What follows is another yearly installment in our family’s complete history told via the 2023 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 2023 Flanders Family Update

December 2022 Happenings

Simple but elegant. Those were the words a Neiman Marcus clerk used to describe a plain cotton T-shirt that caught Doug’s eye as he was window shopping in San Antonio last December while the rest of the family took afternoon naps.

Doug and Jennifer

“Oh, yes—” Doug agreed, trying not to gasp when the clerk flipped over the tag to show him a grossly inflated price.

He carefully placed the costly tee back on the rack, noticing as he did the streak of wet snot a grandbaby smeared across his own solid navy T-shirt earlier in the day was now dry, crusty, and clearly visible.

“That’s just what I like,” he deadpanned, “simple but elegant.”

Having grown out a beard that’s more salt than pepper and sporting some spare padding around his mid-section, Doug looked like a natural in the old-world Santa suit Jennifer found for him at a local thrift store. He wore it to pass out gifts last Christmas (after first reading Luke 2 aloud to the family), but his wasn’t the only costume to make an appearance.

Several of us donned the native garb of countries we studied for the geography challenge Samuel and Bekah Joy sponsored last year.  Mom’s essay may have ranked dead last in the previous year’s financial fitness competition, but her Power Point presentation on Poland placed first in the 2022 contest.

January 2023 Happenings

Jennifer was briefly immobilized in January after doing a face-plant and hurting her hip while teaching Virginia Reel dance lessons at a mother-daughter retreat. Thankfully, it was wildly apparent her misstep wasn’t choreographed, so no one was injured trying to mimic her moves!

A concerned friend caught the whole fiasco on film and sent relevant footage to Doug, who decided an ER visit was in order. The verdict? Nothing broken, just badly bruised.

To his credit, Doug exercised tremendous restraint by waiting until after the X-rays came back before forwarding that video clip to the rest of the family. Laughter may be good medicine, but he and the kids nearly overdosed on every replay and have been ribbing Mom ever since about her fancy footwork (and frumpy footwear).

While Jennifer was recovering, Doug kept the kids busy building and painting a white picket fence to enclose the backyard of our rental house. Maybe the wood shortage was to blame or maybe pickets are now considered relics of the past, but the boys had to cut all ours by hand to get the old-fashioned look we were going for.

Fence Painting
More Fence Painting

They added terraced garden beds, as well, then whitewashed the concrete wall that runs the length of the property. This created a blank canvas for the garden mural Jennifer later painted of potted plants, fruit trees, bunnies, blooms, and birdhouses, providing four-season color that never needs watering.


A man from Kentucky noticed our family from Texas praying over a Chick-fil-A meal in Florida mid-month and struck up a conversation. Although he was dining with just one child at the time (and we with only two), we soon discovered that both our families have twelve children, are believers, love traveling off-season, and share mutual friends.

By the time we finished our nuggets and waffle fries, he had invited us over for dinner the next night. We gladly accepted, enjoying a wonderful time of fellowship and sand-court volleyball with his whole crew at their vacation rental.

February 2023 Happenings

February took us to the Texas hill country. We dropped Gabriel and Aiden (youngest son and oldest grandson) off in Austin for a week of TeenPact before driving on to San Antonio to hang out with Samuel’s family for a few days, enjoying a gorgeous day at the zoo and lots of great food.

San Antonio Zoo

The weather was sunny and mild, so we made plans to hike Colorado Bend State Park with our Canadian friends after picking up the boys. Unfortunately, a cold front moved in by the time we reached the park. We spent a miserable night shivering in our tents and awoke the next morning with a fine layer of frost atop our sleeping bags, formed when our breath crystalized at the top of the tent and floated back down upon us whenever we bumped the walls.

After voting unanimously to cut the hike short, both families headed to a nearby hotel for hot showers, warm beds, and central heat.

March 2023 Happenings

By March, the stray cat who’d shown up on our porch a few weeks earlier had pet bowls, a cozy outdoor bed, a leather collar, and a new name. The kids dubbed her Tinea, from the scientific term for ringworm.

She’s extremely affectionate, is grateful for any amount of attention we give her, and doesn’t seem to resent the fact we won’t allow her inside.

Bonus: The pit bull who lives across the street is apparently afraid of her and keeps his distance whenever Tinea is lying on the porch, keeping watch.

