You Are Not Your Own

Roger & Michelle 2When you’re a Christian, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 says that your body doesn’t belong to you. Your life doesn’t belong to you. Jesus Christ bought and paid for you, and now you belong to him. The Lord owns you. Therefore, the way you live your life matters. You decided to live your life the way the Lord wants you to.

Then in chapter seven we discover that a wife does not have the right over her own body. In the same way, a husband does not have the right over his own body. In other words, you are not your own. You belong to Christ, who owns you. And if you’re married, you are not your own, you belong to your spouse, who owns you. Therefore, you might want to consider your partner’s preferences when trying to make lifestyle decisions.

I understand that this flies in the face of what the secular culture might be telling you. The message from your friends, your therapist, and the media may be more like, “Do your own thing. Who cares about what your partner says. Be your own person. Nobody owns you. If she doesn’t like it, so what. If he doesn’t like it, do it anyway. Be your own boss. You own yourself.” That’s what a lot of voices might be telling you, but they’re wrong . . . Every one of them. Your church might be telling you something different, too.

Before you click away from this blog, or decide that this concept is so outdated you’re going to forget it and live the way you want to, please keep in mind that this is the Word of the Lord. Life works better this way and marriage works better this way. But also, the harshness of being owned by someone is mitigated by the fact that ownership in marriage is mutual. You own each other. It’s not a one-way street; it works both ways.

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When the apostle Paul uses the word “body” in 1 Corinthians 7:4, there are three ways to understand his meaning.

The literal way to read the verse is that it’s talking about your physical body being owned by your spouse. In a literal sense, it’s saying that your partner has the authority to make decisions that affect your body, because your body belongs to your spouse. Interestingly, this is what a Medical Power of Attorney establishes. In some states, it’s called a Power of Attorney for Healthcare.

My wife and I have both a Durable Power of Attorney (financial/business authority) and a Medical Power of Attorney (medical/healthcare authority). You might consider preparing similar documents, but before you do, you need to make sure you have a relationship and a reputation of complete trust in each other.

A second way to understand “body” in this verse is to see it as a pronoun. It can be interpreted to mean the self. A wife doesn’t have authority over herself, nor does a husband have authority over himself. Biblical scholars point out that Paul sometimes uses “body” and “flesh” as if they were pronouns referring to the self.

And a third way to understand body in 1 Corinthians 7 is as a metaphor for life. When I committed myself to my wife in marriage, I transferred ownership of my body, myself, and my entire life to her. When she married me, she made the same commitment.

That’s why marriage can be scary. That’s why the decision to marry shouldn’t be made in a hurry, or before knowing each other pretty well.

The fact that your spouse owns you doesn’t mean he or she makes all the decisions. It doesn’t mean your mate can boss you around, bark out orders, or issue commands. It doesn’t give your partner permission to abuse you or take advantage of you, and it doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for yourself.

What it does mean is that you are accountable to each other. It means you are aware of each other’s feelings, desires, and preferences, and you choose to honor one another with your body, your decisions, and your lifestyle.

While driving to a restaurant one night, I asked my wife what she thought about the biblical principle of mutual ownership. Her response surprised me, but I really like what she had to say.

“It’s like Jesus’s parable about the Pearl of Great Price,” she told me. “The pearl was expensive. It cost the guy everything he had. But he was happy, because that pearl was precious to him.”

When we become a follower of Jesus, we count the cost and are willing to give up everything in order to follow Him. He is Lord, and His will is really what we want more than anything else.

In the same way, marriage costs everything we have. But what we gain is precious.

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What Mutual Submission Looks Like

couple-1030744_1920Husbands are called to submit to their wives just as certainly as wives are called to submit to their husbands. What might this look like in a marriage?

There are many ways this can be implemented. One way is the impact it has on the decision-making process. For example, some couples take turns making decisions. Others make every decision together, talking it out until they agree on what to do. One method is to have the partner who is more knowledgeable in that area make the decision. Another possibility would be for the partner who feels more passionate on that issue to decide. My wife and I have used every one of these methods. The key is to build and maintain unity in the marriage, to honor one another, and foster equality and mutuality.

