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“My parents came to the United States before I was born to escape the civil war in El Salvador,” said Sam Cabrera. “From a very young age, I watched them work extremely hard to provide for our family. As they spent most of their time trying to restart in a new country, I found myself trying to earn God’s love on my own. I thought I had to work for God to save me, but that isn’t the case. It only drove me further from Him in my teens. I believed the lies that I was alone, and God didn’t love me.

“My loneliness turned into frustration and anger against my family, friends, and God. I was spending a ton of time at the church my parents raised me in, but I still felt unknown. When I was at church, I found myself resenting God. Outside of church, my defense mechanism against that emotional pain was to build up walls and avoid my emotions. I bottled up how I felt which eventually led to moments of outrage. Throughout high school, I was in over 20 violent fights with peers, a couple high-speed chases, and multiple near-arrest situations with law enforcement.

“My actions clearly represented that something was wrong in my heart, but my family would hide the reality of the situation and pretend that our lives were perfect. As a teenager living this lie, I just fell further from God and deeper into isolation. When I reflect on that period of my life, I am surprised I did not end up in jail or dead.

“After high school, the Lord revealed to me that I’d spent years exhausting myself trying to pretend I had my life together. The reality was that I just didn’t understand the true redeeming grace that God gives when we surrender control to Him. Until then, I’d been living and trying to do things my own way. I learned that I’d been living for the idol of myself and not for Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

“God showed me that no matter what I do to try to please Him, all of my efforts on my own will fall short. Only by accepting the truth that Christ died for me could I experience the joy of following Him. God opened my eyes to allow me to see that even when I turned to anger instead of Him, Christ still chose to love me enough to die for my sins (Romans 5: 8-10).

“In my early twenties, I spent several years studying God’s Word and had new eyes to see His character. God grew a passion in me for the local church, and I pursued a career in vocational ministry. But as a leader in the church, I struggled to submit my fear, anger, and bitterness to Christ. In secret, I brought sinful anger into my marriage through escalation and physical violence. Even though I knew and trusted Christ, I was so numb. I even found pride in my inability to feel emotions.

“When my pastoral job led me to Watermark’s Church Leaders Conference in Dallas, I had the opportunity to attend an open group at re:generation recovery on the Dallas campus. For the first time, I saw men who had overcome addictions and sin by openly confessing and practicing true repentance (Acts 3:19). This experience was transformative in my life. It had become so easy for me to hide my sins and struggles in darkness, but it was clearly not leading to anything good or of God.

“After my experience visiting Watermark, I started keeping up with the church digitally from Maryland. Through a lot of prayer and consideration, the Lord directed me to resign from my role in the church. During this time, I pursued reconciliation with my wife and learned how to be vulnerable with others to help heal from my past. With this new freedom and after a lot of prayer, we contemplated moving to Dallas to be near a healthy, biblical church. With a wife, two young kids, and hardly any money in our savings, we packed our bags and trusted God to provide for us in a new city. Within ten days of moving, I was offered a job on the Facilities Team at Watermark. I didn’t have any desire to work in a church again, but I trusted it was the Lord’s provision to surround me with faithful followers of Christ in my new city and workplace, so I accepted.

“Years later, it is so clear how God is kind to give me the eyes to see that even when I was avoiding my pain and allowing my sin to control me, Christ died for me. I am utterly helpless when I live life on my own (Romans 5:6). When I trust God, I see His consistency and His resilient love for me. His love pierces through any and every darkness, fear, loneliness, and anger. The joy and peace that God provides break through every wall I could ever put up. When I found my identity in Christ alone, I was able to find freedom from anger, reconciliation in my marriage, and a new life in Christ.”