The long awaited Canopy CD project is finally here! It's an exciting moment for us, because, honestly, we wondered whether we'd ever finish. This has been a five-year journey reminiscent of a road-trip we endured a few years ago. While caught in hurricane evacuation traffic, a trip that should have taken 8 hours ended up lasting about 30. When at last we were a few minutes from our destination we came to a screeching halt behind a fallen tree. The road-block added more time to our already exhausting trip as we were forced to turn back and take a different road. Ever since that time we've had a saying among us. "We'll be there soon... unless there's a tree in the road." It's kind of our own version of "God willing and the creek don't rise".
All that to say, we've encountered quite a few trees in the road as we've attempted to put together our first self-produced album. Everything from lost recordings to vocal surgery has delayed its completion. There was a time recently when we just had to stop and ask God, "Do You even want us to make this CD at all?" After all, "Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain." (Psalm 127:1) But as of late the pieces started to fall into place, and the Lord even blessed us by allowing us to record a couple of extra songs through the generosity of our cousin Chris Tubbs who is a budding sound engineer.
Not only is this our first recording we've completed independently, but this will also be the first recording featuring all four of our members. It's been over a decade since our previous CD was released, and a lot has happened since then, including marrying the men who are now members of Canopy. Kevin was featured on several tracks of the CD Vast Terrain, but we had not even met Buddy yet at the time. Jazz influence, more prominent guitar solos, and production with a touch of the avant-garde are evidence of Buddy's contributions in The Catalyst. Varied, perhaps to a fault, the listener will be carried all the way from meditative music to bluesy pop. We hope, though, that everyone will find something to his or her taste, and more importantly, that God will use this music for His purposes.
Today at 9:15 a.m. Maranatha Melody Butler was born, 6 and a half pounds of sheer wriggling joy!
2009 has brought some changes to our music ministry and to our personal lives as well. Cynthia had vocal surgery in April and has been exceptionally patient and disciplined through her long recovery period. Kevin has been able to fulfill his calling as a worship leader to a greater extent since becoming the music minister at Texas Avenue Baptist Church in September. Cynthia and Alicia's parents, Debbie and Victor, have also been able to fulfill their long time calling, by doing a medical mission trip to Kenya in August. The week Debbie and Victor arrived back home, Cynthia and Kevin announced they were pregnant. Baby Butler should be coming on the scene late April, and we are all anxiously anticipating the arrival. Alicia and Buddy have continued to teach at Clear Lake Music Lessons but, due to receiving more students, it has become more like a regular job, even if the hours are still part time.
Though Canopy has been of course affected by these changes, we have continued some of our regular ministry opportunities and have also added new ones to the mix. Cynthia, Kevin, and Alicia accompany The Answer Prison Ministry once a month to concerts and services at a variety of units close by. We are so blessed to be able to minister with Jean Russell and friends, and have experienced deep fellowship with the believers behind bars. We walk away renewed by the testimonies, and invigorated by the chance to worship with our fellow ministers.
Throughout the year, Alicia and Buddy have periodically lead worship at Devereux, a live-in youth counseling facility in League City. On Tuesdays, Martha Monroe provides an optional chapel for the residents and we try to make it out there about every two months. We are always impressed by their teachable, open attitudes, and we pray that God uses us to be a spiritual encouragement to them.
This year marked our 6th year playing at the Renaissance Festival. We didn't make it out as many times as we have in the past but we definitely enjoyed our two outings, especially because we were able to reconnect with our friend Rick Weikert. We met Rick last year at the Ren Fest and have been staying in touch through snail mail ever since. He has been a real encouragement to us this year through our ministry's changes and challenges.
In addition to the Texas Renaissance Festival, Canopy has connected with another Ren Fest called Middlefaire located in Hillsboro. We were able to play for their mini-fest in the summer and once again in October. Paul, the owner, has been supportive of our evangelistic ways and enthusiastic about our Hobbit songs. We've seen some familiar faces from the Texas Ren Fest, and our past endeavors at Excalibur faire, but also enjoyed meeting some new people. There should be more Middlefaires coming in the future and hopefully we will be able to be a part of those as well.
This year we've also added to our regular ministries leading worship for Advent Lutheran. Last December we came to their church office with a guitar and asked to sing them a song. They liked what they heard and invited us to a planning meeting early the next year where they decided to have us come out every 5th Sunday. We have felt very free to worship and to try new musical ideas there. Buddy even branched out and brought his new cello the last few times we came.
We topped off the year with a few familiar gigs in December. For the second year in a row, Buddy and Alicia were invited to dress up like elves and play Christmas songs for the River Oaks Country Club's children's party, and this year Cynthia was invited as well. For the third year in a row we did an acoustic set at the BayBrook Lifeway store, as well. Kevin and Alicia were also able to revisit a vocal opportunity not active since 2007. The Living Christmas card is a caroling quartet with singers dressed in Victorian costume and intricate vocal harmony, very enjoyable for the participants and the audience. Though there was only one Living Christmas Card concert this year, we're hoping their schedule will once again pick up by next year. Canopy ended the season with a concert at Kick Back Koffee House. Greg and Mandy Moore did the second set. We met Greg about four years ago at a similar gig-share for a coffee house, and have done several since then. Greg later married Mandy and had a daughter, both of which played and sang in the concert at Kick Back. It was an enjoyable evening, a chance to catch up and to hear both old and new songs. It was also nice in our own concert to hear Cynthia's voice sounding so powerful after months of rehab.
All in all, 2009 has been a good year. Though we've been faced by some changes and challenges, many of them are good, and we look forward to the further development of our ministry in the upcoming year. We hope to make an even bigger impact for God's kingdom in the future and pray that He grows us closer to Him in the process.