Bible and TeacupThis is one of the take-aways of Ephesians 5:21, where the apostle writes, “Submit to one another in reverence for Christ.” It seems to me that “in reverence for Christ” is a reference to the Imago Dei, the Image of God in both husband and wife. We are to submit to each other and honor each other because both husband and wife are made in the Image of God.

Another way mutual submission might show up in marriage is the way you balance two careers. We discovered early on that a wife’s career is just as important as a husband’s. We also realized that it’s sometimes difficult for both to get good jobs in the same area at the same time. Because of this, my wife and I have taken turns making professional sacrifices in order to further the other’s career.

A few years ago, I was pastoring a good church when my wife had an opportunity to join the faculty at a university that was a bit too far to commute. After discussing it, praying about it, and thinking it through, I decided to resign from the ministry position in order for her to take the teaching job. A lot of people criticized me for doing that, because they believed the husband and his career mattered, and the wife and her interests should always be subservient or marginalized. A few months after we moved, the Lord opened the doors to another ministry opportunity for me. Linda found fulfillment in her career, and so did I.

Ten years later, I had a chance to go into the Army as an Active Duty Chaplain. Knowing how much that meant to me, Linda willingly resigned from the teaching position that she loved, in order to facilitate my dream of being a military chaplain. It just so happened, that my first duty station was near a university that had a PhD program in her field. She applied and was accepted.

As she was completing her degree, she got a new job that wouldn’t have been possible had she not completed the doctorate. Again, one of us submitted so the other could pursue a career opportunity. Every time we did that, it worked out to the benefit of the one who was making the sacrifice, and we were both able to pursue our dreams.

If you want to read more about this, take a look at WisdomBuilt Biblical Principles of Marriage.

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The Annual Newsletter

Annual Newsletters: You’ve seen them, so you know the format. A recap of what happened during the year. Pictures that coincide with the stories. Almost always, the newsletter focuses on the good and fun events that happened during the year: the vacation, the promotion, the positives. We get them from friends and relatives every year, usually during the month of December. You get them too. You probably even sent a few.

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But what do you do when only bad happens during the year? Do you still send out that festive, upbeat newsletter? This happened to us a few years ago. Right after Thanksgiving, my wife asked, “Are you doing a newsletter this year?”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll tell all our friends what a crummy year we had.”

When we recounted all the painful experiences and disappointments that happened during the year, we started laughing. That year, my wife gave up a job she really loved in order to be with me when the Army transferred me to a different part of the country. While there, she was diagnosed with cancer and had multiple surgeries. As she was recovering and going through chemotherapy, the Army sent me overseas, so I couldn’t even be with her. That same year, I had an evil boss who was trying to destroy my career. One of our sons was unemployed, and our other two sons were struggling with personal issues. Bad news after bad news piled on top of us, and it seemed there was no end.

We have a pretty good idea how Job felt when he experienced horrible losses back to back to back, one after another. No wonder he groaned and grumbled and grieved. No wonder his wife suggested that he simply curse God and die. When life gets too painful and it seems there’s no end to the suffering and bad news, there’s not much you can do. We understand, because it happened to us.

But Job didn’t turn his back on God. He didn’t lose his faith. He didn’t curse. And he didn’t end his life. In fact, Job 1:22 indicates that in all his suffering, he didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t end his life, he didn’t sin, and he didn’t blame God.

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In our worst year ever, we adopted similar goals. We wanted to keep our eyes on Jesus and stay faithful in every way. When the world would advise us to give up, curse God, and die, we refused. And by the end of the year, even though we hadn’t yet seen the light at the end of the tunnel in those dreadful situations, we managed to laugh together.

James 1:2-4 reminds us to remain joyful even when facing many kinds of trials, knowing that the testing of our faith produces character, perseverance, and strength. 1 Peter 4:12-13 adds that we shouldn’t even be surprised when life gets ugly, as if something strange were happening. Instead, we can continue to be joyful, knowing that our Lord suffered too, keeping in mind that if we are faithful during the tough days, the Glory of the Lord will eventually be revealed in us.

Job knew this a long time ago, which is why he could proclaim, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end, He will stand.” And then he adds, “And I will see Him with my own eyes.”

