Jenny stepped out of the show onto a towel she’d laid on the floor prior to getting in. She didn’t mind taking baths with her little sister or brother but really did prefer the solitude of a private bathroom. She stood in front of the large bathroom mirror while letting the overhead fan blow warm air to dry her body. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and stared at the lump on the side of her head while brushing her long blonde hair. Normally she enjoyed brushing the locks that she was so proud of, but now she was preoccupied. Though the bump didn’t get any worst after the first morning of having it, it hardly got any better. Jenny wasn’t too self conscious about it around kids from her little league team because the general consensus was that the injury was a badge of honor. But tonight she was going to the church’s youth group and there would be plenty of kids not associated with the baseball team attending. Unlike the Sunday prior, she wouldn’t be able to hid among her own clique and would be forced to be social.
Jenny parted her hair down the center and the thick hair seemed to be able to cover the lump. Jenny touched the side of her head and immediately wished she hadn’t. It was one of those things that would take time to go away and Jenny hated every agonizing second of it. Still she tried to avoid concentrating on it.
Instead she concentrated a bit lower on her body, to the area that was suppose to have bumps and lumps but seemed dead set in producing them. Though there was some noticeable development, it was minimal and the girl knew once she put on her t-shirt that the development would be completely invisible. It wouldn’t be so bad if Christine hadn’t blossom so rapidly. She and Jenny did everything together, but now Jenny found her body lacking. While Christine talked about training bras and the embarrassment of having things accidentally popping out of tight fitting shirts. Jenny could only listen on, half in envy and half in the horror of knowing her body couldn’t hold its form forever.
Jenny pushed her chest together in order to create faux-breast. She modeled for herself and wondered if when she did finally grow a pair if what she saw in the mirror was an accurate representation. Finally she had to give in and laugh at herself. She let her hands off her chest and once again looked at the still little girl who’s only thing she had to offer under her shirt was a pair of dark pink nipples.
Jenny shook her head herself, knowing such thinking wasn’t going to do her good and it would only serve to depress her before going to a place where she wanted to be happy. She hastily put on the camisole she wore as an undershirt and finished dressing in the outfit she purchased the day before. Christine and Rachael both agreed that tonight was the perfect time to debut the outfit and Jenny couldn’t think of a reasonable objection, even if she wore it for a little while the previous night.
The family traveled together to church and got there just before six P.M. when the youth group always met. The adults would head to the main chapel where Chase or one of the other deacons would lead a prayer meeting and the children had Pastor Don, as the youth called him, all to themselves. Afterward both children and adults would get together for the regular Wednesday church service.
Jenny took Amber by the hand and led her to the building behind the main sanctuary and up a flight of stairs. Why they didn’t build the youth room on the first floor was beyond Jenny, but it was only a minor inconvenience at best. She walked through the last door and found herself in the large room where the elementary and Jr. high kids met. A large sign was painted on the far wall and on an orange backdrop, four foot red letters that spelled out the word R.A.D. stood out at the girl, just underneath the name of the youth group, the acronym explain that it stood for “radically aware disciples.”
Shawn stood just in front of the sign with an electric guitar in his hand. He was part of the youth group’s band that Pastor Don was trying to develop. Jenny stopped to stare at Shawn fingering the guitar. She didn’t know how far away the boy was playing like the people on the radio. He could make distinguishable notes and chords, far more than she was able too, so Jenny was mightily impressed.
Shawn noticed the girl smiling at him. He had noticed Jenny ever since she walked through the door and now he no longer had to watch the entrance for her arrival. He smiled back at her; smiled at how her sister and she were dressed alike, smiled because he now saw the outfit on four different people but it looked better by far on the one he called his girlfriend. He was glad he practiced the tune he was playing so much that he could strum the chords by rote and could concentrate on much more important and pleasurable thing, like Jenny and her smile.
“Are you ready to have fun,” Pastor Don yelled into the microphone.
The kids started to fill up the seats that faced the makeshift stage and screamed.
“I don’t know,” Pastor Don said as he looked around the room. “Maybe I didn’t make myself very clear. I said, are you ready to have fun?”
The crowd of thirty or so children screamed even louder.
“Almost there,” Pastor said to get the crowd on edge. “Now, the question is, do you want to have so much fun that your sides explode with a pink gooey substance and your head spins around like a top that you get so dizzy that you puke all over the walls? Now, if you want to have that much fun, let me hear you.”
The kids were worked into a frenzy and a triumphant noise echoed off the walls as they screamed as loud as they possibly could.
“Now, that’s more like it,” Don said, proud that he could still get the children this excited about church. “First, let’s start off with a game. We still got the big prize bin overloaded with cool stuff and I need two volunteers to try to empty it. Who wants to try?”
