We don’t do email …

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then sacrifices his money to recuperate his health”      Dalai Lama

I’ll be the first to admit, I need more rest!

In this 24/7 “always-on” world, the concept of joyfully being (not doing) has largely been lost. The technology revolution promising to integrate our life and work is doing the opposite. So I am going to take a shot at email here; it is killing me! Don’t get me wrong; I love email what it enables.  But I hate it more than love it.

Enough already.

Unfortunately, I can’t live without email but am finished being enslaved to it. Working at Trader Joe’s (TJs) is just the place to do it. In my interview, I was told,

“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”

Wait, are you kidding me!? How can a company survive in today’s information-driven economy without email?  If you listen to the Freakonomics podcast, “Should America Be Run by … Trader Joe’s?”, you will get some insight they are doing quite well without it. They also don’t do branded products, sales, social media advertising, rewards programs, loyalty cards, self-checkouts, wide aisles, big parking lots, and more. They’re on to something.

Most people agree today that society would be better off slowing down and incorporating more rest. Much of the chaos and societal ills seen in the world today are a result of our being overloaded. Best-selling author Richard A. Swenson termed it a lack of “margin”, which he defined as the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits.  Try reading a book without margins, you won’t get very far.

Time spent in email has devoured our margins and created a continuous 24/7 flow of information, an overload that spews data like a fire hose on full force with nobody holding the nozzle.  A small amount may hit the target, but most is wasted water causing a great deal of grief and exhaustion. God forbid I take a vacation, as the backlog of emails waiting when I return is enough to make me wish I never left.  This might partly explain why 52 percent of American employees reported having unused vacation days at the end of the year in 2017 (Project: Time Off).

I acknowledge email is a way of life both at work and home. There is no getting around it if you want to accomplish something that involves more than just yourself. Almost 3.7 billion email users send a whopping 269 billion emails each day (The Radicati Group, Inc.). Email is the preferred method of communications (and marketing) in almost all situations.  An interesting (and funny!) read about how email has entered the mainstream business world is Dan Lyons’, “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble”. In it, Dan describes how HubSpot, a Boston start-up selling email spam, was positioning their product:

“Our spam is not spam. In fact it is the opposite of spam. It’s anti-spam. It’s a shield against spam – a spam condom.” 

Just under 30 years ago, none of us were doing email at work or home because it did not exist.  Email found its way into the work environment in the mid-1980s as I was launching my high technology career with ROLM Corporation. We worked hard at ROLM, but without email, I left my work at the office when I came home, truly done. When IBM purchased ROLM in 1984 we were introduced to IBM PROFS (Professional Office System), the first corporate email system to my knowledge at that time.

PROFS was designed to replace the typewriter

Most of us viewed PROFS as a joke. It served to simply relay information from IBM corporate which had no impact on my day-to-day duties. It was like reading Morse code intended for the navy when you were in the army.  I could go weeks at a time without checking my inbox and often made fun of those (mostly management) who seemed to spend an inordinate amount of their day doing it.

By the time I left Oracle 25 years later, I would estimate that over 2/3 of my day was spent navigating my email. Even in meetings, I was only half listening as I browsed my “urgent” emails.  And like the Israelites crossing the desert in the Bible, email seemed to be a cloud that followed me home and came with me on my vacations. Improvements to the cell phone and cellular networks made email exchanges easy, regardless of where you were.  Now I could do email when I was in line at the grocery store!

Contrast this with the picture below, which reminds me of my summers growing up in Corona del Mar in the 1960s at the beach. Entire days hanging out with friends, lying in the warm sand to heat you up after a long swim in the ocean, are vivid memories. As soon as we got too hot in the sand we would go back into the water to cool off. Repeat. Over and over until it was time to go home.

Photo credit to Matt Warsaw – “The History of Surfing”

There was no need to know about everything or be in touch with everyone.  It was easier to be present and enjoy life for what it was at that very moment. Insert a cell phone into the hands of either of these two guys and it destroys the image. How could you be enjoying the hot sand after a cool swim while watching the waves if you were sending or reading an email? You could of course, but you will agree it would not be the same.    

Enter Trader Joe’s. As my wife and I anticipated our COBRA health insurance plan ending, we began to look at options. Trader Joe’s offers a full benefits package for 30 hours a week on the clock. I filled out a simple job application and walked it down to our local TJs for an interview.  No appointment necessary.

In the interview, Amelia [Captain of the store] asked me a question about when I was available to work.  Our discussion went something like this:

  • Amelia:
    “I think you’re a good fit for Trader Joe’s. When would you be available to work?”
  • Mike:
    “That is complicated for me. Could I send you an email on the days and times?”
  • Amelia:
    “We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
  • Mike:
    “Excuse me?”
  • Amelia:
    “We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.“
  • Mike [extending my hand to shake]:
    “When can I start?”

What the !?!?

Deciding to give it a try and see if that is really the case, I am now five months in and am loving it. At the end of the day I feel completely content to know that I worked hard to get the job done and can go home satisfied. I’m working harder and resting more than I have in a long time. No email.

Here’s 10 things I like about working at Trader Joe’s:

1. “We don’t do email.”
We rest more.

2. We’re on a ship.
We’re all at sea on a ship in the South Pacific at TJs.  Our jobs are crystal clear. One Captain (aloha shirt), a couple Mates (different aloha shirt), and Crew Members (hibiscus T-shirts) communicate by ringing bells that allow us to be “armed to the teeth” to react to our customer needs on a moments notice.

3. Variety is the spice of life.
Every eight-hour shift is divided into eight blocks – each one designating a different job on the ship for that hour.  In one eight-hour shift, I can perform every job in the store, from cashier to stocking to carts to loading bananas to cleaning the floor, and more.  It sounds simple (and it is), but it makes my day fly by and has helped me learn the entire operation of the store.  Brilliant.

4. Huddles.
Meetings (called “huddles”) are five-minute stand-up gatherings in the back galley to communicate important news and to keep things “ship shape”.  No muss, no fuss.  Quick and simple instructions with some good food and grog to sample, and then all-hands back on deck to help customers.

5. Fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs.
Every day I get fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs from my fellow sailors. This really surprised me at first.  If I were to go hugging people at Oracle I might end up at the HR office!  Even better, every two weeks my paycheck is personally handed to me, with a handshake, and a look-you-in-the-eyes “job well done” comment. Pretty simple. Now I’m fist bumping, handshaking, and hugging back. 

6. Happy people. 
Employees at TJs are happy.  Which makes the customers happy.  It’s “hunky-dory”. I am happy to work there.

7. Personal goodbyes.
I used to sneak out of the office at the end of a day hoping nobody noticed. When you leave TJs you go around the store and say a personal goodbye to those you are leaving behind. Add in a fist bump, handshake, or hug. Kid you not, the first couple nights I saw this I thought these folks were leaving the company!

8. Millennials.
Many of my co-workers are my children’s age. They are fun, energetic, and full of interesting insights on life. Most of them have other jobs or school or both and are all “gung ho” to make a future. They talk to me like I am one of them. At TJs I am. LOL. It’s a kick.

9. Fantastic food with a family discount.
My entire family gets the employee discount when shopping at any TJs. The prices are already crazy low, so this really helps. And there’s always time on the ship for a cup of joe or a snack from the Demo bar to keep things on an even keel during your shift.

10. Just be you. 
TJ tells you they hired you because of who you are, not who they want you to be. So the word on deck is to “be yourself”.  For those who know me, that is dangerous! I’m even wearing my shorts and Hoka’s to work every day.

Halloween at Trader Joe’s

**Resources**

Margin the Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits by Richard A. Swenson

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Surfing Without a Leash

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Bronnie Ware

Like the microprocessor in Silicon Valley, the sport of surfing was forever changed by the invention of the surf leash. The simple idea of tying your foot to your surfboard with a rubber cord eliminated any repercussions of wiping out on a wave and losing your board. The ripple effect of this was a fundamental reshaping of the sport over the next decade.

Before the leash, surfing not only mandated good swimming and paddling skills, but it required a more conservative approach to the wave you were riding. If you fell and lost your board into the beach, the consequences included a swim in to the beach, a more difficult paddle back out (against incoming waves), and maybe a couple hours in your garage doing ding repair if rocks or another person’s board got involved. Surfing in the 60’s included a lot of swimming, paddling, and ding repair.

According to Corky Carroll in his article “Humble beginnings of surf leash”, Pat O’Neill, son of famous wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill, is generally acknowledged for inventing the modern surf leash in 1971. A lost board at Steamer’s Lane meant almost certain death on the rocks, so it is easy to see how that came about. Interestingly, the surf leash is how Jack O’Neill lost his left eye, as the early versions were made from a surgical cord that would shoot the board back faster than you wanted after a wipeout. Ouch!

Jack O’Neill lost his left eye when an early version of the surf leash returned his board like a bullet

With the invention of the leash, short boards quickly evolved (from long boards) as a new slash-and-tear style of surfing emerged that required minimal foot movement on the surfboard. Suddenly there was no penalty for trying something beyond your abilities on a wave as the surf leash began a revolution of what was possible while riding a wave. It was analogous to the safety net of the flying trapeze artists.

For those of us who had grown up surfing without a leash, this new invention was not all good news. My friends and I called it the “kook cord”. Most troublesome was the increase in crowds, as nobody had to swim in for their board when they fell. It was as if the entire skateboarding community suddenly was able to surf and never lost their board when they wiped out. It also brought people out at breaks they had no right to be surfing, giving them a false sense of security on waves they would normally not even try and catch. Paddling out even became a challenge if you were navigating through the kelp.

Jack Schott after doing some trolling with his leash through the seaweed at San Onofre

Today, when conditions allow, I love to leave the leash behind. I immediately feel a sense of freedom and relief from the safety belt effect of having this plastic cord tied to my leg. This is how I learned, how it seems surfing should be. There is an exciting sense of risk and danger in trying a difficult move (like “hanging five”), knowing you could lose your board to the beach if you fall. It gives me the freedom to move up and down the board without hindrance or danger of getting tangled on the cord. My surfboard becomes a part of me that I will hang on to at all costs if I do fall or go through a big wave. The exhilaration (“stoke”) of a good long ride without a leash takes on greater joy, often kicking out with a brief howl to awaken my soul. It takes me back to my roots of who I am as a surfer and reminds me how the ocean has been a part of my growth as a human being. Through that process I have become a stronger and better surfer, it’s a wonderful thing. It’s about life; learning and developing as we take our spills each day.

Taking off the leash in life

After 25 years in the high tech industry in Silicon Valley, I took a one-year sabbatical to become a certified New Ventures West Integral Coach®, or in more common terms, a Professional Life Coach. Those 12 months were all about taking off my leash and learning to live daringly without the Oracle security blanket. If you read Hit over the head by a 2×4, you know that I had been riding the Silicon Valley Express train that had me so wound up on a daily basis, that I lost track of who I was. I didn’t have time for that!

