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The Natural Sequel

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Ellen Russell cleared her throat. “Okay, ladies! I call this small group meeting to order! Let’s get started with POWs, WOWs, and HOWs! We haven’t done these in a while, so remember, a POW is something that was rough this week, a WOW is a high point, and HOW is God working in your life. Who wants to go first?” 

The six high school girls all shifted their eyes toward each other, away, at their hands, up to the ceiling. Aleathia elbowed Annie, and Annie nudged her back, stifling a giggle. 

“Annie?” asked Ellen, smiling. “How about you?”

Annie shrugged. “Um. My POW is that I’m super stressed about school right now. My English class is really kicking my butt.” She sighed, “It’s so much reading, and I don’t like any of the books. My WOW … I talked last week about my friend Freida? She and my other friends at SCS are like, the only thing making school bearable. I’m going to see if she wants to come to youth group sometime, so you all can meet her. And my HOW. How has God been working in my life … well, it’s been easier this week to wake up early and read my Bible and pray before school every morning.” 

Ellen asked, “What are you reading right now?” 

“Oh, I’m just going through Psalms again right now.”

“Nice!” said Ellen. 

As the other girls around the circle talked about their weeks, Annie doodled in her notebook, just to keep her hands moving. 

~ Passion and Purity, Chapter One ~ she embellished. 

Ellen remarked, after everyone had finished, “It’s really exciting to be starting a new book, isn’t it? This is one of my favorites. When I was younger, one of my mentors gave me this book, and it’s stuck with me ever since. What did you guys notice about the introduction & first chapter ?” 

“She’s a really good writer,” said Megan. “All of her sentences are so crisp and clear.” Megan wrote too, and was working on a fantasy novel. She’d shown Annie a draft of the first few chapters and it was good

Sometimes Annie thought about her talented, beautiful friends and her heart swelled. They were going to take over the world and make it so much better . Sometimes, too, she thought about all of them and then wondered what the heck she was going to do in the absence of any actual talent or creativity. She envied Megan, who was bone-deep-sure about writing. Or Aleathia, who was already signed up for Bible college next year, and talked excitedly about overseas missions work and joining the ministry. Annie mentally shook herself. She’d serve God, of course, and he’d show her what to do. She just had to wait on him. 

“I think it’s a really interesting idea at the end of the chapter when she says that life without purity is boring. That’s not something I’d thought about before,” said Willa. 

“I feel like literally every movie in the world shows sex as, like, literally the most exciting thing?” said Ashley L. 

Ashley S., next to her, nodded in agreement. “Also, like, virginity is totally made fun of,” she said, pulling a face. 

“Ugh, I saw that movie and it was totally gross, I hated it,” said Aleathia. 

“What movie?” asked Annie. 

“The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, it was so stupid,” said Aleathia. 

“Blech,” exhaled Megan. 

“So, Willa, did you agree with idea that life without purity is boring?” interjected Ellen. 

Willa nodded. “I can totally see her point. Why waste all the good stuff with your husband before marriage, and like, knowing that you are committed?” 

Danielle, the only one of them who actually had a boyfriend, spoke up. “Okay, just to play a little bit of a devil’s advocate here, I’m not pushing for, like, premarital sex, but it seems like she’s anti even kissing, and that seems a little harsh. Don’t you have to make sure you’re a little bit compatible before you get married?” 

Someone likes making out with Chris!” sang out Aleathia. 

Danielle rolled her eyes, blushing. “I’m just saying. I’d never want to be one of those people who didn’t even kiss their husband before getting married.” She lowered her voice to a hush. “What if you didn’t even like it?” 

“Elizabeth has talked about waiting to kiss someone,” offered Annie, remembering a conversation with her older sister. “But she’s also never officially gone out with anybody.” 

No, Annie's older sister Elizabeth had been “hanging out” with boys for years, but without dating any of them. Annie didn’t get it. Being the only girl in a circle of boys was, like, her nightmare. This was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to the differences between her and Elizabeth, though. Annie sighed and wrested her attention back to the discussion around her.

“I don’t think the book is strictly against kissing,” said Ellen gently. “She talks about kissing Jim before marriage, later in the book. But that’s in the context of both of them being on the exact same page about purity and saving their virginity until marriage. What I’d like to know from you guys is what you think about the idea of bringing your love lives to God? What does that mean to you?” 