The Gathering Place
Beth with Nephew

Several of our kids attended a conference in Oklahoma, so we met them in Tulsa to hang out at an incredible 100-acre, $465M public playground called The Gathering Place before heading to Missouri to visit two of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homes and attend a barn dance at Sycamore Creek Ranch.

Dan and Gabriel
Barn Dance

Rebekah set out on a mission of her own this month. Burdened by the knowledge, gleaned from her dead grandmother’s diary, that her biological grandfather was an avowed atheist at the time of Doug’s birth, she did some sleuthing, tracked him down, and made surreptitious plans to fly alone to Chicago to share God’s love with him and his wife.

The Windy City was blanketed in snow when she landed, and the sun set long before she successfully tracked down the unsuspecting couple. But, moved by compassion for the stranger who showed up on their doorstep sobbing with relief to have finally found them, they welcomed her in, fed her a warm meal, and listened attentively as she poured out her heart.

She explained how her job as an ER nurse serves as a daily reminder of the brevity of life and fuels the sense of urgency she feels for proclaiming the good news: Jesus is the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Him will live, even though he dies. (John 11:25)


April 2023 Happenings

After three and a half decades of marriage, Jennifer has learned that whenever Doug gets elusive about his whereabouts or won’t answer his phone, it’s because he’s at the car dealership trying to seal a deal before she has a chance to talk him out of it. So after his “morning errands” took much longer than expected, it came as no surprise when he brought home a new truck in April (one that admittedly came in handy moving Beth to Dallas and Bek to our garage apartment this summer).

We headed to the Caribbean to celebrate our birthdays this month: Abby turned 13, Jennifer 58, and Doug 56 while we were gone.

Abby turns 13

High points of the trip: a dolphin encounter in Costa Maya and getting to sail with Samuel’s family (who’d had to miss all our previous cruises), Bethany, and Jennifer’s mom.

April Cruise

Low point: discovering when it came time to board that Nana had forgotten to pack her passport. Thankfully, Jennifer’s niece was able to drive to her grandmother’s house and text us a photo of her birth certificate before the ship left port.

Waiting for Passport

Low point: discovering when it came time to board that Nana had forgotten to pack her passport.

Thankfully, Jennifer’s niece was able to drive to her grandmother’s house and text us a photo of her birth certificate before the ship left port.

We faced another passport crisis back at home when Rachel realized hers had expired, less than a week before she was supposed to fly to Europe for 45 days with family friends who have ten children and wanted her help keeping track of the youngest three (including a set of extremely energetic two-and-a-half-year-old twin boys). Rather than panic, we immediately started praying and making phone calls.

The only expedited passport appointment available before her day of departure was in Hawaii. So Jennifer booked it, then called her mother to explain the situation and request prayer. As soon as she hung up with Nana (at 8:20 AM), Mom redialed the passport office to ask if they’d had any cancellations closer to home.

Rachel's Passport

“As a matter of fact, we have,” the person on the other end of the line told her. “There’s an appointment in Dallas today at 10 AM if you can get there that fast.” By God’s grace, we did, and Rachel had a new passport in hand by Friday afternoon before flying out on Monday.

Halberstadts in Paris

May 2023 Happenings

May found us babysitting grandkids while Jon and Haley were in the hospital with their newest addition, a beautiful baby girl named Hannah Renee (born 4/30). She’s a sweetheart with huge, liquid brown eyes and a shock of dark hair.

Daniel graduated high school this month. He had to submit a favorite Bible verse for the slide show our homeschool group played during commencement exercises. Not wishing to scandalize anyone in attendance, Mom vetoed his first choice (Proverbs 5:18-19), so he picked another verse Dad models well and to which Dan himself aspires: “A righteous man who walks in his integrity, how blessed are his children after him.” (Proverbs 20:7)


We packed a lot into the three days surrounding graduation:

Doug took 24-hour call then helped move all Beth’s belongings to Dallas.

Jennifer spoke at a local homeschool conference and sang in an ETSO performance of Haydn’s Creation.

And a few hours after hosting a houseful of family and friends for Dan’s graduation reception, we packed our bags and left on a two-week road trip during which we explored seven National Parks, the National WWI Museum, and a couple more homesites of Laura Ingalls Wilder.


We also saw seven state capitol buildings: Iowa’s was the most magnificent (we especially loved the library), Kansas offered the most strenuous climb (296 steps to reach the tip-top of the capitol dome), and we were given the longest, most detailed tour in Nebraska (not realizing until 90 minutes in that our extremely friendly and knowledgeable guide was neither a capitol employee nor a volunteer but merely visiting that day).

