Did you hear that scientists discovered 4 new elements? With Evan’s job being what it is, this is big news in our house. The elements, their discovery, their names, and the media’s coverage of their discovery–all recent topics of conversation around here.
I don’t pay much attention to science news. Evan does by nature of both vocation and passion, so I trust him to inform me of anything important. He filled me in on the new elements as we got ready for bed the other day by saying, “Our shower curtain is out of date now. We’ll need a new one.”
Because, you see, our shower curtain is a 72×96 inch Periodic Table of Elements. (As you can imagine, the staffs of Better Homes and Gardens and Martha Stewart Living magazines are currently duking it out to see who can land a tour of our home first. )
It hasn’t always been this way. A neutral white shower curtain hung in its place until just a few weeks ago, but now I brush my teeth while reading the atomic masses of Hydrogen and Carbon and Americium. (I didn’t make that up; Americium is a real element.)
I think this all started when Evan bought me a Gator flag for Christmas.
If you know my husband, you know he hates the Florida Gators. UF and UCF (Evan’s alma mater x 3) are hardly “rivals,” but Evan is unswervingly loyal. It’s one of the things I love most about him…except when it comes to football.
The living room in our first apartment had a set of built-in shelves, perfect for displaying our college memorabilia. Each football season, we placed a bet: whoever’s team had the more successful season would earn the top shelf, which could then be decorated in school regalia to his or her heart’s content. (Sadly, this coincided with the start of the Will Muschamp era, so I did not win the shelf every year.) We didn’t continue that tradition when we moved, but our school spirit and the requisite rivalry has never waned.
This year, the Gators played the Michigan Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl. I couldn’t believe the coincidence: my first college football season as a Michigan resident, and my team was playing the Wolverines. When the match-up was announced, I gleefully told Evan, “We need to hang a Gator flag outside!”
“That sounds like a good way to get our house vandalized,” he said, but low and behold, a few weeks later I found a big, blue, beautiful Gator flag inside my Christmas stocking. I was shocked, and Evan said he had to get me one when he saw excitement about the idea.
This flag wasn’t my prettiest Christmas gift, it won’t change my life, and I probably won’t even get that much use out of it. But, it was my favorite Christmas gift this year because of what it demonstrated: Evan was willing to set aside all of his personal preferences to give me something that would bring joy to my life.
This brings us back to the periodic table shower curtain. It was a Christmas gift to Evan from my dad, and when he unwrapped it I thought, “No way are we putting that up.” But lo-and-behold, hanging that curtain was practically the first thing Evan did once we arrived back in Michigan.
At first, I thought, “Ok, fine. We’ll leave this up for a week or so.” But the truth is, it was a great gift for Evan: quirky and silly and science-y. True, it doesn’t really “gel” with the rest of our decor and the editors at Better Homes and Gardens will not be contacting us anytime soon for a home tour and photo shoot. At first, the perfectionist and approval-seeker in me kept thinking, “When someone comes to visit us, they will think this is WEIRD.” But I’m having a change of heart.
I’ve realized that this isn’t really about a shower curtain. It’s about joy.
Over the past several years, I’ve only thought about my word of the year in terms of me: what will this word bring to my life, how can I embrace it more, how will it change me? But the thing about joy is that I can play a role in bringing it to others. In a small way, that happens when I set my control freak nature to the side and let my husband hang whatever crazy shower curtain he wants. In a larger way, I can pay more attention to the needs of others, yield my agenda to the whims of my kids, and encourage the passions and interests of the people I love most.
The amazing thing about life according to Jesus is that more joy for others does not mean less joy for me. We don’t live in a 1+1=2 sort of world. When the people around me are experiencing joy, I receive it in equal measure. Or perhaps in even greater measure. It multiplies.
If I was doing things the old way, with my perfection-obsessed, approval-driven impossible standards, that shower curtain would have meant more joy for Evan, but less for me. Not so anymore. Walking in freedom means relinquishing control of this one small detail in my life. And there is so much joy to be found in the yielding, in putting another person first, in serving rather than being served, in caring less about outward appearances and more about connection.
It’s the first lesson I’m learning about joy this year. Hopefully, it will stick with me more than 10th grade chemistry did.