I’ve been out of joint lately. Nothing major, there’s been no huge drama or calamity to put me there, I’ve just not felt like myself. It could be the chaos of the holiday season that’s put me over the edge, I’m not sure. There is something to be said for the way we treat the holidays today. Instead of a time of rest and relaxation, we often treat them like a race. We need to do more awesome stuff, experience more awesome things and show off our awesome holiday adventures on social media. Because if we don’t, we all know the holidays never really happened for us, right? So maybe it’s that pressure that’s got me down. How I want my holidays to be and feel is in direct opposition to the way culture tells me it should be, and that leaves me feeling conflicted and confused.
Or maybe it’s the fact that my parents had to cancel their annual holiday Texas visit this year due to illness. It’s our family tradition that my family visits the week before Christmas. Each year this is a highly anticipated event for all of us. We have our own Christmas before Christmas where we mingle my East Coast childhood holiday traditions with our current Texas ones. It’s become a very special part of our holiday celebration, kicking off the season for us and, in a way, setting Christmas magic into motion for the days to come.
And to have my parents be too sick to come, well it was nothing short of disappointing to us all this year. Living 1000 miles away from my family is hard. I grew up in Maryland but have since moved about the country, at first for my own adventures but then for my husbands career. I don’t regret leaving my home state, it was my path and was necessary for me to become the person that I am today. But it’s hard. I miss my family. I miss the familiarity of being surrounded by the people who have known me forever. I miss East Coast winters (I recognize this makes me insane). I miss watching my parents and my children interact and share life together. It’s hard.
And it’s hard when your parents are getting older and they get sick. A weird reverse maternal instinct comes in and I want to take care of them. But I can’t. Because I’m 1000 miles away.
So this visit being cancelled, it hurt for a lot of reasons. Disappointment is a hard pill to swallow. It’s not easy to just shrug it off. My grandmother, who was awesome and crazy and loving and honestly a lot like me (read more about my awesome Gigo here) used to say that she could handle almost anything in life but disappointment. And in this instance, I definitely agree.
In times like these, when I feel slightly unmoored by life….just the ins and outs of it…..I tend to collapse inward. The instincts of my past, and how I used to understand religion and God, force me to curl into myself and turn off just a bit. I spend less time talking to God, praying to God, just being with God when I feel weighed down by the everydays of my life. See, I used to think of God as a God of just the big moments. He seemed unapproachable unless I was praising Him on high for something great going on in my life or hitting the emergency prayer button for some traumatic moment I faced. I would feel, I think, guilty bringing my every day “first world problems” to the Lord. To me He was a “break glass in case of an emergency or celebration” only God.
But, the older I get and the more I learn about Him, the more I know that He actually wants my everyday. What God wants with us, my friends, is a relationship. Plain and simple. He wants our love. Our devotion. Our obedience. But He wants a relationship most of all. And relationships, healthy ones at least, involve the good and the bad. The sharing of the mundane as well as the epic. I don’t hold back on sharing my first world problems with my husband. (Well, sometimes I do, honestly. But only my most FIRST WORLD of first world problems. Mainly because he has this tendency to take the air completely out of my first world rant with those pesky and annoying things called logic and common sense.) When he comes home from work and we settle down over dinner, I can’t wait to share my day with him. I want to relate, and true intimacy is sharing and relating over the every day. It’s not just grand sweeping romantic gestures or damsel in distress rescue moments. So why did I feel like God wanted anything less?
We all have that one friend who never bothers with us unless it’s to brag on something that makes them feel important and valuable OR to ask for help in a time of need. We all know someone like this. And we usually don’t like them too much. When they do come to us with some pressing need, we usually feel a bit resentful of it and them. Sure, we will probably do it out of love, but I’m also going to guess we’re going to grumble about it. Now God doesn’t think like us. He doesn’t act like us. And I don’t assume to even know how He approaches us when we come to Him after a long silence begging for help (if the Bible has anything to say about it, it’s usually that He does rescue us if we’re His children, it just may look different than we expect). But I do know that true relationships that are built on love and respect and reverence and devotion involve more than just convenience and need. And God deserves that. He deserves all of us.
