What follows is another yearly installment in our family’s complete history told via the 2017 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: 2017
December 2016 Happenings
We spent a week in Big Canoe, Georgia, last December with most of our extended family. It was a long drive, but we took lots of potty breaks (“speak now or forever hold your pee”) and stopped on the way to stretch our legs at Six Flags over Georgia (after so many hours of sitting in the van, even their famous “standup” roller coaster sounded appealing).Visiting the Peach State allowed Jon’s wife, Matti, to spend time with her side of the family—a treat since they are normally separated during the holidays.
She and Noah missed out on our “Flanders Family Flannel Photo,” but everyone else was in it, including a soon-to-be daughter-in-love, Rebekah Joy Follingstad, who stole Sam’s heart with her (to use his descriptors) “humble, efficient, and level-headed” personality.
January 2017 Happenings
January found us in San Antonio celebrating Samuel and Bekah’s official engagement and enjoying the still-shining Christmas lights along the River Walk. The stash of glow-in-the-dark necklaces, glasses, and tiaras Mom found on clearance at the Dollar Store added to the festive spirit and made it easier to count heads once the sun went down, although most of our party retired before the midnight fireworks began….
A few days later, Doug traveled to Austin for WORLD Magazine’s week-long mid-career journalism course. He’d applied last year (after the deadline) and didn’t get in, then forgot all about it until receiving word he’d been accepted into this year’s class. (He should’ve known an acceptance letter was forthcoming: When we ate hibachi a couple of days earlier, Doug’s fortune cookie read, “The WORLD is finally ready for your talents.” Ha!)
His first article for the news magazine was published the following week, with an obituary for a not-yet-dead celebrity to follow (although, the eulogized would hope, not anytime soon)….
We returned to Florida mid-month, stopping along the way for factory tours of Mardi Gras World, Sally Corp Animatronics, the Tallahassee Museum, a Dolphin Research Center, and Sweet Pete’s Candy Shop.
We were at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans for Girl Scout Day. The $15 registration fee Jennifer spent to sign Abby up as a Daisy Scout a week earlier saved our family $106 at the ticket office, but the museum was well worth the admission price, even without a discount.
We also visited six Orlando amusement parks in six days (excessive, even by Flanders standards) and made two notable discoveries:
First, we found out Gabriel has no sense of shame. When one mid-coaster camera captured a shot of him with his finger up his nose, we thought it was an ill-timed accident, but when every single photo on every subsequent ride showed him in exactly the same position, we realized he was staging the pose on purpose!
Second, we learned Daniel suffers from a crippling fear of elevators—a fact that became embarrassingly apparent when at last we made it to the front of the line for the Tower of Terror and, upon realizing the entire ride takes place in what appears to be a malfunctioning elevator shaft, Daniel went into total freak-out mode. Wailing and gripping the railing with white-knuckled fists, he refused to board until Dad shot him a look that said, “Stop making a scene” and ordered Mom to pry his fingers lose and help him to his seat.
While we don’t normally recommend dealing with children’s fears in such a callous way, in the case of our nearly-12-year-old Dan, this proved to be the right move. The ride ended up being his absolute favorite (he even made us wait in an hour-long line for a second go at it) and—after surviving those 39 mph drops—he can now ride regular elevators without batting an eye (and to think that all this time, we assumed he was taking the stairs because he wanted the exercise)!
February 2017 Happenings
In February, Mom got her first pressure cooker (our family has since eaten a metric ton of lentil soup), Daniel fell off the monkey bars and snapped both bones in his right arm (he needed surgery to reduce the fracture)…
… we found a new church home (when our old congregation moved out to Bullard, we started looking for something closer, ultimately landing in Grace Community’s 8 AM service), and Isaac (who at 6’ 3½” has now passed his Dad in height) attended TeenPact for the first time.
Rebekah staffed this year and had to be there early, so Doug drove Isaac and Rachel to Austin and stayed a few days to lobby on behalf of the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists.
