Two storms raged within just a few years, their destructive forces capsizing Andy Breaux’s career in the New Orleans housing market: Hurricane Katrina followed by the nation’s economic descent.
Before Katrina, Breaux and his wife, Brandon, were raising two young children and running a comfortable business together buying historic properties to renovate and resell.
After Katrina, three feet of water stood in their house, trees had collapsed on top of it, and the National Guard ordered folks to leave town.
They had no place to go. And no place to work.
“In one week, we lost our house and we lost our business. I was in a tailspin,” Breaux recalls.
A business partner on Daniel Island brought them to the Lowcountry. They would stay a few months, long enough to get their children, 2 and 5 years old at the time, settled away from the chaos back home.
It was 2005, before the housing market spiraled downward. Even when it became clear that they would not be returning to New Orleans soon, Breaux figured that surely he could find work in Charleston.
He embarked on a big commercial real estate deal. He would make it work. He had to.
He also had to raid their savings to pay for two houses with no income, two children, plus flying back and forth to New Orleans where his family — and his hope of returning home — remained.
Then, the rental market dropped; building expenses rose. After 15 years as a self-employed businessman, the big project he had been planning on for financial rescue looked frighteningly risky. He withdrew before it tanked.
His wife asked pointedly, “What’s the plan?”
He looked her in the eye. “I don’t know.”
It was the first time he had ever said that. Suffice it to say, Breaux is not a guy used to sitting around conceding defeat.
“My brain was like scrambled eggs,” he recalls. “I was scared. I was confused. I wasn’t being productive. I was trying to be a good husband and a good father. But I didn’t know what to do. My skill set was useless. And I didn’t know anybody here.”
A friend recommended St. Andrew’s Church. Desperate for help one Sunday morning, Breaux went to the church and found its small, historic building. Alone amid a few dozen people, tears streamed down his face with the fear and loss he could no longer keep inside.
The next Sunday he returned and followed the crowd to the church’s large ministry center. He sat amid 700 people packed in as a praise band served up a whole new style of worship for him.
Amid a crowd, he sat alone, sobbing again.
He prayed, “God would you fix this? Please put this all back the way it was.”
And he felt an answer, “I’ll fix it. But I won’t put it back the way it was.”
Something calmed the storm, as if he had found refuge from within. Or from above.
“Although it was really hard and painful and messy, something amazing was going on inside of me spiritually,” Andy recalls.
He brought his family the next Sunday and soon met Kurtz Smith, who oversees the St. Andrew’s men’s ministry. Smith invited him on an overnight hiking trip for guys in the church.
At night, sitting around a campfire, Breaux took a risk. He opened up enough to discuss his frightening situation — two kids, one wife, no job, no prospects.
Then he went on another, longer men’s hike. Call it a mountaintop moment.
“I learned more about myself and my spirituality and Christ than in my previous 43 years,” he recalls.
It was 2007, and he realized that real estate was not bouncing back soon. He would need to switch careers. He met a guy who worked in financial advising and thought it might be a good fit. He took a series of tests and landed a job.
He had been unemployed for two years.
At his new job, he found himself talking to co-workers about his struggle — and his faith — not something he had done before. His leather Bible sat on his desk, yellow Post-It notes marking favorite Scripture.
Two years later, the market fell off for the financial industry as well. “We were still struggling. How long do you hang on?” he wondered.
In his office, he heard: “It’s time.” Time? Time for what?
He called his wife, then he went home to pray. They knew what it was like for him to be unemployed. But they also believed. So Breaux chose to leave his job.
His boss told him he was crazy. Others agreed. And more than a few times, he wondered himself.
“But I knew what I heard, so I stepped off the edge,” he says.
He had some ideas for business ventures, “but it was like trying to grab smoke.”
Kurtz Smith called from church two agonizing weeks later. He knew a guy who needed someone to pack boxes for $12 an hour. Breaux took it. He wanted to stay busy.
Two months later, his wife asked him again, “What’s the plan?”
For the second time, Breaux admitted, “I’ve got nothing.”
“I was a sloppy mess,” he recalls. “I was faithful, and I knew what I’d heard. But for the first time I stepped outside of myself and saw what I looked like to everyone else.”
The next morning, a guy from church called. He needed help running day-to-day operations of his business, and through the church grapevine he had heard that Breaux needed work.
Today, Breaux is chief operating officer of American Benefit Services Inc., a national insurance and financial services marketing company.
At 49, he is still digging out financially. Their children are 13 and 9; his wife landed a job as a teaching assistant.
They insist that with faith, they will survive their lives’ storms.