Josiah Duggar has a very special new lady in his life.
The 21-year-old Counting On star is courting 18-year-old Lauren Swanson, they tell PEOPLE exclusively.
Swanson is the eldest of eight children and has been a family friend of the Duggars for years, even making an appearance on an episode of 19 Kids and Counting.
“We are overjoyed to begin this new phase of our lives together. Through the years our families’ friendship has allowed us to get to know one another as friends. I can definitely say I have found a great friend … even better than I could have hoped for or imagined,” Duggar tells PEOPLE. “I so appreciate Lauren’s Christlike character and tender heart toward others. She bring sunshine into the room and encourages everyone around her. It’s always stood out to me that in every situation, she looks for the one who appears to be sad or lonely and quickly can brighten their day by sharing words of hope, an encouraging scripture, a prayer or even a simple smile with them.”
He adds: “It’s truly an exciting time for us, as we take this big step in establishing a relationship, getting to know one another even better and praying together toward our future. We are thankful to God and our families for the love and support we’ve received in starting this new chapter of life and look forward to sharing it with others as the future unfolds.”
The new couple recently returned from a trip to Australia and New Zealand, where they traveled with the Duggar family to attend Institute in Basic Life Principles conferences.
“Marjorie and I had a good time together,” he said back in March 2016. “We were just trying to follow God’s lead on everything. She didn’t feel that it was the right timing then, so we called it quits for a bit.”
Counting On returns Feb. 26 at 9 p.m. ET on TLC.