Thursday, September 23, 2010

Customer Servants

Sometimes we listen too much to "new wisdom."

     Take, for instance, the idea of in-store book signings.
     People who watch trends say, "Nobody goes to author signings anymore. Not unless you're a celebrity. Don't even bother doing them."
     I've had my share of cricket-chirping events, including a Barnes&Noble signing where I was asked one question: "Where's the bathroom?"
     Last Saturday, the Lifeway bookstore in Tukwila invited me to sign books as part of the store's one-year anniversary event. 
     I was very excited, yet also worried. 
     New wisdom said nobody would show up. I didn't want to let the store down. And I didn't want to give directions to the bathroom.
     But people came. On a sunny Saturday.
     Sunny. In Seattle. During a very rainy year.
     Amid the worst economy in decades.
     Every minute, the door swung open, ushering in homeschool moms whose only vacations happen between the covers of a novel. Grandparents. Ladies with saucy walks. Black women sporting terrific hats hooting "Get outta here!" when I described the rap musician in "The Clouds Roll Away." My whirlwind friend from Facebook, Hurricane Priscilla, spun into the store to meet in person (finally), swirling around husbands buying books to surprise wives who were resting at home. Hopeful writers. Readers who devour fiction. People who buy books to comfort those in need. And I enjoyed a long chat with a woman wearing a jacket from Emerald Downs -- a setting that appears in the book I'm currently writing -- whose fiance proposed on a cruise to Alaska -- a setting for the book that will appear in March, The Mountains Bow Down  -- and whose now-husband ambled over, only to realize that his wife and an author he'd never heard of had gone from strangers to friends in five minutes flat. He laughed and said, "What is it with you women?"
     But I don't think it was us.
     I think it's this Lifeway store.
     Granted, promotional events were going on during part of the day. My favorite DJ, Sam, from "Scott and Sam in the Morning" on 105.3 FM, broadcast live for short segments, filling the store with her laughter that like sounds like happy wind chimes. And the Veggie Tales characters greeted kids for awhile, too.
     But those two things were only a small portion of the morning. Sitting at my table for four hours, I watched the customers streaming through the door. Most were not coming for the promotions.
     When I packed up to leave, I mentioned to the sales staff that the store seemed unusually busy for this bad economy.
     "Actually today was kind of slow," said one of the sales clerks.
     Two years ago, the Nashville-based Lifeway decided to close its three Seattle-area locations, consolidating the staff from Bellevue, Issaquah and Overlake Church into the new space just past Southcenter Mall.
     I liked those stores, but this location feels better.
    "Before we open every morning, we pray over this space," said another sales clerk.
     As I drove home that afternoon, I reflected on the eternal battle between "new wisdom" and ancient traditions. Plenty of people might mock that store's morning prayer.  Some might even twist it into a picture of Christians treating God like the lottery -- pick the right words, win the money.
     But that's not what's happening.
    "You know what's the best part of this location?" said another sales person, who worked at the old Bellevue location. "We keep selling out of Bibles. Of course, I feel bad for the person who has to wait, but it just makes me so happy that we have to order more Bibles."
     Last Saturday, I was richly blessing in book sales and people-watching. But I also got to see genuine joy in customer service. The staff cheerfully helped people of all stripes and their attitude didn't change whether the customer's kid was spilling popcorn on the carpet or somebody was griping about an audio CD not working.
     It wasn't just good customer service.
     It was customer servants.
     And the spirit sustained.
     "The secret of a Christian," Oswald Chambers once wrote, "is that the supernatural is made natural in him by the grace of God, and the experience of this works out in the practical details of life."
      Certainly, "new wisdom" has its place, especially in a difficult economy.
      But nothing can replace the faithful promises of a loving God.


  1. What a beautiful post. I wish I had been there!

  2. Thanks, Robin. Wish you were, too. Maybe another time.