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The first day of my husband’s bucket list trip to Walt Disney World with Stage IV Metastatic Uveal Melanoma didn’t start out quite so magical. We arrived at the gates of Magic Kingdom bright and early. I’d timed everything perfectly so we’d be there for the park’s 9 am opening. Everything was going great until we scanned our magic bands to get in and discovered that our 5-day park tickets had expired and we hadn’t even been to one park yet! “This should be easy,” they said. “No problem,” they said. “We’ll just take you over here to guest services and they’ll take care of this for you.” After waiting in a line and another 15 minutes at guest services with a cast member on the phone with our resort, our 5-day park tickets were finally valid and ready to go.

Did I mention that I grumbled a bit while we were waiting patiently (and not-so-patiently) at the guest services desk? “All they need to do is change ONE date for FIVE people and this will be solved. Walt would find this unacceptable,” I said. “The people in this line should be top priority of the whole park right now. These peoples’ days aren’t starting out magical at all. Walt would do everything he could to make this experience as quick, as easy, and as magical as possible.” Breathing slowly and looking away from the cast member whose extended phone call was causing me slight first-day-of-vacation agitation, I reminded myself that we weren’t entitled to magical beginnings just because my husband has Stage IV cancer.

After the ticket debacle was resolved, we made our way to another guest services building where we signed up for disability access service, then continued down Main Street. Who doesn’t love Main Street at Magic Kingdom? If anything will cheer you up and get you feeling good, it’s Main Street and that spectacular castle. We stopped for a photo with the Disney photographer. Then one teen wanted individual pictures by the castle and they didn’t quite turn out they way she wanted, so we had to take more and then a few more. Then one teen was getting grumpy from “too many pictures” and my husband said “yeah, maybe let’s get going and not take pictures for a while.” Phew. Breathe deeply. It’s okay, people. Maybe the morning didn’t start out perfectly magical, but it’s ALL good. Let’s regroup and make our way to Adventureland! It’s time for an adventure!

We regrouped successfully. As we made our way to the entrance of Adventureland, we approached two cast members wearing Disney pin trading satchels.

(Please note, had we NOT made ALL of those stops prior to this moment in time, we very well would have NOT had such an incredibly magical day. So if things aren’t going quite the way you hoped, keep moving. Life might not seem totally magical now, but it will in time. Just wait and see.)

So back to those cast members wearing Disney pin trading satchels who we approached so we could look at their pins and make our first trades of the trip…

It was an ordinary interaction for a while. My husband traded a pin with one of the cast members. Then our youngest made a trade. Normally, at that point, we’d say thanks and move right along with our adventure in Adventureland. But these cast members wanted to know more about us. Where were we from? We scored some bonus points when we said we were from Seattle because one of the cast members was from Seattle and she knew exactly where we live! Were we planning on going to the parade this afternoon? Do we want to know some inside secrets about where the BEST place is to view the parade? Brick, the other cast member, broke out a map, showed us the parade route, circled the best place for us to view and explained why.

At that point, I was moving into writer zone. Writers know what I’m talking about. The moment when you realize a bit of a story might be unfolding. To me, this was a story about a man named Brick who was deeply committed to his work at Magic Kingdom. This was a story about a man who LOVED his worked, loved this place, and wanted to invest every second he could into every family who approached him to give them the most magical day they could have. I wanted to know more about this Brick and what made him so passionate about his job. I LOVE people who LOVE what they do.

Brick was taking a LOT of time with us, an unusual amount of time, I have to say. In nearly 21 years of going to Disney as a married couple and as a family, we hadn’t had this much personal interaction with a cast member. Like I said, I thought it was a little odd, but let him keep chatting with us and engaging with us. This, after all, is the magic of Disney.

We admired Brick’s favorite pins on his hat, and he told us a little about his 29-year career at Disney. But then. BUT. THEN. Brick brought conversation back to the parade, asked us to show him how we’re going to wave at the parade as it comes down the street. Okay??? We all waved for him, some of us a little more excitedly than others. Again, it was a little odd, but we all complied and engaged Brick kindly and graciously as we would anyone else! I don’t recall exactly how or exactly what words he used, but it was at that point that Brick asked us the question of all questions. “Do you think you could wave like that in the parade? I want to invite you to be the Grand Marshals of our parade today!”

