The world is moving toward the lake to watch the sparkling fireworks. I see them as I get off Tram 14 at Bel Air, crowds of people pressed against the railing over the Rhône River, straining their necks to see the bursts of light and colour over Lake Geneva.

It’s not your everyday fireworks show. It is considered one of the best in the world, lasts for one hour and is choreographed to music, and on Saturday night August 11, watching the fireworks is the only thing to do.

I had been out with friends, eating dinner and singing karaoke. When was the last time I sang karaoke? I honestly can’t remember, and there haven’t been many evenings out with friends in the past year (less than 10).

In Small One’s first year, I can’t remember how many times I cried to Husband about having lost my life. There is no number that I can think of that would be accurate, but I know that it was many, many times. I would catalogue the losses for Husband: my time, my energy, my dreams, my vision, my skills, my body, and the list goes on. Having a baby was one the most healing things I’ve ever done, but it came at a cost, and in my mind the cost was everything that I was. 

But summer 2012 arrived in Geneva, and with each passing day, someone is handing my life back to me one little piece at a time. I stopped nursing Small One, and my hormones regulated. Dates with Husband that remind me of our pre-marriage months except with all the marriage benefits of knowing each other better, increased, laughing more. There has been lots of summer heat, cotton skirts, lunches in the park with Small One, McDonalds take out for both of us by the lake, the Fête de Genève and meaningful times with friends.

The pinnacle of these moments was Saturday night sitting in the dimly lit interior of Aquarium, a small bar that has karaoke evenings. Singing is one of my favourite hobbies, karaoke reminds me of my childhood in the Philippines and it’s a chance to exercise my vocal chords to cheesy music. We are virtually the only ones there, the old DJ is trying to sound cool while he sings the first French song, he’s got a bright red light on in one part of the room to try and make it look cooler, I think. We browse thick karaoke books looking for songs to sing, and yes, I am feeling carefree and a little bit wild. The waitress comes by and puts three shots down in front of us – on the house because we sound good, she said – and here I am, having a great time and an identity crisis all at once.

I’ve never had a shot in my life. I know, I know, how old am I? Alcohol isn’t really my thing except for white whine, champagne and Amarula, and I don’t like to drink when I have to go home alone late at night. Nevertheless my moment of feminine independence seems to be set up to perfection: Alone with the girlfriends, check, Karaoke bar, check, dodgy DJ, check, shots, check.

And I can’t do it. I picked up the shot glass to take a sip – sweet, strong, alcohol, I guess – and I couldn’t drink it. I sing Shania Twain’s “Holding On To Love (To Save My Life),” and I’m feeling good. I love karaoke. Around 9:50pm, I call it a night, get on Tram 14 to Bel Air where I’m going to change to a bus. The tram pulls into Bel Air, the doors open into a packed crowd standing from the tram stop to the railing over the river. The fireworks started 10 or 15 minutes before, and it is beautiful. Fiery stars lighting up the sky, colours of every sort shimmering above us.

I walk away from the crowd, still turning as much as I can to catch the view, and head for the Bust 3 stop where I wait. The bus arrives and empties completely, everyone is walking toward the lake, drawn like magnets toward the fireworks. I take one look back, hop on the bus. It is completely empty, just the bus driver and I, and I sit in my favourite seat.

I am going home. 

Last week the unthinkable happened. The power cord for our Macbook broke, which meant the computer was out of commission until I could go to the Apple store for a new cord. It took me more than a day to get there, so yes, I went for a day-and-a-half without access to our computer.

Husband and I try to keep our lives as simple as possible – we do not have a TV, but we have a nice monitor through which we can set up our Macbook to play DVDs. We don’t have personal smart phones; he has a Blackberry for work, and I have a basic Nokia that allows me to sms, make phone calls and take photos of Small One. It’s possible that it does more than that, but I would have no idea what that “more” would be be. All of our household administration, creative work and the general “brain” of our family is located in our Macbook.

After Small One went down for his nap, I tried desperately to make the cord work, I prayed over the lap top (seriously), and nothing worked. I couldn’t do any of my pressing tasks – monitoring our budget, design work, emailing, the Internet, working with photos – nothing. I sat in our living room and wondered what to do next.

And do you know what happened? My soul sighed a little when it realized that I could do something for myself. I read a book. Then I picked up another book and skimmed it. And before I knew it, I was going through my day feeling rested, energized, healthy and whole.