Alicia and Cynthia spent their 30th birthday doing what they love, playing a concert to an enthusiastic crowd. But this was no ordinary concert. It took place at the weekend Rock House Camp Out in Glenrose, Tx, a yearly camp for the residents of the Rock House group homes in Texas. Originally, we got connected with Rock House because the girls' high school friend, Michael, had moved into one in Georgetown after he graduated. A few years ago, we happened to be singing a few concerts close to Georgetown and so we asked if we could sing for Michael's home. We had such a great time playing for his fellow residents, who were extremely animated and enthusiastic about the music. Just the little concert seemed to brighten their day in a visible way. Needless to say, when Bill Joe, one of their staff, asked us if we would join them for their upcoming camp, we were glad to be a part of it.
The night's activities started with a hayride with for the clients. We sat on the bales, took a tour of the grounds, and sang all the old folk songs we could think of. The hayride was a great way to kick off camp, but the biggest surprise of the night was yet to come.
At 8:00 everyone was scheduled to meet at the chapel for a non-disclosed activity. As people assembled and found their seats, the theme for 2001 blared, and who took the stage but Elvis himself. Well, OK, he wasn't really Elvis, but he could've fooled me. We actually had gotten to meet the performer before camp started, so we knew the surprise, but we had made sure not to tell a soul. The whole room was "all shook up". People were singing along, and some, overcome with excitement, jumped on stage for a moment with the King.
There were activities planned even after Elvis' show, but we were beat, and decided to turn in early. The next day had a bit of free time scheduled which we spent in a variety of ways. Cynthia and Alicia did some songwriting while Kevin and Buddy took a trip to Dublin, the home of Dublin Dr. Pepper. They came back well stocked with glass bottles of special Dr. Pepper sweetened with real sugar. Later in the day Alicia, Cynthia, and Kevin took a spin on the zip-line out in the woods, which was both terrifying and exhilarating. The zip-line started so high off the ground, some of the clients decided not to jump off the tower after climbing all those stairs. The hard part was jumping; falling (or zipping down) was actually not that scary.
The three of us had just enough time to shower and eat before our sound check and subsequent concert. We may not have been Elvis, but they were "all shook up" for our concert as well. The night ended with hugs and high fives, birthday wishes and requests for autographs. Who wouldn't feel loved after all that?
Sunday morning we picked up our instruments once again and led worship for the church service. One of the house's Sunday school teachers gave the message; then Bill Joe ended the service by giving a few last announcements and releasing us to lunch. We left soon after lunch but not before stopping by the pool and saying our goodbyes to the delighted swimmers crowding the pool and slide. Looking at their smiling faces, we figured camp must've been a success. Not only had they had fun, but they had connected with others, and worshiped God together. They had been blessed through Rock House Camp Out, and we were blessed to be a part of it!
It's interesting to see how God brings about new prospects through seemingly coincidental meetings. In the last few months we have seen creative and ministerial collaboration born of this phenomenon.
In early October we walked unannounced into Oak Forest Baptist to offer our services for whatever occasion might welcome our involvement. Although we were familiar with a couple of the ministers there, this gave us the chance to get reacquainted with them and meet some new faces. During our spontaneous visit, we ran into Michelle Pack, the women's ministry coordinator at Oak Forest. Alicia and Cynthia had met Michelle in a previous year at a women's retreat sponsored by another church. So when we saw each other again, Michelle immediately thought of inviting us to sing at their ladies' Christmas dinner.
Fortunately, the date of the gathering was right after a wedding that had taken place at Oak Forest, so the fellowship hall had already been draped in elegant Christmas lights and accented with sophisticated d�cor for the reception; the perfect setting for a memorable banquet. We sang several worship songs after dinner and were followed by a speaker who gave glory to God for all the ways He had brought her through her hardships. The youth helpers served the ladies in attendance graciously, and everyone seemed to enjoy the night.
Another December opportunity that took root in October began when we sang for an outdoor worship gathering at the University of Houston. Our long-time friend Al Griffin had organized an outreach event complete with jazz instrumentalists, worship singers, and-perhaps the most proven key ingredient for a successful outreach event-BBQ. While savory scents rose from nearby grills, various musicians took their turns performing music with a godly focus. A drummer named Ben Richardson was there that day and offered to play along with us during our set. We agreed, unsure of how well our respective music styles would merge, having never played together before. We were all pleasantly surprised when Ben fit his drumming to our music as a tailor might fit a suit to his client.
For this reason, when we were recently thinking about recording live drums on one of our songs, Ben came to mind. But before we had a chance to contact him, he called us. Ben, it seems, had had similar thoughts about Canopy. So we met together to talk about ways we could help one another and work together. A couple of days before Christmas, we had the privilege of recording vocals for one of Ben's compositions, "Looking Through the Window", a catchy tune with a hopeful message, written after Hurricane Ike, you can listen to it HERE.
As it turns out, these opportune meetings we've experienced in 2008 may only be the beginning. We expect to work with Ben to record more music in 2009, and are already scheduled to help with a women's retreat organized by Michelle for Oak Forest in March. We have always claimed that God is our booking agent. Although we believe this does not absolve us from the responsibility of proactivity, we are reminded of His providence when we remember how He has brought us together with fellow ministers in unexpected ways during this past year. We are grateful that He is supporting us organizationally and making sure we get where we're supposed to be for each divine appointment.
