, well….. the rest is history.
    Just wanted give you my best regards and say: I believed you to be a nice and decent person, with a big heart and a great Alabama accent. All the best “God Bless”

    Best Regards

  • Doris Beck Doris says:

    Hi there Pamela,
    I’m a blog mentor here on this site. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your message for Paula. If you read the previous comment you will see that Paula had left her email address in that comment so feel free to get in touch with her using it. Do stop by again!

  • Pamela Lawrence says:

    My goodness my dearest Paula…. ! I don’t know if you will get this message however I always go on faith and thus I feel you will get this message and send me an email — I stumbled upon this page through Google… Why because one of your early Clairol Hair Adv. that Louise booked for you made a cameo on a very old movie I am watching called Picture Perfect with Jennifer Anniston. I couldn’t believe it so I Googled your name to see what you have been up to and I stumbled upon this glorious glorious interview on you! Wow I had no idea you were going through so much but I have a funny feeling Rachel knew… I have always prayed for you and all the girls since it was such a trying time in the business. I don’t even know if Doug is still around but I always hoped you were able to get out and be free and you did just that in Paris. My old home but will be going back to live in April 2012. This is Mama Pam the only Mama Pam that was apart of your life in NYC as a new Model…. And I have a funny feeling you remember the bathroom story in Paris. This is just a little bit more information to help you know that this message is real, and not a crazy prank from a fan. It would be so wonderful to catch up with you again after 28 years. I sure hope you kept in touch with Rachel, since I think about her often as well…. I hope she is doing as wonderful as you are with the peace of God in your heart and living in your life everyday! If I don’t hear from you just know you will always be in my prayers and in my heart always! God Bless my dearest! Pam ( aka Mama Pam The African Queen)

  • Paula Johnson says:

    OMG! is it really you? I’ve always wondered what happened to you and how you were doing! i just had a friend send this message to my facebook now…a year later! i would have replied earlier but i never got your message! i hope this gets you…how amazing to hear from you after all of these years! please send me your email address…mine is
    i live in indonesia now with my husband…no kids…been married for 9 years…I would love to hear from you…i’m in america now for the next month then returning home to indonesia. hope you get this!

  • Jill Williams says:

    Paula, I dont know if you remember me but I came across this article and wanted to get in touch with you so
    mehow. We went to church together in Montgomery. We also went to hr high together until my dad moved us up to North Alabama. My mom and dad were the pastors there at the 1st Assembly of God church. Thomas and Christine Ball. I remember your mom. You come over to my house alot. After we moved the last thing I was told was about you being in Cosmo. I know live in Houston Tx. Divorced but didnt change my name back to Ball. I have two beautiful children, Jordan (15) and Victoria (13). Mom and dad still live in Alabama. Try and email me if you can. Your article really touched me. Unfortunately I got out of church and havent been in many yrs. I look forward to hearing from you and catching up

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