Last year my husband turned 40. All of a sudden, I realized that my own fortieth birthday was barrelling toward me at lightning speed.
Yes, I was just as melodramatic as that.
Never before had my age bothered me much (except for a few months of “what have I accomplished” angst before my thirtieth birthday). But realizing that I’d be turning 40 in just two years had me all sorts of worked up. I talked myself down by looking up stories of uber successful people who didn’t accomplish a thing before beginning their fifth decade. After muttering to myself, “Remember Vera Wang. Remember Harrison Ford. Remember Julia Child,” a few dozen times (and throwing in old Noah, Moses, Abraham and Sarah), I started to calm down.
And then promptly turned toward bucket lists, because OF COURSE I DID. I googled “things to do before 40” and “birthday bucket lists,” but I didn’t find much that was helpful. The people who’d published their list of goals before turning 40 mostly had either different priorities or a different budget than I do, so other than a bit of travel envy I didn’t gain much from that search. If I wanted to create a list of goals, with my fortieth birthday as the deadline, I was on my own.
First up on my list were the things that top most of my lists: books and movies. I wanted to finally get around to reading the classic books and watching the classic movies I’d missed out on so far. Bible reading plans, weight loss goals, and career ambitions quickly followed. I thought about what I’d learned in almost 40 years; I thought about what I still didn’t know. I pondered who I want to be and how I want others to know me; I reflected on the kind of legacy I’d like to leave behind. Eventually, I ended up with a short but powerful list of things I’d like to do before I turn 40.
If “make bucket list” was on my list, I could have crossed it off.
Flash forward to today, one year later, and I haven’t made much progress on the things I deemed crucial for a 40-year-old woman to have done. I’ve watched one movie that everyone else in the world had already seen, and I bought a couple classic books for my Kindle. I’ve taken baby steps toward a few of the other items on that list, but it’s safe to say I’ve got a long way to go before next December.
I have, however, managed to cross things off a bucket list I never wanted to create, a set of goals I never wanted to set.
This fall I was in a car accident. It was more than a fender bender, but nothing too terrible. My girls and I were rear-ended on the highway when the cars behind us didn’t slow down fast enough in a construction zone. Aside from a stiff neck (and the trauma of being doused with icy cold lemonade), we were not injured and all parties had insurance. Getting my car repaired was a hassle, but we could only be thankful nothing worse came of the altercation.
I’d never been in a car accident before.
As I thought about how unusual it is to go more than 38 years without being in a car accident, I thought about other unexpected — and unwanted — things I’ve experienced.
Being laid off from my job
Getting a cavity for the first time (in my 30s!)
Going to bed angry
Going to counseling
Getting calls from collection agencies
Getting calls about fatal car accidents
Going to more funerals than I can count
Getting poison ivy for the first time (again, in my 30s!)
Realizing I’m now incredibly allergic to poison ivy
Leaving a church
Shopping for a new church
Shopping for bigger clothes (and shoes)
Putting my foot in my mouth in new and mortifying ways
Forgetting appointments, meetings, deadlines
Finding gray hair
Finding chin hair
I’m sure the list is even longer than that. And I’m sure you have your own list — a collection of experiences you never expected to have, never wanted to have, certainly didn’t believe you’d have at this age or alone or again. None of us can predict the challenges life will bring us. But at the same time, we’re unable to imagine the ways God will surprise us and delight us along the way.
Because if I really think about it, I know I could make a list of not just blessings that came from all those unwanted experiences, but beautiful, unexpected gifts that this life has brought me. And I’m not just talking about the big things, like traveling to Africa or having two amazing little girls. I’m talking about learning to hold on to hope, learning to jump out in faith, realizing that “choose joy” means more to me than the title of a book, figuring out what makes me come alive — and what I can walk away from now, forgiving that person I never thought I could, learning that sometimes I can actually agree to disagree, loving someone I didn’t even like before, accepting that who I am is who God made me to be — chin hairs and all.
Though I’m a big fan of control and planning and, yes, making to-do lists and bucket lists, I’m grateful that God doesn’t abide by my plans or expectations or assumptions.
I’m glad He looks at what I think my life will be like — and then goes ahead and does what He had planned for me all along. I’m thankful He continues to surprise me — by adding to my list of experiences, by opening my eyes to the blessings that come from the wonderful and the horrible, by delighting me with more than my imagination could ever dream or hope or expect.
Bucket lists are fun, and goals can be good. But what I’m looking forward to most is seeing what God accomplishes in my life, before I turn 40 and every year after.
