Archive for the ‘Who we are’ Category

Most of my calories this week have come from these exciting sources

Traveling in the Philippines with one of our Samaritana coworkers, we were returning from deep in the province. Ravenous after a six-hour bus ride, we turned to Ate Becky to ask what she wanted to eat. Her response? “Something to fill the hole.”

This struck me as funny, because mere sustenance is not how I think about eating: eating is pleasure! In America, meals mean choices, a flood of dopamine, an adventure of nourishment, novelty, and now. To merely fill the hole? What a letdown. In fact, mere hole-filling, mere placeholding in any area of life–partner, job, school, house–is countercultural in a land where anything is possible, and most of it’s affordable.

Then I started the Global Hunger Fast.

Giving up great food I was somewhat prepared for, since we did that last year. Ditto for giving up exercise. But giving up sleep and sex as well? Now we’re talking about the four chief sources of pleasure in my adult life; as one might expect, I’ve been pretty flatlined this week–but for one thing: Gabriel.

Our three-week-old son is the reason for the subtraction of sleep and sex, yet he’s sweet and soul-stirring and unquestionably worth it. In the Bible he’s a messenger from God, and our Gabriel brought a message for me this week: “Without your usual sources of fulfillment and fun, what will you use to fill the hole?”

One answer, of course, is people: Gabe and Laura; our generous and loving parents; the friends and relatives who have showered us with affection. I see better now why older, wiser cultures place such emphasis on relationships, because even when you’re unshaven, unemployed, under-slept, and undernourished, the right people still care for you. But people aren’t everything, and often it’s those closest to you who can hurt you the most. So under the gifts, the hugs, and the new life, the question remains.

Christians may be familiar with the idea of the God-shaped hole in humanity, and this week has reminded me of what I’m using to fill my holes, pie and otherwise. I’d hoped to glimpse God through this spiritual discipline, have my time atop the mountain, but I haven’t yet–or was snoozing on the bus (dreaming of steak and produce) when the divine light shone down. I’m still awaiting a moment of illumination, but I’m getting a new angle on my faith without these other things in the way.

-Nate

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A little over eight months ago, Nate and I returned home after a year in Manila. In those early weeks of re-entry, there were long lists of old pleasures that were suddenly new again: real Mexican food, redwood-shaded trails, our own car, clean air. Months later, most of these have become routine, and we have to remind ourselves how lucky we are to have them. But there is one thing that hasn’t stopped feeling like a treat: hot showers.

It’s been a subject of much discussion, something we’ve commented on to each other daily. We marvel that it still feels like heaven every time, even on the warm days. We joke about getting “stuck” in the shower. I once asked Nate to come in and turn the water off because I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Since becoming a mom, hot showers have gone from being a luxury to a sanctuary. Thanks to family, I’ve been able to take a shower every day since I came home from the hospital. After spending most of my waking hours caring for Gabriel, it feels sneaky to have those minutes to myself. It isn’t just the act of getting clean (although I do appreciate cleansing the sticky smell of milk); I’m always getting cold too, so the shower is the place that restores my temperature–and my sanity. It’s alone time, me time, proof that though Asia has influence me, I’m a still a Westerner at heart. So showers are glorious: the sweet release of knowing that no one will bother me.

It was during my daily hot shower yesterday that I was struck once again by the contrast between my own life and the one I’d be living in the developing world. I remember vividly the showers I took when we stayed with some of the women we knew. There was a communal slab of cement outdoors, enclosed on the sides by plastic tarps–which might also be used for urinating. We’d carry in a large bucket of water, and a small dipper to pour the water over us. Even in the heat, the cold water was bracing, functional only, something you tried to get over with as quickly as possible. There was no spacing out, since if you used up the water before you’d rinsed off soap or shampoo, you were out of luck. There was no solitude, since you were always aware that someone else might be waiting. All of the smells and sounds of life outside surrounded you.

Just like that, I knew what I had to do. Since I’m not fasting from food this week, I’ve been trying to think of other ways to fast and live in solidarity with those in the developing world. What better way to do it than to take my greatest daily pleasure–my greatest daily luxury–and give it up?

I turned the dial to cold, shivered, and got out of there as fast as I could.

