I Can

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Have you ever wondered what you would be doing when you were 74? How about at 80? I sat down with Phyllis Mann to hear her story, and I must say, I drove home that afternoon inspired and amazed. I can’t imagine doing a triathlon at any point in my life, and I am sure most of you feel the same. Phyllis listened to her daughter Tracy talking about her experience doing the Danskin triathlon and decided right then that it was something she would like to do. Her tone brightened as she talked about these experiences and her blue eyes sparkled as she told me the story. I heard about the old green bicycle, complete with front basket, that she loaded on her car, intending to ride it on the hills in Austin. Hills and single speed bicycles don’t mix well, so a new bike with 24 gears was purchased and she had to learn how to shift. 

This triathlon consists of swimming a half-mile, biking for 12 miles, and running for 3.1 miles. One of these events alone is enough to intimidate most of us, but Phyllis did it five times, in a race environment, and completed the last one at the age of 80. She was the oldest woman to ever compete in 

this annual event and the last time she raced, she beat her old time by eight minutes, taking only 2 ½ hours to finish.

I read a book her daughter put together about these experiences and learned what an inspiration Phyllis was to everyone who witnessed her race. There were press interviews, kids giving her hi-fives, and women who were inspired to keep racing despite the number of birthdays they had experienced. I asked Phyllis to look back and think about some life lessons, things she wished a younger version of herself had known, and to share them. She told me she always did her best, there were failures and things that could have been done better, but you still need to keep doing your very best. “If you give your best, the best will come back to you, and it has for me despite my failures. Don’t miss opportunities because sometimes they only come around once, and if you don’t grab it, it could be gone forever. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the money, the resources, the talent, do it anyway. Don’t wait until you are ready, because you will never be completely ready.”

She told me how God is always there to hold us up through every circumstance and her hope for the future is based on the word of Jesus and his plans for our good. Whatever may happen, he will be there, and everything will be ok.

I thought about her advice and how optimistic Phyllis is, ready to tackle any challenge with a smile and a great attitude. If we all looked at life with the inclination of I can, instead of I can’t, what changes we could accomplish! I recently read that people looking back over their lives rarely regretted what they did, but sincerely mourned the things they always meant to do. Take a lesson from Phyllis, get on your old green bicycle, and take that path that leads to the road called I CAN.

Texas Moon

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Have you ever met someone and instantly sensed their kind spirit and generous heart? Glen Moon is one of the first people to greet us each Sunday morning, and I know I always look forward to his smile, which seems to radiate from deep within. He is invariably there, a steady, welcoming presence.

I get many opportunities to share a meal while gathering these stories, and for this one, I traveled to the moon, the Texas Moon that is. I visited with Glen and Sara at their home and enjoyed a wonderful meal and stories late into the night. I have driven by the Texas Moon for years, never realizing that one day, I would get to know Glen and Sara, worship together, serve together, and share in their story.

Glen has been a police officer with the Beaumont PD for 34 years, and you can only imagine the stories he has to tell and the things he has seen. Believe me, when I say, you really can’t imagine walking a day in his shoes. Most of us go about our predictable days letting the little things stress us and test our patience. 

Officer Moon goes to work, protecting us from the worst the city has to offer, and that makes our complaints look ridiculous and petty. We may pray for patience with a coworker, and Glen prays he makes it home another night.

My favorite story was the night Glen and Sara met, which must be the most bizarre tale of loves beginning that I have ever heard. They met at a crime scene, under a tree, investigating a suicide. There were plenty of stories where the Moon’s crossed paths on the way to various crime scenes, Sara collecting evidence and Glen investigating. He has stories of action and drama that I could have listened to all night, but it was Sara who offered stories of Glen’s kindness. She spoke of the people he brought home because they didn’t have any other place to go, his thoughtfulness, his willingness to do the things Jesus taught us. Glen is the first to arrive at Kairos and the last to leave, and I always see several guests seek him out to say hello and share a hug.

As I drove home that night, a full moon lighting their country road, I thought about everything I heard and about the experiences I’ve had serving with Glen. I wondered how he was able to see people at their worst—people who try to hurt him, spit on him, call him names—and still be kind and generous. How does a person work that out? Every Sunday, we say that we will seek to love the city with the heart of Christ, and I had to ask him how he does this. He told me it’s because of his faith community, the people he surrounds himself with, his faith in Jesus, and a whole lot of praying. If our purpose is to look more like Jesus every day, I believe Glen’s story can help us learn how to do this. I know it has changed my perspective, and for that, I am grateful. 

