“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” -John Kabat-Zinn
When Heaven comes calling, I expect to be there, and am counting on being able to surf. That vision has transformed my walk here on earth. Surfing in Heaven is my ultimate goal.
As a lifelong surfer, my world has been a series of waves rolling through life at varying intervals. Each wave is unique as it parades in a band of swells toward my beach of choice on any given day. Surfing, for me, has been all about the ride. One good ride can easily highlight my day or even my week. There is something extraordinary and exhilerating about paddling into a swell created deep in the ocean and riding its natural energy into the shore.
I often daydream of the perfect wave as I sit, testing my patience during the lull between sets. I fantasize that it will be my best ride ever, beyond epic. That vision keeps me searching the horizon for an early sign that it might be coming. When it does, I want to be ready! It will be a dream come true.
Growing up at the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960s was an idyllic environment for a surfer grom like me. We were a tight-knit community of friends who gathered daily at the beach, constantly anticipating the next big south swell. Best of all, my dad was a surfer. He was one of the few who returned home unharmed from WWII and found a surfing lifestyle at Malibu while benefiting from the GI Bill. He had me out on his Dave Sweet surfboard riding waves at San Onofre earlier than I can recall. My time surfing with Dad on the weekends at San Onofre most influenced my early years of life. As I grew into adulthood, I realized that I was at my very best in the water on my surfboard. It became my identity. I am forever thankful for that special time in the water with dad.
The surfing culture I grew up with soon clashed with my adult career when I relocated to Silicon Valley in 1990 to become a cog in the high technology revolution, which was taking off like an Elon Musk rocket ship. The opportunities were endless, but so was the work! I found myself embedded in the innovation capital of the world, where there was no longer enough margin in my day to hang out at the beach and wait for waves. Life was full.
From floppy disks to flash memory over the next quarter-century, I found myself in a marketing career at Sun Microsystems and Oracle Corporation that paid me well to drive the network computing revolution for the emerging worldwide web. We even called ourselves “the dot in dot com” at Sun. Flying high in jet planes around the world, I was in a constant struggle to balance the demands of my career with the needs of my health and the joy of raising our young family, including my beautiful bride Marla (of more than 30 years) and two wonderful children (Marisa and Matthew).
Surfing became my escape from the incessant “real-time” processing of Silicon Valley. Like the pressure release valve at the San Onofre Nuclear power plant, the ocean set me free from the stress of my career while providing a connection point for my kids to join in, allowing me to pass my dads baton on to them. As this inner battle of work/life balance consumed me, I launched “Surfing for Balance in Silicon Valley” in 2014 to blog about my passion for keeping it all above water. That blog eventually led me to write this book, Surfing in Heaven, to offer what I have learned to a wider audience.
Surfing in Heaven is both a metaphor and a vision for how I invest my time and energy each day. It shifted my focus from the wave I was riding to the ultimate ride as a Christian to my eternal destination in Heaven. As I poured myself into the blog about my struggles to find balance, I kept coming back to the Bible and what God’s Word says about Heaven. Jesus often spoke about storing up treasures in Heaven rather than investing in what we have here on earth (1). Like the sharp sound of cymbals in a symphony, this rang out loud and true for me. By prayerfully starting each day with my eternal future in mind, I found myself able to navigate the many perilous waves I was riding. Heaven became a game-changer.
As the waves kept coming at me with increasingly shortened intervals, I was able to gain a radically new perspective on how I invested my time and energy. The chaos of the storm settled. It was like going back to the 1960s and surfing without a leash. My life became untethered from earthly expectations as I focused on my eternal future and what I had to learn along the way. The pressures of daily life were lifted. Laying the groundwork each day for my life to come in Heaven provided peace of mind. I was stoked!
My goal is to finish this life strong. When it ends, I believe I will go surfing, in Heaven. Surely the God who created the Heavens and the earth (2) could arrange for a bit of recreation up there. What awaits us in Heaven will be far greater than what our imagination can explore (3).
Waxing up a surfboard is an important, but often-overlooked component of surfing that helps to chronicle this time of preparation for the life to come. When I am going out to surf at Steamer Lane in a large northwest winter swell on a cold January day (Steamers at its best!), waxing up is a strategic time to get ready before paddling out. This process starts by closely reviewing the elements (surf, tide, wind, crowd, and currents) to determine my tactic for paddling out. Next, I select the appropriate style of wax (by water temperature) and thoroughly rub it onto the top of my board until it is covered from nose to tail. Finally, I firmly attach my leash and am ready to launch into the icy northern California water.
