What follows is another yearly installment in our family’s complete history told via the 2015 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: 2015

December 2014 Happenings

For a little while last December, we had four kids in braces. Isaac got his on a few days before Joseph got his off. That’s almost as bad as having three in diapers, although those days are (sadly) so far behind us now we can barely recall them….

Four in Braces!
Four in Braces!

Gabriel turned seven this month. He gives the best back rubs — and the biggest scares. He loves sneaking up on us unawares and watching us jump out of our skin. Dad doesn’t care for this game and has forbidden Gabbers from making him the target, but Mom enjoys hearing Gabriel’s laughter more than she dislikes being startled, so she allows him one boo a day….

Our Sneaky Gabbers
Our Sneaky Gabbers

Samuel teamed up with several other medical students to give anatomy and physiology lectures at local elementary schools in Houston this month. He called home the night before his first presentation to practice the speech on his little brothers via FaceTime. Abigail begged to be included and responded with wild enthusiasm when Sam said she could listen in, too. Her level of excitement puzzled the rest of us, until Samuel finished his spiel and started to hang up. “Thanks for saying I can go to your class,” Abby told him sweetly. “What time are you picking me up?”

Burnout Dinner at UT Houston Medical School
Burnout Dinner at UT Houston Medical School
Isaac and Rachel in Myrtle Beach
Isaac and Rachel in Myrtle Beach

January 2015 Happenings

To make up for the fact that he spent last Christmas on call, Doug took all but four days in January off. We spent most of that time on the East Coast—sort of an extended early American field trip which included visits to Colonial Williamsburg, the US Capitol, and three presidential homes (and provided ample excuse for Mom to pack our Revolutionary War costumes).

As we worked our way up the coast, “Historic Blizzard Juno” worked her way down it. We traveled far enough north to get a few flurries, but not so far as to render roadways treacherous, although we did spend four hours in a ditch outside Mt. Vernon waiting for AAA to send a big-enough tow truck to pull our Nissan NV out of the muck and mire (the first one couldn’t handle the job alone).

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
At the Capitol in Washington, DC
At the Capitol Building in Washington, DC
Visiting Jefferson's Monticello (in Colonial garb)
Visiting Jefferson’s Monticello (in Colonial garb)
Isaac at Monticello
Isaac at Monticello
2015 Happenings - We got a few flurries on the road
We got a few flurries on the road
At Mount Vernon -- where we stayed much longer than planned
At Mount Vernon — where we stayed much longer than planned

Incidentally, Doug did all the driving this trip—both on road and off. Rebekah had recently acquired her learner’s permit and, technically, could have taken a turn behind the wheel, but Dad thought she needed a little more experience before driving the family van through rain, sleet, or snow. “That’s like trying to play Chopsticks as a beginning piano student,” he told her dryly. “You should have a couple of years of lessons under your belt before tackling a difficult piece like that.”

Rebekah with her Learner's Permit!!
Rebekah has her Learner’s Permit!!

February 2015 Happenings

David and Bonnie
David and Bonnie
David asked Bonnie Mills to marry him in February.

It took about three hours for the happy couple to describe this milestone event at a family engagement party afterwards, so I won’t try to recount the full story here, except to say that the proposal involved a picnic, a custom-designed ring, and a helicopter ride — and to note that Bonnie accepted.☺

David Pops the Question
David Pops the Question

Rebekah and Sam worked undercover to capture all the excitement on film.

Although David later claimed his brother darted into the open at one point in the evening (his exact words: “Samuel exposed himself”), Bonnie says she never knew either sibling was anywhere in the vicinity….

Flanders Home - Established 2015
Flanders Home – Established 2015
Bonnie & David's Wedding Shower
Bonnie & David’s Wedding Shower

2015 Happenings - Ben Plays a Prank
Ben Plays a Prank
Benjamin planned a pretty elaborate surprise for his sweetheart this month, too. After propping his bed vertically against the wall, he turned his computer sideways, re-oriented picture frames and table lamps so the room looked normal onscreen, then Skyped his girlfriend at their regularly scheduled time.

Although it looked as if he were lying on his bed, elbow out and head in hand, he was really standing on his feet leaning against the mattress. Later in the conversation, when he stepped away from the bed and started spinning in circles, it gave the appearance that he was levitating, which totally freaked out his (now ex-) girlfriend.