-Laura

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When this year’s Global Hunger Fast fell on the third week of my son’s life, I reluctantly agreed with my husband and family to sit out this time around. But as I think about my Filipina sisters at Samaritana (and women in developing countries worldwide), I’m acutely aware of how privileged I am for this to be a choice. While I don’t believe in punishing my son for the sake of making a point, I don’t take this contrast lightly.

Early in our time in Manila, I read that Filipinos are among the shortest people in the world, largely because of malnutrition. While I’m eating my affluent diet loaded with produce and protein, new mothers around the world are eating whatever they can get–which is to say, not what they need for themselves, let alone a baby. While I have the luxury of breastfeeding and pumping out plenty of milk to be frozen for future months, the mothers I knew at Samaritana had to make do with what their bodies would produce (or whatever they could afford), and they certainly didn’t have breast pumps or even refrigerators (or freezers) to store food or milk.

As every new mother knows, these first weeks are a haze of chaos and fatigue. But when I think about my first seventeen days of motherhood compared to those of the Samaritana women, my version of motherhood looks a piece of cake.

Even before Gabriel was born, my experience of labor and delivery was, by the world’s standards, pretty cushy: Nate and our doulas rubbed my back; I snacked when hungry, took a hot shower and hot bath to relax, all the while listening to the soothing sounds of Miles Davis. After contractions picked up, we drove ten minutes in our own car to the hospital, where for the next five hours, a flock of medical staff monitored Gabriel’s heartbeat and kept Nate and me informed. When his heartbeat kept dropping, yet I wasn’t dilating despite ever-stronger contractions (Gabe had his head turned sideways), the possibility of a C section first came up.

Ninety minutes later I was in the operating room; a half hour after that I heard Nate say “it’s a boy,” and then Gabriel Sagada Davis was in my arms and my husband was sobbing tears of joy beside me. While it didn’t happen quite as planned, and there were many painful hours, the whole experience was remarkably calm–pleasant, even. I had only a flicker of a thought that my baby and I might be in danger, and then it was gone with a simple prayer and the knowledge that I was about to go through a procedure that, while major, was also somewhat routine. The first four days of Gabe’s life were spent in the hospital, and Nate and I were continually impressed by how excellent the doctors and nurses were, how our every need was met, and what a gift it was to be in a setting with so many people who clearly love what they do.

I recap the birth because while I never set foot in a Manila hospital, I heard enough about them to make me glad I had no reason to. One Filipino friend told me that people avoid going to the hospital because once you’re there, you’re much more likely to die. And while good medical care is available in Manila (for the rich), as a new mom I also can’t ignore the world infant mortality rankings, which suggest that Gabriel would’ve been three times as likely to die had he been born a Filipino baby–or twenty times more likely as an Afghani.

It’s easy to walk away from these sobering contrasts feeling guilty for having so much, but I think I’m missing the point of the Global Hunger Fast if guilt is all I feel. I can’t change the world’s infant mortality rates or improve nutrition by feeling bad. But my awareness of the disparities between my life and the lives of women around the world can make me softer and more compassionate. It can open my wallet a little wider. It can keep me praying and looking for ways to love and serve, one woman at a time.

-Laura

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From Laura: I promised that I would post something as soon as we had news about my literary, or literal baby. For those of you not on Facebook, forgive us for taking a few days to announce that the baby is finally here! Gabriel Sagada Davis was born on Saturday, March 17 at 8:07 a.m.
After a hard night of labor, we learned that our child was every bit as stubborn as his parents: he was trying to come out sideways, and as a result his heart rate was dropping to dangerously low levels. While a C-section wasn’t what we’d planned, we are intensely grateful for modern medicine; if this had happened 100 years ago, Gabe and I probably both wouldn’t be here now. He came out perfect (except for an oblong head and bruised face, which have since healed) and healthy, and even on the tired nights, we’re delighted to realize how much fun we’re having with him in our world.

“Gabriel” means “mighty man of God,” a blessing we have had for this little boy for many months. Sagada is the name of a gorgeous mountain town in the Filipino rice terraces, and one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been. We want this child to grow up understanding that he was not just made in the Philippines, but that our year there readied us for parenthood. We hope he will love that country as much as we do, and look forward to taking him back there someday.

