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.


  1. Mel, you are awesome!! How precious you are to our family. I am in awe that I can be your aunt. Love you and love your incredible talents! All of them!

  2. Thanks... don't really know what to say to that. Very high praise, I hope I can live up to it... :)