She may not have appreciated the prank, but Ben’s siblings — who were all stifling sniggers off camera — thought it was hilarious!

Hanging Out and Having Fun
Hanging Out and Having Fun

March 2015 Happenings

We returned to Branch Community in March after taking a three-month sabbatical to visit other churches. Doug might have spared Jennifer a lot of grief (and some embarrassingly tearful goodbyes) had he explained that the majority of the churches he was interested in trying were too far away to actually join.

We attended services at First Baptist of Dallas; The Village in Flower Mound; The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama; National Community Church in Washington, DC; and First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, to name just a few.

The last one happens to be Tim Tebow’s home church. We kept our eyes peeled for America’s most eligible bachelor in hopes of setting him up with our daughter Beth, but couldn’t spot him from where we were sitting in the balcony….

The Church at Brook Hills -- the entire congregations was taking sermon notes!
The Church at Brook Hills — the entire congregations was taking sermon notes!

Benjamin made the evening news this month after a fellow customer at Einstein Bagels lost the solitaire out of her wedding set, and Ben had the presence of mind to check her food basket (already on its way to the trashcan), where he found the diamond hiding under a napkin.

The woman was so grateful that she contacted her friends at the local TV station and convinced them to film a reenactment of the whole scene, which they did a few weeks later….

2015 Happenings - Ben digs for treasure in a bagel basket.
Ben digs for treasure in a bagel basket.



Rebekah and Rachel served as Azalea Belles this spring. Thanks to their flexible homeschool schedules, the Chamber of Commerce continued to call on them even after the Trails were over to represent Tyler at local ribbon cuttings and grand opening ceremonies.

2015 Azalea Belles
2015 Azalea Belles
Grand Opening of Jared's Diamonds
Grand Opening of Jared’s Diamonds

They even appeared in a special episode of 19 Kids and Counting that was filmed in our fair city (the show was canceled before said episode ever aired, so they were only almost famous).

Taping 19 Kids and Counting
Taping 19 Kids and Counting
With Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar
With Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar

Mom got some good footage of them in their antebellum dresses, though, which she used in a new music video we released for Easter called “All About God’s Grace.” College Humor later requested permission to include our video in an hour-long “Music Hall of Fame” special. We signed all the necessary papers, but when the show was finally broadcast, we weren’t in it. We took the omission as a compliment. Turns out, the segment for which we’d been slated showcased the “best of the worst” parodies of Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass” — and ours was not quite bad enough to make the final cut. Ha!

April 2015 Happenings

2015 Happenings - Road Rage, Rescues, and First Dates
Road Rage, Rescues, and First Dates
Bethany had her first date ever in April, after an insanely irate driver forced her off the road, and three different men came to her defense, one of whom phoned a few hours later to ask her out. Joe was in San Antonio for a Chemistry lab intensive at the time, so he and David hid in the bushes outside the restaurant, ready to rescue their sister from her rescuer should he try anything untoward.

Unfortunately, her knight-in-shining-armor turned out to be an atheist with a 1.3 GPA and a bad case of racism whose favorite pastimes included drinking alcohol and smoking pot. “But that’s enough about me,” he told her halfway through dinner, “tell me about yourself.” To which Bethany replied (in the kindest, most gentle voice she could muster), “Well… as a Christian, my faith is extremely important to me, and as a dental student, I stay pretty busy with my studies, but in my free time, I volunteer with a mentoring program aimed at helping minorities stay in school and stay off drugs.” She declined a second date — so much for the notion that opposites attract!

Bethany in Dental School
Bethany in Dental School

Abigail Turns Five
Abigail Turns Five
Abigail turned five this month. She’d been clunking around the house in her sisters’ stilettos for months, so for her birthday, Rachel gave her a pair of white paten heels that were just her size.

Abby dubbed them her “wedding shoes” and wore them with everything — blue jeans, swimsuits, pajamas, shorts, ballet leotards, you name it—but when it came time to attend an actual wedding this summer, she showed up wearing an ivory silk dress and hot pink, rhinestone encrusted flip-flops!

White paten heels go with everything...
White paten heels go with everything…
... and so do hot pink flip flops!
… and so do hot pink flip flops!

Mom celebrated her 50th birthday the day after Abby’s, and Dad had his 48th the day after that. Jennifer’s mother and sister surprised us by driving in from Dallas on her special day. “It was so nice of you to come all that way to be here for Jennifer’s birthday,” Doug told them as they headed home that afternoon. “I guess we’ll see you again tomorrow when you come back for mine.”

