What follows is another yearly installment in our family’s complete history told via the 2003 Flanders Family Christmas Update. To see a full listing, see Our Christmas Letters. For tips on writing your own family history in this fashion, follow this link. In the meantime, enjoy!

The Flanders Family Update: 2003

December 2002 Happenings

“The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) As if building a house, having a baby, and taking over the ETAA presidency did not promise enough excitement for the coming year, Doug received word last December that his Army Reserve unit was being activated. He was told to pack up his gear and await further instructions concerning when and where to report. Thus began what Kurt Vonnegut would call our “dancing lessons from God.”

We spent Christmas in Missouri, as planned, although illness kept Doug’s parents from joining us. The rest of the family had a terrific time trudging around Big Cedar Lodge in 14 inches of fresh-fallen snow and roasting marshmallows over the blazing fires the boys kept burning in our cabins.

January 2003 Happenings

Pressures mounted in January when we were selected for a random audit by the IRS. They primarily wanted proof that all of our children actually exist, though I don’t see why it should matter, since we can’t deduct any of them!

Of course, we are allowed to deduct such things as Doug’s portion of travel expenses incurred while attending medical conferences, but when Jennifer began bragging to the tax adjuster what a great deal that gave us on last year’s cruise, Doug thought it inappropriate and issued a swift kick under the table to silence her.

When he later tried to apologize, she laughed, “You didn’t kick ME!” Fortunately, a bruised shin was not enough to keep our amicable auditor from filing the first “No Change” he’d had in years.

The Army piled on paperwork when Doug’s security clearance had to be renewed this month, forcing him to track down everything from “college roommate’s current address” to “last job’s supervisor’s middle name”. The anesthesia presidency also proved more time-consuming than anticipated. We felt desperate to get away from phones and faxes, but were so dog-tired by the time Doug got a long weekend that we opted to stay at home and watch a documentary on The 50 Years War instead. How’s that for an exotic vacation?

February 2003 Happenings

We forged ahead with our building plans in February. Once the trees were cleared to make room for it, our house seemed a lot bigger than it looked on paper!

The land developer joked with passers-by that a new private school was being built on the lot. It is nestled on two wooded acres and surrounded by hiking trails that beckon our children to come explore the little lake that lies at the foot of the hill. Thus they spent many glad hours this summer, while Mom and Dad surveyed the slow but steady progress being made on our new home.

Bethany learned to cut hair this month, thanks to her brothers’ willingness to serve as guinea pigs. Inspired, Rebekah did a little hairstyling of her own. She brushed the tangles from Mom’s waist-length tresses, then retrieved what Jennifer assumed was a barrette when she felt its cold, metallic edge slide against the crown of her head.

Blessings be on our observant Sam, who snatched the scissors from sister’s hands and spared his unsuspecting mother a severe scalping! Undaunted, Bekah simply smuggled the scissors into bed at nap time, where she buzzed two Barbies and gave herself a mullet, unhindered.

March 2003 Happenings

Doug received orders on the Ides of March to report at once to Fort Sam Houston, a copy of his will in hand! That was hardly reassuring, but as Providence would have it, he spent his entire 90-day “tour of duty” stationed in San Antonio, administering anesthesia at Brook Army Medical Center, but ready to defend the Alamo should the need arise.

He was still driving that Hummer2 (and would routinely take Jennifer garage-saling in it, although doing so diminished her ability to negotiate lower prices!). This has become one of the hottest-selling cars in America, despite attempts by various environmental groups to blackball the gas-guzzler.

When told of an anti-Hummer billboard campaign which inquires of passing motorists, “What would Jesus drive?”, Doug argued in favor of the H2: “After all,” he reasoned, “it’s just a modern-day donkey. Both come equipped with heated leather seats and are great for going off-road.” (He has since repented and is back in a truck).

Bethany served as an Azalea Belle this month. Donning an antebellum dress, she stood on the lawns of Tyler’s historic homes and greeted visitors during the three weekends the azaleas were in bloom. It took some major alterations to get her hoop skirt and ball gown to fit again-at six foot, she’s 13 inches taller than last time she wore it.

The boys pulled their old Confederate uniforms out of storage, as well, to reenact a few battles at a friend’s “Civil War” birthday party. Their pretend skirmishes came days after Mom had scheduled school time for our five oldest to see the newly released Gods and Generals at the theater.

This film made a lasting impression. Our daring David, now 11, was especially moved by Stonewall Jackson’s belief that the sovereignty of God kept him “as safe on the battlefield as [he was] in bed.” Jennifer was quick to balance this conviction (which we whole-heartedly share) with an observation that the courageous general did not abandon all caution, and neither should he.

