Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Christina Grimmie Inspires My Hope For the New Generation

Here we are now, marking six years and two months of remembering and honoring the life and legacy of Christina Grimmie.

I have written many words, and have attempted to express what I perceive to be the greatness of her heart, and the firmness of her commitment to follow Christ. I have tried to articulate the surprising and unusual character of her vocation to be a different kind of presence in the world of mainstream pop music and new communications media. She was not called to preach (though she was open and honest about who she was, and the One she belonged to); rather she was called to let Jesus work through her — to be with people and accompany them, to touch people’s hearts with the tenderness of His gaze, to shine His love in places that are often dark and distant, where there is a lot of confusion, alienation, and pain. In this human context, she was called to develop her talents and her passion for music, and to sing with her amazingly versatile, powerful and gentle, wonderfully expressive voice.

She was also a regular girl, who liked boys and video games and anime cartoons, who liked to have fun and be goofy. Yet she also had a strength and generosity of personality that drew people to her, and she was willing to risk herself… for her music career, and especially for her (mostly young) “frands” and for anyone who was sent her way — that they might know they were loved. Indeed, the way she was taken from this world seems to indicate that she remained faithful to her vocation to the very end, to the final moment of her bright beautiful young life. Six years later, people continue to “discover her” on YouTube, to be amazed by her music, and to encounter her joy and the embrace of her love that illuminates her videos and seems to reach people personally even now.

I have tried through these years to articulate what has struck me about Christina Grimmie. Maybe at times I have tried too hard to “wrap my head around” a reality beyond my grasp, a mystery that cannot be adequately articulated. Such is one of the occupational hazards of the writer and the intellectual, especially in the face of sorrow and tragedy. Still, those of us who practice the craft of words need to say things and write things. I have no “authority” to speak about Christina Grimmie beyond my own impressions (and the similar impressions of many others). I never met her personally, and I can’t say I knew much about her before her death. There is so much that I still don’t know about Christina, about her inner life, her fears, her flaws, her sufferings, her ways of prayer, her day-to-day perspective on life. (Some of these things we will never know in this present world.)

The way Christina presented herself and interacted with people on 21st century media, however, was remarkable (in fact, I have never seen anyone like her in nearly 60 years of my media-saturated life). She was full of music, but also engaged with a wide constellation of human interests and open to a world of people. Her terrific voice and her genius for music were (and are) obvious, but the depth of her humanity might not strike people who just watch a few of her videos, or even those who watched her jaw-dropping performances on The Voice in 2014. 

Beyond the astonishing musical versatility, her seven years on YouTube seem to reveal the growth and development of a normal teenage girl into a healthy and increasingly confident young woman. And that was, in fact, what was happening during that time. In the past six years, I have seen (and, hopefully, helped) three of my four daughters grow from normal teenage girls into healthy and increasingly confident young women (we still have 15-year-old Josefina at home, so the “growing” continues).

My daughters have their own sensibilities, talents, and aspirations. They have their flaws, obviously (as does their father), but they have known the love of Jesus Christ and seek to follow Him, to be faithful to their personal vocations — His ways of encountering them and shaping their lives, whatever may be the circumstances. The same can be said for my son and his wife, and then — of course — there is our first granddaughter with all her possibilities and challenges yet to come.

Fatherhood is very humbling. Yet, somehow — it seems — I have not been a complete disaster as a father (and I am not merely using self-deprecating rhetoric here; it is something of a wonder to me, given all my years of experience of failing so many times, and in so many ways). How can I possibly manage to be anything like a good father? By staying with Jesus Christ, by begging for His mercy every day, and — with the strength He constantly renews in us through the Holy Spirit — by loving and staying with my wife Eileen every day of our 26+ years of marriage, with our mutual irrevocable determination to love each other, forgive each other, and remain together all the rest of the days that lie ahead.

If I as a father… indeed, insofar as Eileen and I as parents have loved and taught our own five precious children well, it has been rooted in this foundation.

