By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer
Three unmarked graves and entry walls filled with photos are constant reminders of tragedy -- and of God's grace not only to endure it, but also to use it to minister to others. "I want to share His goodness and provision, not just the tragedy," Hazel Kinder said recently at her home in Paris, near Moberly.
Through the care and prayers of family and friends and the healing power of music, God brought her from despair to a concert and testimony ministry that reaches throughout Missouri and across state lines.
Hazel carries the recessive gene for the rare genetic disorder Nieman-Pick Type C. Although she only had a one-in-a-million chance of meeting and marrying a man who also carries the gene, her husband, Steve, does.
And even though each of their three sons had only a one-in-four chance of inheriting double-dominate genes for the disease, all three did. The boys died of pneumonia, a complication of the disease that shuts down the nervous system
The Kinders' oldest son, David, was diagnosed at about a year old. Hazel was already pregnant with their middle child, Paul. As David became progressively less able to function, Paul was diagnosed. All three boys developed normally until about 18 months, when symptoms began to appear.
To care for her children, Hazel learned to suction and respirate the boys and how to give them liquids through their nose. Caring for them became a 24-hour-a-day job. Although she had little time each day, she determined to read the Bible, pray and fast. "Every chance I got, I read Scripture to the boys," she said.
When David and Paul were young, the Kinders lived in New Hampshire because of Steve's work as a civil engineer. As Hazel concentrated on caring for her sons, church members and other Christians began caring for her.
Hazel prayed for someone to help with laundry and housecleaning. "I felt guilty, but I just couldn't keep up," she said. A woman soon volunteered to come by three to four times each week.
The family had had to move every six months. Then a person offered to let them stay in a house that met almost all their needs.
The nearest special-needs school was an hour away from their home. By the time the boys were ready and she could get them there, they were too tired to function. Hazel began to pray and the family took a short vacation. When they returned, they discovered the school closest to them had started a special-needs class.
One woman became the family's grocery-buyer. Another friend stopped by about twice a month with a bag of doughnuts and coffee just to pray with Hazel and encourage her.
Women of the church put together a "blue-day box" filled with small gifts. Whenever Hazel felt especially downhearted, she opened a gift. "What a really neat thing that was," she said.
And the ladies organized their Bible study around the nurse's visits to the Kinder home so that Hazel could participate.
God provided Hazel a way to focus on others, even as she dealt with her sons' illness. She witnessed to everyone she met, including doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. She talked with people whenever she could, often praying with them over the phone.
But as the illness took its toll, Kinder began to withdraw. "I really believed the boys would be healed," she said.
David died at 7 years of age. "I couldn't read the Bible and I blamed myself, particularly after David died," she said.
Even though she was still caring for Paul, Hazel often remembered David's death. God reminded her that she had given the boys to Jesus. "In the midst of the illness, God had asked if these are His boys," she explained. "At the time, I couldn't say yes. But later I went back to Him and said, 'Yes, they are Yours."
Paul died four years later, when Jonathan was just 11 months old. The family had moved back to the Paris area, where Steve built their home. "I didn't really remember much from Paul's death until a few months later. I poured my life into Jonathan," she said.
Jonathan died in 1998, when he was four and a half. Again, Hazel had believed that her youngest would be spared. Not only did he die, but because hospital personnel were unfamiliar with the family's struggles, they held Hazel at the hospital on suspicion of child abuse. The coroner and family physician cleared her.
"I can't tell you how I got through it," Hazel said. After the funeral, she withdrew. "I became kind of like a turtle. I would peek out but withdraw again."
Because an old cemetery already existed on the family's property, Missouri law allowed the family to bury the boys near it. "They don't have headstones yet," she said. "That's just too final."
She worked out in the expansive yard as much as she could each day to wear herself out enough to get a little sleep at night.
A few months later, her brother died unexpectedly, and Hazel had to call her sisters and help her mom with housecleaning. "That night I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown," she said.
She got into her Jacuzzi and started praying. Then she and Steve went outside and dangled their feet in their pond. "I was not well, but I knew I was on the upswing."
As she continued to struggle with depression and anxiety attacks, she began to write music. With a degree in music education, she started practicing piano and playing the guitar. "Words started to come - and melodies," she said.
God had given her one song of hope shortly before David died. Someone sent Hazel a copy of an anonymous poem, "A Tapestry of My Life." The poem, which Hazel later learned was written by B.M. Franklin, describes how God weaves the fabric of life. His people only see the fabric's underside, but God sees the beauty His weaving creates.
Hazel often read the poem to Paul. Then she started singing it to him. That became "Divine Weaver," the song that has become her signature.
One day before Jonathan died, Hazel prayed for help. "God, if you don't put wood in my furnace, I'm not going to burn," she said. When He asked what she wanted, she had to think about it.
Later she told Him, "For every tear I cried, I want 10 souls." God and Hazel talked back and forth for awhile and each time, "I kept upping the ante and ended up with 1,000 souls for every tear," she said.
"Pick Up the Pieces" is one of the first songs she wrote. "It was like giving birth. That song came from my soul."
The Christmas after Jonathan died, Steve asked Hazel for ideas for a gift. She asked for a karaoke machine to use to minister at a nearby nursing home. Instead, he bought her a new guitar, an amplifier and microphones. "It's time you shared your songs," he challenged.
At her first concert, she only sang one of her own compositions -- "Divine Weaver" -- and some traditional hymns.
"Then people started calling, but I only booked one each month to give me time to get over the emotional part of it," she said.
People began asking if a recording was available. Because she couldn't afford to record in Nashville, her husband agreed to find out what type equipment she would need and designed a studio at their home.
Then Hazel looked for musicians. Most of the Christians she approached didn't have time. So she checked out local honky-tonks or secular bars. "The drummer was born again, but the others weren't," she said. Hazel led a prayer time at each recording session, and the musicians donated their time and talent.
"It took 18 months to record because we had to do it on weekends," she said.
As she became stronger, she booked more and more concerts, usually including her testimony. Last year, she gave concerts nearly every weekend and three to four times during each week.
But the ministry isn't about concerts. She focuses on ministry. Often people approach her at each appearance. "When you are really sad, nobody really wants to be around you," Hazel said.
People see that she wants to be with them, to help them through the pain. "When people see they can trust me because of my testimony, they will talk," she said.
"I've been helped and I want to help," she added. "I always have had a heart for the lost. I gave out Bibles and witnessed. But I still asked God why after the boys got sick. Like a child, I asked why, why, why. And like most moms will do, God had to say, 'Because I said so.'"
Not only does she minister through concerts. Hazel makes a point of going places where people are. She often hangs out at Simple Pleasures, a Christian bookstore and gift shop in Moberly, just to be able to talk to folks who need a word. And it isn't unusual to receive calls and letters at home. Hazel will interrupt whatever she's doing to respond to a hurting individual.
Now she has turned her attention to assisting local musicians. She and Steve are building a theater just off I-70 at the Millersburg exit, where they hope to offer reasonably priced, family oriented entertainment and encouragement for budding talent. "I really love making people look good on stage," she said.
She loves helping people find the good in themselves and the good God wants for them. Her testimony and her love for her boys allow her to keep pointing others to Christ. (03-08-05)