When I began surfing in the1960s, waxing up was much more involved. For one, longboards required a lot more wax. Without surf leashes, waxing up was critical to hanging on to your surfboard. Parowax (called “paraffin”) was the only choice for wax and was a far cry from today’s sticky surf wax. Paraffin was hard as a rock, so you first had to soften it up in the sun to avoid shaving off the wax that was already there. Then you would dip your board into the ocean to harden the surface wax while roughing it up with wet sand. Applying the paraffin required serious elbow grease, being careful to cover the nose (for hanging five), the tail (for cranking bottom turns), and the rails by the nose (for turtle diving big waves as you paddled out). Extra wax was needed there.
I would then walk the top of my board a few times with bare feet at the edge of the shore to get some of the wax onto the bottom of my feet (there were no booties back then) while rubbing in more wet sand to rough the surface one final time. I carried an extra bar in my trunks, as you had to repeat the process a time or two if you were out for a long surf session—especially if you lost your board to the beach (the ride in would slicken the wax). Suffice it to say, paraffin was better suited for candle-making!
Like properly waxing up for a good surfing session, I believe in this life, we are laying the groundwork for our life to come in Heaven. In a sense, it’s our dress rehearsal. We are waxing up for our eternal ride home. This is not our home; Heaven is our final destination. Our life here is very short (4), but what we do while we are here really does matter (5). Big time. Jesus emphasized this to His disciples at the last supper just before His death when He told them He was preparing a mansion for each one of them in Heaven (6). He is doing the same for each one of us.
I hope you can embrace my journey while catching a few waves with me along the way. When you kick out of your final wave, I pray that you will see that Jesus Christ is whom He said he is.
Time to get out your wax and prepare for the ride of your life!
“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” -James 4:14b (NIV)
American evangelist Billy Graham (1918-2018) was asked what the biggest surprise in his life had been. He quickly replied, “The brevity of life. Almost before we know it, the years have passed, and life is almost over.”(1)
My life has flown by. It seems like just yesterday I was out surfing San Onofre with Dad on my Corky Carroll “Super Mini” surfboard. Before I know it, heaven will soon be calling! In the meantime, I try and put my trust in God to help me navigate the peaks and valleys on the road ahead. Finishing strong in God’s eyes is my goal. I am preparing for a life with him forever in heaven.
A surfer who rides a wave to its proper completion with a successful kick-out has a similar anticipation of finishing strong. The kick-out enables you to surf your way out of the wave with a true sense of completion to the ride you were on, leaving you in control of your destiny for your next ride. The kickout transitions you from the wave you were riding to paddling back out. It is not a simple maneuver in surfing. Especially if you are riding a longboard.(2)
Before the advent of the surf leash (and subsequent shortboard revolution) in the late 1960s(3), knowing how to kick-out was a fundamental requirement for serious surfing. You could judge a surfer’s ability solely by the effectiveness of their kick-outs. The better the kick-out, the better a surfer they are (almost without exception). The more skilled surfers had figured out that a good kick-out got you more waves, as you were quickly back out into the lineup.
Kicking out is nearly a lost art in surfing today. I rarely see a surfer cleanly exit the wave they are riding to go over the lip with momentum in the right direction for a quick paddle back out (while checking for any waves coming).
With surf leashes ruling the lineups today, it is more common to see a surfer end a ride by simply diving or jumping off their board into the white water without concern for losing their surfboard. It works, but it would be more likely to score points in a diving competition than in a surfing contest. The term “kook cord” (for the surf leash) can be attributed partly to those types of kick-outs. The style and finesse of surfing are completely lost.
Competing in the San Onofre Surfing Contest in the 1960s taught me the proper technique of the kick-out. The judges rewarded surfers who could properly execute a clean and controlled kick-out. Kicking out at the right place and time of a ride demonstrated good judgment while controlling your board to exit the wave cleanly. Extra points could be attained for a high degree of difficulty when exiting with your board from a wave which was closing out or breaking in a critical section. Kicking out was your final act to demonstrate your surfing abilities to the judges. A missed kick-out could involve a time-consuming swim back to the beach and paddle back out. At San Onofre, that would usually spell disaster for your chances to advance to the next round.
Kicking Out in Life Finishing strong in the life we have been given here on earth means seeking God to the very end.(4) That is God’s idea of a successful kick-out. He wants to see a life well lived, denying self, and trusting in Him. When we get to the end of this ride on earth, the love of Christ that awaits us will surpass all knowledge. We are truly unable to form a mental image of how good it will be. So, we carry on in this life, longing to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” at heaven’s gate.(5)
I was working at Trader Joe’s on May 9th of 2020 when a fellow crew member told me that a 26-year-old surfer had been fatally attacked by a shark while surfing at Sand Dollar Beach, just south of Manresa State Beach (near Santa Cruz). My son Matthew and I surf at Sand Dollar, and I knew he had been there the day before. I immediately called Matt’s cell phone. It went to voicemail. I then called his work. After what felt like an eternity on hold, he picked up the phone and greeted me. So grateful.
