June 26, 2012

Gary Jensen Cares for Jean Peters

My dad Gary Jensen did many amazing things over the years.  There are many stories I could tell you about him.  But my favorite is one that shows his compassion.  In keeping with Father's Day, I want to share it.
A few years ago my parents moved to American Fork, Utah from Colorado.  For my step-mom Sandra Jensen, it was going home as she had grown up there.  Her mother, Jean Peters was still living there.  My parents were in their 60’s and Grandma Peters was in her 80’s.  For the first few years, my parents went on trips as they enjoyed their retirement.  Gary was still consulting in his field, which gave them added opportunities to travel.  Sandra had been a teacher for many years.  She signed up with the school district as a substitute teacher.  She could work when she wanted, allowing them to travel as they pleased.  
Most of the time, my parents took Grandma Peters along for the fun.  The photos they sent us showed my Dad with his two women—his wife and his mother-in-law.  They had a blast together and over the years visited England, Germany, Hawaii, and other far-flung spots. 
In about 2007, Grandma Peters started showing signs of Alzheimer’s.  She couldn’t remember things, couldn’t balance her checkbook and started getting confused.  When the illness was confirmed by a doctor, they took her on her dream vacation, a Disney cruise.  They wanted one last trip with Jean before the foreseen decline in Jean’s abilities would prevent further travel.  Additionally, Gary assumed responsibility for handling Jean’s finances.  Since it was obvious she would not ever return to her home, they cleaned it out and rented it.  
For years, Jean came over to their house in the evening for dinner.  At first she drove herself over, but as time went on, they had to “borrow” her car and never return it.  Instead, Gary went over and brought her over for dinner and then took her home, Jean enjoyed this arrangement very much.  It worked for a few months until it was clear that Jean needed attention at all times.  Gary and Sandra made a room ready for her and moved her into their home.  It was confusing to Jean at first to not go home at night but after a few weeks, she didn’t seem to mind staying there full time.  
My parents were providing housing for two of their grandchildren and a daughter when they moved Jean into their home.  Each one of these family members loved Jean and were willing and able to help care for her.  
Within several months, Jean stayed in bed more and lost the ability to take care of her personal needs.  She became unable to leave her bed.  Her needs escalated from simply aiding her in taking care of herself to actually bathing, feeding, and dressing her, and administering medication to her. 
Sandra managed caring for Jean and counted on help from each family member.  They all pitched in and cared for her needs, as Gary called it, with community effort.  This worked well during the summer and on nights and weekends when everyone was home.  But Sandra’s daughter worked full time and the grandchildren went to school.  Sandra had taken a job at the local High School as a teacher a few years before, and now she was needed daily there in a special needs classroom.  This left Gary to care for Jean during the day, by himself, until the others came home.
Gary had never cared for someone as dependent as Jean became.  He was not a trained nurse; his field was supercomputing.  And he was used to being out and about, now he would need to stay home most of the time for Jean.  The family could have hired someone to do these things instead, or institutionalized Jean in a nursing home.  But Gary loved his mother in law and agreed to take care of her.  Jean would often call to him from her bed when she awoke and ask him to talk to her and rub her back when she didn’t need any other help.  
Gary said, “Everyone in our home helped with Jean and it was a true blessing for all of us.  We all learned to serve and learned to deal with things that were unpleasant at times, and bless Jean for her love for all of us.”
At Grandma Peter’s funeral in February 2009, the Bishop said, “Never have I seen a son-in-law take such good care of his mother-in-law as I have seen Gary care for Jean.  Often, we hear terrible mother-in-law jokes, but they don’t apply here.  Gary has taken Jean into his home and cared for her like a son would.  I didn’t have to worry about her, as I knew her needs were met completely.”  
I think Gary shouldered this responsibility because he loved Jean and Sandra.  Gary stepped forward and accepted the messy and often confining responsibilities for taking care of her during the day out of love.  Gary said, “Jean was always giving of her time and energy when she visited, cleaning and washing clothes.  She and I bonded and became great friends.  That friendship lasted for over 30 years.  She was a wonderful spirit and loved to serve others so it was no wonder that I loved helping Sandra care for Jean.  To this day, we all look into that room where she lay and realize how much we miss her.”
I honor and love my dad for the sacrifices he made to care for this wonderful woman.  We can do hard things that ultimately bring us great joy.