Many hands went up even though Jenny and her friends refrained. They were already victims to many of Rachael’s dad’s game and knew there was always some sort of catch. Whether that catch was funny, sloppy, or downright gross, one never knew, but since they were victims enough times they knew it was more fun to be part of the on-looking crowd and having the fun at other’s expense.
Amber hadn’t figured out that lesson and she oohed as she stretched out her arm, hopping up and down so she would be picked. Jenny felt fortunate for her sister that Amber was bypassed. Instead a boy from her grade that was in a different class and a girl that might’ve been her sister’s age were called to the stage. Jenny didn’t think it was a fair pairing.
“Okay,” Don yelled. “We’ve got Brandon and Sadie and we’ve got a game all in store for them and the prize bin is ready for the taking. Let me just get this tarp off over here.” Don walked over to the far corner of the room and pulled a large big blue tarp off of the wall, revealing several bales of hay and a bunch of the stalks scattered about the floor in a 5 square foot area and sitting on top of the first bale was a large red darning needles.
“Let me ask you Sadie,” Pastor Don knelt down next to the little brown-haired girl, “have you ever heard of the phrase ‘it’s as easy as finding a needle in a haystack?”
The little girl shook her head yes as she looked at the pastor.
“Do you think it’s going to be easy to find this needle in all of that hay?”
“It’s going to be a little hard,” she answered confidently.
“Let’s see how hard it’s going to be, because that’s our game. It’s the find the needle in the haystack game.” Pastor Don screamed.
The kids not part of the game cheered wildly and stomped their feet.
“Don’t worry though,” Don Answered. “All the boys and girls watching will help find out by shouting out instructions, but first, the magic blindfolds.” Pastor Don pulled out two long black bandanas, one from each pocket. “First we get Brandon,” he said as he wrapped the thick soft cloth around th boys eyes. “Okay Brandon, can you see anything,” Pastor Don asked after he tied the knot just tight enough.
“No sir,” Brandon answered as the Pastor held the mike up to his face.
“Let’s make sure.” Don made funny faces and pretended to slap at the boy. Though Brandon didn’t move, the kids in the audience laughed and howled crazily. “Okay, I guess Brandon can’t see at all. Now it’s Sadie’s turn.” The pastor went through the same routine with the little girl and tied the black bandana around her eyes.
“Oh Sadie, can you see,” Pastor Don asked in song to the children’s laughing delight.
Unfamiliar with the play on words, the girl shook her head no.
“Let’s check.” Pastor Don leaned in and gave the girl a wet sloppy kiss on the cheek.
“Yuck,” Sadie said loudly and wiped her cheek with the back of her hand.
“I don’t think she could see, but I’m crushed. Now, let’s hide the needle.”
Pastor Don went over to the bales of hey and walked to a very specific area. It was behind one of those bales that he hid the large darning needle. “Okay, I’ve hid it and I wonder if it can be found.” He walked back to the stage. Sadie and Brandon you can remove your blindfolds.”
Sadie and Brandon did just that and each made there way to the game area.
“Hold everything,” Don said before the kids could dive in. “I didn’t say to go just yet. Now both of you get back here.”
The two children joined the pastor on the stage and waited.
“Ready,” Pastor Don said dramatically. “Go,” he shouted above the din.
The two children sprinted to the piles of hay and the crowd yelled out confusing instructions on where they thought the needle was.
“This might take a while, we need some music,” Don said into the microphone. “Band, we need some finding a needle in a haystack music.”
On cue, the band started playing a quirky rock version of Pop Goes the Weasel.
Don waited for two verses of the song to play through before reaching into his back pocket and pulling out the needle the two children in the hay were so desperately trying to find. He held it up for all to see, even though it took the crowd a little time to actually catch on to what was going on.
The crowd laughed and hooted and informed the two contestants of what was going on. As soon as they did, Brandon and Sadie ran over to the pastor and practically tackled him in order to get the needle from his hand.
“Okay, okay, you got me,” Pastor Don said joyously. “But I tell you what, you each can pick out something from the prize bin. Hop to it.”
The two contestants went off to the back table. The prize bin was actually a large section that had many items that were donated by one of the parishioners who happened to own a toy store. Each child picked their toy and held it for all to see. Brandon picked a hand held game and Sadie picked a small plastic tea set.
“Okay, good choices,” Don said. “I hope Sadie invites me to one of her tea parties. Now let’s have a song and I happened to notice we have a dance group here, or at least I hope that’s why four girls are dressed alike. Let’s cheer them onto the stage,” Pastor Don said loudly as he motioned to his daughter and her friends.