We always like an excuse to go to Austin . The city is full of friends and family and the Texas hill country is especially beautiful in its autumnal splendor, the rocky landscape offset by vivid crimson and gold leaves swirling in the cool breeze. This time the excuse was the Truth, Love, and Music Fall Fest. Although the production company�s event was not in Austin , it was halfway there in a little place called Burton , Texas. When we confirmed our involvement, we contacted a few churches to fill out the weekend. Thom, the staff composer of St. Martin�s Evangelical Lutheran Church, emailed back inviting us to sing a few songs for his early service. We remembered singing some of his compositions the year before with the praise band and looked forward to encountering them again. We also scheduled a concert for the Rock House, an assisted living home for the disabled, and anticipated catching up with one of their residents, our high school friend, Michael.
The TLM Fest was an all day affair from noon till midnight, and we enjoyed every moment of the experience! So diverse was the musical talent assembled there, that the festival may have been a microcosm of the American musical experience, and the colorful performers themselves well represented the full spectrum of the diversity of the body of Christ. There was everything from Nashville singer-songwriter to Screamo to Semi-classical. Some were highly experienced and some were developing musicians, but each group that performed (be they a duet or a full 8 piece rock outfit) had some unique and worthwhile talent. We went on right after Jennifer Grassman�s mini-concert and music video release. It was fun to see her completed video, since we had been a part of the production as Cynthia and Kevin ended up with prominent roles, which was exciting. Their part in this semi-gothic theatrical piece was of a repressed couple languishing together upon chippendale style claw and ball foot sofa under the watchful eye of an aged chaperone who glares at them when their hands stray toward each others. What a blast!
Our sweet friend Ellen woke up to let us in when we arrived at her house around 2:00 am and even had coffee waiting the next morning. We were going to need it for the early service, although November 2nd was the end of daylight savings time so having the clock "fall back" was a true God-send. St. Martin�s was as beautiful as we remembered it, with modern stained glass windows lining the walls, and an intricately carven wooden sculpture portraying the last supper that reached from floor to ceiling in the front of the altar. As before, we played and sang along with the praise band and performed some of our own songs interspersed throughout worship. Thom was debuting a new composition in the next service, so we stayed for a while and listened to the church orchestra rehearse it. In our travels we have been blessed by encountering a multitude of church bodies where artistic expression of the gospel is taken to the lofty heights it deserves, and several of the music ministers we know regularly enact this sacred duty with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.
To say that the Rock House was crowded would be an understatement, as the pressing crush of humanity was augmented by two full vans of residents from other towns brought in just to see us. They were, as we fully expected them to be, a fantastic audience, very involved and enthusiastic. It was good to visit with them before and after the show too, and especially good to see our dear friend Michael again. Performing there is a musician's dream come true, as you rarely find a more thoroughly uninhibited and appreciative audience, with squeals of joy and unadulterated and spontaneous clapping throughout. Although it is completely egotistical of us to imagine that we are the cause of their celebrations, we were merely obedient to the call to go there and portray God's love through Christ's sacrifice in song and music, and in some small way we also are the audience applauding His atoning grace right along with the residents!
Sunday we sang at Monument Baptist's first service before getting on the road for Waco. When we got in town we had enough time to stop by the Brenners' home and visit a little before changing into our Hawaiian shirts and heading to the island themed VBS at Kendrick Lane Baptist. Buddy had bought Kevin a soprano ukulele to play during some of the songs and he gave me (Alicia) the alto ukulele tuned like a guitar. So yeah, I cheated (Kevin's was actually tuned like a ukulele) but it looked good and sounded cute.
Sunday through Thursday we led music at the VBS. Each night we gained a few more kids and each night they became a little more willing to participate. By the time Thursday rolled around several kids were brave enough to come up to the stage with us and perform the new songs for parents. We also had some help from the Brenner grandchildren who had learned the songs and motions at their own church's VBS.
The Pre-K children did not seem to need help with bravery, though. One of them in particular wanted to sing us random songs from school every time we saw him. They all were very enthusiastic during our music rotation in their room.
Tuesday was a pretty busy day. Besides our work at Kendrick Lane at night, we had a concert at a nursing home and an autism camp. The autism camp was a great experience. We walked into room after room with small classes of children with unbridled emotion. When we'd play, some would sit quietly, some would dance wildly, and some would rush to the instruments and curiously touch them as we strummed.
Overall, it was a good trip, and, with the possible exception of our busy Tuesday, pretty relaxing. We enjoyed getting to spend a lot of time with Pastor Greg Brumit and his family, our friend Jason Jones, and all of the Brenners. We even got to visit with a friend of Cynthia's who just celebrated her 100th birthday! On Friday, we packed up and headed back to Houston.
From July 27-29 We helped with VBS at St Luke�s Presbyterian Church. This year�s theme was the rainforest. Cynthia had prepared a little lesson about the different insects in the rainforest, the sounds they make and how they make them. Afterwards, we picked our favorite sound and made a bug chorus. She conducted us as we chirped, wailed, and grunted, then cut us off when the song ended. She talked about how God was a composer and how every bug and even every human has an instrument built into our bodies.
Buddy gave a lesson on the rainforest animals and how they resembled animals in other environments. He pointed out how God had created a perfect eco-system for each part of the world, complete with examples of a variety of animal types. And it�s all to bring glory to His name. For his grand finale he took out Nachash, our snake, and let the kids feel his skin. That was a big hit! Besides singing some of the songs written specifically for this VBS, we pulled out a few of the African songs we�d learned for our safari gig a few months ago. On Sunday, we had the kids perform two of the African songs with us in church. After church, we climbed into a van and drove to Moody Gardens to give the kids a taste of a real rainforest. While we were there, we saw some of the bugs Cynthia had talked about, and recalled their sounds. We were also introduced to some animals we�d never seen before. What a great day. We were surrounded by cute kids and cute animals, and couldn�t help but praise God for his creation.