March 2017 Happenings
March brought an easy transition to spring: We pulled weeds. Jennifer hung photos in the stairwell. Isaac read the entire Hunger Games trilogy aloud to the family. The girls attended a high musical tea with our new neighbors.
And we hosted Nana’s Sunday school class for their annual tour of the Azalea Trail, which was resplendent in its early blooms. As usual, Doug chauffeured the ladies around town and provided a running commentary on all the beautiful homes and the people who’ve owned them. Oral tradition has long been Doug’s forte. After 30 years of parenting, he has learned that when he prefaces remarks with, “I probably shouldn’t tell this story, but…”, the children immediately prick up their ears to hear whatever it was he wanted to say. (This is so much more effective than, “Listen up, kids, I have something important to tell you.”)
Evidently, the same trick works with grown women, as well, for the good doctor kept us in stitches with his outlandish tales and Tyler trivia. If laughter were medicine, we would have overdosed!
April 2017 Happenings
By April it was obvious the lawn our builder put in last fall was in serious trouble. Jennifer hoped a little patience, patching, and fertilizer might see it through, but Doug was convinced we needed to rip the whole thing out and start over.
It didn’t take much digging to vindicate his decision. Judging by all the concrete, sheet metal, bricks, wire, and paint lids we found buried just below the surface of the old sod, Doug was right: our yard would never have flourished apart from our taking such drastic measures.
We hauled away three industrial dumpsters full of dead grass and debris, installed a couple of French drains, then leveled and graded the entire yard. And by we, I mean our trusty yard man, Anthony Bendy, and the crew of laborers he hired to help him.
We made it back home in time to help lay the new grass—30 full pallets of lush St. Augustine sod.
Three of us had birthdays this month: Doug celebrated the big 5-0, Jennifer hit 52, and Abigail (sans her central incisors) turned seven.
May 2017 Happenings
Sam and Bekah Joy tied the knot in May, exchanging vows on Mother’s Day. Interestingly, Samuel has only known his beautiful bride (who grew up in Kenya, the daughter of Wycliffe Bible translators) a little more than a year. His sister Bethany introduced them last April, opening with, “Bekah, I’d like you to meet the brother you’re going to marry. I hope you don’t mind.”
Four days after the wedding, Samuel graduated from McGovern Medical School in Houston, and Doug had the honor of hooding him during the ceremony (exactly 25 years after earning his own MD).
From Houston, the original Rebekah Flanders drove Rachel and Isaac (who turned 14 on the road) to Tennessee for TeenPact National Convention while Dad, Mom, Nana, Joseph, Daniel, Gabbers, and Abby boarded the Carnival Freedom for an 8-day cruise to Belize. We offered to take the newlyweds along, too, but they declined, preferring to honeymoon on their own instead. This, despite the fact we promised not to ask them to babysit more than an hour or two a day. Go figure!
June 2017 Happenings
Dad and Mom were invited to speak at FEAST’s annual homeschool conference in June, but when early ads for the event billed us as Doug and Jennifer Flowers, we thought maybe they’d contacted the wrong couple. “Thanks to Bill Clinton, Gennifer Flowers probably has better name recognition at this point,” Mom told them, “so you might draw a bigger crowd if you leave it as is, but we wouldn’t want folks to be disappointed if they show up to hear salacious celebrity gossip and get a mild-mannered homemaker instead!” The conference organizers assured us the error was a typo and corrected it immediately.
Bex took charge of her younger siblings while Mom and Dad gave their talks. The six of them had a blast exploring quirky, offbeat corners of San Antonio and trying as many vegan restaurants as they could find.
Rachel turned 16 on the 16th, but a decoy celebration ensured her surprise party was a genuine surprise. She loves reading, crafting (she won the top competitor award at the East Texas State Fair this fall), and staying up late to finish her schoolwork or to stealthily attend, like a cobbler’s elf, to the neglected chores of her unsuspecting family.
