(First published as “The Missing Book” on http://www.faithwriters.com 05/03/06)

“It’s not really what you think.” As Jonathan stared at a tall, fully stocked bookshelf in the corner of the office, he repeated, “It’s not really what you think.”

Sharon, still baffled, looked at Jonathan intently. “How do you know it’s not what I think? I haven’t told you what I think.”

“I’ve been dealing with you way too long, Miss Landers. I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m afraid to make a commitment because of all the stuff I’ve been through. Well that’s not it at all.”

Sharon looked away from Jonathan and over at the bookshelf upon which his gaze was fixed. She smiled sadly at the irony. Jonathan had no idea that he was staring at the very books Sharon once thought contained the answers to every problem she would ever encounter as a Social Services Counselor. Yet, Jonathan’s situation was not addressed in any of them. It almost seemed as if a book was missing. One that could explain why a thirteen year old boy who was orphaned at three, then shuffled from bad foster home to worse foster home for nearly ten years, would turn down an opportunity to be adopted by a family who genuinely loved him.

“I’m confused. I thought you really liked the Church family. You spent the whole summer with them. What’s changed, Jonathan? If you’re not afraid of commitment, then what are you afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid of anything. I know the Church family loves me. They were real nice to me this summer. Mr. Church would always take me fishin’ and bowlin’ and stuff, and Mrs. Church was always fixin’ treats for me, huggin’ on me, and tellin’ me how smart I was.”

“Well, was it the boys? Were you able to get along with them?”

“Yes indeed, Miss Landers. We were real good friends. Deacon, the one who’s my age, is really cool. He got me to join his baseball team, and even gave me one of his old gloves. We’d play video games and watch TV till late at night. And Evan, his little brother, liked me too. He said he wanted to grow up to be just like me. He would draw me pictures and tell me jokes. You see what I mean about getting along with them?”

“Of course I do. But I must say, Jonathan, that I’m more confused than ever. If they loved you so much and treated you so well, why did you turn down their offer to become part of their family?”

“The Church family just doesn’t seem real.”

“What do you mean by real, Jonathan?”

“One day, we were having dinner. Everybody was treating me real good as usual. Evan wanted to sit by me; Deacon gave me the end piece of the meat loaf even though it was his favorite; Mr. Church bought rocky road ice cream for desert cause he knew I liked it; and Mrs. Church kept asking me if I wanted more. Well, all of a sudden, Deacon asked Evan to pass the salt. Evan didn’t hear him, so Deacon reached for it across the table and accidentally spilled his milk. Mr. Church slapped Deacon in the face and yelled about being careful. Evan started to cry, and Mr. Church yelled at him to stop. Then Mrs. Church yelled at Mr. Church for yelling at the boys, and then started yelling at him for stuff that happened years ago. Mr. Church walked out of the room. Mrs. Church left too. Deacon looked at Evan and said that it was all his fault for not passing the salt. Evan stopped crying, but I could hear him whisper that he hated everybody.”

“Oh, I see. You love the Church family, and they love you, but you don’t see them love each other.”

“That’s right Miss Landers. You can know a family is real by their love for one another. Who wants to join a family that loves everybody else, but not one another?”

“Well, Jonathan, this has been very enlightening. I’m sad that you won’t be adopted, but I do understand why. You will know them by their love for one another. I read that somewhere.”

“Oh yea? Where?”

“In a book about love.”

After the session with Jonathan was over, Sharon looked at the bookshelf once again. She decided to add one very special book to her collection: the one that seemed to be missing.