Story and Headshot by Michelle Holland

An Illustrated Life

It is exciting and inspiring to hear someone’s story, to learn about the experiences that shaped them, and the obstacles they overcome. I enjoy discovering the gifts and talents of people and thinking about the unique things they have accomplished. I took some time to read our church history book and I came across some illustrations signed by Billie Crockett. I had talked with Billie many times, but I didn’t know she was an artist, so I asked her about the drawings. She was quick to say she was just an illustrator, and she made light of her abilities. I asked several times to talk with her about her drawing, and I am grateful she finally gave in. We spent a wonderful afternoon talking about her life, and the lost art of advertising illustration.

Billie grew up in Louisiana and graduated from LSU with a degree in design, then went on to Sarasota, Florida, where she attended the Ringling School of Art. She landed a job illustrating various items that a department store was advertising. Yes, before Amazon and the internet, pictures were drawn by hand for advertising in the newspaper. Can you imagine being given various items from dresses to lamps to sewing kits, never knowing what object you would be illustrating next? She spoke of departments stores like the White House, Dryden’s, and Spencer’s which are now a part of history. It was fascinating to hear her talk about the elements of an ad and how they were assembled. I wondered if the clothing she illustrated was modeled on mannequins, but no, it was on a hanger and she had to decide how it would look on a person.

Billie was a shy young woman when she moved to Beaumont to work for Harrison Baier at the White House. He invited her to First Methodist, where she met her future husband, Bill. Bill had been praying to meet someone, and just like that, Billie showed up. Did you know his name is Billy Gene and hers is Billie Jane?  We discussed how God brought her here, to this church, and to this city, to meet her husband and raise a family, and how grateful she is for all these events in her life. Serving God has helped her overcome her shyness and experience has taught her that if you stop thinking about yourself and focus on others, listening and giving them your attention, you stop worrying about yourself and you can be the hands and feet of Jesus. Billie’s illustrations are fascinating, and if you ever get a chance, visit with her and let her show you some of her work, the detail is incredible, and the faces are marvelous.  Billie said when she drew her figures, she started with the eyes, and I had to wonder if that’s how God designs us, starting with our eyes and then moving on to our soul. 

Story and headshot by Michelle Holland

Faith and Action


How does faith develop and what shapes us into the people God intends us to be? How do you put action behind your faith and strive to follow Jesus every day? I spent an afternoon with Liza Nelson, discussing faith, church, and life. Our conversation wandered from the past to the present and touched on the different events that have shaped her quest to be a disciple of Jesus. 

I asked Liza about the most influential figure in her faith journey and why she chose that person. She comes from a family of faith, and there were plenty of characters and such a multitude of memories that she couldn't pick just one. I heard descriptions of kindness, tolerance, and nonjudgmental acceptance that could teach more than words could ever convey. There was the story of hungry strangers during the depression that could always get a meal, and one about two black girls who needed to go to school and were taken in and made part of this family. I learned about a spunky, feisty grandmother who prayed fervently for everyone she knew, and couldn’t help thinking Liza must have taken after her.

Her father worked for Texaco and was transferred from Iran to Texas during the desegregation of the south. I listened to a moving, emotional description of her experiences with racism and prejudice, the awkwardness of being a teenager in a new school, and witnessing people at their worst. Just thinking about the signs, the yelling, the spitting, and all these painful memories still bring tears to her eyes.

Liza makes her way through this world following Jesus and taking action. She learned by example from her family to welcome those who are different, to love and accept people, to pray fervently like her grandmother, and to be a vessel of Jesus' love, hoping that she can share that love with someone who needs it. Faith is more than just what you believe; it is practicing the things Jesus told us to do, like loving our neighbor and welcoming the stranger. He taught us there is more to faith than words or rigid beliefs. He showed us love, kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance, and he put these words into practice. The practice is what makes us better, or as some might say, perfect, and shouldn't we all be striving to be perfected in Jesus as doers of the word and not just hearers only?

Story and photo by Michelle Holland

The Youngest Disciple


When was the last time you took an intentional play day and ventured outside, smelling the flowers and listening to the birds? What if playing was a form of worship? I looked up the origin of the word “play,” and this is what I read: to leap for joy, dance, rejoice and be glad. S. is the picture of play, and I got to spend a Saturday afternoon learning life lessons from an eight-year-old. We headed out into the sunshine to talk and hang around in the magnolia tree where she taught me to relax, enjoy the day, and play a little.

S. explained how she is building her own life story and if you read the Bible, it will tell you how to accomplish this since God gives you everything you need in those stories. He does this because He loves us and if you do the wrong things, you may think it only affects you, but there are consequences for everything. S.’s advice to me was to trust God no matter what, and if you feel something terrible is going to happen, know that God will protect you. She wonders how Jesus could love us so much since we put thorns on His head and a cross on His back. The Easter story is her favorite, and she also likes the stories about Moses.

