Friday, May 6, 2011

Beyond a Voicemail

“Good morning, Northland Counseling Services. This is Catherine! How can I help you?” I adjust the headset more comfortably around my ear, while keeping my eye on the waiting room clock. It’s almost 8:47 AM. I tap through several computer screens, “yes, next week is available…” Copy, click, save appointments through the end of May. “Thank you for calling!” I hear the door creak, and I shift my chair toward the window. “Good morning…”

The 30 minutes that it takes for a clock’s hand to scale minutes marked 45 to the 15 is the most chaotic period of time for a receptionist at Northland Counseling’s Roseville office, and for the last 10 months, I’ve had the privilege of a front seat view. Literally.

I straighten a few pens and brace. 3…2…1…

Meet The Beast. Enough said.
In theory, the only thing that happens on the hour is the scheduled appointments…in reality, the world turns on it. I have since concluded that there must be something in the earth’s rotation to cause a super-magnet of time, causing all things to draw together in perfect chaos during those 30 minutes. Inevitably, as soon as a client comes to the window with his credit card to charge his co-pay, the phone begins ringing on both lines, the therapist pops his head in to request seven more copies of a handout in the next five minutes, and the computer freezes into oblivion. Three children began pulling out the puzzles, and a new client is confused about her clipboard of paperwork. And then, there is The Beast. To my left sits a creature that is the antithesis of friendly machines like R2-D2; rather, this behemoth of a copier/fax/printer shrieks with all the subtlety of a police siren and threatens to spit fire as soon as it is stirred awake…which it gleefully times to erupt in our precious 30 minute window.

Yes, here you are. No, it will be a few minutes. Spell your last name, please. I’m sorry, I’ll check the coffee. Can you sign here please? Only the Tuesday or Wednesday have availabilities. Welcome, please take a seat! Yes, yes, thank you! Have a good day!

And then… silence. The printer grumbles a few beeps and settles down. All is quiet. And I can now file away the resulting piles scattered across the desks.

The receptionist, quipped one of my co-workers, is the “neck that makes the head turn.”

Where it all the magic happens!
I answer the phone, coordinate office space, and do mental gymnastics as I schedule multiple clients with the same name and spelling who want the same day with the same therapist... I bandage bleeding fingers and replace light bulbs. I keep the candy basket full and call maintenance when the toilets start overflowing. I fax medical records and race back and forth to the main building’s doors when people are locked outside in a rainstorm. I copy insurance cards and leave messages, always repeating our phone number twice. I make the coffee, replace the tea bags, and sort through months of magazines for your waiting room enjoyment. I file hundreds of records and listen to a child animatedly calculating the airspeed of a flying dragon, and the resulting flight time to Chicago. I’ve been hit on by a golf course salesman and enjoy a jovial “good morning” with the Friday mailman. I piece together receptionist Spanish (not found in your average high school curriculum) and laugh with the Venezuelan couple when I make mistakes. I attempt to deepen my phone voice so that I don’t sound like a 12-year-old soprano, check the Kleenex boxes, and ask you to sign here please on credit card receipts.

Our very cheery waiting room, serenaded with classical music
I’m a receptionist, and today I had the bittersweet task of turning in my key and leaving Northland. As I look back on the last ten months, I can see the Lord’s provision throughout the entire journey, orchestrating details that only He could have known.

It was the end of summer 2010, my full-time contract position at Northwestern College as a proofreader was coming to an end…and I had no job. Every evening after work, I stayed up late scouring job posting websites and crafting over thirty personalized resumes and cover letters. I networked until I was blue and made connections on LinkedIn and prayed…and was becoming desperate. Nothing was turning up, and even if I managed to start the hiring process, who would want a girl who was departing the country so soon after finally being trained in? My last week at NWC arrived and I was still without a position, when on my lunch break, my phone rang. “Catherine Rivard…?”

Connections that no one could call coincidence…phone call…interview. And the next week, the day after I left my cube at Northwestern, I stepped into Northland’s Roseville office.

Northland Counseling Services is a Christian counseling ministry staffed with the most tremendous collection of therapists and psychologists that I have ever encountered. With locations in Chanhassen, Chaska, and Roseville, people all around the Twin Cities are able to find hope and freedom through Christ, guided by the wisdom and expertise of these amazing men and women. I can’t say enough about them, other than I have been so blessed to sit behind the counter hand them their schedules as they help restore marriages, bring about adoptions, reconcile relationships, and provide relief from trauma.

And it’s not just the therapists.  Over the months, I have seen firsthand the ministry woven together in every corner of this office, from the gentleness of my co-worker who can walk even the most depressed or OCD through all the necessary paperwork, to my office manager who, by a smile and God-given ability to remember everyone’s name, birthday, and recent antics of their dog, is able to make each person feel like he or she is the most important in the world.

Here, ministry is not defined by a job title.

In this period of raising support, I’m introduced a lot. Everyone, I’d like you to meet Catherine—people smile, extend their hands, and then I, with some trepidation, watch their faces as the next words drop. She’s a missionary. 

The hands-free headset is very handy...except when the battery dies
Eyebrows go up…where? Papua New Guinea. No—really? Oh, I could never do that! How did you…? My, my! And I watch in dismay as, more often than not, their well-meaning intentions begin to construct a pedestal that soon lands me among the gods of Mount Olympus.  Well, I could never serve like that!  I’m just a stay-at-home mom, after all. Imagine! I just work in a cube…I could never go to the jungle!

And I wish they could understand that a cheery voicemail can go thousands of miles further than a plane ticket.

No, please…meet Catherine. She’s a receptionist.

Can I get you a cup of coffee?