Sharon and Robert have spent many dark and lonely hours, separated from each other, asking for the things they believed were right and good. Too many times they listened to doctors whose explanations left them staring and openmouthed, their minds weighted down with things they struggled to comprehend.
Endless dashes to the hospital turned into a permanent stay for their only child. She looks like a little caterpillar cocooned in blankets, bandages, and wires from a host of monitors. Robert calls her his baby bug waiting to emerge with new wings.
Prayer requests make the round on social media. Praise reports are given when their daughter rallies. Many drop off when her condition lags. The weak and faithless have no explanation for this decline. They cannot explain why they couldn’t get Melinda healed, make excuses for God as if He needed them. All of it wears on Sharon and Robert until they pray for release for their beloved child because that must be what God wants for her, right?
With heavy hearts, tears amassing in their eyes, they claim they are willing to accept this for their baby girl. Each buries a duplicitous heart beneath stoic faces and solemn nods of the head. They just want to quit, for this to be over. They never speak of it anymore. In fact, they’ve stopped talking to each other at all. The constant company of the Women’s Bible Study Group and Men’s Fellowship doesn’t allow for much private conversation between them. Such good people, these men and women, who stay with Sharon and Robert 24/7, praying audibly non-stop.
Sharon slips away to the ladies’ room. She does not turn on the light, locks the door. The sound of breathing in the dark room scares her for a second, but whatever harm might be done to her by the owner of the breathing is preferable to what is going on with Melinda. Especially if it ends her.
She jumps and laughs wildly.
“Robert? What on earth are you doing in the ladies’ room?”
“It’s the only place the guys from church wouldn’t think to look for me.”
More deranged laughter, shared, from the emotionally and physically drained parents. Robert sighs but does not reach for his wife. Neither move to turn on the light.
“I’m so tired, Shar.”
Robert’s voice dips and rises uncontrollably.
“I just want this…I just want…”
“I know, dear. Me, too.”
Their hands meet in the darkness, instinct guiding their palms and fingers into place. But they do not draw closer to each other.
“I want to quit, Shar. No—I have to quit. I’m done. I’m finished, and I got nothing left.” He pauses to draw a deep breath. “I was in here working up the nerve to tell you.”
“Rob, that’s why I came in here.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“When, Robert? Between entertaining and performing for the people from church—God knows I love them, but I really just need them to go home—to holding in my emotions every time the doctors tell us Melinda isn’t progressing as they’d hoped? You won’t even meet my eyes anymore.”
“I know. I’m sorry. But I was afraid if I looked at you, you’d see how scared I am—”
“—I’m scared, too—”
“—but I don’t have any answers for you, Shar. You know, I’m supposed to be the strong one and all that.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, honey. I never expected solutions to this. Not from you, anyhow.”
“Well, that’s a relief.”
“Is it? Because we’re off the hook, but I suspect we wanted our prayers answered in a specific way we’re too afraid to admit.”
“Can I turn on the light?”
Robert flips the switch before she consents setting off a round of watery-eyed blinking.
“Well, that’s better,” he jokes.
They step closer and melt into an embrace. Sharon cries against his shoulder as he runs his hand over her hair.
“I’m not really okay with losing Melinda,” his wife says.
“I feel so guilty for saying that. Like I’m less of a…”
“I understand, Shar. Really, I do.”
“So, now what?”
“Now we quit pretending. We’ve got to.”
“And if Melinda…if she…”
“Yes, if…then we’ll figure it out together. Just the two of us.”
“But it doesn’t have to be just you and me, Rob.”
“I know. I meant all the church crowd.”
“They mean well—and quite a few have been helpful. Sincere.”
“That’s true. But when this is over, whatever over may be, it’s just you and me, and you and God, and me and God to work through this.”
It’s Sharon’s turn to sigh.
“Is this where we were supposed to be all along, Rob?”
“You mean if we hadn’t let all the hoopla get in our way?”
“Yes,” she chuckles. “Just trusting. Shutting up and trusting that God’s got this under control.”
“That’s a hard and scary place to be.”
Sharon nods and leans her forehead against Robert’s.
“I can’t promise I won’t be sad,” he whispers.
“You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t. Just don’t be afraid.”
“I’ll try, Shar. For you.”
“No, babe. For you.”
All the prayers they cannot speak radiate between them. A knock on the restroom door precedes, “Sharon—come quick. The doctors have been looking all over for you. Sharon?”
Melinda’s parents, raw and exposed, striped down to the soul, brace each other with hands to the shoulders.
“I don’t know where they are,” says the muffled voice on the other side of the door.
“Well we have to find them now. They need to know Melinda has opened her eyes and asked for them,” a male voice joins in.
Gasps of shock from the people on the outside are lost in bursts of laughter and tears of relief from Robert and Sharon within.