Leaving the gathering of women behind, I walk out into the soothing crispness of twilight, a sunset of brilliant pinks and oranges fading into dappled hues of violet and blue.

Exiting the small town of Dassel, Minnesota, I head out on the two-lane highway, turning up the music. Listening to tunes from the ‘90s and ‘00s, shoulders swaying and head bobbing to the beat, surreptitiously turning down the music whenever I slow down to idle at small town stop lights.

As I turn my hi-beams off and on and swirl through rural hollows and bends, I reflect on the value of friendship. How these women – fellow writers, bloggers, ministry-oriented women who have passion and goals that I love to witness and participate in – have silently passed me Kleenex to dry my tears, given hugs that squeezed the breath from my lungs, laughed about everything from children to sex. Old lady jokes, hashtags, what a meme is.

And I’m taken back to other days, other drives. Cruising down the Main Street of my hometown, on the lookout for high school friends. Late-night return drives to college, racing the clock to make the last bus from my in-the-boonies car lot back onto campus. A road trip to Wisconsin to see a best friend from college, leaving husband and kids at home.

And in the background, a soundtrack filled with Ace of Base, Mariah Carey, En Vogue, Madonna, Boys 2 Men. (Don’t judge. It was the ‘90s.) Britney Spears, Coldplay, Maroon 5. Sara Groves, Kari Jobe, Hillsongs United.

The music and the memories intertwine, and I’m left with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the people who have helped provide a soundtrack of love and laughter in my life.

For the meaningful friendships I have been so blessed to have in each stage of life: Endless days spent setting up and taking down Barbies and romping through the barn playhouse with Lindsay. Hours spent jumping on Melissa’s trampoline, watching Clueless and talking about boys. Sixth-grade sleepovers and infamous middle-school dances with Tammy, Katie, Teresa, Kristina and the gang. Cheerleading with Lynn, taking stats at wrestling meets with Andrea, Lorenda and the guys. CRU meetings and “The Bachelor” parties with Stef, Steph and Tara. Chips & cheese and toga parties with Janae. Late-night talks with Erienne, crickets and fishtanks providing the background symphony. Pedicures, shopping, and amazing dinner dates with Emily, playdates and girls’ nights out with Andrea, Sam and Joy. And so many, many more.

My late-night soundtrack is a celebration of love, of life. Of friendship and community. And, in my heart, of thankfulness.

“It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there’s no one to help, tough!” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (MSG)