Let’s Talk About “This Is Us”

Every week, since September 20th, I have looked forward to cozying down on my couch after the kids go to bed to watch NBC’s new hit show, This Is Us.  

I’ve always had a longtime love of Milo Ventimiglia (always have been on Team Jess), and have admired Mandy Moore since I was a kid. The fact that they are in the show, as well as the fact that the show is produced by the same people who gave us Parenthood, well…I was intrigued from the beginning. It didn’t take me long to really fall in love with This Is Us and with the characters in it.

There is so much I like about This is Us, but I think the one thing that makes it particularly special is that it’s about life.  It’s about people and the beauty that can be found in the messiness of every day living.

This is Us draws us in by introducing us to typical characters, allowing us to make initial judgments about who they are and the choices we think they will make based on their state in life.  At the same time, This Is Us shows the audience again and again that these characters are much more than they first seem to be; they are complex, and rich characters who cannot be defined merely by their appearance or their present state in life.

(Warning, some spoiler alerts!) We meet Rebecca, a sometimes high-strung and selfish woman, yet we see her time and time again prove to be an incredibly selfless and devoted wife and mother.  The Patriarch, Jack, is a kind and compassionate husband and father, but at times we are shown his weaknesses, such as his struggle with alcoholism.  Despite his struggles, he works hard to remain steadfast for his family. Kate is a woman who struggles with her obesity, self esteem, and depression.  Yet, at the same time, she is beautiful, smart, headstrong, and loyal to her family.  As we get to know her life story, we realize her pains run deep, both physically and spiritually.  Though her inner pains have the ability to get the best of her, she nonetheless continues to work hard towards becoming a better version of herself.   Randall is the one who seems to have it all together: he has the perfect wife and family, and is successful and driven.  However, he often crumbles under the weight of that perfection, and has to learn to slow down and appreciate the little things in life.  Kevin is one of those characters that in real life we’d both love and loathe to be around; pretty to look at, but not a whole lot going on upstairs.  Yet, the beauty of his character is his whole journey towards selflessness.  As we see him progress through the show, we witness him grow; he learns, overtime, what it means to love authentically by dying to self, and as he grows, we begin to see his true depth.  William, the biological father of Randall, is a character who is full of life, but at the same time on the brink of death.  His terminal illness is a constant reminder for his son, as well as for the audience, that life is precious.  Though William is an all around good-humored and kindhearted man, his life was shaped by a few really big mistakes he made.  At one of his lowest points in life, we see him drugged out and abandoning his newborn baby on the step of a fire station.  Yet, as we follow his life story, we come to learn about the pains he endured that led him to those mistakes, and how despite his losses and addiction, he was able die a dignified death, through the power of love.

Through detailed flashback scenes the audience learns that, oftentimes, preconceived notions of who these characters are and what led them to their present state, are not only wrong, but miss the point of personhood altogether: that humans are intricate and complex beings, worthy of dignity and love—no matter their walk in life.  This is Us is a great show because it presents characters who are real; characters who mess up, sin, fall short, and fail.  At the same time, the show exemplifies what it means to grow through these shortcomings, without sacrificing the pain and sorrow they have to go through to get there.

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As the show progresses, I come to appreciate more and more the meaning of “us” in the title of the show.    The “us” in the title of the show points, of course, to the characters in the show, but also to a more profound beauty–one that resonates so deeply in our faith as Christians.  It’s a beauty premised on the great reality of life: that we are all in this together!  From man to wife, sister to brother, parents to children; from the mailman, to even a stranger on the street: ware all in this crazy, chaotic, joyful, painful reality of life…together. I think this show is great because it pushes us beyond our own comfort zones to realize that people–all of us–are frail, weak, and broken.  Though the show is not primarily a faith-based show, by presenting the frailty of humanity–in the family life, in mistakes made, in times of trial and suffering, and even through death–the show is able to exemplify a certain depth of human beauty.  God meets us in our imperfections and in our frailty, and there, he teaches us what it means to love.  We are both dependent and interdependent creatures; all dependent on the love of our God, and all interdependent on the love of each other.