This change in lifestyle was dramatic for me and my family. In my New Ventures West coaching class, it became clear that I had to grow and develop myself before I could become proficient at coaching others. We were taught about “island hopping”, which is the natural progression of humans to constantly strive to get ahead in life by building a bigger and faster boat to get you to the next island of your dreams. Tony Robbins term for this is CANI (constant and never-ending improvement). It’s what Silicon Valley is all about. I’ll always remember the picture drawn on the whiteboard in our class of a stick figure man on the left ==> a body of water in the middle ==> and an island on the right, with the comment: “Constantly trying to get life to turn out in the future.”  There’s no time to be present. God forbid we stop and smell the roses. We just look ahead to the next island and start designing the next boat to get there. Faster. And life is passing us by.

That 12-month break from the Silicon Valley Express train allowed me to remove my leash to experience the freedom and joy of who I really am. I’d be lying if I told you it was easy. I fall a lot these days, but am learning to enjoy the swim and gaining strength from the experience, knowing that I am growing along the way. I feel a sense of freedom I have not felt in years. I am learning to listen deeply and let life teach me where I want to go. It is a marvelous thing. My coaching is all about helping you to take your leash off and give it a try. It can be a life-changing experience. Here are a few testimonials from my clients who have been brave enough to take the plunge.

**Resources**

“The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing” by Bronnie Ware

Bronnie Ware took off her leash and learned to live a life around who she found herself to truly be. This book is a memoir about her journey, which led her to care for the needs of the dying. What was most interesting to me was how her life was transformed by that experience of tending to those who were in their final days on this earth. The top five regrets were interesting, but what I admired in Bronnie’s story was her honesty about too many years doing unfulfilling work and how she was able to break that mold to live the life she felt she was called to. This is not a Christian pilgrimage, but a simple retelling of how one can learn to listen carefully to our internal compass in life.

Here is a quick recap of the “Top Five Regrets” verbatim off her website (in case you were curious):

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

  1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

  1. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

  1. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

HODADS (the movie)

(left to right) Jack Schott, John Park, John Davis, Mike Mulkey – January 14, 2005

“Don’t give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you.”

John Wooden

For all surfers, the thought of riding the perfect wave and capturing it on film is something we dream about.  So when my wife Marla asked me what I wanted for my 50th birthday (many moons ago), my immediate thought was to film a surfing movie with my “old” surfing buddies to recapture some of those glorious feelings about surfing!

I had been major stoked my previous three birthdays in early January surfing large Pacific storm swells at Steamers Lane on waves that never seemed to end.  Steamers Lane at low tide on a strong January northwest swell is something you have to experience to understand how good it can be.  It is a thick and powerful wave, which can go on longer than any ever ridden in my years of surfing.  To ride a wave at Steamers all the way from outside around the point at Indicators and into Cowell’s Beach is a big-time thrill.  With a minus low tide, you can walk most of the way back out on the sand to the point for a short paddle out.  Since the rain-soaked storms in January were almost as guaranteed as the frigid water, this seemed to be a plan without fail for a real surfing movie.

This Woody Woodworth poster hung in my office at Oracle for many years

With Marla’s support, I immediately contacted four close friends from my past whom I knew would be excited about the idea:

  • Mark Magiera – I grew up with Mark in CdM (since 3rd grade), roomed together on Goldenrod Avenue, and shared many experiences surfing together and hanging out at 507 Marguerite Avenue (see Corona del Mar and Growing Up). Mark led me to Hollister Ranch, back when you could have your VW bus parked on the bluff at Rights and Lefts, which is exactly what we did!  Mark, unfortunately, had a conflict and had to bow out of the HODADS filming.
  • John Park – Founder of Clear Spirit Surfboards, John frequented San Onofre with my dad and I back in the late 1960’s when surfing really was about all we talked about (well, almost).  Johnny led me to surfing adventures in our many trips to Baja back in the seventies and eighties and was a member of the infamous Mexican Miracle (see The Power of Prayer).
  • Jack Schott – Jack was another former roommate who shared many a good day with me in the water, as well as being my loyal tennis partner. Jack was the best surfer I knew, and always seemed to stay out longer and catch more waves than I, in spite of having ten years on me!  Jack came down with a horrible cold that weekend, sitting out one day, and then borrowing Gary Irving’s 10mm dive suit to finally get in for some action.  And he still out-surfed us!
  • John Davis – John was my one and only Silicon Valley high tech surfing bro at Sun Microsystems.  Also 10 years my senior (are you kidding me!?), John and his wife Deb built the dream surf cottage on 38th Street in Santa Cruz with its own quiver room and a hot outdoor shower (with a bench seat to help extract the wetsuit). I am eternally indebted to them for that shower, as it is the only way I can get out of my wetsuit on a cold winter day.  On our second day of filming John was not feeling well, and not catching waves. He left suddenly, drove home shivering and feeling chest pain.  Long story short, he soon was in the Emergency room diagnosed with a heart attack.  He had an angiogram that day to install a stint in the blocked artery! Not kidding.
  • Gary Irving – was our key to this entire project as cinematographer and producer. I believe God sent Gary to us to do HODADS. He immediately understood what we were trying to accomplish and proceeded to invest untold hours into the final production of our movie, giving it the vital spark we were looking for.  Considering the wave situation (see below), Gary did an unbelievable job producing what will someday be remembered as the surf movie to end all surf movies (pun intended). Unbeknownst to us, later that year in 2005 Gary married Paul Newman’s daughter, Nell Newman. 
    Huh?  He never mentioned that one…

Despite some objections from the peanut gallery, I decided to title the movie “HODADS”, which in surfer terminology is a surfer without much skill (aka “kook!”).  When you bring together five surfers whose combined ages cover some 270 years, I realized it would be serious HODAD surfing whether we wanted to admit it or not.

Gary filmed HODADS on the weekend of January 14th, 2005.  As luck would have it, we had a freak lull for the entire weekend. Steamer’s Lane was so flat there was not a single surfer in the water on Saturday. So we pinned Gary and his camera equipment into a hotel room with unlimited pizza and beer to spend the entire day recording each of us recalling our early surfing days. On the second day, Gary let us in on a secret spot in Monterey Bay that “always had surf”.  In fact, he was right!  So we did get a couple decent surf sessions for Gary to film.

HODADS 10-year reunion in 2015 to sign autographs and count chest hairs. (left to right: Mark Magiera, Mike Mulkey, Jack Schott, John Davis)

As John Wooden liked to say “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

This movie was all about being stoked with good friends, sharing some of our most precious times together, and enjoying God’s creation.

There are two parts to HODADS (the movie):

  • Part I – HODADS (surfing)10:40

  • Part II – HODADS (surf stories)12:50

Enjoy!

Note: The full-length DVD that Gary Irving produced is available for special order through surfingforbalance.com (Contact Mike).  This movie is an abbreviated form of the DVD.

The Power of Prayer

“When we work, we work, but when we pray, God works.”
Bill Hybels

To a young surf grom growing up just a few blocks from the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960’s (see Corona del Mar and Growing Up), Bruce Brown’s epic surf movie “The Endless Summer” had a deep-rooted effect on me. Brown had done the unthinkable at that time, poetically documenting every surfer’s ultimate dream on film, in an around-the-world quest to find the perfect wave. And find it they did, at Cape St. Francis in South Africa! I was eleven years old when it came out in 1966, and by the time I entered high school, our surfing sojourns across the border into Baja helped keep my childhood dream alive.

Bruce Brown’s “The Endless Summer” set the surfing world on fire in 1966

I don’t remember ever actually praying to God for surf back then. It just didn’t occur to me to call on God for waves. We might sacrifice a surfboard or two down at Big Corona to wake up the surf gods during a long drought, but prayer was not really a thought.

However, there was one prayer around this quest for the perfect wave that stuck with me — for life. It was the first time I can remember actually calling on God for help. It made such an impression on me that I can remember it as if it happened yesterday, but in fact, it was almost 50 years ago.

In 1970 I was fifteen years old and heading into summer vacation after my freshman year at Corona del Mar High School. Surfing buddies John Park, Craig Barrett and Danny Moore had come up with a plan for finding that elusive wave deep in mainland Mexico. The furthest I had ventured on previous surfing trips was K181, which was an hour or so south of Ensenada (181 kilometers south of the border at Tijuana). These guys had come up with a new twist to our summer trek into Baja. Their idea was to go all the way to Mazatlan, over 1,000 miles south of the border into mainland Mexico! The four of us simply told our parents we were “going to Mexico for a couple weeks”. Baja and Mazatlan are both in Mexico, right? Without cell phones, the Internet, or any other means of staying in touch, we ventured ahead without considering the risks.

1970 surfing safari from Corona del Mar to Mazatlan (3 days and ~1,300 miles)

Next I know we are stuffing Craig’s orange 1964 Chevy van with supplies. We had enough canned food to feed an army, 8-track tapes of “Santana” and “Deju Vu” (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), large speakers we stole from Johnny’s sister’s bedroom for the back of the van, two beach chairs for back seats so we could remove the van seats for more storage, tools, duct tape (our most valuable asset!), water, Paraffin wax, camping supplies, Johnny’s father’s 8mm movie camera, and a first aid kit (Band-Aids, Bactine and some Tincture Benzoin in case it was something serious). The four boards on top included two Hobie Super-Mini’s, which were the prized possessions of Johnny and me.

Next stop Mazatlan! Or, so we thought…

This was clearly an extreme outing for me. Parallels to my dad joining WWII at that age aside (see “Malibu and The Greatest Generation”), I felt like I was blasting off for the moon as we shoved off from CdM, with just a few people aware of our intended destination. Whatever we lacked in experience we surely made up for in our zeal to search for perfect waves on a deserted beach in Mazatlan. The whole thing could best be summed up by my favorite word, at that time: totally “bitchen”.

Not even to the Mexican border yet before Craig’s van starting showing signs of trouble. What!?… We pulled over to a gas station to send a mechanic under the hood only to find out that it was two and a half quarts low on oil. LOL. Minor oversight.

Shortly after, that we hit our second snag at the border crossing in Tecate. I remember well a sign as one approached the guard at the gate that said: “No Long Hairs Allowed”. Are you kidding me?! They weren’t. “Go home amigo!” Our dreams almost ruined, we reviewed our map and decided to target the next border crossing to the east at Mexicali – a mere two-hour drive away. This time we did some strategic planning and went into a gas station bathroom before the border to doctor up our hair with bobby pins, water and a lot of finesse. It was then that Johnny and I thought we saw Raquel Welch, but that story is a bit of a diversion…

Sure enough, we sailed right through the border with our clean-cut all-American look! We felt as though nothing could stop us now as we barreled into the Mexican desert with the sun setting and Carlos Santana singing “Black Magic Women” to four teenagers who felt like they had just hit the jackpot in Las Vegas.

