January found us checking into a hotel for a week while our kitchen cabinets and floors were being refinished. We slept in Tyler, but took daytrips to Dallas, Shreveport, and Flint for ice-skating, museum hopping, and indoor-waterparking, respectively. This was a great way to ease ourselves into a New Year that would bring many far-reaching and unforeseen changes for our family, the first of which came a few days later when our oldest daughter boarded a plane for Nepal. Bethany (21) spent the next six months on the other side of the globe working with special needs kids. The assignment was all she dreamed it would be and more. When asked on the initial job application to define her expectations, she had written:
“I expect to be challenged to grow as I separate myself from a culture that caters to complacency and immerse myself in one that forces me to continuously rely on the Lord for joy and strength. I expect that it will be out of my comfort zone, and that there will be heat and insects and dirt, but that there will also be love and joy and abundant grace. I expect that God will use this time to continue to mold in me the heart of a servant and to conform me to the image of His Son…. I expect that some days I will wake up and wonder what I was thinking when I signed on for this job, but I know His Spirit will remind me…that ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I expect that God will fill my heart to overflowing with love for the people that I will work with, and that I will cry when my term is over.”
By February, two of our kids were hobbling around on crutches: Daniel (5) sustained a hairline fracture to his foot, although none of us know how that happened, and David (19) shattered his fibula while bounding down a terraced lawn on campus. He actually heard the bone crack the instant it happened, but his inertia forced him to take a few more strides before he could stop, which probably compounded the injury. He had a rod surgically inserted that same day, but the break has been exasperatingly slow to heal (fast-forward ten months: November found him in a new cast awaiting a second surgery). Bad news is, he’s had to miss out on a full year’s worth of ultimate Frisbee and triathlon training. Good news is, this left more time for study, so he aced his classes, completed his dental school applications, and (together with brother Samuel) was named co-recipient of UT Tyler’s “Organic Chemistry Student of the Year” award.
We tackled another huge landscaping project in March, expanding flowerbeds, transplanting shrubs, dividing bulbs, adding river rock, spreading mulch, and laying two new flagstone patios. Everybody pitched in to help, including our Chinese friend, Yulong, who stayed with us for spring break, but Benjamin (15) did the lion’s share of the work and completed the patios with artful precision. Of course, Jennifer recognized this project for what it was—just one more step toward getting our house ready to put on the market. Doug had been considering a move ever since we read David Platt’s Radical last year, but Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace seminar and Barack Obama’s sweeping healthcare reforms cemented his resolve. Knowing this, Jennifer had been praying that if God really wanted us to sell our home, He would just send a buyer to our door—not because she was eager to move, but because she hoped to avoid the hassle of keeping a house show-ready (while simultaneously trying to home school!) or having to vacate the premises at a moment’s notice should a prospective buyer wish to see it. So we were only mildly surprised when, without our ever listing it, without so much as a sign in the yard, a colleague of Doug’s saw our place for the first time this month and offered to write us a check for it on the spot. We accepted (but didn’t close until June).
About a hundred friends gathered in our garage on the first of April for a private screening of Megamind, followed by a worldview discussion. The movie night was Samuel’s idea, and he did a great job moderating: What part does nature versus nurture play in character development? Does power corrupt or do the corrupt crave power? Are we morally obligated to use our gifts and abilities to benefit society? Abigail celebrated her first birthday on the 20th. She’d been walking for two months, but would barely say two words. Try as we might to expand her vocabulary, she limited herself to dee-oh (which meant “Daniel”) and ee-oh (which meant everything else). It might’ve been mutually beneficial for her to spend more time with her nephew Chase, who talked early and walked late, but—alas—Jonathan changed jobs and moved his family to San Antonio back in February. We signed a 14-month lease on a house in The Woods this month. Ben found it for us, and it meets our needs beautifully. The fact that the owners were willing to rent to a family as large as ours was a miracle in itself. That they let us paint the dining room red and the master bedroom green and gave us freedom to make other changes, as well, was just icing on the cake. In the weeks that followed, we floored the attic, added shelves to sundry closets, sealed the garage floor, laid several pallets of St. Augustine sod, built a wooden fort in the backyard, and installed a flagstone patio in front, surrounded by culls from our Stonegate gardens. Our landlady loves us (and the feeling is mutual).
We did the bulk of our moving in May, bolstered by the prayers and support of many dear friends who brought meals, loaned tools and supplies, provided childcare, sent notes of encouragement, and pitched in to help wherever needed. Most of our furnishings fit into the smaller house surprisingly well. What didn’t was sold, donated, or left behind. We’ve been blessed with some wonderful new neighbors, including two homeschooled sisters who’ve become Rachel and Rebekah’s constant companions, but we still miss our old ones, many of whom felt like family after so many years on the same street. Our gregarious Isaac, who has never met a stranger and makes friends everywhere he goes, turned eight this month. It was his “worst birthday ever,” due primarily to the fact that we didn’t celebrate on the actual day—a faux pas almost as unforgiveable as the year Mom baked Bethany a “birthday lasagna” instead of a cake (we were out of sugar at the time… Beth had to fight back tears to blow out the candles).
David headed to Honduras in June for a medical mission trip. He got to clean a lot of teeth while he was there and even did one extraction—great on-the-job training which further confirmed his career choice. Back in the States, he was given the opportunity to do a little cosmetic dentistry this fall. When a freak zip-line accident left 10-year-old Rachel with a fragmented front tooth, Dr. Cannon invited David to help with the repair. Samuel took the MCAT this month. He did well—especially considering the fact he was only 17 when he took it—but probably not well enough to get into Southwestern (Doug’s alma mater and Sam’s top choice), so he decided to delay applying to medical school and retake the test in January after finishing microbiology and the second semester of physics, both of which weigh heavily on the exam…. David and Samuel both served as short-term missionaries at Joni & Friends this year, a camp for special needs kids and their families. They worked different weeks, but will both tell you that it was the highlight of their summer.
Knowing Jon would be lonely while his wife and sons were in Kentucky visiting Matti’s sister, Doug, Ben, and Joe piled into our new Sprinter the first of July for a spur-of-the-moment trip to San Antonio. What is normally a five-hour drive took well over eight, thanks to all the potty-breaks Joseph (13) requested. By the time they reached their destination, Doug knew something was wrong. A quick test with Jon’s glucometer the following morning confirmed his suspicions. So while Jon and Ben set out for a day of rock climbing, Doug and Joseph headed to the nearest Children’s Hospital where Joe was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He’s adjusted remarkably well to the four shots a day and countless mental calculations required to manage his blood sugar—I’ve never seen a child with such tight control. Even so, the remainder of the month was spent shuttling kids back and forth to doctor appointments: Joseph met with his endocrinologist for several hours of continued diabetes education. Gabriel (3) went to the orthopedist after injuring his foot in a bike wreck. He came home with a thigh-high, bent-knee, neon-green cast—a failed attempt to keep him immobilized while it healed (though he was permitted to swim in the thing, provided we let the cast dry completely between trips to the pool). And Benjamin wound up on a maxillofacial surgeon’s table after breaking his nose in an ultimate Frisbee game. The player with whom Ben collided—an ER physician and close family friend—stanched the bleeding before bringing him home, but felt horrible about the accident. Ben, on the other hand, was stoked, because when the surgeon set his nose, he set it straighter than it had been originally: “That’s the best thing that’s happened to me all summer!”
August took us to Legoland in California. Some of our most ardent brickmasters weren’t even born (or were too young to remember) the last time we visited, so anticipation was running high. Rachel and Rebekah did most of the packing, and Ben helped plan the itinerary, making sure we allotted time for driving around Del Mar and Beverly Hills to look at the mansions he has long admired on Google maps. Jennifer arranged for Doug to stop en route at Fort Bliss and Kirtland Air Force Base to sign copies of The Prodigy Project for the soldiers stationed there. Unfortunately, she came down with a bad case of strep throat the day before we were to leave, so Doug and the kids (Ben on down) drove on without her. She and the baby met them in Tucson a few days later, once the antibiotics had worked their magic. It was Abby’s first flight. She did great in the air, but ran her mama ragged during the three-hour layover at DFW. Doug took us to see the Grand Canyon and the Winslow Meteor Crater on our trip home. We ended up spending most of our time in the first-aid stations both places, as Daniel busted his right knee at one stop and his left at the other. Ouch!
Rebekah turned twelve in September. Her older siblings all chipped in to buy her a new camera for her special day, which was a surprise so wonderful and so unexpected that it made her cry. She has put the gift to good use as the newly elected historian for the Voices of Faith choir. Joseph had his 14th birthday this month. He’s finally drummed up a little dog-walking business in our new neighborhood, having proffered his business card to every dog-owner in our immediate vicinity. If you live nearby and need a responsible teen to care for your four-legged friend, just drop Joe a line at walkmydogs2(at)gmail(dot)com…. We got back into the full swing of school this month. Bethany, now home from Nepal, was hired to teach biology labs at TJC this semester (although, like her brother, she had to take a couple of days off for dental school interviews). David and Samuel attend UT Tyler six days a week (including a 7:00 AM ornithology lab every Saturday morning—I don’t know if the early bird catches the worm, but he certainly draws the most spectators).
The kids at home are still plugging away at their studies, but Gabbers is by far the most enthusiastic about getting up early for school. He loves to learn and is doing his best to keep up with brother Daniel’s first grade work. We added a few enrichment activities this fall, including chess club for the little ones, public speaking for the middle ones, guitar lessons for David, Samuel, and Joseph, and varsity basketball for Benjamin. One coach tried to recruit Ben to play football, too, but Mom and Dad think that sport is too risky. “It’s more dangerous to be a member of your family than to play on my team,” the man told us. “You’ve had four fractures this year, and we haven’t had any.” But he miscalculated. If you throw in the toe Bethany broke last month, we’ve had five.
We went to Big Sandy in October for Family Camp (not quite the same when the whole family’s not there) and returned home to find that our big kids missed us every bit as much as we missed them…. Jonathan’s family moved back to Tyler this month. He discovered that several of his classes (representing a couple years’ work when taken one per semester) wouldn’t transfer to the school in San Antonio, so he’s decided to finish his degree here. He’s back at his old job, and Matti (now expecting Baby #4) is back at her old OB-GYN. We survived our first Halloween in The Woods. Doug bought ten times the amount of candy he usually gets for the occasion, but we exhausted our supply and had to resort to giving out granola bars, PopTarts, SlimJims and packets of microwave popcorn (each with a gospel tract—see enclosed sample). Even our putting floodlights in the trees and stationing evangelists in our yard didn’t scare anyone off. That team of young people shared Jesus with the parents while we passed out treats to the kids, close to a thousand of whom came by before our larder was emptied and we had to call it a night.
Abigail learned how to open our refrigerator in November. Her favorite diversion these days, other than nursing and trying on shoes, is pulling the lids off all our yogurt and using it to finger-paint the floor. The upside is, she also learned to sleep through the night recently, so Mom has more energy for cleaning up those myriad messes she makes by day. God blessed us with another pregnancy this month, plus a multitude of friends and family who genuinely rejoiced to hear the announcement, which we immediately sent out via text, Twitter, and FaceBook. The sad news that Jennifer soon miscarried was slower to spread, so we ended up having to tell most people in person, even as they congratulated us on #13. The timing wasn’t all bad—it just meant we got two hugs for the price of one. Life took yet another unexpected turn the day before Thanksgiving when our excessively thirsty Daniel tested positive for diabetes. That brings the tally to three children with Type 1, all diagnosed during major holidays. What are the odds? Daniel took the news like a real trooper, although he has since asked, “Mommy? When do I get to stop having diabetes?” The answer is that, unless a cure is found, he will have it for the rest of his life. I think it is significant that Daniel’s diagnosis came at a time traditionally set aside for counting blessings and giving thanks. It’s easy to express gratitude for obvious graces like warm homes, good jobs, sound minds, and full bellies, but Scripture bids us count it all joy when we encounter hardships, as well, knowing that our Heavenly Father loves us and can be trusted, even amid tragedy, to work all things together for good. So this year, we are also thanking God for His purpose and plan in allowing into our lives some things we would not have willingly chosen for ourselves—things like diabetes and miscarriage and broken limbs. But God is good all the time, and we can see His hand of mercy at work even now. Had our original plans not been derailed, we would never have been in line at Luby’s on Thanksgiving Day to venture guesses with complete strangers about how long we’d have to wait to reach the front (answer: 46 minutes). Nor would we have scored a last-minute invitation for our entire family (including Nana and Yulong) to have dinner in the home of some spontaneous (and very brave!) friends that evening.
So that wraps up another year and another update. As usual, Doug will spend the month of December reading our old Christmas letters aloud to the family, one per night. We love to reminisce in this way—the funny anecdotes trigger all sorts of fond memories, which are in turn relived and discussed at length. The difference is that this year, instead of reading loose-leaf photocopies, he’ll be reading from a bona fide book, as Jennifer has now published all our letters to date, together with collected quotes, photos, recipes, and other assorted lists and ideas, in a book entitled Glad Tidings: The First Twenty-Five Years of Flanders Family Christmas Letters (available through Amazon). If all goes smoothly, we’ll follow up with a second volume in 2036. In the meantime, we pray God’s richest blessings upon your heart and home this Christmas. Let us hear from you soon!