Kansas Capitol
Kansas Capitol Dome Tour
Nebraska Capitol
Another Capitol

We wrapped up our trip with another stop at The Gathering Place in Tulsa. Several of our big kids drove up with their families to meet us there.

Isaac turned 20 before we made it back home. He took a job waiting tables at Olive Garden this summer and switched his major to chemical engineering. Not only did he receive a scholarship upon transferring to UT Tyler, but he also found a girlfriend, a smart young woman he met in a late-night lab. (They had chemistry together.)

Isaac Turns 20

June 2023 Happenings

Jennifer started a new podcast called Loving Life at Home in June about the time she began homeschooling our three oldest grandkids.


At Mikayla’s request, she also gave the girls sewing lessons this summer. Emi joined us when she wasn’t at home baking THE most delicious macarons imaginable for her new cottage industry Sprinkle & Flourish. Joseph continues his work as an electrician by day and a handy man on evenings and weekends, yet still finds time to drive scam callers mad by pretending to misunderstand all their questions.

The boys racked up college credit like crazy taking CLEP tests: Gabriel earned a fourth of his 32 hours from a single chemistry exam, and Dan was completely core complete by the end of June.

Gabriel's CLEP Test

Rachel made it home from Europe just in time for her 22nd birthday. To celebrate, we went kayaking at Tyler State Park then set off on another camping trip with our Canadian friends, this time to Sabine National Forest. The weather was fiercely hot and muggy, the opposite extreme from our last hike.

With temperatures topping 100 degrees, we had little fear of frost bite this time around but did have to guard against heat stroke. So much sweat! We soon abandoned our plan to trek 22 miles between two lakes in favor of swimming in one for hours on end.

Our family headed to New Orleans afterwards, touring Houmas House on the way, where Gabriel got to play an antique piano for a roomful of enthusiastically approving tourists. Ben and Mikayla met us in NOLA for a few days. We visited the National WWII Museum, took a swamp tour, and ate lots of delightfully sweet beignets.

Houmas House

Bethany started a two-year pediatric dental fellowship in Dallas this month, the same program David began last year. Despite the fact she had submitted all her required paperwork as soon as she was accepted, one vital piece of the puzzle somehow kept getting lost in the shuffle.

This led to a month-long sequence of whiplash-inducing emails alternately granting and revoking her clinical privileges at one of the med centers affiliated with the program. She briefly fantasized about throwing in the towel and moving to Switzerland to study at L’Abri, but far too many of her superiors went to bat on her behalf to let that happen.

In the end, she received the necessary clearance and has enjoyed getting to work alongside her brother again, although he’ll finish twelve months earlier.

David and Bethany

In preparation for moving back overseas after graduation with his (rapidly expanding) family, David recently updated his CV. It’s the most thorough, well-rounded, and impressive resume any of us have ever laid eyes on.

July 2023 Happenings

Benjamin drove three siblings plus a couple of their friends to Colorado for Summit in July. Abby tagged along too, then flew home after hiking Seven Falls Trail with Ben and Mik’s family.

She, Mom, and Dad returned to Denver a week later to pick up the van and spend a few days with Doug’s folks. We toured the Phoenix Gold Mine and Hammond Candy Company, fed chipmunks, admired quilts, and ate lots of ice cream together before we had to pick up our Summit students for the drive home.

Back in Tyler, we hosted this year’s Cowan Clan Reunion and had a wonderful turn out!

August 2023 Happenings

Our kids rearranged the furniture, set up a projector, and turned our den into a theater room to host a week-long Mission Impossible Movie Marathon for a few friends in August—one last hurrah before everyone had to head back to school or hit the books at home. They screened one film a night for six nights, then saw the newly released MI: Dead Reckoning in theaters.

Doug and Jennifer celebrated 36 years of marriage this month with a trip to North Carolina. We stopped at three more state capitols on the way, but that part of the trip was a bust: two were filled with floor-to-ceiling scaffolding and the third refused us entry because they were expecting a “special guest” at the time (which we suspect was Trump, as he’d been arraigned in Montgomery that weekend and the place was swarming with police cars).


Once we got to our destination, we toured the Biltmore Estate, slid down Cashier’s Sliding Rock, assembled a couple of jigsaws, and played free Bingo at a pool party our resort sponsored. Daniel won a prize on every single round but the last. That one was “Loser’s Bingo” (final player to get five in a row wins—a distinction that went to Gabriel).