As for the literary baby, after getting some feedback from agents and other readers, I revised, revised again, and revised again to complete draft #7–what I hope will be a final draft (at least for now)–just days before Gabriel was born. Three literary agents have asked for it in the past three weeks, so now I get to pray and wait.

From Nate: when we were in the Philippines, the story we often heard was that women turned to prostitution because they had no other options, and would do anything to support their child. Now that I have one of my own, I can understand their actions as I never could before. 

Notes from a Hundred-hour Dad
It’s been four days since the rest of my life began, 100 hours that will forever stand out from the previous 300,000 I’ve lived. In the huge realm of fatherhood, I’ve earned just a spit-up of knowledge—but here it is:

To be a dad is to feel unworthy of the title. Unfitting of the shoes. Unsure of the task.

It’s fumbling and funneling formula to your child in the dark through a finger-taped tube.
Coming to terms with non-word neo-cuteisms like “boppy” and “onesie.”
It’s posting the same pictures your pre-dad self found vapid.

To be a dad is to live life in the margins, have but a single hand to yourself, pause writing for burping. To be a dad is to hold the tuna sandwich in the right hand and the baby in the left.

It’s accepting that life is going to happen to your kid no matter how tight you hug him.
Putting oneself second—or third—despite one’s first inclinations.
It’s a blankie burrito that keeps coming unwrapped.

To be a dad is to feel soul-stretching affection and deity-doubting anguish in the span of an evening. To wonder what on this wretched planet will stop the crying that jars the joists of your being. To be a dad is to understand why babies get shaken.

It’s dreading that your child will be weighed in the hospital scales, and found wanting.
Worrying—or not—being separated by tenths of a degree.
It’s praying for pink skin, yellow pee, and green poop.

To be a dad is to have discussed all the topics, bought all the books, asked all the relatives, hit all the web sites, stockpiled all the stuff, downloaded all the apps, heard all the advice, joined all the groups—and still not know if you’re doing it right.

It’s being forced at bottlepoint to dig deep within—and not knowing what you’ll find.
Wandering an unfamiliar land wearing a backpack of neglected-family guilt.
It’s heritage and hope made squalling, squirming flesh.

To be a dad is to stand at the corner of universal and personal, to find your needle in the haystack of seven billion straws, to have numbers tattooed on your soul. It is to have six pounds, fourteen ounces be not an amount on a scale, but be love encapsulated, medicine’s gift, dark tiny eyes looking up.

It’s watching the unfolding of the mother in your wife—and holding onto the lover in her too. It’s remembering that sexy lasts longer than stretch marks.
Snapping from sleep at a single squeak, a single snuffle, a single ragged breath.
It’s wrenching your reluctant body clock into Baby Nonstandard Time.

To be a dad is to take love-at-first-cry economics. To grasp that cars, houses, jobs and kidneys are coins in the cushions compared to the miniature human in the bassinet. To think you’d do anything, and mean it.

It’s being half of something wonderful, sidestepping karma, seeing the divine wearing a diaper.
The shaking-hands panic of being trusted with something so valuable.
It’s sobbing a blessing over your son and hoping it will stick.

To be a dad is to strum a primal string, to stub one’s toe upon Rage boxed up in the basement, to think Woe to Him Who So Much as Pulls a Hair from My Child’s Fragile, Still-forming Head. To be a dad is to glimpse the killer within.

To be a dad and an employee is to wonder if they notice your ragged edges.
To be a dad and an artist is to face the inferiority of your every other creation.
To be a dad and a husband is to juggle two balls, and hope they’re rubber, not glass.

To be a dad is to be shoved into being the Here where the buck stops. Being Provider, Proclaimer, Protector. And ruing and regretting when you can’t, aren’t, or didn’t.

It’s knowing you’ll screw up perfection, and not knowing how bad.
Having your heart burst out your tear ducts.
It’s seeing that love is too meager a word.

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Growing up, I never thought I was that fortunate. I was short, skinny, and had glasses: shrimp, four-eyes, not exactly precocious with the ladies. That was me. And since my mom sacrificed her life to home-school me and my siblings, we had one income for a family of seven, so I couldn’t always sport Z. Cavaricci and Hypercolor like the cool kids.