Jennifer turned 50!
Jennifer turned 50!

May 2015 Happenings

Samuel spent most of May in Mesquite, living with Nana and studying 10 hours a day for his US Medical Licensing Exam. He’d set a timer and cram for a full hour, then take a ten-minute break to eat a (healthy) snack, use the bathroom, or watch Shia LaBeouf’s “Just Do It” video on YouTube before hitting the books again — a cycle he repeated all day, every day, except Sunday.

UT Houston Med School
UT Houston Med School

The hard work paid off, but it meant Samuel missed our summer trip to Branson, Missouri, although Beth and David were both able to join us.

Family trip to Branson, MO
Family trip to Branson, MO
2015 Happenings - Golfing at Big Cedar Lodge
Golfing at Big Cedar Lodge

Bethany kept us in stitches on the drive up by reading Stargirl aloud. It’s a delightful story about a homeschooled girl who has a hard time fitting into mainstream society.

Of course, kids don’t have to be home educated to relate to the protagonist’s struggle, but it certainly helps, as evidenced by our trip to Six Flags on Homeschool Day this year. Benjamin devised a point system and challenged his siblings to compete for the highest score: They earned 1-2 points for spotting things like fanny packs, ankle length skirts, converse shoes, and matching family T-shirts (our more reflective children racked up a couple of dozen points through self-examination before we ever got in the gate) and 100 points for tattoos (much rarer in that crowd), but they had to abandon the game after awhile, because the numbers got so high they became too cumbersome to keep up with….

Homeschool Day at Six Flags
Homeschool Day at Six Flags

Isaac turned 12 in May. He finally passed his next older sibling in height this year, much to Rachel’s consternation. A whiz with computers, he’s taken up David’s mantle as our resident techie and even figured out how to convert our TV-free family room into a big-screen movie theater this year using Dad’s laptop, Mom’s projector, Ben’s Bluetooth speaker, a bed sheet, a few thumbtacks, and a roll of masking tape. It’s been fun re-watching a few of our family’s favorite films that way.

Isaac turns 12
Isaac turns 12

June 2015 Happenings

2015 Happenings - Poolside Picnics
Poolside Picnics
We spent most of June at Tyler Tennis & Swim.

Doug and the kids split their time pretty evenly between the courts and the pool while Jennifer cleaned up after our nightly picnic dinners and slipped in a little poolside pleasure reading.

Joseph was promoted to head lifeguard this year, which not only meant more responsibility but also a 50% pay raise.

Rebekah took a part-time job at the pool snack bar, but still earns the bulk of her income working as a staff writer/photographer for N2Pub‘s Woods Living.

Fun at the Pool
Fun at the Pool
Poolside Selfies
Poolside Selfies

She and Samuel served as counselors at Joni & Friends Camp this summer the same week Joseph travelled to the Dominican Republic with a mission group from our church.

2015 Happenings - Joseph with Mission Team in Dominican Republic
Joseph with Mission Team in Dominican Republic

That means all three of them were gone for Rachel’s birthday. Our bright-eyed artist turned fourteen this month. She does a fabulous job living up to her middle name (Joy), so full is she of sunshine, smiles, and encouragement. She cut thirteen inches off her hair this summer and donated the locks to charity — Rebekah did the same thing a few months later….

Joseph and Rachel -- Super Sweet
Joseph and Rachel — Super Sweet

Dad moved all the girls upstairs this summer. The goal was to give them a little more space — especially Rachel and Abby, who’d been sharing a queen-sized bed in our guest room for the past four years. Instead, it’s made them a little more cozy, as the two now squeeze onto one of their extra-long twin beds while the other stands empty.

July 2015 Happenings

Jonathan brought us a baby cardinal in July that had fallen from a high tree in his yard. That little birdie had to be fed every fifteen minutes, sunup to sundown, but it fledged within a week and flew the coop shortly after that, so our schedules weren’t disrupted for long….

Raising Phoenix, our Baby Cardinal
Raising Phoenix, our Baby Cardinal

We went to Sulphur, Oklahoma, this summer for the Cowan clan reunion, but the Nobles family did their reuniting in Texas this year. Jennifer got to spend a full day at her mother’s house with cousins she’d not seen in over forty years! We had a blast and are determined not to let another four decades slip by before getting together again….

