Sunday, February 12, 2017 at 12:39PM
Hope blocks a shot. It looks like she's wading, but that pool is twelve feet deep.
This post is an edited version of a letter I wrote last week to our son James, who is in France serving a two-year, full-time mission for our church. Click on the link for a definition of the term "svithe."
The highlight of my week was your sister Hope's miraculous water polo victory on Wednesday. I don't use the term "miraculous" lightly. I'll write the whole saga out for you.
Going into Pasadena High School's varsity water polo team's game with Burbank--their last league game AND their last home game--Hope's team was 0 and 7. She was so hoping for ONE win her senior year. Her team has struggled all season long.
If the team didn't get a single league win, they would be shut out from the post-season preliminaries and finals. Hope loves water polo, and she's worked hard and consistently to learn the sport over the past four years.
She had been praying about the Burbank game, and I had, too. Now that the all-encompassing stress of completing college applications is done with, being a senior is kind of a drag. She's gotten a little antsy. Her two best friends are busy with boyfriends, and she only gets letters from Toby [her boyfriend, who is serving his mission in Brazil] once a week, obviously. So overall, she's been down.
Wednesday morning, she texted me from school about how much she wanted the win. I texted, "Is Burbank beatable?" She answered, "I think so." Then I texted her Philippians 4:13, and we both kept praying as we went about our day. I emailed all my church lady friends, hoping that some could show up to cheer her on with me, and a couple of them were able to make it.
The last home game of the season is traditionally Senior Day, so after the coaches honored Hope and the other five seniors with flowers and brief spotlights, the game started. It was intense and very evenly matched from minute one; either the game was tied or one of the teams was up by one the entire time. Every girl on our team played with energy and focus. Hope had some outstanding blocks (ten saves in all), but she missed some, too. Each time, I watched her face as she mentally got herself from discouragement back to fierceness again.
At the half, when the buzzer sounded, Hope lobbed the ball from the goal box across the pool, and it almost went in. But that's happened before. Your sister has a pretty incredible arm, and it's what you should do when time is almost up, right? You see it in basketball all the time. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.
Fast forward to the last minute of the game. Two more goals were scored, and it was tied again at 12-12 (which is high for water polo). With 11 seconds on the clock, Hope's coach called a time out. PHS had possession of the ball. If they could hang on to it and not let Burbank score again, the game would go into sudden death overtime.
But I knew Hope didn't want that. From my spot on the bleachers, I could see her face at the gathering at the edge of the pool. She was crying; she was exhausted. She mouthed to me, "I don't want to do this anymore." I held up the sign that one of my friends had made (it read "WE LOVE HOPE") and mouthed, "You can do it."
Time out over; everybody got back into position. The ref gave Hope the ball, and she passed it to a defensive player. That girl looked around, didn't see anyone else to pass it to, so she threw it back to Hope. Your sister was out of her goal box, but she was still 3/4 of the pool away from the opposite goal. As goalie, it would have been fine for her just to hold the ball for the last five seconds, but some other parents and I jumped up and started shouting, "Take the shot!"
Everything was in slow motion. I could see the gears of Hope's mind turning. Finally, she reared back and hurled the ball the length of the pool, and as the final buzzer sounded, the ball hit the orange canvas goal backing with a slap. The crowd went mad; you would have thought there were 500 people there.
Hope faced the stands in delighted surprise, and her always wide smile was like lightning. Her teammates surrounded her (nearly drowning her in the process, no lie), and then they all finally got out of the pool and scrummed in this wet, squealy group hug for a good, long time. Hope was crying; I was crying. Tess, who was assigned to the stats table (as she has been all season long post-concussion), was jumping up and down. She got shushed pretty hard by the ref, since the stats kids aren't supposed to cheer, but she said, "That's my sister!"
The whole thing was like the end of Hoosiers, or really any underdog sports movie I can think of. It was one of the best moments of my mothering life, and I will never forget it.
The next morning in seminary [which I teach every schoolday morning at 6:00], I talked about the game during the 15 minutes we usually spend on Doctrinal Mastery. I told the kids about the Philippians 4:13 text conversation, and I talked about the sports definition of the word "clutch." (Actually, I want to get Hope a T-shirt that reads #CLUTCH.)
I mentioned try-fail cycles, and how the whole game had been a series of them, and how try-fail cycles in books and movies and sports make us feel like victory is earned. I had the kids read James 2:17-18, and testified that when we have both faith and works going for us (as Hope did), we can expect miracles (assuming they are God's will to grant).
I mentioned how, in my conversations with the Lord the previous day, I had acknowledged that there is much to be learned from a losing season, and that if that was His will for Hope, so be it. But I also had the thought occur to me during those same conversations: wouldn't it be fun for Hope--who, since she's been the goalie for the entire four years of her career, has never scored a goal--wouldn't it be cool if she could score one, just once?
Next, I brought up Paul's words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7-8. At the end of the day, whether we win or lose, have we fought the good fight? Even if we still look like the underdog at the end of the game, have we given it our all? If we have, then we have won even if the scoreboard says otherwise.
I finished by bearing an emotional testimony that I knew that faith carried that ball home for the last goal. Hebrews 11:1 "The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." And I knew when the ball left Hope's hand--in that second that stretched into an hour that it was in the air--that it was going in. No question. I was jumping up and down in victory mode before the buzzer blasted, because I knew Hope had already won the game.
When I emailed friends a quick summary of the events, one of them emailed a riff back on the famous President Kimball quote, "Faith precedes the miracle."
Hope Precedes the Miracle. That's my message to you this week. And also a post-mission suggestion: the water polo version of Hoosiers hasn't been filmed yet, and I'd be happy to collaborate with you on the script. A good sports movie will always do well. :)
The next day, the school made a special loudspeaker announcement about Hope (as you might remember, they don't ever do announcements on Thursdays), and her coach started calling her "Kobe." She basked in the glory all day long, and I'm so glad she had that. And now, because of Hope, the varsity team got to go to prelims and then league finals after all. They won both those games, bringing their standing up from last in the league to fifth. I believe that next year's team will be able to build on that momentum. Hope's high school water polo career is over, but how grateful I am that through the sport, she's learned powerful lessons to carry forward in life.