LUVERNE - Wednesday was a big day for Mannuel “Manny” Olson.

The Luverne man had plenty to celebrate, having not only accomplished 721 days of sobriety, but also graduating from Minnesota Cornerstone Treatment Court, where he’s been a participant for nearly two years.

The celebration continued later that day when he got down on one knee to propose to his girlfriend, Star Lewis, on their one-year anniversary after he recreated their first date at Falls Park in Sioux Falls, S.D. She said “yes.”

“The year that we’ve been dating I have always asked her if she’d marry me, and she always told me, ‘When you give me the ring I will say yes,’” he said. “This Wednesday landed just perfectly for our anniversary, and I had a ring already. God had everything to do with that.”

In fact, the 25-year-old attributes much of his accomplishments today to what he considers the power of the Holy Spirit. God, he said, has become the No. 1 thing in his life after a drug addiction that he said began as a 14-year-old introduced to marijuana and continued as a solution to curb depression.

It wasn’t until several years later, when he was about 18, that he began using methamphetamine. As somebody who describes himself as flamboyant and “open to people,” he accepted someone’s offer to try meth. He was hooked, and ready to try other ways to experience the high.  

“I’ve smoked it, snorted it and injected it,” Olson said. “It would last for a short period, and I’d have to go back and do it again.”

Recognizing he was on a dangerous path, in 2015, a court ordered Olson to complete an 18-month faith-based recovery program, Teen Challenge of the Dakotas in Brookings, S.D.

That’s where the 2013 Luverne High School graduate turned over a new leaf, and where he said he met God and learned how to address feelings - produced particularly by the loss of a family member - that he’d been suppressing with meth use.

“(Meth) numbed me,” he said matter-of-factly. “It made me not feel the emotion, and feeling the reality of actually losing somebody kind of sucks.”

Olson’s sobriety lasted two years before he was roped back in by drugs. Having recently found Christ, Olson claims - with the Holy Spirit working through him - to have admitted his wrongdoing to his probation agent, which landed him back in jail with two options: prison or drug court.

Life continued between November 2016 when he was admitted into drug court and Wednesday’s graduation. During that time, Olson considers himself grateful to have been accepted by the Luverne United Methodist Church congregation and Pastor Dorie Hall, where he serves as a youth pastor.

“I want to teach kids that life is challenging, but if you have God in your life and people in your life, you can achieve greatness,” he said.  

Olson recalls having the opportunity to openly share his testimony with the congregation about his drug abuse and how he found the Lord.

“You can go from darkness to light,” he said of one message he preaches using his personal history.

He plans to begin seminary classes next year.

During that same time, Olson found his soulmate in Lewis after his release from a self-imposed hiatus from women.

“They tell you not to be in a relationship before your first year of drug court,” he said. “So I didn’t talk to any females for a year, which was very challenging.”

The two met on social app, Tinder, and hit it off. Because of his passion for youth, Olson also created a relationship with Lewis’ three adopted children, which he already claims as his own.

“We have three boys,” he said. “One set of twins and a 3-year-old that loves to make my life crazy.”

Now that Olson’s life is on the up and up, he’s able to reflect on what has been integral to getting him to where he is today.

He said honesty - with himself and staff - along with setting and abiding by a strict daily schedule, and his supporters, were all necessary to his successful completion of his 686-day drug court term.

He also gives a lot of credit to his boss, Jordan, at Big Top Tent Rentals in Luverne for allowing him the flexibility to fulfill his drug court commitment. He’s looking forward to getting his felony charge expunged in two years so that he travel to find his family in India.

His accomplishment is reason to celebrate, but considers his journey far from complete.

“My journey will be over when I am at peace with God,” he said. “When you have been buried - and when you've been sober until you’re buried - that’s an accomplishment. It’s a bumpy road, but it’s a more rewarding road than being a non-productive member of a society - hiding through a window, being on drugs and alcohol and submitting yourself to fear.”