Michele Morin says
I guess the positive impact my fifth decade has had (so far) is that I’m learning to pray “thy list be done,” and to be very careful about making an idol of my own list. Like you, I could compile a pretty long list of surprises, particularly in the past year, but my attitude improves when I remember the List Giver has my best interest at heart.
Nancy Ruegg says
LOVE that prayer, Michele: Thy list be done! Goes right along with what my husband often says: Blessed are the flexible. I want to remember that interruptions, changes, additions and deletions to my to-do list are most often from the List Giver Himself–with specific purpose. What could be better than participating with HIM in what He wants to accomplish? Thank you, Michele!
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Expectations….they’re a tricky thing. Mostly I find that expectations – like making bucket lists – have a way of letting me down. I had envisioned that at my age, I would be an empty-nester with two fabulously well adjusted grown children and perhaps a grandchild or two. I’d be traveling to far away places and life would be “easy”. Instead, I had my 5th surgery in as many years followed by pneumonia then food poisoning. My “children” have their fair share of adult problems. I do have a grand dog though. But, God. Not being able to walk at all for 2 months brought me into such a close relationship with God. I couldn’t “do” so I could read His Word, meditate on it, talk to Him, and just “be” in His presence. I found that simply “being” instead of “doing” things enabled God to just delight in me and share with me His wisdom. My writing became richer and my faith in God grew. I haven’t totally abandoned my “bucket” list, but I look more to living more simply, delighting in the small, allowing God to set my course and trying to be open to the experiences He sets before me. Yes, I make plans, but I don’t place as many expectations on them. Whatever happens, I know I can count on God to show up. Right now, I’m simply enjoying being able to walk. Not sure that would have been on my “bucket” list, but it sure is sweet. Remember, age is just a number…..God used a lot of “senior citizens” to do some of the greatest works in the Bible 🙂
Inch by inch – life is a cinch
Yard by yard – life is hard!
Bev…. That you keep witnessing and praising God is the key.
Sharing your personal struggles and rising above them with your eyes and focus on Jesus, is totally better than a bucket list.
THANKYOU and I am praying God’s blessing of health for you ahead dear sister-in-Christ.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I’ve never heard that before. Thank you for appreciating my reliance upon God to rise above the struggles. I’d be happy if there were a few less in 2018…won’t lie lol. Happy New Year and blessings to you sweet sister. Thanks for the encouragement!!
Jeanne Bowser says
Thank you for your encouragement!
K S says
I appreciate this so much! Eight years ago when we went through a very difficult medical diagnosis with our oldest daughter my dad sent me this quote, “And this is how God loves us…He gives us gifts we never wanted in order to make us into people we never wanted to be.” Truth! I am now 42 and forever grateful for the person God is molding me into through all of the things (good AND hard) He has brought into my life! I am goal driven and a “go getter” and I couldn’t have predicted this is what my life would look like…but I am grateful HE has determined it and that I can trust Him!
I think it is good to have a bucket list, or lists in general. It’s fun to keep then and the new see how God,s list over rides our listen great ways
Sheila Starnes says
Expectations can be difficult. I expected to be married by 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 but I am 56 and it hasn’t happened yet. I will tell you though that through it all Jesus has been faithful to me. I dreaded turning 40 and my friends throwing an “over the hill” party so I left town and went to visit my sister and her family. She made my day so special from my favorite Pillsbury danish for breakfast, a pinata in the park (she said you can’t turn 40 and never have had a pinata). My 40’s were the years I felt like Jesus challenged me, changed me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I went on my first mission trip, started teaching classes at my church and lost both my parents in my 40’s. I turned 50 five months after losing my Mom, plus going through menopause, I my friends no “over the hill” party or they might push me over the edge! They through a surprise princess party instead because after all I am a child of The King! At 56 I will say age is just a number and be grateful for another year He is giving you, another year of possibilities.
Susan Shipe says
I love what Michele Morin said “THY LIST BE DONE.” I’m on the downhill side of my 6th decade. I live without a bucket list but I do want to go to Alaska…this side of heaven!
Kim B Smith says
Mary, I love your style. It is so interesting the “sludgy judgment” we place on ourselves. The good ole Hag in the Attic I call her. Stuck in the muck. The judgment we place on what we “should” be doing or accomplishing by a certain time-line! LOL Been there done that. I call that “shoulding” all over ourselves. I love letting Jesus take the reins. I also love sharing with Him my wants and desires, but also letting go. (I am a recovering control FREAK!!! Oh, ye and an anxiety queen-recovering as well!)
