In Beth Duffels enormous family her parents and grandparents and 15 siblings, some of whom are still at home and some who are grown and some who have spouses and children there will be fewer presents under the Christmas tree than there used to be.
But its not what it sounds like. Its a choice the whole family has made.
Beth says: Its still a picturesque morning, with the tree and the presents (for the little kids) and the stockings. But theres also a higher purpose.
This Christmas, the various siblings and families will dump out the containers of change theyve been collecting all year long. Theyll count the pennies and quarters, and the bigger bills and perhaps a check or two. This year, the entire collection will go toward water filtration systems in Third World countries.
Every time Jace, my 5-year-old, finds money on the floor or gets his allowance, he asks, Can I put this in the clean-water well?
Last year, the familys Christmas money bought 20 wheelchairs that are also distributed in third world countries.
The year before, they divided their money between two friends doing mission work and an organization that works against sex trafficking.
It was more than $1,000. Which is crazy, because we wouldnt have spent that much on gifts. Im putting in way more than my $25 that I would have spent on a gift exchange to go to something thats more worthy and needs it more.
To understand the significance of this Christmas present decision, its useful to understand the story of Beths huge family.
My whole family is Christian; we all believe in generosity and we all know that there are people out there who dont have anything. Which is a little ironic because a lot of my brothers and sisters were some of those people for a long time before we knew them.
Beth and her twin sister were the youngest of three children until she was 16. With their teenagers approval, Beths parents decided to adopt more children.
My parents they love God; they have a lot of love in their home. They knew there were a lot of children who didnt have anything close to that.
So one day, exactly one week after the first phone call, the family drove to Washington state and drove home with Beths four cute new sisters.
Over the next five years, the family grew exponentially. Four sibling groups, ranging in age from 3 to 16, eventually rounded out the family that grew to be 15 kids in all.
It rubs me the wrong way when people ask me, How many real sisters (do you have)? I do understand the distinction between biological and adoptive, and if you see my family, its not hard to tell.
But theres just family and love and those relationships are so much deeper than that.
All the children came from troubled birth families, each bringing an emotional and psychological history that couldnt be instantly vanquished. Some of Beths siblings have ended up in prison and homeless shelters.
Theres a lot of things that arent rosy about it, but theyre still our family and its still good that theyve known (our family love) even if they decided to rebel against it or go back to old ways. ...
Adoption has not just been about providing a place of love for children. They need so much more than that.
This is important in this Christmas story because the concept of giving among other concepts, like healthy relationships was one that had to be taught to many of Beths siblings.
Who knew that parents are actually teaching kids that their whole lives?
There was a lot to teach about giving gifts. Its not just about getting. I always knew that I would give some gifts and I would get some gifts. That was kind of how it was.
They, first of all, had never really gotten gifts. And definitely had never given gifts.
So when the family adopted this new kind of Christmas three years ago, it was important that the children still exchanged presents.
Giving is good. When you get rid of presents all together, it does take away the joy and excitement that comes with giving an amazing gift to someone.
Each year, a sibling family gets to pick the designated charity. Through the organizations, Beth is excited to teach her children about the big world outside of Boise. Her passion comes from a half-dozen musical mission trips that she took each summer when she was in her teens.
Being able to experience to actually live with people in their homes, in their cultures: life-changing. Completely life-changing.
It comes from knowing God and knowing that everyone is created from him. Because Im white doesnt make me better; because I live in America I feel blessed to live in America, but its not the only way.
And it also doesnt mean that I dont have something to learn from someone who lives in Haiti, just because its a Third World country. I think they have things to teach me and to show me, and let me experience from their culture and their life that I would never I could never experience here in Boise, Idaho.
As Christmas comes nearer, Beth and her husband and sons pour through the catalogs of international aid opportunities, which are the gifts they will give to each other: mosquito netting to prevent malaria, soccer balls for kids in Africa.
I want them to know that everyone doesnt live how they live. And they can do something about that. That its not hopeless just because it can be such a huge problem world hunger or world peace. We cant necessarily abolish those things or change those. But there is something we can do.
My son, hes prayed for people who need wheelchairs or clean water (My sons) care about their gifts, but they really enjoy picking out a gift for another child whos not going to get one.
And so, this Christmas, as Beths family gathers with her siblings and their families around their parents tree in Burley, there will be the laughter and excitement of children. And the adults will join in, too.
There is a joy in giving a gift that is meaningful and helpful and beneficial. Were not just doing this stuff to make ourselves feel better. This really is more of a spirit of giving than wrapping a present and putting it under the tree.
We read the Christmas story every Christmas morning with (the kids) and they know that its not just about getting gifts.
Its because we were given a gift and thats why we give gifts.
Know someone living from the heart? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.