1972 photo of the border crossing at Mexicali

A third snag (feeling as though we were snake bit) suddenly appeared in the form of a Mexican Federale at a Turista checkpoint station just as we were relaxing after the great escape from the Mexicali border guards. Checkpoints were something we were used to in Baja, as they often just wanted to terrorize you with a couple questions and check your glove compartment for marijuana. Usually with a machine gun in hand. But this guy was different. He was quite serious and telling us in very few words to “Vete a casa” (go home!). Holy COW, he’s not kidding! Apparently, this thing called a “Turista” sticker had to be on our car to travel into mainland Mexico from the U.S. Of course, this was news to us. In an instant, our dreams of a “Mexican Endless Summer” were coming to an abrupt and terrible end.

This Turista sticker was required to travel into mainland Mexico by automobile

The Mexican Miracle

The four of us regrouped in Craig’s van. I can remember a few tears being shed, as this indignant Federale appeared to be enjoying sending these rich white boys from the U.S. with their long hair back home. Then out of the blue, Johnny blurts out that we should pray to God. I remember thinking that was the stupidest idea in the world. How the heck was a prayer going to help? We were done! This guy was not budging, and we definitely did not have a Turista sticker. I was already wondering what we’d do with all the canned food…

As it was, we were desperate and willing to try anything, so the next thing I know the four of us are bowing our heads and praying in the car for a miracle to happen. I can’t remember the specifics. I don’t think we prayed that this guy would die or anything. I believe it was something holy, like “God, please help us, we want to surf the perfect wave in Mazatlan”… I do remember the outcome quite clearly. Out of nowhere, we came up with this hair-brained idea of waving a $20 bill in front of this guy to see if he was willing to take a bribe to let us go.   Pretty risky stuff, seeing how he was the one wearing the badge and gun, and all we really had going for us was enough gas in the tank to get back across the border before we got in any more trouble.

It was Craig who we put up to the task, since he was the oldest, by at least a few months. Craig was pretty nervous (we all were!) as we walked back from the car to this guys office. Craig starts scratching his face with the $20 between his fingers, afraid to just hold it out to the guy as an offer. I’m thinking, “what the heck is Craig doing?!” when suddenly the Federale lights up with a smile, and we all immediately knew it had worked! He took the bait, slapped the Turista sticker on our car, and sent us on our way. “Soul Sacrifice” from Carlos Santana blasting! As we plunge into the darkening desert sky on Mexican asphalt, I leaned back in my beach chair marveling at what a trip this was going to be. “Bitchen”.

An 8-track tape of Carlos Santana led the charge for us to Mazatlan

That prayer had a lasting effect on me. Whether or not God or the Holy Spirit had anything to do with answering it, it stuck with me that in that moment of hopelessness we could look to God for help, even if what seemed to be insurmountable odds weighed against us. I will never forget that moment.

The Power of Prayer

Prayer has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my Christian life. Not just “answered” prayers, although I do love those. But the way prayer has helped me to handle life’s many ups and downs through my dialogs with God. I have said many times, becoming a Christian did not so much change who I am as it changed who I wanted to be. Prayer has become the avenue for having that daily conversation with God as to who I want to become.

I have wonderful stories of how God has heard and acted on my prayers. Several years ago I started writing my prayers (in a Bible) to keep track of them. It has been fascinating to see God at work over the years. One prayer especially dear to me involves a men’s discipleship group I was involved in for two years through our church. The twelve men in this group grew very close as we studied, dined, and hung out together. Meeting every week to learn how to study God’s word, we always devoted time to praying for each other’s needs in life. With all of us having small kids, new marriages, and just launching our careers, there was never a shortage of things to pray for!

Fast forward eight years and we had all gathered as sort of a reunion at one of our leaders’ homes to pray for a serious recent injury. After praying for our friend’s healing, we got caught up on what was going on with everyone in the eight or so years since we had last been together. As each of the men provided an update, I was beginning to get goosebumps on the back of my neck. It was clear that God had been at work on what we had prayed so diligently for over those two years of our study. It was remarkable to see what He had done eight years later. We all became quite emotional as we realized how faithful God had been. But each admitted it had happened so gradually, and often in ways we had not expected, that we hadn’t really connected the dots to all that time in prayer together. We finished that night with a prayer of praise to God for his faithfulness.

While that is a story I love to tell, I also believe that prayer has also frustrated me at times. My inability to see how God is working in certain difficult situations has been quite perplexing. I know I’m not the only one feeling that way. Sometimes, we don’t feel God is hearing our prayers, but perhaps He does and it takes our whole lives to understand. God works all things for good (I look forward to understanding more once I get to Heaven).

I recently read a wonderful book on prayer that really helped me: “Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God” by Bill Hybels. Bill explains in very simple terms not only how to pray, but why prayers may not actually be getting a direct response from God. It has greatly impacted my prayer life to better understand this. He sums it up by emphasizing our need to focus on God, versus the mountain we are trying to move through our prayers:

“Faith comes by looking at God, not at the mountain.”

In Hybels’s words: “The heart and soul of the Christian life is learning to hear God’s voice and then developing the courage to do what he asks us to do.” This is a life-long journey, but something I am committed to. It has fit well into my coaching practice; as Hybels is saying that our prayer life is a two-way conversation. Often I am just pouring out my problems and forgetting to stop and listen and understand what He might be trying to tell me. This time of listening to God has been very precious, and I now understand is key to my understanding how God might be working in my life, especially when I don’t see a direct response to my earnest prayers.

A surfing analogy to this could be how I learned over the years to listen to the elements of tide, wind, water, and air at my favorite surf spot to gain a sense of when the surf might be at its best. Paying close attention to subtle changes in each can tell you a lot!

Hybels has so very many gems in this book about prayer. I strongly encourage you to read it. He sums it up:

If the request is wrong, God says, “No”.
If the timing is wrong, God says, “Slow”.
If you are wrong, God says, “Grow”.
But if the request is right, the timing is right and you are right, God says, “Go”.

In closing, here are three of my favorite verses from the Bible on prayer:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Matthew 7:7

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.”
Psalm 40:1

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Matthew 21:22

Epilogue to the Mazatlan trip:

At our 40th high school reunion a few years back, a woman approached me and claimed to remember our trip to Mazatlan in 1970. I was astonished! Apparently, her family was in Mazatlan on vacation at the time we arrived, and ran into John Park and heard the story of our surfing safari adventure. After seeing Johnny, her dad pulls her aside to say: “I can’t believe their parents allowed them to drive down here!?” And of course, she replied: “Dad, their parents don’t know.”

We never did find the perfect wave in Mazatlan. Ok, but we had lots of fun and many good stories to tell our friends on our arrival back home. We made a few wrong turns on our way, even bumping into the Sea of Cortez and thinking for an instant we were at the Pacific Ocean. There was one more mechanical breakdown of the van deep into the jungle that required another Mexican mechanic. After a long wait, it was solved when Danny Moore put water in the battery. Ha! We encountered locust swarms across the highway and many seemingly endless detour signs (“Desviación”) sending us off the paved highway for miles at a time into the jungle. Finally, three days later we arrived at the main beach in Mazatlan for our first surf session.  Turns out Craig’s van did not lock, so we had to watch it as we paddled out for our first session. The water was so unexpectedly warm (over 80 degrees!) the Paraffin wax for our surfboards was melting, making foot traction on the board quite challenging.

We saw more of these Mexican detour signs than we cared to

We set up base camp at a campground in town and proceeded to explore around Mazatlan and the surrounding area for perfect waves, to no avail. At one point we might have found our secluded beach with wave potential. We ventured out and suddenly a huge bat ray flew out of the water right next to me with a large splash. I paddled into shore faster than I ever paddled in my life! And never went back out there. That kind of stuff did not happen in Southern Cal… It really spooked me.

The fun lasted just a little over a week before getting clobbered by Montezuma’s Revenge, coincidentally just as a hurricane off the Pacific was clobbering the coast of Mexico. For me, it was the perfect storm.

A final memory of Mazatlan was getting up at night in the campground in complete darkness to pay my respects to Montezuma in a torrential downpour with the wind howling. Without seeing anything, I stepped on some kind of live creature with my bare foot. It cracked like a crab, and then crawled off injured like some kind of giant prehistoric spider. Adios amigo! I am outta here! We left the next day. All important on the way home was how great a McDonald’s burger would taste after crossing the border in San Diego.

Upon arrival back in So Cal, we discovered the film in the 8mm video camera had been exposed after opening the camera. Our Mazatlan movie was gone, and none of us had a single picture from the experience. But we were more focused on the adventure of it all than trying to document it. The memories and stories are better kept in our minds. It was a trip for the ages. And it taught me the power of a prayer.

Jack Schott carving a bumpy left at Cannon’s Beach in Mazatlan in 1964

I emailed a friend who I knew traveled to Mazatlan in those days to see if he had any photos. Though he is ten years my senior, Jack Schott is a former Surfing Magazine cover boy who to this day out surfs me every time we go (including last weekend at San Onofre). Jack told me a story about going to Mazatlan in 1964 with three friends and dragging a trailer to carry their longboards, which were big and heavy back then. Their trip ended suddenly when they were thrown into a prison in Mazatlan for lighting off fireworks from their hotel balcony. Jack claims, “It was the other guys doing that”. Ha. They barely scraped together enough money to pay their way out of the prison and flee town just as a police car was coming to get them for further damage to their hotel room.

**RESOURCES**

“Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God” by Bill Hybels

The Narrow Path

“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”
Abraham Lincoln

There’s a topic that is so important to me, and to the writing of this blog, so now is the time to address it.  Something I cherish and marvel at:

The Bible is by far the best-selling book of all time. Fifty Bibles sell every minute. (http://www.christian-research.org/)

By speaking of Heaven, I am assuming a belief in God, as documented in the Holy Bible.  Without God, we have no Heaven. The Bible is God’s true word about the meaning of life and the responsibility of human beings to their Creator.

In the book of Matthew (7:13-14 NIV), Jesus calls out our need to take the narrow road to life, versus the broad road that leads to destruction:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

We’re talking serious business here.

The narrow road is having a belief in Jesus Christ as your savior. This requires us to prepare now (today!) in order to enter Heaven, as we really don’t know when our road comes to an end (see “Begin with the End in Mind”).

Avoiding the fire and brimstone discussion, I do want to be clear that Heaven is not the default destination for us.  If we don’t make a decision to follow the Bible (the narrow road), it is very specific that Heaven is not where we end up. Heaven is the narrow road, and “only a few find it.”  That catches my attention!

According to Gary Larson, it’s about ending up with a harp versus an accordion …

I was 35 years into my life before I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and began to study the Bible. My Christian walk has been one of growth and wonder and great joy around the plan God has been unveiling for my life since then. He has not changed who I am as much as He has changed who I want to become.  That does not mean life has been without its storms, they have definitely come, in spite of my faith (see “New Beginnings”).  But having God to turn to and prayer to guide me during those times has made all the difference in the world.

It all makes perfect sense to me now, but that was not the case in my younger days.  And through the years of raising our family here in Silicon Valley while struggling to maintain a career and working hard to stay healthy and balanced, I found rest through my faith in God. Jesus sums it up in Matthew 11:28:30:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yolk is easy and my burden is light.”