We got another grandson this month when Ben’s wife, Mikayla, gave birth to a chunk of lead named James Michael. He has the same chipmunk cheeks his dad had as a baby and, by four months, outweighed his 2-year-old cousin.
A few weeks later, David’s wife, Bonnie, gave us our first granddaughter, Gwendolyn Duchane. She is sweet and petite with delicate features and a shock of dark hair.
Shortly after Gwen’s birth, Jon and Matti announced they have a new baby on the way, too (due next March). According to a recent sonogram, this one’s going to be a girl, but after that streak of six sons, we’ll believe it when we see it!
July 2017 Happenings
Except for a day trip to Van Alstyne for the Cowan Clan reunion and another to Longview for the 40th Annual Great Balloon Race, we stayed in Tyler for the entire month of July. This gave us time to work on a few home improvement projects. Jennifer refinished Rebekah’s bedroom furniture painted 1 Corinthians 10:31 on the arched wall over our kitchen (“Whether then you eat or drink… do all to the glory of God.”)…
…and made serious headway on emptying the rest of our moving boxes. Doug oversaw construction of several new garden beds, which the kids helped us plant with two Japanese maples, two crepe myrtles, dozens of azaleas, hostas, and hydrangeas, plus as many annuals off Lowe’s bargain rack (AKA: the stuff they forgot to water) as Jennifer thought we could nurse back to health. All those previously neglected plants pulled through and proliferated profusely, by the way, proving that a little TLC can work wonders.
We also installed a top-of-the-line basketball goal and even painted a key on the driveway, so the kids would know where to stand to practice their three-pointers. That was fun while it lasted, until our home owners association informed us we would have to take it down. Although basketball goals aren’t expressly forbidden in the bylaws, the permanent nature of the one we erected fell under “new construction” and required prior written approval, which—the fine people on our HOA board assured us—would not have been granted had we bothered to ask. Since maintaining a good name in the neighborhood is more important to us than shooting hoops at home, we donated the equipment to some friends who live far enough out in the country that nobody will complain about an in-ground goal, but we were all sad to see it go. Mikayla captured the prevailing mood perfectly by fashioning a small wooden cross out of sticks and hammering it in the ground where the goal once stood.
August 2017 Happenings
August brought a 7-member production team to our house to record part of a documentary the BBC will be airing in January about faith in America. They were here for three days of filming. The star of the show is a 76-year-old powerhouse by the name of Miriam Margolyes, considered a National Treasure by adoring fans in England, but better known in the States as Professor Sprout of Harry Potter fame.
Miriam didn’t know until the day she arrived she’d be interviewing a family with 12 kids; yet, despite her protests that she neither likes children nor knows how to talk to them, she made fast friends with ours, seeming at times even to prefer their company to that of the adults. She helped prepare their meals, fold their laundry, hold sleeping grandbabies, comfort cranky ones, and — with a little coaching from Jennifer — even gave Gabriel a haircut.
She also read them stories, moving us to tears with a favorite passage from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The only thing we weren’t able to talk her into was playing a game of four-square or giving her heart to Jesus, but she was a real trooper in every other respect, and we’ve devoted that second matter to fervent and continued prayer. In fact, we’re praying for the entire crew, who were lovely people all, though not a believer among them.
David and Bonnie came to town mid-month for one last visit before moving to Germany for the next three years. This was our first time to meet Gwen, already a month old and even more adorable in person than she looks in photos.
Mom, Dad, and Beth flew to Peru on Eclipse Day. Doug had mentioned several months earlier he was considering such a trip: “Bethany has always wanted to climb Machu Picchu,” he explained, “and I have a week of vacation in August, so I think I’ll ask if she wants to go together.” When Jennifer reminded him the reason he had requested that week off in the first place was to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, Doug graciously invited her to tag along, too!
We had to get up at 3:00 in the morning to make it to the summit by dawn, but as Bethany wryly observed, “Watching the sunrise over Machu Picchu is soooo much more breathtaking when you’re actually there—mostly because it involves climbing a mountain, and at altitude there’s literally less oxygen in the air that you are frantically gasping to breathe.”
