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Nonsensical Times

Exploring the wonderful world(s) of sense-making

Stories

“Stories work with people, for people, and always stories work on people, affecting what people are able to see as real, as possible, and as worth doing or best avoided.”

~ Arthur W. Frank, Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology, p. 3

I haven’t written in a while. Part of the reason has to do with the fact that there is so much happening in the outside world and the other part has to do with the fact that there is so much happening inside my personal world.

To be completely honest, I am having a difficult time processing it all.

Amidst the tumultuous effects of COVID-19 and the protests related to the killing of George Floyd, I have had to say goodbye to my grandpa. While his death was not pandemic related, it has still been incredibly difficult. He was one of my best friends and taught me so much about life. One of the most important lessons he ever taught me was about people and stories.

“Every person has a story,” he used to say to me. “Every person is unique.”

My grandpa knew firsthand the rewards of taking the time to listen to people’s stories. He didn’t let negative first impressions dissuade him from getting to know others, even though, at times, it might have been tempting to overlook or judge them. Deep down, he realized that there were reasons why people acted the way that they did. He understood that life has it’s challenges, and sometimes, the narratives we imagine ourselves fulfilling are not the ones we actually live out. 

In short, he knew that life could be hard. His appreciation for other people’s stories stemmed from a genuine place of empathy, respect, and compassion. He chose to let their stories work on his heart, increasing his capacity to love and show kindness. He wasn’t perfect. There were times when he wasn’t as quick to respond from this place of understanding. But he tried and he learned from his mistakes. He wanted his story to be one of grace.

Right now, there are a lot of stories circulating that, as scholar Arthur Frank might say, are working for, with, against, and on people. They are presenting conflicting visions of the future, and, at times, the reports can be more confusing than clarifying. People are often being grouped together, referred to in terms of “us” and “them.” As emotions rise, it is more and more tempting to generalize and simplify situations. It is tempting to judge others and shut our minds to the complex reasons for their actions.

It is tempting, in other words, to forget the fact that we are all human. To forget the fact that, underneath all of the anger, frustration, and hurt, beats the hearts of people who are just trying to survive. There are so many things we don’t know about each other. But, when we take the time to set aside assumptions and listen, we realize that we might have more in common than popular narratives suggest.

We are all living through some very hard times. It is my hope that a story of reconciliation, restoration, and redemption is one that we as a society can see as real, possible, and worth living. It is my prayer that we can work towards it together, showing empathy, respect, and compassion for each other in the process.

 

References:

Frank, A. W. (2010). Letting stories breathe: A socio-narratology. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press

 

 

 

Unreliable Narrator

Somedays, I just feel like writing a poem. It doesn’t have to be a good poem. In fact, often-times it’s not. But, then again, what is good poetry? I think good poetry is the kind that makes it onto the page despite the insecurities that would keep it blank. Vulnerability and creativity go hand in hand. Unless we dare to explore alternative means of self-expression, we will always be limited by the representations of others. We are the poet laureates of our own lives. During this time of self-isolation and social distancing, I hope that you will have the opportunity to listen to your inner poet and discover new and beautiful things about yourself. Define your own understanding of “good.” With that caveat in mind, here is a poem I wrote the other day.

UNRELIABLE NARRATOR

 By Bonnie Tulloch

I wake up in the middle of a story

Unsure of where I am.

What chapter did I read yesterday?

What chapter did I write?

The story does not stop

And neither does the feeling

That I am not the one to ask.

Me, myself, and I

Cannot seem to agree

Who I am today,

And who tomorrow

I will be.

(I guess we’ll wait and see.)

Nonsense & Joy

It’s been a while since my last post. A lot has happened and is still happening in the world.

It’s a hectic time and one where making sense of the events of life is more challenging than ever.

And yet, in the middle of the chaos–in the middle of the anxiety, sorrow, and frustration–I still see traces of joy.

People are making an effort to remind each other that human life is something worth fighting for. They are making an effort to creatively solve the problems this crisis has raised for themselves and for others.

And it’s beautiful to witness.

People are digging deep within their hearts to spread something that can combat this vicious virus. They are spreading joy.

And joy is powerful.

Unlike happiness, joy is not dependent on circumstances. It is a choice we make to find the good in circumstances that are not good at all. It is the determination not to be defeated by the trials and disappointments of life. To rise up when we’ve been knocked down and to extend a hand to the person beside us on the ground.

