Hi friends! This month’s Her:Stories series will be highlighting friendship and I could think of no better example of tried and true friendship than that of my four very best friends. This week I got together with my gals and we discussed our 16 year love affair–a friendship we believe was forged in the heart of God as a gift to us all. Allow me to introduce you to my sister-friends, my soulmates, or as we affectionately call ourselves, “The Tree”.
This is Us
I’ve asked each of the gals to share a bit about themselves before we dive into our conversation and here’s what they had to say:
Jasmine enjoys baking and yoga. She works in Research at a NY teaching hospital. She has a degree in Psychology and is a brilliant thinker, leader and, in my opinion, all-around angel. She’s also single and I will screen all applicants.
Shelly is an HR specialist with a degree in Communication who has a great affinity for fitness. She enjoys spending time with her family and loved ones. Shelly brings the fun to every group gathering; she is all heart!
Sara is a teacher (an extraordinary one) who teaches special-needs early education. She is a sucker for a high-heeled pump and can always be found rocking sky-high stilettos. She is undoubtedly one of the smartest (degrees for days) and most multi-talented people I know–this gal never ceases to amaze! (Also, she can hit every high note ever). Sara is also single…and again, applications must go through me.
Meet July :
July is an island girl who loves God with all her heart. She’s married to her wonderful husband, Chris. She can’t live without her sweets and pastries. Spending time with her family is her favorite thing to do. She believes gratitude is the key to life—it will always make you happy. July has completed her undergrad in Speech Pathology.
and this is me, Karen Cecilia :
My name is Karen Cecilia and I am a daughter, a sister, a tía, and a girl with a passion to build church. I am currently interning at the best church in the world, Hillsong Church in NYC. I’m a 1 on the enneagram and it’s crazy accurate! I enjoy spending time with my family and my friends. I love to write and this is my blog, welcome!
Shelly, Sara, Jasmine, July and I met about 16 years ago at a small church in the Bronx. We were blissfully naive teens and early-twenty-somethings at the time; we spent every waking moment together. Back then people called us the Ya-ya Sisters or the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants; eventually we became known simply as “The Girls”. We’ve grown up together and experienced a lot of life together since then. Nowadays, life is very different for us gals. We’ve all, in many ways, come into our own. We are wives, professionals, care-takers, and adventurers. And this is our story.
Backstory: The Meet-Cute
I asked the girls to share stories of the first time we met each other. Remembering this was a whole lot harder and funnier than we thought…
Karen: I was 18 when I got to TC (our church at the time). I remember my family was still pretty new to the church and I was praying to make friends. One Friday at the end of service, Jasmine approached me and asked me if I wanted to join the youth for an after-service hang they were having. The rest is history! I don’t actually remember meeting you, Shells and Jules. You just kind of appeared and were part of my life. The first time I met Sara was at your 18th birthday dinner, Jasmine invited me to come and just like that, our friendship began.
Shelly: I remember meeting Karen in fall-wear and I met July in a polo shirt, so that was summertime.
We had some VERY questionable fashion choices...
Sara: I remember Karen was at my 18th birthday. That was the first time I ever met her.
Karen: Yeah, I remember being invited and I was like, I don’t even know this girl!
Jasmine: 16 years…I actually remember there’s a bad story to the day we met, Karen. Somebody wanted to steal you from me and I was like NO! She’s going to be my friend!
Karen: Ha, I don’t know this story!
Jasmine: Yeah, we were going to have the hang out and I had my eye on her (Karen) and I knew I wanted to invite her. I felt it and I knew I had to invite her.
Shelly: I remember I think someone had already met Karen, and I knew of you, and I remember you walking down the side of the church with your blue blazer, your cowboy boots and a white polo shirt. And I was like who is this…
Again...VERY questionable fashion choices...
