We hosted Doug’s office party last December, giving Jennifer a good excuse to furnish the upstairs, which had stood nearly empty for almost a year. The event was a great success, due primarily to the wonderful food catered by the head chef of Mercy Ships – everything was so delicious, no one seemed to mind the fact we didn’t serve alcohol.
We learned the following week that Jennifer was expecting again, which was the best Christmas gift we could imagine. Second best were the Harvest of Hope gift certificates we received from Jennifer’s sister’s family. These, combined with money that the kids contributed from their own savings, allowed us to buy a goat for a family in China, dig a well for a village in Africa, provide school supplies and medical care for children in the Middle East, and build a house for a family in Indonesia. We know very few ministries that can do so much with so little.
The weather was mild enough in January to do some of our lessons outdoors: the boys spread quilts in the backyard, pulled off their T-shirts, and basked in the sun while Mom read G.A. Henty aloud, at least until the sprinklers came on unexpectedly and sent us scurrying for cover.
Isaac learned to sleep through the night this month, Rachel learned to pump herself on a swing and Rebekah (thanks to David) learned to ride a bike without training wheels. Jonathan and Bethany practiced all month before taking the SAT – their last opportunity to do so before an essay section was added. We unwound after the test by spending a few days in San Antonio, where Jennifer and the kids took in the sights while Doug attended an army conference.
Bethany drove the girls to Mesquite for our annual mother/daughter Valentine’s brunch. Dad stayed at home and took advantage of our absence to smuggle a few items to Goodwill, including Jennifer’s favorite bicycle. The boys warned him not to do it, thinking she would be upset, but Mom showed genuine delight over the replacement she found waiting in the rack when she got back home (if she’s learned anything in 18 years of marriage, it’s that resistance is futile, anyway).
David turned 13 this month. He came to breakfast one morning looking an inch taller than the day before, a fact his mother noticed immediately since he was no longer at eye level. “It’s funny you should mention it,” he told her, “because when I was trying to go to sleep last night, it felt like my skin was too tight for my bones.” We used a tape measure to verify, and sure enough, he’d passed both Mom and Jon and was rapidly closing in on Beth (he’d overtaken her and caught up to Dad by year’s end).
Doug began giving away most of his weekend call in March, which left more time to enjoy such springtime activities as tennis and board game tournaments, family bike rides, and two separate campouts with home-schooling friends (not nearly the hassle now that our big, strapping boys can pack supplies, drive down early, pitch tents, inflate air-mattresses, and cook dinner, so the only thing left for us latecomers to do is to fall into bed and let the crickets lull us to sleep).
Doug spent two weekends in Houston doing CME this month, but was back in town to stitch up the gaping, three-inch gash Benjamin took to his shin trying to hurdle a brick wall, and was also around to help us get the van to a service station when Jennifer ran out of gas at a busy intersection. Unbeknownst to us, one of Doug’s co-workers witnessed that spectacle from his car and took pictures with a cell phone to circulate at the hospital for laughs. These didn’t get the reaction he expected. When folks saw the snapshots of Doug, his pregnant wife and a bevy of youngsters straining to push our van across Broadway, they chastised the photographer for not lending a hand! Still, everyone had to admit, we did look awfully funny.
The time change wreaked havoc with the children’s schedules in April. Isaac woke up at two o’clock every morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, then Ben would try (unsuccessfully) to drag Mom out of bed at four to do school. Even with her putting him off until 5:30, he’d finish most of his work in time to join big brothers on the tennis courts at dawn.
The middle boys played baseball this spring. Joseph hit a home run in the final inning one week, bringing in two extra runners to win the game. While the other players patted him on the back, he gathered a bouquet of wildflowers for Mom. Presenting it to her afterwards, he asked, “Do you know what I love even more than baseball? My family.”
Doug turned 38 this month and celebrated having now known Jennifer half his life. Jennifer expected to be tormented about turning 40, but she didn’t hear a single snide remark (then again, warns her sister, your hearing is usually the first thing to go). Instead, she received lots of hugs and kisses, plus a family night at the movies. We arrived early for the grand opening of the new Carmike Theater ($2 tickets, including snacks). Our little ones sat still for almost an hour, munching complimentary popcorn and waiting for the feature to begin, but by the time it actually started, the unlimited free sodas had run their course, so Mom had to supervise a seemingly endless string of potty breaks. When she finally returned to her seat, Isaac set to squirming with such vigor that she gave up seeing the show altogether and took the baby shopping until it was over. Doug and the older kids expressed regret over how the evening turned out, but Jennifer assured them she’d choose motherhood over uninterrupted movies, any day of the week….