The crowd cheered and clapped as the four girls in matching outfits walked forward. Christine, Jenny, Amber and Rachael stood on stage looking at everyone. Pastor Don put on the CD of the song Lean On Me performed by the Christian group DC Talk. The three older girls knew the routine that went along with the music and Amber tried to follow her sister’s head to the best of her ability. It didn’t matter that they were called out of the blue, they all had fun performing and most of the crowd did the known routine right along with them.
“Thank you, our very own version of the Supremes,” Don said as the girls went back to their seats. “We’ve had some fun, but now it’s time to be serious for a little while,” the pastor said in a more normal tone as the crowd settled down.
The children sat down on the padded blue folding chairs. Though Pastor Don could be fun and entertaining, he was also very serious when he gave his weekly lessons. He started the lesson by talking about the Apostle Paul’s reference to the thorn in his flesh and went on to mention how a girl, seeing how much faith the apostle had, prayed for a similar thorn. Unbeknownst to that girl, she invited a demon presence into her life. The point of the sermon boiled down to ‘be careful what you pray for, because God just might allow it to happen.’ The pastor gave other examples; like the boy who didn’t like his house and prayed to God that he could live elsewhere, only to find later his house being wiped out by a tornado. Though Don knew he was dealing with the melodramatic, he knew the stories to be true and widely reported. He hoped the lesson would be well remembered by the children, who would quickly pray for the destruction of the school or perhaps revenge on a sibling because of a misplaced toy.
The pastor released the group. There were still fifteen minutes before the mid-week meeting. The idea being to have the children return to their parents so they could get ready for the evening service. But, as often is the case when children are involved, what was planned was not exactly what occurred. The tweens and preteens mulled about conversing with each other or headed to the rec room for a quick game of pool, ping-pong or any other minor diversion that they could grab onto.
Don chuckled at this as he walked away. Soon enough he would cut the power and they would file out and get where they belonged. If it didn’t work that way, the pastor would then be worried about the children.
“Pastor Don,” Jenny said as she caught up to him on the stairwell. “Can we talk?”
Don stopped; he always had time for any of the children, especially this one. “Sure thing Jenny. What’s on your mind?” Don led her to his youth ministry office.
“I was wondering about the girl that got the demon,” Jenny said as she sat down.
“Okay,” Don replied, “What do you want to know?”
“Can demons come to you as bed dreams and scare you?”
“I suppose they can. Are you having some bad dreams?” Don asked gently as he sat on the corner of the desk.
Jenny meekly nodded her head yes as she looked at the graying man.
“You know, sometimes God can give you bad dreams too,” Don stated simply.
“He does?” Jenny said in surprise. “Why would God do something like that?”
“Oh, I couldn’t say for certain every time. Perhaps to let you face a fear safely, perhaps to teach you to be scared of something, perhaps even to make one realize that no matted where they are they still need to rely on Him.”
“Oh, I didn’t think of it like that,” Jenny said, the relief showed on her face.
“There is something you can do about it though. Before you go to bed, be sure to pray about your dreams. Pray that if they are from God, that you learn everything that you’re suppose to, and if they aren’t from God, that He’ll protect you from them. Either way, you’ll be protected and the dreams will be a blessing in time.”
“I think I understand. So if I do get a bad dream I should learn the lesson and if I don’t get a bad dream, then the one I had wasn’t from God.”
“Exactly,” Don said as he stood back up, glad he could help.
“Thank you pastor Don, you’re the best pastor in the world.” The girl hugged Don and then followed him towards the stairs leading back down.
Don smiled. “You’re welcome, and the hug was the perfect reward. Let’s cut the power and go find your folks before things get too hectic.”
“Okay,” Jenny took the pastor’s hand and went with him.
Jenny found her family sitting in their customary pew. She in turn went to the pew in the very front and waited for her friends to join her. It only took a minute before Christine and Rachael came along with Amber in their keeping. Shawn was no too far behind. Though Amber usually sat with their parents, she joined Jenny up front.
“You left me behind,” Amber whined softly as she folded her hands on her lap like Jenny.
“I didn’t leave you behind, I left you with Christina and Jessica, silly,” Jenny explained.
“I was still looking for you and I was worried,” Amber pouted.
Jenny smiled at her sister. “Well, I’m sorry, next time I’ll make sure to tell you where I’m going. And, if you must know, I was talking to Pastor Don.”
“See that wasn’t hard,” Amber said is a cutesy, smug way.
“Why don’t you keep Jessica company, she looks lonely,” Jenny told her sister.
