“On the count of three!” I yelled as the two groups of teens lined up across the lawn, facing each other. “One … two … three!”
Instantly the air was filled with color as a barrage of water balloons hurtled towards enemy lines. An outbreak of screams and laughter greeted the missiles as water exploded over dry shirts and shorts. Soon all the teens were running, ducking, and dodging across the playing field.
Grinning, I stepped back to join the other youth group leaders when, “Splat!” A burst of water erupted over my sneakers, soaking through my socks.
“Blast!” I muttered, backing towards the church, away from the combatants. But even as I retreated, something smacked against the back of my head, sending cold water cascading down my collar.
I whirled around to find Sara standing behind me, grinning as she shoved her glasses up her short nose. “Gotcha!” she smirked.
I shook a playful fist at her. “You’re gonna regret this! Just wait’ll I get a water balloon!”
“Sorry, Kelsey,” Cody called, jogging over to join us. “You’re too late. I just used the last one.”
I glared at the two teens. “Fine. Just for that, why don’t you carry the water bucket back to the hose? Sara can help me fill some more balloons.”
Scowling, Cody grabbed one handle while Sara took the other. Together they carried the sloshing bucket across the grass while I hurried on ahead.
As I rounded the building, I heard a loud “Splash!” A minute later Sara came around the corner alone, drenched from head to toe with water, and dragging the now empty bucket.
“What happened?” I exclaimed.
She didn’t answer. Her mouth formed a tight line as she stood, frozen, before me. Putting out a hand to touch her, I found that she was trembling.
“What happened?” I asked again.
Still, no answer.
Looking her in the eye, I demanded, “Tell me, right now, why did he do it?”
In a hoarse whisper, she said, “He hates me. They all hate me.”
“No! No one hates you. He must have been teasing.”
She shook her head. “He hates me,” she muttered, “and I hate him.”
Yes, I could feel the hatred pouring off her, like the water streaming down her sodden hair. I remembered the rumors I’d heard about her father, and the abuse she’d suffered.
“But she won’t talk to anyone,” Pastor Steve had complained. “That girl has so much hatred locked up inside of her, someday she’ll just explode.”
“No!” I rebelled inwardly. “I won’t let that happen!” My heart cried, “Jesus, help me!” even as my mouth said, “Come and sit down, Sara, here in the sun.”
Silently we started working. I filled the balloons, and Sara knotted them off. Just as I grabbed an orange balloon, the idea came to me.
“Listen, Sara,” I said, “this can’t go on. You’ve got to let me help you.” Before she could argue, I added, “No, just listen. I know life hurts, but you can’t keep that hurt inside. You’ve got to let Jesus take it.”
“Look,” I continued, “do you see this balloon? It’s small now, but when I fill it with water … there! See how big it gets? If you keep filling yourself up with hurts, you’ll end up like this balloon. And if you get too full,” I added, turning the hose on once more, “you’ll get bigger and bigger until….” The balloon shattered with a “boom!”
“But,” I said, filling another balloon, “if you don’t fill it too full, or tie it shut, watch what happens.” Holding the balloon up, I let the water gush from the rubber mouth and onto the ground. “See? Now it’s not broken. It’s the same size as before.”
I handed the limp balloon to Sara. “I’m going to get Cody now. You need to decide what to say to him.”
Leaving her alone, I hurried away and brought Cody back with me. He refused to look at Sara as he said, “Look, I’m sorry, O.K.? It was just a joke, that’s all.”
Sara, eyes vacant, absently refilled her water balloon. I kicked myself inwardly. What had I done? How could I expect her to forgive him? Maybe I should have….
“Sploosh!” Sara released the water from her balloon, effectively drenching Cody’s shirt.
“You’re forgiven,” she said, and ran off to join the other teens.
Cody only shook his head. “Girls,” he muttered.
“You said it!” I grinned.
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