The Bible tells us that as we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. Sure, I don’t think He wants a laundry list of our First World Problems. Let’s face it, He maybe doesn’t care that Kroger was completely out of cranberries and you don’t know what you’re going to about this because your family just HAS TO HAVE cranberries with their turkey (true story). But He does care about our hearts. He does want all of the small hurts (your parents not being able to come for a holiday), your small victories (one full day without WW III in your house over Christmas break), and your day to day. Honestly, if you allow Him to be present there, talking with Him often and sharing your feelings and thoughts in the day to day, you will probably find that an awful lot of your first world problems will dissipate. Not because they are gone. No, they’ll still exist. But rather because you have more grace in how you view the world. You have more patience for the problems and more forgiveness for the minor irritants, because if your eyes are focused in the right place, you realize that you aren’t the center of it all anyway.
The good news is that my parents are on the mend. They are healing and this was not a major sickness to worry about. Praise God for this. And as for me, I let myself have one day. A day to sulk. A day to feel bad. A day to feel sorry for myself. But that’s it. Just a day. And then I turned outward. I turned upward. And I began to center my life back on the relationship that is most important. I began to thank Him for all of the blessings that I see in my day to day. And I began to focus on this season as one of love, and family, and joy. And when I shifted my focus off of the disappointment and onto the love, I really began to feel the JOY. I began to feel the PEACE. And this season, and this life, all began to make sense again.
Every year when my parents come we celebrate our “Christmas” with one of my favorite meals of all time. It was the meal we would have every Christmas Eve growing up. It is VERY Maryland. It is very East Coast. It is very Old Bay. Yes, my favorite “spice” of choice, Old Bay, makes a starring appearance in this dish. Inexplicably absent from the repertoire of the rest of the country, Old Bay for a Marylander is akin to salt and pepper for everyone else. It flavors everything from our crabs and seafood to our potato chips to our eggs. It’s delightful and delicious and spicy and honestly, deserves more acclaim than it gets. And for our Christmas celebration we choose to steam shrimp like they do back home with lots of Old Bay and onion. We serve it family style, in a big bowl with lots of cocktail sauce to dip (find a great homemade cocktail sauce here. You won’t regret making your own. I promise.) It’s peel and eat, so it’s definitely more of an event than just a meal. This is a throw some heavy paper on the table, break out the paper towels and prepare to have a messy adventure, meal. And what happens when you sit down to work at your food is nothing short of wonderful. You slow down. You laugh. You talk. You build relationships. You love.
When my parents cancelled, I was going to just shelve this dinner. I was going to count this one as a loss and move on with our Texas traditions. But then, then I changed my mind. This is one childhood tradition that needs to live one, even if my parents trip has to change. It’s as much a part of me as any Texas tradition we share, and I want to live it out with my children each year. So tonight, tonight we’re doing shrimp. We’re praying prayers of thankfulness that my parents health is improving. We’re thanking God for each and every blessing that He’s given us. And we’re celebrating the season in our own low key, deliberate way. One shrimp at a time.
Maryland Style Steamed Peel and Eat Shrimp
- 2 lbs raw shell and tail on shrimp (I like extra large or jumbo size)
- 1/2 cup Old Bay Seasoning
- 1 large onion, halved and quartered
- 1 bottle beer
- Step 1 In a large pot with a steamer insert tightly fitted, add beer and roughly 1 cup water. You want to be sure that when boiling, the liquid will not reach the bottom of the steamer so this will depend on the size of your pot.
- Step 2 Bring to a boil, dumping liquid if it reaches steamer.
- Step 3 Working in batches, add half the shrimp and one half of the chopped onion to the steamer basket.
- Step 4 Cover with 1/4 cup of Old Bay (or more if you like it spicy)
- Step 5 Steam for roughly 10 minutes, or until the shrimp is completely pink and cooked through.
- Step 6 Remove to a bowl and add the remaining shrimp, onion and Old Bay.
- Step 7 Repeat steaming for 10 minutes until shrimp is cooked thoroughly.
- Step 8 This is best served family style, on butcher paper with lots of paper towels, cocktail sauce, and beer (if you’re so inclined).