Full disclosure: We took a bus to the front gate and skipped ascending Huayna Picchu altogether, lest the menacingly-named “Dead Woman’s Pass” prove prophetic. The bugs ate Dad alive while we were in the mountains, but—surprisingly—left Mom and Beth completely alone. Either Peruvian mosquitos prefer darker complexions and were attracted by Doug’s nice tan or (as Samuel suggested) they assumed legs as pale as the girls’ could only belong to corpses!
Ben and Mikayla stayed with the rest of our kids while we were gone and led some grand adventures of their own, including a day trip to Waco to shop at Magnolia Market, then a stop at BSR Cable Park to try out some incredible water slides.
September 2017 Happenings
Three of our kids had birthdays in September: Bethany turned 28. She finished her third half-marathon this year and was in her ninth wedding (“always a bridesmaid, never a bride”). She loves her work as a pediatric dentist (especially oral surgery), but would give it up in a heartbeat if the right guy ever showed up to make her a wife and a mommy.
Joseph turned 20. He lives at home, but between school, job, and girlfriend Emi, we often see him only in passing. Emi’s folks invited him to vacation with them in Cozumel in June, which helped compensate for the fact he missed so many of our family trips this year.
Rebekah turned 18. We see more of her than of Joe, despite the fact she also takes college classes and works two jobs (three if you count all the portrait shoots she’s done for her photography business this year).Although Samuel and Rebekah Joy’s second-floor Houston apartment was spared any flooding, Samuel had to pedal his bike through a foot of water during Hurricane Harvey to get to and from the hospital for his shifts, which were stacked such that all his most grueling rotations came first.
Good news: he got them out of the way early. Bad news: the stress nearly killed him. Nevertheless, God has been faithful to carry him through, a fact the rest of us could see even when Sam was too sleep-deprived to recognize it.
October 2017 Happenings
We pitched our tents for Family Camp in October. It fell out of sync with Doug’s vacation schedule this year, which means he missed out on the fun of sleeping outdoors (on hard cots with icy feet, gritty linens, and fire ants) more nights than not. He did spend the first weekend with us (as did Sam and Bekah, who got a much-needed break just in time to join us for starlit evenings and shut-eye and s’mores).
Dad also made it back the following Friday in time to compete with Mom in a couples’ canoe race. We came in fourth out of six, but as we didn’t tip the boat or need to be towed back to shore, we consider our performance there a wild success.
Jennifer’s mother turned 80 on Saturday, so the girls struck camp early and drove to Grapevine for a birthday retreat (the brilliant brainchild of Jennifer’s thoughtful sister). Nana looks about 20 years younger than she actually is—even before the facials Bethany gave us — and is as healthy and active as ever, which makes the rest of us grateful to share her genes!
November 2017 Happenings
By November, Doug had wrapped up or resigned from all administrative responsibilities. He finished out his term as Chief of Anesthesia at UT, chaired his last meeting as head of the Peer Review Committee at ETMC, rotated off the Board of Directors at Magdalene Home (but still served time in the dunking booth at the Caring for Kids festival this month), and declined requests for any additional leadership roles, citing the fact that our kids are growing up fast and he can’t afford to miss these formative years. His increased involvement at home will hopefully include some triathlon training (he has just the truck for toting the bikes).
It has been over a decade since the last time our family backpacked Europe, but we finally saved enough frequent flyer miles to get eight more free tickets, so by the time you get this letter, Mom, Dad, and the Super Six should be landing in London, the first stop on a circuitous route to Rome.
We’ll be back home in time for Christmas. We pray the season is packed with meaning and memories for you, too. Let us hear from you soon!
Doug & Jennifer,
Jon & Matti (and kids), Beth, David & Bonnie (and Gwen), Samuel & Bekah Joy,
Ben & Mikayla (and James), Joseph, Rebekah, Rachel, Isaac, Daniel, Gabriel, and Abigail
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 our first 25 years of 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).