I wrote at the beginning of the year about my love-hate relationship with our resident screen as well as my decision to use the computer only in the morning. Oh how I wish I had re-visted that post a few months ago because I have been wasting so much time passively sitting in front of this screen, clicking on pretty things, following the lives of other people and letting that all turn into a mental game of sorts that has only brought me down.

My computer use generally fell into a few categories – household administration (using our budgeting software to track our monthly expenses, typing in Excel or Word for schedules and lists), design, photography and the Internet. Obviously the bulk of my computer time was spent online, and of that time, I would say a big chunk of time went to email, Facebook and Skype and the second big chunk of time went to reading blogs and articles online, getting creative ideas for home decor, cooking and baby-related things.

Let me be a bit more specific. There is obviously nothing inherently wrong about a computer or the Internet. It is one part library, one part creative commons, one part innovation and so many other parts that I don’t have the time to list here, but it’s problem lies in the speed and availability of it all. If I spent the afternoon in a library, it means that I am only inhabiting the walls, the physical space of the library. I will read whatever I can pick up, if it doesn’t interest me, I can get something else, but that’s it. My mind engages with the material I give it in those walls for those hours. My life online is a different story. I have access to the world, an unending stream of ideas, analysis and opinions, I have the ability to connect with meaningful relationships from the past and to create and deepen new friendships.

Living in the 24-hour, seven days a week world means living within limitations because this is part of what it means to be human. Nurturing a life on the Internet makes us feel limitless – it makes us feel like we can know everything, make everything, be friends with everyone and be engaged in the details of other people’s “real” lives. This is a false reality that sets in the moment the Macbook is snapped shut, and that’s when – for me – the comparison, bar-reaching and self-loathing begins. 

Simply put, using the computer – the Internet specifically – fills me with ideas that are impossible to fulfill and expectations that cannot be met. It feeds my hunger for more – to have more, be more, do more, make more, but I am still a few online tutorials short on how this provides a way to have that “more” in my 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week life.  

This isn’t a rant against the Internet, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest tools I have in making my life easier than it should be (hello Google Translate and Google Maps), but I am tired of the way it invades all parts of my emotional and spiritual life.

The day-and-a-half I spent without a computer was one of the most peaceful days I’ve had in weeks. I got things done, I picked up an art project I haven’t looked at in over a year and now I have an idea of how to finish it, I was able to think through some things that we need in the next few months and develop a plan for how to get there. But most importantly, at the end of all of this time, I was rested in a body, soul and spirit kind of way.  All that without the help of my computer. 

I don’t have a real conclusion for this. One would think that after this kind of experience I would be off the computer again this week. One would be wrong. I’ve still been at it, but I am processing my computer-less experience and thinking through what it would look like to be more computer free. One thing I know, I need to be less connected to this box of silver metal. When I’m engaged with the life around me, I am happier, slower, kinder and more whole.

What are we losing every time we open our computers and go online? 

This thing that’s supposed to give us more time, drains our time. It promises ideas to get our creative juices flowing, but we’re really using other people’s ideas, photographs and words and are emptied of our own creativity. It gives relationships via Instagram, likes and wall posts and keeps us from our neighbors.

Is it worth it?

Something happened to me this weekend that I will not forget for a long, long time. Husband and I were in Frankfurt for our holiday long weekend, and when we are there, we always attend the church of his childhood. His family has been a part of this church since the mid 80s, so the history and relationships there run deep. It is a lovely place where I felt instantly welcomed by people who did not know me, and where unexpectedly I have formed meaningful relationships of my own.

Small One’s arrival meant spending Sundays in the baby room as he becomes increasingly vocal and needs more entertaining. Their room is lovely, spacious, incomprehensibly clean considering the fact that it’s a room for children. (I have a suspicion that German babies are as clean as their grown up counterparts, but I digress.)

Last Sunday I realized that my son needed something to eat, so I was going to go back into the auditorium for the snacks. One of the young women who was there to look after the kids, told me she had a banana and would that be ok for him? She had long brown hair, lovely eyes and smile, and she must be in her early 20s or late teens, in other words not someone I would expect to be attune to mom needs.

Small One loves bananas, so I found a high chair and sat him in it. She returned to me with a smile, and a plastic bowl of chopped banana pieces.

This may seem normal to you, but I was left standing there with a bowl of bananas and a slightly shocked look on my face. Were it not for Small One’s hunger, I might have just remained standing there for a while with my mouth open.