Nobles Clan Reunion
Nobles Clan Reunion

Abigail joined her brothers Isaac, Daniel, and Gabriel at Soccer Camp this summer (she tries to keep up with them in spelling, as well), but had to sit out on sword-fighting lessons, as she was not yet old enough to enroll in those classes.

Soccer Camp 2015
Soccer Camp 2015

August 2015 Happenings

We spent a fun-filled week in Phoenix with Doug’s parents in August.

2015 Happenings - In Phoenix with Grandma & Grandpa
In Phoenix with Grandma & Grandpa

Daniel turned ten the day we left home. Spending ten hours on the road isn’t how most kids would chose to spend their birthday, but Dan didn’t complain. We tried to make it up to him by stopping at Six Flags for a couple of hours on our way out west.

2015 Happenings - Daniel truns 10
Daniel’s 10th Birthday

2015 Update 37

That’s where a barefoot Jennifer discovered that, in her rush to load all the luggage in the van that morning, she neglected to pack any shoes for herself. Fortunately, Rebekah wears the same size and loaned Mom an extra pair of sandals until we could find a Payless.

One unforeseen benefit of all our cross-country travels this year was the amount of writing we got done on vacation, both on the road and during the quiet, early morning hours in our hotel while the kids were asleep. Doug finished two books (25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife and a discussion guide for the book of Colossians called Life’s Big Questions), and Jennifer completed five (Balance: The Art of Minding What Matters Most, plus four more volumes in her devotional journal series)….

Devotional Journal  series for all ages and stages...

The children started back to school as soon as we returned home. Joseph, Rebekah and Rachel began dual credit classes at TJC this year, bringing the total to eight kids in college or professional school at once. Whew!

2015 Happenings - Our Newest College Students
Our Newest College Students

That leaves Mom home alone with the “Fantastic 4” two days a week. Back when four was all we had, Jennifer frequently felt overwhelmed; now when there are only four at home, the house seems practically empty! We’re making the most of it, though, racing through our studies so as to have more time for field trips, music lessons, and art projects (the latter of which garnered our kids a lot of prize ribbons at the East Texas State Fair this year—including a tri-color ribbon for Isaac and a top-competitor award for Joe—plus $135 in premiums)….

2015 Happenings - Nana and the Fantastic 4 at the Texas State Fair
Nana and the Fantastic 4 at the Texas State Fair

Abby was baptized this month, and Doug got to do the honors. That makes twelve for twelve in terms of children coming to faith at an early age, in answer to many, many prayers we have prayed, starting before they were ever born.

September 2015 Happenings

Benjamin took a bad spill on his bicycle in September that left a long gash in his neck. A few inches higher, and it might have crushed his windpipe or torn a jugular vein, in which case the aftermath would have been far more serious. As it was, Dad was able to close the wound with a mere nineteen staples.

Dad staples Ben back together after a bike wreck
Dad staples Ben back together after a bike wreck
2015 Happenings - Nineteen Staples Later
Nineteen Staples Later

Ben was back on his bike popping wheelies before Doc’s old medical bag was back on the shelf — but it didn’t rest there long. About ten days later, Gabriel busted his chin in another bike wreck, so the master bedroom was once again converted to an OR for his three stitches….

Gabriel gets stitches in his chin...
Gabriel gets stitches in his chin…

2015 Happenings - J.T. Flanders
J.T. Flanders
Joe (who goes by J.T. everywhere but home) turned 18 this month, and Bex turned 16. Although Mom may have struggled to spring a surprise party on this sweet-but-savvy-sixteen who suspected it was coming, Benjamin fairly shocked the birthday girl with a top-secret trip to Austin, where they met up with older siblings and awesome friends to run the Rugged Maniac, making this her best birthday ever.

2015 Happenings - Joseph, Rachel, and Rebekah
Joseph, Rachel, and Rebekah
Joseph's 18th Birthday Breakfast at The Egg & I
Joseph’s 18th Birthday Breakfast at The Egg & I
Sunny Rebekah
Sunny Rebekah
2015 Happenings - Rugged Maniac Race
Rugged Maniac Race
2015 Happenings - Rugged maniacs -- all cleaned up again!
[All cleaned up after the race]

October 2015 Happenings

Our family grew by two this fall: Jonathan and Matti had their sixth son, Noah Hudson, on October 1st. He weighed nine pounds even and is an absolute delight.

