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A Reason to Go On

Sometimes God puts certain people in our lives who we just can’t seem to forget. Sometimes we discover why.

By Mark Smith, Marion, Michigan

As appeared in

I didn’t take very good care of myself after my wife died. I slept erratically, ate junk food, cut myself off from friends. One night I flopped into bed, not even bothering to unmake it.

I couldn’t believe she was gone after battling a host of medical problems. It should have been me. I stared at the ceiling and thought back to my past–the dark years of my addiction, and the girl who changed everything.

I was at my lowest point yet, sitting on the hardwood floor of my one-room apartment in the roughest part of town. I’d spent the past four years deep into drugs and alcohol. Burned every bridge, lost faith in God and stolen from my mother.

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I thought about getting clean sometimes, but I always went right back to using.

What was the point of anything? I looked around. The sink overflowed with dishes. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken out the trash. I felt stuck in a cage of my own making, like I was too far gone, beyond help.

I put my head in my hands and sat there, my heart pounding in my ears. As I raised my head I had the overwhelming sense that I wasn’t alone. Light danced before my eyes. I turned–a girl was sitting right beside me. Karen?

I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. She was my best friend in high school. We’d lost touch years ago but I could see her clearly–her big smile, those green eyes. You’re just seeing things, I told myself. Going through withdrawal. Then she faded away.

I glanced at the phone. I still had Karen’s number somewhere. What if I called her? What did I have to lose?

“Hi,” I said, fumbling with the cord. “Is this Karen?” I thought she might hang up when she recognized my voice. I couldn’t blame her.

“Yes,” she said. She paused. “Mark, is that you?”

“It’s me.” I waited for the click.

“Hey there, stranger. Good to hear your voice again.”

She didn’t hang up. In fact, she seemed happy to talk to me. I opened up. Told her about my struggles getting sober. My falling out with my mom. She listened, made me laugh even. It felt like old times.

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Karen and I used to see a lot of each other. Her best friend was dating my best friend, and somehow we’d just clicked from the beginning. I wondered why I hadn’t kept up with her, but that was only one mistake I’d made among many. I told Karen I was done making mistakes.

“I believe you,” she said.

If Karen could believe me, maybe I could believe in myself too. Right there on the phone I resolved to stay clean. From then on, anytime I felt that self-destructive itch, I called Karen. Whenever I hesitated about the daunting tasks ahead–reaching out to my mom, finding a job–Karen reassured me.

“Faith helps,” she said one day. “When is the last time you spoke to God?”

Karen was right. It had been too long. I started praying again and got the courage to call my mom. She was willing to give me a second chance! I moved home and invited Karen over to have dinner with us.

“They’re looking for warehouse help where I work,” Karen said. I’d done that kind of work before. The next day, I took the bus to the industrial supply house and filled out an application. Karen winked from the receptionist’s desk. A week later, I had a job.

I’d forgotten how much I loved working. Even better, Karen and I carpooled. She did the driving, I paid for the gas. W e started to have lunch together, then dinners out. After a short time “officially dating,” we married.