It was evening. I was eight, my younger brothers and sisters had just been put to bed, mom and dad wanted to talk with me alone in the family room of our home.
Time stopped, winter began, and the earth’s rotation was altered, never again were there “blue moons”, innocent summer days lying on the grass imagining shapes, characters and creatures in the billowy clouds above. The neighbor’s dog became mean, my younger “brothers” and “sisters” weren’t really brothers and sisters… my family became opaque, a faded hue, less real. My bedroom became smaller and darker; now there were nightly burglars/murderers and malovent strangers perusing my windows terrorizing me waiting for the opportunity to do me harm. Learning of a father who died I died as my mom had.
My father was drafted and killed in the Korean Conflict. My mom was 21, I was three months, 14 days old. The concussion, the trauma of God allowing her lover, a fine and godly man die left her lifeless… about 6 rows from the front, on the left, in a pew alone, crying most every Sunday.
She remarried. A retired naval officer became my dad; he adopted me and changed my name from Craig McConnell to Craig Barnard. I was too young to remember any of this and the secret was neatly kept until the evening I was called into the family room and heard “Craig…your dad isn’t your father. Your father was killed in a war when you were born. I married your dad when you were little…and he loves you very much”. And for this little guy all the adventures of boyhood in our Southern California baby boomer neighborhood were indelibly changed.
It’s inevitable; we’re all wounded in some way. And the scar remains and with it some message that becomes the script by which we live.
As a young boy the first draft of my script(the message) was, “I’m different. Everyone else has a father… their real father...what’s wrong with me.”
What was the first draft of your script?
As life unfolds the message goes through numerous edits while staying true to the theme. For me the second significant edit came in adolescence. Living disoriented with the pain and loneliness of not having my “real” father coupled with a variety of in-securities centered on the abiding question, “What’s wrong with me”, and a culturally affirmed rebelliousness it was pretty easy to provoke my dad (the 20 plus year naval veteran who didn't take any crap). And so, in the intersection of the hall and his bedroom, he grabbed me, shook me and for the first of several times told me, “You are nothing but a seagull. All you’re good for is sitting, squawking and shitting”.
I believed him.
No significant re-edits were needed following this.
I have absolutely nothing to offer… I sit, squawk and shit. Period.
That script has held up well…
Jump ahead several decades… which feels like a couple of lifetimes… we (Lori, my daughters and me) live at the beach. On our part of the Southern California coast there is a section of bluffs rising up overlooking the beach and ocean. Regularly I would park near by, walk over near the edge of the bluff and yap with God. I don’t fully understand it, but it was easy to be still, reflective and expectant there… my favorite time was early in the morning and especially when it was socked in with fog. The pounding surf, the salty moist air… the cool sand… ahh a cup of Joe, my journal and/or bible… it most always was a transcendent time.
One morning I am there. In the presence of the Lord… enjoying a meandering conversation. It’s overcast; cool… nobody is around, nice size surf… I can hear the harbor fog horn in the distance, the beach is empty, I’m leaning back into an old rail fence, and I’m sporting what I dearly hope we will wear in heaven: flips, old jeans, sweat shirt… a cool hat…. Heck I’ am in heaven!
Disrupting my communion is black lab puppy that comes bounding up to me. He nuzzles me in twisting gyrations, tail wagging with big dark eyes inviting me…“Hey, wanna play?” He cold-noses me and is full of life… begging, insisting, demanding that I enter in and romp with him. He’s a lab pup…”come on… live a little!”
I’m annoyed…what’s he doing here? Where’s his master? (There is nobody around). Actually I get a little snarly with this intrusion into my transcendent oneness with the Creator of the Heavens and Sea. I mean, every single access to the beach in LA County has a sign posted that reads, “NO DOGS ALLOWED ON BEACH!!!” I try and scare him by arching my back like a big… really big old alley cat hissing, “Get outta here dog, SCRAM!!!. After a gentle nudge with my foot ... he gets the message. He’s gone, freeing me to return to intimacy with the God of grace and creation.
Little did I know I nudged the God of grace and creation gently with my foot… because it seemed like a mere moment later I’m looking down on the sandy beach at the lab. He is on the hard sand at waters edge dashing through the surf jumping frolicking, prancing… doing what labs do. I find myself smiling and enjoying him from my bluff above.
Whatever God intended a lab to be and do he was being and doing. Having a ball. He’s in and out of the water, digging a hole, running wild and chasing birds.
God was so present in that moment… and I found myself…. Praying, “I wish I was a lab.”
(One of the great things about Labs is that they cannot read the signs… the signs that say, “No Dogs on The Beach"... You can’t do that… you’re a seagull”. This lab had no script. He was simply being and doing what God created labs to do. Free, alive, simply living as God intended me to.
Yearning, longing, hope and desire from the deepest regions of my soul… aged for decades they surfaced in a groan, a smile and my prayer.
It was God… inviting me again into life, into freedom. In that moment, and ever since, I’ve got a clear picture of the life I want to live. Ignore the script handed me and live the script God has written on my heart. To simply be Craig McConnell… running on the beach… alive, free.
And your new script is…?
- Craig McConnell
* There was something about my brothers and sisters being “half” brothers and sisters that sinisterly took root in my soul at that young age and it all too often expressed itself in a unloving distance/coolness… a “Big Brother” meanness in my relationship with them most of my life. Oh how I wish, knowing what I now know, I could relive… re-relate with those in earlier years I missed.
I became a Christian at 21 and reconciled with my dad. As the years have gone by I have so much compassion for him and his best attempts to father me while profoundly wounded himself. He was a good man... and I miss him.