I asked her what it means to follow Jesus, and she said it’s about how you treat people, it’s standing up for kids who are being bullied, it’s giving someone a helping hand when they need it, it’s working at Kairos Kitchen and being generous with your time. She also said you shouldn’t be afraid of getting baptized, although she did say the water was cold, and that everyone needs to know that God loves them and will be with them always.

When we finished talking and tree climbing, we went back in to greet the Kairos guests, serve them, and clean up. I thought about our conversation and how such a young girl could have so much to teach us. My favorite thing she told me was about kindness, she said if everyone would be kind to just one person, we could change the world. She may be a bubble gum chewing, roller skating, fast runner, who makes straight A’s, and has a dog named Ginger. She is also a disciple of Jesus, well on her way to changing the world.

Story and photo by Michelle Holland

Creating Potential


What do you think about when you hear the word “creative”? Artists, writers, dancers? I used to think the same until I started reading about creativity and spent an evening talking with Robin Snoek. I was looking at creativity-the process, without including God-the creator. If you think about God as the creator and that God dwells inside each of us, it is logical to conclude  that we are all creative, each of us in our own way. Robin can draw, and she can paint, but her creativity runs much deeper than those things. She has found a way to use her creativity to help children in need and along the way has discovered her life’s purpose.    

Have you ever contemplated events in your life and realized that God has been working to lead you, that you are precisely where you need to be, and that you have been preparing for this moment your entire life? What a fantastic thing to realize! Robin can trace that journey and knows God has put her right where He needs her to be. I asked if her job with CPS ever made her doubt the goodness of people, and if it ever discouraged her. What she told me was inspiring.  She believes all people are good, and that it’s the circumstances that are out of control and need to be changed.This is where her understanding of creativity comes to life. Robin relates our innate creativity with potential and therefore her sense of social justice demands that she stand up for those that are currently oppressed and marginalized.

We have been learning about the fruit of the Spirit, and when I think of those nine words, I think of Robin. I listened to the story of how she and Charlie came to Beaumont and how obstacles seemed to leap out of the way as God cleared them one after another to get them here. I heard the joy in her voice as she talked about helping people make changes. I see the peace she has in her life because she knows she is doing what God created her to do. 

Pastor Jon taught us about fig trees and fruit, how they must be grown, cultivated, and nourished. Robin reminds me of a gardener, tending and working, guided by the Holy Spirit, so that others may bear fruit and realize their own potential. Nine simple words to strive for and if you take the first one, “love,” doesn’t that lead to all the others? Spring is here, be happy and cultivate the fruit of the Spirit.

Story and photo by Michelle Holland

Carving Up Character


Have you ever had one of those conversations where you weren't aware of time, and you were just enjoying the moment? I spent an afternoon talking with Henry Joyner and discovered we shared many of the same interests. Chrissie asked me what Henry could be talking about for so long! In this day of social media, technology, and the busyness of life, it was uplifting to sit down and have a conversation just to hear someone's story.

Did you know Henry has been a television reporter and a cameraman, or that he once worked for the National Enquirer? I couldn't help asking if he ever wrote about alien abductions and we had a good laugh about that. Henry never did write alien stories! He has always enjoyed writing and photography and was an English major in college with a minor in journalism. He had a few gigs as a wedding photographer and did some tabletop photography for magazine illustrations. Now I guess you know why we spent so much time talking that afternoon.

If you are familiar with Henry’s spectacular wood carvings you know he is very talented and creative, but did you know he also draws, paints, and sculpts? I was captivated with the caricatures and the details I found in them. You can examine them and always find something new you didn't notice before, and the stories he carves into them are so characteristic of life.

Henry’s favorite material to work with is wood, and he senses a spiritual connection to the trees and to God the creator when he works with it. There is something about working with wood, a sense of awe and admiration for an organism created by God during the creation of the world that we couldn’t do without today. I thought about Henry's characters and how each one is special, and there would never be two that were exactly alike, each of them telling a story with carved details and hand shaped with love and care. I thought God must be doing something similar when he makes each of us, different as can be, with stories as varied as each personality. Henry says he carves away what doesn’t look like what he is making and maybe that’s what we should be doing too, carving away everything about us that doesn’t look like Jesus.

