When I was in the sixth grade, I was not what you'd call "popular." Quite the opposite, I was the subject of much ridicule, and even received a good number of beatings from the other girls. Nobody really wanted much to do with me, and I very much felt the weight of being an outsider.
But there was this boy, this fairly confident, mildly popular boy who, for whatever reason, was able to look past all of that. Or at least, to not let it seem like it bothered him. And this boy did something that changed my life: he made a place for me at his lunch table.
It was clearly his lunch table, although he shared it every day with the same group of friends. It was clearly his choice to make, and I remember that at first, the other boys were confused, offended, unsure of my presence. But he invited me, and he made it seem the most natural thing in the world for me to be sitting there for lunch, even though I always sat three to four seats away.
If you remember anything about middle school, you remember what a big deal this was. I mean, lunch was the thing. And there's nothing worse than standing in the middle of an overcrowded school cafeteria, full tray in hand, trying to figure out where you're going to sit and knowing that nobody wants you to sit with them.
Except he did.
And I learned so much at that lunch table. It was full, of course, of the standard middle school boy talk - the kind of gross stuff that I'd never repeat in mixed company. But I grew up with two older brothers, so this didn't offend me. Sometimes, I was even able to join right in. There was talk of the latest video games or the up-and-coming fantasy card games, the kinds of things boys were quite interested in. So of course, I bought a deck of my own and dealt into the games. But there were a couple of occasions, too, when that boy would have some friends over for lunch, some grown-up (but not too grown-up) friends that he called "youth ministers," although he also called them by their first names. And they brought Arby's.
I got my first real introduction to church at that lunch table. Eighteen years later, I am still at that very same church.
This is a story I shared in part with my church family last Sunday, as we gathered around the Lord's table together to celebrate Communion.
Because Jesus is that boy. He's the one that looks right past our reputation, right past all the things we appear not to be. He's the one that dares to talk to us in the hallways even when everyone else has only a snide, or worse, word. He's the one that invites us to His lunch table, every day, and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about it. It's clearly His table; He can invite anyone He wants.
It's because of Jesus that we don't have to stand in an overcrowded lunch room, full tray in hand, and try to figure out where we're going to eat today. We always, always have place.
And the most amazing things happen around this table. You find, over time, that you're not just welcome; somehow, you actually belong. You find yourself doing things you never thought you'd do in a million years, because those are the kinds of things you do around this table. You find yourself dealing into the whole thing because it's just natural for you to do so. You even find yourself meeting some new people, calling them by name, forming all these incredible new relationships.
And yes, sometimes, there's even Arby's.
I love my place at the table. It doesn't always seem like it's the most natural place to be, like it's the place I would naturally end up if I was left on my own. But here I am, every day. Because of one boy - one Man - who made a place for me.
There's a place for you, too.