“Okay, good idea.” Amber quickly left her seat and went be her friend before the sermon started.
“See,” Christine said to Rachael, “I told you little sisters are a pain in the you-know-what.”
“I think it’s cute,” Rachael remarked as she looked back at the two younger girls.
“You’re lucky I like you too much or I’d pray a little sister on you,” Christine said flatly.
Pastor Don stood at the pulpit, ending all conversation between the children. He started preaching on his prepared material, a study of the Pauline epistles. During the summer, it was his plan to go chapter by chapter, and give all the relevant information about what the apostle was writing and the historical context in which it fell. The Wednesday night meeting was only forty-five minutes, in which the pastor spoke and taught the whole time. Unlike the Sunday service, this one was void of any music or special ceremonies.
It wasn’t too long before Jenny found herself back at home. She always enjoyed Wednesdays at church. She kept notes in her Student Bible any time that she heard a lesson from one of its verses. After church the family always went to a little restaurant that a family friend, Terry, owned. It was always a delight and she always got a big slice of pecan pie for desert.
But now Jenny was in her room. It was late. Wednesdays always ran late for her and her family. Her parents were already in their room, starting to get ready for bed. Amber was sitting on the bed Indian style, scratching Neesa’s ear and Little Chase had fallen asleep in the car on the way home and was now safely in his crib.
Jenny folded her clothes after pulling them off. She placed them neatly on the chair and would deal with them tomorrow. She didn’t want to pull out a nightgown just so she could put the garments in a hamper. Besides, she knew she would be in her room for the night and she figured why should she bother. Before climbing into bed, she knelt on the floor and clasped her hands together in prayer.
Their was something about praying while unclothed that Jenny liked. She had visions of Eve in the garden of Eden before the fall, when man and woman freely conversed with God. She imagined that God would approve greatly by the way she approached Him tonight, unprotected and unguarded by anything man made. She approached Him the way she was designed, clothed only in skin, adorned only by the long blonde hair that draped over her shoulders but not going too much further. She closed her eyes and bowed her head humble, other than being naked, which was her idea, this is how her father on Earth taught her to pray.
“Hi God,” Jenny talked with the Lord internally. “Thank you for letting me learn more about you tonight. I really like knowing all the lessons you have to offer. Thank you for my family. Thank you for Mom and Dad and Amber and little Chase, keep them safe and happy all the days of their life. I’ve been having bad dream a lot lately and if you’re trying to teach me a lesson through them, please let me learn what it is so the dreams go away. If they’re not from you, please keep the away and protect me from them. Thank you very much. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.”
Amber was watching her sister pray and knew Jenny was done when her head lifted. “Did you have a good talk with God?” she asked.
“All talks with God are good,” Jenny said as she climbed into bed.
“Jenny,” Amber said from across the room. “When it was just you and Mommy and Daddy, did you ever pray for a little sister?” Maybe one just like me?”
Jenny laughed. “I don’t remember asking for one, but maybe I did.”
“Oh,” Amber said a little downcast. “I think it would be cool if you did.”
“Don’t worry, Amber. Even if I didn’t pray for one, I sure am glad that I got one just like you and I thank God every chance I get.”
“Me too, and I prayed that I could sleep in your bed too,” Amber said with a mischievous smile.
“Come on,” Jenny pulled back her sheet and waited for the little girl to jump in her bed. Neesa then took her usual spot at the foot of Jenny’s bed as the girls cuddled.
As was often the case, it didn’t take very long for Amber to fall fast asleep. It happened every time that she was lying next to her big sister. Jenny looked down at the angelic little girl and gave a soft kiss on the child’s forehead. How could she not be thankful for such a little sister and wondered why there always seemed to be a problem between Christine and Jessica, it just didn’t make sense.
What I hope this chapter accomplishes: This chapter is the last lull before another storm, and the conversation between Jenny and Pastor Don sets up something in the next chapter (which was originally part of this chapter, but they get so long I break them up) It also shows that Jenny is a leader. She got up on stage and danced and sang, so she is a confident young lady. Also I wanted to show the strength of the relationship between sisters. Jenny and Amber have a strong relationship, where Christine and Jessica do not. If you look back to Growing Up Jenny, you can see the seeds of resentment Christine has for her little sister there.
Author Note: Everything about the youth group comes from my own life. The orange sign, R.A.D. and the weird games all happened to me in high school. The youth pastor was awesome and was always there for me. I would've used his name, but I used it as an officer in GBTC. Also, I wish I used the other spelling for the name Shawn. I like Sean better. When I initially wrote Shawn in the one scene in GBTC that was suppose to be it for him. How he became major part to the story is a testament to the character's fortitude.
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