We were still struggling to make good our New Year’s resolution to be on time for church when we began opening our home this month to a few like-minded families for Sunday worship and fellowship dinner. Word spread, and our congregation grew. By June, we were averaging 100 in weekly attendance, so we bought a bunch of folding chairs, got licensed to project song lyrics overhead, hooked a microphone up to our speaker system, and hauled in a cattle trough for conducting baptisms in the driveway.It has been an incredible blessing to watch God work and to observe His perfect timing and provision in all things. And as an added bonus, our family has never been late to services since (a record we hope to maintain once the church moves into a bigger building the Sunday after Thanksgiving).
We celebrated Cinco de Mayo (05/05/05) with a trip to Six Flags for Home School Day. The park was full of friendly faces, and we bumped into folks we knew at every turn. Isaac turned two in May. He loves to arm wrestle and eagerly flops belly-down on the ground, elbow planted firmly in front of him, to challenge any and all passers-by. He is thus far undefeated, as none of us can resist the sound of his laughter when he wins. Isaac is also fond of digging in the garden, wearing wrist watches, and starting knock-knock jokes (though he’s yet to learn any punch lines). Jennifer was so impressed with Debi Pearl’s new book, Created To Be His Help Meet, that she ordered two dozen copies to give to friends. We’ve since passed out an additional eight cases and plan to make it required reading for all our daughters and future daughters-in-law before they’ll be allowed to marry.
Doug arranged for an armada of new cars to be delivered mid-month and the not-so-old ones hauled away. The new vehicles are actually leases, which I suppose makes sense for anyone who trades them in as often as Doug. It certainly keeps Jennifer guessing – no telling how much time she’s spent in crowded parking lots, hunting a van we no longer own.
Jonathan turned 17 this month. He worked at Racquet&Jog all summer, but left in September after a dentist at church offered him a job in his new Tyler office. Dentistry has replaced trauma surgery as Jonathan’s career of choice, and he was chomping at the bits to begin training. Mom and Dad came home from a date one evening to find Jon decked out in a surgical mask and latex gloves, a tray full of pliers at his side, one brother laid before him in an easy chair and the others lined up on the couch watching and waiting their turn. He had taken it upon himself to extract every loose tooth in the house, and—what’s more incredible—the owners of those teeth were cooperating!
Rachel celebrated her fourth birthday in June. She enjoys singing, helping in the kitchen, and taking gymnastics. She also loves to draw and would do so in her sleep if Mom would allow, which she no longer does, since it makes such a mess when the pen wanders off the paper onto her pillowcase during the night. Isaac nearly choked to death on a donut hole this month. He wouldn’t be with us today were it not for God’s mercy, Bethany’s vigilance, and Mom’s quick reflexes. Jennifer was still shaking hours after the incident, but Isaac was begging for more to eat almost as soon as the obstruction was cleared.
Our oldest two children spent a week at World View Academy in Waco, their first time away from the rest of the family. The little ones cried when they learned their siblings were leaving, but had apparently adjusted by dinnertime. We were enjoying a quiet meal at a local cafeteria when Jennifer overheard Joe announce, “I claim Jonathan’s bike!” and Rebekah add, “I get Bethany’s!” Appalled that they could turn so easily from missing their brother and sister to calling dibs on their possessions, Mom interrupted the conversation to ask what in the world they would do with such big bikes if they had them. Puzzled, they answered in unison, “We’d eat them.” Turns out, Mom had misunderstood: Instead of bikes, they were discussing bites, as in forkfuls of Dad’s dessert, which he always splits with the kids. Joseph and Rebekah just wanted to make sure the nibbles normally reserved for Jon and Beth did not go to waste in their absence!
July brought the cutest family of armadillos to our backyard every morning at nine o’clock, which the children took great delight in watching forage through our flowerbeds. We could squat within a foot of them without their seeming to notice. July also brought new neighbors – a family with three small boys and three big dogs moved in next door, and since the day they arrived, Isaac has considered their house his home away from home.
Doug had worked eight months with no vacation by the time Family Camp rolled around, so we were all glad to get away to Crier Creek for a week of R&R. The girls at camp asked Jennifer to give an afternoon talk on the topic of organization this year, and she jumped at the opportunity. She saved all her notes, and if she ever finds time to organize those, she may publish.
We stayed in Houston for a few days after camp to put Bethany on a plane for England. Her SAT scores landed her an invitation to study at Cambridge this summer, and she flew into London just a week after the subways were bombed. Figuring out what to do when neither the credit card PIN nor her long-distance calling card would work overseas was almost as challenging as her coursework in political theory, British history, and debate. She stayed busy studying for class, making friends, going on field trips, and taking lessons in punting, fencing, and salsa dancing, but still found time to feel homesick.