“Don’t you mean, like, the lack of a love life?” cracked Megan. 

The girls laughed. 

“Actually, yes!” said Ellen. “Bringing our longings, our desires, our dreams. Submitting that to Jesus. What does that look like to all of you?” 

There was a lull in the conversation as the girls each digested this question. 

Annie was at a loss. She would definitely get married someday and probably have some kids. She liked kids. And she liked going to weddings. The pomp of it all, the ceremony. Pledging your troth before God and the world. Getting to force your musical preferences on everyone you knew. Eating cake. Dancing. The groom didn’t really factor into her thoughts –– a shadowy dim figure that God would reveal, like the remainder of her life, as she moved into the future. 

After a minute, Ellen said, “For example, when I was single, my pastor told me to pray for my future husband, even though I didn’t know who he might be. So, I prayed that he would be growing in his faith, developing into a man of God, and resisting temptation from the world. That helped me, even when I was lonely, to remember that God had each of us in his Hand.” 

“When you met Brian, did you know he was the one?” Ashley L. asked, fascinated.

“No! I thought he was cute, but a little annoying, actually,” laughed Ellen. “It took some getting to know him before God started revealing to each of us that we were meant to be together.” 

“How did you know?” asked Aleathia. 

Ellen’s look turned fond. “We were in Bible College, down in California, and he preached a sermon in chapel for a class. It was a good sermon! It made me take him more seriously. And then … we started hanging out in the same group of friends, and became really close, and it just kind of happened.” 

“Oh my gosh, cute ,” said Ashley S. 

“Praying for your future husband. That’s a good idea,” said Ashley L. “I might start doing that.” 

“Yeah, me too,” said Willa, tilting her head to one side. “I do … get kind of lonely. Especially if I have a crush on somebody and I know they don’t like me back.” 

“Crushes are the worst ,” said Megan, fervently. 

“I haven’t really had a crush on anyone in a while,” said Annie. “It’s kind of nice.” 

“You are so lucky,” said Megan. “Crushes are literally torture. All these stupid feelings for stupid boys, who are so stupid, especially in high school.” 

“Bring it to Jesus,” said Ellen, smiling at Megan. 

Megan laughed. “You’re right, I should.” 

“What about when you like a guy who maybe isn’t a Christian?” said Ashley L., trying and failing to look like the question was casual. 

“Well, you know what the Bible says about being unequally yoked,” said Ellen. “That definitely applies to dating, too. I’ve seen some ‘missionary dating’ situations that turned out … very poorly. It’s hard to stay strong in your faith in a relationship that isn’t founded on Christ.” 

Ashley L. grimaced. 

“I think I read that Christian romance novel ,” said Megan. “Don’t worry, he converts at the end, after like ten years and three kids.” 

The group laughed, and Ellen said, “We’re almost out of time, gals. Let’s pray. Why don’t we go around the circle and each pray for the person on our left?” 

Annie happened to be on Ellen’s left, and she felt warmth spread through her as Ellen prayed for her. Ellen was the best. 

Afterwards, Annie texted her mom for a pickup. Her face fell. 

Most of the girls were gone by this time, except Aleathia and Megan.

“Annie? What’s up, do you need a ride?” asked Aleathia. 

“Yeah, sorry, can you, Ally?” said Annie. “My mom just said that she totally forgot and is way up in like, Edmonds, right now.” Annie said the name of the sleepy suburb thirty minutes north with a sigh. 

“What about your dad?” asked Megan. 

“No chance. He actually turns off his phone when he’s at men’s group,” Annie said, rolling her eyes. 

“Aleathia, you live in Bellevue, right? I’ll be much closer to Queen Anne, since I’m taking Megan to Ballard already.” said Ellen. 

“Oh, sure!” said Aleathia. “Yeah, I mean, I never mind giving you a ride, An, but it would save me like 30 minutes and I still have some homework to do tonight.”

They trooped out into the cold night. Aleathia hugged them all goodbye. In short order, Ellen had dropped Megan off at her parent’s house in Ballard, and they were crossing the Ballard bridge. It was misty, the street lights turning the fog pearly and silver. Annie could barely see the boats docked up in Salmon Bay. Magnolia hill rose over them to the right, Queen Anne hill to the left, rows of golden house lights shining through the night. She loved Seattle so much it hurt, sometimes. 