By Michelle Holland

Follow and Shine


I couldn’t help thinking about dynamite in small packages after I heard Samantha Boutte’s story of what it was like to attend the firefighter training academy and I learned that when you are loaded with grit, determination, and a lot of devotion to God, there is not much that can get in your way. She never had dreams of being a firefighter, but when your prayers open another path and everything lines up completely, you can be pretty sure God has you there on purpose.

Fire academy training is demanding, and when you are the smallest person in your class, and one of two women, you must be ready to hold your own. Samantha prepared mentally by setting two goals. She would not be the last person to finish anything, and she would not show weakness. Samantha prayed and relied on God and adrenaline to get her through. The training was demanding, but the hardest part was being separated from her kids because everything she does is centered on caring for them, teaching them values, and being a role model. Samantha works with hazmat reports and safety issues, and she is training to be an EMT, someday she may be part of the suppression team.

She is on a mission to be the best person she can be, to do what God calls her to do, and to support this church with a willingness to work and give back to the community. Samantha told me she knows when leaving her house every day that she is representing more than just herself, she also represents her faith, her parents, her church, and her job.

I considered Samantha’s journey and how she never expected firefighting to be a part of her life, yet when she looked back, she could clearly see how everything fell into place. I thought about what Pastor Jon said last Sunday when he told us to live into our intended purpose and how God’s light is inside all of us and that light must come out. He explained how one person can’t shine the light for the entire world, but we can shine it wherever we find ourselves. Samantha prayed, listened, and followed the path to find her purpose and her place to shine, and with her determination and grit, sunglasses may be needed at the fire station.

By Michelle Holland

Roaring Like a Lion


I talked last month about getting to know someone new, so what better way to start the new year than for me to do that. I attended the symphony Christmas concert, and to my surprise, Lance Orta was the featured soloist. That was exciting, and I wanted to tell everyone that Lance sang at my church! I felt this was a sign that I had found my next Heartbeat story. I assumed Lance had been singing and performing since he was a child and that it really wasn’t a big deal to get up in front of hundreds and sing your heart out. I soon learned that wasn’t the case at all.

A shy kid with a spectacular voice just seems to be one of those illogical things God always likes to do, sort of like a built-in obstacle to character development that turns us into the person we are meant to be. Lance joined Renee’s high school choir as a freshman and was content to remain in the background until he realized you could get a letterman jacket for singing a solo, and the attention you received from the girls was an unexpected bonus. He decided to try out for a part singing ‘Circle of Life’ from The Lion King, and this quiet kid surprised everyone who heard that audition. 

Lance was able to conquer his fear because he knew singing was what he was meant to do. It led him to DePauw University where he majored in vocal performance and experienced opportunities to travel and sing, including the White House for Christmas carols.

Lance told me music is more than just music, it brings people together, and it is a part of something bigger than just the music itself. Music defines moments, it lifts our spirits, it plays on our emotions, it lives in our memories, and it is hard to imagine life without it. We talked about community and how it feels to be a part of this one, to be a part of something that is bigger than yourself. God gave us all a purpose and finding that purpose despite the obstacles we encounter provides meaning to our lives and develops us into who we are called to be. Lance found his gift, and we get to be part of his journey as he is a part of ours. Who knows, maybe some Sunday we will hear him sing ‘Circle of Life’, I know I would love to experience it.

By Michelle Holland

Conversations About Life


You can’t begin to know and appreciate another person until you sit down together and talk about life and the joys and struggles we all experience. This past year has been full of stories, and each one has shown me how much we are alike and how much we can learn from one another.

I spent one morning at Dr. Bill Graber’s house on Audubon Place, which is a bit humorous since he is an avid birder. When I thought about him and the stories he shared, I realized that all of them seemed to drift back to his beautiful, late wife Laura Lee, his children, and his medical practice. We did talk about birds and his life list of over 700 different species, and he told me when he was in the second grade, the teacher divided the class according to their ability to sing. The best were redbirds, the next were bluebirds, and the kids who couldn't sing, those were the crows. We had a good laugh when he told me he was one of the crows.  

I noticed the love and pride in the tales of his children and my heart was warmed with joy and sadness when we talked of Laura Lee. There was a beautiful painting of her above the sofa where we sat. I also realized that he didn’t talk about his accomplishments as much as he sang the praises of others. We spoke of Renee Kloes and her incredible piano skills and of John Wright and his meal planning talent at Kairos kitchen. Dr. Graber is a faithful Kairos kitchen helper and has cut up more onions than most people do in a lifetime. He started attending FUMC when he was eight years old and told stories of kids trying to count the pipes in the organ when things got boring.