I saw more of what I didn’t have than what I did. I read National Geographic, but for a kid, is the exotic much different than the make-believe? Even living abroad, I picked up on details–why can’t they get good orange juice in the UK? Why are the Palestinians always angry?–but missed the part about how traveling is a privilege.

Then Laura and I moved to Manila. As we noted on several occasions on our blog, it was the biggest, sweatiest, loudest, dirtiest, most crowded place we’ve ever been. But as hard as life is there in a city of twenty million, it’s often even harder elsewhere. So people keep coming.

We had gone there to volunteer for a year, to donate our valuable time and skills: Laura coaching and writing her novel on trafficking and prostitution, and me with communications. Yet amidst the dripping-wet waistbands, the pre-dawn roosters, and the smoggy hours on buses, life got stripped down to the essentials. We got to know a wonderful country. We received more than we gave. And at Samaritana, we not only found beauty, but also saw God.

After some reflection, “quiet miracles” is the phrase I’ve arrived at to describe what goes on there. How else to explain the reclamation of society’s refuse, of women considered worthless, of human beings robbed of humanity? It’s a slow process, of course, often painful, frustrating, and heart-wrenching for the marvelous staff and volunteers. There are tears, harsh words, sullen looks, and defiant walks out the door. But they come back, and when they do, with counseling, prayer, hugs, singing, cleaning, cooking, and crafts, the lacerated lives get stitched up, day by day.

Artists say that the plain human form is the most beautiful subject; in the same way, there are few more beautiful events to witness than a simple smile emerging at last from a person whom life has taught to despair. This was the beauty we saw at Samaritana–and was a new side of the God I’d read about in a book all my life, yet just came to understand this year.

Now we’re back. We returned to zero jobs and one big mortgage, yet the freelance work for me has come in, Laura’s gotten to stay home and write, we’re healthy, and little Kierkegaard Umlaut Davis is supposed to arrive in March. Plus we have hot showers, our own car, potable tap water, and now two lives’ worth of friends. A year ago we thought we were giving up so much, and yet we’ve been given it all back, and more.

After 35 years, it’s finally seeping into my dome how fortunate I am. If you’re thinking “Wow, finding beauty and seeing God? Sign me up for a sabbatical year,” then nothing could make us happier. (Note: we saved for four years leading up to this; it’s all gone.) But for a year like this? Such a deal.

-Nate

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After you've eaten mangoes in the Philippines, it's hard to eat them anywhere else

Since we got back, our time has been divided between me looking for work, Laura revising her novel, us trying to find health care, getting used to the idea of having a baby in March–and trying to figure out something even more important: what do we want our life to look like now?

As we’ve remarked to people who have asked us about the transition back over the last four months, one of the hardest things, we’ve found, is resisting the temptation to simply be re-inserted back into the matrix. After all, our home, car, food, family, and friends are all here for us, tempting us to pick up the Bay Area good life again and let the life-altering experiences of the past year fade into the background. Like skills you don’t use, it’s alarming how quickly memories fade.

What we’ve concluded is that just as we’re committed to exercise to stay physically healthy, we have to be committed to working for Samaritana, for other trafficking and prostitution victims, and for these issues at large if we’re to remain spiritually healthy. One way we’re doing this is sharing our story every chance we get, so we were grateful for Converge Worldwide (our missions organization) giving us the chance to do two guest posts on their blog.

If you were busy from July 2010-July 2011, but are a little curious about what it’s like to quit your lives for a year and go overseas, this is the perfect time to catch up: Laura encapsulates our process leading up to the sabbatical year, and what we did, in just two posts. Please click over to read here.

And as always, thanks to all of you who helped us get there.

As we restart our lives in the US, one of the key ways we hope God will use us here is being able to share our experiences with various groups here. We got our first such big opportunity a week ago Sunday,  back in Minnesota visiting the church Laura grew up in–and where we got the sabbatical idea in the first place. They’d also supported us this past year, and gave us five minutes at their services to present our story. If you’ve wondered at any point “Uh, where’d they get that crazy idea? How’d they do that?” and so forth, here’s the answer:

Nate: It was a Sunday morning in 2002; Leith was preaching, and I was half listening, half worrying about school work. But then God dropped an idea on us that would pull us across the planet, take a year of our lives, and bind us to a topic that makes most people squirm.

