Julie Rodriguez and Diana Navarro, both 30, met 8 years ago over a conversation about their hair when they both worked for a crisis hotline in New York City. Though they didn't know each other well, Diana asked Julie what hair products she used. "Since we're Puerto Rican, our hair tends to frizz up," explains Diana. 'I noticed Julie had nice hair, so I hoped she could offer some new solution."
During that conversation, the women discovered several things in common besides hair woes: Both were single and in their late twenties, both had a degree in psychology, and both thought their workplace was poorly run. Since they seemed to hit it off, they exchanged phone numbers so they could socialize outside of work.
Several months later, Diana finally called Julie, and they ended up talking for five hours. It was then they discovered even more common ground-frustrations with church, uncertainty about their faith, and thoughts on how to improve their workplace. "It was incredible," says Diana. "Even after five hours, it was difficult to hang up because we had so much to talk about."
"That's the problem," says Julie, laughing. "That set the precedent for the rest of our relationship."
Coincidentally, they began to be scheduled to work together a lot after that. While there, they'd discuss strategies to beat the burnout so common in crisis hotline work. They both believed individual responsibility, humor and play, and a pleasing environment were keys to a successful workplace.
"We thought our ideas were fairly common sense," says Julie. "But everyone seemed intrigued by them, so we finally started writing them down." They earned the nickname "The Memo Women" as they circulated their ideas at work. Julie and Diana even called a few meetings with their supervisors to share their brainstorms.
When Julie and Diana found themselves saying, "If we ran a business, we'd do it this way," they began to birth plans for their own company.
Simultaneous to their venture into the business world, Julie and Diana also began a spiritual journey together.
"I was raised in a normally religious home," says Julie. "We attended church only on Easter and Christmas." But Julie's mom became a Christian when Julie was 14, and insisted she attended church with her every week after that.
"I told my mom, 'I know my rights. When I turn 18, you can't force me to go to church with you anymore." She made good on her words.
Diana was raised in the Bronx by a mom who dragged Diana to church seven days a week. "I began to resent Christianity as I got older. When I got to my teen years, I walked away from it all.'
So when they first met, Julie considered herself a nominal Christian and Diana was an agnostic. Spurred by their common uncertainty, they searched for answers together.
Both had read Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's book Dianetics. They were drawn to the way Hubbard's organization was run-with well presented classes and high-profile, highly committed followers. "We found Scientologists to be more faithful to their beliefs than many of the Christians we'd known,' says Diana. But month's after they'd started considering themselves Scientologists, they attended one of Hubbard's conferences together- "We also went to meet guys!," confesses Julie-and they were actually turned off by the same devotion that had initially intrigued them.
Next, they decided to try witchcraft. Julie and Diana visited psychics, chanted, cast spells, and spent countless dollars on powders, oils, herbs, candles, and other paraphernalia. They'd even compete with each other to see who could chant the longest on any given day. For hours on end they'd repeat "prayers," list requests to certain saints, light candles, and give offerings of food or flowers.
"Some of it seemed very romantic-going to the ocean and tossing in flowers or lighting candles at midnight," says Julie. "But God isn't in any of that."
That truth kept nagging at Julie, who'd never completely abandoned the Christian beliefs of her childhood. She'd justify the chanting by telling herself she wasn't using Satan's name. I'd actually end my chants with the words, 'In Jesus' name," she says. "I'd even open my Bible on occasion during my chanting-but verses about not serving more than one God, kept leaping out at me."
So after several months, Julie told Diana she had to stop chanting. Amazingly enough, Diana agreed. "Looking back, I realize we knew that what we were doing was wrong, says Julie. "We were such desperate souls, looking for something in all the wrong places."
Stumped by their fruitless searching, Diana and Julia let spiritual matters rest. They knew something was missing, but both were hung up on returning to church, a place they associated with judgmentalism instead of closeness to God.
Not long after, Diana "happened" to pick up a copy of a Christian fiction book. It resonated with all the church's teaching about the Rapture she'd received as a young girl. Coincidentally, around that time, Julie had a disturbing dream about the Rapture, in which her parents went to heaven-but she didn't.
"The dream was so powerful that I told Diana we needed to reconsider Christianity and give our lives to God," says Julie. All the searching and thoughts about eternity had finally softened Diana's heart. "I realized I'd been so pompous, so proud. When Julie said these things to me, I finally prayed for God's forgiveness for wandering so far from him."
With newfound faith in Christ, Julie and Diana sought out a church where they could meet with God and feel accepted just as they were. They eventually landed at a church in Times Square.
Along with their spiritual rebirth, Julie and Diana also birthed their own company, Intune Technology. They quit their jobs at the crisis hotline and started offering workshops and private consultations about everything from personal finances to stress management to sensitivity training. Their client base grew to include universities, businesses, police departments, and individuals drawn to the women's positive attitude, energetic approach, and commonsense advice.
One of the most popular things they teach is the value of play and humor. "So many offices are stressful, tense environments," say Diana. "Humor is a healthy, coping mechanism. We believe laughter is one of God's greatest gifts."
In a similar vein, they instruct their clients to create an environment that's pleasing to them-at home and at work. Whether it's soothing music, a bubble bath, or a favorite book, Diana and Julie suggest you treat yourself to something luxurious.
"We women are so focused on doing, doing, doing that we forget to do for ourselves," explains Diana. "That's another reason people get burned out. So we suggest putting things in your daily environment that make you happy, or taking moments throughout your day to relax and recharge."
A topic that's especially near to these women's hearts is cultural diversity. Diana and Julie love to teach companies and colleges to value all people, regardless of appearances or stereotypes. Unfortunately they don't have to look far for examples of the latter. Because they're Puerto Rican, Julie and Diana are often assumed to be on drugs or welfare, or have several kids with different fathers. "Some people are surprised we have an education, let alone our own business," says Diana. "We're pleased to be examples of Latina women who aren't using our bodies or sexuality to be successful."
When Diana and Julie committed their lives to God, they were hesitant to mention it in their seminars, afraid of how their clients would react. They finally got brave enough to mention their faith at a workshop, "and nobody bit our heads off!" says Diana. "We simply said this is what we believe, and if you have any questions you can ask us." Surprisingly, people were receptive, and some interesting conversations about God ensued after the workshop.
"People sense an inner strength in us, and they want to know what it is," says Diana. "It's God. We tell people, 'If you want to give it a try, we'd be more happy to discuss it with you.' Then we leave it up to God to move people's hearts."
This faith in God shows just how full circle these women- who once swore they'd never attend church again-have come. But looking back, they realize they have plenty on which to base this faith. After all, God brought these best friends/business partners/sisters-in-Christ, together over something as unlikely as their hair. "If that's not evidence of God's power and sense of humor," says Julie, "we don't know what is!"
Reprint from Today's Christian Woman, March/ April 2001, used by permission.