And there has been a lot of particular help all along the journey. In navigating these recent years (especially with regard to “teenagers growing up in the 2010s”😮), one of the important lights in the harbor for me, during the storms, has been the legacy and witness of Christina Grimmie. Not only her achievements, but also her “ordinariness,” has encouraged me to give my own daughters the “space” to grow. I have been freer as a father, I think, and more attuned to the mysteriousness of my kids growing up, more able to guide them in the craziness of a world that I don’t understand, because Christina dedicated herself to showing that these years can be a beautiful path. Of course, I also learned much from other families in my own faith community and their kids — who were (and are) the friends of my own kids — but in this epoch of media it meant something that Christina lived this out on what we perceive as the “larger platform” of being under the spotlight. She faced the challenges of growing from adolescence to young adulthood (that can cause parents many particular worries), and she met them and worked through them with genuineness, courtesy, and magnanimity — because through it all she persevered in her great love for God and for other people.

This was the most striking impression of Christina’s life: there seemed to be a special vitality that permeated all her remarkable successes and (even more importantly) the whole way she matured and grew as a person. She trusted in Jesus and sought Him in everything with an immense desire that invested her life with an urgent and intense expectation, opening her up more and more to the possibilities of being loved and giving herself in love.

In time I began to notice this in her videos — she was full of this great love, which made her “grow strong” more and more, which made her confident, authoritative, and courageous. That’s not to say that she never made mistakes. She probably made a lot more mistakes than I can imagine, but she didn’t let them defeat her; she knew she could always turn to the Lord for forgiveness and to her family, close friends, and Team Grimmie for support. I think she had a lot of hidden struggles, but she stayed focused and kept going with renewed ardor.

Christina has been a great sign to me that God loves this generation, and that He is accompanying them and sustaining them as He sends them forth into adult life, into a world that will pose complex problems and dangers that I won’t always understand. This confidence may appear paradoxical, given the tragic end that Christina met with on that night of June 10, 2016. There is no way to avoid the incomprehensibility of her death, and the sorrow that will always remain for us in this world. I also watched two people die in the past three years, and the fact that they were both over 80 years old didn’t take away my sorrow: they were still my father and my mother. Yet here too, Christina has helped me to walk with my grief.

Ultimately, Christina’s life is a witness to the reality of something greater than death. She always “welcomed strangers” at her meet-and-greets. She always wanted to welcome them “with love” and so, too, we can assume that she opened her arms “with love” to that final stranger who — unknown to her — had two guns hiding under his jacket…

Someone wanted hatred to defeat love on that night. But hatred did not win. When we celebrate Christina Grimmie’s life and legacy, we are acknowledging that her life was and remains a masterpiece. All of us will die, sooner or later. Nothing can change this basic fact. But Christina reminds us that what matters most is our relationship with God, who wants to forgive us, heal us, and give us a share in His unending life. I hope and pray that all of us will have some measure of the courage to love that Christina had, and that all of us will know how immensely we are loved by God.

Last month I walked my second daughter Lucia down the aisle in her wedding dress, to help her begin a new adventure, the great adventure of marriage and family. At the end of August she will turn 22 years old, the same age at which Christina “finished the race” and fulfilled God’s purpose for her life. In Christina’s circumstances the end was traumatic, especially for her own family and loved ones and, indeed, all of us “left behind” who still wish she were living this present life with us. None of us wants things like this to happen to our young people. God doesn’t want it. But He created people to be free, which means He doesn’t force them to love Him. When people turn away from God, they perpetuate violence against themselves and others, and God “permits” this because He respects human freedom, but also because He intends to overcome evil and bring forth greater good in His infinite wisdom and kindness and love for us. We don’t often see “how this works” but we have to trust in God.

The Lord didn’t give Christina a long life, but He gave her a life full of beauty and courage and love. Indeed, He gave her a life that touches upon what we mean by the word “heroism.” There was, I think, something heroic about her life. Heroism is inspiring. Christina’s heroism inspires me to have peace as time passes, as things change, as my parents pass away beyond this life, as my children grow up and leave home to follow their vocations.

Christina Grimmie’s heroism inspires me to look toward the future with hope, with greater confidence that “God is good / All the time” and that He makes us grow stronger “little by little,” giving us the strength He knows we need. He wants us to trust in Him.