2015 Happenings - Five Grandsons plus one on the Way
Five Grandsons plus one on the Way

Matti didn’t complain when the doctor wanted to induce two weeks early. After spending the last thirty-eight weeks chasing after five active boys while Jon completed his final semester of nursing school (he graduated in December — woohoo! — and already has a job lined up in the ICU at Mother Frances), she was ready for all the peace and quiet a hospital delivery affords….

2015 Happenings - Noah Hudson
Noah Hudson’s Birth

We also welcomed a new daughter-in-law October 17th (Sweetest Day) as David and Bonnie pledged their life and love to one another in a beautiful little church in Fort Worth, just a few blocks away from the bride’s home, where a delightfully Disneyesque reception was held afterwards…

2015 Happenings - David and Bonnie
David & Bonnie
2015 Happenings - Hipster Bearded Groomsmen
Hipster Bearded Groomsmen
2015 Happenings - David and Bonnie's Wedding Reception
David & Bonnie’s Wedding Reception

Toss in a 30-year high school reunion for Doug (in San Antonio), foot surgery for Jennifer (to remove a needle that was stuck inside for over a week), birthday celebrations for Ben and Sam (who turned 20 and 22, respectively), extra grandson-sitting duty, two state fairs, and more than 500 candy bars & gospel tracts for the throng of trick-or-treaters who stopped by our house on Halloween, and you have the makings for an extremely full month.

2015 Happenings - Halloween
October 31, 2015

November 2015 Happenings

Ben drove to Houston to visit Samuel in November and took all his younger siblings with him. That marked the first time in nearly 27 years that Doug and Jennifer have been alone in the house together overnight. To celebrate, we went on a double date with Doug’s college roommate and his wife (who moved from Colorado to Tyler with their 11 kids just a year ago), saw Mockingjay Part 2 on opening night, and—just as every husband dreams of doing when he gets a weekend alone with his wife—spent a couple of hours shopping at a Christmas craft bazaar.…

2015 Happenings - Benjamin with his Siblings
Benjamin with his Siblings

2015 Happenings - Jennifer is old enough to join AARP now
Jennifer’s old enough to join AARP now
This month also brought opportunities for grassroots political campaigning: Doug helped sponsor several fundraising receptions for local conservative candidates, and our kids manned phone banks and canvased neighborhoods distributing literature for Bryan Hughes (Texas Senate District 5). Jennifer lived in her Ted Cruz T-shirts while Doug pasted a bumper sticker on his car for the first time ever. It simply read, “I’m with Ben,” in reference to the neurosurgeon who is running for President. Mom later overheard Abigail confide to her brother, “I love you, Gabriel. Someday my car sticker’s gonna say I’m with Gabbers.”

December 2015 Happenings

Speaking of cars, Doug came really close, but couldn’t quite make it to the end of the year without swapping vehicles at least once. Make that twice. No, three times. (It’s an addiction.) He got a new-to-us blue Ford truck for Rebekah, who finally got her full license December 4 — hooray! Her first driving test was cancelled due to rain (but not until we’d spent several hours waiting in line for her turn to take it).

2015 Update 57

He also bought a barely-used, bright yellow, jacked-up Jeep to drive himself. He let Rachel pick the make and color of that one (since she’ll inherit it in a couple of years when she starts to drive), so Mom took a picture of her next to the Jeep in our driveway and sent it to all the kids who are grown and gone.

2015 Happenings - Rachel and the Jacked-Up Jeep
Rachel and the Jacked-Up Jeep

Samuel immediately texted back: “Nice try, but I can totally tell that picture was taken at the car show in Dallas!” to which Beth agreed: “Yeah. The supermodel standing beside it is a dead giveaway.”

We’re sorry our update is so late this year. We promised the older kids we’d wait until they were home on break before staging our Christmas card assembly line.

Christmas Card Assembly Line
Christmas Card Assembly Line

We hope your holidays are merry, meaningful, and bright. Let us hear from you soon!

2015 Happenings - Flanders 2015 Photo

With love from the Flanders — Doug & Jennifer, Jon & Matti, David & Bonnie
Bethany, Samuel, Benjamin, Joseph, Rebekah, Rachel, Isaac, Daniel, Gabriel and Abigail

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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 family 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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