Written By: Matthew Mangaran

The alarm on my phone goes off at 4:00am. I quietly roll out of bed so I don’t wake up my wife. I start getting ready. I pack the final items in my bag. Then I go to each of the kids’ rooms to gently kiss them on their forehead and say a quick prayer for protection while I’m away.  

This is something I’m all too familiar with after spending the last two years in a role that requires frequent travel, on top of the 11 years I spent in the Navy. This time, my bag isn’t a “sea bag” for a deployment, and it doesn’t include my work laptop or button-downs for a business trip. Instead, it’s filled with clothes suitable for the outdoors. 

I was getting ready to leave on a trip to the Flat Tops Wilderness in Colorado, thanks to American Warrior Association’s Soul Program intended for military veterans and first responders. I met Dandy, the Director of Programs for AWA, at a marriage conference earlier this year. He talked about their men’s retreat which focuses on getting into God’s Word while out in the mountains….away from the busyness of life. It also includes outdoor activities like horseback riding, hiking, fishing, etc. It sounded great, but I wasn’t quite sure if it would be something I’d want to do since I’ve already spent enough time away from my family due to traveling for work. 

It wasn’t until I received a phone call from Dandy a few months later, encouraging me to sign up that I seriously considered going. I brought it up with my wife, Clarissa, and she was actually excited for me to go and join other men who were seeking to hear God’s voice. So I called Dandy and booked my flight to Denver before she could change her mind! As much as I was going to miss my family as I prepared to travel, yet again, I knew this was going to be life-changing.

“You can’t miss us!”

When I arrived in Denver, I walked outside, and there was Dandy in a lifted, camouflage van. He was right; I couldn’t miss him. I met the three other men who I would embark on this journey with. We spent the four-hour drive getting to know a little bit about each other before finally arriving at the lodge. After an amazing smoked BBQ chicken dinner, we sat by the fire to talk about what was to come. The intent was to go “all in” and trust the process to become a “new creation, never before seen”. Each of us talked about why we decided to participate in this program, and each of us had our own stories and reasons. Maybe it was because we figured we wouldn’t see each other after this, or maybe it was because we really had nothing to lose, but we were open and honest with each other as we shared things that we probably wouldn’t normally share. That night, we knew that we were all meant to be there as we learned that one guy was searching for answers to an issue he was struggling with that three of us had previously dealt with and had overcome.

“Be still and know that I am God” – Psalm 46:10 

My reason for going was to be able to clear my mind from work and all of the demands of life in order to hear God’s voice and receive His guidance. Throughout that week, I was able to find spots where I could just be still and take in God’s beauty. 

Initially, I struggled; my mind kept bouncing between work and my family. Then, from the corner of my eye, I would see the sun begin to shine through an opening in the clouds and peek through the tree branches. In the distance, I could hear the water flowing through the creek and the birds chirping. Whether it was on a morning walk around the ranch, during a horseback ride, or when reaching the final destination of a long, grueling hike, I was constantly reminded that God made everything around me. It was, indeed, beautiful and peaceful.

During those moments of reflection, I asked God to have His way with me and exchange my thoughts for His. I thought about why I’ve allowed work to take more control over my life than it really should. I knew what my priorities were – or at least should be: God, wife, children, family, friends, work…  If I’m honest, the reality was that I spent most of my days at work, and my wife and children would get what little energy I had left over. Why was that?

In our house, I’m the financial provider. So, it is important that I work and do my job well, but when is enough enough? One thing that I struggled with earlier in our marriage was the fear of not having enough money to provide for my family. I felt like I overcame that battle by trusting God as the ultimate provider. The other thing I struggled with was thinking that my value and worth were based on my performance at work. I felt like I overcame that lie by understanding how God values me. 

Still, I would work extra hours in the office, go home, play with the kids, eat dinner, get the kids ready for bed, and then use whatever energy I had left to spend time with my wife, only to fall asleep while she talks to me. She hates that. Why was I prioritizing my work over my family? Don’t get me wrong; I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to lead and serve other people and shine His light in this dark world by genuinely caring for them. But was I putting more pressure on myself? We want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” not “Well done taking care of your team at work, but what about your wife and kids?”

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” – Romans 8:28

Despite my early struggles with money and performance, I never actually worked hard for the sake of performance marks or the desire for more money. Instead, I truly thought about the people around me and the mission. I figured that everything else would fall in place with regards to my performance evaluations. However, I learned that what we think we should get or deserve at our job may not necessarily be what God has planned for us. 

While I was in the Navy, I wanted to get assigned as an instructor pilot. However, I didn’t get selected despite my best efforts. Instead, I went to Whidbey Island Search and Rescue, which ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me….and my family! Our walk with Christ really took off. We met some lifelong friends. I worked with one of the best teams in the Navy (fact!) that made a strong impact in the community. And we added to our family of four with our son and youngest daughter. What started off as humbling news, ended with doors opening for good things to happen for me and my family. 

Additionally, after my final deployment, I was working on my transition out of the Navy and into the civilian sector. As excited as I was for the next chapter in our lives, I didn’t even have a job lined up as I packed up my family of six and whatever we could fit in our van, and headed down the Pacific Coast to San Diego to visit my brother.  When we arrived, my brother was away for work, so we decided to stay and wait for him instead of continuing to Texas to attend a job conference. Even though I needed to get a new job, and soon, I still trusted God that waiting for my brother was the right decision. 

Because we were in San Diego, I ended up going to a smaller job conference where I met the person who would eventually become my manager. What could have been a stressful and scary time in our life ended up being a time for our family to connect and where we got to see God’s bigger and better plan for us.

Getting hired by this company became part of my testimony about fully trusting and surrendering to God. Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t long before my work started to consume me, and I began to doubt whether or not I should’ve taken this job in the first place. At the same time, however, I thought about the relationships I’ve made with the people in my team and the positive impact I’ve made in their lives.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” – Romans 12:2a

The question in a man’s heart is, “Am I able? Am I good enough?” 

My goal wasn’t to gain praise and recognition, and how I did my job was not dictated by performance evaluations. However, I did feel it was my responsibility to work as hard as I possibly could to protect my team from the obstacles that get thrown at us. I was afraid that if I didn’t work as hard as I did my team wouldn’t like or respect me. I was afraid that they would think I wasn’t good enough to them, and that I would let them down. I started to doubt my abilities to lead and take care of my team. I was working so hard to earn the role that God had already given me.  

At home, I felt like I wasn’t a good enough husband and father because of my time away from the family. I would stretch myself thin to try to please everyone. Burnout was inevitable, if not already in progress. But, as God would have it, I went on this retreat at just the right time.

On our last night, as we sat around the fire under the stars, we each broke bread with Dandy to remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us. During that time together, Dandy reminded me that while Jesus was hanging on the cross, unrecognizable because of the beating he received, He recognized me and my abilities and thought about the wonderful life He planned for me. 

The thoughts about not being a good enough husband, father, or leader were lies. The truth is that I am Matthew, “a gift from God,” perfectly made in His eyes. I am a child of the one true King, raised to be a man of God. I am a loving husband, a good father, and a man of honor and loyalty, respected by those I am entrusted to lead, mentor, guide and serve as I strive to lead like Jesus with humility and selflessness. I am thankful for what God has done in my life. I am thankful for the victory He has planned in my life. I am a light in this world. I am His, and that’s more than enough.

Written By: Matthew Mangaran

For more information on American Warrior Association, check out www.americanwarriorassociation.org

For more information on our testimony, check out our YouTube channel, “Unshakable Love