It is the ability to have a positive attitude when we have every reason not to be positive.

Joy, in other words, is kind of nonsensical. In many cases, it defies reason. In fact, it may even qualify as a miracle.

Certainly, it has a miraculous effect. It gives life to lifeless seasons of living. It transforms desolate terrain into a landscape of hope, faith, and love. Hope that tomorrow will be better. Faith that our hope is not in vain. And love for each other as we walk through this journey.

Spring is on its way. Daffodils are trumpeting images of new life. As we wait in anticipation for better days, I pray that we continue to find ways to embrace joy and to let the power of hope shine new light into whatever darkness we are experiencing.

Let the miracles continue.

Dear January

Dear January 2020,

Thank you for reminding me that a slow start can still lead to a strong finish. Thank you for giving me opportunities to extend grace to myself when I fail to live up to my own expectations. Thank you for the rainy, grey, cold, and even snowy days that caused me to pause and experience life at a more restful pace. Thank you for the frustrating moments that made me dig deeper and reflect on what is truly important. Thank you for the not-so-good days that made the not-so-bad days seem really great. Thank you for the amazing people you brought into my calendar and the experiences we were able to share. The minutes, hours, days, and weeks I have spent with you have taught me a lot and have helped prepare me for the month ahead. I may not know what the rest of the year will hold, but I am truly grateful for the moments and memories you have given me. You have played an important role in my life and, as easy as it would be to move onto February in a hurry, I don’t want your impact to go unnoticed. I apologize for taking you for granted and wish to acknowledge your significant contribution to my life before we say goodbye.

So, thank you, January 2020. It’s been nice knowing you.

Sincerely,

Bonnie

P.S. I am sorry for all the times I complained about you.

A Christmas Letter

Dear Friends,

As I experience this Christmas season I am more aware than ever that a lot of people are deeply hurting. Life does not always allow us to take holidays from our problems, and, sometimes, the severity of our problems can keep us from finding any joy in the holidays. If this is the case for you, I want you to know that you are not alone. The Christmas story is the story of a world in need of saving. It is a story about seeking and seeing light in the midst of dark and desperate times. Our suffering produces questions and our questions lead us to look for answers.

We pursue these answers in different ways. This year, as I grieve the loss of my sister and the losses of those navigating similar sorrows, I look for mine in the unexpected form of a baby, lying in a manger. The gifts I have to bring Him are not really gifts at all. The fear, despair, and sadness I feel are not offerings you would give to a king. No one would ever want them. They are signs of my brokenness. Signs that I am in need of saving. Still, I place these before Him, because I have nothing else to give. And to my ever increasing amazement, He accepts them. He accepts them because He accepts me. That baby in the manger presents me with the ultimate Christmas gift: unconditional love.

As far as present exchanges go, there is no contest. God gives me His perfect life in exchange for my own. He takes all my suffering and I, in turn, receive His gifts of love, joy, and peace. This unequal exchange does not make sense by human standards. Perhaps that it is why it is hard to believe at times. Like the inns in Bethlehem, our minds are too crowded with our own logic to make room for things that we cannot understand. We shut nonsense out of our lives, and, in the process, leave little space for miracles.

This Christmas season, I am confronted with the reality of many things I cannot understand. And yet, the confusion I feel has created more space in my heart to receive the miracle of God’s love. It has created space to fully accept His Heavenly gifts of love, joy, and peace. He knows that the world needs saving. The baby in the manger is His reminder that we have already been saved. Jesus is the answer I seek, and in Him, I find healing for my brokenness.

Wherever you are and whatever you believe, I pray that you will also know love, joy, and peace this holiday season. I pray that you will find the answers you seek in response to your pain and that you experience healing in your lives. May your hearts be comforted by the hope of good news and the promise of a brighter tomorrow. Light has a way of shining in the darkest of places. Just keep looking.

Merry Christmas Friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nature of Things

I have been taking a lot of walks this fall and each time I do I am struck by nature’s ability to communicate some of the most simple, yet profound truths about life.

The world, it tells me, is complicated. It’s messy. It’s beautiful. It’s struggling. It’s thriving. It’s…predictably unpredictable. 

And for some reason, I find it’s message comforting.

