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A New Heart - The Story of Shawna Forrest
By Dave Franco

Shawna Forrest felt lucky, but that was about to change.

The eighteen-year-old had just driven her car off a cliff and a large tree had cushioned her landing. When the paramedics took her to the hospital, the staff remarked how fortunate she was. It wasn’t until the doctor entered her room with test results that she went from relief to grief. “You’re pregnant,” the doctor said.

Shawna was in a painful marriage with a man she barely knew and liked even less. Pregnant was the last thing she wanted to hear. Then the doctor told her that her body was in no condition to take a pregnancy to term due to a previous miscarriage. “You won’t make it——neither will the baby. It’s too dangerous, Mrs. Forrest. Have an abortion,” said the doctor.

Suddenly, she wanted that baby intensely. She had no religious background to be so morally certain, yet something inside of her told her that she needed to see this through. She cried out to God.

He replied.

God showed her an image of her baby daughter and said, “Trust me.”

Sloane Forrest, the very baby girl who had resided in Shawna’s consciousness was born in 1989 to Shawna, Danny and a truly volatile home. Eighteen months later, Shawna was a single mom after Danny was arrested for trying to strangle her to death. He fled to California and, after being caught embezzling from the company where he was working, he received a 10-year prison sentence.

“When he was released from prison, he made his way to the center of the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Years later, with the end of his sentence fast approaching, Danny sent letters to his now adolescent daughter, asking her to have a relationship with him. Sloane gave her answer by never answering him at all.

When he was released from prison, he made his way to the center of the Golden Gate Bridge and, to kill the pain, jumped to his death. In a letter he left for Sloane, he blamed her for his decision. It hurt her just as much as he had hoped. But it was just the beginning.

That same calendar year, thirteen of Sloane’s friends died from a variety of causes: overdoses, suicides, car accidents. She attended a total of fourteen funerals, including her boyfriend’s who died on his way to her house when he was hit by a car. That was when Sloane, an extraordinary and beautiful dancer with a face as if from a baroque painting, began to change. She withdrew. Her eyes grew sullen. Her demeanor went dark. Then she went missing. She was 13 years old.

Shawna was in a living hell. Her mind raced mercilessly with images of Sloane dying in horrific ways.

Sloane returned days later, but would leave again and again and again. Finally, there was no more mistaking what was going on. A large hoodie shrouded her face. Extra large sunglasses covered as much skin as possible. What skin could be seen was covered in scabs and open sores that she was frantically and relentlessly scratching. The Sloane Shawna knew was no more. Crystal meth had taken over her body and mind.

“a little girl in a harsh, dirty, dark world.”

Shawna begged her to stay, but that was like telling her to stop scratching. Sloane was going to leave and nothing Shawna would do could stop her. Every time she went missing, so did valuable items from the house. Shawna tried to lock her inside the house, resorting to bolting doors, sealing windows and sleeping on the couch that she pushed against the front door. She even slept with all of her jewelry under her pillow——but to no avail. Sloane always escaped and always stole something to sell on the streets. Family heirlooms were gone, never to return.

Moment by moment, Shawna was waging a losing battle against fear and seeing Sloane did nothing to bring relief. Her condition was devastating to look at. She was emaciated and her demeanor was hard and non-responsive.

What she couldn’t see was how Sloane was changing at her core. She was becoming a master manipulator, using her brilliance, cunning and looks to control her surroundings and get what she wanted from others. She was a little girl in a harsh, dirty, dark world where generosity was not the norm. She had to be able to play everyone she came in contact with.

Desperate, Shawna went on a hunt to find Sloane and bring her home once and for all. Spotting her, she grabbed Sloane and threw her into the car. Sloane waited for the car to slow down so she could jump out; Shawna ran stop signs and red lights all the way home.

Shawna screamed through her tears, “C’mon, Sloane, let’s go get a couple of bags of heroin and let’s both overdose and end this thing right now because I’m not going to live this way any longer!” Shawna’s voice was so loud and full of terror that it seemed to nearly split the seams of the car roof.

Sloane’s only reaction was to continue to look with glass-eyed determination for her chance to bust open the door. Arriving home, the pattern repeated itself. She was gone as soon as Shawna turned her back.

Her whereabouts? Unknown. What she did during the days and nights? Unknown. Where she was getting her money? Unknown. How she was being treated? Unknown. The only thing that Shawna knew for sure about her little girl’s life was who she was living with: prostitutes and drug addicts.

Shawna cried out to the God her friends had encouraged her to receive. She invited Christ into her heart and felt the hope of new life in Jesus.

Shortly thereafter, a new obstacle confronted Shawna. Her hips, knees, ankles and feet began to hurt with all the sensitivity of touching a burning iron. Barely able to make it off an airplane after a long trip, she checked herself into a nearby hospital. Lupus was the diagnosis. She had three years to live.

