The other day I discovered I was close to running out of aluminum foil.
Ordinarily, that is not a notable event—except these days, as everyone is, I’m limiting trips to the store. For possibly the first time, I understand my grandmother’s frugality. She used aluminum foil a second time when feasible. I never really understood why until now.
My grandmother Hazel Smalley Collins was born in January 1901. She died in February 1999. Hazel lived a faithful, full life inside the parentheses of those two century markers.
As I am currently experiencing hardships I’ve never before faced, I’m reflecting on my grandmother’s life.
Just as Hazel became a teenager in 1914, World War I, the “war to end all wars,” originated in Europe and affected the globe. Before the war could end in the fall of 1918, the Spanish Flu had encircled the world with a vengeance. As her older brother Harold fought in France and buried soldiers in Flanders Field, Hazel’s family lost the younger brother Henry to that pandemic. He was 12 years old.
Later, four years after Hazel married, the stock market crashed on a fateful day in October 1929, throwing the U.S. into the Great Depression. In early 1930s, she lived in Western Kansas as a farmer’s wife through the Dust Bowl era, which wreaked havoc on farms and farm families. In April 1935—Easter Sunday—a severe dust storm hit. People stuffed sheets in the cracks of doors and windows, and wore kerchiefs over their face during church. Many farmers lost everything during that time.
By the time my grandmother had four children, the youngest only 6 years old in December 1941, the Pearl Harbor attack ushered the U.S. into the second World War. Although my grandfather Pete was too old to be drafted, he had to work in airplane factories four hours away, so their children were sent to live with grandparents during the war.
Eventually the world came back to a more normal existence. As a farm wife, my grandmother was accustomed to long hours at home in the kitchen. She was also the church pianist and adult Sunday School teacher. However, before she went to church on Sunday mornings, she would get up and bake pies and bread from scratch, and get ready for the Sunday dinner she would make when she returned from church.
But the hardships and hard work didn’t stop her from being a dedicated Christ follower. She was introduced to Pentecost as a teenager, and as a young married woman chose to follow the teachings of Pentecost.
Every year—for 50 years—Hazel taught Sunday School, and read her Bible cover to cover. It was her choice.
And her choices were what built her character.
Hazel had a large family, three sons and a daughter, and eventually 19 grandchildren. When Pete died of a heart attack at age 67, Hazel lived the rest of her life as a widow.
Through the years, my grandmother developed wise sayings that we fondly labeled, “Hazel’s Happy Household Hints.” She would say things like, “Hoe your own row,” which basically taught her family to mind their own business. And often you could hear Hazel tell someone, “God gave you a brain—now use it!,” and “Anything worth doing at all is worth doing well!,” which taught her family to strive for excellence.
Right now, my son is trying to get through his second year of medical school—struggling against great odds. Classwork is being done online, as with all students. And he is studying for the first of three exams given by National Board of Medical Examiners that he will take at the end of this school year. He and his fiancée have a late spring wedding planned—that may or may not happen now.
I think perhaps this difficult time in my son’s and his fiancée’s life is going to build a strong marriage. I’m praying that it does. I know many other young people are affected and stressed with events and recognitions they’ve had to sacrifice.
I have to think that the hardships we are living through now will help build our character, if we make the choice for the suffering to do that in us.
The apostle Paul summed up what I know my grandmother believed, and what we are all learning during these battles:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-15, ESV).
Hazel made a lot of choices that built her character. I hope I am making the same choices. And as we read this verse again, we are encouraged when we see that character builds hope. We can use an extra measure of hope right now!
Join me in making the choices that will produce character and hope. Open your heart to the love God is longing to pour into you during this challenging time.
DARLA KNOTH is resource development and content editor for AG Women. Darla’s mother, Peggy Musgrove, was AG National Women’s Ministries Director, 1994-1999. Peggy’s mother was Hazel Collins.