…and Sharon (Jasmine and Shelly’s sister) said that you two were already friends. I remember meeting you and obviously we fell in love. I remember July talking in the hall in church, her just talking to me like we had known each other forever and I was like excuse me? But she was the best! I don’t remember Sara specifically, but I remember meeting her and having a sleepover immediately. That’s what I remember!
Sara: I don’t remember!
Jasmine: I remember meeting each and every one of you. I remember seeing Sara in church and she was like “that girl” and I always wanted to say hi, and one day it did and since then we’ve always been friends. I remember July coming to church with a friend and I was an usher and I introduced myself. I knew I wanted to befriend her and I always wanted to talk to her. Ironically, Shelly met July before me when they were talking in the hallway and then we became friends. And Shelly…I don’t remember (*sister joke: Jasmine and Shelly are sisters).
July: I remember I’d just moved from Manhattan to the Bronx and my mom visited the church and for a few weeks she kept telling me that I should go and visit the church myself. I was in a big transition in my life and it was a time of a new beginning. I remember going to the church and I told God, “I’m not here for people, but if you agree to give me friends, I need you to bring them to me. I don’t want to go look for them, I want you to bring them and I’ll know that you’ve chosen those friends for me.” I remember Jazzy came to me and she asked me if I wanted to join the Kids Ministry. I don’t remember much, but I remember meeting Shelly and we started to talk. Then we met Karen and then we were inseparable! It was very special. It flowed very naturally, like a chain reaction.
The Good Ol’ Days
Karen: Let’s take a walk down memory lane and I need help because my memory is terrible…
Shells: Sara is a calendar! She remembers everything!
Karen: True! What are some stories you remember from the good ol’ days? For me, I remember our Tuesday prayers that we started to do weekly after that youth retreat that was explosive for us. Do you remember that? I also remember always packing into our friend, Mildred’s, tiny car and going out to eat or hang out and we’d have to sit on each other’s laps because we didn’t all fit.
Shells: Do you remember that time we got pulled over and we were about to get a ticket?
Karen: Yeah! And we didn’t get the ticket because Mildred flirted with the cops and we laughed our way out if it!
Shells: Mildred’s laugh was the best…
Karen: Do you remember all the weddings we were in?! We were like a built-in bridesmaids crew!
Everyone (in unison): Oh my gosh!!!
Karen: We were in about four weddings either all together or most of us!
Jasmine: And still more to come!
The Secret Special Sauce
Karen: So we’ve been friends for 16 years now. We’ve been through it all together. So my question to you guys is, what makes our friendship so special?
Jules: For me, I totally believe, 100% that our friendship was designed by God. When you allow God to place people in your life, it makes all the difference because that means it’s the people that are meant to be in your life. I can say, it doesn’t matter how far we are from each other–I moved to DR for two years and came back; it doesn’t matter how our lives have changed–we’ve grown up; it doesn’t matter if we don’t talk everyday…when we get together its as if we were never apart. To me that makes it special, because it’s not a short-term relationship, it’s a long-term relationship. It’s meant to be forever, like sisters.
When you allow God to place people in your life, it makes all the difference.Jules
Shelly: I remember one time in prayer that someone told us that we were specifically meant to be friends. But for me, even more than that is the ability for us to bounce back. We’ve all had very transitional phases. We’ve grown up. I remember this one particular time where we went a long time without spending time together and we’d spoken, but not much. Not that the tensions were high, but it was a weird time for us and I remember us having a conversation about it and saying this is what this is–this is growing up, this is going to happen. We were all like, you’re right! And we gave each other permission to kind of be where we were. We cared enough about each other to say its okay if you don’t have time right now. That’s okay. I remember us being able, and even now, we’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with saying “I haven’t heard from you” and not taking it personally that we are not available all the time.
…We gave each other permission to kind of be where we were.Shells
Karen: Absolutely. Jazzy, what about you?
