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Character Produces Hope

Reflecting on a century on enduring hardships.

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 ended 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 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 — on Easter — 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 half a century — Hazel taught Sunday School, and read her Bible cover to cover. It was her choice.

And her choices 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!” Such idioms 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.

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 believe the hardships we are living through now will help build our character, much as Jesus was perfected by suffering (Hebrews 2:10).

The apostle Paul summed up what I know my grandmother understood, 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 many wise decisions that built her character. I hope I am making the same choices.

Editor's note: Darla Knoth is resource development and content editor for AG Women. Darla’s mother, Peggy Musgrove, served as AG National Women’s Ministries director from 1994 to 1999. Peggy’s mother was Hazel Collins.

PHOTO: Hazel Smalley Collins as a child (top right).

Darla Knoth

Darla Knoth is is senior editor of Adult and Youth Resources, Editorial Services, at the Assemblies of God National Office.