Tides of Evidence

As a surfer, I look no further than the miracle of the tides to back up my claim that the Bible speaks God’s true word. For most of my life, I have watched and studied the tidal flow at my favorite surfing spots.  Aside from the size of the swell, nothing impacts the quality of the waves as much as the tide.  It varies by location what is best (high tide, low tide, incoming, outgoing), but the tides have an amazing impact on what the surf will be like and how long it will stay that way.  For example, Steamer Lane on a northwest swell in January is always best when you have an incoming tide, especially if you are coming off a “minus” low tide.  On the other hand, at San Onofre, low tide involves a serious rock dance getting in and out of the water.  But the waves are consistently worth it!

Daughter Marisa navigating the low-tide rock dance at San Onofre

71% of our planet Earth is covered in water across 5 oceans (the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific, and Southern) Earth just happens to be the only known planet (or moon) to have bodies of liquid water on its surface.   Earth is also the only planet that has a single moon that just happens to be by far the largest moon (relative to Earth’s size) of any other moon in our solar system. If the moon were just slightly larger/smaller, or a little closer/further in distance from Earth; none of this works, and surfing on Earth is not an option.  Nor is life, if you want to broaden this discussion to the moon’s impact on the Earth’s orbital axis. Our moon is the perfect size and the perfect distance away to enable all this to work perfectly.

Tidal chart: where surfer’s go to find good waves

When I am able to spend an entire day on the beach, one of my favorite pastimes is to simply watch the ebb and flow of the tide in and out.  It is truly remarkable. For me to believe this all happened by chance is more concerning than believing it was scripted to happen by a magnificent creator.  I can’t reconcile in my mind how something so outrageously precise could take place any other way?

Eric Metaxes sums it up well in his book “Miracles”:

“Is there any escaping the conclusion that the existence of life on planet Earth, or life of any kind anywhere, is an astonishing, incomprehensible miracle?”

Steps to Faith

If you need help in understanding how to receive Jesus Christ as your savior, there are two simple steps you can take.

First, one should have a basic understanding of the Bible.  The Old Testament is part one of the Bible, which is about God and his relationship with man, including many prophesies of the coming of Jesus Christ as the chosen messiah.  The New Testament of the Bible is about the grace of Jesus:

God the Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth from heaven, lived a perfect human life, died on the cross in our place for our sins, was buried, resurrected three days later, returned to His glorified body to God His Father in heaven, and will come again. 

A second step is to find a quiet place with a Bible where you can say a prayer to admit to God (and yourself) that you have ignored Him and have tried to control your life, and to tell Him that you believe that Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross for your sins.

You don’t have a lot to lose if you bet on the narrow path.  Life with Jesus is good, no matter how bad your circumstances are.  I don’t know how people get through the difficult times without Him.

I’m betting on having my Opening Day in Paradise!

“God created the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the waves for our enjoyment. Surfing is just my way of worshipping Him.“
Bethany Hamilton

**RESOURCES**

Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life by Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas is a New York Times #1 bestselling author and is one of my favorite Christian writers.  He has written seven books that I recommend: Martin Luther, If You Can Keep It, Bonhoeffer, Miracles, Seven Women, Seven Men, and Amazing Grace. Miracles is a collection of short stories which will definitely catch your attention as well as inspire you about what is possible.

Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton

If you don’t know about Bethany Hamilton you are in for a treat!  This book is her story, which is about her life as a 13-year old competitive surfer when she lost her arm in a shark attack.  It was made into a movie which I also highly recommend (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt were excellent as her parents).  Her story and faith as she rose back to the top of the world surfing tour is one not to miss.  A great read for your young adult kids also, as her bravery and grit were truly inspiring.

The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel

(This is a repeat, but really a good start if you are questioning the authenticity of the Bible)

This book was made into a movie in 2017, and I recommend both if you have any questions about the historical reliability of the New Testament, and/or claims made by Jesus Christ.  Lee Strobel was a self-proclaimed atheist when he began investigating the Biblical claims about Christ after his wife’s conversion. As an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Lee pulled together all the facts about Jesus as if he were going to trial. Prompted by the results of his investigation, he became a Christian on November 8, 1981.

Heaven Can’t Wait

”You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.
What is your life? It is a mist that appears for a little while.
Then it disappears.”    
James 4:14

When I first heard about Steve Jobs death I was working Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco (October 5, 2011).   I had walked up to the Apple Store near Union Square to buy a couple of iPod’s for our booth giveaways and found the store shrouded in candles with employees walking around like zombies, unwilling to accept the news.  It was as if the store needed to stop operations and pause to reflect.  But the iPhone 4s had just been announced a day earlier and they were selling like hot cakes, with swarms of people showing up like bees to honey. Jobs was clearly one of the most instrumental leaders in the history of Silicon Valley.

Walter Isaacson’s biography “Steve Jobs” was released just a few weeks after, and I immediately picked up a copy and dove into the account of his life.  Jobs and I were born within a month of each other, so I was more than curious to hear his story and especially to better understand his genius.  In the words of Isaacson,

“Steve Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination.  He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology.“

I devoured the book and was fascinated with how his career paralleled the growth of Silicon Valley as the personal computer (PC) was invented and the Internet economy was born.  But there was an element of Steve Jobs personality that made me quite sad and deeply stirred my passion around the work/life balance theme.  At times, Jobs could be described as a sociopathic monster in his handling of people.  His unruly antics were well documented in Isaacson’s biography, along with several movies, which followed.  I think most would agree, he reached the top of the mountain, but that it came at a serious price to many who were with him.

Just looking at a short list of products Steve Jobs produced in his career at Apple is quite extraordinary.  What he was able to accomplish in 56 short years on this planet was nothing short of astonishing.

Apple I, 1976—Macintosh, 1984—iMac, 1998—iPod, 2001—iTunes, 2003—iPhone, 2007— iPad, 2010 …

But I have to ask, was as it worth it?  At what price success?  Did he build a life of eternal significance?

I really don’t know.   Only God can answer those questions.

What I have discovered is that everything we do here in this life on earth matters.
Forever.
Heaven really can’t wait, and this post is about helping us to understand why.

As good as we know Heaven will be (see: Begin with the End in Mind & Opening Day in Paradise), there is one significant point that is missing in this discussion: Heaven does not begin when you die, it begins right now, today.  To put it in Silicon Valley vernacular, it is happening in real-time as you read this.

Every day we live on this earth is impacting our life in Heaven for eternity

Folks, this is BIG.
I lived most of my Christian life without truly grasping it.
If your aim is to build a life of eternal significance, this is a momentous point.

According to research, we can spend up to 90,000 hours at work in our lifetime.  In Silicon Valley, that is a conservative estimate (based on a 40-hour work week – ha!).  Does it matter how we spend that time?  After all, we do need to earn a living and provide for the family.  What does it matter how we go about doing that and why should we really care?

Jesus made it clear in Matthew 16:27 that there is a direct connection between what you do in this life and the life you spend in Heaven:

 “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

Just to be blatant, lets review that again:
“… and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

As it turns out, this promise is not an isolated incident; there are other examples in the Bible of Jesus telling us what we are doing here on earth really matters once we get to Heaven:

  • Luke 6:23: “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”
  • Matthew 19:21: “You will have a treasure in heaven.”
  • Luke 14:14: “You will be blessed… for you shall be repaid at the resurrection.”
  • Matthew 5:12: “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…”

God is keeping track of us as we live out our life here on earth.
And eventually (when we get to Heaven), He will reward us for how well we’ve lived our life on earth.

To avoid confusion, I need to mention that this “rewards” thing is not about doing good works on earth, in order to get to Heaven.  The Bible is very explicit that getting to Heaven is strictly an act of faith, not an act of works.  Paul makes this point quite powerfully throughout the book of Romans (see Romans 3:21-26), and one of the more renowned verses in all of the Bible, which even shows up on the bottom of my In-N-Out vanilla shake cup, states this quite clearly:

Jesus tells us about these rewards waiting in Heaven multiple times, in various contexts.  In my years of studying the Bible, I have learned to pay very close attention to anything Jesus tells us repeatedly.  This is undoubtedly one of them.  And yet it seems to be one of the most overlooked aspects of Christian life. In my experience, this is not something that gets much attention or discussion in church either.   But it carries eternal value for us, beyond the mist that disappears.

There are numerous books written on this subject.  One of my favorites is Bruce Wilkinson’s “A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever”, which really hits this topic head on.  It’s a small book and a very quick read.

Wilkinson opens the book to explain the positioning between our beliefs (faith) versus our works (behavior):

“The teachings of Jesus show us that there are two keys to determine everything about your eternity. The first key is your belief.  This key unlocks the door to eternal life and determines where you will spend eternity. The second key is your behavior.  It unlocks the door to reward and determines how you will spend eternity.”

It’s this second key (your behavior on earth) that I am referring to here.  Jesus is telling us that our behavior on earth will result in “rewards” or “treasures” in Heaven.  For eternity.

The Greek root of “rewards” is “misthos”, which translates to “wages”.   

In essence, Jesus is telling us we are going to get paid for our time here on earth and that it will have eternal value.  It’s almost as if we have a savings account for our good behavior on earth that will pay out when we get to Heaven.  And Jesus is the one who will sign the check.   

Wilkinson explains further the impact this should have on us now:

“…by the time you’re done reading [“A Life God Rewards”], you’ll approach daily life in a dramatically different way.  Simple decisions, such as how you spend your time and money, will become opportunities of great promise.  And you will begin to live with an unshakable certainty that everything you do today matters forever the harvest you produce will directly impact your experience in eternity.”

We could have a lengthy discussion on what those rewards (wages) might look like in Heaven. What I do know about Jesus, I feel pretty confident the rewards will be worth the effort, so I’ll leave that discussion for a future post.

But regarding our desired behavior here on earth, Jesus addressed that quite often throughout the Bible.  Probably the most famous talk he gave on this subject is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  The first ten verses (called the Beatitudes) tell us a lot about the behavior Jesus values (Matthew 5:1-10):

Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch (1876)

 1Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them.

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I find it intriguing that “the kingdom of Heaven” frames this section of Jesus’ speech. I think Jesus was making a point.
And no surprise, which topic Jesus mentions next in verse 12?

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”…

These words rock the life we are living today here in Silicon Valley.  Jesus is telling us we need a transformation of our character to right the ship here on earth.  Radical change is required to live this.  To put it in surfing terms, conducting your life that way today requires paddling against the incoming tide.  Everything around us is telling us to go the other way.  In the words of Matthew 16:26:

 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

In the final few paragraphs of Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs (Chapter 42; “Legacy: The Brightest Heaven of Invention”), Jobs reflected on death,

“I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God.  For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye.  But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch.  Click!  And you’re gone.   Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”

For me, I’ll take the on-off switch.

