My Friend Cecil


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On March 31st of this year – I lost a friend.

I need to qualify that statement in 2 ways.

First, Cecil Van Houten was far more than the word “friend” can ever communicate. The word simply won’t bear the weight of what we shared.

Secondly, I have lost him, but temporarily. I knew him so as to know his heart for his Savior Jesus Christ. And so one day, together, we will rejoice around the throne of our Lord together. Without end. How wonderful that our God designs Heaven so that we not only fall at His feet and experience immediately (without anything between) but also still mediately – as shining through the infinite number of vessels He created to display His glory – i.e. His blood bought sons and daughters. So we drink in Christ forever in every conceivable way. And that, through those He shone through even in this life.

I will never forget meeting Cecil for the first time. It was in the auditorium of the very Church I now pastor so many many years later. In the room just above the office I sit in as I write this. And it was love at first listen.

Cecil was directing a group of young singers from churches around the area. He was their arranger, director, and accompanist.

The quartet I was part of – Mark IV was in need of talent like that. And I loved how he worshiped through his keyboard even more than his superb talent by itself. I couldn’t wait to meet him and ask to talk if he might be interested in the Quartet.

As we met again for coffee, and then with the other members and then in tryouts (believe me, it was WE who needed to try out for him – NOT the other way around) there was just this bond. This tie. This connection – that time, geography, circumstances and anything else, never severed. I will feel it until we meet again at the feet of Jesus.

C (as I called him, knowing how MUCH he hated CEE-cil, tho not Cecil) and I spent countless hours together over the 4+ years we were in Mark IV and then LifeSong together. We wrote music together. We prayed. We arranged. We wrote music. We recorded. We dreamed of lives lived doing nothing else but music in ministry. We talked Bible and life and girls (before we married) and music and philosophy and ministry and…we worshiped. Oh how he could worship His God through that keyboard. Never have I coveted anyone else’s ability to do anything more than I have that.

What a gift.

The hours we spent especially on music are so precious to me.

Many a time he would come and say “I’ve got this melody” – and then he would humbly allow me to try and add some lyrics. Or the times when I would come to him with lyrics that needed music – or even both music and lyrics that I could only sing to him in my lack musical ability. It was those times, when he could put into chords and progressions what only my heart and mind could imagine as I squeaked out my most imperfect melodies – that were nothing less than magical, in the right sense of the word.

Shortly after I received the news of Cecil’s passing, I wrote to a mutual friend of ours we lost touch with in the 70’s. That friend, an award winning composer and producer wrote back: “The two of you together were a powerful musical force and I can say without hesitation that you surely brought [each other] many moments of that singular transcendence peculiar to music – and particularly to song.” When I received it, I wept. Because he was right. And I had forgotten how much I missed that.

The groups broke up. Families grew and changed. Dreams morphed into other careers lived in other places with other people. Life happened.

Last year, I heard he was here, and ill. And I went to see him. And there it still was – that same tie. That same bond. Unfettered though stretched. And I drank it up like a thirsty dog.

No, we would never be “together” in those things again. But he was still my brother. Still my friend. Still – C.

I was hoping to get down to see him just a week or two before he passed. Circumstances didn’t allow. I grieve that.

Still.

As I pen this, and listen to the CD of Cecil his wife Connie so graciously sent a couple of weeks ago – I am filled with human nostalgia, human grief, and more than human joy – that leaps the crevasse of life and death because of Christ alone. For because of Christ’s great salvation – we will one day worship Him together again. With no fear of that ever being broken. And with unnumbered multitudes redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Oh what music THAT will be!

So I grieve in my gratitude. And give thanks through my tears. And wait the grand reunion. When both of us will be even more enthralled with the Savior who gave us the gift of one another in this life – as part of His amazing grace. And that bond – will be more than we could have it here.

Good bye dear friend.

Soon.

In Christ.

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