Did you know there are three generations of Graber doctors who have provided continuous medical care for almost 100 years or that in addition to birds he also likes to identify butterflies when he goes to Mexico every year? You learn all sorts of things when you listen and sharing stories connects us and draws us closer together. The Christmas season is an excellent time to share a story with someone you see every Sunday but don't really know anything about. God made all of us different and the more we know about each other, the more love we can share, and sharing love is really what life is about.

By Michelle Holland

Life is Good


When I chose W.C. Hall as the subject of this month’s Heartbeat, I didn’t know much about him other than he was friendly, interesting, and a retired minister so I assumed it would be a simple task to write about him, but little did I know the life I was about to uncover. I found myself wondering how to create sentences that would be worthy of describing a storytelling, book writing, big game hunting, Methodist minister who could make you laugh until you cry, teach you the value of family, and touch your heart with emotion when he speaks of the miracles in his life.

I met him at his childhood home in Beaumont and it was surprising and fascinating to step into his home and hear his pet birds and to see the exotic animals that adorned his walls. This was humorous to me when I learned that this part of the house used to be his mother’s beauty shop. I wondered what the ladies would think about it now! W.C is an incredible storyteller, with details that bring each person to life and I felt as if I knew them. I think he obtained his gift of words and sense of humor from his mother who described a storage room as her “Ain’t it a pity?” room.

As I listened, I noticed a common theme in these tales of a young man who could have gone to medical school, planned for a secure financial future, and pursued a path that would have made his parent’s dreams come true, but instead listened to that quiet voice that called him to the ministry. Every story had a link to family, and I could see how those values were handed down through the generations and W.C expanded it to include his congregations. He cares for people and it is easy to see why God chose him to be a shepherd.

If you want to see W.C.’s face light up with love and pride, just ask him about his adopted son Luis and the events that brought them together. You won’t leave that conversation without believing in miracles and experiencing the Spirit at work. I think about what I heard that day, and I still marvel at how events and decisions of the past all work to join lives and bring people together the way God intended. These stories reminded me of how good life is and that God always has a way of working things out.

By Michelle Holland

The Prayer Warrior


When I asked Jean Lindsey to talk with me about her life, her faith, and her church, she was quick to say there were plenty of others in the church that had better stories and would be more dynamic and inspiring. I knew there was something special about Jean, so I was not going to let her talk me out of an interview. I wanted to discuss prayer because I had heard she was a prayer warrior. I was not familiar with that term and assumed it meant someone who either prayed a lot or was good at praying out loud, but if you look at the definition, it states that a prayer warrior is committed to praying for others.

She may be small, gentle and soft-spoken, but I learned about the warrior that she truly is. She is relentless in her prayer life, fierce in her love for this church, and utterly devoted to God. She works hard to find out who needs prayer, writes down names and spends time praying for them, you can be sure if Jean says she will pray for you, it will get done. 

Praying is something that Jean has been doing her entire life, so I asked if the answers ever became easier to understand. She thought about this but said no she still has a hard time figuring out what God may want from her and worries if she is doing all that He needs her to do, but she has confidence that He is there, and He will guide her. We laughed together when she told me sometimes she wishes God would email her every morning and tell her what to do.

As we talked she laughed at my request for words of wisdom and inspiration but thoughtfully told me people need to know they are loved and are important, be patient and kind, encourage people, don't bring them down, love is what we need. Remember that everyone is made in the image of God, sometimes you just have to look really hard.

She told me about a passage she read from Max Lucado that said when we step into heaven we will be just like Jesus. She looked at me and said, "Won't that be wonderful?"  Her eyes were shining, her smile was beautiful, and I don't believe an angel could glow as much as she was at that moment. I know I saw Jesus today when I spent time with a prayer warrior.

By Michelle Holland

Listen in as Michelle sits down with Jean Lindsey to hear stories about her life and journey of faith.

Chapters in the Journey


When I started collecting the stories of First Methodist earlier this year, I never knew what I might discover or where these stories would lead. I never expected to hear tales of cowboys and cattle drives, model Ts and firefighters, lions and monkeys in Beaumont, and POWs at Tyrrell Park. Bob Brandes at 91, is full of memories and he gave me a time traveler’s glimpse into the past. 

His family has been a part of First Methodist for generations with membership in its steeple, dome, and spire churches. Bob was baptized in the dome church in 1929 and married there several decades later. He has been a part of this community for most of his life, and I couldn't help but think of the sermons we have heard these past few Sundays because Bob's journey has included lots of good food shared with many of God's people. These people grew up together, played together, and became God's people together, sharing their stories and their lives along the way. 

There are accounts of beach trips and badminton, coffee club and cake, young love and marriage, of children, work, church and growing older together. The experiences in life that make us who we are, the things that bring us joy and the events that make us sad, the collective memories that make up the narrative of our lives.