Our life truly is a mist that appears for a little while, and then quickly fades (James 14:4).  I want Heaven to be proud of my life here on earth when I get there. I believe the work each of us is doing in our life here on earth is helping to construct the kingdom of Heaven. Nothing is ever lost (or wasted) with God.  Everything we do on earth will build on our eternal life we spend in Heaven with God.  Every second really does matter.

In his book “The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says”, Chip Ingram frames it this way, with a picture of a dot connected to a line:

“When you get a clear picture of your future, it will change your perspective of your trials and struggles today.  Its like the analogy used by C.S. Lewis.  All of eternity can be compared to a continuous line that has no beginning and no end, and all of human history is like a tiny dot on that line.  And inside the dot of human history there is a microscopic dot that represents all of your life here on this earth.  So, the question I want to ask you is, are you living for the dot or for the line?”

Playing Maximus in the movie “Gladiator”, Russell Crowe summed it up well by saying:

“What you do in this life echo’s through eternity” 

*RESOURCES*

Christian Leaders on Eternal Rewards:

  • Charles R. Swindoll:
    “…He promises a reward.  And we can be sure He will keep His promise.”
  • Jonathan Edwards:
    “There are many mansions in God’s house because heave is intended for various degrees of honor and blessedness.”
  • Charles H. Spurgeon:
    “Seek secrecy for your good deeds.”
  • Theodore H. Epp:
    “God is eager to reward us and does everything possible to help us lay up rewards.”
  • John MacArthur Jr.:
    “There will be varying degrees of reward in heaven.  That shouldn’t surprise us:  There are varying degrees of giftedness even here on earth.”
  • John Wesley:
    “God will reward everyone according to his works.”
  • R.C. Sproul:
    “If a person has been faithful in many things through many years, then he will be acknowledged by His Master, who will say to him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… there are at least twenty-five occasions where the New Testament clearly teaches that we will be granted rewards according to our works.”
  • Billy Graham:
    “… and the work we have done must stand the ultimate test; final exams come at the Judgment Seat of Christ when we receive our rewards.”
  • Martin Luther:
    “Therefore, he who does good works and guards himself against sin, God will reward.”

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

If you want to understand the man behind the Apple I & II, Mac, iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, Apple stores and a lot more, this book is a page burner for you.  And it provides a nice backdrop on the history of Silicon Valley during the internet boom years, which continue to this day.

A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever” by Bruce Wilkinson

Wilkinson connects the dots between what you are doing today and what you will experience after you die.  It is a quick read, and guaranteed to get you thinking more about how what you do today really matters.  Forever!

The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says” by Chip Ingram

Chip Ingram is a pastor of over 25 years in Los Gatos, California, and has written twelve books at last count. He is an easy to understand communicator about truth of the Bible.  His premise with this book is to outline what God actually wants us to know and understand about Heaven, and to show how Heaven actually should be impacting our lives today.

 

Opening Day in Paradise

 “The serious business of Heaven is joy.”      CS Lewis

I have a dear friend who for several years invited my son and I to join him and his son to Opening Day of the San Francisco 49ers season at the now defunct Candlestick Park.  It was always a memorable day, which my son and I looked forward to with special appreciation of the experience we knew to come.  On opening day there is a special feeling of electricity in the air, full of optimism and excitement for the season ahead for the 49ers.  The pre-game tailgate BBQ’s seemed to start a little earlier than usual and were more elaborate than ever, with everyone dressed in 49er garb head to toe.  Once you got into the stadium it seemed as though scarlet and gold were everywhere and the entire pre-game ceremony signaled that this was not just another football game.  It climaxed in an unveiling of the American flag (covering the entire field), with fireworks and rockets going off (“and the rockets red glare”) and the Blue Angels hitting their afterburners over the stadium as we finished singing our national anthem (“the home of the free and the land of the brave”).

Bring on the Root Beer, its GAME ON!

As amazing as the day was, I truly believe our “opening day” in paradise (Heaven) will make that 49er game seem like a day at the library in comparison.

Seriously.

I’ve often wondered what my own “opening day” in Heaven will be like, and maybe some of you do too. If we plan to spend an eternity in Heaven, perhaps it is important we have a good idea of what we’re getting in to.  Having an accurate picture of what it is going to be like in Heaven could (and should!) dramatically reshape our view of our life here on earth.  In other words, “begin with the end in mind.

Let’s take a walk down that path and see if you agree.

Randy Alcorn speaks to the power of what awaits us in Heaven:

“The day I die will be the best day I ever lived.”

The very second we enter Heaven our world will be transformed into indescribable beauty and peace from what we know here on Earth. What we see will exceed our wildest imagination following our life on earth.  To quote from my Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) notes on Heaven:

“God’s new creation will provide a sense of familiarity, yet we will experience something altogether new and awesome as the blinders of our sin nature are removed...  To an infinite measure, the tangible experience Heaven is and will be beyond human articulation.”

Chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation have the most striking descriptions of Heaven in the Bible.  Heaven will be illuminated with the brilliant and constant light of God, removing all darkness of evil and suffering.  We will experience new colors we could hardly dream of, streams of water as clear as crystal, flowers and trees and mountains more beautiful than anything we have seen here on Earth.  Best of all, there will be a joyous reunion with friends and family who preceded us in our death on earth.  We will feel a sense of infinite love and peace and comfort that will tell us we have finally found our true home.  Our thoughts of life back on earth will quickly fade away as we rejoice to the wonder of it all.

To quote my BSF notes on Revelation 21:3-5:

This life with God will satisfy every sense of loneliness and alienation ever experienced by a human heart.  It will exponentially intensify every joy.  All of us were made for this!

Tasting Heaven

The Bible is the sole authority on Heaven.  Aside from Jesus, who speaks of Heaven more than anyone else in the Bible, there are a few other important mentions of people entering or seeing Heaven and telling us what they saw.  Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5) had visions of Heaven that overwhelmed them.  John says he saw the “throne of Heaven” in Revelation 4, and described in great detail the “Holy City, New Jerusalem” in Revelation 21.  In 2 Corinthians (12:4) the Apostle Paul tells about a friend who was “caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.”  And in Acts 7, Stephen was stoned to death after his speech to the Sanhedrin, in which he claimed to “see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

Clearly Heaven is not a topic in the Bible to be taken lightly.

There are an abundance of books available today about people’s journey to Heaven and back after a near death experience, possibly offering a glimpse of what God has in store for us.  A few of these stories have recently been released as movies: “90 minutes in Heaven; “Heaven is for Real and “Miracles from Heaven.   Most of these books are very interesting reads, but how does one validate their authenticity?  Here is a list: Books on Heaven-3-7, to provide a sampling of how many have made the effort to document their story by publishing a book (those I have read I marked with an asterisk).  It is God’s mystery that these experiences happen to people, and I want to qualify them by reiterating that the Bible is our only source of truth on the subject.  These stories are fun to read, and provide me a taste of heaven, allowing my imagination to run on what will it be like for me?

90 Minutes in Heaven” was the first book I read.  It is the story of Don Piper, a Texas pastor who died in a horrific car crash.  Piper wrote a powerful account of what was to be his 90 minutes in Heaven.  It impacted me so deeply I made my wife and kids read it as soon as I was finished.  It was the first time I had read anything with such detail about the experiences.  It gave me goose bumps.  Piper admitted that words truly could not do the experience justice, and in fact it took him years before publically speaking about the experience.  In his words, “I considered it a sacred secret.”

Several books immediately followed. I found it fascinating and encouraging to read stories of people who had come back from Heaven to tell how incredibly wonderful it had been and how the experience had changed their life forever.  All of them spoke about experiencing a love that far exceeded anything they had ever known on earth, and none of them said they wanted to come back to Earth after getting a taste of it.

Not all of these books are written by Christian authors, which I find even more interesting to hear people tell their experiences without bringing the Scriptures into the discussion.

One of these is “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife”, written by Eben Alexander, a Jewish faculty member at Harvard Medical School.  Alexander writes about his near death experience while in a meningitis-induced coma in 2008.  He used his vast experience as a neurosurgeon (he performed thousands of brain surgeries) to scientifically prove that he could not have dreamed the experience he had going to Heaven while in the coma.

Life after Life was another, published in 1975 by Raymond Moody, who was credited with coining the term “Near Death Experience” (NDE).  In this book, Moody started a revolution in attitudes about the life after physical death. He accounted for more than 100 case studies of people who experienced “clinical death” and were subsequently revived.  In an interview, Moody shared his personal conclusions about his research into NDEs:

“I don’t mind saying that after talking with over a thousand people who have had these experiences, and having experienced many times some of the really baffling and unusual features of these experiences, it has given me great confidence that there is a life after death. As a matter of fact, I must confess to you in all honesty, I have absolutely no doubt, on the basis of what my patients have told me, that they did get a glimpse of the beyond.

One book in particular really caught me.

I came across it when our family was on vacation in Portland, Oregon at Powell’s bookstore, which claims to be the largest independent bookstore in the world.  Powell’s is the kind of place where you can just pick your favorite subject, go find that section of books, and spend an entire day going through the selection, including many books you will not find on Amazon.  So after doing my due diligence on “surfing”, I wandered over to a section on “Heaven” and was overwhelmed by the number of books.

Here I found one book that I just could not put down, “When Will The Heaven Begin” by Ally Breedlove.  Ally wrote this book about her brother, Ben Breedlove, who had lived his entire life on the precipice of death/Heaven due to a heart condition he was born with.  Ben died at the age of 18 on Christmas evening after experiencing a remarkable day with his entire family.

In this book, Ally referenced a video “This is my story, which Ben had posted on Youtube to tell his story prior to his passing on Christmas day.  I immediately called my family over and we watched in amazement on the cold cement floor in Powell’s.  Ben tells his story with flip cards, of how he had been waiting for Heaven to begin.  His sister Ally discovered the video while rummaging through his stuff on Christmas night.  Go watch that video now, and you will see what I mean (~7 minutes).  No matter what your beliefs are on Heaven, Ben’s story is one to behold.  As a vibrant 19-year old boy with a full life, including a girlfriend and loving family, Ben realized what was awaiting him in Heaven was much better than the life he had here on earth. He decided to leave his family a video to comfort them in case he did go there.

These stories paint a striking and consistent picture of Heaven as a physical place of indescribable beauty where our bodies are transformed into our perfect selves. Any suffering we experience here, no matter how intense, is completely cancelled out by the love that awaits us in Heaven. Those who have tasted it say they no longer fear death, as Ben Breedlove showed, they would rather be there than anywhere else.

Interestingly, each person’s experience of Heaven seems to be different, as if God had individually prepared a place for each one of them (see John 14:1-3).  They all pondered why God had chosen them to have the experience, and what to do with it after returning to earth.  Most who have written books believe that God gave them these experiences to spread the joy and hope for what awaits us in Heaven.

Randy Alcorn summarizes it well in his book “Heaven”:

“The most ordinary moment on the New Earth [Heaven] will be greater than the most perfect moments in this life – those experiences you wanted to bottle or hang on to but couldn’t.  It can get better, far better, than this – and it will.”  Life on the New Earth will be like sitting in front of the fire with family and friends, basking in the warmth, laughing uproariously, dreaming of the adventures to come – and then going out and living those adventures together.   With no fear that it will ever end or that tragedy will descend like a dark cloud.  With no fear that dreams will be shattered or relationships broken.”

