Side by Side

Keisha Thiebaud and Kara Cornelius—sisters by blood, friends by grace.
By Rick Weber

Keisha and Kara Cornelius
Photo courtesy of
Keisha Thiebaud

When Keisha and Kara Cornelius were growing up in the dusty West Texas town of Denver City, all Kara wanted was to be with the sister who was four years her senior.

For many years, Keisha didn’t understand the depth of Kara’s desire. She’d go out to ride her bicycle with her friends, and Kara—who still hadn’t learned how to ride—would run as fast as her feet could propel her in a futile bid to catch up. Keisha would arrive at her friend’s house, and inevitably there would be a knock on the door five minutes later. It would be Kara, just looking for her sister’s companionship.

Keisha had been ecstatic when she knew her mother was pregnant with Kara. She took her role as a big sister seriously. Still, there were times when she thought, Man, my little sister is always right by my side.

But by the time Keisha was in junior high, she had embraced Kara’s unconditional love. She invited Kara on her training runs, and she didn’t leave Kara behind. She’d get ahead of Kara and circle back, jogging in place on the side of the road until Kara caught up.

“I’ve really wanted to invest in her and pour into her,” Keisha says. “And from that I’ve received so much back, especially now that we’re older. When you get older, you don’t realize there’s so much of an age gap.

“God brings a lot of relationships across your path, but your family is the one thing that remains constant and consistent. That’s what I’ve seen with my sister. That relationship I’ve had with her has been constant and consistent, and I know that it will be throughout the rest of our lives. God has given us a sweet friendship with each other. I’ll continue to pour into it and hold it in high regard.”

Keisha is 24 now, has the surname of Thiebaud, is expecting her first child and is part of FCA’s field staff in west Houston. Kara, 20, is a middle blocker on Southern Methodist University’s volleyball team.

“God brings a lot of relationships across your path, but your family is the one thing that remains constant and consistent.”
—Keisha Thiebaud

They are separated by 246 miles, but they’ve never been closer.

“She’s my best friend,” Kara says. “I know she loves me, and I love her. If I ever have a problem and am struggling with anything, she’s always the first person I think to call. She gives the best advice. Anytime we can, we talk on the phone. That’s the great thing about cell phones—we can talk so much more.”

They’ve done a lot of talking recently. Between April and the end of September, Kara broke up with her long-time boyfriend, experienced the theft of her pickup’s tailgate, was in an accident and was forced to move out of her apartment complex when it became government housing. Oh, and her playing time on the volleyball team has diminished.

“All those things mixed in together—that can be trying,” says Keisha, who played volleyball and basketball at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “It would be really easy to waver in your faith and your walk with the Lord. But she is so consistent and so steady. She has used this opportunity to grow in the Lord. It has been exciting for me to see that fruit in her life. She’s not just talking the talk, but walking the walk as well.

“I went through some similar things in college. I’ve always told her, ‘You can really display Christ to your team in the way you act when you are getting playing time, and in the way you respond in an unselfish manner when things are hard.’ I think she’s really taken that to heart. The way she has kept her eyes focused on the Lord during these trials and hardships has really been an encouragement to me.”

Keisha looks at Kara and sees a tender-hearted servant. She knows Kara needed the money that summer employment would have offered, but she instead worked FCA summer camps with Keisha at Texas A&M and Baylor and trusted in the Lord to provide while she worked to nurture the campers’ relationships with Christ.

They previously had been Huddle Leaders together at the same camps. But this time, Keisha was Huddle Leader Coordinator with Kara serving as one of her Huddle Leaders.

“It was so neat to sit back and just watch my little sister serve those girls and be able to pray with her about specific girls in her Huddle,” Keisha says, “and to see God soften and transform and change lives in the course of a week. It was neat to see her be mission-minded with these kids and show the love of Jesus in a tangible way.”

When Kara was in high school, Keisha would buy her devotionals and encourage her to spend time each day in the Word. They recently started memorizing Scripture together, alternating each week in picking the passage. They’ll call each other, hold each other accountable and then hide the passage in their hearts.

Keisha also has given Kara Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline—a book that Houston’s FCA staff studied earlier in the year and passionately embraced.

“Kara is always asking, ‘What can I read? What would be good for me to pick up?’” Keisha says. “That was one I thought of because we talk about being disciplined in our athletic life and being disciplined in our spiritual life as being very similar. God gives us disciplines in prayer, meditation and fasting. In that, we draw nearer to God. He gives us an opportunity to know Him in a greater way.”

Kara appreciates the discipline Keisha is teaching her now. It stimulates her, brings her back to a time much earlier when Keisha was teaching her athletic discipline. “I remember one time when she was in college and I was in high school,” Kara says. “We went to the weight room. I wasn’t in the mood to lift weights, but she just kicked my butt and made me work so hard. I remember being exhausted, but I also remember her being so positive and saying, ‘Now you can feel good because you worked out and did your best.’ I really took that to heart.”

And that’s exactly where they remain connected—at the heart. Sisters by blood. Friends by the grace of God.