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Larissa: ‘When I’m with God, I feel at peace’

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Larissa didn’t have a lot of consistency in her childhood home, and was often at the center of domestic violence and gang activity. “When my stepdad went to prison, he left me and my brother, and also three children—his kids—behind,” she said. “My mom was never around so I took care of them. They celebrated me on Mother’s Day. I grew up with a lot of anger and resentment toward me mom. I started acting out more and not listening.”

Larissa said she had been having sips of alcohol from family members since she was 5. She started smoking meth at 11. She was very protective of her siblings, which lead to fighting. Once while at a bus stop, Larissa overheard someone say he was going to beat up her older brother. “I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ I tried to burn his backpack, but I ended up setting him on fire,” she said. “He got third degree burns.”

The incident, which happened when Larissa was in junior high, landed her in trouble. She was on probation and sent to a continuation school in seventh grade. “It was basically a whole lot of people just like me,” she said. “After school we would smoke, drink, and try to get into fights.”

Larissa was in and out of juvenile hall. When she was 14, she got pregnant and moved with her daughter’s father to San Diego, even though she was supposed to be on house arrest. She ended up in a group home in Bakersfield where she had her daughter in August 2013.

“I was sober for two years,” she said. “I went to a continuation high school, and I was breastfeeding. My daughter was on site, and they’d call me when she was hungry. I started getting into fights though. I just couldn’t be around people. It would trigger such anxiety. It was that fight or flight mode all the time. I always wanted to fight.”

After failing drug tests and a fight with staff, Larissa daughter was taken. Larissa, then 17, went back to juvenile hall.  She fought hard for her daughter and got her back. But 10 months later, after a fight with staff at the home, Larissa was incarcerated again and her daughter went with her aunt.

Larissa started using again, until she met her son’s father. “He got me sober,” she said. “I was with him for six years. I got pregnant, and the night before the baby shower, the abuse started. It was around the same time he started using. There was constant fighting, and it just started getting worse and worse.”

One night, the couple was arguing in the car. Their son was in the back seat and Larissa was pregnant with their second. They ended up crashing and then fleeing. Larissa headed to a house where she thought her brother was, but instead of him coming out, five guys came out and shot at them.

“I got hit in the back,” she said. “I was panicking, yelling at (my son’s) dad to check the baby in the back. When we were able to check, we saw the bullet that hit me had gone through the trunk, through the back seat and into the driver’s seat. It didn’t go through the last layer of fabric in the seat—it didn’t even go through my skin—I just had a really big bruise.”

With her child unharmed in the back, and her unborn son OK too, Larissa had a realization. “That’s when I knew God was protecting us,” she said. “He was in the midst of my life. I started praying more and seeking him.”

After a couple tries, Larissa committed to the Lighthouse and ended things with her sons’ father. “I wanted the heart change,” she said. “The life I was leading was getting me nowhere. My family was disappointed in me. No one wanted to be around me.

“I realized that when I’m with God, I’m happy. I feel at peace. I feel loved. I was able to really surrender to the program.”

Larissa loves fellowshipping with the other women. “It’s like having sisters and best friends in one. We tell each other anything and everything, and we’re not judged for it. We’ll call each other out and we’ll pray for each other.”

Larissa, now 23, graduated on June 29. “I know now how God wants me to be, what he wants me to do,” she said. “Before anything, I have to go to him. I’ve lost a few people while I’ve been here, and that’s been hard on me. Before, I wouldn’t take deaths well at all. Here, I’ve been reading the word of God, and it’s helped me. Yes, I grieve and I mourn, but I’ve been at peace.”

Larissa has both of her sons, ages 3 and 4, and is still working on getting her 8-year-old daughter back. She’s been awarded housing, and is looking to pin down where she moves soon. She also hopes to intern at the Lighthouse. “It’s really just what the Lord wants me to do,” she said.

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