She had taken the banana for me, she had peeled it for me, chopped it into bite-sized pieces for me, and put it into a plastic bowl before she gave it to me.  Maybe it was a simple gesture for her, and maybe she didn’t even think much of it. There wasn’t any fanfare about the way she served me, but she had no idea that in that moment she was doing something that touched me deeply.

The loss of dignity is something I grieve regularly when I’m out with Small One. I don’t get to sit down with a plate of food and eat the way I used to because there are baby hands everywhere trying to put things into his mouth. If he screams in public, there isn’t a mute button to push, so the glares from others have to be stomached while trying to soothe a baby who will not be soothed. Food ends up on my clothes, on his clothes, in my hair and I’m sure that there are scenarios I haven’t even thought of that will happen in the future. But it’s ok, this is part of the package of parenting, and we roll with it.

All of us roll on with the situations in our lives. Small children aren’t the only dignity robbers, of course; all of us have been treated badly, rejected, betrayed by people we loved and trusted, have illnesses we battle against and on a very basic level, all of us have bad days (and bad hair days).

The moment I had with this young, long-brown-haired German woman on Sunday gave me back some of the dignity that I lose on a day-to-day basis. Why? Because she took the time to serve me and service says, You are worth it. 

I inhabit a world of leaders whose long titles, substantial bank accounts, multiple degrees, and big egos supposedly give them the right to positions, power and influence. Every sphere of our lives has some ladder to climb or the next level to attain, real or imagined, and as we climb higher, all of us in some way or another forget to do the gritty work of people care. The work that involves washing windows and cleaning toilets, babysitting for free, listening, chopping bananas and putting it in a bowl. Service. Acts of kindness that say to someone, You are not alone. I can see that you need help. I’m here to help you because you are worth it. 

When I read that list I wrote, my honest thought in response to cleaning someone else’s toilet or babysitting someone else’s children is, No thank you. I won’t go into my excuses because at the foundation of it all is this one belief: I am above that. I’ve cleaned other’s toilets. I’ve babysat other people’s children. It’s not my “season” to do that anymore. I’m in a different place; I’ve moved on to a different level. I am above that. 

It’s a lie.

No one graduates from the gritty work of serving people; it is the school we attend for our whole lives for it is the better way. 

This is a story that begins with a crying baby by the bathtub and ends with a crying mommy by the bathtub. Ready? Ok.

Small One loves taking baths. He normally fusses when I take his clothes off, but as soon as I throw the towel on him, Small One knows – bath time is coming. He cannot contain his delight, the squeals come out of his smiling mouth, and I have to avoid getting kicked by his happy legs. Once in the bath, he plays with a singing German duck, eats the water thermometer and splashes around. He’s been sitting up in it unassisted for a while, and now crawls around in the water.

During the day he will often wander into the bathroom, pull himself up on the side of the tub and make “Eh eh eh” noises, his grunting way of saying that he wants in. He wants a bath.

I did not give him a bath for three nights in a row, so last evening the longing for one must have burned a bit more deeply into his little being. He was standing next to the tub, holding on and looking in as I filled it with water and checked the temperature.

Then he started crying and hitting the side of the tub and looking at me with upturned angry, mournful eyes, big tears rolling down his cheeks.

If he could talk, I think he would have said,  I love baths, why won’t you put me in? I need a bath, why haven’t I had one in the past few days? This is the highlight of my day – I don’t understand why you are tempting me like this. You aren’t nice. You are mean to me. You are unkind. You don’t love me. 

Small One has no idea that in five minutes he will be splashing around happily in the tub. He has no idea that I am filling it to the right height and making sure it’s not too hot and not too cold. For him. 

All of my effort, it is for him to enjoy in five minutes. 

He cannot comprehend this, and in the moment, in this brief moment, his full reality is consumed by what he sees to be true – his mother is keeping him from the thing he loves most.

I talk to him, I tell him that it’s coming, Only five more minutes, kiddo, Mommy is just making sure that the water is not too warm, I don’t want you to get burned. I touch his head and stroke his hair, Oh kiddo, it’s ok, I’m here. You’re ok. You’re going to have your bath soon. 

And soon enough the tears are rolling down my cheeks as well because I am hearing the voice of my Parent in my heart saying the same things, Oh kiddo.. if you only knew how much I love you, if you only knew what is coming in your life, if you only knew that I am not depriving you of what you want or what you think that you need, if you could wait.. just keep waiting, a little while longer, only a little while longer Devi, you cannot imagine the good plans I have for your life. 

