In 1976 Mac Owen and Mary Howard were high school sweethearts from Louisiana who experienced heartache after realizing they were expecting a child during their respective junior and senior years. Convinced Mac couldn't support a family, Mary moved out of her hometown the summer after graduating high school to give birth to a baby boy she wouldn't be allowed to see.
Mary once believed making an adoption plan when she was 16 years old would be the hardest moment of her life. Yet 14 years later, she and Mac encountered a trial dark enough to destroy their family.
A messy marriage
In the years following the adoption, Mac and Mary married and had two daughters. In 1988 Mary knew something terrible was happening to her husband. Yet even she couldn't fathom the downward spiral he was trapped in. Mary feared her husband might be losing his mind since he was happy one day and a bear the next.
"What sticks out in my mind is how he was a functioning addict and how he hid it well," Mary says. "He went to church and ran a successful carpentry business. The last two years of his addiction — when he started using meth — was when I knew something bad was happening."
She hadn't learned yet that addicts are masters of manipulating others and also happen to be good liars. She also didn't realize her role in this ordeal.
Mary says, "The fact that I was codependent meant I believed I could just hide our marriage problems from the rest of the world and wait for things to get better on their own. I mastered the art of peace keeping at all costs."
Mac eventually found himself shooting up more than 10 times a day. He covered his arms with long-sleeved shirts, and in a good week, he might sleep for a total of six hours.
One Sunday morning, 4-year-old Callie Owen was ready for church in a pink dress and pigtails. She stood by her parents' king-size bed watching Mac sleep. She asked Mary, "Why doesn't Daddy go to church with us anymore? How come Daddy doesn't do anything with us anymore? If he's not going, I'm not going."
"Sweetie, he's been working really hard," Mary told Callie, trying to reason and rationalize. "You just need to leave him alone and let him get some sleep."
Later that morning in church as Mary sang the words to the hymn "It Is Well With My Soul," she knew nothing was well with her marriage and life with Mac Owen. All she thought about were the secrets and pain she was doing her best to avoid.
"I listened to Satan's lies that I didn't deserve anything better," Mary says. "So I did my best to try to keep our messy marriage a secret."
The road to recovery from meth addiction
Recovery was a difficult and harrowing journey, yet looking back now gives Mac and Mary great joy.
Mac remembers hearing 4-year-old Callie's reprimand. God used that little girl's words to break his heart. Later that day, Mac told Mary everything about his drug addiction to meth, and they went to their church leaders for help. Mac entered a detox facility and joined Alcoholics Anonymous, the only 12-step program nearby. Eventually the church leaders asked him to start an addiction recovery program, and he reluctantly agreed. The program was successful, much to his surprise.
Years later in 2004, Mac was challenged to visit Celebrate Recovery (CR), a Christ-centered, 12-step recovery program for addiction of any kind. At first Mac was skeptical that the program could be better than what they had at his church, and he didn't want to go to the three-day informational conference. Yet he and Mary decided to check it out when they found out it was at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. (Mac initially planned to skip out of the meeting early to visit the beach.)
When they found out this ministry was for anybody with a hurt, hang-up or habit — meaning every single soul alive — Mac gave up his desire to leave the meeting. He realized they needed to start a CR in their own church, beginning on New Year's Eve of 2004. "God takes broken lives and does exceedingly more than we can ask for," Mac says.
Leading others to recovery
Celebrate Recovery is currently in 35,000 churches around the world, and 5 million people have completed a CR group study. As the national director for Celebrate Recovery, Mac is able to continually meet new people who realize life is not hopeless.
"I love seeing church leadership come to the understanding that the church was meant to be a place where the hopeless can find hope," Mac says. "These churches are inviting people to come as they are and casting no judgment while welcoming the kind of people that Jesus hung out with."
Mac is perhaps most grateful that he gets to lead this ministry with his wife of more than 41 years, the woman who never gave up on him even at the height of his drug addiction. As the Celebrate Recovery national training coach, Mary travels with Mac twice a month to speak at CR training events all over the world.
"We get to meet so many of these people whom I call our 'forever family,' " Mary says. "I love more than anything else to speak life into others and give them hope for God's abundant life here on earth."
Mac and Mary are on the front lines for what they believe is the outreach ministry of the church in this century.
"Celebrate Recovery has helped us reach more hurting people than we ever could have imagined," Mary says. "Never let go of hope. Put your faith in action by making life's healing choices."
God's unexpected blessing
Mac and Mary now call Colorado Springs, Colorado, their home. More than all those things, the Owens cherish the blessing of their 10 grandchildren ranging in ages from 5 to 17 years old. They see their three children's families as often as they can.
That's right: their three children.
One month after Mac finally relented and decided to find treatment for his addiction, God opened the door for the son Mary relinquished to come back into their lives. The lawyer who handled their adoption was dying of cancer and wanted to share with them the name of their son. They were simply thankful to hear their son was safe. Little did Mac and Mary know they would eventually be reunited years later with Heath Arthur on his 19th birthday.
"Whatever you're going through today, hang on," Mac says. "God always sees the big picture, and He's always right on time. He's either coming back or coming through. He won't leave you hanging."Travis Thrasher is a best-selling author of biographies and fiction. He wrote Never Let Go, the Owens' life story.
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