Laura: The sermon was on Leviticus 25, where God tells the Israelites to take a Sabbath year every seven to break from ordinary work and trust in his provision. We weren’t “missionary types;” Nate was studying advertising; I was applying for MFA programs in fiction writing. We were just regular people, but that Sunday, we asked ourselves how life might be different if we took a year off to serve God.

Nate: Then we got married, I graduated, and we moved to California for Laura’s grad school, but the Sabbath year idea was gestating.  We made friends. We bought a house. We were putting down roots—but God was only going to let those roots go so deep. By 2008, we were still committed to the Sabbath year; we wanted something that would challenge and change us, but we didn’t know the who, what or where.

Laura: Then a friend lent us Not for Sale, where we read that there are 27 million slaves today. We went to see Call+Response, a documentary on sex trafficking and prostitution. Walking out of the theater that cool Berkeley night, we realized that this could be the focus of our year.

Nate: For the next two years, on top of our full-time jobs were meetings with our financial planner, contacting dozens of organizations, and Laura applying for (and God providing) a Fulbright scholarship to fund research on her novel about sex trafficking in the Philippines.  Thanks to Wooddale, family and friends, we raised the remaining funds we needed, packed up our lives, and two days before our flight, found tenants to rent our house. We knew the year would change us, but we had no idea how much. On July 25, 2010, we flew to Manila.

Laura: No amount of research could prepare us for what we found: one of the dirtiest, most densely populated cities in the world—and one of the worst hubs for sex trafficking. Manila rattles and roars with the energy of twenty million people hustling to get by, stray dogs and roosters roaming the streets, jam-packed jeepneys careening through traffic, acres of tin-roof-and-cinderblock slums, and grilled intestines competing with diesel fumes in dense, sweaty air.

Nate: It also smells of the broken dreams of countless women who come to escape chronic poverty, but often end up being trafficked or selling themselves instead.

Laura: As part of my research for my novel, I interviewed many women and girls whose stories often left me in tears. Victoria’s friend convinced her to move to Manila to waitress; only after she arrived did she find out that the restaurant turned into a brothel after dark.  Caroline was just a teenager in the wrong place at the wrong time when she got rounded up by the police; she was drugged and raped by an officer, and so distraught that she later turned to prostitution to feed her children.  Gemma moved to Malaysia to work as a maid, but upon her arrival was imprisoned in a brothel.

Nate: As awful as these stories are, we are happy to say that when we met Victoria, Caroline, and Gemma, they could smile thanks to Samaritana, a shining light in the dark night of prostitution. Samaritana is a small Christian organization that helps women leave the spirit-crushing life on the streets and start anew. It became not just our workplace, but our Filipino family.

Laura: Samaritana’s holistic approach includes education, spiritual development, counseling, exercise, and livelihood skills. God’s love seeps through the daily activities, and also through the daily grace that the women feel from the staff and volunteers.  It is the most joyful place we have ever been.

Nate: Samaritana convinces women to leave the streets by building friendships first, then by offering them sustainable work. But when we asked the women what the best thing was about being there, every one of them had the same answer: “I came to know God here.  I learned how to read the Bible.”  One woman told us, “I accepted Jesus into my heart, and he accepted me into his.”

Laura: When we left for our Sabbath year, we naïvely thought we would just return to our normal lives. Now that we’re back—jobless and with a mortgage looming—Nate is looking for work, and I’m finishing my novel. But we’ve never felt so grateful, or had such a deep sense of how much we have to give. We’ve been ruined for the better.

Nate: Along with a taste for rice and mangoes, we came back with a passion to continue serving the women at Samaritana, and to urge others to expand the definition of who our neighbor is, to love our neighbors both here and around the globe.  We’re also asking God where he’ll take us in 2017, and trying to bridge our Western world with the impoverished one we left behind.

Laura: We want to close by asking for your prayers for Samaritana and for all the women still on the streets. As with Wilberforce and Lincoln fighting slavery in the 19th century, fighting human trafficking today is a chance for Christians to change the world. The Bible exhorts us repeatedly to serve the poor and oppressed, as in I John 3: “But if anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”