I carry a crying baby out of the bathroom, put a still-crying baby on the change table, take off the clothes of a baby that continues to cry until the towel is thrown on him, then he is happy. He knows what comes next.

I lower him into his bath – water at the perfect height, warm enough to keep him happy but not hurt him, his toys perfectly arranged for him to play with – and he squeals, he laughs, he giggles. He is so happy. He gives me his cheeky, flirty eyes, and we play peek-a-boo on either side of the tub.

We are all waiting for something. Security, healing, a job, children, a spouse, a new location, money, possessions, a new body, more money, and the frustrations, anger, pain and fear that come with waiting, I find, more often than not we direct toward the people whom we think are responsible for bringing those things to fulfillment. God is the one who has born the brunt of my intense emotions, and every time he has carried his crying child out of the bathroom, to the change table, and then back again I have forgotten the very basic truth – he was with me, and there was always something good on the other side of the waiting.

I gave Small One an extra-long bath yesterday. It had been too many days, and to be honest, I just like listening to him squealing his little heart out. I watch him, and the tears flow freely for me as my own parent heart breaks a little bit. Being able to give my child something that brings him pure joy is the best feeling in the whole entire world, and what I feel is a small reflection of the image of the only perfect Parent who also loves to bring his children joy, and if I just keep listening closely, I know what he is saying.

Five minutes. Wait a little bit longer. I have not left you. I am with you. Wait a little bit longer. 

University students have lower standards for food and home decor than most people, but even as a lowly freshman, I knew I walked into something special when I first set foot in Jo’s home. The mother of one of my closest friends from that year, Jo embraced all into her home with open arms, a kind smile and delicious food. She decorated with style and entertained with ease. Their house was a home, and I felt welcomed and cared for.

I remember one of the dinners I shared with them that weekend. There were large round plates on which the eating plates sat, something I had never seen before, and I don’t remember the rest of the decor, but I know that I was mesmerized by her table. Then the food came out. Bourbon roasted turkey – I think, this was a long time ago – hummous, baba ganoush, a plate of orange, dates and pomegranates. We had a warm, laughter-filled evening, enjoying the food and conversation.

There’s another table that comes to mind even as I type this tonight. I was in Ethiopia as part of my trip around the world a few years ago, and my first week I travelled to Tikemptishet, a village in the south western corner of Ethiopia, 100 kilometers from its border with Sudan. This village full of children, women and men, red roads with red dust that rose with our rusty Land Rover plowing through it, and no electricity or running water, it was in this village where there was a missionary compound that housed a health centre, the only one of its kind  in the area.

Most of my meals were spent with an Australian nurse in her solar-powered compound home, but we spent quite a bit of time outside. One meal we had at a compound guard’s home. It was a home made with mud walls and a tin roof, and we sat in the front part of the home, while his wife was in the back cooking for us over a stove made of wood and flames.

When the injera with beef stew came out, I ate heartily. Ethiopian food is one of my favourites, but as my fingers dug into the injera, this meal, eaten  with very little light, in front of the eyes of curious children, this meal came at great cost to the people who provided it for me. Beef is an extra special meal here, and I can be certain that their children did not enjoy the stew that night. Another land, another table, at least I think there was a table.

I have sat at many other tables during the course of my life, had many conversations, enjoyed good food, cried tears, laughed, made new friends, deepened relationships. The tables of our lives are the places where we come together to hear each other, to understand, and as we live our lives side-by-side, this is how we experience renewal.

I carry these experiences – from Jo’s table in Hot Springs, Arkansas to a dusty village in Ethiopia to my home in Geneva today – because I want the same legacy for our table. May it be a place of beauty, of life, of love, of cost and sacrifice, and may it be a place where bodies, souls and spirits are fed.

  • Baked French Toast        I followed this recipe but made the following adjustments – For each pan (and these were somewhat large baking pans), I filled it with nine slices of thick-cut baguette bread. For the wet mix for each pan, I put three eggs instead of two plus the milk amount the recipe recommends, and I left out the sugar.  Then I added cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in whatever quantity I felt like, which was a lot because I like spices. I buttered both sides of the bread and the pans, and soaked them in the liquid for about two hours before I put it in the oven, and every now and then I flipped the slices over to make sure that all sides absorbed equal amounts. I baked it for 25 minutes at 425 F/gas mark 7/ 218 C. The outside was a bit crispy, but the bread was moist and spicy all the way through. Delicious with yesterday’s syrup recipe and vanilla yoghurt or just with the syrup and fruit or maple syrup.