We go to the new-ish burrito place in our tiny college town on Saturday night for dinner to celebrate Homecoming, homecomings, engagement, two birthdays, simply being back together. We munch chips and queso and clink our glasses full of water, wine, Coke, margaritas. We take up two whole tables and there are still folks missing, now scattered across the country. We raise them high in our hearts as they sit down to their own suppers elsewhere, different tables and yet the same.
When you've shared table and meal, laughter and prayer, guitar filling the silence and candle lighting the darkness, your soul begins to feel that everyone is always present, somehow.
At this particular table, I'm the oldest, and I can't help but let my memory run itself all the way back to six years ago - gosh, that number keeps growing - when I met my dinner companions as fresh-faced first year students. I was a sophomore, I wasn't new anymore! and so I got to sit back on the comfy couch during college fellowship and revel in their stories, their nerves, their excitement. I met them at Sunday brunches, in the hallways, during classes and games and worship services. I loved seeing them grow during that first year, watching as they claimed their new community in countless ways. And gaining them as friends helped me claim it all over again, feeling far richer for their presence.
Since then, there's been so much. Not only the learning and growth and heart-deepening of college life, though that's certainly where it began to flourish. But more, in the realization that comes after you pop the undergraduate bubble, life moves forward and the best friends can go with you, even with everyone at different stops on the road. Holding each other up in the newness, sometimes harshness, of the real world. Through grad school and job applications and moving back and moving away. Through the joy of weddings, and the extra ache in your grin if you can remember when the pair first paired up, or even before that, and the full circle feeling of history and mystery. Through phone calls and e-mails and texts that, when it's all over, will probably string around the globe and back, immeasurable.
And through all of it, there have been nights that mirror this one: A simple dinner, pushing tables together and squeezing close. Grateful to share, eager to listen, finding comfort in both. Clinking glasses in celebration, bound by years of growing together so that it doesn't seem to matter where we were a day or even an hour before. Yes, we're twenty-somethings, perhaps we're prone to wander, as our favorite hymn goes. But we're even more likely to show up again and again, gathered around a table, hearts sealed with love for God and each other, ever building on what we long ago began.