It was a challenging year. An unprecedented year. A year of loss, isolation, uncertainty, but also discovery.
Twelve-plus months of disruption: a global pandemic, a heated national election and just when things seemed to be looking up, a February deep freeze and snowstorm that put Texas on an icy pause. The one constant in times like this is that God is always with us … ALL of us, not just pastors.
That’s why the TEXAN asked some everyday people to relate their experiences coping with the past year. These Christ-followers are husbands/wives, parents, business owners and friends—you know, people like those who used to sit next to you at church before services were streamed. They shared their tips for reliance in the hopes that their advice might help you, too.
Bridget Jones and her husband, Jonathan, opened a Chick-Fil-A restaurant in her hometown of Brownwood, Texas, in November 2020. Mark McNeill, of nearby Bangs, is a corporate executive who has a financial responsibility ministry at his church. Amanda Jouett is a mom, wife and attorney in College Station.
Read on for ways to maintain hope and optimism under the unique circumstances of the “longest year.”
Bridget Jones – business owner, mom, wife
Coggin Avenue Baptist Church, Brownwood
Think outside the box
Moving your family and opening a new restaurant in the middle of a pandemic is no picnic. Nothing has gone as I planned it, but God was there guiding me the whole time. He brought godly people to speak truth when I panicked and thought the world was falling apart. I learned to think outside of the box, because let’s face it: there’s no more box.
- Since the restaurant couldn’t have a traditional “grand opening” where we give out 100 gift cards, we decided to honor local teachers and school district personnel, choosing 100 at random to receive free Chick-Fil-A for a year. This time last year they were in the midst of trying to figure out how to help their students feel secure and not forgotten, let alone teaching classes online.
- When the big snow and frigid temperatures came in February, not everyone had electricity to make food. The restaurant had electricity, so our employees made sandwiches to give away. This served two purposes: 1) it allowed employees to get hours and not suffer financially and 2) it helped out our community.
- With everyone home literally all of the time now, it’s hard to find alone time. That’s important in my family. It’s when we rejuvenate. Sometimes I was so desperate for alone time with God that we’d drive two cars to the restaurant or to church—my husband and the kids in one car and me in the other, spilling my guts in prayer.
- Social distancing and masks can make it hard to feel connected to people, especially when every employee is new. I’ve never seen our team members without masks. It’s a barrier and I hate it! With COVID, most bonding opportunities were taken away. I had to become more purposeful in creating and maintaining meaningful relationships. I used my purse as a visual cue for team leaders to not interrupt with “business.” If it was on my shoulder, I was left alone to talk to employees or customers. Once I set the purse down, we were back to business.
This first year of business wasn’t what I imagined but I learned God loves working “outside of that box” … if you just let him.
Amanda Jouett – wife, mom, homeschooler, criminal defense attorney
Central Baptist Church, College Station
Respect others with Jesus’ love
This last year has been filled with a lot—the pandemic, an election, snow and freezing temperatures, and we even opened a dental practice for my husband. It has been difficult to navigate family situations and relationships with friends who disagree with our take on things.
At one point, I remember feeling angry at one of my friends who was on the opposite side of a debate. I realized that we are all coming from a different background and live in different situations, so our areas of focus and what’s important to us differ. We ended up setting boundaries on what we discussed and remained close friends.
This year has given me the opportunity to talk to my kids about putting others above themselves and doing things that are uncomfortable in order to show Jesus’ love to others. It’s easy in our minds to think that those who don’t agree with us are misinformed or acting out of fear, but that may not be the case at all. We never know what’s going on in the lives of others or what motivates their decisions. Regardless of where someone stands on an issue, he or she is a person who is loved by God.
Remember God provides, we don’t
As the wife of a small business owner, I was once again reminded that it is God who provides, not my husband or his business. We opened a brand-new dental practice in January 2020, then COVID hit. We know God’s timing was perfect, but it made no sense to us why God would allow the office to shut down so soon after it opened and there was so much overhead to pay.
Despite the practice being closed for a month, no one was laid off on the team. It came to a point when we knew that the last check we wrote would bring the bank account down to zero. Our application for the PPP loan came through right before the very last check was written! It seems God always waits until the last minute to increase our faith. When we reopened, we made up for the month we were closed. That can only be attributed to God.
Mark McNeill – CPA, financial security consultant, husband, father
Coggin Avenue Baptist Church, Brownwood
Set up an emergency fund
People in the last year have wanted to talk more about money and how to manage it than in the past. I feel that money is there for the glory of God, so the first thing I tell anyone is that an emergency fund is critical. It is the cornerstone of your financial stronghold. Those who had it called to say “thank you” for the advice.
Start out with an automatic deposit for every payday to accumulate $1,000 and let it keep growing to three months of living expenses. A good way to jumpstart it is with your tax refund. Such a fund will turn an emergency into an inconvenience.
Recognize debt is servitude
During 2020, most people weren’t worried about being able to put food on the table. They were worried about not being able to pay their debts. Proverbs 22:7 gives us good advice: the borrower becomes “the lender’s slave.” This means, don’t live beyond your means.
We all know credit card debt is dumb. Just don’t go there. Don’t get a mortgage more than 2.5 times your annual income or car loans totaling more than three months of your income.
Make an aggressive plan to pay off your debt by a certain date and put that plan into action.
Give to those in need
We must be prepared to bond together when another “once in a lifetime” event comes around again … and it will! God tells us to “behold a brother in need” (1 John 3:17), so prepare for that. Set up another account for future charity and put money in the account monthly. God will make opportunities available to you.
It’s amazing to see people faithfully helping others in need. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this blessing.
–Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.