Bob spends time in the archive room upstairs at least once a week, and if you haven’t experienced that room, you really should plan a visit. It reminds me of a case file room like the police have on tv. There are boxes on top of boxes all neatly organized and cataloged with their contents, each box a witness to the history and story of our community, a tribute to the people that the Spirit brought together. 

Bob and I talked most of the morning, and he said there really wasn’t anything exciting or unusual about his life, it was just living each day the best that he could. I thought about all that he told me and all that I learned that morning and I realized that each day may not seem exciting, but when you add up the days that make up your life, you understand that each day is another chapter in your journey. A journey as one of God's people, and being a part of that story, well that is about as exciting as it gets.

By Michelle Holland

Listen in as Michelle sits down with Bob and he tells stories of growing up here in Beaumont. 

The Inspiration of a River


Fred Simon has a booming voice, is an impeccable dresser, and never meets a stranger, but did you know he is an excellent storyteller? I listened to Fred’s stories and I learned about a man who loved his wife deeply, who rose above the racism of the times and made his own way in the world. Fred has been singing “Old Man River” for a long time, and he reminds me of a river. He just keeps rolling along with his big, kind heart and a twinkle in his eye, trusting in God and spending time in prayer. 

Here are some things you may not know about Fred:

He had to play a statue in his 4th grade play because if he sang, he drowned out everyone else.

He traveled with an evangelist to sing and warm up the crowd when he was a teenager.

You did not pick on Fred when his sister was around. She always had his back.

His grandmother sent him and his sister to NY and DC during Beaumont's 1940's race riots, and while playing on a rooftop in NY, he witnessed martial arts exercises for the first time. 

Fred is a 10th-degree black belt and is known as grandmaster Simon.

He attended Huston Tillotson on a choir scholarship where he met his wife, Gene. It was love at first sight.

He shook hands with President Lyndon Johnson at a Beaumont restaurant, and Fred was speechless when the president said, "You have a good grip son!"

Fred and Gene joined FUMC in 1970 and were the first African American family to join the all-white congregation in downtown Beaumont. The day they filled out the membership card, Pastor John Wesley Hardt came to their house to welcome them. The congregation of FUMC embraced diversity with Rosa Dieu taking the lead to make sure everything went well for the Simons. 

Fred and Gene didn’t take the easy road. They followed the Spirit when it led them to this congregation, and they didn't let racism get in the way of serving Jesus. Fred’s stories reveal a man who took the troubles that life handed out, dealt with them and kept a beautiful, positive outlook. He is an inspiration, and I am grateful for his example. Share a meal and some stories with him sometime and I promise you will leave with a smile on your face and hope in your heart.

By Michelle Holland

A Match Made in Heaven



One thing you can always count on at First Methodist is spectacular music. We are blessed each Sunday with beautiful, holy music to inspire us and draw us closer to God. I always look forward to the music each Sunday. You never know if the choir will be singing from opposite sides of the sanctuary, marching in to some upbeat tune, or ringing handbells from the balcony. There are hymns, anthems, praise songs, and you may even hear “Jesus Loves Me” mixed in among these. 

I asked Renee to talk with me about what it was like to lead the chancel choir. She reluctantly agreed, and I know she was secretly hoping I would forget. I already knew that Renee was a modest person who would rather have others in the spotlight. She works hard behind the scenes and is perfectly happy doing that. She gives all the credit to the choir and their incredible talents. I thought this was interesting because when I talked with choir members, they gave her all the credit for bringing out their best performances. I believe that is what makes our choir and their leader so unique. They simply click.

Music was just a part of life growing up. Renee began playing the piano when she was 6, and her parents always had music playing in the house. She knew at an early age that it would represent a significant part of her future. Renee loves the piano and if you ever watch her play, you know she has been given a wonderful gift. That little girl could never have known that her path would lead her to where she is today, but God knew all along where she would be, and I know we are all thankful He put Renee and our chancel choir together. 

I asked about the different specials the choir performs and wondered if she had a favorite. I wasn't surprised to hear that each Sunday service was her answer and that is her focus. The other things they do are for variety and are wonderful, but she is passionate about each Sunday. She wants to give back to her church family and God by making each Sunday special. She likes to showcase the full range of talent this choir has. They bring out the best in each other. They share a desire to do the best they can with their gifts, treat each other like family, pray together and share the joys and sorrows of daily life. I also heard that a lot of birthday cake is involved.  I think they have a good thing going.

