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Airport pianist gets $10,000 Venmo tip

[It’s 2am as I write about the experience I just had]

If it’s really early or really late but I’m wide awake, I’m just gonna start assuming that it’s God. He’s got something to say, or maybe something to show me. Tonight was such an occasion.

This is a video from author and speaker Carlos Whittaker.

While sitting at the hotel bar, he sees a man at the piano. Have you seen the movie Soul? This guy was basically Joe from that movie, playing in his own world, and living his best life. But if you didn’t know, when someone is playing in an airport bar, odds are they aren’t being chauffeured from this gig directly to a packed stadium to play later that evening. Those tips he’s making are everything.

Carlos Whittaker goes and chats him up. Finds out his name is Tonee, and he’s on dialysis when he’s not here playing. Then the plan begins…

Seriously, go watch this video, then come back and we’ll talk….

….ok, you done?


So many thoughts:

#1 Don’t we love seeing people who persevere get rewarded? Tonee has good reason to stay at home with the medical issues he’s got. But not only is he here working, but he’s (1) playing beautifully (2) fully engaged and exuberant and (3) looking fly as hell. I want all good things for this guy. I’m already on board with whatever happens next.

#2 Kudos to Carlos Whittaker, a man whose amassed a large following (several hundred thousand across Instagram and Twitter), to see this guy he doesn’t know, reach out, and get to know him. Learn his name and his story. Then he decided to cash in his own influence with his tribe to activate them to do some amazing good for someone he just met.

#3 I love that all the transactions I could see on his Venmo/Cash app were people putting $5, $15, $20. Can’t see all of them, but this was just a lot of small gifts. However, they got to be part of a much larger blessing that everyone got to share in.

#4 I can only imagine what Tonee is thinking. Does he realize this was God coming down and showing him that he is seen and loved? I wonder.

#5 It’s now grown from $10,000 to $35,000 (as of me typing this).

#6 All of this happened in the 30 minutes someone needed to kill before boarding a plane.

Generosity given compassionately, freely, abundantly, and for someone elses good… so good.

This is one of a several trending examples I’ve heard about or experienced around modern day “crowdfunded” generosity.

There’s a woman name Lexy (another Nashvillian) doing a “Venmo Challenge.” People send their spare change to her Venmo account, then she goes out and gives a waiter a large tip. Like, $1,000 large. And it’s gone viral, with her TikTok amassing over a million and a half followers. This started last May during the beginning of the pandemic, and a year later she’s still going strong. And it came from someone leaving her a $1,000 tip several years before, when she was a struggling waitress on Broadway in Nashville.

It happened at my work too. Two Christmases ago, a story went around the team forums about a single mom that was struggling. Someone shared her story, and people just organically started giving, flooding Venmo to help give her and her children a magical Christmas.

This is how we can give in the day we live. This is our version of 2 Corinthians, when Paul describes how he told the Macedonians about the struggling people in Jerusalem, and they were crawling over each other to help:

  • “For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” 2 Corinthians 8:2-3

How cool is it that the same Spirit that led those people at the dawn of the church is still living, breathing, and flowing through us today?

What are you waiting for? Generosity doesn’t require a 501c3, church benevolence ministry, or even a pastor. As Dave Ramsey says often, “We have been blessed to be a blessing.” You. Me. Him. Her. All of us. Right now. Whenever someone comes across our way, are we thinking about how we can help?

The big $10,000 number is awesome (it’s what caught my attention as I was scrolling through). But you know what else is significant… $10. $15. 30 minutes. 2 people. 1 giver. 1 recipient.

Many people blessed because of this story.

I’m gonna try to get some sleep now… good luck.

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