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The Generosity Effect

It was an unusually cold day in the traditional, small town of Houston, Mississippi. The unusual cold was bone cold for Larry because it had been a really, really bad year. He had been fired and evicted before Christmas. Hard to believe a hardworking, regular guy could end up so far down, so scared, so hungry, and so cold.

With not a cent to his name, Larry stopped in the Dixie Diner for some lunch. His plan was to act like he’d lost his wallet and beg for mercy because he simply had to have some food.

Ted Horn was the owner of the Dixie Diner and a man with a big smile and an even bigger heart. It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul. As Ted struck up a conversation with Larry across the lunch counter, he looked in Larry’s eyes and saw a lot of pain, a lot of fear, a lot of hopelessness. A few minutes later, Ted walked behind Larry’s stool and reached down as if he was picking up something off the floor. He said, “Son, you must have dropped this,” and handed Larry a $20 bill.

Little did Ted know, giving Larry the money to pay for lunch was a simple act of kindness that would have an effect on thousands of people with millions of dollars over several decades . . .

Larry Stewart went on to make millions of dollars in a cable business and settled with his wife in Kansas City, Missouri. But he never forgot Ted or his kindness and generosity. In fact, Larry’s random acts of generosity started with a similar gesture—a $20 bill he gave to a car hop at a drive-in. With tears in her eyes she thanked Larry, saying he had no idea how much that meant to her right now . . . but he did.

Larry’s random giving increased, and he became known as Secret Santa of Kansas City. Dressed as Santa (with a police body guard), Larry would roam Kansas City looking for someone who needed some help. He gave out $100 bills to the people God sent across his path, giving away tens of thousands of dollars every Christmas to random people.

Secret Santa expanded his rounds to New Orleans after Katrina, New York City after 9/11, and other cities as the Spirit moved him. His identity was kept secret from 1979 to 2006, all the while making peoples’ lives brighter with his generosity. Larry gave millions of dollars as Secret Santa.

A tabloid was planning to out the identity of Secret Santa the year Larry was diagnosed with cancer. So, he decided to beat them to it, stealing “their” story. He came on The Dave Ramsey Show to reveal to the world the identity and the back story of this amazingly generous Secret Santa. He instructed the world on how they could all become Secret Santas. It was truly an honor to know him.

Larry’s story taught me that a simple, even small act of generosity can cause more generosity. It is the butterfly effect of generosity. A butterfly flaps his wings and eventually somewhere around the world a hurricane occurs. Ted “finds” a $20 bill under Larry’s stool and Secret Santa gives millions, then inspires an untold number of more Secret Santas to give. That $20 bill becomes tens of millions with the multiplier effect of generosity.

When we experience generosity, we can’t keep ourselves from paying it forward. I see this time and time again, especially as people become debt-free. They want to share that same hope and freedom with others. Their hearts and hands are open, so more can flow in and out.

Our hearts are permanently enlarged when someone is generous and kind to us in our darkest hour. But then, that’s what God intended—that generosity would change us. He’s the author of the ultimate generosity effect. He sent His only Son to save us—a small baby in a manger to change the world. How can we not be transformed by such a gift?

We’re blessed to be a blessing, to bring light to a dark world. So, this season I want to wag more and bark less. I want to find how many ways a $20 bill or $100 bill or more can become a generosity butterfly.

Hey everyone, let’s flap our wings together and change this nation . . . this world. Ready, Set, Go!

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Dave Ramsey

About the author

Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey is an eight-time national bestselling author, personal finance expert and host of The Ramsey Show. He has appeared on Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business and many more. Since 1992, Dave has helped people take control of their money, build wealth and enhance their lives. He also serves as CEO for the company Ramsey Solutions. Learn More.

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