May 8, 2020

Reflection / John Shaughnessy

God’s grace, and the gift of helping to make someone’s dream come true

John ShaughnessyThe story is one of my all-time favorites about a dream that comes true. So is the quote that sums up the story.

The story involves Jameer Nelson who had a long and successful career as a player in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

An NBA all-star during his time, the talented Nelson was known even more for his hardworking, team-first, attention-to-detail approach to the game. Yet perhaps his most defining moment in sports came off the court, when he played for St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia.

It happened before the beginning of a season when Nelson would become the national college player of the year.

During pre-season practices, a few non-scholarship players tried out for the team. One of the players—Andrew Koefer—caught Nelson’s attention and admiration because of his hard work, hustle and unselfishness. Still, head coach Phil Martelli was planning to cut Koefer, ending his dream.

That’s when Nelson quietly interceded, telling his coach that the freshman was just the kind of player who could help their team during practices. Martelli listened to Nelson’s plea—a rare one from the star player—and kept Koefer on the team.

Later, when a Sports Illustrated writer asked Nelson why he made the extra effort for Koefer, Nelson said: “A lot of dreams don’t come true in life. If you can make someone’s dream come true, you should.”

In the journey of pursuing our dreams, there’s a tendency to believe that all we need to make them come true is a laser-like focus and a complete commitment of faith and energy. One person alone can will a dream to life—or so the myth suggests. Yet that is rarely the reality.

At different turning points and at potential roadblocks, other people often help and guide the dreamer. Then there are the moments that can only be explained by God’s grace. That point leads to another one of my favorite “dream” stories.

It involves the dream that Marc and Jen Konesco shared. The couple took their three young children on an amazing adventure a few years ago—a 17-month ocean journey in their family’s boat. After planning and saving for their dream trip for years, it verged on becoming a nightmare one day.

In an interview with Marc, he told me, “We were at a remote island—a two-day trip from civilization. I couldn’t start the engine, and our water-maker on the boat stopped working. So here we are, in a remote place, with no engine and no water. I said a prayer, ‘Lord, I’m hurting.’ Then I ended up getting on the radio, asking for help. The radio could reach up to 60 miles, but I didn’t think anyone was around. I was really anxious.”

Marc then shared that less than five minutes later, a small boat with two men aboard appeared around a curve of the island, heading toward the family’s boat. Marc said, “They were brothers. The one brother installed water-makers for a living, and the second brother owned a shop where they worked on engines. They were like two angels that came out of the air. After about four hours of working on the boat, we were ready to go.”

Marc paused before adding, “It shows you how God works.”

I’ve been thinking of these stories of Nelson and the Konescos because we’re in that time of year when certain dreams are traditionally fulfilled and celebrated, especially in the lives of young people. College acceptances. High school and college graduations. New jobs and opportunities.

Yet this year, the perennial spring celebrations of these achievements have been minimized and even lost amid the uncertainty and devastation surrounding the coronavirus. As schools and families try to find innovative ways to celebrate the accomplishments of their seniors, I also hope that another major part of their success stories endures through the disappointment of how their senior year has ended.

It’s the part where the seniors find the time and a way to say thank you to the people who have been there for them through it all—the people who love them, the people who support their dreams and try to help them come true, the people who show them the power of God’s grace in their lives.

And considering the overriding uncertainty of life these days, maybe that’s an approach we could all embrace this spring—expressing our thanks in some way to the people who have made such a difference in our lives.

Who would be on your list?

(John Shaughnessy is the assistant editor of The Criterion. This reflection has been adapted from his latest book, Then Something Wondrous Happened: Unlikely encounters and unexpected graces in search of a friendship with God.)

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