Noise by Leia Williams

On Mondays and Thursdays, I have to sit at a desk that is about half the size of a normal desk. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, since I am about half the size of a normal adult, but it is stacked with stuff that is not mine and already houses an oversized Mac that is not mine either (none of which I can move).

On these two days, I squeeze all of my work materials into a 10×34 inch space. Yep, I measured that sucker.

Adding insult to injury, it is right next to a giant copy machine and a shredder, both of which are used by people from multiple departments. In other words, I am squeezed into a super small space with people standing over me to make copies or leaning over me to shred paper most of the day. It is more than slightly awkward…and you thought you hated Mondays.

My workplace has one additional problem. It is incredibly loud. Oh, heavens the noise! I am a fundraising consultant for a private high school in Indianapolis and I have not been around teenagers regularly since I was one, so I was pretty shocked by the volume at the school. Students are everywhere. They are singing and laughing and talking e v e r y w h e r e.

My productivity level has taken a major hit in this environment. If you know me, you know this makes me crazy.

Jean sits parallel to me. The students love her. They come to see her every day. She is my neighbor and part of the reason our cramped, little neighborhood is filled with very loud children who could be in class.

I don’t remember hanging out with adults when I was in high school, at least not on campus. That would have been lame, possibly even reputation suicide. These students, however, feel incredibly comfortable with Jean; they seek her out for conversation.

She has been very intentional about building relationships with them. The fruit of her intentionality is complete honesty. This rare gift is something most teenagers reserve for their peers. Nevertheless, Jean is privy to conversations about parties, tattoos, and arguments with mom. I am privy to them, too, but only as a result of location.

Each day of school, she has the opportunity to witness to these students and impart wisdom. Every day, she chooses that opportunity no matter how loud or crazy the conversations become. I have had the privilege of listening to her counsel a young woman against getting a tattoo without her mom’s permission. I have also had the privilege of listening to her help a young man find someone who would baptize him. No conversation is off limits. They openly talk about #BlackLivesMatter, abortion, cheating on tests, refugees, student council, and more. When the students want to pray, she will pray with them. When they need someone to stop them from getting into a fight, they come to her.

She is not a teacher. She is not a counselor. She is an administrative assistant, who makes time for students who need words of wisdom. Every day, Jean takes a very average role and transforms it by inviting the divine into the conversations she has with these teenagers.

They talk to her about smashing the patriarchy one day and how sad they are their dads left another. Jean listens. She hears their struggles and concerns. There is no judgement in her tone as she responds, but her words always challenge these students to do what is right.

They pile up their backpacks around her desk and huddle in the floor just to have a few moments of her time. I know they do this, because she truly listens. Her ears have given legitimacy to the words flowing from her mouth.

Soon I will not be stepping over backpacks and students to get to my desk or overhearing the latest teenage drama. Summer is here and the school year is coming to a close. While I am certain my productivity will increase, I will not have a constant reminder that we can participate in ministry and kingdom building regardless of our professional titles.

I don’t know about you, but I need reminders like that. I need people like Jean who invite the divine into every day conversations, people who are willing to bring their callings into the secular and mundane.

Without these reminders, it is far too easy to forget we are called to do the same.


leiawilliamsMy name is Leia, which should tell you that my dad’s favorite movie is Star Wars and I have some very unfortunate nicknames.  I studied International Relations in undergrad and couldn’t find a job to save my life, so I changed my plans and studied communications in graduate school. Now, I have served The United Methodist Church for nearly 7 years in fundraising, discipleship, and communications.

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