It’s as if, on these cold November days, I get the privilege of attending nature’s personal support group. If I take the time, I can even imagine that I hear a silent conversation taking place as I step along the path.

“I’m feeling a little broken today,” confesses a tree.

“I’ve fallen down and can’t get up,” cries its neighbour.

“I’m leafless and cold,” sobs another.

“It’s just the nature of things,” states a stump.

“Well, it feels unnatural to be so exposed,” complains a bush. “I don’t like it.”

“You don’t have to like it,” the stump responds. “Change can be hard.”

“You can say that again,” says a disgruntled fern.

“Once is enough,” replies the stump. “We know what we know.”

“I wish I didn’t know it!” laments a hollow tree. “I wish things were different!”

“How so?” asks the stump.

“I wish things never had to change. I wish my leaves didn’t have to fall off. I wish my roots didn’t have to dry up. I wish the flowers could stay out all year round.”

“But hollow tree,” the stump says, “if things always stayed the same, you would never have grown from a seed into a tree. You would never have sprouted roots. You would never have had any leaves. You would never have seen the flowers.”

The hollow tree ponders the stump’s words. The wind whistles awkwardly as the rest of the forest waits for it to respond.

“I guess you know what you’re talking about,” the tree finally says. “After all, you weren’t born a stump.”

“True,” the stump replies. “I’ve seen the view from the top of the forest and the bottom. Want to know what I’ve discovered?”

“What?” asks the tree.

“What?” echoes the forest.

“Change can be hard,” says the stump.

“You already said that!” shouts the tree.

“But it can also be good.”

“How can it be both?” the tree demands.

“It just can,” says the stump.

“It’s just the nature of things,” agrees the forest.

 

(Story Copyrighted by Bonnie Tulloch)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall

(a poem by Bonnie Tulloch)

I wonder

If leaves ever know 

they’re falling

When they spiral towards

the earth.

Or if they taste the freedom

Of finally letting go.

Of flying in the wind.

 I wonder these things,

as I sit on a park bench.

Gravity has a way of

Pulling us. 

Tugged by its questions,

My thoughts begin to

Fall.

 

Nonsense & Heaven

Do you ever think about Heaven?

I have been thinking about it a lot lately. 

I have been thinking about it a lot, because my older sister recently relocated there on June 13th of this year.

Now, I know a lot of people don’t believe in Heaven. A lot of people think it is a completely nonsensical idea. They think that the prospect of an afterlife escapes the boundaries of rational thought.

My response to this line of thinking is:

Of course it does. I mean, why wouldn’t it?

Why wouldn’t Heaven escape the boundaries of rational thought?

After all, if it escapes the boundaries of our physical experiences on earth, why would we expect it to fit the logic we have developed based on our knowledge of this life?

Does it actually makes sense that we cannot completely make sense of Heaven?

I think these questions are worth asking.

They are worth asking, because, at some point or another, we all have to make up our minds about Heaven.

When we come to the end of our existence on earth, we have to decide what we believe about the moment we bid it goodbye.

Do we view death as a final conclusion? Or, do we view it as a beginning?

My sister viewed it as a beginning.

In her own words, it was a “see ya later moment.”

I can tell you right now, there are many things about the days leading up to that moment that only make sense in light of the reality of Heaven. In light of the reality of God.

Her peace. Her love. Her hope. Her joy.

To people who do not believe in the existence of Heaven or its Creator, her behaviour would have appeared completely irrational.

But, as someone who witnessed it firsthand, I can tell you that it was undoubtedly real.

It was real enough to give me a glimpse of Heaven. A glimpse of a world where pain and suffering no longer exist — a world that most of us long to live in — a world that defies our limited experience of this one. A world that knows perfect love.

So yes, I have been thinking a lot about Heaven lately. And I have a feeling that I will be thinking about it every day for the rest of my life.

I am living for the “see ya later moment” that I know is coming.

I may not be able to make complete sense of this life or the next, but the little that I do know is enough to give me complete confidence that I have many wonderful things to look forward to. One of them is seeing my sister again.

If my experiences on earth have taught me anything, it is that Heaven is as real as the love I have for my sister and the God who created her.

And to me, that is something worth thinking about.

 

 

 

 

 

Nonsense & An Empty Tomb

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”

~John 24: 1-12

I know what you’re thinking. Easter is still a week away. Why am I talking about the empty tomb today?

