Although we are all born to a family, our friends are the family we choose, the ones who bring out the best in us and who willingly stand by our side when they would really rather be anywhere else. For those friends, I am most grateful.

Throughout my life I've been blessed with some truly fantastic friends. Growing up, my closest friend was Monica, a beauty both in appearance and at heart. Smart and funny, she always brightened my day. We attended classes together, worshipped together and lived down the street from one another. Oh, and did I mention that she is black? Yeah, I usually forgot too. I remember when we were in junior high school, we dined together daily and I was always the only white person at the table. Monica and I never saw color, we just saw a friend, but sadly everyone else wasn't as colorblind as we were. Some of our classmates grew up with the prejudices of their parents, and they didn't like the fact that we so blatantly crossed the color line every day. I took many blows after school from those bullies who couldn't understand our friendship. Yet the violence never destroyed our relationship. If anything, it made it stronger than ever.

In my late teens when I moved to New York City, I met Adam, a young man who was tall, charming, talented, and kind with an irreverent sense of humor. We became fast friends and would stay up late playing piano, singing jazz, exploring the city or chatting over coffee in all-night diners. Aside from Monica, he was the first person to ever really get me, and he was eager to show me the ropes of city life. If anyone was ever my "brother from another mother," it was him. Along with my other New York friends like Brian, Forrest, Lamont, Josh, Jerry, Jonathan, Daniel, Mark and Sophia, we were a family of sorts, each from a different part of the country, and we ran everywhere from Broadway to Brooklyn and everywhere in between.

When I moved to Dallas in my 20s, I met Cindy, her roommate Michelle, Matt and his roommate James, and Phil, who I soon became roommates with. Remember the show Friends? Well, the six of us were very much like the characters in that show. Our lives intertwined, and we did everything together. They were fun, carefree years when we were as happy sitting on the floor eating pizza and playing cards as we were to go to a club and sip some drinks. One of my favorite memories from that time was when we all took a camping trip up near Lawton, Oklahoma and the rain washed the girls' tent away. We all had to cram ourselves into one tent, and none of us slept a wink. We just stayed up laughing at the absurdity of our predicament. When we finally did get up at dawn, the day was gorgeous and perfect for hiking down in the valley among the bison that roamed there.

Several years later, I moved to Cincinnati and made even more friends, some who were near my age and others who were either far older or much younger than myself. When I went to college at the University of Cincinnati, journalists like Jenny Wohlfarth, Jon Hughes, Elise Manahan, the late Al Salvato, Hagit Limor and Marjorie Fox and authors like Brad Meltzer, Michael Griffith, James Braziel and Brock Clarke became my friends, mentors and future colleagues. But there were also lesser known, but equally important friends like Rick and Lynn Graham and their sons Zach and Jared, Anita Hughes, Dan and Cindy Mack, Leslie Croley, Charles and Sandra Evans, David Pirozzolo, Daniel and Claudia Kees, and so many others that made a serious impact on me during my time there. My wife and I loved entertaining them, and our fondest memories were made with a house literally overstuffed with people, the laughter and talking so loud it was almost deafening, and tons of great, delicious food. Of course we had our sad times, those same friends were there for those occasions too, buffering the pain when a family member died or we were so incredibly broke we wondered how we would possibly pay our bills. The important thing with all of my friends, however, is that we anchor and fortify one another, making the ups and downs better than they would have been if I had been going through them alone.

I have always liked how Oprah Winfrey put it when she said, "Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down." Throughout my life, I've ridden the bus, figuratively and literally, many times. But through it all, Monica and all those other people I love so dearly have climbed aboard with me, even when they didn't have to. That's why I'm thankful for friendship and all of the friends who have touched my life and loved me without hesitation. They make my world a far better place in which to live and I am thankful for them each and every day.