As a volunteer at our church library, I go through boxes of donations. Some boxes contain fresh-off-the-press books that were speedily read once and then shared. Other boxes are covered with dust and cobwebs, but among the dead crickets and fiddlebacks are valuable leather volumes. If we already have the book in our collection, we might place them on the sale rack, but there have been a few donations that weren’t even suitable for resale. And there’s one I’ll always remember.library-1441756-1278x884

The rest of the box was pretty typical – a few Left Behind stories, and a Dobson parenting book – but then there was this small, white paperback with a generic title, like Seasons of Love or somethingand a picture of a couple watching a sunset together.

Was this a secular romance? I couldn’t tell by the publisher’s name. In fact, it looked self-published. Was it someone I knew? I skimmed through the Table of Contents and saw chapter titles like On the Beach, At the Chalet, After the Football Game, On the Ranch. The first chapter started with characters named Nick and Megan and yes, they were on the beach. There was no plot, or backstory. Just two characters on a beach and we’ll just hope they were on a deserted beach, and that they were lawfully wed.


What was this book? A collection of steamy short-stories? The next chapter had two characters caught in a snowstorm in the Alps, and they weren’t playing Scrabble to pass the time at the chalet. I thumbed through the rest of the book. Nothing but a collection of love scenes set in exotic locations. But wait? Wasn’t the main character named Nick in the first chapter? And was that Megan again? Were all of these fantasies about characters named Nick and Megan?

What in the world? I’d never heard of a book like this. I flipped through the title pages and copyright pages trying to find out who published this ramshackle hot mess of raunchy scenes. That’s when I saw it.


To Nick and Megan (Last Name), on their wedding day… 

Love, Mom.

Nick and Megan? That Nick and Megan? The ones who go to church with me? The ones who sing in the choir? His mom bought this for them? His mom? Yes, turns out there are websites where you can customize books like this. Nick’s mom did this for their wedding, and poor Megan accidentally donated to the church library.

Whether or not the idea of making a book filled with saucy scenes of me and my husband had ever occurred to me, I hope it’d never occurred to my mother-in-law! Had Megan meant to throw it away? Could we sell it for more than $1 on the sale rack? (Just joking!) I felt compelled to let her know. She wasn’t a close friend, but surely she’d see the humor in it and be glad I caught the mistake before someone else read the book.

On Sunday after church, I met her in the library and handed her the book. “I think you might want this back,” I said.

She glanced at it. “No, I don’t have room for it on my bookshelves. The kids’ books are taking up too much space.” She pushed it back at me.

“But it’s a customized book.” I shoved it back at her. “It says it’s a wedding present. You really should take a look at it.”

“It was from Nick’s mom and I never read it. She’s all into romances, but I don’t have time for books like that. Here, you like that kind of book. You can keep it.” And just like that, she handed it to me, and walked out.

Well, folks, you can’t say I didn’t try. And if that book became the most popular book in our church library, and was checked out dozens of times, you can’t blame me. I gave her a chance.

Of course, that’s not what happened. For real, I chased her down and insisted that she take it, but I’m not sure she ever understood what was in that book from her mother-in-law. On the other hand, not soon after this event she moved out of town, so maybe she did figure it out.

If I have one word of advice, it’s this – Please, for the safety of your library volunteers, please look over those books before you donate them to your church. And before another day passes, you might want to read that book your mother-in-law gave you for your wedding.


(Names have been changed.)


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