Oh my goodness. Tears streamed from my eyes instantly. “Oh my goodness. You have no idea,” I said to Brick as I looked at my husband and gently touched his arm. “That would be AMAZING because he has stage IV cancer.” Everyone beamed with excitement as Brick proceeded to give us instructions as to where to meet, at what time, and how this Grand Marshal thing was all going to happen.

As we left Brick that morning, we wondered, how in the world had this incredible, amazing, magical thing happened to us?! Only God. Yes, only God could make such a thing happen. Brick had NO idea about my husband’s Stage IV Metastatic Uveal Melanoma diagnosis, but God did. God ordained our every step. Had our timing been different that morning, Brick and his colleague would have picked a different family as Grand Marshals. But there we were at the perfect place at the perfect time picked perfectly for this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience as Grand Marshals of the Festival of Fantasy Parade at Magic Kingdom. Oh. My. Goodness. This was only God.

I don’t really have much else to say. I’ll let the slide show tell the rest of the story. But here’s what I want you to know. I cried 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through that parade. Why? Because the experience was completely overwhelming, “surreal” as my husband so accurately stated. As we made our way down the parade route, God revealed to me that he will provide for us, even in the midst of our darkest, deepest trials. Second, and even more important, He has a heavenly home prepared for us and it is going to be grand and wild and magical beyond our imagination. Us being Grand Marshals in a Disney parade was a once-in-a-lifetime God-ordained experience that 99.9% of people won’t ever have. BUT I promise you, God has extended you an even GRANDER invitation, an invitation to ride in His chariot, to enter His gates, to ride to the palace where  streets are gold, where everything is good, and tears are no more. Accept the invitation and He will give you the ride of your life. They’ll wave and He’ll smile. Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.

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What comes to mind when you hear the word bucket list? How about skydiving, taking a romantic trip to Paris, horseback riding at sunset, visiting the Grand Canyon, taking a hot air balloon ride, or bungee jumping? What about running a marathon, hiking to the top of Mount Everest, retiring at age 55, visiting the Great Pyramids, taking your family on an epic mission trip, or swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean? The list could go on and on, am I right?

Some people have a bucket list before they’ve barely left the nest. Some begin drafting a list in their 20s when life feels full of possibility. Others crack open the idea book when they’re pushing retirement and they’re finally free to do the things they’ve been waiting to do. Others never think a second about a bucket list until the reality of mortality hits home. And then there are some who never dream, never allow themselves to think beyond the here and now, never once write a single item on their so-called bucket list.

Whether you have a bucket list or not, we all know what a bucket list is. A list of activities and experiences you’d like to have before you die. Bucket list items are typically fresh, novel, exotic, unusual, unique experiences you’ve never had before. The assumption is that once you’ve completed a bucket list item, you can check it off and move on to the next one.

Today, I’m going to break the bucket list myth. Perhaps it’ll inspire you to think differently about bucket lists. Perhaps it’ll inspire you to actually MAKE a bucket list if you don’t already have one. Perhaps it’ll free you to add something (or many things) to your list you never thought of before. I don’t know exactly what this post will do for you, but my ultimate aim in sharing is to help you think differently about living and dying well.

Since my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic uveal melanoma 11 months ago, I’ve experienced the whole gamut of thoughts and feelings as his wife of nearly 21 years. Fairly early on, I felt like we should be making a special point to do special things. Maybe not bucket list items, per se, but special activities like local outings and adventures with our kids. Every time it was a weekend, I’d ask my husband if there was anything special he’d like to do. Want to go to the glass gardens? Want to go to Leavenworth, a Bavarian mountain town, for an overnight with the kids? Want to go skiing? Want to take a ferry to an island? I don’t know. I was up for doing something special as a family, something to make memories. Maybe I was trying to create a bucket list FOR my husband? Dare I say YES?

The odd thing is that my husband would just keep responding to my random bucket list inquiries with “No, I just want to stay home, lie low and do the things we’d normally do as a family.”

