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For eight years, Karen and Hugh Tillman stood shoulder to shoulder, singing in the choir at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. She was an alto. He was a tenor. She was married. He was in a serious relationship, so they were strictly friends. After both of their relationships ended, Hugh knew he wanted to make a lifetime of music with Karen. So he returned to the same place they met – in the choir – to propose.

“I proposed in Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church after a service,” Hugh said. “The minister of music agreed to help me – then he forgot and service was over. When I reminded him, he stopped members from leaving. I gave a little speech talking about Proverbs 31 because Karen embodies what Proverbs 31 is. I got down on one knee right there in church and proposed.”

Not only was Karen shocked because Hugh had done everything, from dinner to picking out an outfit for an engagement photo shoot, but she was ecstatic about starting over with someone she considered a friend.

The couple enjoys working out and competitive bodybuilding.

“I really cherish and value most, first and foremost our friendship. That’s the foundation of our relationship, and that it’s rooted in Christ. He is a God-fearing man and he truly is my best friend,” Karen said. “I also love the way he loves on me and our family and is fiercely protective of us all. I call him my Superman. I don’t ever have to worry about being afraid of anything or anyone because I know he’s got me.”

The two found common ground in their love of Christ, laughter, and a healthy and fit lifestyle.

“She has kept her body in shape and her temple is important to her,” Hugh said. “And so “That’s one thing that we have in common. We love working out together, running together. When I did some competition, bodybuilding, that rubbed off on her, and she did a bucket list, entered a competition, and won three weekends in a row, which is unheard of. I got third. That’s the best I ever got.”

Besides being prayerful – all the time – and keeping God first, the Tillmans say that communication is key to a successful marriage.

“Communication is very important. Just take 20 minutes to talk to your spouse,” said Karen. “It doesn’t seem like much, but you can think about from the time you wake up in the morning, especially if you have kids, how quickly you just jump into your routine and take care of kids or take care of your work responsibilities. And then the whole day could go by and you didn’t spend 20 minutes talking to your spouse. So you have to be very intentional where there’s no distractions. Turn off the TV, shut the door so the kids don’t come in, and just have 20 minutes where you’re just connecting with each other. And then the weekly date nights are important as well. You know, just being able to have that consistent time together where you’re enriching your marriage.”

The couple both brought children to the marriage, so it was important that they devote time to blending their families.

“When we started dating, it was like, ‘We’re a package deal. You’re not just dating me. You’re dating them too,’” said Karen, who had two children, Christian and Faith.

And Hugh, the father of a son, Mitchel, was grateful to blend the families.

Karen and Hugh, with their children, Faith, Christian and Mitchel.

“We would do things together. We would have outings together. Our dates would be together at times in advance of us officially being blended as a family in marriage. That made it much easier, more organic, and natural once we did get married.”

No matter how great things are going, the Tillmans make it a point to do regular marriage check-ups and go to marriage counseling at least every six months.

“When you think about marriage in terms of your body, you can’t build muscle in your body without working out and without putting the right things in your body. And you have to be consistent with it. If you do not work out, your muscles will atrophy, right? You get weak. I think about marriage the same way. If you’re not putting that work in, that marriage is going to get weak. And so we really work at it. We have daily devotion in the morning. We attend Wheeler’s Marriage Ministry and we see a counselor at least every six months. You’ve got to work. But the final product is an amazing thing.”