Although we attended school together every day from 4th through 12th grade – our friendship began, was nurtured, and grew in church.

We met in 3rd grade Sunday School. Then spent countless Saturdays practicing “Down by the Creek Bank,” a musical performance which included about 20 kids in grades 4, 5 and 6. Our show was so well received by our congregation that we were invited to perform it at a number of churches in the area. Together we attended Wednesday evening and Saturday morning confirmation classes through 6th, 7th (and maybe even 8th?) grade. (I’m going to go out on a limb and say a “self-paced” confirmation class isn’t the most efficient way to go!)

As we entered high school, our church youth group provided more opportunities to make memories. Together we experienced New York City, Washington DC and Niagara Falls, (not to mention 3,000+ miles riding in the back of a bus). During that 17-day trip along the East coast, we were the two rebellious girls who broke curfew (and the “no girls in the boys’ room” rule) and wound up sleeping on the floor of our chaperones’ hotel room for the next several nights.

When my family moved from South Dakota to Arkansas in the middle of my senior year, she was there to see me off at the airport. As we said our “see you laters” (because, we vowed, this WASN’T goodbye!) and I prepared to board the plane, she handed me a small gift. I was already teary-eyed as I settled into my seat and buckled up, But when I opened that gift, the flood gates opened. LaDawn had given me a a Precious Moments figurine of a rhinoceros with a tiny bird perched near his rear end. The piece was called “Friends ’til the End.” That was 25 years ago.

As I adjusted to my new surroundings in Arkansas, LaDawn was my loyal pen-pal. She had a full life back home with a steady boyfriend, a starting position on the varsity volleyball team, and all the other activities and festivities that come with your senior year of high school. But she made the time to write to me, to keep me up-to-date on all the high school happenings, and to keep me company.

Our friendship has spanned 600 miles and countless milestones: graduating college, planning our weddings, navigating the tricky waters of newly married life, infertility issues, pregnancy, and eventually motherhood. She and Jared were our only choice to be Gracie’s Godparents. We were honored when, a few years later, they asked us to play the same role for their first child Jonah.

Today, as Mark and I were cleaning out old papers and organizing photos and keepsakes, I re-read most of the letters LaDawn has sent me over the past 25 years. As I read, I reflected back on our 33 year friendship which has been firmly rooted in our shared faith. I simply have no words to describe what our friendship means to me. But I can’t help but think of this phrase: “Friends are the family you choose for yourself.”