My dad's team won the NAIA National championship last week. It was on ESPN so basically my dad's a celebrity. I can get you a signed picture if you want one.
The Hardeman living room was pretty comical during the game. Me, my brother, sister-in-law, and our parents' dog Nike all watched the game together, clapping and cheering wildly while also trying to jinx the other team. I have never been so nervous watching a basketball game.
When I was little and would watch my dad's high school boys' teams play, I would get so sick to my stomach in close games that I would either hide out in the bathroom for the last few minutes or bring a book and read to try to calm my nerves. I know. I was a weird kid. But I've always gotten nervous watching my dad's teams play because I want them to win so badly and can do absolutely nothing to help. I felt like I was back in second grade while watching this game and considered hiding out in the bathroom again since the game could have gone either way until the last few seconds.
While my heart was pounding out of control, my brother Travis was even more nervous. And when he gets nervous, he doesn't pull out a book or head to the toilets; he talks. He talks a lot. He talked to the girls on the floor, to the refs, to the dog- reprimanding poor Nikers for not paying closer attention and then to his wife- reprimanding poor Emma for jinxing APU. We Hardemans are big believers in the jinx and the counter jinx.
We are also big believers in each other. The announcers mentioned coach Hardeman's family several times- maybe it was because his soon-to-be daughter-in-law was cheering from the bench as an injured senior member of the team; maybe it was because his son-in-law was sitting right next to him as his assistant coach; maybe it was because his wife and daughter were some of the only APU fans in the gym yelling at the refs for him; maybe it was because his three grandsons played behind behind the bench, sometimes breaking free from Heidi and my mom and tapping players or my dad on the shoulder. Even us, the family members back in CA, got a shout-out from the announcers.
That victory was so sweet because we Hardemans, we grieve with each other and we celebrate with each other. And this night warranted quite the celebration for my dad. I cried a little watching them interview my dad after the game and seeing the joy radiating from his face.
There was another time though, a time not too long ago, when I cried for my dad for a very different reason. Those were not happy tears.
My dad is now the coach of a national championship team. A college team. A women's team. Ten years ago if you had told us that would be the case, we might have laughed at you. Because ten years ago my dad was still doing what he had always been doing- coaching high school boys. He coached at ghetto Paramount High School for eight or nine years where apparently his team required police escorts after some games. And then we moved and he coached the boys team at Troy High School for thirteen years. Until he got fired.
I was a senior in college at the time and still remember getting the call from my sister. I still remember shaking with rage, tears leaking out of my eyes, anger seeping out of my soul as she broke the news; dad's been fired.
The principal had fired him for "illegally recruiting." That's all the public knew. What they didn't know was that this "recruit" was terrible- had played on the freshman or JV squad one summer without going through the proper channels; my dad didn't even know him. But the principal had a beef with my dad and wanted him gone so though he couldn't take his teaching job at the school, he stole from him what he loved most- coaching.
I have never been so angry at a man. I remember hanging up the phone with Heidi and thinking, "So this is what it's like to have a real life enemy." I imagined what I would do if I ever saw Mr. M again. Would I sock him in the nose or slap him in the face? This was a serious dilemma that I'd often ponder. I'd never done either and I wasn't sure which I'd be better at. I was taking a self-defense course at the time so when I learned how to break someone's nose with a quick upward thrust, I decided on that. And maybe a knee to the groin for good measure.
When I called my dad though, he wasn't thinking about how to drop kick Mr. M. My dad, the man whom I had seen throw clipboards, scream at refs, and bark at players was remarkably calm. There was no anger in his voice, only sadness. He had no unkind words for Mr. M. He said that he probably should have quit coaching after the boys (my brothers) had graduated but didn't know what else to do so he had stayed. He said he was happy about the chance to come watch all my games my senior year.
And then he said something crazy. He said, "You know, I think God is using Mr. M as a part of His plan for me. I don't know how yet, but I think He is."
I remember sitting in our Summerland backyard looking at a view of the whole ocean and thinking, "But how?" I could not fathom how anything good could come from getting fired, from being shamefully removed from something he loved.
My dad forgave Mr. M long before I could. I struggled with my anger for weeks, maybe months. Someone had hurt my family deeply and forgiveness did not come naturally. I was never going to see the man again but I often found myself imagining the words I would say to him if I did. I'd try to think of the meanest thing possible to say him (without using any swear words because that just seemed un-Christ like) and then I'd do the nose thrust and the knee to the groin.
I see now why God calls us to forgive others. It's not for the sake of the other person. It's for us, for our sake. I wanted to be angry at Mr. M. He had caused us a great hurt and had committed a great injustice so it felt right and good to hold hatred in my heart toward him. I liked being angry. But that hatred hurt only me. It didn't help my dad. It didn't hurt Mr. M. It only hurt me.
Slowly God showed me how to let it go, how to forgive him and even pray for him. It took awhile. But when I did, I was free. That anger I had been holding onto had been enslaving me- not allowing me to flourish and feel God's peace and His joy. And when I finally learned to forgive, to forgive someone who had cut my family to the core, I was freed. Ironically, the team APU beat to get to the championship game is called Freed-Hardeman.
