When I decided to begin the series, A Portrait of Sisterhood, I knew the first love story I needed to share was Rachel and Rhonda’s. I work, and do life, with these two beauties. Their friendship has spanned decades, has walked through joyous mornings and the darkest nights, only to become stronger for of it. They have vibrant marriages and some of the most wonderful children you could ever meet. Rhonda has four girls, Rachel has two sons (plus a third in the adoption process), and the joy in these kids is palpable. They are such a testament to the way their parents love them.
Their story is the perfect way to launch this series. To know Rachel and Rhonda is to love them, like a lot. These two love well, laugh hard and when you’re around them it feels like home. They possess courageous spirits, they love so deep, and they embody the heart of sisterhood. I know you’re going to love them as much as I do.
A Portrait Of Sisterhood: Rachel and Rhonda
Okay ladies, what was your first impression of each other?
Rachel: When I was 16 years old my boyfriend asked me to go pick up his best friend’s girlfriend from the airport. I had never met her and all I could think was I don’t know how I feel about this. But I picked her up and we went to Taco Bell. Our first conversation ever was about how disgusting Taco Bell truly is. It bonded us together immediately. We laughed the entire two hour ride home. By the time she got out of the car I knew I loved her.
Rhonda: She was one of the people you meet and right away you feel safe and comfortable. You don’t really have to think about it, it just happens. That was us from the very beginning.
Since a lot of people reading this don’t know you ladies personally, tell me which celebrity or character the other reminds you of.
Rhonda: Easy. Angelina Jolie is one of the most beautiful women on earth and I love her heart for adoption. I always think that Andy and Rachel are like the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of our community.
Rachel: Okay, I think Rhonda is like Cinderella. In the new movie there is a part where Cinderella’s mom says, “You have more kindness in your little finger than most people have in their whole body.” I have never known a moment, even in the hardest of times, where Rhonda was not kind. Life could be going crazy around her, maybe someone is being anything but kind, but she still chooses kindness. She exudes love.
Tell me a favorite memory of your friendship.
Rachel: When I was 18 we both went on a trip to India. I was really sick. There were a couple of times I thought I was going to die. I was in the hospital and… well how graphic do you want me to be?
I love the grit. Be as graphic as you want.
Rachel: Okay. I was in the hospital and so sick. They gave me a colonoscopy but didn’t put me under. Then they needed a stool sample…
Rhonda: I saw the inside of her.
Rachel: Yeah. That’s true. They needed a stool sample and I couldn’t do it because I was so sick. She literally picked it up…
Rhonda: I grabbed it with my bare hands. I was like we need that! We need it!!
Rachel: Yep. They needed to test it. So she did what I couldn’t do. And the whole time I was in the hospital she never left my side. Ever.
Rhonda do you have another memory to share?
Rhonda: There are so many but that story emphasizes a place where you can be raw and you can be vulnerable and you can be broken but you can still be safe. When everything is falling apart but that person reminds you who you are and doesn’t leave. I feel like that’s the way our entire friendship has been. We can call each other and be really real in the moment and when one of us is weak the other one is strong. And when we’re both weak we cry out to God together. There are so many times that I’ve thought, thank God I get to share that with Rachel. Because just getting it out and knowing she’s praying makes the weight dissipate. We have gone to hell and back together many times, but we have also celebrated the victories. When you’ve been in the pit together, the mountain tops are more beautiful. I’m always inspired. I feel like when Rachel is attacked she comes back with her best material. There are so many times that I have been in awe of her.
One of my favorite stories about Rachel is from several years ago. She was having the hardest time when they were living in Michigan, it was terrible. I think it was the lowest she’s ever been. She was driving down the street in the middle of winter and saw a homeless woman on the side of the road with no boots. She was wearing her favorite boots so she pulled over, gave the homeless woman her boots, and walked back to her car through the snow,wearing only socks, and drove away. That’s who she is. That’s what comes out of her at the lowest points.
Rachel you have two sons who were adopted from South Korea, and now you’re in the process of adopting your third son. Each process has been long and incredibly difficult, how has Rhonda helped to carry you through?
Rachel: Ahhh. I’m going to cry. Okay. With my first son, Tysen, it was really hard, and her prayer and support helped get me through. But with our second son, Pax, there were so many times I felt like I couldn’t come to work, I felt like I couldn’t do anything because there was a constant battle. We didn’t even know for sure that he was going to come in the end. We had fought for this child for years and the thought of him never being home with us was too overwhelming.
One day our adoption agency called and said that the officials on the Korean side were calling everyone they could possibly find in country, who might be connected to our son, to see if they wanted him. This was two years into our process with him and I had no idea it was even a possibility. I got off the phone and I remember thinking, this must be what a miscarriage feels like. Am I losing a child right now? I called Rhonda right away, I couldn’t even talk I just burst into tears. She stayed on the phone, and let me cry. I even went in the bathroom and threw up. When I came back she was waiting on the phone for me. After it was all done, she was still there.