The same is true for you, my friend. Do your best to remain joyful and faithful while you’re struggling, and you will see the glory of the Lord, because your Redeemer lives.

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The Old Chevy

1When we drove up to the historic motel on Route 66, an old Chevy parked out front caught our eye. It had to be more than sixty-five years old, and though the paint was faded, worn-off, and rust-eaten the car still exuded a certain charm and beauty. A couple of the tires were flat and one window was permanently open. Yet, it had a stately dignity that spoke of a time when it ruled the road.

Once upon a time, this automobile was the lifeline for an entire family. Dad drove it to work; Mom took it shopping. Weekends were for family outings, and Sundays for going to Church. Each summer she took her family to a far-off destination, and special occasions saw her at family get-togethers. The kids learned to drive behind that huge steering wheel, and longed for the day they might get a car of their own: something new, shiny, and fast, with the latest technology.

But the old Chevy had long ago been discarded. Removed to the junkyard, where it sat for a decade: unwanted, untended, and ignored. Just taking up space.

Sometimes we look at people that way. We have no time for the elderly, no interest in what they have to offer or what they’ve accomplished. They had their day in the sun; now it’s our turn. We look at people of different ethnicities similarly. We too easily disregard their importance, their feelings, their dreams and ambitions, and what they can contribute to the community or the church. We treat children as though they were worth less than adults, and teens as if they should be banished to a remote island.

The Bible, on the other hand, tells us to honor people, value them, and care for them. To look for the beauty and the charm that are still there in every human being. Romans 12:10, for example, says to honor and give preference to one another.

James 1:27 reminds us that “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction.” In other words, we’re supposed to honor those in society who are helpless or in less fortunate circumstances.

The writer of Job adds to this discussion by recognizing the dignity of the common person and by identifying with the hireling and the slave. “Do not mortals have hard service on earth? Are not their days like those of hired laborers? Like a slave longing for the evening shadows, or a hired laborer waiting to be paid?”

In context, Job is saying there’s no difference between the rich and the poor, the master and the slave, when it comes to how hard life can be. We all want rest at the end of the day, we all want a better life for our family, we all have hopes and dreams, we all need love and friendship, and we all crave acceptance and respect.

The apostle Paul summarizes in Philippians chapter two, where he simply says we are to value others above ourselves.

The woman who owned the roadside hotel told us that a lot of her customers express an interest in old cars and the way life used to be on Route 66. So, she called a friend who had a junkyard, and asked if there was an old car she could buy. Her friend gave her the Chevy and brought it to her motel, where it has attracted attention and sparked conversation among people from all over the country and all around the world who see the car while driving by.

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Bronze Wisdom

First Breath (2)While visiting friends and family in San Diego, my wife and I decided to spend an afternoon at Seaport Village, one of our favorite places. After lunch, we stepped into the Wyland Gallery and saw the sculpture of a humpback whale nudging her newborn to the surface for its first breath, and we couldn’t help but stop, stand, and stare. It’s a breathtaking work of art, designed to show the beauty, compassion, and wisdom of a mother as she instinctively helps her baby take that first breath of life-giving fresh air.

We’ve seen humpback whales bubble-net feeding, emerging from under water, up, into the air, to catch herring in their mouths. After that experience, we read about these school-bus-size behemoths, amazed at the wonderful work of the Lord in His creation. But to see the tenderness of this act of the loving mother caring for her young was overwhelming. And Wyland’s artisanship is impressive.

The bronze sculpture of the whale and her infant reminds me of a story in First Kings chapter seven, where Solomon brought in a skilled craftsman to create bronze decorations for the temple. The scripture describes the items Huram fashioned. There were two massive pillars, interwoven chains, pomegranates, and lilies. He made an ocean, encircled by gourdes and resting on twelve bulls. Next, he crafted ten movable stands that were adorned with lions, bulls, and cherubim. He finished his work with basins, pots, shovels, and sprinkling bowls, all out of cast metal.

But what really caught my attention was the word “wisdom” in 1 Kings 7:14. The artist was skilled, knowledgeable, and had great insight. But wisdom? That’s not what I expected to see in the description of the craftsman at work.