Here's the crazy part; here's the part where God showed His cards. During that year when my dad wasn't coaching, he and my mom came to all my games. He got to know several of the coaches in the conference and saw lots of college women's basketball. And then the following year he was offered a job coaching the women at Hope International University. At the time, they were the worst in the league but the school was right across from the high school where my dad teaches and it seemed like God was swinging open a door for him, so he gladly walked through. I graduated from Westmont, moved home and taught history during the day and was his assistant coach at night.
For three years the Hardemans became loyal Royal fans. My brothers both transferred to the school and played for the men's team. My brother-in-law joined me as an assistant during the third year. My sister and mom were at all the games; in fact, when Heidi was pregnant with Vander, her water broke while she was heckling refs from the bleachers.
My dad proved his skills as a fabulous coach and won "Coach of the Year" in the GSAC since his team upset so many of the big schools. He did so well that Azusa, a much better and more prestigious school, offered him the head job there. So the Hardemans packed up and became loyal Cougar fans though I was cheering for them from Mozamique. Last year he coached them to the championship game and this year he led them back to Tennessee for a championship victory.
Coaching high school boys must have seemed like a vague, distant dream as he held up the National Championship banner with his girls.
I cried watching the celebration because joy was literally seeping out of my eyes. That joy was so powerful because I knew of the pain that it took to get there. I remembered that afternoon on the phone with my dad and how much I had hurt for him. And I remembered something remarkably profound he had said. He said that he felt a bit like Joseph. Joseph's brothers had sold him into slavery and when he had risen to the ranks of one of the highest officials in all of Egypt, they had to come beg for mercy from him. Joseph forgave his brothers and said to them, "You intended to harm me but God intended it for good..." (Genesis 50:20)
Mr. M had intended to harm my dad and as a daughter, that is very hard to forgive. But God had intended it for good. God doesn't just use the wonderful people in our lives to point us to Him; sometimes He uses the jerks to accomplish His purposes. Sometimes He uses the Mr. M's.
My dad was so confident in the fact that God was in control that he didn't worry or hold any grudge. He just waited to see what the "good" would be that God had intended. And that good turned out to be pretty great.
When he told me the story of Joseph and his response, I was reminded of what I learned in my philosophy class the year before. We were discussing the problem of evil and Dr. Wennberg, my favorite professor now deceased, explained that sometimes God lets evil happen for a "greater good." I rarely spoke in class but I remember speaking up in that lecture. I don't recall exactly what I asked but I needed clarification about this so-called "greater good." I wasn't buying it. But he explained it further and I remember being somewhat pacified. Watching my dad thrive as a college women's coach, I see the so-called "greater good" Dr. Wennberg spoke of.
Now I understand that though God allows injustice and evil, there will be a greater good. I remember Dr. Wennberg explaining that sometimes that greater good will be revealed to us and sometimes it won't. In my dad's case it was. It is so clear that God allowed for the injustice to happen so that my dad would be moved and used in a better way.
But sometimes it's not. I think of Japan and ask, "Why, God? Why allow it?" And then I remember Dr. Wennberg and his "greater good" speech and I cling to the words he said. I don't know why God allows atrocities to happen and earthquakes to strike, but I do know a few things. These truths are what I cling to.
I serve a God who is all-loving. He loves His creation more than I can fathom and wants their good, sent his Son to die for their good.
I serve a God who is all-knowing. He knows what has happened, is happening and what will happen tomorrow. He knows my every hurt and He cares about every heart.
I serve a God who is all-powerful. He created and controls the universe and though He allows evil and natural disasters to occur, that doesn't mean He's not here with us. And since I know He loves us and wants our good, I trust there will be a "greater good" one day, though I usually can't fathom what that will be.
Last week my pastor preached on Philippians chapter one. Paul was another example of someone who endured injustice for a greater good.
While in prison he wrote, " Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1: 12-14)
Paul endured crazy hardships and trials and injustice but was one of the most joy-filled people to walk the planet because he knew there was a greater good; because He trusted in an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God.
He goes on to say, "Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:18-24)
My pastor said the following line which I dutifully scribbled down so I wouldn't forget: One day everything will make sense. One day everything will be restored."
For a girl who wrestles with God about evil and suffering and why He allows it, this promise breaths hope into me. I have to come to grips with the fact that I won't understand everything while I'm here on earth, that many of my questions will go unanswered. But one day, one glorious day, everything will make sense.
Paul writes in chapter three that, "Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3: 20-21)
Oh what a glorious day that will be.
So for now, I'll take my victories where I can find them. My dad suffered an injustice that God was using for his good. In his case the greater good was pretty obvious. But I trust that even when I don't see the greater good, even when it seems like nothing good could ever come out of some awful atrocity, God is still all-loving, He is still all-knowing, and He is still all-powerful; and God is still capable of orchestrating a "greater good" that I may never understand during this life.