I believe in desires, dreams, and lists, but all in the leadership of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, AMEN!
Thank you for your beautiful reminder, for me, I am not the boss. 🙂
I had zero sentiment about turning 40 this year other than a whole bunch of excitement! I am so happy to have arrived at this stage of life! I should be an empty nester, but we were blessed with the gift of starting over 6 years ago, so I still have a bundle of cuddles at home. 🙂
I , too, sat down to write a bucket list this year, but only because it was required as part of reading “Woman, Thou Art Loosed!” by T.D. Jakes. I honestly had trouble thinking of the required number of items for my list (30), but in the end I was pleased. Most of what was listed was things I would like to do, rather than things I would like to have.
My bucket list included things like become a grandma; I found out shortly afterward that this will happen in July 2018. It also included writing a book; my Christian counselor has assured me that when we work through my past, I will be able to finish things in my future. Looking forward to that! 🙂
This Christmas, for me, was a reckoning of sorts with a list similar to your own. So many tears! So much laughter! So much stillness by the light of the tree! So much coming and going! And I realized that my life has been like that – such a beautiful mix of tragedy and elation! No matter what I manage – or don’t – to cross off my bucket list, I have already lived an adventure. Like, my story could be a bestseller! So whatever happens next, I just want to write “LOVE” across the list … because that’s my biggest goal. More love.
Wow! Vicki! Your words just hit me! I’m struggling to Love right now. I pray I can please God by loving more, or some things at all in 2018.
I will pray for you, Jenny. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love …. ” 2 Timothy 1:7 *hugs!*
I enjoyed reading this thank-you for sharing with us. I haven’t made a bucket list, but I did have a few things in mind. But after numerous changes I have since let go of. At first it was a bit of a disappointment, but now I feel (set) free to enjoy life more fully.
Blessings to all,
I just want to say……I love you Mary Carver!!!!
I have a horrible habit of comparing myself to others and frequently forgetting the numerous blesssings bestowed upon me by my “Papa”, Jesus Christ.
Many blessings for 2018!
I’ve not actually written out a bucket list even though I’m over 50…but apparently ladies talk about their bucket list enough…that my 11yr old son exclaimed,”For my bucket list I’d like to take a train ride, make a mystery train movie, get –X# of trains for my collection,…etc.” 😉
It caught me off guard and was pretty hilarious… that he’s just repeating what he’s heard. 😉
I began having children in my late 30’s and with a chronic illness sometimes feel as if I have no “real dreams” as I’m busy investing in my family. But God’s Word never returns void…& it has been said that rather than children accepting what they are “taught”; it’s often what’s “caught” by them in the everyday that sticks! ( that Can be both exciting and concerning!)
I’m praying in the New Year to be more purposeful in my walk with the Lord. So that I can live out what I say I believe in a way that makes a difference.!!! 2017 has been a challenging year with my husband’s hospitalization, car accidents & a son still in concussion therapy, ministry stress, and personal health issues. “many are they afflictions of the righteous but the Lord delivers us out of them all .”
But the incourage family has been a source of comfort & support during all of it. Pointing me back to God’s Word as an anchor for my soul! Thank you to all who contribute articles and comments.
The best is yet to come when Jesus holds us by the hand on the journey! One Day at a Time sweet Jesus!
I loved this post! I had a certain picture in mind of how my life would be by a certain age. But “when we make plans, God changes them”.
At 30 years old, I was fine…no aging meltdown. That came at 33 years when I returned to college and got my teaching degree. At 39, I started my first job teaching. At 40 years old, when I thought my life was organized and complete, I gave birth to my youngest son. At 50 years, I had 3 major surgeries in one year. At 60 years, my husband and I traded our empty nest to a house filled with family. Now at 66, we are retired, our house is paid for with just the two of us in it, no grandchildren but have a grandpuppy. I admit that my life did not go the way I pictured it but I am truly grateful for all the twists, turns and general craziness it has taken.
“I’m glad He looks at what I think my life will be like — and then goes ahead and does what He had planned for me all along.” — Me too, Mary. So glad. Can you even imagine what kind of messes we’d make of things? (Or at least, I would.) So glad that, even though we look at what seem like messes, God sees beyond — to the redemption. His plans are Kingdom forward plans, and I’m so glad He lets us be a part of that! — Happy New Year, Mary. Hope it’s more than you could have ever planned for yourself. xoxo
Rashawnda Dunbar says
This is fantastic — I smiled broadly several times reading this! I am reminded of the many times I had items on my “list”, but God had other plans. I’m eternally grateful for that. Turns out that His list for me is always greater and more wonderful than I could have even hoped! I’m so thankful that He hasn’t given me everything I thought I wanted!
