By Annie Nardone

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9 ESV)

If ever there was a Bible verse that would perfectly describe the reason why I don’t make a real, official bucket list, Proverbs 16:9 would be it. Many people have a bucket list of life goals carefully penned into a special journal — a lengthy list full of ideas added and ordered when inspiration hits. I have grown to discover that I might have a destination in mind, but God manages the details. I’m happy to hand that over to him because he has delighted us at every turn!

Why assume that a bucket list is only an individual dream? I want to encourage you to consider a list in a different way. Don’t just own a bucket of your own, fill it with the dreams of others. Inspiration builds from melding ideas with a friend or family, offering rich adventure and wonderful memories to be made together. Maybe the bucket is the destination, but it’s the extra stuff in the bucket (the surprises, crazy ideas, and last-minute decisions) that fills it with meaning and memories. I believe that if we hold our wishes with an open hand, we allow God to step in and show Himself in the tiniest blessings. We just need imagination and eyes to see them.

My life bucket is more of a ‘how can we make this work’ brainstorm with a general goal. I discovered long ago that a typical, set-in-stone bucket list wouldn’t work for me because I’m too spontaneous — occasionally spontaneous to an extreme. (Like the time we were nearly stranded on Isle au Haut, Maine, because we thought a trip on a mail boat would be fun and, well, there was a chocolatier on the island.) The world is just too full of amazing possibilities that we might miss if we are determined to have our list ‘our way.’ Quite a few of our past vacations were spots on a map, cobbled together to make a day trip. Sometimes the map was set aside as we chose a road and took off in the general direction of the ocean, stopping at the fun and quirky places on the way.

Whenever we plan a bucket-ish adventure, everyone contributes a personal component to look forward to. Just keep it simple and allow room for a few ‘rabbit trails’! My daughter builds a list of quirky ideas from Pinterest and the rest of us throw our ideas in the bucket. Our recent weekend to New York City all started with my goal of visiting the J.R.R. Tolkien exhibit at the Morgan Library, which featured art, letters, and writings that he created for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and other books. I’ve always wanted to see his work first hand, and this exhibit brought Tolkien’s London to me! My daughter added to the bucket. She saw a Japanese gourmet treat called “jiggly cheesecake” listed on a website. My son threw in his goals — trip to the Lego Store and F.A.O. Schwarz. Hubby was in it just for pizza at America’s first pizzeria (allegedly) in Little Italy. We all wanted to walk through Central Park (another bucket item) and on our way out, we saw THE original Tiffany’s jewelry store on 5th Avenue. Had to stop in because my daughter had just watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, so we snapped a couple of photos of her gazing through the pretty windows, just like Audrey Hepburn. While we walked, St. Patrick’s Cathedral was just finishing its Saturday services and the doors opened to allow the incredible organ music to fill the streets. Entering the cathedral, we were surrounded by the incredible music while we walked from altar to altar, soaking in the beauty of sculpture and stained glass. We were blessed with a new surprise around every corner.

We have family dream to visit Europe, specifically France for my daughter. With one kid in high school, the other starting college, and my final term of grad school, a European vacation isn’t possible right now. Adventure and passport stamps are what we’re after, and there just happens to be a foreign country to our north! So, this summer we’ll road trip to Old Quebec, just to walk the cobblestone streets, visit an old bookstore, and sip and snack on the local fare. We don’t need a large travel budget because we revel in the small surprises that are found in the journey. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said, “That (insert happy occurrence here) was such a God thing.”

I’m living in the season of change and I know that my kids won’t be at home for too much longer. Our eldest daughter lives in Tennessee with her hubby and our little granddaughter, and the other two are on the edge of the ‘nest,’ preparing to fly. So, for this time in life, my bucket-ish ideas are filled with plans that include a suggestion or two from each family member.

Just get in, buckle up, and go. Find a tradition, even something small and silly, that you keep whenever you work on a bucket item. For us, we eat ice cream as one meal each day. I pray that you are inspired to live life with an open hand and an eye for possibilities! This might be a bit of a struggle for the planner-type, but there is freedom and joy in flexibility. (Trust me, I have two kids who like structure, but they’ve adapted beautifully.) As in everything in life, let the Lord establish your steps. He never disappoints.

And true confession: I don’t have a list, just a goal. Someday I want a long vacation in Ireland and England and visit every place that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien frequented, as well as the monasteries of my Medieval heroes. I do have a short list of must-visit places, like Lindisfarne Castle and St. Alban’s Cathedral; but I don’t call it a ‘bucket’ list, it’s more of a ‘oh that sounds amazing’ list. Another confession — I don’t want to go without my family because they add so much to the adventure.

Someday, we might have to stop at the National Grout Museum in Waterloo, Iowa, just because it’s there. And I’m sure that there will be an ice cream shop for a lunch stop nearby.

Annie Nardone is a two-year C.S. Lewis Institute Fellow and is currently reading for her Master of Arts in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University. Her heart is for Rohan, Narnia, and Hogwarts, far fairer lands than this. Annie contributes and edits for An Unexpected Journal at, has been published online at and wrote a cookbook for Bright Ideas Press.

Cover photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash