Gabriel turned four on the 21st of last December (which is the same day he’ll be turning five this year, as he eagerly explains to anyone who asks his age).
Unfortunately, only half his siblings were around to help celebrate. The rest of the kids had gone with Doug to Laredo the week before Christmas for a short-term mission trip.
They put in 18-hour days teaching vacation Bible school and completing various construction projects, then came home just long enough to repack their bags and pile in the van for a short trip to Dallas to visit Jennifer’s family, where we swam, shopped, shared some great ethnic cuisine, and spent a fun and frosty evening caroling along the streets of Coppell in a sensationally long 20-seater sleigh (purportedly the world’s largest, still in operation).
We were back in Tyler on Christmas Day to exchange gifts, the highlight of which was an amazing pair of glittery “Party Rock” shoes Bethany hand-painted for Ben, a perfect complement to the RoboHead costume he’d made for the Christmas masquerade ball.
Our family gift this year was a 40-foot slackline (think modern-day tightrope). David installed it between two trees in the backyard, and Mom promised $10 to whichever child crossed it first.A determined Rachel kept sneaking outside to practice at 4 a.m. (!) while her unsuspecting siblings lay a-snooze in their beds, but Joe ended up winning the prize.
Still, Rachel holds the record for most consecutive crossings: she can go back and forth
22 33½ times without falling (next closest is David with twelve 24½).
Although Abigail didn’t even start saying “Mama” consistently until 20 months (right before Christmas), in January she spoke her first sentence: “Let me do it!”
Those four little words succinctly sum up this child’s entire philosophy of life. Whether she’s getting dressed, riding a bike, feeding herself, potty-training, or learning to swim, she wants to do it by herself, without any help.
Abigail adores babies. Much as we’d love to provide her with a little brother or sister, Jennifer’s pre-menopausal body isn’t cooperating, so Abby’s had to content herself with cuddling nephews, the newest of which, Grayson Stefan, was born January 18, weighing 9 lbs 15 oz and bringing the total to four boys now for Jon and Matti.
Doug flew to Orlando for a medical conference the first part of February and took Rebekah and Rachel along for the ride. The girls spent their mornings exploring the resort while Dad attended class and their afternoons accompanying him to Disney World and other local attractions.
David turned 20 on the twentieth. Two days later, he was commissioned by US Army as a Second Lieutenant, and his dad had the honor of swearing him in. Let’s hear it for debt-free dental school!
Benjamin played basketball with King’s Academy this year. The team had a winning season and wound up in San Antonio the end of February for the State Championship, which they won after Caleb Sherrod sent the final game into overtime with an unforgettable two-point buzzer-beater.
This was our first real foray into the world of competitive team sports (the kind with daily practices and games every weekend). As good an experience as it was, we were relieved when it was over. There had been at least one speed trap between our house and every “away” game we played, and frankly, we couldn’t afford any more tickets.
Isaac and Daniel played sandlot baseball in March. This was more our style — very low key with Dads coaching a couple hours of drills and/or team play every Sunday afternoon for six weeks.
And that’s it.
This was Dan’s first year to play, and he thought it was “totally awesome.” Doug thought it was totally awesome that Jennifer got invited (and paid) to speak at a women’s dinner in Houston this month. Ben thought it was totally awesome that we let him travel back to Houston — alone! — a couple of weeks later for a YTF concert. Our kids thought it was totally awesome that the scar Gabbers got from splitting his head open in a zip-line accident looked a lot like Harry Potter’s lightning bolt. And David and Sam thought it was totally awesome that University of Texas at Tyler sent them on a most-expenses-paid trip to Baltimore for an Alpha Chi convention — the only two guys amid a delegation of girls from their school to attend (which was also pretty cool).
April took Benjamin and Joseph to Austin for a week of TeenPact State Capital classes. Joe came back with a new pen pal; Ben came back with the Jimmy Brazell Servant-Leadership Award, an unexpected and deeply moving honor.
This entire month was insanely busy, but the third weekend particularly so. In the course of three days, Abigail turned two, Jennifer 47, and Doug 45, Benjamin ran in a TCAL track meet in San Antonio (his team finished first in state) then went to the Texas Christian Homeschool Prom in Dallas (along with his brother Samuel and 1000 other homeschoolers), and we all attended Doug’s 20-year medical school reunion at Southwestern.
Seeing his former classmates was a wake-up call for Doug, who felt himself the most out-of-shape doctor among them. He returned home resolved to eat less and exercise more, although his penchant for sweet ice tea has seriously undermined the first objective and a recurrent case of plantar fasciitis keeps threatening to quash the second. (The bum foot didn’t keep him from running in this year’s Turkey Trot, though. Every time he was tempted to slow down, Doug spurred himself on by chanting, “This is the down payment on my future fitness.”)
David received an “Outstanding Citizen” Award from the Rotary Club in May, just a week before he and Samuel graduated from UT Tyler (magna and summa cum laude, respectively). We celebrated afterwards with a family trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
That brought back memories!
Throughout Doug’s years in medical school and residency, Hot Springs had been the most exotic place we could afford to travel in terms of both time and money — just four hours from home and perfect for those rare three-day weekends—but it’s been almost 15 years since our last visit. Sadly, jet skiing and parasailing are no longer allowed on Lake Hamilton, but Doug was able to rent a ski barge and take the kids tubing while Mom, Beth, and Abigail shopped Central Avenue (otherwise, our family would’ve exceeded the boat’s ten-passenger limit).
Pirate’s Cove Golf was still open and was just as much fun as we remembered, as was the Alligator Farm, Hot Springs National Park, and the Mid-America Science Museum.We also visited Garven Woodland Gardens for the first time this trip, which were absolutely gorgeous.
Isaac turned nine the week we got back. He shares a birthday with a friend from church, so each got two celebrations for the price of one. Clayton came with us to Fire Mountain to ride bumper boats and drive go-carts, and (what’s even better) Isaac went with him to Legoland Discovery Center in Dallas.
That was a huge hit, as Isaac is all about Legos (and computers and computerized Legos)! He and brother Daniel have been taking robotics classes this fall, which they love. The rest of the family is constantly dodging Lego darts, dune buggies, and other such contraptions that the boys design and test out at home. Future engineers in the making, perhaps?
We spent much of June at the swimming pool where Benjamin worked as a lifeguard all summer. Ben rescued his full share of near-drowning victims, but the night Abby took a running jump into the deep end without her life jacket, it was our quick-thinking Rachel — fully clothed, shoes and all — who leapt in to save her.
Rachel turned eleven and got her ears pierced this month. Her big brother has dubbed her The Ben Twin, a nickname that fits better than one might expect: in addition to sharing Ben’s life-saving skills, she also has the same olive complexion, liquid brown eyes, fiercely competitive spirit, and historically bashful childhood (which makes her current bursts of wit all the funnier, because they’re normally so unexpected). She hasn’t transformed into the total extrovert Ben is (yet), but it may be just a matter of time.
Jennifer’s mom and sister’s family came for a visit the end of the month, as did Doug’s parents, who had recently marked their golden wedding anniversary.
Some very dear (and courageous!) friends invited our entire extended family out to their house for dinner, then we celebrated 50 years of marriage (as well as 236 years of Independence) in style — with a grand fireworks display out over the lake.
David and Bethany began dental school classes at UTHSCSA in July, and the whole family traveled to San Antonio to watch them receive their white lab coats in the welcoming ceremony. Beth was especially nervous about starting such a rigorous program of study after having been out of school for so long, but she’s doing great and has received confirmation again and again that she’s where she’s meant to be, including being hand-picked for faculty mentoring by the dean of the school and receiving a class tuition scholarship for which she hadn’t even applied.
David, too, has risen to the challenge, balancing an exhaustive academic schedule with regular doses of intramural volleyball and ultimate Frisbee.
He and his sister are both active with Texas Mission of Mercy and have already gained lots of hands-on experience traveling with T-MOM to provide dental care in underserved areas.
The two share an apartment (fully furnished, thanks to the amazing generosity of some missionary friends who were leaving San Antonio for Africa the same week our kids arrived) and have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity this has given to practice hospitality by jointly hosting potluck dinners, study sessions, and game nights for their new family of friends.
Doug and Jennifer celebrated their silver wedding anniversary in August by renewing their vows in the same church where they first pledged their life and love to one another 25 years ago.
Doug made all the necessary arrangements for the ceremony surreptitiously, intending it to be a surprise. Fortunately, he spilled the beans a few days early, which gave the rest of us a chance to prepare proper wedding attire.
The kids made bouquets and boutonnières for the big day, and Jennifer added several inches to the girth of her gown so she could squeeze back into it.
That made for much nicer photos than the tank top and capris she’d probably have been wearing had the plan been sprung on her at the last minute.
While Doug was plotting the vow renewal, Jennifer was working on a little surprise of her own. In honor of the 25 happy years of marriage we’ve shared, she wrote an article entitled “25 Ways to Communicate Respect to Your Husband” which went viral almost as soon as she posted it. Her blog (Loving Life at Home) went from getting 40-50 hits a day to getting 40,000-50,000/day in the weeks that followed.
The curious thing is that only half the people tweeting, sharing, pinning, and reposting the article actually liked it. The other half thought it was the most ridiculous thing they’d ever read and didn’t hesitate to say so, inviting all their friends and followers to mock it with them — hence the increased traffic. Good thing Jennifer’s got thick skin; she hasn’t been the object of that much name-calling since grade school (leastwise, not to her face)!
Daniel turned seven the day after our anniversary, so we stayed in Dallas to visit the zoo and to tour the Chihuly exhibit at the Arboretum.
Dan has been taking PE classes with his older siblings at UT Tyler this fall, but his biggest accomplishment of the year has been learning to give his own insulin injections: he takes four to five shots a day (just like brothers Jon and Joe) and hardly ever complains. What a brave boy!
September brought another of our favorite family traditions: the creative arts competition at the East Texas State Fair. Ever since Joseph won a blue ribbon eight years ago for a drawing of Sponge Bob Square Pants, his little brothers have considered that the secret sauce. We always have at least one new picture of Sponge Bob to enter, but this year we had three. Fearing that the judges might think Sponge Bob is the only thing Flanders children know how to draw, Jennifer encouraged the kids to enter a variety of other classes, as well. They did and won $120 in premiums between them, including two top competitor awards, for Joe and Gabbers in their respective age divisions. Talk about a great motivator! They came straight home from the fair and started work on next year’s entries….
Doug was elected Chief of Staff at East Texas Medical Center this month. At his request, the hospital compiled a pictorial directory of all 530 physicians he’ll be representing, so he can memorize their names and faces, à la Capricorn Anderson from Gordon Korman’s Schooled -— another family favorite.
Rebekah, who has blossomed into a lovely young woman inside and out, turned 13 on the ninth. She performed “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” with an all-girls ensemble at her choir concert this fall, not realizing when she auditioned that she’d be required to dance and sing at the same time — a feat a little outside her comfort zone, but beautifully executed nonetheless.
Bex reads voraciously and also enjoys cooking and crafts. She and Rachel honed their sewing skills this summer by hiring out to a neighbor who has lots of fabric and ideas but little time for wielding needle and thread.
Joseph, who turned 15 on the eleventh, works for a different neighbor, caring for her dogs whenever she leaves town.He likes having the extra spending money, a portion of which he uses when he pumps Abigail to Chick-fil-A on his bike the first Saturday of every month for a brother-sister breakfast date. Abby enjoys the special attention, and Joe enjoys getting to use the current month’s coupon from the “Eat Mor Chikin” calendar he won at the Turkey Trot last year.
We pitched our tents for a week of family camp in October, then returned home to find that our wide-screen TV, three couches, two recliners, and every Blue Ray, DVD, and video we own had vanished into thin air. Were we burglarized?
Turns out Doug made a trip home for more firewood midweek and decided to clean house while he was here. Even after 25 years, that man is still full of surprises! The family has adjusted pretty smoothly to life without television, but — I’m not gonna lie — we are really missing those sofas.
Samuel turned 19 this month. He’s been teaching biology and zoology labs at Tyler Junior College this fall, having taken over his sister’s old job.
He had kept his age a carefully guarded secret until one of his students asked him to sign something the week of his birthday and he accidentally dated it 1993. She questioned the mistake in front of the class, Sam explained it was his birth date, an awkward pause followed as his students did the mental calculation, and they’ve been razzing him ever since.
He teaches four days a week, leaving weekends free for medical school interviews, of which he’s had three so far: two in Houston (UTHSC and Baylor) and one in Galveston (UTMB—to which he’s already been accepted). He’s still hoping to hear from Southwestern, more likely now that he has bested his dad’s score on the MCAT.
Benjamin turned 17 on the 16th. Instead of graduating early, he’s decided to postpone calculus and physics until his senior year to play basketball with King’s Academy again this fall; but when he’s not shooting hoops, his nose is in a book. After reading Charles Duhigg’s bestselling The Power of Habit this summer, Ben did some serious (and voluntary) revamping of his own habits. Goodbye Facebook, hello Barnes & Noble! He’s planning to pursue a career in civil engineering, and if his current level of self-motivation (or his winning the engineering competition at LeTourneau’s home school symposium this summer) is any indication, he’s going to do great in that field.
We had a full house for Thanksgiving in November: David and Beth were home from dental school, Jennifer’s family drove over from Mesquite, our Chinese friend Yulong spent the week with us (he’ll be back for Christmas break, as well), and our neighbors the Merritts joined us for dinner, turkey in hand.
Matti and the boys went to see her family in San Antonio while Jonathan stayed in Tyler to work, but he had time to pose for a few family photos and taste-test the turkey and dressing before reporting for duty. With everyone contributing, we enjoyed quite a spread, feasting together around the huge banquet table the kids rigged up in our garage and set with china dishes, place cards, and some cute little turkeys they found on Pinterest and made using Oreos and candy corn. We took the opportunity to thank God for His bounteous gifts, keenly aware that our most precious blessings are those that money cannot buy.
And now as we launch full-steam ahead into the Christmas season, we celebrate again the most glorious gift of all: salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Now ye need not fear the grave; Jesus Christ was born to save. Calls you one and calls you all, to gain His everlasting hall.”
If you’ve never before responded to that call, we pray you will do so without delay. To God be the glory forever and ever. Have a wonderful Christmas, and let us hear from you soon!