For those who have placed their trust in God, an amazing new place awaits us.

As I continue along my path in Silicon Valley, Roger Williams’ words of wisdom have echoed in my heart about changing the way I live today – for Heaven.

Here’s a video of Roger speaking those very words to a Mount Hermon family camp (01:14):

“It’s not the end – it’s … the beginning.”

We need to think about Heaven now, and it will dramatically impact the life we are living here today on Earth.

We’ll talk more about that in my next post: “Heaven Can’t Wait”.

**RESOURCES**

Listing of books on “Heaven” (37) – compiled by Mike Mulkey:

I want to qualify this list by noting that I have not read all these books (I marked those I have read with an asterisk).  The Bible is the ultimate authority on Heaven, and we should never second-guess it in that respect.  But these books provide some enjoyable reading on the joy and love and promise of what awaits us in Heaven.

Hearing From Heaven: A Memoir of God At Work At Mount Hermon

by Roger Williams

If you know of and/or visit Mount Hermon in the Santa Cruz mountains, this book is a must read. One of my “2X4” incidents was when Roger Williams’ book “Hearing from Heaven” (published posthumously), showed up on our kitchen counter unannounced late one evening following Roger’s early departure from life here on earth.  The short story is that I had been teaching a class to the young adults from our church that night, and came home feeling incapable of teaching the next session, which was to be on the topic of “Heaven”.  I was just thinking over how truly inadequate I felt for this assignment when I walked into the kitchen late that night and suddenly saw this book on the counter staring me in the face (Hearing from Heaven!).  I knew nothing of Roger writing this book; not to speak for the fact that he was now living there! I almost fell to my knees.  I had no idea what to make of it, or where it even came from?!

Needless to say I did teach the class and of course it went very well. Thank you Roger!

Begin with the End in Mind

“Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
Genesis 2:3

God was setting an important example for us when he rested after six days of work in the opening book of the Bible.  Work is a critical element to life here on Earth, as well the life we will live in Heaven (Matthew 25:23).  Even after creating man, God immediately put him to work in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15).

I would like to propose a new perspective on how to approach the challenge of balancing work with the rest of our life, by contemplating our death.

While I am passionate about the need for balance in work and life, I’ll be the first to admit that there is no quick fix to the many challenges we all face today in this area.  There are plenty of books, articles and videos telling us how to solve it.  Here’s a “top 15” list I compiled just in case you want the quick fix:

  1. Set boundaries with email
  2. Ask for support
  3. Get organized
  4. Concentrate on one thing at a time (get present)
  5. Make time for loved ones
  6. Schedule everything
  7. Let go of perfectionism
  8. Work smarter, not longer
  9. Don’t compromise on your sleep
  10. Set life goals
  11. Learn how to say “no”
  12. Make relaxation and breaks a priority
  13. Exercise and meditate
  14. My 2nd favorite: Hire a personal coach
  15. And my favorite (it really works): Unplug!

Check out my Circle of Life quiz, which provides a quick view of the current state in balancing your life:

This work/life balance thing is a very tough nut to crack in our non-stop 24/7 economy that is being driven by a mobile device that seems to travel everywhere with us.  Rebecca Zucker writes in a recent Harvard Business Review article titled: “How to Achieve Work/Life Balance”:

“… I now work as an executive coach, and work-life balance is an issue that my clients frequently grapple with, as they face the new work demands that come with technological advances. For example, one client in San Francisco who works for a fast-growing tech company shared that she gets up at 4am to work. She has anxiety about the possibility of missing an e-mail at midnight. “Is this normal?” she asked.“

I don’t think it’s “normal”, but I do know it is happening more and more as an increasing number of us are now sleeping with these little mobile “devils”, beyond just getting us up at 4am to keep up.  Fortune magazine recently reported that 71% of us sleep with their own smartphones either on a nightstand or in their bed!

At times I wish I could beam my family back to the 1960’s when I was growing up in Corona del Mar spending summers on the beach without a thought in the world, other than what was going on right then in front of me.  It did create some challenges with surfing however, as we actually had to go to the beach to look at the waves to see if it was worth going out.  Today you simply push a button on your iPhone – and magically the tides, wind, swell and even a video appear for that day; that moment…  What!?

This cover shot from Matt Warsaw’s “History of Surfing” captures my memories of growing up at the beach in CdM – except the waves were not that good!

When my wife and I started our high tech careers at ROLM there was no Internet, no cell phones, no voice mail, and no way of carrying your “days work” around in your pocket.  When we left work, we were done for the day.  The only thing waiting the next day when one arrived to work [possibly] was a pink slip or two.  Not the pink slip that dismissed you from your job, but a pink form someone filled in when a phone call came in for you while you were out of the office. The workday started when you arrived at the facility.   

I worked hard and had days when I worked late, or when I would come in on a Saturday to get caught up.  But when I was not at work I was focused on my life outside of work, whether that was family, friends, fitness, or just relaxing and watching the surf to see if I could anticipate a swell on the rise.

Since we’re not beaming back to the 60’s anytime soon, lets agree there seems to be no stopping this lightening bolt of progress.  Dr. Richard A. Swenson, M.D. summed it up well in his book Margin when he asked:

“If we are enjoying so much progress, why is everyone so worn out?“

So let’s pause on all that progress for a moment and talk about what happens at “the end”You know, when we die.

Then what?

Steven Covey, in his best selling book: “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, was the first to gain widespread attention with “Begin with the end in mind” (Habit #2)”.  Covey asks us to question whether we are approaching life in a manner that reflects our values and beliefs.  To make his point, he included a very insightful exercise that impacted me immensely.  He asks you to find a place where you can be alone and uninterrupted to visualize attending your own funeral – three years from now.  Covey then asks you to write the speech of four people who were important in your life and who will speak at your funeral: a family member, a close friend, a co-worker, and a member of your church or community.   What do you want them to say about your life?

Here is a reprint of it (Covey_End-In-Mind_Exercise) to try it out.  I have used this as a self-reflection exercise in my coaching.  It powerfully demonstrates how you are prioritizing your time, and helps to seriously re-examine your priorities.  As the old adage goes, you never do hear anyone say from their deathbed that they wished they had worked more.   In her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, Bronnie Ware cites the number two regret (of five) as:  “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”.

Suddenly, another thought creeps into my head.  Suppose I die.  The odds are about 100% that eventually that will happen. And people then [hopefully] say nice things about me at my funeral.
Then what?

Being a Christian, Heaven is a given after life on EarthBut, what does that really mean?  What will it be like?  What will my body be like?  Will I know anyone?  Will I still be able to surf?  There are a thousand other questions I could ask.  If I am going to be in Heaven for an eternity, I’d like to know a little more.

Imagine

As mentioned earlier (About surfing and my Christian faith), I did not become a Christian until I my mid-thirties.  Prior to that, I had a real fear of death.  It was something I called “permanent lights-out”.   This thought of complete nothingness would envelop me.  It was my biggest fear.  By far.

John Lennon’s “Imagine” (1971) has a few verses that speak to this way of thinking.  It is a beautiful song.  But pay attention to what it really is saying.

“Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people — living for today

He’s talking about permanent LIGHTS OUT!

Most research tells us roughly seven-in-ten Americans say they actually do believe in Heaven — defined as a place “where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded.”  Most of us really do want to go to Heaven, and I believe God desires for us to use our imagination to anticipate the beauty and wonder and joy of what awaits us there.   In Matthew 6:19-21, God commands us to set our hearts and minds on heaven above.  Jesus was consistently very clear about that in the Bible:

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

When Jesus met with his disciples for their last meal together before his death, he did not use the time to review the strategic plan on how to move his ministry forward after He’s gone.  That’s what I probably would have done.  But instead, Jesus speaks about Heaven, and gives them a picture of hope around the place he is preparing for each of them:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”   John 14:1-3

Chip Ingram makes the following comment about this in his book “The Real Heaven”:

“Jesus knew that a crystal clear view of eternity and of their future home in Heaven would sustain them through the most difficult of times.  When life would get hard and when persecution would come, the hope of Heaven would motivate them to persevere.”

When I became a Christian no one handed me a brochure on Heaven.  It remained a mystery not discussed much in church or Bible studies. I wanted to know more and thus began a wonderful study for me.  It all started with the Bible.

I will see you in paradise

A disclaimer here:
I am not a professional theologian, pastor or trained biblical scholar.  These writings are based on my research solely and do involve some conjecture on my part.  I am not the expert, but I do reference a few books (including the Bible) for those who want to learn more.

While I have studied the Bible and attended church fairly consistently over the past 30 years, I did not have a very clear picture of Heaven.  It had always been present in discussions about life after death, but I never felt I had much of a grasp on what it was.

The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of Heaven (622 times according to Google), and hands-down, Jesus speaks of Heaven more than any other.

Another useful resource on Heaven is Randy Alcorn’s book appropriately called Heaven”.   Alcorn has spent over 25 years researching what the Bible says about it, and he attempts to answer some challenging questions, such as understanding the difference between the present Heaven (where Christians go when they die) and the ultimate, eternal Heaven (where God will dwell with his people on the New Earth).  I don’t want to get to that level, but highly recommend it.

I also have referenced my notes and materials from Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).  BSF is an international Christian interdenominational structured Bible study (begun in 1959) I have been participating in for the past 12 years.  BSF is a wonderful program for anyone wanting to learn more about the Bible.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

One of my favorite verses on Heaven in the Bible is this one, where Jesus refers to Heaven as “paradise”, in almost the last words he spoke on Earth before his death.   He said this to a dying thief who was being crucified next to him on the cross.  As the thief accepted Christ as his Lord and Master he was assured of his place in Heaven.

So just exactly what is this “paradise” that awaits us that Jesus is referring to?  According to Jesus, they were going to be there “today”!  As I have studied Heaven, it has given me great purpose for my life here on Earth.  The Bible is crystal clear about what awaits us by accepting Jesus as our Lord and savior.  Heaven is a real, physical place Christians know to be the final destination, where we will enjoy life with God for eternity.

Chapter 21 of the book of Revelation in the Bible represents heaven as a place where there is no more sin, death or sorrow.  Heaven will have indescribable beauty beyond our wildest imagination from what we know here on Earth.  We will rejoice with those we knew in life on Earth when we are in Heaven.  We will be home with God with a sense of peace and joy that everything is as it should be.  In Heaven we will have real physical bodies, will eat and drink and wear clothes like we do here on Earth.  In Heaven we will be able to do physical things just like we do here on Earth today.  Like having a tasty barbecue with your good friends on the beach.

As Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he made a point to eat with them and asked them to touch him and see that he was a physical being (Luke 24:36-43).  He even prepared a breakfast fish barbecue on the beach for his disciples to demonstrate to them that he was himself (John 21:1-15).  I know this is hard to imagine for us here on Earth.  Nobody of course understands the mystery of how God works all his miracles, but the Bible is very clear on all of it.