Well, I’ll tell you.

On the first day of this week (yesterday), very early in the morning, my family received some devastating news. My older sister Christine, who recently relapsed with leukemia, was told that her treatment is not working. Since this is her third time fighting this horrible disease, there are basically no other options. From a medical standpoint, the situation is hopeless.

Where do you go when you hear such news?

Well, I don’t know where you go, but I can certainly tell you where I go.

I go to the empty tomb.

I run to the place where hope is resurrected.

Like my sister, Jesus was handed a death sentence. By no fault of his own, he was condemned to die. Despite Pilot’s efforts, the people could not be persuaded of Jesus’s innocence. The Roman governor washed his hands of the situation, releasing Jesus to a fate he did not deserve. Jesus died on the cross an innocent man.

Yesterday, the doctors essentially washed their hands of my sister’s situation. Despite their efforts, they cannot save her from this awful disease. They have released her to an unjust fate.

But, thankfully, neither her story nor Jesus’s story, ends here.

As John reminds us, three days after Jesus’s death, some of his female followers went to the tomb where his body was laid to give him a proper burial. They were grief-stricken. Someone they loved had died. They had watched it happen with their own eyes. Jesus was dead.

Or so they thought.

Until they reached the empty tomb.

It’s important to note that the women did not immediately believe that Jesus was alive. They did not remember his words, even though he had spoken to them about his death many times before it actually happened. Like many people in the world today, they doubted the possibility of his resurrection.

It took angels to convince them otherwise–flashes of light to cut through the darkness of their grief and confusion. Only then did they remember.

Understandably, given the situation, they were pretty excited. They ran to Jesus’s disciples to tell them the good news. Jesus had risen, just as he said he would! They had seen the empty tomb! Angels had appeared!

Pretty convincing, right? I mean, if a visitation from angels is not enough to verify your story, what can?

Well, it wasn’t enough to convince Jesus’s disciples.

The very men who had walked with Jesus throughout his ministry, who had seen him perform numerous miracles, including the resurrection of the dead, doubted his ability to perform his own resurrection. They doubted the words of the women who spoke to them. It all sounded like nonsense.

Because they had seen Jesus die with their own eyes.

It didn’t matter what he had said.

The physical proof was too strong.

Just to make sure, however, Peter decided to check things out for himself. Arriving at the tomb, he found it empty. There were grave clothes, but no body. He walked away confused. John tells us that Peter “…went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”

He still did not believe the women.

In fact, the resurrection story is a story full of doubt, and not just the doubt of people who did not know Jesus. No. The resurrection is a story full of the doubts of the people who were closest to him. The people who stood by him but had trouble believing in him, even after he had proven himself capable of performing great miracles. They lacked faith.

You see, God knows we have doubts about His existence. He knows that we have trouble believing He is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do. Even when we want to, believing in what we can’t fully understand is too much for us.

So what does God do?

He meets us where we’re at. He gives us physical proof.

What did it take for the disciples to believe?

It took Jesus standing before them. They had to see him with their own eyes and touch the holes in his hands before they could believe that he had risen.

And do you know why that story is believable?

Because it is relatable.

The fact that it took physical evidence to convince Jesus’s own disciples that He was who He says He was, gives me the courage to believe that my faith in Jesus’s resurrection is justified. He knew that we would have just as much trouble believing in Him today as people did back then.

Out of fear, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. And yet, like the other apostles, he was willing to die for the sake of spreading the Good News of the resurrection. The news that Jesus defeated death on the cross and that anyone who believes in Him will never die but have eternal life in Heaven.

What changes a coward into a martyr?

Confidence.

What gave Peter confidence?

The physical proof that Jesus is alive.

The proof that, as nonsensical as it may appear to some people, makes complete sense to me.

Thanks to the empty tomb, my sister has not been released to an unjust fate. She has been released into the hands of Jesus. And He is the ultimate Healer.

The bigger miracle has already been performed. Whatever happens, Christine has the assurance of eternal life in Heaven.

And that’s one awesome timeline.

We may come to the tomb with heavy hearts, but, if we have the faith to receive the miracle it offers us, we leave it lighter than ever before. We can visit it every minute, every day, and every year.

Easter may be coming, but Jesus is already here.

The tomb remains empty.

Heaven, on the other hand, is getting fuller day by day.

 

 

 

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