As we settle back into life at home and look back on the past two weeks, it's hard to describe our trip with any one word, but several come to mind: fellowship, confirmation, inspiration, challenge. If we had to summarize our venture with one word, though, perhaps "blessing" would encapsulate the experience. Thinking of all the old and new friends we worked with, I hope that we were as much of a ministry to them as they were to us. I pray, like Paul, "- that [we] may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith." (Ro 1:12)
It seemed as though our trip started even before we left Houston. On Sunday, we were scheduled to lead worship at White Oak, our home church. Fellow church members, the Georges, had been asked to talk about their mission work in East Asia. It was good to see Jeff and Amy after so long. Jeff had a lot to talk about. He recounted the salvation stories of some of their newfound friends, and explained how the Baptist discipleship method worked. He told the staggering statistic of how many in their assigned people group have never heard the gospel. That's why it is so important to train converts to teach the gospel on their own, because no one missionary can reach every person single-handedly.
Listening to the spiritual needs around the globe caused us to wonder what part we might play in world missions in the future. Perhaps God will some day lead Canopy to minister in foreign lands. But in dreaming of world missions we were reminded of the importance of our current calling: to be faithful with the ministries He's led us to right now in this little corner of the world.
So, like missionary minstrels, we started the adventure with a renewed sense of purpose, though it might not have seemed so, as we donned our cowboy costumes in Waco's small but vibrant church, Ecclesia to help with their cowboy-themed Bible School "Avalanche Ranch." Kevin arranged his pots and pans and washboard while Buddy tuned his mandolin. Cynthia and Alicia practiced our Christian version of "Deep in the Heart of Texas," and soon, in came a tiny crowd of precious souls.
As usual it was a delight working with Ecclesia. Everyone in that church seems to give their all to the ministry, and after serving side by side with them time after time, they've become like family to us. It feels nice coming home.
And then there are the Brenners, who must be our uncles, aunts, and cousins. All we're lacking is the DNA to prove it. We await Waco trips with great anticipation, picturing the late night gaming, silliness, laughter, and deep discussions that are a given at Greg and Becka's house.
As the first week was coming to a close, though, our blessings were just beginning. Thursday we packed up and drove to West, Texas, a town about 30 minutes from Waco. We spent most of the first day at the campsite getting to know Lori Wymore who started Day Spring camp and New Vision Fellowship with her husband Larry. Lori was overflowing with praises and personal testimonies, and we drank in the encouragement, listening to story after story of how God gave the Wymores exactly what they needed when they needed it. They truly rely on God for "daily bread". Larry and Lori made a decision when they started their ministry not to let people know what they needed, but instead to pray. That way when God provided, only He would get the glory.
The campsite is amazing to look at when you think of how Larry Wymore built it all with the help of friends. Because so many of the congregation helped in making the chapel, it took less than a month to complete, and everything was constructed debt-free.
The best thing about the ministry mindset at Day Spring, is that they offer all their services for free. They started the camp for those who normally could not afford to go to camp. If people want to offer a donation they will accept, but if someone asks how much, they will say, "Just give us the amount God tells you to give." What a confirmation, to find a ministry that functions like ours. Conventional wisdom says that if a ministry offers itself for free, it will not have the money to continue. Larry and Lori's response to that has always been, "If this is God's work, He will keep us open." We second that!
The night services at Day Spring were worshipful; both those for camp and those for the following revival. As we led music on stage, many in the congregation put their all into glorifying God, and by the end of the week four people had even decided to trust Jesus as their savior for the first time! Dave Carter had come down from North Carolina to preach and perform skits with a small team of youth. He was also full of testimonies about miracles in his life and the lives of his congregants. It was evident that through his years of preaching, he had not lost his zeal. Dave displayed a love for the Kingdom of Heaven that was contagious.
As we loaded our equipment into the van after our last service, it was hard to pry ourselves away from our newfound friends. They circled around and sent us off with a prayer. As we drove out of the camp, we all knew, God willing, we'd be back many times.
I don't suppose we could have predicted when we began this ministry the variety of tasks that lay ahead. "Life as usual" is something different every day, which certainly keeps things interesting. As is often the case, this fall we've found ourselves wearing many hats; specifically berets, snoods, and pith helmets.
We have been participating in the Texas Renaissance Festival for 4 years. Singing there affords us an opportunity to vary our repertoire, and most importantly, to bring the truth of Jesus to a place where it is seldom heard. Although we have grown accustomed to singing Renaissance music each autumn, October called for all new repertoire when we accepted an invitation to sing for the Conservatory at Champion Forest's open house. Lisa, the activities director at this particular retirement home, has a track record of stretching us. Earlier this year she invited us to sing for a St. Patrick's Day party. We learned a number of Irish tunes and enjoyed them so much that we have played them in several other places since then. But we weren't the only ones who enjoyed them. Our audience became a choir when we sang "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover" (we never knew that was such a beloved song), and one lady at a nursing home even got up out of her chair and did a jig.
For this party, though, we were asked to play "safari music". We had no idea what safari music would be, but we're not in the habit of turning down gigs if we can help it, so we took on the task. I have to admit, at least a couple of us were a little nervous about it, but once we had figured out what we were doing we really started looking forward to the experience. Buddy put together safari tracks with animal noises, drums and other instruments. And Kevin found some African praise songs in an international songbook. It was a pretty posh party. We had fun improvising with all sorts of instruments over Buddy's tracks, singing the African songs, and of course snacking on hors d'oeuvres during breaks.