The resurrected Jesus barbecued a fish breakfast on the beach for his disciples (Luke 24:36-43)

From all the reading I have done, a life way better than we can imagine awaits us in Heaven.  The very best we may have experienced here on Earth will surely pale in comparison to what God has planned.

Here is a quote from Randy Alcorn’s Heaven to frame this picture:

“All of our lives we’ve been dreaming of the New Earth.  Whenever we see beauty in water, wind, flower, deer, man, woman, or child, we catch a glimpse of Heaven.  Just like the Garden of Eden, the New Earth will be a place of sensory delight, breathtaking beauty, satisfying relationships, and personal joy.”

While Heaven and Earth appear to be separated today, according to the Bible, in end times when Jesus returns to Earth, Heaven will come here onto a new Earth for eternity.  The New Jerusalem comes down to the renewed Earth and there the redeemed will spend eternity with God on the renewed Earth.  Revelation 21 contains a surprisingly detailed description of what this “New Jerusalem” will look like.

I purposely am avoiding further detail, and recommend Randy Alcorn’s Heaven if you want to learn more.  But it is fun to use one’s imagination to provide an image of this wonderful world yet to come.

While all this is interesting, I found myself still wanting to know more about Heaven.  I wanted to debunk this belief about Heaven being boring or anything we might get tired of.  I even have one friend who half jokingly described it as a non-stop church service singing “Holy-Holy-Holy” … for eternity?

Gary Larson spoke to that well in his many comics on Heaven.

Stay tuned for my next post: “Opening day in paradise”.

**RESOURCES**

The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel

This book was made into a movie in 2017, and I highly recommend both if you have any questions around the historical reliability of the New Testament, and/or claims made by Jesus Christ.  Lee Strobel was a self-proclaimed atheist when he began investigating the Biblical claims about Christ after his wife’s conversion. As an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Lee pulled together all the facts about Jesus as if he were going to trial. Prompted by the results of his investigation, he became a Christian on November 8, 1981.

Heaven by Randy Alcorn

I’ve made my case for this book in the above post.  Simply wonderful.
In the words of Stu Weber (stated on the front cover):

“Other than the Bible itself, this may well be the single most life-changing book you’ll ever read.”

Hit over the head by a 2×4

Lives Transformed. Period.

When I hear people question the truth of scripture, my first thought is to point them to someone who reflects the joy and confidence and presence of having Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  To me, nothing speaks stronger to the truth of our Holy Bible than a life that has been transformed by what God offers.  One of those people who exemplified this in his life in beautiful fashion was Roger Williams, the former President and CEO of Mount Hermon.  Roger walked through life here on earth with the exhilaration of his salvation as if he were walking on the precipice of heaven.  He truly glowed and was a living example of how the truth of scripture can transform you.

Roger Williams

Roger went home to be with our Lord in September of 2014 after succumbing to a long battle with cancer.  While I was very sad to lose Roger as a friend and mentor here on earth, I feel closer to him than ever, and rejoice in the thought of joining him in heaven one day.  Roger was one of the first people to get me really excited about heaven.  He spoke of it as if he had been there, and that he just knew it would be more wonderful than anything we could possibly imagine here on earth.

Our family would usually just see Roger once a year at the Mount Hermon family camp at Lake Tahoe, but the love he showed us throughout the week exemplified the true Christian Spirit.  It was a huge inspiration for me personally in my walk with the Lord.

Lakeside dancing to the worship music at Mount Hermon camp in Lake Tahoe (circa 2002)

Those summer evenings we spent singing worship music and taking communion on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, as the sun set on the mountains to the west, were truly magical for our entire family.  In fact, I can still hear Roger’s voice telling us that in spite of the remarkable beauty we were surrounded by on Lake Tahoe, we could count on God’s promise that heaven would far surpass it:

“If you think the colors are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.

If you think the sunsets are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.

IF YOU THINK this is a beautiful place to live now – wait until you see it REDEEMED [in heaven].

As the Mount Hermon tagline, which Roger helped to create, would say,
“it’s all about lives transformed.  Period. “

Is That God Calling?

Fast-forward to October of 2013, over a year after Roger had begun an arduous struggle with cancer, during which he continued to teach, preach and provide visionary leadership at Mount Hermon.  In spite of all that he was going through at that time, he agreed to meet with me in his office to address specific questions I had regarding my future.  I had been feeling as though God might be calling me to ministry on this work/life balance thing, and figured Roger could guide me in knowing if that was actually the case.  In spite of it being a very difficult time for Roger with his declining health, he spent over two and a half hours with me that evening in his office with an intensity and delight that I can’t quite do justice with my words.   

“Roger, how had you known that it was God calling when you gave up your successful career and beautiful home to go into ministry?”, was my direct question to him.

Roger’s response was crystal clear.  He told me that that God had quite simply hit him over the head with a 2×4 when his calling arrived.  It was obvious.  There was no mistaking it.  I would know for sure when it happened to me.

And after hearing the specifics of his story, I had to agree!

As for my yearning to think that God was calling me to leave my high tech marketing job in Silicon Valley to help others in the way of work/life balance, it seemed pretty clear that I had not been hit by that 2X4 yet.  I left that evening with a great sense of relief, and drove over back over the hill on highway 17 thanking God for such clear advice from such a dear friend.

Roger went to his heavenly home on September 14, 2014, succumbing to the cancer that he called “his insidious dance partner”, after battling for more than two years.  His death came just a few days after his 21st anniversary at Mount Hermon. Praise God for the gift I was given that day to be with Roger and to learn from the deep well of wisdom he had attained.

Life Coaching

Well, Roger was right.  There was no mistaking the 2×4 when it hits you.

Through a series of very personal incidents over these past two years, God has made it crystal clear to me that it is time to get started.  I will talk to a couple of those incidents in future blogs, but my layoff from Oracle in January of 2017 (see: New Beginnings) was one of those that turned into just the opening I needed to re-set my sights on how I was moving forward in life.

As soon as I realized I would be losing my job, I enrolled in an extensive 1-year certification program to become a New Ventures West Integral Coach®, or in more common terms, a Professional Life Coach.   Life Coaching has turned out to be an ideal way for me to make a long-term transition in my career from high-tech marketing to a full-time role of helping others navigate work/life balance challenges in Silicon Valley.

From my research, it was clear that New Ventures West had the most comprehensive training program around, and I knew that to effectively lead people in a discussion about balancing priorities about their work in this area, I needed top-notch credentials and comprehensive training.  I am already through almost half of the program and definitely see that this is where God wants me to be.  It is a wonderful thing to feel that you are following His plan for your life.

Just ten years ago I had never heard of a “Life Coach” and no idea what they did.  Now many of the more innovative corporations in Silicon Valley offer Life Coaching services as a human resources benefit to help their employees better manage the many complexities of life.  The thinking behind that is that by becoming a healthier individual you are going to end up being a more productive employee.

We all agree life has become quite complex and very challenging on a daily basis, regardless of what you do for a living.  People are getting stuck on even the seemingly easy things in life.  Life coaches can enter a person’s world not only to free them, but also help them develop into more complete individuals, better equipped to handle the many curveballs life is throwing at them.  There are many books on this subject, but my favorite is Richard Swenson’s Margin”.  We are simply living life today without margins.  Try reading a book without margins – you won’t get very far.  It’s stressful!

A quote from the opening paragraph of the book:  The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working” also speaks to this dilemma the average worker is facing today:

“The defining ethic in the modern workplace is more, bigger, faster.  More information than ever is available to us, and the speed of every transaction has increased exponentially, prompting a sense of permanent urgency and endless distraction.  We have more customers and clients to please, more e-mails to answer, more phone calls to return, more tasks to juggle, more meetings to attend, more places to go, and more hours we feel we must work to avoid falling further behind.”

The simple things in life are not so simple anymore.  Expectations exceed our human capabilities.

So, I am learning to become a life coach to help people develop into more complete human beings, as well as to help them through the many “speed bumps” (as Kona Jack would call them) that come their way.  The many classes, books, videos, and other resources I am now consuming to gain my coaching certification (in December 2017) are helping me learn the fundamentals of integral coaching.

There is another important side to this story.  In addition to my course work, I am getting coached myself.  That is a big part of my training.  I can’t learn how to help people develop themselves if I can’t do it myself, is the prevailing thought, which I tend to agree with.  So I am now learning [from my coach] how I can personally develop to become more complete, while developing to be a better coach!

My Silicon Valley EXPRESS train did not have time to stop and smell the roses

Through this training, I am learning a great deal about myself.

My current narrative (as we call it in class), is that I have been riding a Silicon Valley EXPRESS train for the past 25 years, and you might just say that in order for me to become an effective life coach, I need to
S – L – O W    D – O – W – N.

This Zootopia video clip of the “DMV Sloths” provide a comical view into my struggle to slow down…

In fact, my coach is even telling me to stop the EXPRESS train and get off.

He wants me to commence on a trek of self-exploration to better understand my true self.  In the past I have definitely not been one to demonstrate much patience, especially at the DMV.

This is life-changing stuff!

To put it in surfing terms (as one of my classmates describes it), I am learning to “HANG 11”.  Things like speaking more thoughtfully and slowly, listening with my heart (not just with my ears), and sitting for 30 minutes every morning while doing (and thinking) absolutely nothing.  Are you kidding me!

It is quite exciting and feels really good.  But it is also quite uncomfortable for someone who has been flying along at warp speed for 25 years solving an endless flow of high-technology challenges.

Why a “Christian perspective” on achieving work/life balance?
If you’ve seen my tagline (“A Christian perspective on work/life balance”), you might be wondering…  While my passion for helping people in the work/life balance struggle in Silicon Valley has led me to the coaching profession, I do look at the world through the eyes of a Christian who believes the Holy Bible is the true word of God.  I want to be very up front about that.  However, I do not believe my clients need to hold Christian beliefs to receive value from my coaching. It is simply the lens through which I view the world.

In fact, in Silicon Valley, most of my clients will likely not be Christians, as the latest studies show that regular church attendance in Silicon Valley is in the single digits (source: Jon Talbert, pastor at the Westgate Church in San Jose).

Next post: Begin with the end in mind

**RESOURCES**

The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance by Tony Schwartz and Jean Gomes

I happened to run across this book as part of my required reading for the New Ventures West training program, and I loved it!  It aligns beautifully with promoting work/life balance.

Schwartz offers a plethora of very practical information for those who are too busy working to attend to their core human needs.  One example was his discussion about the value exchange between employers and employees being the one-dimensional concept of “time for money”.  He suggests having employers invest more in the multidimensional needs of their employees in order to gain more sustainable high performance.  Schwartz talks about focusing on the value we produce during the hours we work, and provides some very good examples of how this can pay off for both sides (employers AND employees).   His analogy is that human beings are not meant to operate like machines (high speeds for long times), but that we produce the most value when we are able to pulse between the expenditure and the intermittent renewal of our energy.

