Author Ava Pennington
Author Ava Pennington

Bucket list

Do you have a “bucket list”?

I wasn’t familiar with the phrase until the release of the movie by the same name in 2007, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. IMDb describes The Bucket List as “Two terminally ill men escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die.”

For the past 10 years, I’ve joked about a bucket list. Wouldn’t it be fun to…. Someday before I die I’d like to…. It became a fun mental distraction to continue adding items.

Until last year. Until my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. All of a sudden, bucket lists were no longer limited to a mental exercise.

But as we discussed an extremely limited future, we realized something unexpected.

He did not have a bucket list. No wish-list of adventures. No desire to travel to exotic locales. Not even a list of local activities.

He didn’t have a list because he is content with the life we have together. Satisfied to enjoy the small, normal pleasures of each new day.

His one desire that might qualify to be called a bucket list item has been a desire to share his faith in the face of a terminal prognosis. And he’s done that, multiple times.

All of this made me wonder about my own life. I now realize I don’t have a bucket list either, at least not in the traditional sense of the word.

Instead, I’ve come to appreciate that my list is comprised of one item.

Russ is my bucket list.

It’s been a 40-year journey. A 40-year joining of 2 lives. The one thing I want to do—and do well—is to be there for my husband. To care for him the best I can, however I can. To hold his hand as he walks to his finish line, and hear him say, like the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:7 NIV).

My bucket list is short, but deep. When Russ finishes his journey, my list will be fulfilled. It’s a bittersweet time, but as a friend once advised me, it’s a holy time, too. And I intend to cherish each holy moment.

What’s on your bucket list?

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  1. Paulette

    Beautiful Ava 💔 This is what the world seeks when fulfilling their bucket list. When seeking meaning and a calling in life we often overlook what is right in front of us to seek some far flung ideal. The world tells us to focus on what we want for ourselves, but God tells us to focus on others, and therein find ourselves. You and Russ are a wonderful example of this for so many people.

  2. Ava Pennington

    Thank you, Paulette. It’s by the grace of God and the power of His Holy Spirit!

  3. Patricia L. Bean

    my bucket list wasn’t very long, but one thing on it was a Note Dame football played on there home field…it was something my dad had done years ago and had always spoken about, so going would be another reconnect since he had been gone almost 30 years at the time….it was everything i had hoped and more, but afterwards i got an email from notre dame, as if i was an alumnus, inviting me to receive the gospel of the day sent to my in box, and i accepted….and every morning it shows up, along with someones take on the reading, a prayer for the day and the saint of the day (its a catholic school thing), and while i am a part time catholic, it has become part of my day now…so my bucket list item had far deeper and more long lasting effects….Ava, you and Russ have been there for each other from the beginning, from our days together in college….your journey together is one that brings joy to all who know you both….hugs

  4. Ellen Frogner

    Beautifully said. I was blessed to have been holding the hand of both of my parents, Jim’s mother, and my best friend (since age 15) when they crossed the finish line. It is an experience I would not have missed for anything. Daddy’s last word was “Jesus.” I pray that Russ’s time is peaceful and pain free. May angels attend thee!

  5. Jane Roach

    Thank you for expressing so beautifully our purpose in life an dour hope in our Savior. May your days together become sweeter day by day.

  6. Pat Weimer

    So beautifully written. You and Russ are such an inspiration to so many. May you feel God’s arms around you both as you go through this journey. Love and hugs to both of you.

  7. Jana Simons

    You and Russ have touched so many lives. You both are good and faithful servants. Sending my love.

  8. Jan

    Behind the story is years of a faithful wife praying for salvation for the man she loved and how God answered her prayer in His time and way! Praise God.

  9. Gale Tate

    beautiful Ava thank you for sharing

  10. Bonnie Dorsey

    Knowing you and Russ this made me cry and realize how short life is and to do the one thing that I can do. My bucket list is to let my family and friends know how much i love them. Thank you Ava,

  11. Philita Wondolowski

    Love what Patty B. said!
    Gary and I shared what he would refer to from his favorite movie “A Wonderful Life!”
    I would paraphrase and say “A Wondoful Life!”
    and I would agree with Ol Blue Eyes, regrets I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention.
    Cherish everyday you have together and know that your “bucket list” is blessed for the life you have had together!
    Love you both!

  12. ellen asselin

    I made copies to pass out this morning in our ALZ Support group

  13. Ava Pennington

    Thank you, Ellen.

  14. Evie

    Great advise, Ava! I had 37 years with my husband before he past into the arms of our Savior and we were able to spend most of that time sharing our faith and enjoy our life together! The best God can give us!!
    Thank you for the reminder!!!

  15. Barbara Dusenbery

    Jim and I are sitting here with tears rolling down our faces. Thank You for expressing so tenderly and clearly, this part of your love story. We love you both. We have never really thought of our bucket lists either. We have now. Thank You Ava and Russ. Thank You Lord for this beautiful couple, and demonstrating the deep love you have for us. You both are always in our prayers. Love♥️

  16. Pam walsh

    Ava, this is beautiful. I can honestly say that until recently my husband and I have nott really had a bucket list per say. Maybe a place or two we’d like to see someday but not a have to. Recently we unexpectedly lost my husbands brother and realized also to cherish each day because tomorrow isn’t promised. We have spent 35 years putting our family first and recently went on a vacation alone. We had the time of our lives so far. Because we have fun together. Whether on a vacation, serving together or just watching our favorite show on tv. So cherish every day! And always remember there are people out there willing to help carry your load. Thank you for always being an inspiration to others


    That’s a story of deep love and devotion and I envy you. As a widow, when my son was grown and on his own, I did make a bucket list. I wanted to travel, drive a bulldozer, and drive flat-out on the autobahn in Germany. I’ve been able to do all those things. God truly does give us the desires of our heart.

  18. Tiffany C.


    So beautiful. In the midst of trials, you stand so strong. You are truly an inspiration. Thank you for sharing.

  19. Ava Pennington

    Thank you, Tiffany. God gives grace to each of us just when we need it.

  20. Stephanie Pennington

    Thank you Ava, for sharing your heart so beautifully. Praying He will “multiply” your time together. You are in my thoughts, my prayers and also in my heart.

  21. Ava Pennington

    Thank you, Stephanie.

  22. Julie

    “Soul Windows”

    Soul Windows
    a deep abiding silence fills the room,
    the silence of night
    the silence of a new day,
    the silence of a mother enraptured by the eyes of her child.
    Soul Windows
    an unassuming presence that seeps gradually into ones Soul, Heart and Mind.
    it brings forth a yearning,
    instills a quiet calling for us to linger.
    it fills us up with it’s light and never fades,
    it is all that have passed from this World,
    returning and embracing us with great tenderness,
    calling us Home,
    calling us back to ourselves.
    thank you Ava and Russ for touching so many lives with your kindness and grace filled words and daily actions..

  23. George

    Beautifully said dear Ava… Russ smile and simple appreciation for the Lord’s blessings which were bestowed upon him ( you ) and scripture as a road map clearly defined the presence of love. You were both a beautiful blessing to one another. A bucket list filled with the memories of a life shared together.

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