Another Canopy first this season was singing for a playground ribbon-cutting and a cakewalk. Several months ago we walked into First Cumberland Presbyterian to introduce ourselves and play a song for those that were in the office that day. The people there were so welcoming and encouraging and one of the ladies even fed us lunch. This is a kind church and their joy in community is evident. So we were delighted when they invited us to join them in celebrating their new playground.
Now as we prepare for the Christmas season we are embarking on yet another new experience: backing Jennifer Grassman on her Christmas tour. We met Jennifer and her husband Jason several months ago when they attended our concert at Caf� Soleil. We learned that night that she was a fellow Christian singer-songwriter just finishing a CD of ancient carols. She invited us to play with her on her concerts, the first of which was at a beautiful church in the museum district with cathedral architecture. Jennifer is such a talented and creative performer. We're honored to have been included in her performances and look forward to continued friendship and partnership.
In May, we had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Colorado as Canopy. Our first stop was Pueblo, a beautiful part of the state with scenic views of mountains and valleys. We arrived in time to go to the twins' cousin's graduation followed by quality time visiting with the family. While in Pueblo, we were blessed to stay with Ed and Cathy Scrivens, members of the Wild West Cowboy Church in Pueblo. They have an awesome log house situated on several acres of hills and flatlands covered with cactus and gorgeous wildflowers and featuring a great view of the mountains towering in the distance. Extremely hospitable, they quickly became our friends. On Saturday night, we had the privilege of joining them and performing at the WWCC's Bluegrass Festival. While we're not exactly bluegrass(!) we did our best with some upbeat sacred harp styled hymns and Buddy lending his uneasy baritone to a cover of Johnny Cash's "Daddy sang bass". We then met the pastor and enjoyed hearing of God's calling and provision in the life of the pastor and the church. After touring their western themed sanctuary and the environs, our bootheels clicketty clacked across the lonesome desert to Arvada where we were to sing for Arvada UMC the next morning. We sang for three services, but the early service was outside on a patio with the Rocky Mountains serving as the backdrop. It was quite an experience to sing "America the Beautiful" and allow the words to come to life as we could actually see the "spacious skies" and "purple mountain majesties".
After a day of pure tourism on Monday we drove to Aurora to spend some nights with Pastor Bob and his wife, Jean, who'd recently moved to Colorado. We knew them from their previous pastorate at Houston's Peace Community Church, one of the first churches we ever sang at. Their hospitality was such a blessing, and it was really nice to reconnect with them. We took advantage of a few free days that week to visit local congregations and introduce them to our music. After a string of warm responses, Mary Ann Shippey, one of the secretaries we met, was so enthusiastic she called her own church, Lord of the Hills Lutheran Church, and booked us to sing on Sunday morning. Ironically, we wouldn't have been able to accept the offer if it weren't for another church canceling our singing engagement on the same Sunday because of scheduling conflicts. Sometimes when God closes a door, he opens a window. Another of our free days was partially spent being street musicians at "The Mall" in downtown denver, an area blocked to all but public transportation and teeming with frantic businessfolk hurriedly walking to their next important meeting. Furiously busking, we competed with the urban roar of busses, set up our CD box, and played in front of Starbuck's for a few hours. Most people just heard us momentarily as they quickly walked by, but a few listened and tipped generously, and one person bought a CD. Hopefully, God used us that day to make some impact on the minds of those who listened.
At the end of the week, we drove to Boulder, to sing for our college friend's wedding. We stayed with her friend Tamara and had a great time getting to know her. Tamara took us on a hike, and fed us organic food, giving us a taste for the healthy, eclectic Boulder lifestyle. Elizabeth's wedding was beautiful, and her reception was a showcase for her talent as a chef. She actually made her own cake, and in the process, got recruited for an upcoming wedding cake project.
We ended our trip back in Aurora singing at Lord of the Hills for two services. It was a small but warm and generous congregation. In between services, Buddy and the pastor's son jammed on the guitar with classic rock, jazz, and praise songs. As we got in the car to start our long trip home, we reflected on the extreme blessing God had given us in paving our path to Colorado, providing a museum of creation's splendor, great ministry opportunities, and kindled and rekindled relationships. We hope and pray that He will lead us there again soon.
This year our week of preparation for Easter has been an especially rewarding journey. It started on Monday with a Seder hosted by Buddy and Alicia's neighbor Marie. A Seder is a Jewish tradition celebrated during Passover. It is the time when Jews are to remember their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and thank the Lord for what he has brought them through. The actual word 'Passover' refers to the last plague with which God inflicted Egypt. Because Pharaoh the King of Egypt refused to let the Jewish slaves go, God passed through the land striking down every first born son of every household. But God gave very specific instructions to the Jewish people so that each of their first-born sons would be saved. They were to slaughter an unblemished male lamb at twilight and put some of its blood on the doorframes of their houses. God promised: "The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt." (Exodus 12:13)
For millennia, Jews all over the world have commemorated the Passover each year in obedience to God. During the seder meal participants read the Haggadah (the telling) and partake in the symbolic foods in response to various scriptures and traditional passages. At a Messianic Seder such as the one we attended, there is even more depth to the symbolic meal, because New Testament scriptures are included in the Haggadah showing how Jesus was the prophesied Messiah who fulfilled the final passover requirements for all time.
Just before Jesus was crucified he shared a Seder meal with his disciples and told them that the bread was his body and the wine was his blood. In saying these things he foreshadowed how his sacrifice would save people from death. Those who are covered in the blood of Jesus (the unblemished lamb) will be passed over in the days of God's final judgment.