When I asked my wife about it, she mentioned that a good artist needs wisdom, not only to know how to work with the materials at hand, but to convey meaning to others. It’s this type of wisdom that God had given to Huram as he built the bronze artifacts for the temple of the Lord. His artistic ability was a gift from God, further developed and refined by study, practice, and hard work, and offered back to the Lord as an act of worship.

First Corinthians 12:8 says wisdom is one of the Gifts of the Spirit. We need this gift, not only in the Church, but in our homes, our families, and our careers. Wisdom can help us handle tough situations. It will provide guidance when we’re facing temptation, and insight for those difficult decisions that seem to come up too often. We need wisdom for knowing how to share Christ with our friends, how to pray for someone in need, and how best to answer questions from our children. Sometimes, a word of wisdom spoken at just the right time, can provide guidance for our church leaders or even the entire congregation.

If the Lord gives wisdom to a mother whale so she can safely guide her calf, and if He imparts wisdom to an artist or a craftsman in bronze, then we can be confident He will provide the wisdom and guidance we need for the circumstances, challenges, and opportunities in our lives.

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Being Spiritual Together

church-4565590_1920Who you are as a couple can be infinitely more beautiful and wonderful when you are spiritual together. Every aspect of your relationship will be better. Your spirituality can include Bible reading, singing praise songs and hymns, praying, and going to church. Some couples fast, memorize Bible verses, and talk about the beauty in the world and the universe. There are many ways to pursue and develop spiritually. The important thing is to make a plan, and that you do it together.

When my wife and I were visiting some friends, the husband asked If I wanted to go to the grocery store with him to pick up a few items, so I did. He and his wife were relatively new Christians so in the car, I asked if he and his wife prayed together.

“No. We did that for a while, but we don’t anymore.”

“Why? What happened?”

“I got tired of her correcting my grammar when I’m talking to the Lord.”

He had a point. Praying or being spiritual together is hard enough. Instead of adding to the difficulty, you need to make it a safe experience by being supportive and accepting. The Lord understands your weaknesses and shortcomings, and he’s big enough to tolerate bad grammar.

I know some couples who correct each other’s theology when they’re praying together. Don’t do that. There may be other appropriate times to talk about theology, but not while you’re praying. God won’t send a lightning bolt if you accidentally say something wrong or misquote the scripture in your prayer. What’s important is that you’re praying together.

There are some cool benefits to being spiritual. You develop a sensitivity for one another. You’re more in sync mentally and emotionally. You’re stronger psychologically, and better able to handle life’s challenges and obstacles. You start knowing each other in a more comprehensive and more intimate way. Plus, you come to a deeper sense of unity with the Lord and with your spouse. Unity invites the presence of God, and ignites the power of God in your home.

You’ll also discover a greater inner security, joy, and fulfillment in your life. Your sex life will be better, and you’ll know first-hand what the apostle meant when he wrote in Philippians 4:7, the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Accompanying these discoveries will be an inner transformation of character, a connection with the God of the universe, and an ability to overcome temptations and personal weaknesses.

In summary, by growing spiritually, you are able to bring your best self to your mate. That is a priceless gift. And that’s when marriage truly becomes heaven on earth.

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The Glue that Holds a Marriage Together

Couples who are active in their spiritual life together have a much higher rate of marital success. The opposite is also true. Couples who don’t practice their faith together tend to fall apart when life gets tough or when there are sexual temptations. Pursuing faith together, and maintaining a spiritual focus, are crucial to growing a strong, close marriage.

glue-306757_1280For this reason, Kay Arthur teaches that a relationship with Christ is the glue that can bond a husband and wife together for life, the secret that can hold a marriage together.

Genesis 2:24 says when a man and a woman marry, they become one flesh. The emphasis is on physical intimacy or oneness. However, the unity the Lord wants couples to experience extends far beyond the physical dimension of the relationship. It includes intellectual and spiritual unity as well.

Humans are three-fold beings. We are physical, intellectual, and spiritual, and the Lord designed us to remain active in all three ways throughout our lives. To omit any one of these dimensions is to neglect a third of what life is all about. Some couples leave out two aspects of humanness in their marriage, focusing only on sex, disregarding the importance of the mind and the spirit.

