A Firm Foundation of Faith: A Tribute to My Mother: Doris (Johnson) DeCaster – August 31, 1928 – June 14, 2020
By Janet DeCaster
Train up a child in the way that they should go and when they are old, they will not depart from it, Proverbs 22:6 says. I am thankful to say that this Bible verse has been borne out in my own experience. Today, I wish to do what is commanded in the Bible and honor my mother, Doris Ione Johnson DeCaster and to fulfill a promise I made to her.
Both of my parents grew up in families that attended Lutheran Churches, with regular church attendance as part of their normal routine. Our family was no different. Going to church every Sunday was part of the childhood of my siblings and myself. My Dad would hold his big hand over my much smaller hand, and he moved my fingers over the words of the hymnal, as we sang traditional worship songs. My mother made sure all five of us were clean, fed, dressed and pressed in our Sunday best to go to Sunday school and Church. It was part of our family identity
It was only later, as an adult, that I learned of the depth of our family’s faith tradition. As we both aged, my mother and I talked more in depth. In her 80’s she gave me the family Bibles of her mother and grandmother. She often repeated a memory she had of her own mother (my grandmother Elva Day Johnson) sitting in her rocking chair, praying and reading the Bible early in the morning. My Great-grandfather had been a Methodist preacher of English stock in the late 1800’s. Methodists were part of a great revival movement on the heels of the Great Awakenings in New England and later in Wisconsin. As I paged through those antique Bibles, I saw Psalms and Proverbs written out in beautiful, longhand script, which she must have memorized. My mother’s ancestors were a people who were rooted and grounded in the Word of God. I am so thankful that she shared those memories with me.
My Mother shared with me that it was as an adult that she made her faith her own, despite having been a regular church attender her whole life through. In the 1970’s at a non-denominational Christian Women’s Club luncheon, she confirmed her faith in Jesus Christ. She came to understand the Bible and her need for a personal faith commitment. The foundation laid early in her life paved the way for a decision to build upon that foundation. She prayed more regularly and deeply, attended Bible studies, read Christian books and generally embraced her faith in a more outward, public way. The TV was switched to Christian programs featuring the great preachers of her day. She had many dear Christian neighbors and friends with whom she would pray and attend non-denominational, Christian events, such as Eleanor Czech Braun, Ida Pamperin, Elaine Maloney, Marlene Halron, Donna Konitzer, Elaine Carrick and Char DesJardins, just to name a few of the many. She became a committed member of and volunteer in the Green Bay Christian Women’s Club in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s where she served as a leader on the phone prayer chain.
As a pre-teen and teen I didn’t quite understand my Mom’s sudden passion for the faith. “We go to Church on Sunday, I thought, isn’t that enough’? Our neighbors the Halrons and the Czechs began to hold Bible studies in their homes. That was something new for our neighborhood, and it really blessed my Mom and got me thinking about my own faith. My Mom lived her renewed faith out with a servant’s heart in her everyday life, following Christ’s example. She humbly loved and served my Dad, us kids and her neighbors with acts of service. The Bible says that the “greatest among them is the servant of all.” She cooked and cleaned and kept our household organized while my Dad worked hard to provide for our needs. Along with her Christian neighbors in Ashwaubenon, she organized wedding showers, baby showers and generally helped any neighbor in need any time she was asked. She had what the Bible calls, the gift of “helps.” She lived her faith in a life of service to her husband and children, and to many others.
She also prayed for her family, and shared with us, as she was able, the need that we each had to make our own decisions for Jesus Christ. One way she did that is by giving each of us Bibles for Sunday school or confirmation and for our weddings. It was the greatest desire of her heart to see each of her children and grandchildren, and now great grandchildren, know God, through faith in Jesus Christ personally. We talked of it many times, and prayed together for that very thing. I believe that the spiritual growth she prayed for in her own family for years continues today. She spoke of it recently with great enthusiasm.
