My Empty-Bucket List

Bucket-List-movieThrowback Thursday 5/31/2013

For many years, I’ve conducted an activity with my college students, asking them to create their own version of the famous “Bucket List”.  I warn them that the list should not include professional goals necessarily, but rather focus upon the “really neat”, “exciting”, “extraordinary”, places, events, activities, etc., that they would like to someday accomplish, see, experience, etc.

Funny that it has never been asked in several years of teaching it, but recently one of my adult students asked for my own top three bucket list items. 

I stammered.

I stuttered. 

My thoughts raced to my age, thinking about how I should not only be able to rattle off my top 10, but should have checked off a few by now.

After class, I tried hard to mentally arrange a list for myself.  I thought about visiting Europe, but other than that, I struggled with the possibility of having anything to look forward to.  (The proverbial bucket list obviously does not include the graduations of my kids, their weddings, etc., but rather a catalogue  of personal interests.)  Each “really neat”, “exciting” or “extraordinary” thought that came to my mind was instantly squashed by my ever-present pragmatism.  How could I leave the kids?  How could I ever afford that?  Who am I to dream so big?

Once upon a time, in the much-younger version of myself, I fantasized big.  I not only planned goals, dreams, and future achievements, I fully expected them to happen.  The closest I’ve come to creating any meaningful list in recent years is our annual Summer Bucket List.  The content changes the older the kids get, but we make the list, post it on the fridge, and cross off as many as possible by late August.

My student’s question was innocent, he simply being curious about me as a person. Something that exclusively pertains to my personal interests is no longer even a thought.  I have so immersed myself in the tending and nurturing of the nest, that I have forgotten to dream at all.  I realized that afternoon that I have taken my kids interests and adopted them as my own.  This past Easter, I bought a painted, tin bucket at Joanne’s, bought a stuffed dolphin to go inside of it, and hung it from the top of my 16-year old son’s Easter basket handle.  I had purchased a family dolphin swim at Discovery Cove because my son has a bucket list (unlike his Mother) and swimming with dolphins is (was) on it.  

While I’m happy to have fulfilled that dream for my son, it never even occurred to me that I should plan something for myself.  My husband has always wanted to restore a muscle car.  Five years ago, despite a fat mortgage and credit card debt, he took a few thousand, bought a needy 1969 Cutlass Convertible and restored it to mint condition.  The beautiful finished product was no match for the sheer joy that man received every day working on it.

The ponderings of a 40-something Mom, I guess, but one student’s innocent question gave me a summer task:  creating my very own Bucket List.

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10 Things I Believed at 25 That Proved False by 45

Ahhhh, to be 20-something… Like most during those years, I had very definite impressions about how my life would progress. I would eventually learn, and after serious resistance – accept – that life has a way of detouring, surprising and wearing down a person, leaving a few disappointments along the way.

You may detect a touch of mid-life cynicism, but however you label the post, women I know in their later forties are experiencing a few discontents. We tend to hide them, worried that if we share our disappointments, it will replace the otherwise pleasant image people have of us. We fear earning a reputation as a complainer if we dare talk about the thoughts that dominate our 2am insomnia. For those of us “in the church”, we definitely don’t want to be judged as being ungrateful.

At 25 I believed…

1. What goes around eventually comes around.
What you send out often does come back, but life is unequal.
Some really bad people live into their 70’s without consequences.
Some really good people get really bad cancer.
Life is unfair in many ways for many people.

2. Maturity will finally belong to everyone – women will stop gossiping and men will stop gawking.

I was the naive 20-something who sincerely believed that once everyone became an adult, immature behavior would cease entirely.
Most often, what you see in someone at 25 will hold true at 45.
The scarce numbers of people who become better humans practice self-discipline and work hard to change. The effort is worth it, but few will bother.

3. My life would be anything but ordinary.
While marriage and parenting are adventures all on their own, it’s not the cocktail parties, fancy dresses and life of relative ease that I expected.
My life has been largely conventional. And there is blessing in ordinary.

4. Being nice always pays off.
I was stunned for many years that no matter how caring, nice or genuinely thoughtful I was toward a person, some people were still unkind.
I’ve tried to jump start my kids on this truth: people will find fault with anything-even good things. Not everyone will like you and that’s ok. We answer to God, not them.

5. Blood is thicker than anything.
Many people have sweet, fun and tender-hearted relatives who would rather die than upset each other.
Other families go out of their way to intentionally hurt each other. After years of confusing heartache, I learned that spending time with blood out of obligation is just wasting time. Perhaps not entirely applicable here, but even Jesus asked, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” (Mat. 12:48) Friends are the family you choose.

6. That one, brilliant pastor would finally be able to explain to my inquisitive, deeper-than-most mind the harshness of life.
No one can.
I’ve met some intellectually gifted, deeply genuine pastors whose hearts eventually lead to the same place as mine: on this side of heaven, we simply will not understand the unconscionable suffering.
While a significant amount of earthly sorrow is the result of a person’s poor behavior, much suffering is simply enigmatic.

7. Unlike everyone around me, I would enjoy a pain-free marriage. Hands down, my husband and I are among the most normal and committed couples you’ll meet in a world of truly crazy marriages. We have been married for 22 years, and are both utterly devoted to our family. But marriage has peaks and valleys and all couples are imperfect.
I love Hallmark movies and every Disney princess story, but real life is not a fairy tale.

8. Those 40-something women were eating way too much McDonald’s.
Hormones-schmormones. That’s what I thought at 25.
After going through early menopause at 40, I gained 10 pounds in a month and never ate fast food. Then, clothes that fit the new me 10lbs. heavier, suddenly didn’t fit me at 45.
Hormonal changes are real. The weight can go up or stay the same, but the dispersion of the weight is fearfully unpredictable.

9. Those 40-something women weren’t exercising.
It takes double the effort at 45 to earn the same physical results I did at 25. Who has “double the time” while raising three teenagers?
At 25, I was only doing three things: working on my Master’s, working, and working out.

10. Having faith will eventually get easier.
I know my bible better than I ever have and for me, faith is harder.
Years of observing our global, moral deterioration. Depraved abuse, abductions, perversion, lies, seemingly endless unanswered prayers…
Living in a society that names what is blatantly “wrong” as “right” makes it seem like the dark side is winning. Of course, the days are numbered and we know the Good One wins. (Rev. 22:20)