"This time we are doing things a little differently, we'll be sharing Christmas Love with the children from Hebo in July instead of December."
I was giving them a rundown of our summer plans, and as a special bonus I told them, we would spend a day or two with the kids we've grown to love in Hebo (a small village roughly 4 hours from Asmara, Eritrea). The kids were happy and instantly started gathering toys and clothes they would give the kids. Not long later though, Lorenzo came to me and said: "Wait a minute, does this mean, Santa is coming back to our home since technically we are giving early this year?" I didn't know how to respond, so I stood quiet for about 30 seconds, just thinking about what I could say that wouldn't backfire in my face months later. So, he did what any seven-year-old boy would do; he asked again and again until I finally said: "Lorenzo, only God knows what will happen in December, so how about you just pray and we talk about it again when the time approaches." He said okay, and quickly put his hands together and shut his eyes. I used this time as my exit strategy. LOL
Three years ago, I started Operation Give Not Receive as a way to teach my children about the act of kindness, being humble, and thinking for others above yourself. As we were traveling to Eritrea for the holidays back then, I told them Santa would skip our house that year because we were instead going to be giving presents to children that were less fortunate. What began as a one time project became a family tradition and now three years later we are still going strong!
Other families joined in, and it truly took a life of its own. What I love most is that my family and I built a relationship with the nuns in Hebo, and we now consider them family. These women give so much love and affection to the children in their care. They teach them, ensure they have nutritious meals, clean water to drink, clothes to wear, and tend to their every need as a mother would do. That's why when we met them three years ago, we knew we would always return to them and give what we have when we can.
We started our journey to Hebo early on a Thursday morning and took my mother and Bella's best friend's family with us. The drive was beautiful, with mountains and fantastic scenery. Bella and her friend were sitting behind me in the van and I overheard Bella telling her about the children we were just about to see. "You'll love the kids! They are adorable and sweet! They are shy at first, so don't worry if they won't let you hug them okay, just keep trying." Mind you, this was only Bella's second time seeing the children, and in fact, the last time she saw them was in 2017 on our very first trip since we sent all their Christmas Presents with my sister during the second year. BUT she still remembered them; she recognized their faces, and how they acted. She remembered how happy they were, and it touched her heart so much that she was delighted to share the experience with her best friend almost two years later. That is precisely why I started this project, and it's exactly why I'll always continue to do it.
We went to Hebo to help the kids, but instead, they helped us. They inspired us all to be better humans, to love and care for others, to complain less, and be grateful more. Most importantly, they inspired us to help people in their time of need and expect nothing in return.
With Christmas time approaching, I urge you to take time out of your busy schedule and look back to the roots of this special holiday. It's not about the gifts or the holiday parties. No, it's about so much more. It's about spreading love, joy, and happiness in the world. It's about giving and not receiving and coming together with your loved ones to create memories.
In a world full of so much hate, hold your kids tight, give them love, and show them the importance of being kind-hearted!!
If you're thinking about Lorenzo's question, my answer is I don't know! I started this project because I was tired of raising entitled children that had everything but still asked for more! I've seen both Bella andLorenzo change in ways I never expected due to our trips back home, and while I want to keep them kids forever and excited for Christmas, I don't like the idea of Christmas being JUST ABOUT THE PRESENTS! So, for now, I think Santa will skip another year or two until the kids deeply understand the holiday's true meaning. In the meantime, we will continue to celebrate the way we always do-baking, singing carols, wearing matching PJs, and hanging out by the Christmas tree watching Christmas movies. We'll continue to spread love and share with those less fortunate, and as always, we'll continue to spend TIME together and creating memories that will last a lifetime for my babies.