Jazz: I’ve been thinking about this because this is a question I’ve never really asked myself. I believe there’s certain things that we have in common and one of the main things was that we were praying for friendship. We were asking God for genuine friendship and for him to bring those people in our lives…and not just anyone. I believe that’s why our friendship is the way it is. I also think there are other things that exists among us. When we first met, our heart, our passion for God, to love and serve him, was something that we all shared. Also something about us is that as we’ve gone through so many things over the years, in each process there was acceptance. I could come to Karen, I could come to Jules, to Sara, to Shelly and I could show who I am and they wouldn’t turn away. The mere fact that I can show you who I am and you’re not going to run away…I feel like there was always this thing that no matter what, we were present, there was acceptance, love and grace from each of us.
Karen: Wow…I agree completely.
Sara: I could say, we went through a lot of different phases. We knew that our friendship would see different stages and we wouldn’t always be present together. Shelly was the first to move away to Connecticut, July got married and moved to DR. There’s been a lot of different things–jobs, problems, relationships, the works–but through it all we always know we can count on each other and there was never any shame no matter what we were going through.
…Through it all we always know we can count on each other and there was never any shame no matter what we were going through.Sara
Karen: Very true. Mine is similar to what Shelly said. I think we’ve been super resilient. In all the things that we’ve gone through over the years. It’s been a lot. We’ve experienced a lot of transitions and phases even within our own selves, our own personalities–we’ve grown up. Our friendship has been super resilient through all of it.
What I’ve noticed about you girls is you have unconditional love.Kay’s Mom
Navigating Bumps in the Road
Karen: So we’ve been talking about what’s been special about our relationship and the different phases in our relationship. We’ve talked about the highs, but we’ve also experienced lows. Moments when there’s fighting between us or moments when we wanted to strangle each other. How have we stayed bound together over the years and how have we cared for our friendship?
Shelly: OH! Can I answer?! I remember there being differences and us going from having really long silences to snappy text messages. I remember that being a big thing, the “OMG she just texted me this way!” I can honestly say none of us have ever been nasty, but I remember us hitting some walls and being like what the heck do we do with this? I remember there being, in all honesty, times when some of us were closer to one than the other and that causing strife. It’s funny because when you look at the timeline, we were really young and we were still emotionally developing. But I think that the intention of our friendship was always good and there was always in this weird way a bigger picture. I don’t think our friendships were ever in question, like “this is the end of it.” That was never a thing. I guess we learned how to deal with expectations.
Shells: We had a lot of unvoiced expectations and as we grew, we learned how to adjust those expectations or to speak up about the things we’re not okay with. We learned how to talk through what doesn’t work for us. I think God has given us the grace to learn how to deal with those rough patches.
We had a lot of unvoiced expectations and as we grew, we learned how to adjust those expectations or to speak up about the things we’re not okay with.Shells
Jules: I remember years ago when we used to go to Kay’s house all the time. I remember being in the living room with Kay’s mom and we were talking about our friendship and she said to me, “You know, as you guys get older and once you start having kids and start getting married, your life is going to change. Your friendship is going to change. It’s not going to be the same.” And I remember feeling a panic and saying, “No that’s not going to happen! Thats never going to happen. I don’t believe that!” But guess what? It did happen. Over the years we moved to different churches, we started careers and our lives started getting so busy that there were no more 4-way conference calls and we didn’t get to see each other all the time. I think we all went through that emotional moment realizing that things were changing because we now have responsibilities and things to do. We went through a lot, but I’m grateful that through the years we have been consistent with our relationship. We always come back to each other. When I moved to DR it was hard for me…
Shelly: …that was a big one.
Jules: I remember one day, it was really hard for me and I didn’t want to say anything, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I remember breaking down in my room and telling my husband that I miss having my friends over, I miss having them with me and having that part of me. That part of my life was missing and it was hard. And Chris (husband) told me, “But I’m your family!” and I said, “But they’re my family too! I miss that part of my life!” One of the things I’m grateful for in moving back to New York is that I can see you guys more and at least talk more often. I’m grateful for that.