By Michelle Holland

The Spirit Knows


Pastor Jon told us a few weeks ago that gifts are manifested in many ways, and that everyone has a gift to be used in building up the body of Christ. He said the Spirit knows what is needed for a gathered body to do whatever it is that needs to be done. The Spirit must have been working in the fall of 1959 to bring Robert and Bonnie Madden to Beaumont. Robert with his artistic talent and Bonnie with her theater and production skills were just what First Methodist needed to stage some spectacular performances.

In 1970, Don Ford, the Director of Music, asked Bonnie to stage the one-act opera, Menotti's Amahl and the Night Vistors. The request was not unusual because plenty of productions had been done in Rothwell Hall, but this one was to be performed in the sanctuary. Could it be done? The altar was moved into the narthex to make room for sets and stage lights. Robert, Lyle Bohrer, and H.L. Taylor designed and built the sets and even made stage lights from coffee cans. I wondered how the two of them worked together and how Bonnie could communicate to him what she needed in her set designs. She didn't hesitate when she told me he always made it work. I saw a few of his set sketches and they looked like an architect’s rendering. Very impressive!

The orchestra was placed in and around the communion rail and was directed by Don Ford. Fred Simon sang the part of Balthazar, and a young Randy Crim sang the lead. For two nights in December, the sanctuary was filled with standing room only crowds. I wish I could have seen it. I didn’t know this opera and had to do some research. It tells the story of a poor crippled boy, Amahl, who is visited by the Magi on their way to see the Christ child. Amahl has nothing to give as a gift to the Child, so he offers his crutch. He gave what he had, and for this gift, he was miraculously healed and went with the Magi to see the baby. The story touched my heart and to think of it performed in our beautiful sanctuary was powerful. I imagine it was spectacular. A gift of performance from nearly 48 years ago that still inspires and encourages is reason enough to believe the Spirit knows.

Robert and Bonnie enrich the life of our congregation. They use their gifts to provide art and theater, to teach, to serve on committees, and to faithfully contribute their talents in many ways. They indeed are an example of the Spirit knowing what is needed and bringing everything together as only He can.

By Michelle Holland

The Gift of Stories


Listen in as Michelle sits down with Tom and Mary V. as they share stories of their life at First Methodist in the 1960s, choosing the stained glass windows for the new Spire Church sanctuary, and the beginning of ministry at Some Other Place in Downtown Beaumont. 

One afternoon in April, I had the opportunity to visit with Tom and Mary V. Engelking to hear stories about the Spire church and the people they have known. They arrived at First Methodist in 1959, the same year as John Wesley Hardt. What a spectacular time to become a part of this church. The planning, building, and moving were all on the horizon. The new pastor and his family became close friends of Tom and Mary V. They spoke of inspiring sermons that captured your attention and kept you focused on the message.

If you have spent much time with Mary V, you know she is full of energy and enthusiasm. Considering her 91 years, I can only imagine the energy she had in 1959. She became chairman of the annual turkey dinner, secretary of the building committee, and the children’s coordinator. Tom at 97 is full of wisdom and the details of a well-lived life. He was chairmen of the committee on Education, children’s Sunday school teacher, and you could find him in the church kitchen every Wednesday night. He helped their good friend Freddie Mae Scott prepare and serve meals for all the members who were attending Wednesday night activities. Freddie Mae meant a lot to the Engelkings, and they were sad to learn that she passed away this year on Tom's birthday.

The years spent as members of the Spire church are full of beautiful memories. Memories of people like Hilliard Henson and Grace Lindsey, good friends who have since passed on. I questioned Tom on what the Spire meant to him after all these years. He told me it symbolizes growth and a continuous presence downtown. It provides a place to take God’s love to the world by starting in the heart of Beaumont.

When you talk with the Engelkings, you can feel the love they have for their church family and the pride they take in the Spire church. You can sense the loss when they speak of friends who have passed away. Their faces beam when they talk about their daughter Beth being one of the first children baptized in the Spire church. They speak with pride about the stained-glass windows and the sensational choir. Charlie Morgan playing the keyboard, Fred Simon's incredible voice, and Silverio and Lindsay singing together have been some of their favorite musical moments.

My time with the Engelkings was a delightful glimpse into the past, and their enthusiasm in the present is contagious. The stories handed down to us are gifts. They are overflowing with the impressive history of a beautiful church filled with faithful disciples, and a legacy of serving Jesus in downtown Beaumont.

By Michelle Holland

Loving Beaumont for 50 Years


A heartfelt appreciation for the Spire church requires a little reading about the story of the people and the decisions they made to build a beautiful, modern, artistic church designed for the future. It was not an easy decision, but one based on a commitment to serve God in the place they found themselves. They stood firm in a declining downtown Beaumont when most were abandoning it for the suburbs. Each debate and discussion always ended with a decision to remain downtown because “this church is and should remain a downtown church”.  

