Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Housekeeper

There’s a touching moment in the movie Spanglish when the soft spoken, big hearted housekeeper swoops in and saves the day, or rather she saves the shy, sweetheart of an overweight teenage girl from the disapproving shadow of her perfectionist mom. 

In this particular scene, the teenager again fails to measure up and can’t begin to hope to please her mother by fitting into the size four jacket the mom buys her as a birthday gift.  “It’s way too small,” the teenager offers, shame lacing her quiet words.  ”You’ll diet into it,” the mother taunts to which the teen turns away and sighs.  “Yeah, right.”  The jacket gets tossed and lands in the bottom of the closet.  It’s a mountain too tall to tackle. 

Enter the housekeeper.  She sees what goes down and manages to stay out of it for the moment due to the language barrier that exists between her family and that of her employer (and she’s manages not to backhand the mom in the process which makes her a better woman than me) but as you’re watching the movie, you know it’s far from over.  There’s more going on than meets the eye and there’s this mountain of unfinished business to tend to.  So the housekeeper snags the jacket when no one’s looking and the movie rolls into an unrelated scene.

It’s my belief this is how it is for many of us this time of year.  There’s more going on than meets the eye.  Trees are going up and lights are twinkling.  Carols are ringing and there’s a very big reason to hold on to thoughts of joy and renewal.  But for most of us, there’s also unfinished business.  And yes, it’s far easier to toss it, whatever it is, to the bottom of the closet and roll to an unrelated scene than it is to deal with our mountain.

In my own family of origin, our mountain is formed by grief and fear.  My sister has been gone several years, but if anything, her absence is felt more deeply now than ever.  As her beautiful children grow and thrive and move fully into adulthood, there’s reason to celebrate.  A job promotion.  Nursing school graduation.  There’s even a wedding to plan.  Our sorrow over the fact my sister can’t be here to celebrate these milestones in her children’s lives is so overwhelming at times it’s as if we can reach out and squeeze it between our fingers.  It certainly dims the lights on all those trees.  My brother is in the grips of a hideous addiction and every time the phone rings, the fear rises. It steals our words and drowns out the lyrics to familiar tunes speaking of joy and peace.  If ever there was a mountain, surely this is the highest. 

As I watch the film, I’m reminded that my own family needs a soft-spoken, big-hearted housekeeper in the worst of ways.  In the movie, the housekeeper has a plan.  She has talent and the good sense to put it to use.  In her spare time, our gal’s been letting out that new jacket, easing the seams and adding fabric until she gets the size just right.  Then she musters the courage to overcome the lack of common language that stands between she and teen.  She knows the girl wants the jacket.  It was the gift meant to be the highlight of the teen’s birthday.  It’s important and the reason has little, if anything, to do with fashion.

“It’s no use,” the teen says.  “It doesn’t fit.”
“Just try it on,” the housekeeper manages in fairly decent English.  She’s been practicing. 
The teen shakes her head.
“Just try it on.”
A second refusal.
“Just try it on,” the housekeeper urges with a bit more gusto as the teen looks on, not making a move toward the garment. 

I took a cue from the housekeeper and invited my mom to the Christmas concert at our church.  It was big ask.  My mom is struggling right now because of that big mountain planted smack dab in the middle of our family.  She has next to no Christmas spirit and every song she hears on the radio makes her cry.  Seems everything makes her cry these days.

“It’s for a good cause,” I offer. (Just try it on).  Yes, I bought three tickets when I only needed two.  I’ve seen what’s going down in my family and I’ve been practicing.
“The weather’s going to be bad,” mom counters.
“I’ll drive.”  (Just try it on).
“All that Christmas music is going to make me cry and I’ll be embarrassed,” she lobs at me in a last ditch effort to shut me up.
“This year’s a bit different, mom.  We’re mixing traditional Christmas songs with music from The Story.  We’ve spent thirty-two weeks reading through the bible and the music has been amazing.” (Just try it on).  My mom knows this yet I feel the need to remind her.  She attends our church once every couple of months when she comes to visit.  She loves our church.  “I think Heather’s singing,” I add quickly.  (Just try it on).  Ha!  I’ve gone for the jugular.  I’m in this fight to win it.  My mom adores Heather and it just so happens Heather is a key member of the vocal team at our church.  Surely she’ll be singing something at the Christmas concert.  Right?

When we took our seats and the lights came up, we were blown away.  Matt Bays and the vocal team at our church, Northview Church, blew the doors off both the music of the Story and of many traditional Christmas songs we can all name within three notes.  With every song the night got better.  By the time we got to Run, Run Rudolph, it dawned on me my mom hadn’t cried but had laughed and clapped and sang along and been moved all in one.  And the mountain trembled.  I know it because I saw it with my own eyes.  Which leaves me more determined than ever to see through the eyes of the housekeeper more often.  How can I help?  What can I do to effect change?  If not me, do I know someone that can help?  My answer came in the form of a Christmas concert hosted by some amazingly talented artists who crafted something with heart and vision.  But I had to learn the English and be persistent.  Just try it on.

While I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, it’s my sincere belief a perfect fit is possible for all of us.  You’ve just got to be willing to be the housekeeper.


  1. I. love. this.

    I'm putting in on my mirror: "Be the housekeeper." Guess I need to watch "Spanglish."

    Thank you!

  2. Very nicely written! Something we could all use to ease someone's pain...A prayer we could all say in the morning: "Lord, use me today, let me see through your eyes and hear through your ears; let me use your hands, your feet. I am your servant, your housekeeper; use me to show your love to others ~Tracy