Entertaining angels

posted in: Blog, Books, Uncategorized, Writing | 7

I’ve been marketing books of mine now for more than 20 years but only recently realized a big mistake I was making:

Thinking it was only about books and sales.

Instead of, say, salt and light. Or experiences. Or giving instead of getting.

Example: I used to fret when I’d show up for an event and only a handful of people would be there. It made me feel like a failure. Like I was wasting my time and, given my poor-me attitude, the time of those who showed up.

Then it dawned on me: God must have some purpose for me to be wherever I was. And if people are important to God then they should be important to me, whether three or three hundred show up.

“I don’t worry about the folks who didn’t show up,” I now tell people if there’s a sea of empty chairs. “I’m just thrilled to be with those of you who did. Thanks for coming.”

Changing my attitude changed everything. Realizing my worth is defined by God’s love for me and not by any popularity I might get from people, I loosened up and had more fun.

Sure, I’ve had my moments, but, more often than not, I started laughing at situations that otherwise might have angered me. “OK, OK,” I might say to a group of eight people amid 25 chairs, “let’s all scoot to the center to make room for others.” (Proverbs 18:12: Humility comes before honor.)

I became less concerned about selling books than about making sure people were having a good experience.

I became more attuned to others, reminding myself that perhaps there was just one person in the audience who needed some inspiration or a good laugh from me that day.

Recently, one event hammered home this lesson. In the spring I had set up an event at a small-town library regarding a new children’s book I’d written and my friend Tom had illustrated. At the time, I had casually joked with the librarian that maybe we’d make it a barbecue.

Six months later — and three days before an event that I’d all but forgotten about — I got an e-mail from the librarian. “Can we help you at all with the barbecue Wednesday night?”

I called Tom. “I guess I sort of promised we’d do a barbecue for their town,” I said.

He didn’t say, “You WHAT?” He’s way more grounded than I am. Instead, he said, “Let’s do it, baby!” and organized who would bring what.

As I rolled down a freeway with a grill in the back of my ’95 pickup, I said to myself: Are we really putting on a barbecue in a town of 600 people?

That’s when I heard a thud. Despite my tie-down job, the grill had flipped over, its guts strewn around the pickup bed. It was 95 degrees. I was on the side of a freeway trying to re-secure a grill. And I was not happy. Does John Grisham have to do stuff like this to sell a few books?

Once Tom and I reached the town, 30 minutes away, nobody showed up. At first.

Then, slowly, people trickled in. Five. A dozen. More. Tom started grilling dogs. A group broke out in “Happy Birthday” to a friend of theirs. I realized people were having a blast.

A woman took me by the arm. “I brought my neighbor,” she said. “She’s dying of cancer and said she would love to meet you. She loves your writing.”

Two hours later, in the pink light of an Oregon sunset, Tom and I were heading home when he said something I’ve never forgotten: “This was one of the coolest nights of my life.”

Same here. We’d grilled and given away 48 hot dogs, sold two dozen books and brought together people in a small town for an evening of fun.

What’s more, I’d had the privilege of spending time with a woman who would, three months later, be dead, but who somehow thought seeing me was important.

Now, I don’t even like to call it “marketing.” I call it a privilege to spend time with people — sometimes many, sometimes just a few — who think I’m important enough to give up a few hours of their time to see.

And I remember Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

7 Responses

  1. Betty Kaiser

    Thanks for the reminders. Too often we forget that showing hospitality is a way of life. I love Tom’s statement about the coolest time night of his life. Fun is where you find it!
    Blessings,
    Betty K.

  2. Carol

    Thank you Bob…we love your gift of sharing from your heart with your speaking, teaching and writing. I can relate to doing things for Lord for one or many…thankful for God’s appointments for divine encounters.
    Ron & Carol

  3. Lynn Leissler

    Thanks for your wise words. I copied off the article and tucked it in my marketing folder. When my book comes out, I’ll read and reread your thoughts. A good reminder that when we show up and do what we’re supposed to, God is in the details. And the results.

  4. Sherrey Meyer

    Bob, I can’t thank you enough for this post. While I sit nursing a chronic cough and a husband with a ruptured disc, I see my goal of completing my memoir in 2014 and hopefully publishing and MARKETING it soon. That word “marketing” scares the bejeebers out of me! You have humbled me with your words, as you always do, and like Lynn, I’m saving this one for reading and rereading.

    Missed being with you all at Beachside this year but health issues for both of us precluded my coming. Hopefully, 2015!

  5. Shirley Hershey Showalter

    Lovely post. I found it because of my friend Sherrey Meyer who shared it on FB.

    I’m about to give a book talk in a library in a place where I have no previous experience — Kansas City, Kansas. But I go expecting to meet angels unaware.

    BTW, I lost my last comment due to a CAPTCHA error. Is there a way to prevent that from happening? I almost didn’t retry.

  6. Marian Beaman

    The title drew me in and your story hit home. My blog may become a book someday, but in the meantime I’m trying to focus on being salt and light.

  7. Antje Hill

    Oh my, what beautiful words. I plan to print this out for my husband to read, as he heads toward his first book signing in a few weeks.

    I bought my first of your books, Where Roots Grow Deep, last year. Since then , my son and his wife have made a choice to move to Oregon, simply because of their love of nature. Today, I am purchasing your book, My Oregon, for them, to acquaint them with your state, as well as your talents. I believe your words can touch their life in a very special way, as they search for life’s meaning and their place in this world.

    Thank you for your words of inspiration, that continue to make a difference in people’s lives. Perhaps at some point I will be able to attend one of your presentations. What a treat that would be!

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