The Spire, First Methodist’s fith home since 1840, has been watching over Beaumont for the past fifty years. I thought about all the changes it has been witness to. I took some time to think of all the people who watched this church come to life. People who surely gazed in wonder at the cross high atop the spire. People who worked hard and prayed hard for the success of this church. People who believed in a future of serving Jesus in uncertain and changing times. There was a culture that developed in the congregation of this church, one that reaches beyond 50 years. I learned about people with a spirit of moving forward, always looking toward the future but also believing that you see where you are now by taking time to look back. Throughout the pages of their history are statements such as: “to live is to change” and “this church has never given a little answer to a big question”.  One of my favorites was “the church is here, now, seeking to serve the new wilderness”. That seems as relevant today as when it was written in 1968.

In the pages of our history you will find people who believed in community, diversity, commitment and social justice. These same people built a beautiful church and left us with a unique cultural heritage. We are living in that future they planned for. Reading this history gave me an even deeper appreciation for the space I worship in and the people I worship with. I know that we can face whatever the future brings because we have the past to show us the way.

 I read about a sermon given by Dr. John Wesley Hardt for the cornerstone celebration of this church. He spoke about depending upon Jesus as a cornerstone for growth and that He is the one who joins old and new together and holds it in unity. It seems a simple message from the past is also the hope for the future and that depending on Jesus as our cornerstone is what will always keep us united.

By Michelle Holland

Beautiful Music and Sacred Moments


When your mother teaches piano lessons and you grow up across the street from the Methodist church, it’s not hard to foresee a life destined for music ministry. Janie Greenway has been making music since before she could write her name. Janie went to every lesson her mother taught. She had a child-sized, pitch-perfect piano in the other room where she would play. She figures her mother’s students probably didn’t appreciate all the noise she was making. Learning piano was a part of growing up.

Janie couldn’t wait until she turned 14. That meant she could finally join the choir. The choir director also taught Janie how to play the organ. The organ was fascinating and very different from playing the piano. Her summers were spent learning and practicing.

Music did become a major part of her life and the ministry piece fell into place as well. Janie is also an ordained minister. She spent eleven years working as a pastor. I asked her if she ever preached her sermon and then stepped over to the organ to play the special music. She smiled and graciously told me no.

First Methodist was extremely fortunate when Janie moved to Beaumont. She has been the organist here for the past 22 years. She still gets nervous and she still practices her hand and pedal exercises. I asked her if she had a favorite piece to play but she told me no, it’s more about moments. The moments she accompanies the choir and they perform a piece that comes together perfectly. I knew exactly what she meant. It’s the Sundays when you know something powerful just happened, but you can’t describe it with words. You realize this is how music must sound in heaven.

I got to observe Janie practice one Friday afternoon. The sanctuary was dark and there was a sacred quietness in the space. The organ made an airy sound when it powered up. It was like a living, breathing spirit was waking. A spirit that had been waiting for Janie to bring it to life. I know Jesus is present on Sunday, but I also think He is there every Friday to hear this kind, gentle musi- cian fill the air with beautiful music.

By Michelle Holland

Food, Love, and Jesus


John Alden Hughes Wright has been cooking at Kairos Kitchen long enough that he can’t recall the year he started. You can find John in the kitchen every fourth Saturday of the month, working to prepare a good home cooked meal. He strives for food that will make you feel as if you are eating at the family table. His most requested meal is pork chops with homemade gravy. Another favorite is his famous crack green beans. I’m pretty sure the main seasonings are bacon and something called “Slap Ya Mama.” Recipes don’t seem to be involved or measuring cups for that matter.

John always has a big smile and hugs for every guest that might need one. He never fails to come out of the kitchen and walk around the tables visiting. He has a big heart and many of these guests are more like old friends. The Kairos experience has taught him to see people as Jesus does. This ministry has a way of changing you. You can drive by the homeless on the street every day and not really see them. Kairos makes people real. It changes your perspective. All people really want is to be loved and accepted. They want to be acknowledged that they exist and they matter. John is on a mission to be the hands and feet of Jesus with every meal he cooks and every smile he shares.

If you want to experience what it might be like to share a meal with Jesus, you should come to Kairos Kitchen one Saturday night. Gather around the table, eat and listen to stories. If there was ever a place that you might catch a glimpse of Jesus, it would be here. Sharing a meal with the least of these might just change your life. I know it has changed John’s.

By Michelle Holland