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Desert Water
by Hannah M
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The thing is, Hes the Living Water, and if Im honest, my throat is parched like the rich mans. I dont trust myself to take a drop from a fingertip. Drops become floods of mercy, and floods only sweep you away.

That doesnt really explain why Im here. I could say its for Emily, but Emilys talked at me about Jesus since we were in middle school, and Ive never felt the need to listen until now. Shes bubbling over with excitement, and I almost feel guilty, because Im not here to let anyone into my heart. Its already overcrowded and tearing in two, and I cant help but doubt her Gods ability to fix it.

I saw away at my palms with my nails, pick the stuffing out of my chair. I sing the songs without meaning a single word. I have no intention of giving everything to God. I have no intention of giving *anything* to God. Im here for what He can give me. It sounds selfish, I know. But isnt that the point of God? To give, to love? Thats what people are always telling me He wants to do. I dont see why I cant take advantage.

We sit, and the pastor talks about the woman at the well, how Jesus defied every rule of His day to offer this woman life, how we should offer life to those we think little of in a thousand little ways. It means nothing to me until he starts on about the Living Water, how its as though people are dying of thirst in front of us, and were the oasis in their desert. My eyes flicker to Emily, whos drinking it all in. Shes determined to be that for me, always has been.

Now hes talking about people like me, how we dont know what were thirsting for, how were drinking from a poisoned well instead. It sounds uncomfortably familiar, this need for something you can never quite reach, a drive pushing you onward you never know quite where. But this isnt what I came for, and I dig my nails into my palms, let them pin me in place. God isnt what Im looking for, cant be. Im not an Emily. Im not kind and good and cheerful. Even if He were what Im looking for, He certainly isnt looking for me.

And as much as youre looking for God, Hes looking for you, says the pastor, and I jump a little, try to hide how wide my eyes pop. Coincidence. They happen all the time. Dont you know the story of the prodigal son? How about the stories of the lost coin and the lost sheep? God is looking and looking, longing for you to come into His arms and share your life with Him. Its what He wants more than anything in the world. Enough to die.

And with that, I remember that Im not here for this. When he asks us to raise our hand if we want to give our lives to God, I keep my arms pinned to my sides, eyes squeezed shut so I dont know if Emilys staring at me with that look she gets sometimes, like Im the saddest thing shes ever seen. My life is fine without God. Ive got people I love, Ive got places to go. Ive got everything I need, except one thing, and that isnt God.

We sing one final song, and then I turn to Emily, Im just going to talk to the pastor. I can do that, right, thats allowed here?

She laughs. Yeah, of course. Hes fine. Youll be fine. She pats my arm. Her smiles so wide Im not sure how it can fit on her face.

I walk over to him, trying to keep my breathing steady.

Uh, sir? I wave my hand awkwardly.

He turns to me, offers a warm hand. Its Mike, he says, crushing my hand slightly. I wince and he smiles. Sorry. They tell me I need to go easy on the handshakes. Do you have a question about the sermon?

Um, not really. It was good, though. Well - well done. No, I - I was wondering if youd pray for my gran? Shes pretty sick and I - Im not sure what to do.

Id be honoured. You want me to pray with you now?

Oh, no, just, like, keep her in mind. Thanks. I try very hard not to use my cross-country training to my advantage. Im not sure what I expect to happen if he prays with me, whether I expect some sort of door to open in the front of my head and all my sinful thoughts to pour out in front of everyone, or whether I expect a sudden revelation that nobodys going to get healed and nothing will be fine, but in my mind it isnt good.

What did you say to him? says Emily, smile so wide I can count all her teeth.

Just, you know, good sermon, nice to meet you, I say, nodding my head frantically.

You didnt - ask him to pray the prayer with you?


You want to come again next week?

I think Im busy next Sunday.

Oh, come on Katie! You say that every time. I thought you liked it. When he was preaching you looked - you looked like you were actually listening.

Look, Emily, no offense, but, I like my life the way it is. I dont need God.

Everyone needs God. Everyone wants God too, they just dont know it yet. Her eyes are narrowed, the way they are when shes set on something.

Yeah, well. Maybe Im different. I dont know what to say. I dont have time for God. I dont have time to volunteer for every single church activity like Emily. I dont want people talking behind my back like they do about her - about the way she dresses, the way she talks about God like Hes her best friend.

Do you have any idea how much He loves you?

If He loves me, then Hell help me, I snap.

What do you mean?

I mean my gran, Em. If He cares about me, Hell heal her.

It doesnt always work like that, she says softly.

Well then why bother praying, if you know He wont answer? Whats the point?

She reaches out her hand to squeeze my arm. We pray to keep in touch with God, not to get stuff out of Him. Its like if I only rang you to ask you for money.

I dont want her to die, Em.

She pulls me into a hug. You know something God always does for me? He makes me feel better about things like this. He comforts me. If you dont want God, youve got me. But you should try it. Hes better at this sort of thing. Hes had a lot more practice.

Later, at home, when it feels like everything in mes been swallowed up by fear, I close my eyes, feeling ridiculous. Hey, God. I chew on my thumbnail for a moment. I know what Emily said, but please, please, make gran better. And if youve got the time, tell me if what the pastor said was true.

I feel like warmth is soaking through my spine, like Im being filled up with sunlight. I stare at my hands, wondering if this is real.

**Its true**. It feels like a stirring in my head, like a finger slipped into my mind and gave my thoughts a gentle poke. I jump again. **Calm down, child. Let me tell you how I love you. I love you more than the skies, more than the stars I lit before you ever breathed. I love you more than you can ever understand in this life, and I love you more than my own life, more than youve ever been loved before. All I want is to let that love into your life, for you to see just a little of it**.

The words are like a blanket wrapped around my heart, like a hand on a cradle rocking me to sleep. When I wake up the next day, I feel like Ive tasted something Ill never get enough of. I feel like the rivers have begun to flow.

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