I love this show because it is a great reminder that everyone has a story.  No matter how you encounter someone or what you think they are going through, the reality is that you have no idea what lead them to be who they are today.  Perhaps if you get to know them a bit better–get to know their stories–you may even fall in love with who they are.   As Christians, this is what our faith demands of us! It demands us to recognize that no man is an island and every man is worthy of love.  We are not solitary beings, but rather, we are all deeply connected. 

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I can’t wait for the finale tonight!  The previews always have us guessing one way, but end up throwing us off track.  I can’t wait to see how the story unfolds, especially since, so far, they have been really kind to their audience.  I have a feeling the finale will do justice to Jack’s life, and that his death–no matter how tragic it happens–will come together in the end with meaning and purpose.

Who’s watching???  Comment below with your ideas on what will happen tonight! 

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7 Quick Takes: A Movie, a Storm, and Resting in God

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This past weekend was a pretty lazy one.  Sometimes those are the best, but it definitely requires me to put in the effort of relishing the slow.  I am always go, go, go…looking for the next thing to check off my list.  I think this is what God is calling me to give up this lent.  I feel like he is calling me, not so much to cease working, but to do everything for his glory, to worry less, and to take time to rest in him.

One thing that I have been doing for 3 weeks now is really paying attention to how I spend my Sundays.  Usually, I don’t merely reserve the day for just worship and family, but for tackling a lot of my “to-do” list around the house.  It’s been a nice change of pace to really try and relax, pray, and focus solely on my family on Sundays.  Giving that time to God has shown me, yet again, how truly wise he is.  Resting on Sundays has better prepped me to tackle the rest of the week with love and joy.

The one thing that is a daily source of annoyance and work is laundry.  I never feel like I am on top of it! We’ve already worked really hard at paring down everyone’s wardrobe, but I still find myself bathing in socks and clean underwear on a daily basis.

In an effort to lighten my load during the week, and quit using Sundays as my laundry day, I decided to try something new: I’m doing all of our laundry on Saturday!  My rule is, if I don’t get through it, I don’t touch it until Monday.

This has already lightened my load incredibly because clothes are no longer piling up and we always have what we need, folded and ready to go in our closets.

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This week Father Jim Sichko came to the parish where I teach RCIA for a parish mission.  He was commissioned by Pope Francis to go to parishes all over the country to talk about mercy, the gospel, and Catholicism.  He was really enthusiastic and charismatic, and he did an excellent job of sharing the faith through the context of his funny and heartfelt stories, as well as through song.

My absolute favorite part of his nightly talks was his ability to get the whole church singing!  I mean it, everyone who was there (and there were a lot of people there–the Church was overflowing!) was singing loudly.  Together, the Church felt so very alive and thriving.  Though people mostly sing in Mass, to hear everyone excitedly singing out a lenton hymnal was incredibly beautiful.  It made me tear up, so very proud to be apart of this Church.

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Monday, Joe and I ventured out for a much-needed date. In a thunderstorm. A severe one.  With a tornado warning.

For me, going out in this weather is just crazy talk, but my husband and my 14-year-old babysitter assured me, it’ll be fine! We never see tornadoes around here!

Though the weather was pretty bad, it wasn’t that bad, yet poor Joe had to spend the evening with me twitching and checking my phone every few minutes.  We made the mistake of sitting at the bar, so I had a perfect view of the weather.  At one point, the wind picked up and slammed a chair into a window.  I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest!

In our part of the city, all ended up ok.  We made it safely through our whole date, and by the end of it I was forced to reflect on Matthew 8:24.    I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’s disciples on the boat in the storm.  Most of these men were skilled fishermen, so a storm that would cause them much fear must have been an awful one.  Yet, when Jesus comes out from his slumber, he asks them: Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?

These big storms are big reminders for me to give myself to God with reckless abandon, especially when I am shaking like a leaf in fear.  He is always with us.  We need not worry when he is at our side.

Also, we need not go on dates when the weather’s so bad,  but that is neither here nor there.

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Joe and I saw “Logan” on our date.  It never takes any convincing for me to go to an X-Men movie because I always know I’ll like it.  They are almost always good, or at least always entertaining.

