A Life Changed: Jen Sandoval

June 25, 2018

One of my first memories as a child is waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of my mother’s voice, filled with fear and pain. I leapt from bed and saw her crouched on the floor, holding her bloody head in her hands: her new husband stood over her, hitting her repeatedly in the head with a shotgun. Blood was splattered on the wall behind her. I never saw that man again. I was 4 years old.
Violence, anger and drug abuse became a theme in the years that followed. I often asked God if he was real (and if he was, why he disliked my family so much). During my teen years, I was repeatedly molested by a cousin, and held resentment for that against my mother for decades. I thought if she had been clear-headed she would have noticed my awkwardness and discomfort. I always vowed I would never turn out like my mother.
Throughout my school years I was a dedicated student, and participated in sports and clubs. I helped raise my two brothers, trying to shield them from the ugly childhood I’d witnessed; they were later removed from my mother’s care.
Around 12 years old I had my first real drink. By 17 I had experimented with several unhealthy behaviors, like cutting myself and various drugs. By age 20, I was jailed for marijuana sales after a police raid. Once on probation, I went full swing into using and selling methamphetamine. I leveraged my sexuality for my own monetary gain.
At 22, I found myself pregnant and homeless in the streets. I was at the end of my rope and reached out to family in LA County. The childbirth of my son, Jeremiah, brought near-death complications that kept me in the hospital until he was 3 months old. When I came home and held him for the first time, all he did was cry because he didn’t know my touch. Very soon after this, I went back to using methamphetamine and marijuana.
I checked myself and my son into a recovery home in Whittier. There I learned how to parent properly and started peeling away the rough layers of protection I’d built for defense. After the program, I found a career and success for the first time. My son was well provided for and my life finally contained purpose. Living a clean and sober life worked for a while by following the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The God I knew in those years was the “Higher Power” from the Big Book of AA, but still a distant figure to whom we prayed the Serenity Prayer in a circle holding hands.
Shortly after, my grandmother – my best friend – fell ill with cancer. I saw her take her final breaths and gave up on sobriety. My career started losing importance, and I started using drugs at work. Jailed 2 more times and fighting serious legal charges, I was forced to cash out my 401K prematurely to pay for a lawyer and bail. I was a complete disappointment to my family and had no real friends left. I was now carrying baggage that contained rape, neglect of my child, homelessness, and hopelessness – I had lost my will for life.
In 2015 I split with my long-term boyfriend, and decided to sow my wild oats. I began posting personal ads on multiple web sites for prostitution and selling drugs. I indulged in terrible and destructive behaviors, while maintaining an “invincible” state of mind. I dove into heavy drug sales and worked my way up, managing drug territories across different counties. In my mind, I was untouchable.
On October 25, 2015 while on a drug deal in Hawthorne, I was shot twice by a semiautomatic weapon – a Colt 45. I spent several months recovering in fear and in pain. Six months later, my boyfriend was killed in a car crash.
At this point God was the farthest reality I knew. For the next two months, I went absolutely crazy. I overdosed from a cocktail of drugs and continued surrounding myself with criminals – a category I was now in. I left my son at school late or at my father’s to fend for himself.
Finally, I was arrested – and felt strangely as if I could finally breathe. Faced again with heavy charges I sat in jail feeling the emotions I had suppressed for a long time leading up to this moment.
Slowly, I began attending bible studies that were offered and reading Christian inspirational books, including the Bible. Within a few weeks I was released on probation and began the search for a residential rehab with my child.
We entered Heritage House North, a county program for women with children. One Friday afternoon, the women of NorthEast of the Well came to pick us up for a bible study. I was still struggling with who God truly was in my life, but I went, and continued to show up to every opportunity they gave us. NorthEast of the Well offered what I so desperately needed: a sense of belonging and acceptance, showing me my place in life and faith. I was taught of a love I’d never known and I desired to learn more about this God.
I was baptized and joined a NorthEast discipleship group. Relationships were formed in the ministry and mending started within my family. Pastor Laura became a mentor (the motherly figure I longed for) and the women I met became my sisters.
The closer I grew to God, the clearer my eyes became and I felt strength building up in my faith.
Upon completion of my program I started volunteering at the NorthEast Anaheim gatherings but I wanted more – I knew I wanted to work for NorthEast of the Well. After many months of dedicated volunteering, sobriety and discipleship, I was offered a job with NorthEast to help manage their operations.  
Today I know Jesus Christ and I’m a new being: a child of God. I walk in faith and not in fear. My life has been renewed and I have the ability to be a strong caring mother, daughter, sister, and employee. God is amazing and I trust He is with me all the time, through my struggles and my triumphs.