The Bucket List

Posted on: June 4, 2021 Posted by: Deborah Swanson Comments: 0

The Bucket List

Valley of Fire – Desert- Bucket List - Journey with God

I don’t have a bucket list. I don’t know why. It seems that everyone has a list of all the things they want to do before they die. Why don’t I have a list? Do I not contemplate death? No, that’s not it. I’ve stared cancer in the face and deeply thought through the realities of death. Do I not dream of better adventures, better thrills, better views? Perhaps that is it. I don’t dream. I have a blindness of the future that keeps me from imagining the pleasures of things to come. Maybe I am only nearsighted. Having only enough time to see, and deal with, what is right in front of me—never stopping to dream about what might be.

I honestly don’t think this is a bad thing, except that everyone I know has a list. Shouldn’t I? I say I am content at where I am. I am not chasing whims of wonder into the next experience. I do want to be content where I am. But should I dream of experiencing more of God’s creation and being bowled over in the wonderment of it?

Being Alive

I have a friend who does have a list. I have never seen her list, but there are dreams that she chases. This list of hers doesn’t seem tied to completing before death. Instead, it is anchored to being alive. She is mindful of close calls with death. She also peered at cancer wide-eyed as its tendrils dug deep into her body. She loomed close to the edge of eternity and beat death squarely in the face. And yet, she has a list. A bucket of things to do—because she IS alive.

She’s invited me into her bucket filled with dreams several times. This invitation is a gracious gesture, taking a non-dreamer into the land of big dreams. The first time she shared these wild experiences with me was when she was five years out from cancer. The five-year marker is a miraculous date, especially given a 30% chance of making it to the five. She invited all of her close friends to a day of firsts.

Everything we did that day, we had never done before. We visited a wild cat preserve and watched as a big, wild cat crawled on her head and played in her hair that had finally grown back. We clumsily played Lawn Bowling next to others that were twice our age. We had a full seven-course meal in a winery with a table set with more glasses than I have in my cupboard. And then, we brewed beer with instruction from an accomplished Brew Maker. Oh my, we laughed all along the way! The kind of laughter that comes from deep within the far reaches of the belly. The thrill of firsts was unforgettable. And the celebration and thankfulness of restored health was a soothing balm to a very thirsty soul. Mine indeed was thirsty and soaked up every tender moment of firsts.

Wait! I AM Alive!

Even with all of that, I quickly returned to a desert dryness. My serious nature breeds a thirsty soul, always in need of a soothing balm. I plan my days with long lists of things to do. My seriousness is laser-focused on being productive. I am a planner and a doer, but not a dreamer. I plan in the mundane. The to-dos. The busywork of life. Of always being reliable and getting the job done. But never a dreamer. I don’t do spontaneity. Oh, that would screw up my list. But what of the deeper well of the bucket? The bucket that plunges into the deep water of the Well and pulls out cool living water. What of the list—the so-called bucket-list that calls attention to the Creator God and experiencing more of Him while I am alive. Or better yet, SINCE I am alive.

My friend again invited me into her list. I was excited to experience something new that she had thought of. It was easier that way. I never had to get lost in the dream. Perhaps that is why I don’t dream. I fear I may wander away from all this responsibility and never want to return. It feels so out of control to dream while awake. I coaxed my husband to drive 800 miles to watch paper lanterns float into the sky. It wasn’t something either of us had ever thought of, nor had any inclination to do. But we were desperate for a break from the mundane and somehow knew there would be a bucket full of laughter.

We planned the trip carefully, and we each dreamed a little of small bucket list items that we could share while on the way to the premiere bucket list item. I did it! I dreamed. I added my dream to the list of dreams, and it felt good. My dream involved laughter. I had stumbled upon a clean comedy club on YouTube and discovered that its location was on the way to my friend’s adventure. That would be my bucket list item. It was a safe dream. It was tangible, and it would most likely water my soul with laughter.