We had a worshipful experience on Monday while reading the Haggadah. Then we enjoyed Buddy and Marie's cooking, which was especially flavorful that evening. Before and after the meal we sang Jewish-style songs in praise to God. It was an unforgettable night.
Three days later we joined St. Luke's Presbyterian for their Maundy Thursday service. This opportunity was born several months ago when we walked up to St. Luke's one day with a guitar and asked if we could sing a song for those who were there. Those of us who met each other that day formed an instant bond. Marvin Gaspard, St. Luke's music director, showed incredible enthusiasm for our ministry and has been an advocate ever since. He is truly a blessing to us.
During the Maundy Thursday service, we sang several songs on our own as Canopy and several songs with St. Luke's choir. Singing with the choir was a rare treat because the service incorporated a couple of classical songs including a Bach piece. In addition, St. Luke's choir, although a fraction of the size of many other church choirs, fills a room with harmonious music as if they were a sea of professional singers.
On Saturday, we sang for the second time at Cafe Soleil. It was a small turn-out, but it was fun to have Cynthia and Alicia's parents in the audience this time. And we got to visit with Thu and Steve (the owners). It was great to share stories of how the Lord has blessed both of our families in allowing us to do the things we love (for us singing; for Thu styling hair and managing the cafe).
We sang three sets of music; the first: standard Canopy repertoire; the second: Music and scriptures taking the listener through the life, death and resurection of Christ; the third: The Greek Easter song, "Christos Anesti" and several of the songs we sang at the seder on Monday.
We are so thankful to the Lord for His brave sacrifice and victorious resurrection that give us the light of hope in this dark world. It has been a joy to sing of these holy blessings this week. We will continue to celebrate our wonderful Savior and devote to Him each note of music that comes from our voices and instruments.
The first weekend in March was a different experience for Canopy. We've often said we'd be willing to do any kind of ministry a church needed, even though we prefer musical activities. In this case White Oak Baptist church needed small group leaders for their "Disciple Now" weekend, so we were happy to help. Kevin was in charge of the upper classmen boys, Buddy took the junior high and lower classmen boys, and Cynthia and Alicia taught the 11th and 12th grade girls. The twins had it easy. Surrounded by powerful spiritual leaders, their sessions played out more like fellowship, than teaching. Though the lessons were supposed to be sports themed, none of us are very athletically inclined, so we made a few adjustments. Buddy focused on the spiritual armor of God from Ephesians 6:10-18 and illustrated it by donning his boys in Kendo armor, the equipment used for Japanese sword fighting. He let each of them try their hand at the ancient craft using shinai, bamboo practice swords. Kevin's group played some fun games in between sessions too. There was a basket shooting contest of paper wads into a trash can to illustrate bad things we need to throw away to grow closer to God. They also tried lifting a picnic table, first alone and then together, to show the importance of team work in the body of Christ.
Two times during the week, the whole church got together along with four others to participate in service projects, games, and, lastly, an event with a speaker and band. White Oak youth and counselors gathered canned food and clothing for local missions and came back to the church for lunch and games. Buddy joined the youth in White Oak's soccer field wearing his kilt, some random pieces of body armor, and waving a British flag he happened to have in the back of his truck (nobody is really quite sure why). Alicia and Cynthia tried to help on the first game, but were stopped before reaching the first base, confirming once again our lack of athletic talent. We all had a lot of fun though, especially watching the youth ministers get soaked with water balloons on the last game. The last Hurrah was exciting. Clay Road Baptist hosted the last get together with a pizza dinner, the inspiring and funny speaker, Scott Crenshaw, and Laden, a high energy band complete with a full light rig and chances to body surf held up by the crowd. Several students committed and recommitted their life to Christ that night after the intense sermon and all of us were challenged.
We ended the weekend with a report Sunday morning at White Oak. Kevin challenged the youth to abide with Christ through prayer and Bible study just as John 15 encourages us to stay connected like branches receiving nutrients from the vine. After the service, everyone went to the gym for the potluck chili cook off, a fundraiser for the summer mission trip. It was a good weekend, and though we were stretched, we were glad to be a part of what God was doing in the White Oak youth group.
Two days after our Cincinnati trip, we were back on the road again, this time heading to familiar territory. We felt like we were coming home as we pulled into the Brenners' house, anticipating long nights of playing games and talking. It was two in the morning; we had left straight for Waco from our gig at The Coffee Guy in Conroe. Lo and behold, half the family sat waiting for us: Greg and Becca, their son Derek, and his children Spencer and Tori. We visited for about an hour, but reluctantly decided to get some rest before the morning service the next day. Sunday morning began our revival with Kendrick Lane that lasted until Wednesday. The guest preacher was on fire for God, and the congregation warmly welcomed each of us. We enjoyed our opportunities to get to know them during the fellowship on Sunday night and the youth time on Monday night, but we especially appreciated the home visits with Pastor Greg. All through the Revival, the church graced us with generosity and encouragement. We hope that we blessed them as much as they blessed us. Our next gig wasn�t until next Sunday so we spent the time in between going to Tori�s tennis match and Spencer�s football game. Friday, we made our way to Mart to visit the Youngs, Kevin�s friends from Truett Seminary. We delved into deep spiritual conversations with Aaron, explored Marilissa�s scrapbook extravaganzas, made faces at baby Savanna, and played altered versions of foosball and pool with young Luke.