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The one thing that was different with this particular X-Men movie was that it was rated R, which is different from the usual PG-13 rating X-Men movies normally get.  We didn’t think much of this change, especially since the movie got a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Yet, as the preview for the next “Deadpool” movie came on—which was altogether graphic and lewd—I started to realize that Logan was going to be much different than we anticipated.

Though the X-Men movies always include some level of violence, Logan was packed with scene after scene of explicit, realistic depictions of violence.  It was incredibly hard to watch, more or less to stomach.

(Warning: Spoiler Alert!) The movie followed a dark and hopeless Logan, walking through life wishing to accomplish nothing but abandoning himself to obscurity and a life of loneliness.   Early on in the movie he is forced into taking care of a little girl, whom he soon finds out is of his daughter.  Though he doesn’t want to love her (because all of his loved ones end up dead), by the end of it we see Logan learn what it means to love again, even at the cost of his own life.

Not a terrible story line, but it absolutely wasn’t something I enjoyed.  When we walked out of the theater I felt like I had been through the ringer.  I spent half the movie hiding under the veil of my shirt!  There were many moments throughout where I thought, we should just leave, but I never said anything to Joe.  Honestly, though, we should have walked out.  The glorification of graphic violence is not art, and really isn’t entertainment.  As one Catholic reviewer put it, it was nothing more than a “dreary killing fest.”

Next time, at least for rated R movies, we’ll resolve to visit a Catholic Movie Reviews source as opposed to a secular one like Rotten Tomatoes.

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This week we went to the zoo with a friend of ours and her little girl.  It was a really great day!  Noteworthy event: I got attacked by a Gibbon!  Well, sort of.  We were watching the gibbons in their cages, who were especially hyper that day, when all of a sudden one swung towards my back slamming his feet into the window.  I turned around to see this ornery monkey looking straight at me as I let out a scream.  Pretty funny!

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Right after we made good and became friends. 

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Joe went out of town for a few days,  so my bed had been a little colder than usual.  In the morning, Eli likes to wake us up abruptly by knocking on his door saying, “Mommy, I need to go pooottttyyyy,” so I decided to leave his door slightly cracked so he could come in my room whenever he needed.

Well, at 4am, I woke to what I thought was the baby monitor.  When I went to reach for it I found a foot instead!  It took me a second to realize that the noise I had heard was actually my sneaky-ninja son snoring next to me.  How did I not hear him? I don’t know.  But I just rolled over, hugged him fiercely, and went back to sleep thankful that I had him to cuddle.  

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This girl is still cutting her molars.  Poor baby, I can feel how swollen her gums are so I know that’s what is causing all her extra fuss and pain.  She is kind of a wreck at times.  She’ll go from laughing, to fall apart crying in an instance.  She’s had a harder time eating, and some days she is completely inconsolable for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.  All I can do is hold her and caress her little face.

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It kind of reminds me of when she was little.  I sometimes joke that I have a bit of PTSD from her colicky phase, or rather, post traumatic colic disorder—but I really do think that I have some slight form of itWhen she resorts to full on screaming now, I still find myself wanting to recoil, then rushing to give her what she wants because her cries trigger something inside of me.  It’s silly, because she is nothing like she was when she was a newborn, but still, whenever she screams for long periods of times I am automatically taken back.  However, since we got through that awful 5-month phase a long time ago, things really are much easier.  It’s nice that she finds comfort in her mama.  I don’t mind that at all.

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I’ll hold her all day if that’s what helps her feel better. 

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7 Quick Takes: Links, Lent, and Putting on Love

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted a 7QT, but back at it this week, joining Kelly of This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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In honor of World Marriage Day in February, I dedicated a lot of time to writing about marital love.  Here is a link to each of my posts:

What is Marriage?