In the Desert

Ironically, we spent more than half of this adventure wandering through the desert. That awful place where winds howl, granules of sand wildly blow into the eyes, and very little grows. Days are hot, and nights are restless with critters searching for a meal. I think back to the Israelites stuck in a place just like this — but for a lifetime. Forty years of wandering. Hungry, thirsty, and dry. Irritable and sore at God for setting them free into nothingness. Their freedom must have felt exhilarating at first. Until day-after-day-after-day, the sand grew deeper, the air grew dryer, and their souls longed for a soothing balm to quench what the desert couldn’t give them.

I wonder if they made lists of things to do before they died—before the dryness of the empty desert ate away their flesh to leave only dry bones. Did they dream while awake, seeking to experience more of the wonders of their God? Or did they wallow in their disingenuous freedom, becoming functional sleepwalkers? Yes, they had their freedom. But not the freedom they had dreamed of while making their lists in captivity. They were a people who communed with God in their midst – Immanuel, God With Us. They were all too familiar with the Well. That particular Well with the bucket attached to a long rope. With the dirty chapped hands that clung to that rope while hand-over-hand pulling the cool refreshment from the earth. Was it full of lists? Did it contain the dreams construed while awake?

Oh yes, I see myself embodied in the Israelites. Longing for something to quench the to-do lists of this life but disappointed in my freedom. If I am alive now, in the present, why don’t I dream of experiencing God in a fuller capacity? Why am I waiting to experience God after I die? I think I have feared that dreaming breeds discontentment in the now. Instead of understanding that dreaming actually breeds thanksgiving in the now while experiencing God.

Sheltered in The Rock

While in the desert, we stumbled upon a herd of Big Horn Sheep nibbling on the sagebrush. We had just parked our campers at the trailhead and gotten out when I saw them. Excitedly, I hurried up the rocks to get a closer look, and of course, a few pictures. My friend, scrambling along behind, says, “I have been looking to see a Big Horn Sheep for twelve years, and today I see one, not off the beaten trail, but right here in the parking lot!”  Twelve years! Her bucket list amazes me. It is intentional. It is not rushed. It is wrapped within the Creator.

I haven’t thought about a Big Horn Sheep in all of my days. Never. Not once. Until that day. As I approached them, they shied away into a sliver of coolness that the tall red rock cast over them. They huddled close together as I inched closer, wanting a better picture. Huh. God’s creation right here in front of me in this arid land—resting in the safety of the cleft of The Rock. Okay, perhaps I can add that to my bucket list after the fact. I may just have to be the girl that writes her list in reverse.

Slipping Plans of Mammograms

And then there’s the to-do list — the closest I get to a bucket list. I was tempted not to make the call that’s been sitting on my list. Skip a year and not schedule the mammogram. Oh, it’s on my list of things to do. But so easy to let this one slip. The process conjures up memories. The tests. The biopsy. The waiting. And then, of course, the Chemo – the acute process of being at death’s door. To schedule the appointment means the possibility to know into the unknown. I am not yet at five years – the threshold of lengthening chances. So, each year before that is an abyss of what-ifs. I coax myself to pick up the phone and tap on the numbers. I listen to the crackly hold music as I wait my turn. I make the appointment. Done!

I head back to remembering the bucket list that I am creating in reverse, which I have of course written on my to-do list. It is my futile attempt at seeing God in the ordinary and the extraordinary. To remember to live fully while alive because I am alive. To commune with God as an expression of worship while fully experiencing Him in the here and now.

Biting At My Ankles

I put both feet in the tank and closed my eyes. Squirming inside and out while dozens of tiny fish feasted upon my dead flesh. I wanted to crawl out of my skin and run out the door. But I am no baby! And I paid my money and had no intention of wasting it. Tiny sandpaper mouths rubbed up and down my feet and ankles sending, what felt like small electrical pulses through my body. I wasn’t sure I could last the short fifteen minutes for which I had paid.

I am not a thrill-seeker. You won’t find me jumping off a cliff attached to a rubber band or jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. I refuse to pay for an adrenaline rush. I have lived a life with enough free anxiety and stress-producing adrenaline that there isn’t a stitch of desire to experience more, let alone pay for it. So, tiny fish biting at my feet is as exciting as it gets, and that almost did me in.