I’ll be honest. This kind of bothered me at first. It still kind of bothers me. But when you’re 11 months into a stage 4 diagnosis, you start to understand things you never thought you’d understand. For some reason, I’ve BEGUN to understand my husband’s thought process. I’m not fully there, but I’m beginning to understand, I’m beginning to see the beauty in it. And THAT’S exactly why I’m sharing today.

You see, he didn’t WANT to check off a bunch of bucket list items in light of his diagnosis. In fact, I’m not sure if he really even had a bucket list! Several months after the diagnosis and several months of asking him “Do you want to….,” “How about we….” “What do you think about….” and him continuing to respond with “No, I just want to stay home, lie low and do the things we’d normally do as a family,” I finally decided to get more pointed in my questioning. After all, it seemed weird that he didn’t want to do ANYTHING and I wasn’t convinced he wanted to just sit at home ALL the time! So I asked again, a little differently this time, “Is there anything specific you have on your bucket list?” “Is there anything you REALLY want to do?”

And that’s when the answer came, a simple, two-point bucket list. “Well, I guess I’d like to go whale watching and take another Disney trip.”

So when my husband’s brother was visiting in early April, we went whale watching and completed bucket list item #1! It was fabulous and oh so good to see him smile. And I got to see the promise of a rainbow and clear skies just as we were about to board the boat, despite a forecast of nearly 100% rain.

After whale watching, all that remained on the two-point bucket list was take another Disney trip! Yay! Disney! Yahoo!!! The most magical place on earth. So exciting! So fun. Awesome trip for the kids. YES. All yes.

(But here’s where we’re breaking the bucket list myth.)

You see, we’ve had the blessing of going on MANY Disney trips. In fact, if you look back on our near 21-year marriage, the one vacation we’ve returned to time and time again is Disney. Our first trip to Walt Disney World was when we were on our honeymoon. Then a one-day visit to Magic Kingdom in 2002 when I was pregnant with our first child. Our first family-of-four trip was to Walt Disney World in 2010, and we loved it SO much we went back and did it all over again in 2011. In 2013, we joined my husband in Los Angeles for a big work event and added a couple days at the end to take the kids to Disneyland. 2015 marked our first trip to Walt Disney World as a family of five. In 2016, right before my dad had a lung transplant, my husband and I snuck away for a short Disney cruise preceded by a single day at Magic Kingdom. And in the summer of 2017, when my husband was laid off, he won a weight loss competition and a free trip to Florida. We had one magical day at Magic Kingdom that summer before moving to Seattle.

honeymooning at Disney World

pregnant at Disney World

So here we are. About to embark on yet another Disney vacation. This time, it’s an official bucket-list vacation. It’s not about the novelty at all. This is my husband’s grandest version of “I just want to stay at home, lie low and do something we’d normally do as a family.” Okay, we’re not staying home, we’re not going to lay low, but we ARE very much doing the thing we’ve done as a family since this family was established in June of ’98.

What is the lesson? What is the point? You might need to revamp your bucket list. You might need to rethink that bucket list of yours. If you aren’t inspired by the standard bucket list, if you’re not the bucket list type, then maybe you’ve been thinking about it all wrong. What if the thing you’d really want to do most if you were dying is the thing you love and have been doing forever?! What if the thing you’d really want to do if you were living your very best life was that one amazing thing you’ve already done? What if that bucket list item is something you’ve done 25 times, but you’d really like to do it ONE. MORE. TIME because it was SO incredibly good?

So what’s it going to be for you? What’s going to be added onto your bucket list now that we’ve dismembered the whole concept of bucket list? Going to visit your granddaughter one more time? Visiting that special beach one more time? Going to Mexico one more time? Reading your favorite book one more time? Running a marathon one more time? Going to lunch with that awesome friend one more time? Enjoying a chocolate bar one more time (or 550 more times) because it’s so incredibly satisfying? I don’t know what it is for you. But this I know for sure. We must live well AND die well. Live AND die well, my friend. Every day like it’s your last, or at least as much as you can muster. Whether you ride wild horses, coo with your grandbaby, or take another moment to put your feet up on the couch and count your blessings one more time, your story is going to be awesome.

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