For the crowning conclusion of the trip, Canopy sang at Richfield Christian Church in the morning worship service. We had looked forward to this day because of how friendly Pastor David Story was when we first met him at the church office several months ago. This past Sunday, we were reunited with him and got to meet many of his church members who were very welcoming and kind. After the service, we got to spend more time with him and his wife over lunch after the service. David seems to be an unending stream of wit and wisdom, for instance, when asked how he and his wife met he replied, �She was wearing purple lipstick and I fell in love with her.�
We just got back from our farthest official Canopy trip. It all started with our cousin's wedding in Memphis on September second. We really wanted to come and support him, and we figured we could combine our personal plans with music ministry. So we started making calls and got a quick response from Grace Evangelical in Memphis. The trip was on. Alicia called our friends in Cincinnati, Ohio and scheduled with their church and Cynthia set up a concert at the Monroe, Louisiana Children's home.
Monday the 28th the Canopy Van was on the road headed for Bernice, Louisiana. We spent the night at our aunt and uncle's house and visited family the next day. By Tuesday night we had settled into our guestrooms at the children's home. Wednesday afternoon we sang for the Director's birthday party and played in front of a local collage cafeteria. That evening we did a concert for chapel. The children were some of the best we've ever played for, very attentive and enthusiastic. That night we ate and played games with Love cottage then proceeded to sign shoes and socks at Hope cottage. It was like a show and tell. One person showed us his poetry, another showed us his drawings, and there was a myriad of miniature cars and stuffed animals laid in front of us. We had a lot of fun visiting and taking weird pictures with them. Thursday morning we saw them off to school and left for Memphis. Through the week we really enjoyed getting to know the Koskis, our host family from Grace Evan. Whitney and John were a great example of Christian love and their three girls were a lot fun to play with. Friday we visited churches, Saturday we attended the wedding, and Sunday we sang for Grace. Monday we stuck around to spend more time with the Koski's and Tuesday we headed for Cincinnati. This must be the month for birthday parties, because we attended another one for our friends' worship leader Tuesday night. On Thursday we visited churches and plugged into a ministry that night. Every Thursday, Living Waters offers a free meal for their community along with a message and music. We sang for the families as they ate and visited with Carol, a joyful lady of faith that helps with their weekly dinners.
Friday we visited Ryan and Emily Harkey, some home missionaries in Kettering, Ohio. They work with Athletes in Action to spread the gospel by interviewing Christian Athletes and making DVDs of their encounters. They're old friends from our home church, so it was good to catch up with them.
Sunday morning we sang at Pleasant Run Presbyterian Church to a very welcoming and complimentary crowd. Sunday afternoon and Monday we got in our last visiting time with our old friends, David and Heather Pencil, shopping for 50 cent bargains at the local thrift store, cooking gourmet meals, and playing board games.
Tuesday we sang for some preschool children at a Presbyterian school and left for the 24-hour trip ahead of us. Besides the grueling trip back, we all had a great time ministering and seeing the states.
After less than one full day back in Houston, we had the privilege of providing the accompaniment for a youth worship musical called �His Renown� at Bayshore Baptist Church in La Porte, TX on June 25th. It was a challenge due to our playing to a click track, but otherwise was pretty familiar territory, except that Cynthia played bass for the first time. Then, we joined the Bayshore youth on a mission trip to Austin where we helped lead Vacation Bible School for Fairview Baptist Church. We had a great time getting to know the youth by ministering alongside them and having a lot of fun, too! The ministry of Segway was particularly fulfilling. When the week was over, we got to come home and rest a little before joining up with Texas Avenue Baptist Church in League City on July 2nd. It�s always a joy to team up with other believers in striving to do God�s work for His glory!
June 19th found us whisked off again to beautiful downtown Waco, to reprise our roles in the Jerusalem marketplace. Once more into the breech, stepping boldly upon the gaslight stage to the accolades of an adoring public, or at least entertaining the children at Ecclesia's latest vacation Bible school. Another week of relating the events of Christ's last week alive in Jerusalem, performing as characters, which may have witnessed the precedings in an attempt to bring the gospel to life through a dramatic retelling. Our goal is to try and get the kids to think about this historical Jesus in a new way, and ultimately to ask themselves who Jesus is and how does he relate to them. We worked amid a fantastic array of very talented teachers at Ecclesia, all of us focusing our hearts and prayers on presenting to the children the need we all have for a savior through synagogue school, Bible lessons, song, and drama. Boy do we love this church!
Within these past couple of months we've found ourselves singing for an interesting assortment of people: Modern-day fairies and elves, Spanish-speaking worshipers, burger-eating Canopy supporters, and coffee-drinking incidental audience members.
Nehemiah 12:46 "For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there were leaders of the singers and songs of praise and thanksgiving to God." And in more recent times there were four stanch musicianaries roaming a strange land in search of a venue to share their music and a hot emu dinner. We knew we wanted to spend thanksgiving this year with Buddy's mother in Clayton Georgia, but gas prices being what they are we realistically sought ways to finance our expedition along the way. Sitting down with mapquest and a fundamental knowledge of the locale in September we figured that with over 300 churches in the immediate area we'd be able to find work in no time and be gorging ourselves with hot bird in relative financial comfort by thanksgiving. Boy did God have some different plans.
July 10th through the 15th found us back in Waco again, revisiting the Walkthrough Jerusalem Vacation Bible School, this time at Ecclesia Church. Once more we relived our dramatic roles as saints and skeptics in a first century Jewish marketplace; however, we augmented these roles by performing the songs as well as filling the market with traditional Israeli "Muzak" utilizing our improvisational skills on drums, flutes and acoustic guitar. We really had a lot of fun with the tunes, but trying to differentiate our roles as musicians from our dramatic pieces made our characters even more fragmentary and foggy than usual. When one kid exclaimed that he didn't think that Jesus was the Messiah because Kevin didn't think that he was (because Kevin had been acting as a skeptic the day before) we realized that defining who we were as characters as opposed to who we were in real life was to be instrumental in teaching Biblical truths accurately and clearly.