June 19, 2012

Vere Johnson, Mr. Ross Coombs and Grace

In  honor of Father's Day, I thought I'd tell you something about my father in law Vere Johnson.  He did many amazing and wonderful things in his life, but the story that I want to share today shows something we don't talk about enough:  grace. 

Vere was born in a small farming community in northern Utah called Beaver Dam.  When he was old enough, Vere was excited to start school like his older brother.  On the first day of school, he was looking around the classroom.  The teacher was organizing kids of different ages, as it was an old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse.  She became irritated with Vere's wandering and told him to sit down at a particular desk.  As soon as he sat down, she came up behind him and smacked his head down onto the desk.  As Vere felt his lower lip swell up due to the impact, his anger swelled up too.  "If this is what school is all about, I will have nothing to do with it," Vere thought.  And he was true to that vow.  He didn't participate in any learning activities for this teacher for the next three years.  He went to school because his mother made him go, but he refused to learn.  This produced a third grader who couldn't read or do any math. 

The next year, a new teacher named Ross Coombs took over the school.  Mr. Coombs saw Vere and looked over his grades.  They looked bad, accurately showing that Vere wasn't learning anything.  Mr. Coombs called Vere and his mom in for a conference.  He told Mrs. Johnson that he wanted to figure out why Vere wasn't learning anything in school.  He had observed Vere in class and told them that he didn't see any reason why he couldn't learn.  Vere appeared intelligent and with hard work and determination, he thought Vere could be one of the best students in his class.  To test Vere's capabilities, Mr. Coombs gave him a handwritten Composition notebook with writings on the subject of history.  He told Mrs. Johnson to read it  aloud to Vere and see if he could learn something from it.  He asked them to return in a week.

When they returned to Mr. Coombs, Vere had the history in the notebook memorized.  Mr. Coombs was right; Vere was smart, he had just been unwilling to learn until then.  Mr. Coombs showed faith in Vere's abilities and took an interest in Vere as a person.  That encouragement finally unlocked the will of a hurt and angry boy. 

Over the next few years, Vere worked extremely hard in school to live up to Mr. Coombs' expectations.   Doing all that Mr. Coombs asked him to do and more, he caught up to the students his age.  Soon he excelled in school, becoming one of the best students in his grade as predicted.  Not only that, Vere went on to put himself through Dental School during World War 2.  That took hard work and a passion for learning.  As a result, Vere met his wife in College, something he wouldn't have done had he continued on his path of refusing to learn.  Additionally, Vere instilled in each of his children the importance of an education.  Each of them have a college degree, some of whom have earned advanced degrees.
Dr. Vere Johnson checking the teeth of children

Mr. Coombs gave Vere a great gift:  grace.  Although his grades showed that he didn't deserve any positive attention, or mercy, Mr. Coombs gave Vere a second chance at an education.  One can almost hear the former teacher taking Mr. Coombs aside and saying something like "Now don't put much effort into that Vere Johnson.  He doesn't learn anything."  But Mr. Coombs disregarded the bad grades and the bad report and gave him another chance. 

We don't deserve the great mercy and grace that Jesus gave us.  We, like young Vere, sometimes refuse to do what we are supposed to.  We make mistakes and sometimes don't want to change from our bad behaviors.  But Jesus still offers us His love and redemption.  He came to earth to show us how to live our lives.  Then He took upon Himself all of our sins so that, if we repent, He would be able to take the penalty upon Himself and we could live with Him again.  And then He helps us repent and try to do what's right.  Jesus did these things because, like Ross Coombs, Jesus sees great potential in each of us and He has a deep love for each of us.  He knows who and what we are meant to become.  He will do whatever He can to help us reach our potential here on earth and to be able to be with Him in the next.  He knows we can't live with Him again if we are unholy and impure, so we need someone to have mercy and help us.  He offers that help in these many ways.

I'm glad that Mr. Coombs had mercy on Vere.  And I'm grateful Vere took advantage of his second chance and worked hard to get an education.  It affected the lives of hundreds of people—his descendants! And I hope we all take advantage of our 'second chances' that Jesus gives us.  Each day is a new day in which we can make changes.