When we do this, we’re limiting their relationship to only one-third of our potential for intimacy, meaning, and happiness together. We’re simply too shallow as a couple, and our marriage is headed for troubled waters, certain to crash against the rocks or run aground.

Early in our marriage, at a time when my wife and I were really busy, with three kids at home, finances that were really tight, and life was stressful, we didn’t know the connection between spirituality and happiness in marriage. What we did know was that because of our circumstances, we got out of the habit of reading our Bibles, praying together, and taking time to worship together. We were totally unaware of the invisible toll it was taking.

We were snippy with each other, which wasn’t usually the case. We didn’t have much patience. And, I was facing some strong sexual temptations. In the middle of this chapter of our lives, Linda said to me one day, “You know, we haven’t prayed together or done family devotions in several weeks. I wonder if that’s part of why we’re struggling.”

She was right. Almost as soon as we reinstated our spiritual disciplines, a sense of unity was restored, we got along better, and the other circumstances were much easier to handle.

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Newsletter

I started writing a monthly newsletter. It typically discusses my writing projects, plus a few personal notes. But I certainly don’t want to pester anyone. So, if you’re interested in taking a look at the newsletter, please sign up for it by clicking on this sign up button.

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If after getting one or two of the newsletters you decide they’re not interesting, or you just don’t want to receive them anymore, simply unsubscribe. That’s all it takes. On the other hand, you’re always welcome to share my newsletter, articles, or blog posts with your friends.

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Words Can Inspire or Deflate

It’s important that husband and wife talk together regularly. That’s how you grow a good relationship. But how you talk to each other will make or break your marriage, because words are powerful.

Too often, people are careless with their words, giving no thought to what they’re doing to their mate. Or worse, some are intentionally cruel with their words, actually trying to hurt, damage, or destroy the one they’re supposed to love.

Words can inspire or deflate the person you’re talking with. Imagine the impact of hearing your husband or wife telling you every day, “You are wonderful. You’re good-looking. You’re smart. You can do anything you put your mind to.” Now, imagine what happens if instead, what you hear every day is, “You’re dumb. You’ll never amount to much. You can’t do anything right.”

When our kids were young, we started telling them, “You are talented and creative.” I don’t know how many zillion times they heard it, but we told them pretty often. I’m pretty sure they believed it then, and I think they still do. There’s a certain sense of people becoming what they believe. Therefore, it’s important that we give the right messages.

Words Have the Power of Life and Death

Words can kill or heal. Every time you insult, name-call, or say something derogatory to your partner, you are bringing illness or death. It’s like your words are a thermostat or volume control. By speaking positives, encouragement, and inspiration, you’re turning up hope, confidence, health, and life. But by speaking negatives, discouragement, and insults, you’re turning up despair, stress, sickness, and death.

The ramifications are far-reaching, impacting your partner’s health, self-confidence, and other relationships. It can affect performance in any area of life: work or school, athletics, driving, or sex. If you’re on the same team, you want your teammate to be as healthy as possible. So, you don’t speak in ways that lead to sickness and death. Instead, you are careful to promote life, health, and joy. And you do that with your words.

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A Seat at the Table for Honorary NCO

During War C-1The Black Hawk ride from Camp Victory, located at Baghdad International Airport, down to Ad Diwaniyah covered about 120 miles. Diwaniyah was the Iraqi headquarters for the militia leader Muqtada Al Sadr, and we got there just before Operation Black Eagle, meant to rein in militia violence, kicked off. Technically, my Chaplain Assistant and I were assigned to a military transition team, but for the past three years, Camp Echo had no Religious Support Team, so our job was to establish a religious program for the installation.

One day, after two weeks at Camp Echo, I got to the Dining Facility late. There were several casualties that day, and I spent a lot of time in the medical clinic, and with two units that had lost some Soldiers. I was tired and hungry, and finding an empty seat was difficult. Several units were at our forward operating base to assist with the operation, and many of the visiting Soldiers were in the dining facility.

Finally locating a vacant spot, I placed my tray on the table, but before I had a chance to sit, a Master Sergeant next to the empty chair growled in my direction, “No officers welcome here.” I doubt that he noticed the cross on my uniform. He probably just saw the major’s insignia on my chest, but it might not have made a difference even if he had recognized that I was a chaplain. There were three possible courses of action, and I had to make a quick decision.

