Many times in life, as Christians, we witness or experience events in which bad things happen that leave us asking, “Where is God in all of this?”
During traumatic or painful incidents we wonder, How could a loving God allow such a tragic thing to occur to those who love Him?
Even worse, after a series of such trials, many people become exasperated causing them to question, if not abandon, their faith all together.
On Friday June 10, 2016, I directly experienced a violent death of a dearly loved friend. It will have lasting effects on the remainder of my life, as well as the lives of many others.
God’s grace and guidance have made provisions that continue to strengthen my faith allowing me to persevere.
And perseverance and faith through trauma and life changing disease are the cornerstone of this blog making this story appropriate for my debut posting.
A Gala Event
My three sons Connor, Riley, and Toby McDonough are the face of the pop-rock band Before You Exit (BYE).
On Friday June 10th, as part of their summer headline tour of the US and Canada, they were performing in their home town of Orlando, Florida. That they were in their hometown with their parents present was one of several provisions God made in preparation for the events that would unfold that evening.
The show was at The Plaza Live venue with a capacity of about 1,200 and opened by two talented acts: Cade, a young male singer from Tampa followed by Christina Grimmie from LA, a finalist in season six of the popular television show The Voice.
Before You Exit then performed many of their songs from their latest EP, All The Lights and, like the opening guests, they were well received by fans consisting of teens, parents, and industry professionals.
It was a thoroughly exciting show for their hometown and the boys of BYE were exuberant, even playing an encore for the high spirited fans.
Sadly, there was one individual with ill-minded intentions in attendance who was determined to see the evening conclude horrifically.
A Tragic Loss
After the show, as fans were starting to leave the venue, the artists including Christina were back stage greeting close friends and relatives that had been allowed back-stage passes. They were also preparing to go toward the front of the venue to meet and greet fans, or bid farewell as they departed from the building.
I was standing near doors connecting stage right with the green room corridor. Meanwhile my sister and brother-in-law (Kitty and Michael
O’Grody) were praying with Christina, grateful for her career. They concluded their prayers with, “God is Good.” Then, in unison, Kitty and Christina said,”All the time.”
Christina then said good-bye heading out to the merchandise tables. She was excited to get to her waiting fans and sign autographs.
Suddenly, I heard five loud pops. A security guard said,”I assume those are balloons.” We both walked back on stage to witness wide chaos in the auditorium as fans ran out exit doors along the south wall and front of the venue. They were screaming with terror as they left the room.
I saw bodies on the floor and, as a physician, was compelled to run toward one man lying along the north wall and obviously losing a large quantity of blood. I noticed the left side of his face was all but missing as someone shouted, “He’s the shooter and he’s dead; he shot himself!”
Immediately, I ran toward a body I saw lying near the merch tables at the front of the venue. As I came over the top of the young lady I was shocked to recognize her as Christina, the angelic singer my wife and I had grown to love like a daughter since touring Europe and the UK with her and BYE.
It appeared she tried to take a breath as I knelt down next to her. Her eyes were closed and at least one bullet wound was evident on the right side of her head. I detected a weak and thready pulse but soon lost it and began CPR as I tried to comfort her, encouraging her to hang on—telling her that Jesus (and I) loved her.
It seemed interminably long before EMS arrived to continue resuscitation. There were no other bodies we learned later—just Christina and a suicidal maniac obsessed with her and intending all along to violently end her life.
First responders and venue staff were corralled in a conference room shortly thereafter where we learned that our sweet Christina was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at the hospital.
We also learned that Christina’s brother Marcus witnessed the killing and knocked the shooter’s arm down, possibly preventing him from further killing. But he couldn’t prevent the shooter from subsequently using another gun to take his own life.
All of us were devastated by this horrific event, although we were grateful that no other persons were harmed physically. Of course, the emotional and mental scarring is unpredictable.
Where Was God?
Unequivocally, without a doubt, God is with us in times of pain, trial, and tribulation.