Jasmine: So, I have a confession…
Karen: …oh, Jasmine’s confessions. This is my favorite!
Jasmine: After 16 years I must confess… One of the reasons that when I get mad at any of you, I can continue to be your friend is because I can actually call one of the other girls and say “I’m so mad at her right now! Are you mad at her too?”
Jasmine: ….and it kind of helps!
Karen: Haha, we have ALL done that! We have 100% all done that!
Shelly: Group chats!
Jasmine: And usually someone else is also mad at that one. And I don’t want to be mad, so I need to know if I’m right or I’m wrong from a neutral party. I think that helps to keep the peace.
Jules: Do you remember when we went to Virginia one time? I loved those trips to Virginia with Jasmine’s family. One time we were sitting outside of this store and Kay, you had shared something with me. One of the things that we’ve done is we don’t share each others secrets. I think that’s one of the keys to a healthy relationship. No matter how close we are, we don’t just share things that we tell each other privately. That’s one of the beautiful things that we have, we respect each other and no matter how much we trust each other, we don’t go around and share our secrets.
Kay: That’s so great and that was actually my next question. What are some things that we have held to to keep this friendship healthy?
Jazz: Wait…I have a question. What does Sara think about our fights and stuff?
Sara: (laughs) Yeah like what July said, I don’t really like that so much because I’m usually the one who doesn’t know the information! But I think it’s the fact that we all have trust and we respect that. At the same time, each of us had the person that we would always get into it with. But, I think consistency is key even if we have to push to make it happen. It’s that persistence to keep doing it and making it happen and showing that we want to continue this friendship and maintain that relationship.
One of the keys in our friendship is that we have always been there for each other. No matter what we need to do or how we need to do it. We don’t question, we just do it and we’re there for each other.Jules
Jules: That has been our thing since day one. We have always been protective of each other. When I got sick and had surgery, you guys were not selfish about your time. You were working and you guys took shifts sleeping over my house to take care of me so my mom wouldn’t have to struggle. Giving me my meds…you did that for a week. I drove Shelly crazy about cleaning and she was there and she didn’t get angry at me and I appreciate that. In a friendship you can’t be selfish and you need to know how to support and protect your friends. If we call each other and something is happening, we don’t question it we just go and we’re there for each other. We help each other. That’s beautiful.
Shells: When we were able to, we celebrated EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING! For years we did this. Every birthday was something, every accomplishment was something.
Karen: Yes! We had two-part birthday celebrations.
Shelly: Yes, because one was never good enough. We planned things and always followed through. We always based it off of what the person would enjoy. We were never selfish. And the same goes back to what Jasmine was saying. I remember having side conversations with almost everybody, but it was never gossip. It was always like I feel hurt by this and I don’t know what to do with this. I know I can vouch for all of us, it was always How can I fix this? and never about tearing each other down.
Jules: I think we are so comfortable with each other that we can fully be ourselves. There is no shame in sharing things. We don’t judge each other. It’s: how can I help? What do you need?
Girls Will be Girls
Karen: So good. We’ll wrap up soon, but let’s do something fun and quick. Let’s throw out some random fun facts. What are some things that are “just us” that people would not know what we’re talking about?
Jasmine: Panty-time was essential to our friendship…
Karen: YES IT WAS. If we said it, we knew it needed to happen right away.
Backstory: “Panty-time”- there was a time that we went to visit July and she was in the throes of laundry. As she folded her unmentionables we had a much needed and unplanned heart-to-heart conversation. Since then we dubbed those moments, panty-time. If ever we say we need panty-time that means we need time together for heart-to-heart girl time. Think of it like the Bat-Signal.Weird things we say #9138
Jules: Remember the sleepovers? You had them like every week and my mom would never let me go and I would call you guys and cry.
Shelly: Remember me thinking I found my husband every other week?
Karen: (laughs) Same! We were kind of dramatic, huh?