1. Look for a different chair

2. Attempt to pull rank

3. Tell him I am an Honorary NCO

After completing a two-second strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis, I came to attention, turned up my collar to reveal a Sergeant E-5 insignia, and shouted as loud as I could, “Request permission to sit at your table, Master Sergeant,” then remained standing at attention and waited.

The growler did a double-take, and his eyes got real big. “Have a seat, Sarge.”

The other NCO’s at the table were howling with laughter by now. They knew the Master Sergeant, but they didn’t know me. And they had never seen a Major with NCO’s rank under the collar. They found the whole encounter to be quite entertaining.

After the others at the table calmed down, the Master Sergeant said, “OK. Suppose you tell me why you’re wearing that rank.”

“Sure, Master Sergeant. When I was a rookie fresh out of Officer Basic, my first assignment was with an Evacuation Hospital in the California Army National Guard, where I had a great rapport with the NCO’s. When they invited me to attend their dining-in, I thought it was because they wanted me to do the invocation, but that wasn’t it. During the program, the first sergeant pinned the NCO insignia on me and gave me a certificate appointing me to the honorary rank of sergeant, making me an E-5 for Life.”

“Hmmm. And you actually wear it?”

“Yes.”

I wore the SGT Stripes invisibly throughout my entire career. When in the woodland Battle Dress Uniform, it was pinned under my collar. When we switched to the newer army combat uniform, it was velcroed under the collar. And when I wore the Class A uniform or dress blues, it was under the pocket flap, beneath my name. Every time I went to a new unit, I met with the first sergeant or sergeant major, presented the documentation, and asked for permission to wear the rank and be part of the NCO corps. I was always welcomed.

After eight years in the Guard, I became an Active Duty chaplain in the Army Reserve’s Active Guard Reserve program. These chaplains don’t usually deploy, since our role was administrative and training. But while stationed at Fort McPherson, GA, in January 2007, I heard that the U.S. Army Forces Command wanted to send three chaplain teams to Iraq. There were some areas that needed religious support immediately, and Forces Command gave the task to the Army Reserve.

Strong Sense of Calling

As part of the chaplain staff at the U.S. Army Reserve Command headquarters, I had trained many chaplains before they went overseas. But this time I wanted to go. We were running out of chaplains who hadn’t already deployed. More importantly, I felt a strong sense of calling. We had Soldiers in dangerous places with no chaplain, and I wanted to be there with them, so I volunteered. It took a while, but I managed to talk my boss into letting me go.

Those sergeant stripes were under the collar when I went outside the wire with the military transition team. They accompanied me every time I visited wounded soldiers at the medical clinic. I wore them at each memorial ceremony or funeral. They were there for the worship services, the counseling appointments, and the Critical Incident Stress Management sessions. Whenever we had incoming rockets or mortars and we gathered in the bunkers—yep, still had them with me. One time I was eating lunch in the dining facility and the sirens started blaring. In a hurry to get out to the bunker, I forgot my helmet. My Chaplain Assistant grabbed me by the collar and pulled me back inside, “Chaplain, you forgot your Kevlar!” Just then a mortar landed right outside the door. It’s quite possible that she saved my life or prevented injury. See why I love NCOs?

The day after I met the master sergeant in the dining facility, he showed up in my office. The night before, he was feisty and energetic; now he seemed sad and tired. Something had happened.

“Good afternoon, Master Sergeant. What can I do for you?”

 “This morning, I lost a Soldier . . . a close friend. I wanted to know if you’d do a memorial ceremony tomorrow morning before we head out.”

“Of course, I will.”

“And Chaps, I’m sorry about last night.”

“Not a problem, Master Sergeant. I understand.”

“You can sit at my table any time.”

It meant a lot that this senior NCO welcomed me at his table, that he wanted me to be there to honor his friend and that we had overcome the invisible barrier between officer and NCO. In 2015, I retired as a Colonel. But I’ll be an E-5 for life.

* This article appeared in the September 2018 issue of Army Magazine, a publication of the Association of the United States Army.

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