“Are you enjoying the book?” Ellen asked. 

“Oh yes, so far, so good!” said Annie, turning back from the window. “Megan was right, her writing is really good.”

“I thought you would like it. I know you love a good book.” 

“I honestly think I could live my life just reading books and playing piano,” confessed Annie. 

“Don’t we all?” laughed Ellen. “Have you thought about what you might do after you graduate?” 

Annie sighed. She kept putting it off. “Not really? I know Elizabeth is really liking Bible college, so I might give that a try. I’m praying about it, but I don’t really feel like I’m hearing from the Lord.” 

Ellen nodded. Off the bridge, she turned onto the street that wound its way up the back of Queen Anne Hill. 

“I’ll keep you in my prayers. Remember, you don’t have to have everything figured out all at once. Sometimes God only shows us a little of the path at a time.” 

“You’re right,” said Annie. “Thank you.” 

“Of course!” said Ellen. “Let me know if there’s ever anything else you need prayer for, too. That’s what I’m here for!” 

“Thanks,” Annie said again, feeling very warm and very tongue-tied. Why couldn’t she ever say what was in her head? She managed to stammer out, as they pulled up in front of her house, “That means a lot to me, Ellen.” 

“Of course,” said Ellen again, reaching over to give Annie a side hug. “I’ll see you on Sunday at youth group!” 

“See you!” said Annie brightly, as she got out of the car. It was cold. She shivered her way up the walk and got into the house. 

Mary called somewhere from the distant reaches of the house, “Mom?” 

“Nope, it’s me!” yelled Annie, hanging her coat and scarf and pulling her tennis shoes off. 

Mary appeared at the top of the stairs. 

“Annie! Where have you been all night?” 

“Small group. Ellen gave me a ride home.”

“Oh. Okay. Um … can you look at my essay? Mom said she’d do it when she got home, but I really wanted to watch a movie tonight and I can’t do it until I ‘finish’ my homework,” Mary said in a long suffering voice, using air quotes. 

“Sure.” said Annie. “Is it on the computer?” 

“Yeah.” Mary’s eyes squinted at her. “Could you do it … during the movie?” 

Annie laughed. “Yeah, I can do it during the movie.” 

They went into the family room together, and Mary opened her essay file on the family iMac. As soon as Annie sat down to read it, Mary raced to the DVD shelf and pulled out a movie. 

Why We Should Not Have School Uniforms
Mary Elliot
7th Grade English
Mrs. Hoover

“What movie?” asked Annie. 

“Ratatouille, duh,” said Mary. Their dad had just bought the Blu-Ray disc of the movie, and Mary had watched it almost every day. Personally, Annie didn’t see the point of Blu-Ray. Regular DVDs were fine, if you asked her (No one asked her, of course). And her dad was such a tech head. Couldn’t be held back from buying the latest and greatest.

School Uniforms would cause student’s to lose uniqueness and self-expression. Self-expression is very important for all people

Annie suppressed a sigh. 

In additionally, School uniforms are expensive, and some families are poor. I do not think it would be fiar to have school uniforms required for every student.  

“Mary,” Annie said. 

“What?” 

“Um, I’m going to print this out and mark it with a pen.” 

“Aw, you can’t just, like, fix things in the Word doc?”

“I don’t think so,” said Annie, hitting print. She quickly logged into her Hotmail account to see if she had any emails. She did. Freida had sent her a couple of YouTube links to some video clips of … something from The OC and then something from SNL ? Annie grinned. She’d watch them later, once Mary went to bed. 

Annie moved to the couch and half-watched the movie, half-edited the paper. 

Mary, lost in the movie, let out a surprised “Hey!” when Annie paused the movie, thirty minutes in. 

“I’m done,” said Annie, waving the paper at her. “You make your changes, and I’ll make us some popcorn.” 

She headed to the kitchen, Mary yelling after her, “Oh My lanta , did you use all the ink in this pen?”

“Lots to fix, sorry!” she yelled back. 

Her mom was sitting at the kitchen table with a stack of mail and her planner open in front of her. 

“Oh hey, Mom, we didn’t hear you come in!” said Annie. She yelled over her shoulder, “Mare! Mom’s home!” 

