Writing stories to pass values from one generation to the next

Secret Santa Changed My Family Christmas Tree

Secret Santa

The conclusion to Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life) contains a story of legacy from last Christmas. It is a story of generosity that was inspired by a post that I wrote just before our family gathering in 2013.

Secret Santa Changed My Family Tree

Secret Santa changetree-decorations-511716_1280d my family tree.  I remember where I was when I first heard the story from this modern-day Kris Kringle in December of 2006.  Driving from my house toward Hernando and listening to the Dave Ramsey Show on the radio, I was overwhelmed by the story of this native Mississippian.  Didn’t know Santa was a Mississippian?  Well, Secret Santa, at least, was from Bruce, and his legacy will stretch far beyond his 58 years on earth.  If you don’t know Larry Stewart’s story, please read it before returning here to read how Secret Santa changed my family tree.  Take Kleenex with you.  I’ll wait.

Secret Santa: Larry Stewart’s incredible legacy lives on


A Secret Santa Dream of My Own

Dave Ramsey had come to our church years ago to present his Financial Peace seminar.  At the very end of the day, he asked a question that probably went over the heads of the weary conference-goers, but it lit a fire in me for my financial future.  He asked what would happen if people throughout the church (and the church itself) got out of debt.  He asked us to dream about how we could give.  With me, that dream stuck.  I just didn’t know what that dream looked like until I heard Secret Santa on Dave’s show on that December 2006 afternoon.  As I listened to his story, the dream began to percolate in my mind.

My dream goes something like this: It’s Christmas Eve, I’m a grandfather (who goes by Pop, just like my paternal grandfather), and all of my family is gathered.  Children, in-laws, grandchildren — all gathered at our house.  Food has been eaten, songs have been sung, the Christmas story has been read, and gifts have been exchanged.  Then, just as my grandfather, Tomp, used to do, I will stand and move around the room handing out envelopes.  Tomp’s contained $10 each as his gift to us.  Mine will contain hundred dollar bills.  Everyone present, no matter how closely or distantly related, will get a $100 bill.  And then we will all go load up in our vehicles and go give them away.  That is my dream.  I believe the Lord gave me that dream as I drove across Bright Road that day.

A Life-Changing Drive to Town

By the time I turned right on Jaybird, I felt confident that this dream would happen…some day.  As I rolled up to the stop sign at Byhalia Road, the Lord reminded me that our family made a practice of setting aside money every year as our gift to Jesus.  We couldn’t do $100 each, but we could start with a total of $75, our budget that year.

Armed with a ten and a five apiece, the Family of Five set out to give it away.  The Little Fella went first.  He was three years old at the time, and he wanted to give his to the tall, slender teenager taking up tickets at the movie theater.  While the rest of the family watched from the concession stand, the Little Fella strolled across the lobby and tapped the young man on the leg, held out a ten dollar bill, and said, “Merry Christmas.”  The teenager looked frantically around the lobby to find this kid’s parents; when he saw us looking at him with a thumbs-up, he reached down a gave the Little Fella a priceless hug.

There are so many other stories I could tell.  Like the one about the girl at Wendy’s who was the only one working there the night we went there.  (Oh, there were other employees there, but she was the only one working.)  Momma made her night.  Then, there was the family at Chick-Fil-A who was so dumbfounded by Older Brother’s (secretly) paying for their meal that the dad returned to the counter in the middle of his family’s meal, laid down a ten on the counter, and said, “If he can do, so can I.”

The Christmas budget hasn’t grown much over the years–even shrinking a little this year–but we continue to move toward the dream.  Some years, we have divided our Jesus’ gift money and some years we have used it all in one place.  Some years, we have given in secret and other years, not.  But we figured that it’s not much of a birthday celebration if only the guests get gifts and not the Birthday Boy.

The Risk

I know what some of you may be thinking.  By “sounding our trumpet,” as Matthew 6:2 says, I know that I may have risked my reward in heaven.  I take that risk to challenge you to learn from Secret Santa.  I take that risk to challenge you to build a legacy of giving in your family.  Start with whatever you have.  But start this Christmas.  If you take me up on that challenge, that’s plenty of reward for me.  Oh, the stories your family will be able to tell in the years to come…  Oh, the legacy you will create…


Larry Stewart passed away from a rare cancer a month or two after that radio program.  I feel like I was given a gift during an ever-so-brief window of time, a gift that has forever changed my family tree.  Thanks, Secret Santa. And thanks, Alison, for grasping the value of generosity and causing it to prosper in the next generation of our family.

Check out how Secret Santa continues as Larry Stewart’s legacy. This was a tough year for law enforcement, but Secret Santa helped bridge the gap. See how.

Other Values Storying Christmas-Themed Posts

“Old McDonald Had a Farm for Christmas”

“Mama Bluebird and the Best Christmas Ever”

“The 12 Tweets of Christmas”

“Questions About Christmas: Santa, Elf on a Shelf, and Jesus”

“An Open Letter Seeking Clarification About Christmas Music”

“The Huge Box in the Station Wagon”

“25 Red Christmas Ribbons: The Next Generation”

About Al Ainsworth

Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell.

Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel, Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and the Coach Dave series. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.

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