A journey out of the darkness into the light

Jennifer Sands writes about the loss of her husband on 9/11 & finding her way to the Lord


Jim Sands could not take the commute from Brick Township in Ocean County to lower Manhattan anymore.

Jim and Jennifer Sands in happier times, on their boat on the Metedeconk River. Jim Sands worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. He died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Jennifer has written three books about the spiritual journey she has taken since she lost her husband. Jim and Jennifer Sands in happier times, on their boat on the Metedeconk River. Jim Sands worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. He died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Jennifer has written three books about the spiritual journey she has taken since she lost her husband. He had vertigo working on the 103rd floor of Tower One in the World Trade Center. His office often swayed in the wind up in the clouds. But he planned to stick it out at his job at Cantor Fitzgerald until the end of 2001.

And every day, when he kissed his wife Jennifer goodbye, he made sure to tell her that he loved her. And Jennifer prayed every day to God to keep Jim safe at work and to bring him home at the end of the day.

“When he left early in the morning, I would pray for God to keep him safe. ‘Please, God, get Jim to work and bring him home to me, because he’s everything in the world to me,’ ” Sands said in a recent interview.

Jennifer had worked the evening shift at her job as a pharmacist at the Briarmill Pharmacy in Brick Township on Sept. 10, 2001. She called the pharmacy at about 9 a.m. on Sept. 11 to check in and to make sure there were no problems from the previous day. Her boss yelled into the phone.

“What floor does Jim work on? What floor does Jim work on?”

Sands turned on the television.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw,” she said.

Sands frantically called Cantor Fitzgerald. The phone rang and rang. No one answered. She tried her husband’s cell phone, over and over. There was no answer.

Her first reaction was horror. Her second was denial.

“I’m sure he’s OK,” she told herself. “I prayed to God this morning. God would never let anything happen to him.”

But Jim Sands, 38, her much-loved husband of five years, never came home that night.

“I just went into shock,” she said. “A lot of the details I still don’t remember. I knew in my heart when that tower fell, that was the end. He would complain that it took him 15 minutes to get from the ground floor to the 103rd. And that was with an elevator.”

And Jennifer Sands’ long journey was about to begin. A journey through intense anger and fear, then into the light of the Lord. But it was not easy.

Sands, 45, is the author of a trilogy of books dealing with her spiritual transformation after Sept. 11, 2001.

First came “A Tempered Faith,” followed by “A Teachable Faith,” and her latest release, “A Treasured Faith.” She will be signing copies of her latest book from 1 to 3 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Brick Plaza, Brick Township.

Sands does not blame God for the horror of that day.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “He is sovereign. He can stop anything. What caused this was a terrorist group. Mankind’s sinful nature is what caused it. God allowed it.”

But that belief did not come easily. It took her some time to stop blaming God for Jim’s death. She stopped praying. She cursed God on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.

“And so it went, night after night — screaming matches with my Creator after my family left me alone. Profanities that would make a sailor blush. Anger that began to burn a hole inside my heart,” Sands wrote in the chapter titled “God, How Dare You!” in “A Tempered Faith.”

The days after her husband’s death were a blur.

“An average day was just continual tears,” she said. “Family and friends were in and out of my house. All I knew is that I did not want to live the rest of my life without Jim. The support I had was invaluable, but I was on autopilot, walking through my house in a fog.”

But she realized, even through her anger and grief, that if she was angry with God, it was proof that she still believed in him, Sands said.

“That was a huge revelation,” Sands said.

She eventually came to a “fork in the road of faith.”

“You can turn away from God or go toward him,” she said. “I was furious, but I still believed in him.”

The young couple had a mutual love of scuba diving. They were not travelers, but often went to the Grand Cayman Islands in the British West Indies to dive. Jim was an avid underwater photographer.

After Jim died, Jennifer sent some of his photographs to Rodale’s Scuba Diving magazine, Jim’s favorite magazine. She expected to get a rejection letter.

Instead, editor David Taylor wrote her back and asked if he could write a story to go along with the photos. “An American Hero” appeared in the magazine’s March 2002 issue.

In July 2002, Jennifer went back to Grand Cayman. Some friends had chipped in for a bronze plaque to be placed underwater on one of Jim’s favorite coral reefs. The government eventually gave permission for that location to be called the Jim Sands Memorial Reef.

“That dive, that day, that was the turning point,” she said. “It was when I realized I really can move forward. I know this sounds ridiculous. It was His tender mercies. Underwater, things happened that I really can’t explain. He just gave me that peace and reassurance that everything was going to be OK. I surfaced a different person than when I submerged. I surfaced full of peace and hope.”

Unsure of how to put her newborn faith to work, she asked God for guidance.

“I devoted my life to the Lord,” she said. “I totally surrendered. Total submission.”

Six weeks later, she got a call from Taylor. He had left the scuba magazine and started Olive Press, a new publishing company. He told Sands he wanted her to write a book about losing Jim. She was stunned.

“My plan was just to work in the Briarmill Pharmacy,” she said.

Her writing experience was limited, to say the least. She wrote a pharmaceutical column for the Greenbriar Times, a publication in a senior citizen community in Brick Township.

“That was it,” she said with a laugh. “That was my résumé. I had never been a writer. To have this fall in my life was an amazing experience.”

At first she told Taylor she could not do it. The memories were too painful.

“He said, ‘I think you need to pray about this,’ ” she said. “Four months later we had a full manuscript. Two months later we had books in stores.”

She cried as she wrote.

“It forced me to confront issues about my faith,” she said. “It was cathartic. It was cleansing.”

Sands said she was “spiritually blind” and “biblically illiterate” when she started to work on the book.

Raised a Roman Catholic, she had little knowledge of the Bible.

“For thirty-eight years of my life, I never opened a Bible nor did I have any interest in doing so,” she wrote in “A Treasured Faith.” “Before September 11, I had no heart for Jesus. No heart for Scripture. No heart for things eternal. I was living quite comfortably and I saw no necessity for what I called religious stuff.”

But she began to read a few minutes each day. The few minutes turned into an hour. She began to immerse herself in the Bible.

She joined her sister’s Baptist church.

“I used to call my sister the Jesus freak,” she said. “Now, I’m the Jesus freak.”

Sands’ faith was tested again in February 2007 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It some ways, it was like 9/11,” she said. “I remember saying, this can’t be happening.” But unlike 9/11, I did not have any anger or resentment at God. And I do not blame him for breast cancer.”

Sands had two surgeries and radiation treatments. She is grateful the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes. But if it had, God would be with her every step of the way, she said.

Jennifer Sands still works part time at the Briarmill Pharmacy. But her new life has given her a new career. In addition to being an author, Sands travels extensively throughout the United States and the world as a Christian speaker. She cannot imagine doing anything else.

“I have a special place in my heart for widows,” she said.

For more information, go to the website at www.jennifersands.com.