God bless you as you approach the big 4-0 (been there, done that)! God is faithful and I’m sure you’ll be delighted by what He has in store!
Charlene Lovett says
Next year, I will be looking at the big 7-0! There have been times where I wondered if I had done enough for the Kingdom. Several years ago, I came to the realization that I was exactly where God wanted me, doing exactly what He wanted me to do. Believe me, it is nothing glamorous, but He allowed me to raise up 2 children for His Kingdom, and stay at home to do it! My hubby told me when we were first married that he was my number 1 job, and I have been blessed to have never HAD to work outside the home. When our children were in school, I did work as a deaf interpreter in 2 junior high schools. Because I had the same away hours as the children, and the same off days and vacations, it worked out well. I only did this for 3 years, and then we moved to another state. I never lamented that I was “missing out” on something by being a stay-at-home wife and mother. I knew I was fulfilling God’s mandate for my life and the lives of my husband and children. I guess my “bucket list” would be to live long enough to see another generation of offspring in the family…great-grandchildren!
Nancy Ruegg says
Thank you, Mary, for the timely reminder that what we can look forward to most (as 2018 approaches) is seeing what God accomplishes in our lives. Oh! And I, too, could fill a bucket with the “beautiful, unexpected gifts that this life has brought me,” thanks to our generous Heavenly Father. A few examples: 1) Marriage to a minister. (Blessings have far outweighed the difficulties.) 2) Three terrific children; three terrific grandchildren. 3) Three teaching jobs over a 26-year career that “fell” into my lap. (They fell straight from heaven!) 4) An all-expenses-paid trip to Israel. Indeed, “The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:3)!
Jenn Tanaka says
Mary, so much truth in this as I reflect on how I made my own bucket list as I neared my 40th. And likewise, God has his own plan, which included my middle child fracturing her arm the night before my birthday. I spent the day getting her ready for surgery and praying more than I had in a long time. It was His way of reminding me what was really important.
God’s timing is amazing. Not only do I turn 50 this year, but we just experienced the devastating loss of a friend’s 13 year old son…unexpected and quick. In times like these, you know in your brain (and in past experience) that God is good and He is faithful, but right now we are walking through the “why” and the anger stage of grief. It may not be until Heaven, and there will be moments when we will need to chant it to ourselves like a mantra, but I know that God knows what He is doing. Pray for our little community as we walk alongside this believing mama and her unsaved husband and their mix of believing and unsaved adult children who remain.
Carol L. Gonzalez says
I spent my 40th birthday at church doing child care while the choir rehearsed for Easter (a part time job I held for many years until a health issue forced me to step down) but at least the kids and I got to have pizza! The small life group my husband and I led did have a cake and gave me gifts at the life group gathering near my birthday.
That was almost 22 years ago!
I don’t have a bucket list because my husband and I were able to take some nice trips (day long and longer) by car for several years. Things have changed now but God is still God.
Beth Williams says
Turning 40 didn’t bother me one bit. It was just another number. Near the end of that decade life got hard. Over the next few years the trials were numerous. I went through some things I never ever expected to see or deal with. Thankfully God brought me through them & taught me patience! Do I have a bucket list? No. There are things I would love to do & with God’s blessings I will get to do them. One thing I do know is that 2018 is going to be a better year than the last few. I have grown more in the Lord & got involved in more ministry programs. Like Nancy stated above I can list a ton of blessings God has given me: 1) marriage to a fabulous hubby (he helped me with aging parents 2) nice home & cars both paid for 3) great part-time/some full-time job 4) superb church & church family! The list could go on. I’m anticipating what God will do this year!!
Delphine R. C. says
I just love this article. I had to laugh at the chin hair comment because I inherited one dark one from my great grandmother on my mother’s side,… my mom has it too… heheh and about every 2 weeks i take my tweezers…. sorry Too Much Info, i know… And yes, gray hair, wasting money, going to bed angry, brain surgery due to Chiari type I Malformation in June of 2017 after a vaginal cancer surgery scare in December 2016,… I got married in October 2016, and we spent our « honeymoon » in hospitals… I turned 40 in 2017. I was a hard year but it was a wonderful year, full of blessings.
All of that to say thank you for this article. I will share it with my ladies church group because it made me cry and it made me cry and i just love it.