The faith foundations were laid in our family by the prayers and lives of my great grandfather, grandmother and mother, but those foundations needed to be built upon. You see no one inherits faith. God has children, but no grandchildren. Faith is a personal choice. It is a decision of the heart. I wish I could say that I embraced her life of faith as a teenager or young adult, but I didn’t. The foolishness of youth, a focus on intellectual pursuits and other distractions crowded out spiritual growth in my own life for a number of years. However, I eventually began to see, truly see, that my praying mother and her enthusiastic Bible reading friends, along with others God put in my path; had something, which I lacked. The thing she and they had was a stable, steady peace and deep joy that brought them through the storms of life. It was in a moment of personal desperation, after a very near-brush with death, as an adult that I picked up one of the Bibles she’d given me and read the words of Jesus Christ, found in John 14:6, which said: “I am the way and the truth and the life and no one gets to the Father except through Me.” Suddenly, in an instant, I knew they were true. That was many years ago, and it was the first day of the rest of my life because it was the day of my own spiritual awakening. My Mother gave me life at my physical birth in 1965, but through the living words of Jesus in the Bible she’d given me, the Holy Spirit gave me that spiritual new birth that only He can give.
Mom’s hands that were folded in prayer for my siblings, our children and me, also cut the sections of the grapefruit for all 5 of her children on cold winter mornings so we’d have some Vitamin C. They tied the laces of our old-fashioned ski boots when we were too young to do it ourselves. Her hands washed the horsehair and dirt from our jeans and popped popcorn for me and my friends at our many sleepovers. That same woman whose hands served and were folded in prayer for me, prayed for each of her other children and grandchildren to know Christ personally. She prayed for Doug, Paul, Steve, Kay and I and for our spouses. She prayed for Annie, Kelly and Claire. She prayed for Jennifer, Erica, Steven and Melanie. She prayed for Ethan and Henry. She prayed for Hannah and Julia. She prayed for Logan. She served them and she prayed for them.
She and Dad loved their grandchildren so much that when they bought a place in Florida, it was stocked with beach towels and baby equipment, so all the kids and grandkids would have a nice warm winter’s vacation out of the cold and snow of Wisconsin and Minnesota. The same Gramma who prayed for those grandchildren also washed all of their beach towels. She went to multitudes of Jaguar basketball games, and as many Mounds Views Baseball games, soccer games and school events at Providence and Chapel Hill and Maranatha Christian Academy as she could get to in Minnesota. She loved her children and grandchildren with her whole heart. And she prayed.
She asked me many years ago (and repeated many times recently) that I share more about her personal faith commitment at her funeral, and she requested that I share this verse, in particular. It is found in the book of John in the New Testament of the Holy Bible. In John 11:25 it says, “Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” It was her favorite Bible verse and the sure foundation of her life.
My Mom was a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, and recently a great-grandmother. She was a life-long friend to many. In spite of all of her good works, she wasn’t good enough to get to heaven on the basis of her own merit or her good works, nor am I, nor are you. The Bible makes that perfectly clear. Jesus said that He is the only way to heaven, and that way to heaven is found through simple, childlike faith in Him. Mom believed that with her whole heart, and she asked me to tell you too. I’ve now honored her request and done so.
How about you? Have you had a foundation of faith laid by the prayers, actions or testimony of someone else, but you’ve never built upon it? I urge you, on behalf of my Mom and the Holy Spirit who guided her, to read the Bible for yourself, consider the claims of Jesus Christ and put your faith firmly in Him either for the first time in your life, or as a recommitment of your faith today. It was my mother’s greatest desire to see all of her children, grandchildren, relatives, neighbors and friends in heaven someday. Like me, no matter how far away you’ve gone from God, if you’ll simply turn toward Him in your own heart, humbly asking Him for forgiveness, He will come into your life and give you peace while you live on this earth. He will send His Holy Spirit to lead and guide you and help you to grow in your understanding of Him. And finally He will welcome you with open arms and heaven will be your eternal home too, when your life on this earth is over, just like He did for my Mom. I was there when she died, and I can tell you that the room was filled with a palpable peace that only the Holy Spirit can bring. I will never, ever forget it.
Thank you for helping me honor the life and faith legacy of Doris Ione Johnson DeCaster and allowing me to fulfill my promise to her.*
*These remarks served as my eulogy for my Mom at her Memorial service on June 23, 2020 – her obituary tribute may be found at http://lyndahl.com and a lovely video tribute may be found at: https://youtu.be/sCZCIEmstjU