As we walked in the door, my friend tells me that new and uncomfortable experiences may keep you from developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. It keeps the brain plastic, or maybe she said elastic, I don’t know. Plastic, in reality, would be pretty humorous. I do the fish-biting experience only to find that my brain turns out to be like my Barbie. The one that I keep in her original case from the early ‘70s high up on my shelf. I may not have dementia, but I still have my stylish wardrobe from the ’70s and live in a pink plastic case with a black plastic handle and a tiny plastic brain. I add all this to my reverse bucket list. Fish kisses. Oh, how God’s creation amazes me. He actually designed a fish that gives pedicures!

The Chasing After

When the chasing of paper lanterns depends on the weather, an 800-mile trip to get there can be risky. But if the dream is a dream at all, it will involve some sort of process in the journey. Ralph Waldo Emerson tells us, “It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” If that is true, then what happens en route is bound to shape us. The Israelites, God’s chosen people, didn’t go from captivity straight to the Promise Land. It was an arduous journey. If the Promised Land was their God-given bucket list item, there were many disappointments between point A and point B. That journey required sacrifice, sickness, and death. It demanded they make choices and decisions – many of which they failed as they turned their eyes toward the created and away from the Creator.

With tickets in hand, we reserved the campsites, made all the arrangements for secondary bucket list items and did the journey – only to have the paper lantern festival canceled because of bad weather. The howling winds would not be kind to paper lanterns with fire underneath them. But we had come all this way chasing a dream. We took a long journey to get here. Canceled! We’d spent money. We sacrificed time. Gone!

Or was it? Was God adding to my non-existent bucket list? Was He giving me the choice of attitude and decision? Could I still find Him in the moment of disappointment? I was a girl without a bucket list riding on someone else’s dream, and I found myself surprisingly at ease in the disappointment. Maybe I was getting the hang of the process within the journey. Perhaps there was another experience we hadn’t yet dreamed. Where could we experience the Creator in His creation?

A Bottomless Well

My friend searched the internet for other unique experiences. I searched too but only found the ordinary — shopping. My mind was not yet acclimated to dream in the unknown. What she found looked far more interesting than my shopping idea. A hot spring swim inside a dome-shaped cave that was only four miles further up the road! Crystal clear blue water filled the cave halfway up the walls and rested at a constant 96° and a depth of 65 feet. This looked amazing! A deep Well. Not to pull the bucket from, but to gently climb down the ladder and soak IN.

The mineral-rich water bubbled on our skin and eased the tension from the day before. The disappointment faded because we knew we’d found something none of us had thought to put on any list. This is the kind of God experience that is hidden. It lies at the underside of earth and pavement, of rock and grass. An experience you could easily miss if you weren’t looking for it. The four of us floated. Soaked in the beauty of it all. Laughed in the excitement. We really had found wonder and beauty. Refreshment for our road-weary bones. And joy in the disappointment. We encountered God through His spectacular creation. Again, I added it to my reverse bucket list—a soak in a bottomless Well of Living Water.

Reverse Bucket List

Is it the list that pushes us further from or closer to God? My to-do list certainly can get in the way of fully experiencing God. It weighs me down with responsibility and tends to interrupt the need of my thirsty heart and prolong its dryness. I do know that my responsibility in this life is essential and good and shouldn’t be overlooked. I am not saying otherwise. But, if I am honest, my to-do list may do more to cause me to be a functional sleep-walker than to dream while awake.

If my heart’s desire is more of God and less of me, then I must be open to a course correction during the journey. I must find joy in the disappointments while listening for His heartbeat. I must be intentional in seeking out more of God in His creation. In doing so, I permit myself to dream while awake. I can find myself walking deeper into the coolness of a still valley or the scorching heat of the arid desert. I give Him permission to take me to either destination. Either way, the Creator of the universe can be found there.

I don’t have to worry about the next destination if I am awake with eyes wide-open to see Him there. The Well is deep. So very deep. Bottomless actually. God promises us that we can drink from this Well and never go thirsty again. It is refreshing to my soul as I pull up my bucket from the deep Well of my Lord. I find my bucket full of His lists of things for me to see and feel—the things that matter most to Him. And I am fully content. These same things appear on my friend’s list because she has been dreaming with God while awake all along. And it’s okay that I write my list in reverse because He wrote it before the beginning of time and reveals it to me as we journey together.