At first, I drive right past it, missing it. The house has changed since I’d been there over a year ago, I think as I pull off the road, parking in the mud.
Dusty bricks surround what used to be the empty ground of the house on stilts. The half-finished, bare, concrete-floored home of my Indonesian friend used to look like a bombed out building to me. Like half a house. But not because of what had been blown away. No—because of what was never there to start with.
I haven’t seen my friend much since the battles raged stronger in her own life. I met her back when she was a single, divorced, Arabic-praying mom of a little girl, living with her parents and other siblings. They lived a half-family together in poverty, missing a daddy for my friend’s little girl, missing real faith in a God who wanted more for them. In that half-house, they’d serve me flat Coke and store-bought cookies for my visits, all the little kids looking up at me with round eyes while I sipped.
A lot of things changed in a couple of years for her and her family. My friend got a job, found friends who cared for her, changed her beliefs to the ones that gave her hope, the ones that told her God loved her in all the messiness, the ones that made her nominally religious dad forbid her from her new life.
Then sadly, she got pregnant, no husband, another mouth to feed, another reason for her dad to hate her. And she ran away to another city, then back home where her parents grudgingly let her live. Then her dad got sick, couldn’t work. And she went from fallen, infidel daughter to bread winner cook at a faraway jungle logging camp, her income feeding seven mouths in that half-house.
And not much had really changed. More poverty. More missing fathers. More empty Arabic words uttered only on holy days.
But today, more has changed than just the bricks. I try to get my bearings in this new downstairs that used to be a dirt yard. The son that was born with no father calls his grandmother “Mama.” My friend brings flat Coke in small glasses for my kids and me. The picture of my friend’s father sits prominently in the nearly empty new room—sunglasses covering his eyes.
He’s gone. A month ago, he died from his long-time battle with diabetes.
I sip the flat Coke and listen to his widow surprise with me with all the other changes. Stories of how her husband worked hard at the end of his life to finish building the house for his family. Stories of how he allowed the pastor and others from nearby churches to visit him in his dying days, pray with him, care for the family, give him hope he’d never had. His face shone, peaceful, like he was a young man again on the day he died. Or so his widow said.
This was the man who made his grown daughter choose between new faith and family, who shouted hate in her face, who welcomed her back so she could wake up before dawn and fall asleep after midnight, cooking and cleaning for lumber workers to feed her whole family, while her mother raised her children.
Did he choose hope's change in the end? In all their lives, in all that non-change through the years, in all that was missing in their half-house—did he finally find something whole?
I don’t know.
“All religions are the same, have the same goal,” the widow, who wears a head covering, tells me, and I nod at its empty half-truth.
But I’m done with the half-living, with the watching people try hard in religion, with the false efforts of people who look like they’ve been in a battle when really, they are just missing the rest of the picture.
And so I bow my head down at the concrete floor and pray…for more change.
photo credit, Esparta