So God Made a Mother Collection ➔

I first met Mary the summer before 6th grade at Camp Caroline Furnace.

She was tall, thin, and blonde. I was short, pudgy, and brunette.

She lived on a farm in rural Virginia. I lived in a Maryland suburb outside Washington, DC.

Her parents were married; mine were divorced.

She was athletic and played sports; I always got picked last for kickball.

If we hadn’t both been assigned to cabin five that summer, we probably would never have become friends.

But somehow, we hit it off and left camp that summer with our addresses scribbled on pieces of notebook paper, and a vow to write to each other.

As we each went back to our very different lives and embarked upon that harrowing adolescent hell that is middle school, we kept our promise.

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There was no greater joy than opening the door of our mailbox and seeing her curly script on a bulging envelope. I’d excitedly ripped open the envelope and devoured every worda diorama of her world presented in multi-colored, bubble-gum scented ink. I read about her friends, her sister, her horse, and her crush until I felt like I knew them each personally.

Then I would pull out my personalized teddy bear stationary and begin my reply, being sure to write front and back, but inevitably still using up so many pages I had to flatten the folded sheets under a dictionary just to get the envelope to stay sealed. I told her about my friends, my sister, my scary band teacher, and Jeff Brownthe boy I danced with at the Valentine’s Day dance.

Thus began a friendship that has spanned over 30 years.

For five more summers, we went back to Camp Caroline Furnace and spent the best week of our year together. In between, we wrote letters, saved our babysitting money to pay for the occasional long-distance phone call, and even convinced our parents to drive us the two and a half hours to the other’s house a handful of times.

Eventually, we ended up going to the same college. We were roommates for four years and got our first apartment together. We were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings, celebrated career milestones together, and held one another’s babies.

RELATED: To the Friends Who Stay—Thank You

Except for those four years in college, we have never lived closer than a two-hour driveand for a number of years, there were nearly 400 miles separating us. Yet, we have continued to make the effort to keep in touch and nurture our friendship.

I fully believe all those letters we wrote in the early days are what gave us the foundation to be life-long BFFs.

Being Mary’s friend was an earnest undertaking that required effort, commitment, and time because we didn’t have the luxury of seeing each other in English class, riding the bus home together, or even living in the same town. There was no email, no FaceTime, no Instagram, and even a regular, old phone call was a rare treat because it cost money!

I look at my kids growing up in an incredibly connected world and wonderwill they have friendships that can stand the test of time? Will they build strong relational foundations when they have six different ways to instantly connect? When there’s no waiting, no cost, no real work at keeping in touch, will their friendships be able to withstand distance, change, and hardship?

RELATED: Dear Daughters, You Have to Show Up for Your Friends

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I sure hope so. Because a friendship like mine and Mary’s is a gift that can’t be recreated or imitated.

I’m grateful I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s where we learned patience and intentional connection were the foundation of lasting friendships. And if you truly cared about someone they were worth the effort.

Jelise Ballon

Jelise is an educator, writer, and speaker. She is author of the book "Forgiven and Restored" and founder of the Renew and Restore Women's Retreat. But the two roles she is most passionate about are those of wife and mother. She has been married to her husband for 20 years and together they have three teenagers. You can read more at her blog:, or follow her on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram

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