Word on the street said I’d like NBC’s “This is Us”.
Season 1 is already buried 6 feet under the newest episodes but I’m a latecomer to all things television land. Seriously, we haven’t had TV channels at our house—ever- so if I watch something, it’s either got to be Amazon prime free, a DVD from the library or an occasional splurge on Redbox.
My kid thought I’d really connect with the relational grit of the show and my “almost kid” said his mom watched it so when clocks turned back an hour making bedtime feel like immediately after dinner, my winter hygge found the perfect vice.
I gotta be honest. So far, I have a love-hate relationship with the show and I’m only halfway through the first season. I feel myself getting attached to the characters even though it bothers me that the vibe feels kind of like a soap opera at night. Me, I have a boatload of baggage connected with daytime soaps.
When I was growing up, my mom’s TV viewing preferences can only be described as super selective.
No murder mysteries.
No violence or police drama.
Definitely no westerns.
And absolutely no night time romance dramas that might get racy.
The weird thing is that she rarely missed an episode of All My Children and General Hospital and I watched right alongside her. She’d jump up out of her comfy chair like a hot potato to stand in front of the television set during sex scenes, which happened about every 15 minutes. Honestly, now that I’m an adult, I wonder how anybody has as much time for sex in real life as the main characters in daytime television always seemed to have. Anyway, I guess my mom thought that if she told me it was wrong, according to the Bible, to have sex outside of marriage and gave me a visual cue that sex is bad by covering up the TV, she’d done her due diligence. Thing is, I must have seen hundreds if not thousands of the first few tantalizing seconds of a bedroom scene or just the tail end of a cuddling couple after their explosion of irresistible passion, people using each other to get a quick fix as modus operendi. It impacted my perceptions about what sex must be like and how it must feel. Negatively. And it wasn’t just the sex part of soaps that left an impression, the whole relational dynamic between characters can only be characterized at best as capital D dysfunctional. The communication strategies for dealing with conflict were a)contrived b)unrealistic and c)not healthy . Sadly, they provided a poor model of relating to my younger self.
So, when I say that some things about This is Us trigger my soap opera memories, that’s the back story explaining the “hate” part.
What I love about This is Us isn’t limited to the endearing characters I’ve started attaching to, it’s the messy family story, the sincere but broken love between them, that draws me in. I really resonate with it.
Here’s the synopsis of the last couple of episodes I’ve watched. The family gathers from the four winds to celebrate Thanksgiving together, ready to repeat all of their unique, time-honored traditions. But when a bratty girlfriend accompanies an insecure adult son, a resented step father replaces a deceased dad, a long-lost, biological father with terminal cancer becomes a plus one next to the adopted kid and the obese grown up daughter announces her plans for bariatric surgery, things get, well, complicated… And here’s the most complex plot twist. Turns out that the matriarch of the story, the adoptive mom, Rebecca, actually knew who and where her son’s biological father was these past 36 years but withheld that information from him. And that is the spark that ignites a relational explosion around the Pearson family Thanksgiving dinner table.
At that moment in the show, it’s easy to judge the mom for dodging and hiding this life altering information from her curious child. But when you replay the flashbacks to her kids growing up years and take a few relaxing, deep breaths, I expect you’d also be able to spot a mama who offered her most lavish love, faithfully, over a lifetime to the 3 kids she raised, one poopy diaper, sack lunch, football game, dinner prep and laundry load at a time. You might observe a mama who proactively sought to resource each of her children according to their giftedness. You’d probably notice that she put her own aspirations on hold for the sake of nurturing her kids dreams. Maybe you’d detect how skillfully she balanced firm and gentle when navigating petty sibling squabbles and other constant drama. You might perceive her humility and teachable posture regarding raising a kid who’s race was different than hers. And you’d definitely see a woman who laughed even when she felt like crying. A woman who offered her kids a healthy model of what it looks like for 2 married people to be on each other’s team.
That same mama, she also got afraid of losing what she loves most. Every mama’s been there. Mama love puts you right in the eye of fear’s storm and fear takes you places you don’t want to go and rarely end well. And at this point in the story, mama Rebecca finds her head on the relational chopping block as a result of responding out of fear.
It’s almost Thanksgiving in real.
This year, our family, we’ll all be together again, plus the one who’s soon to officially join the clan and the people we choose to call family even though technically, they aren’t.
And we’ve got our own time honored traditions starting with the annual gratitude walk, including family pictures wearing our matching screen printed shirts. Then there’s a grateful jar on the coffee table, getting filled up with scribbled on pieces of paper listing random everyday blessings. We’ll read through them at our feast. We’ll eat Webster favorites like sweet potato soufflé, homemade stuffing and pecan pie with fancy folded cloth napkins followed by games, puzzles or a cozy fire and a family-friendly movie whose preview features our very own homemade music video, a visual reminder of God’s faithfulness to us since this time last year.
I wait for this day all year long because what could possibly be better that intentionally celebrating another year worth of fresh mercies while dining with the ones that God’s written into our story. When our better selves show up at the table, it’s a delight to watch the animated conversations, the dramatic facial expressions, to hear the sound of people talking over each other using lots and lots of words, telling stories, asking questions, hearing answers, all of it spilling out with a smattering of political ideology, some random theological musings and even a few corny puns.
Thing is, just like with the Pearsons, we’ll each bring our own personal and relational baggage to our table too.
Our insecurities and fears,
The roles we play with each other on autopilot,
Some misperceptions about the motives of the person sitting next to us,
A weird mixture of pride and shame,
And a few self-justified grudges for good measure.
Nobody feels how high the stakes are like mamas do. They’re profoundly aware that their whole, idyllic plan to seize the day can relationally unravel with a single tone, a condescending smirk, a particular expression. You know, the communication triggers everyone is hyper-attuned for, the ones that prompt some people to self-protectively shut down their hearts and provoke others to defensively attack. And unless God shows up at Thanksgiving, things’ll go south in a heartbeat.
The good news is that He will. The One who assigned us our families knew just who we needed to learn about love and commitment and forgiveness with and He’s going to be right there at our table cheering each of us on, challenging us to bring our honest self to dinner with humility, curiosity and a sincere desire to understand each other better.
So, mamas, resist fear because fear sabotages the impact of our best love.
Be realistic. Savor the moments and don’t expect them all to be picture perfect.
Choose to embrace your family’s unique brand of in-process, broken-beautiful.
And if your Thanksgiving holiday derails,
Thank God anyway because at least you a have a family to struggle with.
Lean hard on Jesus who extends compassion for your disappointment and a shoulder for you to cry on.
And eventually, pull yourself back up by the bootstraps and commit to try again next year.
Because, here’s the thing.
Family is the learning laboratory for incubating grace. And family loyalty never expires. And family never gives up on each other. Ever.
And besides that, tomorrow is a new day to start compiling new lists and taking new pictures and making new memories because in a blink of an eye, next year’s Thanksgiving will be the feature page on our calendars, another year of mercies fresh and new each morning.
And always enough.