While self promotion is something that we all feel vaguely uncomfortable with (for a variety of reasons) it is necessary for us to sometimes introduce ourselves to strangers in order to find places to minister. After sending out postcards, emailing pastors, and cold calling churches out of the phonebook, all with minimal results, we've settled on a new method for allowing churches to her and see our "product" face to face. Although we should come up with some snappy name for it, the basic jist is the four of us amble into the office of a church we happen to be passing and serenade the pastor (or anyone who will listen who serves the church in some capacity) with a short three minute long medley of songs which showcase our abilities. This method has paid off wonderfully recently, when we stepped into the offices of Texas Avenue Baptist Church in League City where the pastor, music minister, and half the staff just happened to be gone on a mission trip to Mexico. They weren't sure what was going on for Sunday worship, and invited us to come in and do special music. As it happens we ended up augmenting their praise team with Kevin wonderfully sight reading a plethora of songs from the hymnal on the piano to accompany the congregational singing. That night we were able to perform an hour long concert in their beautiful sanctuary, and as it was in Houston many of our friends and family were able to attend, many of whom haven't been able to see us perform in this capacity. We all really feel blessed that our Lord put us in exactly the right place at the right time to most minister to his church body when it was in need, and that He has given us so many opportunities to perform the music that we so dearly love, that desire of our hearts which He has put in our souls to begin with.
Sunday, June 26th we lead worship at First Baptist Castroville, where Ross Shelton pastors with whom the girls attended Jersey Village high school. Historic downtown Castroville has architecture which reflects the native Alsatians who've immigrated to this small Texas town just outside San Antonio, and sometimes give the flavor of a tiny almost Bavarian retreat in the hill country. We found the congregation to be extremely compassionate and friendly, and they seemed to really enjoy our music and enthusiastically participated in the worship set. Canopy was abundantly provided with lodging in the charming Landmark Inn bed and breakfast, which straddles the Medina River on whose banks we ate a picturesque picnic dinner Saturday night.
After saying our goodbyes and setting out to our next destination we heard "China Grove" on the local classic rock station and decided to make an impromptu stop in this tiny community. Although we searched furtively for the "sheriff and his buddies with their samurai swords" referred to in the song lyrics, all we could really find was the local taxidermist whose establishment we appropriated for a Japanese kendo competition of our own.
Next stop was the South Texas Children's Home where we spent the next week ministering to the kids. Since 1952, The South Texas Children's Home (STCH) has been in the business of providing a home to children from throughout south Texas. There are 15 cottages on the idyllic suburb-like Boothe or Marshall Campuses of STCH, where the children live with a couple that serve as house-parents. The cottages function much like any family would with the meals being prepared in the cottages and the family planning activities together. The children attend public school, local churches, and participate in extracurricular activities. STCH provides an opportunity for all of its graduates to attend the college or trade school of the students' choice. STCH children come from a variety of backgrounds. Parents who are not able to continue to provide care for any number of reasons place some; others are placed by or referred by agencies of the State of Texas. Additional referrals come from churches, pastors and concerned friends of children and families in need. Grandparents, who have become unable to care for their grandchildren, often turn to STCH for help. The services are provided to all of these families free of charge.
We spent June 5th through the 10th in beautiful downtown Waco, performing at not one but TWO vacation Bible schools. We kicked the week off by offering special music during one of the morning services at the beautiful cathedral-like Saint Paul's Episcopal Church followed that evening by a concert set of Canopy tunes at Park Lake Drive Baptist Church. While the audience wasn't exactly used to hearing electric guitars in their sanctuary, they definitely weren't expecting Buddy to carry their stuffed sheep mascot onstage and deliver an impromptu speech about anti-vegitarianism.
Throughout the week we performed the daily worship and "tune up station" segment of Lifeway's Ramblin' Road Trip VBS mornings from 8 to noon. The kids were really enthusiastic about learning the scripture memory verses and performing the hand motions and songs, and by the end of the week 8 had committed their lives to Christ!
In the evenings we were performing in a slightly different way at Christ The King Church, whose congregations chose to adopt Group's Holy Land Adventure: Jerusalem Marketplace as their VBS. This is set in a mock-up of a first century Marketplace during the last Passover that Christ spent during his earthly ministry. The kids were divided up into the twelve tribes of Israel, which resembled family groups more than division by age, and then were allowed to interact in the marketplace by participating as "apprentices" to a host of different merchants (carpentry, pottery, and our favorite the musical instrument dealer), playing with the animals, or going to synagogue school. From the blowing of the shofar, which signaled the marketplace was open until the traditional Israeli songs and dancing at the end, this was a wholly unique experience both for the participants and the providers. Canopy's role was to be a stretch for some of us, while we attended expecting to be able to lead in the music, the pastor needed us to perform the daily dramas which highlighted the key biblical principals the children were being taught each day. Whilst acting under the blazing Texas sky was slightly uncomfortable, our authentic garb (generously provided by First Baptist Church Waco) and riveting dramas were watched enthusiastically by the other participants who would swarm around the well at the center of the market during our unexpected presentations.
Of all these experiences, however, the most powerful was undoubtedly seeing God's provision for us through His church. We were munificently endowed with a place to sleep and numerous meals, all freely given by friends both old and new and total strangers who ecumenically banded together under the banner of Christ to bless us out of the abundance of their hearts. We will always have a warm spot of thankfulness in our memory for those people who offered us of their own meals and beds, and we are reminded constantly of Mathew 25 34-40
" Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. "