April 2003 Happenings

Our home school group wrapped up a year-long study of the Middle Ages in April with an extravagant feast and three-hour play. Jon was a monk, Bethany a lady-in-waiting, David a court jester (a role for which he was definitely type-cast!), Samuel head page, and Ben a chorus member. Little Rachel made her acting debut a week earlier, sharing the stage with David and Bethany in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With blonde locks and rosycheeks, she made an unlikely “Indian boy”, but played a convincing baby….

We spent the rest of the month in San Antonio with Doug, who’d moved to an apartment off-base. It had two bedrooms (three, if you count the master closet which doubled as a nursery; four, if you include the storage space under the stairs which Joe enthusiastically claimed for his own) and one very easily-overwhelmed toilet, but for all the indoors lacked in space and fresh air, the outdoors more than compensated.

The apartment grounds boasted three separate pools, a beautiful tree-lined lake, and a mile-long jogging trail which looped behind the local library. The children raced through their studies every morning and spent afternoons hiking, swimming, fishing, feeding ducks, and browsing bookshelves. It was a nice change of pace.

May 2003 Happenings

Jonathan turned 15 in May, completed Driver’s Ed and got his learner’s permit. The hardship of having a mother who can’t stay awake on the road gave him plenty of driving experience on our frequent trips to San Antonio.

We’re proud of how responsible and conscientious Jon is behind the wheel. We also think that anyone who must learn to drive (and parallel park!) in a loaded, 15-passenger van deserves some sort of medal! Mom taught him early to make sure she’d have a ride to the hospital, should Dad and all the neighbors be simultaneously away from home when she went into labor.

April 2003 Happenings

As it happened, Doug was on hand to escort Jennifer to the maternity ward through TWO false alarms (you’d think a woman who’s already given birth eight times over would know the difference between breaking her water and wetting her pants, but such is evidently not the case!). He was still miles from home when she was admitted for a last-minute induction on her due date, but made it to Jennifer’s bedside a good three hours before the baby. Isaac Edward was born on May 22, a healthy 9 lbs. 6 oz. and 22½ inches. He’s absolutely beautiful (Dad says he got a triple-coat of pretty-paint), and he’s been happy from the get-go, so the name suits him well. Although our boys now outnumber the girls 2-to-1, we’ve heard no complaints over the disproportionate ratio (there’s nothing like having a couple of little sisters to make Bethany better appreciate her brothers, who’ve never shown the slightest interest in that stash of lip gloss and nail polish which so entices Rachel and Rebekah). Even Joe, who’d voiced a hope that Mom would bring a puppy home from the hospital, was in nowise disappointed.

June 2003 Happenings

Rebekah’s curiosity got the best of her when the boys brought a red-eared slider home from the creek in June. Having grown weary of her attempts to coax him from his shell, the turtle latched onto her finger and refused to let go.

The bite did no real damage, although her cries of distress would’ve convinced anyone within earshot she’d been mortally wounded. Prying the creature’s jaws open was a simple matter of finding the right-sized screwdriver; unfortunately for Rebekah, it took ten minutes of head-scratching and failed-other-attempts for us to come up with that solution.

Rachel Joy turned two this month. Our gentle little lamb certainly lives up to her name: she spreads smiles and sunshine wherever she goes. Her siblings used to squabble over who’d be first to play with her when she wakes up, until the middle boys began dividing the morning into half-hour increments, setting a timer, and taking turns.

One day, Ben claimed the 7:30-8:00 AM time slot, but was precisely two minutes late handing Rachel off to the next in line. Sam arbitrated, “That means I get her until 8:34, then David can have her until 9:06!”

They try to out-do one another entertaining her — galloping through the house with Rachel on their backs, pulling her across the brick floors on a quilt sling, or taking her outside to swing and pick posies. Happy regardless, she never grows weary of their attention.

Doug finished his three months with the Army (hooray!), and we celebrated with a trip to Sea World (they were offering free admission to active-duty soldiers and their families — an incredible deal for us!). We swung through Gruene on our way back to Tyler. While Dad accompanied the four oldest on a six-mile tubing expedition down the more-treacherous-than-it-looks Guadalupe River, Mom took our five youngest antiquing — which should qualify as an extreme sport in its own right!

July 2003 Happenings

We had a terrific time at Crier Creek’s Family Camp again this July. Jonathan won a “First Aid Award” for the care he rendered wounded campers throughout the week. Jennifer was given the “Shopping Award”, having returned from a day trip to nearby Columbus with six antique bar stools and a nearly-life-sized statue of three children on a slide. Doug would have earned a “Packing Award” had one existed, for managing to fit these purchases into our 15-passenger van for the drive home, along with five mountain bikes, three suitcases, six backpacks, two diaper bags, three car seats, 11 people, and a jogging stroller!

August 2003 Happenings

We cast the family’s footprints in wet cement when the driveway for our new house was poured in August. Jennifer’s parents were here to witness this event, but the thought of how such an act might affect our home’s resale value was almost more than Nana could bear.