Amen to that!

Measuring Up by Charles P. Lloyd

Charles P. Lloyd is my mom’s twin brother.  Uncle Charles was an incredible man who impacted my life in so many wonderful ways.  He played the role of a second father to me, and I definitely believe my mom passed on some of Charles’ genes to me.  This book is an excellent demonstration of that.  Somehow, Uncle Charles was writing on work/life balance before I had even entered the work force.  We crossed paths on this topic over 15 years ago when he pulled out this book to show me what he had written.  I was quite shocked when I saw it, as I had been writing on the same topic for several years by then without ever knowing he even had an interest in it.  If you take a look at the Circle of Life quiz (in this blog under Circle of Life), you will see an amazing resemblance between the two separate writings.    

In Measuring Up Charles asks a simple question:

“What are some of the essential attributes that must be learned and developed in men and in women to be well-rounded, happy and self-actuated?”

Take 30 minutes and read this book if you would like to learn more about “the real you” and “where you are going” in this life.

Uncle Charles went home to be with our Lord on May 18, 2017. Here is a link to his obituary if you would like to learn more about him.

New Beginnings

First, a quick review on this blog:
“a Christian perspective on achieving work/life balance”

About this blog
Part 1: Malibu and The Greatest Generation
Part 2: Corona del Mar and Growing Up
Part 3: San Onofre Surfing Club
Part 4: 25 years of riding the wave in Silicon Valley

As I wrote “Part 4” of the Prologue, four short stories  [below] emerged to provide a glimpse my viewpoints on work/life balance:

4.1 — SLOW DOWN
4.2 – The Circle of Life
4.3 – Peace of mind
4.4 – Hit over the head by a 2×4 (coming next…)

Part 4.4 will be my last post of the Prologue.
Next:  the specifics of my calling with this ministry going forward. 
So stay tuned.

Email sent to my co-workers at Oracle:


Date: January 19th at 3:51pm
Subject: new beginnings
I will be leaving Sun/Oracle effective today — time for new beginnings!
It has been my very great pleasure to work with you all.
THANK YOU —
especially to Vijay Tatkar, who has been my inspirational & loyal leader these past few years.
I look forward to staying in touch with you going forward.

Mike Mulkey


Hired at Sun: April 1, 1999
Laid off at Oracle: Jan. 19, 2017

After 17+ years of employment at Sun / Oracle, the layoff bullet which I have been dodging for so many years finally caught me.
Official explanation:  Corporate downsizing.
Above was the farewell email that went out on the day of my departure.

New beginnings for sure!

However, I need to mention that I am looking for a new job…
Please contact me if you know of anyone looking for a Marketing Leader who can make big things happen in a hurry.

Along with so many of us in Silicon Valley, I had been through the corporate downsizing exercise more times than I want to count.  But finally, it was my turn to hear the official news from my boss, send out the “farewell” email to friends, and carry the cardboard box of belongings out to the car, feeling as if I had a bold “L” imprinted across my forehead (“Loser” or “Laid off”, take your pick!).

“You’re FIRED!”

I had finally woken up in the wrong job on the wrong product at the wrong time, and it was now time for: “EXIT stage left — Audios amigo  — C U Later — Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

Since I had recently celebrated my 62nd birthday, I felt prompted to come clean and write about my experience as a means of coping with the whole ordeal.  According to Right Management, the outplacement firm Oracle provided to help ease my transition into the next phase of my career (and life), this is good therapy for me.

I’ve also been a bit inspired by William Finnegan, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning Barbarian Days, at about the same age.  Barbarian Days was his story of a life-long obsession with surfing, after a long career as a staff writer at The New Yorker and well-known author of international journalism.  In his words, ‘I was reluctant to come out of the closet as a surfer’, because of how he would be perceived as a writer.   Of course, he’s now my hero.

There’s definitely something to be said for having a little perspective when you take the plunge into a new phase of life.  And although I am still in the job hunt in Silicon Valley (the mortgage payment did not disappear with the job), it feels pretty good to write about it.  For what seems to me like an eternity of fighting the good battle here in the valley of good fortune, I have learned a thing or two in the midst of all those bumps and bruises I took over the years.   And work/life balance is the one God has placed on my heart as the most important.

My final day at Oracle was quite memorable actually.  When I scan over the many, many hundreds of days I have spent in the office over my career, this one might actually make the top 10 list!

Oracle painted the Sun Santa Clara campus red in a hurry following their acquisition in January of 2010

The day started with breakfast in the cafeteria (my usual spinach, onion & pepper scramble with house hash browns) where I could say goodbye to Mary, Julia and several others who had become close friends of mine in the Oracle cafeteria.  Not that Oracle is buying me breakfast (there really is no such thing as a free lunch at Oracle), but seeing these folks every day had become an important part of my work routine that I now appreciated more than ever.

Then it was over to see Ricarda, whose cheery “Buenos Dias!” greeted me every day [to empty my office trash] when I always seemed to be just a little too focused on an email I was composing.  I had several plants I’d been nursing, and asked her to take her favorite.    My Spanish does not go much beyond “Donde esta la playa”, so I gave her the cut throat sign when she asked what I interpreted to be “why”?   She got it right away and showed great compassion for me.

Then it was up to see one of my favorite team members, Meera, to give her another plant (a violet flowered BabyCenter), which she had been admiring every time it flowered.  She gave me a big hug with tears.  Oh my…  I knew her pain.  Not a good feeling to be one of the chosen few to hold the fort down while the others carted their belongings out.

Then my good friend Steve and I snuck out to our “private court” for a final game of tennis on the Oracle clock.  He lost his entire team in the layoff (including his manager), but somehow survived himself.

Tennis buddies at lunch

Next was a goodbye to Max and Rick and the Club Oracle recreation center staff.   As I would often tell them when I walked out the door, “Thanks guys, that was the highlight of my day!”  People used to tell me they could not understand how I could find time to go to the gym every day.  And I would reply that I could not understand how they could not!  It made a amazing difference in my productivity and attitude and overall energy at work.

I will miss my “room with a view” …

There were several others I could mention, but suffice to say, it was an emotionally draining day.  And being 62 just accentuated that feeling.  I’ve been told more than a few times that my next Silicon Valley job is not so easy to land when you are my age, and unemployed – no matter how good you are!  I’ve also been told I should try a little Grecian Formula on my hair and maybe a pair of cool looking glasses.

Ok.

When it was finally done and I was walking out to the parking lot with my box, the looks I got from those who kept their jobs brought back many fresh memories of the times I had been in their shoes.  I know for a fact that the workload always increased exponentially to fill the many gaps left by all those leaving.  The sense of guilt over why you got to stay when someone equal to you was walking out, was confusing. 

As it turned out, the door didn’t hit me in the butt on the way out and nobody yelled out “Hasta la vista baby!”.  The drive home was actually a bit more upbeat than I expected.  Windows rolled down with the sunroof open, there was a feeling of freedom creeping in on me.  No question that the breakup with Larry Ellison was not something I would lose any sleep over – but I was sensing that this could be good.  Maybe even great!

The family and I had decided to head straight to Shoreline Theater for an early showing of Moana, which turned out to be the perfect anecdote.  Included with Moana was a Disney short film (called “Inner Workings”) that set the tone for my day perfectly It followed the internal organs (brain, heart, lungs, stomach, etc..) of Paul, a man living in 1980s California, as he awakened on a typical day of work. Paul and dozens of other employees sat at desks and entered data into their computers, moving in monotonous unison while his brain takes notice of the dreary routine of his life, and comes to realize that this cycle will eventually lead to his death as a sad, miserable, lonely man.  I won’t give away the story, but of course, Paul looked to be about 62, and I felt God was sending me a personal message.

I felt like a new man to be out from under my job for the first time in almost 30 years.  It really was refreshing!  This 1-minute video provides a glimpse of that:

What to do when you get laid off at 62…

On a more serious note, I could write about how life changes when you are unemployed.  But in so many ways, nothing really changes.  For everyone around me, life continues on just as it did when I was working.  The world keeps turning and of course, the bills keep coming in…

Yikes!

I’d be lying to say there weren’t some challenging adjustments.   One of those was figuring out where to go in the morning.  After all those years of “going to work”, I suddenly felt very lost.  With both kids and my wife at home, I knew I had to get out of the house, but where to go…?

Another big one has been planning my days of the workweek so that my calendar is not completely vacant.  I quickly found out having a day wide open was not necessarily a good thing.  In truth, I have had days go by where I could not even remember what I did at the end of the day!?  It did not really matter what those commitments on my calendar were (tennis works great!), but I quickly realized the importance of keeping myself busy to stay in a healthy state of mind as I search for my next step.

Now I leave home to hangout at public libraries, coffee shops, city parks, and restaurants; anywhere with free, high-performance Wi-Fi.  Each day is a bit of an adventure.  My favorite coffee spot is Philz in downtown Sunnyvale.  I am actually on a first-name basis there with the manager Travis, who has given me a Philz mug, and calls out my order before I get to the front of the line.  He has no idea how much that means to me right now!

Of course, I do lots of 1:1 networking meetings over coffee and tea and lunch.  I’ve even joined some networking groups who meet regularly to exchange ideas on how to attack this unemployment thing.  The good news is that my Linked-In connections are now at an all-time high.  The bad news is that I am becoming a Peets/Starbucks/Philz Junkie.

I’ve also learned to carry a lunch box with me in the car for wherever I end up that day.  You can burn up a lot of dough eating outside the corporate subsidized cafeterias of Silicon Valley.  And even if your networking group charges $5 and says, “lunch provided”, I’ve discovered that unlike the many lavish lunch meetings I had at Oracle, it will likely not be enough food to feed a bird! Often I end up eating my lunch in city parks with the homeless folks.  It has truly been humbling to see that side of life going on outside the walls of corporate America.

And, there are some days where I just plain get depressed.

It really has taught me a lot about the importance I place on my job in determining my value to society.  But like all things, those cycles come and go.

There have been adjustments, also many upsides too.

I have had sufficient daily margin to enjoy a rich time of prayer and meditation and contemplation in this new phase of life.  I believe God has great plans for my focus on work/life balance and I am excited to experience it.  This time away from the daily routine of work is surely a blessing from God as part of that plan.  It is a direct answer to prayer.

Next post: Hit over the head by a 2×4

** Resources **

Barbarian Days by William Finnegan


As mentioned above, William Finnegan truly inspired me with this story of his life-long obsession with surfing, after a long career as a staff writer at The New Yorker and well-known author. It is a remarkable collection of surf stories from his escapades of traveling around the world from the 1960’s up to present day.  But what makes this book so remarkable is that it is so very well written.  Pick up any surfing magazine and you will quickly agree that [in general] surfer’s are terrible writers.  But Finnegan debunks that myth with a detailed analysis of every surf spot he sees (including San Onofre, which I thought he nailed) in a way that makes it interesting to even a non-surfing audience (hence, the Pulitzer Prize!)