Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand (Philippians 4:4-5 NKJV).

"Do you want paper or plastic?"

Most of us have been asked this question. Several years ago, however, my son and I were in Paris at a small grocery store, buying some sandwich fixings. I noticed a very unusual thing to me — the cashier placed a bag on the counter at the end of the conveyor belt. She stared at me and obviously wondered what I was doing, just standing there. I looked at her and wondered why it was taking so long for her to bag up my groceries. Then it occurred to me that the customer was supposed to bag up her or his own purchases.

Several months ago, the cashier at a nearby store asked if I would like to have a bag. I thought that this was a silly question since I needed to haul all of that stuff to the car and then drive home. She informed me that each bag would cost 5 cents, and she would be happy to add that amount to my bill. She reached under the counter and handed me two bags, while I again bagged my own items.

To be honest, I wasn't very happy to pay money for a bag that used to be free in that store. The more I thought about the audacity of them charging me for a bag, the more upset I became — I decided to stop shopping there. A few weeks later, I changed my mind and went back, mentally prepared for the "bag discussion." That time it was different, I asked the cashier if the bag was going to cost extra money. She said "No!" ... as she looked at me very strangely.

At another store they sold red, reusable, bags for 50 cents. The clerk asked me if I'd like to buy one at that price, because in the near future they were going to start charging for their plastic bags. I bought one to have on hand, but haven't needed it thus far. It's a bit difficult for me to know in advance how many I am going to need for my various errands.

[All of this may seem very unusual for our international readers, since "free bags" are not an option in most countries, but it has all been part of our disposable US economy. Now, however, no one is quite sure what "bag discussion" is going to include when we go shopping these days.]

That's a good "free bag" of joy for us all to carry home!
I hope that the bags — whatever type the stores offer — will remain free of charge to the customer in the future. Many of us are already carrying around a lot baggage we paid dearly for — anxiety, depression, fear, frustration, guilt, heartache, and many other things. I can assure you that these bags don't come free of charge. When we are dealing with these "bags" we haul around, a friendly face, a warm greeting, a helping hand, and a "free bag" comes in handy!

You see, there's something to be said for customer service that includes genuine interest and kindness. Most of us enjoy shopping at places where people are friendly, upbeat, and smiling. Good customer service encourages us to return again and again.

I recently went to my favorite coffee place and went through the drive-through lane. She told me that they were out of coffee ... that someone had pushed a button and it would take an additional three minutes for it to be brewed. She politely asked me to drive into the parking lot and she would bring it out to me. She not only brought it out, but didn't charge me for it either, since I had been "inconvenienced." She also gave me a coupon for a free cup of coffee to have on my next visit. I have been back several times, because they were so cordial and kind to someone carrying around all her "bags" of stuff.

Isn't it nice to be greeted by a warm and friendly person? Yes, a little customer service goes a long way, especially in these belt-tightening, economic times. There's a clerk at the main post office in San Diego who knows my name. Every time, he greets me with "Hi Katha, how are you today?" I always say "You remembered my name!" A lady at the pharmacy also remembers my name, too. I have a little trouble remembering names, and it amazes me when people remember mine and seem to carry about the "bags" I carry.

Simple kindness and friendliness is excellent customer service. It makes people feel special. Some companies hire applicants who smile and look them in the eye. Countries hosting important international events will often hire cordial people. They want to make a good impression on their visitors, so they actually hire "professional smilers"! It's almost like they know we are all carrying these "bags" and want to help us out — maybe even give us a free "bag" of joy to carry home with us.

So here's what I want you to do right now: smile! Your next assignment is to smile at people during the day and treat them as someone carrying around bags of heavy and expensive stuff, and help them lighten their load. See for yourself how much happier you'll feel, and notice that the "smiled upon" person will in turn smile at others — it's contagious. It doesn't cost anything to smile. We'll bless others more than we can ever imagine and that's a good "free bag" of joy for us all to carry home!