The Freedom in Living Chastely Before Marriage 

Giving a Complete Gift of Self in Marriage

The Marital Call for Fidelity

The Marital Call for Life-Giving Love Part 1 and Part 2

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We kicked off Lent with Ash Wednesday yesterday.   Though it is a somber time in the Liturgical year, it’s always one of my favorites.  However, Ash Wednesday Mass was a pretty tough one for our family.  Things started out great, but slowly got out of control with constant wiggling from both kids, proceeded by urgent pleas for snacks and milk.  (Have you ever tried to open a snack wrapper in Mass?? So embarrassing!)   After communion, as Mass neared to an end, we had to head to the back of the Church because I had a screaming toddler and sleepy baby on my hand.  (12 pm Mass with kids is not for the faint of heart.)  When we got to the back of the Church, I found myself resolved to letting my toddler cry-it-out while I angrily tried to finish my prayers.  This didn’t last long, though, because my son only grew louder and more inconsolable as time passed, and I knew it wasn’t fair to others trying to pray in the back as well.  As I was getting more upset with him, I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the large entry windows.  I saw the dark ashes on my forehead and thought: what a real way to start off Lent.  I was frustrated and sweaty, having to deal with fussy kids while all I really wanted to do was pray.  I saw those ashes on my head, and heard him say to me, just put on love. 

I realized he didn’t want me there–fresh from receiving his body–dealing angrily with my kids.  He wanted me to take a breath, turn my attention to them in love, and to cease worrying about having everything perfect and all put together.  I think this is a lesson God is trying to teach me through motherhood: to pray by loving, even when it is hard.

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#ashtag “Put on Love”

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Have you decided what you are doing for Lent?  With your help, I put together a list of some ideas for Lenten fasting, praying, and almsgiving. It’s never too late to make the commitment!

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Have you seen this video by Audrey Assad?

I can hardly get through it without crying.  I’ve seen it before, but watching it now makes me realize how applicable it is for lent.  The girl in the video carries the light of Christ with her as she journeys into a wilderness-type setting.  As she encounters demonic forces who try to distract and pull her in different directions, she is able to forge ahead, unaffected by their draw.  As she moves ahead carrying the light of Christ with her, she is able to spread that light, igniting a bonfire that illuminates in the desert.

I think this is what Lent is all about.  It is about journeying into the wilderness of our hearts, to strengthen ourselves with the Holy Spirit and light of Christ.  As we gain strength through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we are able–when Easter comes–to carry his light with us wherever we go, and set the world on fire by putting on his love, inspiring others to do the same.

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This Lent I chose a fast that is a bit different than normal: I chose to fast from staying up late.  I decided for the next 40 days to set an early bedtime and wake up time.  That might sound a bit odd, but I was so touched by what Father Mike Schmitz said in this video:

One of the things about motherhood that I have yet to accept and embrace is how very incarnational it is.  At all times of the day, both my kids want to be all over me.  If we are watching a show, they want to be in my lap.  If I am cooking dinner, they are either clinging to my ankles or crying for me to hold them.  You get the idea–it’s exhausting. 

Since it is so incarnational, by the time their bedtime comes around (no matter how tired I am) I get a second wind. I get to read, write, clean, watch a show…all hands free and individually.  It’s so liberating that I end up staying up way too late–and wake way too grouchily. 

I love what Father says about staying up late, and how it is vanity to not give yourself sufficient time to rest.  In this bad habit, what I am saying to God is: I don’t trust you to provide for me tomorrow.  I don’t trust you to give me the strength, or the love.  

This Lent, I am giving him my time, and so far…it’s been amazing.  I wake rested and ready to tackle the day (and my kids ;).  I think it is a great reminder this lent for me to rest in God and give my worries and anxieties over to him. 

What are you giving up or doing this lent?  Comment below! 

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See, now I can even use their need to be on me as exercise!

Metaphorical “before lent”:

Metaphorical “after lent”:

Joe laughed at me saying, “Honey…that’s not a push up.”  But in my book it counts!  ha

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My friends, that’s all I have for you this Friday morning.  My kids are running amok, as they sense I’m distracted and that my defenses are down.  Cheerios are all over the floor, they are taste testing random candy they are finding (Lucy finally figured out we have chocolate chips in the lazy susan), and I’ve got to go mop up all the spilled milk.  Time to go “put on love”!

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