As the Captain of my ship, He alone knows and determines not only the course of my journey but the destiny of my vessel. Even still, it’s so easy to feel anger when we’re in pain or suffering a loss of a loved one—especially when it happens in an obviously violent or senseless way.
We find ourselves ready to shout from mountain tops, “How could you allow this to happen God? If you really loved us you wouldn’t let us suffer or toil with such painful circumstances!” Senseless is a word we use to describe such things that hurt and we can’t understand.
We also can’t begin to know what God knows. We’ll never have the ability, let alone be capable, of seeing the whole picture that God sees.
And, my friends, God doesn’t want to see us in pain any more than we want to see our brothers and sisters suffer either. Nor did He want to see His son suffer the sins of the world. But it was all part of His Divine plan.
In fact, He grieves alongside us. It’s the comfort of Jesus’s palm that soothes us during the most treacherous of insults. Moreover, God will make good from bad, victors will be made of victims, and triumphs the result of trials. He works to make good of all things.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Rom. 8:28
Tragedies such as the violent murder of Christina are the result of the free will of man. Likewise, much of our pain and discomfort has origins that can be traced back to the garden of Eden when God ensured that we had the free will to chose.
Man foolishly chose the ways of deceit.
Part of the Plan
We don’t want to think that pain and suffering, trials and tribulations, are naturally features of God’s plan or His world. And they’re not. They are products of a fallen world, but God does bring good things from bad stuff!
Already, as a direct result of the tragic evening of June 10th, much good has evolved. I’ve personally witnessed some individuals turn toward God when before that night they questioned His existence. A whole community has come together to love and support our family and that of Christina’s. And there’s the bitter-sweet reality that a countless number of new fans will be inspired and touched by her music and artistry.
Tragedy can be the stimulus for inspiring faith and motivating otherwise doubting individuals to seek God out.
My own faith has been immensely augmented by hearing of Christina’s prayer with my sister-in-law Kitty just before her departure for Heaven.
She Was Ready
Regardless of our plans or those of our loved ones, God’s intentions or plans may be altogether different. In retrospect, we can see that part of God’s plan for June 10th 2016, was for Christina to meet Jesus.
More than a few people commented on Christina’s appearance, attitude, and overall sense of her surroundings on Friday June 10th. She was a singer who, by definition sings. But that day she was singing any and everywhere—on the bus, off the bus, walking to the venue or from the venue back out to the bus, in the bathroom, or while waiting outside for the bathroom! All of the crew were heard to say, in one way or another, how jubilant she was that entire afternoon.
Christina was a compassionate person. But that day she was especially and passionately in tune with everyone around her. She loved to love, and hug her loved ones. But that day she was full of love and lovely in the ways she gave to others.
Many commented on how angelic she was—radiating a peaceful sense of tranquility for every person in her path. She commented several times that day about how much she enjoyed this tour with BYE, cherishing the company of the boys and staying in the moment—where God lives (never in the past or future).
Just before going on stage, I noticed she was wearing a long coat to ward off a chill from the air conditioning. I thought to myself, the coat will be unnoticed because her face and eyes were magnetically consuming.
Later, looking at video documentation of the show that night, during her duet with Riley and BYE, she was basking in a warm floodlight while the rest of the band performed and observed her from shadows. Then she hugged each boy just a moment longer than usual. Her eyes shined from deep within her heart.
As difficult and painful as it is for us to let go of such a cherished and beautifully talented soul, God knew it was her time—and she was as ready as she could ever be.
With that perspective it’s a little easier to see how God allowed man’s free will to reign, yet simultaneously His perfect will was done.
In the midst of painfully violent and horrific circumstances, we can, and should, allow such anguish to be the context by which we seek to grow our faith—not questioning, or worse, abandoning our faith.
Christina will be forever loved and missed by her family of birth including Mom and Dad (Tina and Bud), and her brother Marcus, as well as her grandpa and many other devoted relatives. The same sentiments will also be shared by her BYE forever family and an entire family of fans, “With Love.” With Love is a beautiful and heartfelt gratitude ballad Christina wrote for her fans. You can watch her peform it below.
“God is good, all the time.”