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John's Special Summer

Children's Story
John sat on the rocks with his arms locked tightly around his knees, watching the other children in the pool.

"Come on, John," shouted one of the boys. But John shook his head and called back, "I'm sun-bathing. Too cold down there for me! While you're all getting wet, I'm soaking up the sun and developing a very good suntan." With that he stretched out on the rock and closed his eyes.

The truth was, John longed to be splashing and playing in the water with his friends, but he was terrified. He didn't know why he was frightened of water, he only knew that as soon as he felt the water around his body he went rigid with fear. He had tried to learn to swim, and other people had tried to teach him, but they'd all given up in the end when he'd made no progress whatsoever.

John had long since given up trying, and had almost convinced himself that he didn't want to swim anyway. It usually worked, but on days like this when the sun was so hot and all his friends were having such a good time without him, he felt very depressed and alone.

When he opened his eyes again, Mandy had clambered out of the pool and was sitting on the rock beside him. John didn't know had long she had sat there, for she hadn't said a word.

"I suppose you're going to tell me how wonderful it is and try and drag me in," John said nastily.

Mandy frowned a little, but she simply said, "No, I just thought I'd sit here with you for a while."

"Huh!" grunted John, but he didn't say any more. After a while he realised he found Mandy's company quite relaxing. She didn't seem to want anything from him, and was just content to be there.

They stayed there all afternoon chatting occasionally, but often silent and at peace with each other. When all the others went home, tired by their exertions in the water, John discovered he didn't want to move and he didn't want Mandy to move either.

When they were quite alone Mandy turned to him and said seriously, "I'll teach you to swim if you like."

John battled with himself. Part of him was furiously angry that Mandy had found him out and now knew his secret. Another part of him was still terrified of going anywhere near the water. And yet another part was afraid that he'd fail yet again, and then like all the others, Mandy would disappear.

"No thanks," he said stiffly.

But Mandy simply smiled and took his hand. He found himself following like a lamb as she led him down to the water's edge, and he even managed to step into the water before going rigid with fear.

He would have turned tail then and fled, but Mandy was holding his hand quite firmly and she seemed so sure of herself that he took courage and clinging on to her allowed himself to be drawn into the water up to his chest.

That was all he managed on that first occasion, but after that he and Mandy went to the pool every evening when no-one else was there, and he gradually learned to move a bit in the water. It took the whole summer before he could even lift one foot off the ground, but Mandy was quiet and patient and never complained. John often wondered why she bothered with him, but when he asked her she simply shrugged and smiled and said nothing.

Eventually John managed to swim two strokes, and after that his confidence shot up and he in another day or two found himself swimming across the pool. He was more thrilled than he had ever been in his life before.

Years later when John was grown-up, he thought about the summer he learned to swim. "That was real love," he thought himself, "Mandy gave herself to me for the whole summer and asked for nothing in return. I bet that's what Jesus meant when he talked about love. And that's the sort of love I want to offer other people, love which is patient and gentle and kind, and which asks nothing in return. Love which gives itself fully and freely. Because that sort of love leads to terrific joy."

And he went off, to spread a little happiness to anyone he could find.
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