This afternoon my husband and I will hop on a plane and head down to North Carolina.  A few months ago we planned a trip to visit his grandmother, but we made sure to time it with an annual event in which we have only once gotten to participate.  A big group of our college friends gets together at the beach over Labor Day weekend each year.  Although many of them still live in North Carolina, it’s been a reunion of sorts on an annual basis, as we’ve all (somewhat awkwardly) made our transition into post-college life.  Last year was the first time that we got to make it to this Labor Day shindig, and it was a brief 24-hour surprise that allowed us to hug a bunch of necks, play some Guitar Hero (well, I don’t know if what I did would actually be considered playing), and laugh hysterically at some ridiculous group games.  And it was a special send-off for us into the next season of our lives, as we were literally on our long trek up to seminary in New England.  I’m so glad we made the detour.

I really love these people.

When I left home at 18 and traveled 1,200 miles away to college, I had no idea what to expect.  I only knew one person (my roommate), and I had never even met her in person.  I was a wreck in a lot of ways when I set foot on that campus.  For many years I had believed a lot of lies about myself, and a handful of them were relationally-oriented.  I had a lot of doubts about whether people really cared to know me just for me.  I had a number of friends growing up, but I’ll simply say that some of those relationships were complicated.  I’m incredibly grateful to the Lord for them, but I also know that He needed to re-program my thinking about how others perceived me.  My heart needed to be healed over some things.  And from my very first day in Chapel Hill, He got to work.  I was far more wounded than I realized at the time, and graciously He started the process before I was able to fully grasp the change that was occurring. 

I remember it was just a few weeks into my freshman year that it hit me.  It may sound really naive, but it was probably the first time in my life that I truly came to believe that people might actually want to be friends with me for who I was, not because they were obligated to or because we’d just always been around each other or because it was advantageous to them in some way.  And when I began to understand that, I began to see myself differently too.

During our first semester, most of my friends ate lunch together every day and would fill up an entire private dining room in the cafeteria.  The laughter was cathartic.  The conversation even more so.

It was this group of friends who walked with me through four of the most formative years of my life. 

It was this group of friends who were totally not surprised when my husband and I started dating our junior year.  (In fact, they had all tried to convince us separately that we should date throughout college, when we were both completely uninterested in the prospect.) 

It was this group of friends who were totally surprised when my husband and I walked into my surprise birthday party engaged – and we all got to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning.  I think they were almost as excited as we were. 

And it was this group of friends who spent money they didn’t have as new college graduates to make the 1,200-mile trip to sit in my home church and witness the covenant my husband and I made on one very muggy July afternoon. 

It was this same group who spent the entire night after the reception continuing the party at my parents’ house after we had left for our honeymoon.  It’s this same group that has had similar after-reception sessions at almost every wedding in the group ever since. 

Some people talk to the people they love on federal holidays.  We talk to our college friends (who are like family to us) on the days most important to UNC grads – Midnight Madness, Duke-UNC games, Final Four weekends, and NBA draft declaration deadlines.  And I love that when we think about our school, we automatically think about each other.

We’ve certainly all changed since we graduated from college.  But I think there’s a part of us that has remained the same too.  For four brief years, we really lived life together as we made the transition from high school to adult life.  And in that time, we came to love God more because of each other. 

I know He intended it to be that way.

I miss them a lot. 

Thankfully, this weekend I won’t just be goin’ to Carolina in my mind.