Lost dignity. Lost hope.
The thoughts taunted the "thirty-something" couple as the economy began to wobble in 2007, eventually spiraling into the Great Recession. The two watched in alarm as their colorful life unraveled.
"The picture window was in the front and I walked by it anywhere I was going in the house," Keely Brown said, recalling her shock one afternoon as she looked outside. "My car was gone! There were black tire marks down my driveway and into the street, and I'm thinking, 'Somebody took my car in the middle of the day!' "
But the awful truth came when husband Brandon returned home at day's end, their entrepreneurial Amarillo, Texas business -- one they'd worked successfully to build -- was now in free-fall. Keely's new mint-green SUV hadn't been stolen, he told her. It had been repossessed.
Dignity and hope wavered.
"That's when it started to get scary for me," the college-educated mother of three said, her voice catching as she relived that moment. "I knew things were bad financially, but repo doesn't happen to people like me!
Little did she know even darker days were ahead. The couple's self-esteem and faith would be tested.
"You might get the water bill and pay that, but then not have the gas to make the water warm. It was one or the other," Keely said, recalling how without a constant paycheck, their home went dark. "We'd light candles and the kids would think it was fun, they were so little. It was cold without electricity and so we'd bundle up."
From the outside looking in, things appeared normal to most folks living in their neighborhood. Providentially, right next door was a distant older cousin and in the same block, a good friend who were aware of the struggles. Their kindnesses spoke volumes about loving your neighbor.
"He allowed us to fill up a couple of buckets a day from the hose, and plus I had milk jugs. That way I was able to flush toilets, things you don't think about. If your water doesn't work, it doesn't just mean you can't turn the water on," the mother of an infant, toddler and 4-year-old said, thinking back to the luxury of washing baby bottles or sticky faces and hands. "We went down the street at times to shower – my friend was very unconditional. When kids are little they all want to bathe together, it's a swimming party," Keely said, counting it as a blessing.