“The cravings were like ants crawling under her skin.”

Shawna was home alone in silence. She had not seen Sloane in nine months, was no longer able to work, and was now facing her own death. She prayed for strength to face another day and maybe some good news about Sloane. And on this particular day, three years after Sloane first left home, she got some. Sloane called to say that she had been beaten up one too many times. She wanted to come home. And stay.

“Under one condition,” Shawna told her. “You have to turn yourself into the police for stealing $500 out of my account.”

What seemed like a harsh welcome home was actually her way of drying Sloane out. Time in juvenile hall could keep her off the streets and away from meth.

When Sloane came home from her incarceration thirty days later, the cravings were eating at her like ants crawling under her skin.

Through gritted teeth, she endured their full-fledged attack.

When she went to visit her boyfriend with whom she had not yet broken off a relationship, it was playing with fire. He didn’t like seeing her sober, so he forcibly injected her with an overdose-amount of heroin. In a drug-induced fit of rage, she cried out to God——the same God that Shawna told her about every time she saw her. She spoke His Name and asked Him to release her from the heroin and the lure of meth.

Most addicts will tell you, the desire doesn’t just go away. But for Sloane, it did. The cravings, the desire, the appeal was gone in an instant.

A few months later, Shawna and Sloane moved from their home in Arizona to L.A. to pursue a dancing career for Sloane. Shawna knew she needed to keep her busy.

But busy doesn’t even get close to describing what came next.

“A beautiful girl dancing on her grave.”

Sloane quickly got her dance legs and body back and took the L.A. dance scene by storm. She took class. She choreographed. She auditioned. She performed. She traveled on weekends to choreograph in Las Vegas. The moment she got home, she raced off to take class again. She was dating celebrities, going to the Emmmy Awards, Grammy Awards, industry parties and constantly looking for the next opportunity to meet someone of influence. The impulse to control her own world was still coursing through her veins. Meanwhile, she was nearing exhaustion. Audiences who watched her perform saw a beautiful girl dancing on her grave.

Shawna couldn’t take Sloane’s lifestyle. Sloane couldn’t take Shawna’s judgment. With Sloane now 18 and wanting to do life on her own, Shawna moved to San Diego.

One morning Sloane was looking out her window thinking about how far she’d come in such a short amount of time, when a sharp pain in her chest knocked her to the floor. It was the first of 22 heart attacks she would suffer over the next 18 months. The doctors confirmed the heart attacks, but they had no idea why she was having them.

She couldn’t get upset, sad, frustrated, move with any speed or lift anything of any weight——or she would have another heart attack. She would try to walk to school, but would have to leave an hour early to make the three-minute walk——stopping every few steps. She got depressed. She gained weight. Her rock-hard muscles went soft. In her time spent alone she wondered what would become of her, how would the rest of her life play out? Was she really relegated to sitting quietly and moving very little for the rest of her life?

The girl who did everything she wanted, got everything she wanted, and went everywhere she wanted, was out of ideas. Worse yet, she was out of control. She had nowhere to turn.

Shawna recognized the opportunity. She took her to the Rock.

“Like a truck backing through a store window.”

Sloane and the Rock were the perfect contrast: the pulsating and loud Rock service and the frail girl who could barely make it to her seat. But on this particular morning, it happened. The walls that Sloane had spent the last five years building around herself came crashing down like a truck backing through a store window. One could almost hear the shards fly across the auditorium.

There was only one thing she could say to the Holy Spirit as He penetrated her soul, only one thing she could even think. “God, I’m done. I can’t do it any more. I trust you,” she said over and over. “I trust you.”

Shawna watched in awe as her daughter transformed before her eyes. Her prayers were being answered as God lovingly tended to her daughter and brought her to Himself.

For Shawna, her daughter was finally home.

The circle had been completed. Sloane had entered the world by way of trust and was now exiting her life of pain and control in the same way.

Her body felt tingly the rest of the day. The next morning, she got up and knew everything was different. She began a walk to school that soon developed into a skip and then a run. She could breathe. Her heart didn’t hurt. It felt good, only better than good. Her heart felt like new.

And it was.

POSTSCRIPT: Today, Sloane is a pre-med student at San Diego City College. She has been accepted and will begin medical school at UCSD in December on academic scholarship maintaining a 4.0+ in all subjects. She has also been selected to address a conference on Global Awareness in London, one of only two U.S. students to do so. Her goal is to serve God by spending a year with Doctors Without Borders and joining Shawna on international missions trips. In September, Shawna will celebrate seven years since she was diagnosed with Lupus, exceeding her original prognosis by four years. She has never felt better.