Samuel spent most of his childhood in Harker Heights, Texas, near the military post of Fort Hood. Growing up, his family went to church on Sundays, but he didn’t know the hope of Jesus in his personal life. Instead, fear and insecurities lived in his heart. At home, fear of losing his dad during the seven times he was deployed overseas weighed heavily upon him. At school, insecurity filled him as classmates incessantly bullied him into hiding. Isolated and alone, he spent much of middle school within the four seemingly safe walls of his room. When his mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 7th grade, the fear of losing the people he loved became overwhelming.

That’s when Samuel decided he couldn’t believe in God anymore.

“I just decided that I hated him. I hated God because he never answered my prayers…it felt like. I just couldn’t see why all this would happen.”

Believing that God was not good and loving, Sam decided it was easier not to believe in him at all. He built a façade of “nothing really matters” behind which he could hide all his fears and anxieties. When people tried to get close to him, he would push them away, pretending he didn’t really care for their nearness all the while aching inside, feeling like he was incapable of truly being loved. Most of his friends in high school he found online. With a screen already between them, he figured it wouldn’t hurt as much if they decided to walk away.

“The mind will create massive walls to hide from things that we’re afraid of or things that we don’t want to come to light.”

He was constantly lonely. With no one to share his hidden fears and loneliness, his anxiety and depression grew until they eventually developed into suicidal thoughts, which stayed sealed tight inside him all of high school.

At the start of college, he hoped for a fresh start in new friends and new experiences. Somehow, through classes, baseball games, and new friends, he found himself surrounded by Christians who talked to him about God and forgotten thoughts of the God he no longer believed in began to resurface in his mind. But the pain he was masking continued to worsen, and he coped with it by abusing alcohol and drugs. One night, after a long party, he drove home drunk and almost got in a few accidents. He woke up feeling like he had hit rock bottom.

“I woke up feeling the most ashamed I’ve ever felt in my life and decided I wanted to change.”

He asked a friend if he could start going to church with her, where he was met by the God he had rejected years before. He began to hear about how God draws near to us to love us and trades our sorrow for joy. Yet despite these hopeful messages, the walls he had built in his childhood continued to hold him captive to his pain and emotions. He wanted to embrace the love and life that Jesus offered, but his walls needed to crumble first.

He decided to begin going to a Christian counselor who took the truths of the Bible and showed him they were true for him. Counseling taught him that he had worth and that he could be loved and that God loved him completely and perfectly.

“That someone like me could even be loved…just blew my mind.”

The words of the Bible began to crack through his walls, seeping through and healing the hidden wounds with their truth, and spurring him to read through eight books in one month.

“I felt pure joy. I felt like I was finally free from all this pain that I was constantly shrouded by, and finally ready to push it off of myself and onto someone who wants to care for me.”

Samuel decided to pursue a lifelong relationship with the God who had rescued him from fear and death. He was baptized last summer as a proclamation of his newfound hope in Christ.

Today, he still struggles with depression and anxiety, but says “it’s so much easier with Him.” While his anxiety attacks continue to creep up on him, the nearness of God and the confidence that he is never alone are new sources of peace. He knows no walls can keep God away; he doesn’t need to fight his fears on his own anymore.

He has also found a genuine community of close friends through Redeemer who encourage him to exchange his fears for hope. Instead of choosing isolation, he can lean on them to remind him of the truth of Jesus’ enduring care for him.

Samuel is experiencing glimpses of God’s transforming work, making beauty from ashes, through the ways He is using his story to encourage others. He said there are people the Lord has placed in his life who have been able to open up about their stories after he shares his own.

Now, knowing that God has drawn near to him, Samuel is learning to not build walls to keep himself safe but to let the Lord be his refuge from all his fears.

“God is our refuge and strength,

an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam

and the mountains quake with their surging”