“Okay!” yelled Mary. 

“Hey sweetie,” said her mom warmly. “Sorry again about the mixup tonight, one of the ladies really needed some extra prayer and counsel.” 

“It’s fine,” Annie said as she crossed the kitchen to get the popcorn. “Ellen was already dropping Megan off.” 

“God bless Ellen. I’ll have to thank her at church on Wednesday,” said her mom. 

Annie put the popcorn into the microwave. 

“Hey Mom?” Annie asked. “This is, like, none of my business, but, uh, why don’t Ellen and Brian have any kids? They’re so great.”

“Hm,” her mom said, looking up from her planner. “I know they were trying pretty hard right around the time we had Mary. I think that was a couple of years after they got married.”  

The popcorn started to pop. 

“Oh,” said Annie. 

Trying. Annie would have died a thousand deaths before she admitted that she wasn’t exactly 100% sure about what trying entailed. She’d had sex ed in middle school, she had just … tried to erase it from her mind as soon as she could afterwards. 

“I think they found out that they couldn’t,” said her mom, tapping her pen against her chin. 

“That’s too bad,” Annie said, delicately lifting the hot popcorn bag out of the microwave by a corner and shaking it a little. 

“Yeah. It really is. I have to say, though, they have such servant hearts that God turned it into a huge blessing for LightWalk. Brian does such a great job with the junior high group, and Ellen’s probably the longest serving youth leader at The Spark now. ”

“What are you talking about? Hi Mom!” Mary skidded into the kitchen on her sock feet. 

“Hi sweetie, how is your essay coming along?” laughed their mom. 

“Ugh,” Mary flounced into a chair. “Annie gave me all these edits. I thought it was fine!” 

“That’s what you need proofreaders for,” said their mom gently, winking at Annie above Mary’s head. 

“Well, I’m done! Can we watch the rest of the movie now?” 

“Did you print it and put it in your folder?” asked their mom. 

Mary got up and ran out of the kitchen. “Doing it now!” 

Annie dumped the popcorn into a bowl. “When did you know God wanted you to marry Dad?” 

“Oh, goodness, you know this story. He’d started a Bible Study at UW, and my friend Janine dragged me there. I fell in love with Jesus and your dad around the same time that night.” 

“Yeah, but like, how did you know ? What did it feel like?”

“It just felt right, sweetie. Everything about it just clicked. I don’t advise young people to get married quite as soon as we did, but we were young.” Her mom smiled into the middle distance.

“I just don’t think I could be sure of anything in three weeks.”

“You know your dad doesn’t like to wait around once he feels God’s call for something.” 

Annie nodded. This, at least, she knew from experience. From buying the new church buildings to last-minute sermon changes, her father was not inclined to get second opinions before making decisions.

“What brought this on?” Her mom asked, a knowing look in her eyes. 

“Oh, we were talking about it in small group. You know we’re reading Passion and Purity .”

“I love that book,” smiled her mother. “I reread it a couple years ago when Elizabeth’s small group was reading it.”

“Yeah. I was just thinking that, like, I don’t really care about boys right now? I like hanging out with my friends way more.” 

“That’s not a bad thing, sweetie. You know, just because Elizabeth’s been a little boy crazy doesn’t mean you have to.”

Annie laughed. Elizabeth had just moved out to Bible College, and their house was refreshingly free of her lovesick swains for the first time in years

Mary raced through the kitchen and up the stairs to her room, waving her essay. 

“I’m almost ready!” she yelled back down. 

Their mom had started opening the mail. “Annie, would you give me a handful of that popcorn before you go down?” 

“Sure!” Annie said, pivoting and grabbing a small bowl from the cabinet. 

“Thank you, sweetheart. Thanks for helping Mary, too. Oh, and remember, you have your rescheduled piano lesson tomorrow, did you practice today?” 

“Yeah, I practiced before small group!” said Annie heading back to the family room. 

She could hear Mary jumping down the stairs after her, and her mom calling out, “Not so fast, dear!” 

Annie settled into the couch, munching some popcorn and wondering idly what actual ratatouille tasted like. Freida had been to France because of her dad; she might know. Annie would have to ask her at lunch tomorrow. 

“Start it, start it!” yelled Mary, vaulting over the couch. 

Annie pressed play.