A few years back I met a man who spent every December traveling across the country finding hardworking people who were having a tough time around the holidays and putting an extra hundred bucks in their stockings. His gift couldn’t fix all their problems. But it did make their day, and it gave them an important boost when times were tough.
The only thing more amazing than the fact that Larry Stewart did this every Christmas anonymously, disguised as Saint Nick, was the reason he did it. When he was down on his luck and at the end of his rope somebody gave him a hand up 35 years earlier. It changed his life.
It all started back when Larry was a young salesman. He was doing everything right, racking up great sales numbers for his company. But the rest of the company wasn’t doing so well, and when the owner decided to fold up shop in the middle of the night, he didn’t take the time to tell Larry. And he didn’t take the time to pay him his wages and his expenses.
So Larry was unemployed and broke in a faraway town, with an empty gas tank and an empty stomach. Desperate, he wandered into a restaurant determined to eat, even if he couldn’t pay for it.
After polishing off his meal, he proceeded to tell the waiter that he must have lost his wallet. Half expecting to be arrested, and half expecting to be punched out, instead the owner of the restaurant stepped out from behind the counter with a crisp $20 bill, and handed it to him, claiming he saw it slip out of the young salesman’s back pocket.
Stunned and confused, he quickly snagged the bill and darted out of the restaurant, and made his way to the gas station to fill up his car and make his way home. All the way he thought about the lucky break, eventually coming to the unavoidable realization that the owner performed this good deed so to avoid hurting Larry’s pride.
This inspired him and spurred him on to rediscover his success, eventually becoming a very wealthy entrepreneur.
But he never forgot. A few years later he began his “Secret Santa” routine, going from town to town finding folks who looked like they were a little out of sorts and giving them a one hundred dollar bill. From waitresses and front desk clerks, to school teachers and garbage men, from people driving along in their broken down jalopies, to those who were wearing a noticeably tattered jacket or old pair of shoes, he offered them a little something to ease the pain at a time of the year when it had a special impact.
In 2007, Larry was diagnosed with cancer. A miraculous cure would be the perfect ending for the story, but it was not to be, nor was it what he wished for. What he really wanted was for legions of Secret Santas the world over to be his legacy. After his death, dozens of imitators did pop up.
Christmas isn’t just about giving gifts to our family and friends, but about taking the time to give someone a boost.
It’s paying the bill for the table next to you in a restaurant when you notice the family looks down on their luck. Or walking down the street to help the elderly neighbor you haven’t spoken to in years.
It’s about appreciating all the wonderful things that God and others have done for you in the past and doing some of those things for others. Then Larry’s wish will really come true in a bigger way than he could have ever imagined.