And that’s just one example of the three years we spent fighting for our son and Rhonda was always right there with me. I would not have made it through without her.
Rhonda: I was actually overdue pregnant with my youngest while Rachel was in Korea waiting to find out if they would be able to bring Pax home. It was almost like my body wouldn’t go into labor until there was a breakthrough with Pax.
Rachel: She told me, “I will not go into labor until Pax is yours.” I kept telling her that it could be weeks. I almost lied to her and told her we had him so she would go into labor. But then we really did get him and the first thing I did was call Rhonda and tell her she could go into labor now. And she did.
Rhonda: I did. I had Wren immediately.
Rhonda your third daughter, Amiah, has special needs. How has Rachel helped to carry you through the challenges that have come as a result?
Rhonda: The day I found out that something was wrong with my baby, the first ultrasound where they knew there was a problem, I was alone. My husband was teaching, I couldn’t get ahold of him immediately. So I called Rachel. At that point they were saying she most likely had Down Syndrome, and when I told Rachel she was ecstatic. She raved about how they are the most precious and sweet children. Her opinion and perspective was what I needed to hear and it comforted my heart so deeply. She was right and she spoke what I knew in my heart to be true.
Then throughout the whole process of my pregnancy with Amiah and her actual diagnosis of Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, Rachel walked with me. Neither of us had spent much time around the special needs community, we didn’t have family members or close friends with special needs. We had compassion but not experience. Then suddenly our eyes were opened to an entire vibrant world we hadn’t realized was so beautiful, all thanks to Amiah. Together we gained a heart for this community and when I felt like I was supposed to start a special needs ministry at our church, Rachel came with me to help. She just came. Not because she had to. Because she wanted to.
Tell me about a time that your friendship was put to the test, how did you walk through that?
Rhonda: We haven’t had any major conflicts, but there has been distance when our lives have taken us to different places. Sometimes physical distance can create distance in a friendship but there is something about our friendship that has kept us tight knit. We have never drifted apart even when we’ve lived far from each other.
But we have said things to each other that are really really honest, really risky, and we can get away with it. I can say things to her that no one else can and she can say things to me that others wouldn’t.
Rachel: Even when there was physical distance, we always made a way to get plane tickets or to call or text regularly. We make each other a priority.
Rhonda: And you know that call you need to make when you’re in the depths of despair? We have always known we can make that call to each other no matter what. We don’t have to walk that struggle alone.
So, what does sisterhood mean to you?
Rachel: I have walked through a lot of struggles in my relationships with women in the past several years. Those difficult relationships have made me want to be even more of a true friend to the women in my life. I want to protect them. I want to protect their marriages. I want to protect their children. There are so many terrible things that happen in our world between women, how we treat each other, how we compare ourselves, how we compete, and on and on, so when I have a friend in my life I want to treat her with the deepest love and most faithful friendship.
Rhonda: I love people. I can’t make it without sisterhood. I won’t make it. If I’m in a situation for too long where true sisterhood and real relationship don’t exist, something inside of me starts to die. I need those deep connections and those safe places. And I need to be that for other people too. I actually get homesick if I’m in a situation for too long without that. It doesn’t feel like home anymore. So often we hear people talk about their loneliness and it breaks my heart. I know that sisterhood is one of God’s greatest provisions for us as women, to combat loneliness, but we have to choose it.
You are both part of a movement within our ministry called Brave Love. Is there anything you want to share in regards to your passion for this movement?
Rhonda: Brave Love is sisterhood. It makes sure to chase down the coldest hearts and says that no heart is too hard to go after, to love, to pursue. Brave Love risks everything and allows vulnerability and brokenness. It’s how we were created to love as women. But so many of us are wounded and hurt from past relationships. Brave Love challenges you to fight for sisterhood even when you feel too weak.
What would you say to women who feel so hurt by past friendships that they no longer want to pursue sisterhood?
Rhonda: There is no breakthrough without sisterhood. To heal a heart hurt by sisterhood we need each other. If we give up altogether then we miss a whole aspect of what we need, of what God has provided for us. It’s a risk to put yourself out there after being hurt, but it is how you will find healing.
Rachel: I also think it’s an opportunity every time you walk into a room and feel uncomfortable, wonder what she is thinking about you, and your insecurities rush in. You can run or you can choose Brave Love, choose sisterhood. If you see past the outer appearance of a situation and search for the true heart of a woman you have an opportunity to break down walls and to fight for friendship.
Rhonda: Yeah, I was thinking how as women we are life bringers. We get to bring life to each other. There is life in our relationships but that also means we have the power to bring death. After experiencing that difficult side of sisterhood, it can be scary to open yourself back up again but that part of God’s imprint on us, to give life, is huge. We need each other, we need to lean in. It’s worth it to step out and try again. It’s worth the risk.