Downrange of Mystery
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
After I was ordained in 2003, I served in the military as a chaplain. I loved serving our service members and their families as a pastor, counselor, and sometimes just a compassionate presence.
One of my cherished military colleagues is LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as Mormon) and comes from generations of LDS leaders. On the surface, Joshua and I are unlikely friends—and yet we’ve bonded at a soul level. Joshua shared a story with me that burst into my heart.
Joshua was deployed downrange with the Marines. The Marines are sent to remote, ragged places where the mission and living conditions are challenging—and they’re used to it. Marines seem to thrive in hard places, and Chaplain Josh was right there with them in Iraq. No running water, few hot meals, thin tents, and brutal weather.
Despite knowing that electricity would be limited, the chaplain brought to Iraq one thing that made all the difference: electric hair clippers. First the chaplain started to cut his own hair once a week. Then his commander and staff asked for haircuts. Soon the Marines in the unit heard about his haircuts and came to see him, too. Chaplain Josh had created a weekly hair-cutting ministry.
On a particularly rough day, the unit had lost a few Marines. They were beaten down, exhausted to the core. The chaplain was too, so when a Marine came to him for a haircut, he had to muster up the strength to perform the task.
When the Marine sat down in Chaplain Joshua’s chair, the smell from his body told his story: he was dirty—caked in dust, oil and grime—and probably hadn’t had a baby-wipe shower in a few days. The chaplain used some oil to lubricate the clipper blades, because they wouldn’t get through the Marine’s hair without it. In that moment, Joshua recalled the ancient tradition of anointing the head with oil as a form of blessing. The haircut became a holy act for him: a moment of blessing, of gracious welcome, of serenity, of love. The chaplain placed his hands on this Marine’s head and prayed in his heart for him, for his family, for those who lead and love him.
Josh’s story of loving hospitality—his welcoming embrace—moved me. This story reminds me of the power in small moments filled with grace: a haircut, a cup of coffee, or just an honest “How are you?” can be transformed into a powerful moment between two people living in a hard world.
May we slow our pace down this day and be fully present to those in our care. May we offer blessings with both our words and deeds. May our lives preach louder than our lips.