It seems our new baby was not in as big a hurry to meet us as we were to meet him. We waited patiently for an extra week before inducing labor on August 16. Daniel Prescott Flanders was born 3½ hours later, at 11:02 am, a whopping 9 lbs. 13 oz. and 21 inches long. Daddy caught the baby, and Samuel cut the cord. He has Papa Cowan’s big hands, but otherwise looks just like his brothers. Prescott was Mom’s idea — it’s an Old English name which means “from the priest’s cottage”, making it a fitting marker for the year the church spent meeting in our home. Daniel is as sweet as sugar. Before he was a week old, Jennifer overheard Doug boasting that the baby had already learned to sleep through the night. In reality, it was Doug who’d reached that milestone – baby was still waking up three or four times a night to nurse, but kept quiet enough even when hungry that Dad’s rest was seldom disturbed.
Forewarned that his group’s contract with Mother Frances would not be renewing next July, Doug put our house on the market in September. Despite the rumor that our family is moving to Australia (a remote possibility publicized by our more adventurous children), we are actually just trying to live a yielded life: if the house sells, we’ll faithfully follow God’s lead elsewhere; if it doesn’t, we’ll joyfully serve Him here. Nevertheless, the decision meant signing contracts with realtors, fielding questions from neighbors and friends, and keeping the house ready to show at a moment’s notice – tasks Doug left to his postpartum wife while he conveniently disappeared for two weeks of Army Reserve duty in El Paso (and, yes, she’s forgiven him his poor timing!).
Jennifer was sick in bed with mastitis the day Rebekah turned six, so siblings took over the party plans. Her brothers bought gifts (Ninja Turtles and bouncy balls), Bethany baked a strawberry cake, and Ben converted our driveway into a wading pool. This attracted the neighbor boys, who were happy to help us celebrate and share birthday cake.
Bethany turned 16 this month, and a sweeter sixteen we’ve never known. She didn’t complain about Dad’s being out of town for the big day, or about her biology professor’s scheduling a major exam that morning, or about Mom’s packing the family into a hotel so our floors could be refinished, and when a friend invited her over to celebrate, she declined, explaining that she didn’t want to burden her mother with such a request during what was already so stressful a time. The irony is that her self-sacrificing efforts to relieve Jennifer’s stress actually compounded it, for the invitation was a ploy to keep Beth occupied so Mom and the kids could decorate for her surprise party, which was ultimately a success even without her cooperation.
Our inquisitive Joseph turned eight this month. He has requested we make India our next vacation destination, so he can observe tigers in their natural habitat. Can’t you just see it now, the Flanders in matching khakis and pith helmets, exploring the jungles of South Asia? But alas, our years of flexible, off-season travel may have come to an end. Jonathan and Bethany began dual-credit courses at Tyler Junior College this fall. Now we’ll have to schedule our vacations around a school calendar, like the rest of the world.
Bethany did squeeze a ten-day trip to Qatar into her schedule this October, serving as a nanny for friends who are considering a move to the Middle East. She returned home heavy-laden with souvenirs for the family, including a couple of dolls wrapped head-to-toe in black burkas for Rachel and Rebekah, who barely recognized Barbie in such modest attire!
Benjamin and Samuel celebrated their tenth and twelfth birthdays this month, respectively. They spend most of their free time skateboarding, playing chess, perfecting their tennis and ping-pong games, or practicing the piano and, in Sam’s case, the violin.
We made two trips to the emergency room this month: first, when Doug developed another kidney stone which had to be surgically removed; second, when Isaac fell down the stairs and broke his collar bone. Forty-eight hours after Doug’s procedure, he pulled the stint, questioning whether his body would ever fully recover (it did). Forty-eight hours after Isaac’s accident, we found him swinging by both arms from the clothes rod in his closet, ready to move on to his next injury.
November took us to San Antonio for Doug’s 20-year high school reunion. We so enjoyed reconnecting with old friends that we’re planning to meet them again next summer in San Diego. We spent a lazy afternoon in Gruene, Texas. Papa joined Doug and the boys on the Guadalupe, towing their tubes behind his canoe over the slower parts of the river. Nana and Bethany took the girls window-shopping in shifts, while Jennifer enjoyed some peace and quiet at a nearby park, working on a cross-stitched sampler as she watched the babies sleep and the little ones climb trees.
We learned upon our return home that the father of a dear friend had passed away. He was a godly man, committed to making his life count for Christ. His memorial service challenged us to do likewise, for our days are also fleeting.
December seems to come earlier every year. Our Christmas cruise to Belize was cancelled in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a much less devastating loss than many suffered, especially considering Carnival refunded our money in full. We’ll spend the holidays closer to home, thankful that our extended families can still be together. The younger children will be participating in a nativity play at a local nursing home this month. The boys are shepherds, the girls are angels, and Daniel is the baby in the manger. As we again celebrate the birth of our blessed Savior, it is our prayer that others will find Jesus not only in the stable and at the cross, but also on the throne of our hearts. May He bless you and yours with a joyous Christmas and a fruitful New Year! We look forward to hearing from you soon.