Although Debbie Paulsen knew her husband-to-be, Steve, in high school, they never connected in a special way until they became reacquainted at a wedding about five years after they had graduated.
Debbie recalled saying to her mother, “That’s what I need: a godly man in my life.” And that’s when she “began the pursuit” by asking him to dance, Debbie said.
“The joke was that I always chased him until he caught me,” Debbie said.
Their marriage came first – even before their six children – and both Steve and Debbie grew in their faith together because of it. The Christian faith wasn’t just a way of life for Steve Paulsen of Mazon.
For Steve, his faith was his life.
From the time Steve “accepted the Lord” when he was in the fifth grade, Steve’s faith was always the “hugest part of his life,” Debbie Paulsen said.
That faith touched Steve’s marriage, fatherhood, education, ministry at First Christian Church in Morris, the way he conducted business, through the grief of losing his mother-in-law and two children in late 1994 and how he approached cancer and death.
“His experience with God was very real and personable,” Debbie said. “He just always made it a point to stay in the Bible and try to live his life in a very Christlike way.”
Even when Steve was in high school, he read the entire Bible several times a year, using plans that took him through the passages at a specific pace, Debbie said.
A couple of years after Debbie and Steve were married, the couple was sitting at a table with friends during the rehearsal dinner for an upcoming wedding.
Steve, a wedding singer, was “cracking up and having fun,” Debbie said, so much so that someone turned to her and said, “What happened to that shy man you married?”
Steve worked a variety of jobs through the years. He farmed, he worked for a local plumber, he owned Paulsen Heating and Air, and he “wrapped up” his working years at John’s Service and Sales.
His obituary said Steve “eventually realized he was much better at being a blessing to others than being a shrewd businessman.”
Debbie joked that Steve sometimes brought home a pie as payment for his services instead of money.
“That’s just the way he was,” Debbie said. “But it was always cool how God always provided.”
In fact, when Steve finally joined a union, he marveled at the blessing of not working his own business.
“He’d say, ‘Look at this. You work all week and then they send you a check,’” Debbie said.
Over the decades and among caring for his family and ministering to others, Steve strove for bachelor’s degree in biblical studies, which he earned in 2013.
At times, this meant attending night school through a program at Lincoln Christian University.
“He would go down one night a week for four hours and then have a ton of homework,” Debbie said.
Attaining the degree did not come with a specific career goal, Debbie said. Steve was always, quite simply, “a student of the word,” she said.
“He just wanted to make sure our kids and grandkids knew how important education was,” Debbie said. “Even if he never used it, he wanted to have the degree. He figured studying the Bible was never a waste of time.”
At First Christian, Steve was worship leader, Sunday school teacher, small-group leader and elder, Debbie said.
As a Christian, Steve wasn’t the type of person who promised to pray for someone. He often prayed with and for that person in the moment, she said.
“He always talked about how Christianity wasn’t something you compartmentalized,” Debbie said. “You weren’t just a Christians for an hour on Sunday morning. It was your life.”
Steve was always imparting lessons, “not like something you’d hear on TV,” but in a quiet, nonjudgmental way, Debbie said.
And Steve never raised his voice.
“That was just his way,” she said.
But Steve, too, had his faith challenged. And his faith, along with Debbie’s faith and the faith of their family, was severely challenged around Christmas 1994, when his mother-in-law and two children died as the result of an automobile accident.
Their son Philip, 12, died the day after the accident. Over the next few weeks, Debbie’s mother and their daughter Valerie, 10, also died, she said.
Steve and Debbie not only had to work through their grief, they had to help their other children, who were 14 and 7 and younger at the time, work through it, too, she said.
These children – Stephanie Chapman, Hannah Hunt, Benjamin Paulsen and Ethan Paulsen – and their children are Steve’s greatest legacy, Debbie said.
At no point while Steve processed that loss did he ever become angry at God or forsake Him, Debbie said.
But the experience did make Steve dig deeply into his faith, she said. And she and Steve realized more fully that even people “living in the word” aren’t sheltered from tragedy, Debbie said.
“We realized that if Christ can get us through this,” Debbie said, “He can get us through anything.”
Many marriages don’t survive this type of tragedy, Debbie said. But hers and Steve’s not only survived, it thrived, she added. And all four of their children “love the Lord,” too, she said.
“I can’t tell you where I would be without Christ,” Debbie said. “I don’t know how people make it without the Lord, I really don’t. The things we’ve had to endure … just look around the world. You’d think everyone would be running to the Lord.”
But before Steve died from cancer April 21 at the age of 65, many people flocked to him, especially the people he had mentored over the years, Debbie said. They did not want Steve to die without understanding the impact he had made in their lives.
“To me, that’s a real legacy,” Debbie said. “The lives he touched were changed for the better.”
• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.