Summer vacation ended, and we started back to school. Lessons at home were augmented this year with Tuesday morning classes at Cottage Garden in Spanish, sign language, science, art, and Greek mythology.

Rebekah learned to wipe her bottom this month, which was cause for great rejoicing among those of us who had been doing the job for her. She’d hitherto refused to even attempt the task herself, presumably to guard against germs, although no such thought ever stopped her from gleaning used chewing gum from underneath restaurant tables or stepping on stray gummy bears then licking them off the bottom of her shoe when she thinks nobody’s watching!

September 2003 Happenings

We attended Jennifer’s 20-year high school reunion in September. Bringing Isaac along made her feel a bit like the baby-toting hick from Sweet Home Alabama, but what else can you do with a nursing infant who won’t take a bottle, save keep him close to Mama?

Rebekah turned four this month. She can be surprisingly head-strong, an inherited trait that repeatedly drives Doug and Jennifer to our knees (as well as to the woodshed!) and makes us more deeply appreciate what our own parents endured raising us. Rebekah loves to talk, full-volume, non-stop, sun-up to sun-down, and anyone who dares squeeze a word in edge-wise is met with an indignant rebuke: “You are GOOFING UP my STORY!” (or worse, “Stop saying ‘BE QUIET’ — that’s getting on my NERVES!”).

Much of our child-training energy has been directed at helping this precocious little chatter-box develop a measure of self-control in how, when, and to what length she expresses herself!

Joseph, who prefers to be called Rob for reasons beyond our comprehension, celebrated his sixth birthday this month. Despite having occasional panic attacks over the thought that his tonsils might grow back, he remains fairly laid-back and easy-going. He’s the self-appointed doorman to half of Tyler — visit whichever restaurant lets children eat free on any given night of the week and you’ll likely find him manning the entrance, holding doors open for fellow diners.

Bethany spent several days with her grandparents after turning 14. Nana pampered her with manicures, pedicures, and trips to the mall, where they shopped ’til they dropped. Beth’s learned to make soap, can tomatoes, quilt, and crochet, but her most life-changing accomplishment this year may have been breaking her parents’ rickety old four-poster while demonstrating some powerhouse karate moves.

The replacement mattress, box springs, and frame have been so much more comfortable (and quiet) than the old ones that we almost wish she’d sparred with the bed years ago.

October 2003 Happenings

Samuel turned 10 in October. He always has a ready smile. Having been assigned to KP all year, Sam cleaned up after every meal with nary a complaint. It’s a fitting assignment, as he and brothers David and Jon do more cooking than anyone else in the family.

All three have hollow legs. Mom once brought a carton of 2½ dozen eggs home from the grocery store at 9 PM, but couldn’t find an egg in the house by breakfast time next morning: The boys had scrambled and eaten all 30 for a bed-time snack!

Our tender-hearted Benjamin celebrated his eighth birthday this month. Like a little border collie, Ben is constantly counting heads and corralling his younger siblings, making certain nobody gets lost or left behind. His big, puppy-dog eyes become deep pools of empathy whenever anyone gets hurt, and if it’s Ben himself who’s been injured, he tries as earnestly to calm and console those tending his wounds as they work to comfort and care for him.

November 2003 Happenings

November found Rachel potty-training and Isaac rolling over and saying “Mama”. Jennifer stopped sewing window treatments for the new house long enough to make the requisite Pilgrim and Indian costumes we wore to our home school group’s Thanksgiving Feast, complemented by moccasins, bows and tomahawks the boys crafted themselves.

We decided to send this update a month early, to prevent its getting lost in the shuffle of the upcoming move, which appears to be just days away now. It has been exciting to see our new home materialize before our eyes, looking even better than we’d originally envisioned.

As we turn our thoughts back to that stable in Bethlehem, though, we are reminded that another place is being prepared for us — and what a glorious mansion it must be, with over 2000 years in the making! As we celebrate the coming holiday season, we pray that each of you will put your faith and trust in the One whose sacrifice makes it possible for us to call heaven our eternal home: our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“For if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.” May God grant you a meaningful Christmas and a fruitful New Year. Let us hear from you soon!

With love from the Flanders –
Doug, Jennifer, Jonathan, Bethany, David, Samuel, Benjamin, Joseph,
Rebekah, Rachel, and Issac.

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Do you prefer to do your reading offline? You’ll find more of our family’s embarrassing moments, hard learned lessons, and hilarious antics all in Glad Tidings, a compilation of the first 25 years of Flanders Family Christmas letters. It also includes a few favorite recipes, seasonal quotes, time-saving tips, and fun family traditions. Volume 1 is on sale now (we’re hoping to release Volume 2 in the year 2037).

Glad Tidings - The First 25 Years of Flanders Family Christmas Letters

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