We all brought home a slew of dollar store prizes—sudoku books, candy bars, kids’ crafts, etc. We took another detour through Tulsa coming home to spend an afternoon at the Philbrook Museum with dear friends the kids met at Summit.

September 2023 Happenings

After spending so many family vacations for so many years counting so many heads, it seems strange to be going places with only two children in tow, but that’s how many of our trips played out this year, including our first-ever cruise to Alaska in September.


We enjoyed glorious weather, some spectacular views of Hubbard Glacier, and superb meals seated snugly around a small table set for four.

A shopkeeper in Seattle commented on how tall our kids are (at ages 13 and 15, Abby is 5’11” and Gabriel’s 6’6” respectively). “Were they big as babies, too?” she wanted to know.

When Jennifer told her the boy weighed 10-6 and his sister 10-8, the woman’s jaw dropped. “Whew!” she exclaimed, “It’s a good thing you only had two, right?”

Cruise to Alaska

Daniel got his acceptance letter for nursing school while we were gone, allowing him to check off yet another item on the elaborate, three-year, month-by-month to-do list he’s posted on his bedroom wall (end goal: being ready to support a wife and kids by the time he gets his BSN).

Samuel invited his entire family to meet him in Round Rock where he was attending a CME conference. Forty-two of us accepted the invitation and had a wonderful time exploring the waterpark at Kalahari while he was in class.

Our Bekah flew to Florida for a missions conference then to Ohio for a FORGE event, taking Gabriel with her both times. His size makes him a formidable bodyguard, but he’s also great company and is fond of farm life, so the apple picking and barn dancing they did up north were a welcome break from his homeschool lessons

October 2023 Happenings


Our family battled a bad case of strep throat for much of October. Abby was first to succumb, having spent two days in fierce competition at a regional volleyball tournament where she slapped hands with untold numbers of players from opposing teams.

The physical exhaustion coupled with increased germ exposure took her down in a hurry. Thankfully, she made a full recovery in time for the annual family camp frisbee tournament the following week.

Our team, the Martians, finally succeeded in beating our longtime Arkansas rivals for the championship, and victory sure tasted sweet!

It was hard won, though you’d never know it to observe the calm, cool, and collected grace with which our players handled themselves on the field. They did us proud.

The Martians

Family camp is even more fun now that so many of our kids are grown and bringing their own kids to pitch tents and sleep under the stars. Samuel camped this year with his two oldest (Bekah Joy had to stay home with a sick baby Sarah); Benjamin—who served as our frisbee team captain—was there with his three little ones and a newly-expectant Mikayla; and Jon and Haley brought their big crew out for a few days, as well.

Several of our daughters & daughters-in-law skipped afternoon rock climbing and canoe racing at camp in favor of shopping in nearby Gladewater (“an antique lover’s paradise”). Among the treasures they brought home were several glass vials of fine red clay marketed as an all-natural facial mask.

Unfortunately, the liberal and lengthy application that ensued dyed the girls’ faces such an oompa-loompa shade of orange it looked as if they’d been stricken with severe jaundice or had a spray-on tan go horribly wrong. The staying power of that reddish-yellow tint made us wonder if henna had been a hidden ingredient!

November 2023 Happenings

Bekah flew back to Chicago again in November, this time taking Mom, Dad, Gabriel, and Abby with her. We had a lovely dinner with Doug’s biological dad and his wife, who was determined to meet us despite having just gotten out of the hospital.


We said goodbye to Doug’s younger sister this year after a long battle with cancer and lost the pastor of the church several of our children attend as well. Both passings serve as a poignant reminder that death will eventually come for us all.

Even so, “God proves His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) The cost of our sin is far more than we could afford, but Jesus paid the price in full so that, by grace through faith, we can stand before our Maker clothed in His righteousness. That’s the gospel in a nutshell: It’s simple but elegant! May God grant us grace to accept the gifts He so freely offers. Let us hear from you soon.

With love from the Flanders Family—

Doug & Jennifer, Jon & Haley, Bethany, David & Bonnie, Samuel & Bekah, Ben & Mikayla, JT & Emi, Rebekah, Rachel, Isaac, Daniel, Gabriel, Abigail, plus an ever-increasing number of grandkids

www.flandersfamily.info | lovinglifeathome.com | alltruthisgodstruth.com

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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