Shelly: Remember the photoshoots with the cannon camera?
Jasmine: I remember our nights in the city, feeling like celebrities.
Shelly: Remember that time we met Mark Consuelos and someone took a picture of me with him but they didn’t actually take the picture so I never had proof.
“I told July that you guys are the best clan that I’ve ever known. There is no distance, no Corona, nothing that will ever separate you. (laughs). God bless you all! The best gang I know. Inseparable!”Arelys, July’s sis-in-law
July: Do you remember that Jasmine and Karen were giving counseling in youth group to this one person and Jasmine couldn’t keep from laughing?
Karen: We were NOT qualified to be giving counseling! We were just out here in these streets, doing our best!
Jasmine: I had to run out of there!
Jasmine: We must say, we’ve gone through our fair share of crushes, heartache and heartbreak.
Shelly: Real ones…
Karen: Oh yeah! So many. What have we learned walking through heartbreak together?
Jasmine: It’s the best cure to have someone who at the end of the day will share in all of your sorrow and all of your joy.
Shelly: I have had really, really ugly moments when I cry so bad. I can remember always being able to come to someone and being told it’s okay to feel how I feel. Even if it doesn’t make sense. I remember being on the phone with July from Connecticut in the middle of the night and her ministering to me. I remember feeling so disconnected from God and calling Karen and again, she literally ministered to me. It was never judging. I remember Sara being so sweet to me and always telling me its going to be ok.
Karen: One thing we did really well, we didn’t let relationships with guys get in-between us. Even if it was difficult and sometimes it was VERY difficult. Especially in relationships we didn’t agree with. We would be respectful to those partners even if we didn’t like them. That was the same across the board for all of us. We didn’t allow those things to get in-between and we respected each other enough to make our own decisions and make our own mistakes and not be judgmental. I think we learned to do that really well, even with the dumb boys (there were many).
Jasmine: I think that’s been the challenge in our friendship. Even if I have a differing thought or opinion, we don’t impose that on each other.
July: One of the things that Jazz always says is to be careful what we say to each other to not influence one way or the other and to allow us to go through our journey. If you asked for advice, I’ll give it, but I still will respect your decision and I’m still going to be here even if it goes wrong and you go through pain and brokenness. I’m still going to be here for you. That’s always been our thing. We may not agree with the things we do, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be here when you need me.
If you asked for advice, I’ll give it, but I still will respect your decision and I’m still going to be here even if it goes wrong and you go through pain and brokenness. I’m still going to be here for you.Jules
Shelly: Also, we never act weird after not seeing each other for a long time. It’s always so refreshing. We always feel wanted. I want to shout out Sara for always having that extra detail whenever she sees us! Theres always something that she has. Flowers, a little gift…
Karen: …she’s the most thoughtful person I know!
Shells: She’s so romantic for no reason! (laughs) I think that everyone has that gift in their own way of how to make the others feel okay.
Jasmine: We challenge each other to grow! I can highlight a quality in each and every one of us that we have that makes us want to grow. Things that each of us have that we can value. Different things in each other that as we grow and transform, it makes all of us grow.
Karen: So my ladies. Any closing thoughts on friendship?
Jasmine: It takes work.
Jules: Amazing friendships can totally make your life better.
Karen: Yeah, my life wouldn’t be the same without you guys. I couldn’t imagine it without you.
Jules: Me neither, I can totally say that.
Shelly: It does take work. Seasonal things is something different, but we’ve always known, even if we forget sometimes, that our friendship isn’t seasonal. So we know we have to put in some effort. We know to check on each other.
Jasmine: Yes it’s a natural thing. It’s work, but it’s a natural thing that just flows. It’s not like I HAVE to do this or I HAVE to call her. It’s more like, I feel the absence of someone, or they come to my mind and I just know that I have to reach out. It’s that connection.
My life wouldn’t be the same without you guys. I couldn’t imagine it without you.Kay