The victim was a local Santa Cruz surfer and shaper, Ben Kelly. Thinking it was my son, even if just for a minute, gave me insight into the unimaginable pain that Ben’s family and friends were going through.
I soon learned more about Ben and was deeply touched by his story. Ben was a seasoned surfer and board shaper who started his own surfboard company in Santa Cruz (Ben Kelly Surfboards). He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Vanguard University in Southern California, where he was awarded the McNaughton Award, its highest honor for business and management students. He had recently celebrated his third wedding anniversary with his wife, Katie, whom he met at Vanguard.
Ben was stoked about the life God had given him. He was active in the Capitola Village Business Improvement Association, Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, and Calvary Chapel in Capitola. At one point he was selling surfboards to support missionary work he was involved with in Africa.
The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors declared that May 21 (Ben’s birthday) would be “Ben Kelly Day.” The proclamation stated:
“Ben practiced his belief that surfing was so much more than just catching waves — it was about the people he met and the continuous grand adventures that made it fun while blessing others along the way.”
Walking the Talk
I had never met Ben, and only came upon his story through surfing. Yet, he rose for me as the modern day equivalent of “the greatest generation”(6). Ben’s love of Jesus was front and center in the life he was living. He had that surfer’s “stoke” about him, which some called his good vibes, but those close to him knew it was fed by his faith.
Ben did not just talk about his faith; he exemplified it through his character. In the words of a close friend, “Ben lived the way Christ wanted us to live.” His opening line on his LinkedIn account boldly demonstrated this (“About”):
“Hello my name is Ben Kelly. Some of my life passions include: a love for my Savior Jesus Christ …”
Ben was not hiding whom he believed would save him on his day of reckoning.(7) He finished strong. In the book of Matthew, Jesus spoke about the importance of doing God’s will to reveal His love and presence in the world:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
―Matthew 7:21 (NIV)
Jesus called us to embrace the words of Scripture, so they are central to our day-to-day living. He said true wisdom is all about actions of love, mercy, and peace(8). It is not enough to say “Lord, Lord.”
Ben Kelly has both inspired and challenged me in this respect. Though he never saw it coming, Ben Kelly kicked out of this life with full control over his destiny. He had hope in a God who created the heavens and the earth. He wanted to live his life honoring God, knowing his rewards would be in heaven. His future was secure, and his kick-out was perfect. I believe God gave him a ten!
Ben has motivated me to finish strong. I look forward to the day I can paddle out with him.
This is the last chapter of this book!
The process of writing Surfing in Heaven over the past year has been transformational for me. My views on life have been altered, and as you can surely tell, I am looking forward to heaven. There is a song that captures this feeling best for me called “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”, written by Helen Howarth Lemmel in 1918. It states that, “when you turn your eyes upon Jesus, the things of the earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
Please contact me with any comment or questions that this book may have triggered (at: surfingforbalance.com). I would love to speak with you.
Source: Just as I Am: Autobiography of Billy Graham by Billy Graham
Longboards are generally considered to be surfboards over nine feet long. The difference in navigating a successful kick-out is dramatic. For example, dad rode a 10’9″ Bob Simmons Plywood Foam surfboard (called a “Foam Sandwich”) at Malibu in the late 1940s (see: surfingforbalance.com). To effectively kick-out on that board, dad learned the technique of dragging a foot over the side of the board to act as a rudder (as you would with a paddle on a kayak). It didn’t just turn out of the wave on its own.
Philippians 3:14 (TLB):
“I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us.”
Matthew 25:23 (NIV):
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
One tribute read at Ben’s memorial service stated: “The most memorable thing about Ben was his unashamed, unrelenting passion for his faith and his relationship with Jesus. I don’t say this to somehow selfishly reassure myself or others that he’s passed on to Heaven. I don’t have to wonder whether he knew Jesus, or whether his faith was secure. It was. Everybody knew it. He truly lived his faith out. In nearly every conversation I ever had with him, he tied God and the redeeming love of Jesus into it.”
James 3:17-18 (NIV):
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”
“Those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
― Isaiah 49:23
Let’s cut to the chase. I write this book to assure you that your future is secure! God and His Word remain utterly trustworthy. Nothing else can match the Bible (including Google) for finding the truth. The world needs Jesus now more than ever—it needs His words now more than ever. I am not sure there has ever been a more critical time to be reading the best-selling book of all time (i.e., the Bible).
The Bible is unequivocal about our future. Sickness and death are not the end of our story. There is a place called heaven that will be better than anything we can imagine here on Earth. The Bible is clear that heaven will be beyond anything our imagination can create.
There is one big problem. We must acknowledge the presence of evil. According to the Bible, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one .”(1) Satan has been present in our world from the very beginning. (2) The apostle Peter described Satan as “a hungry, roaring lion, looking for some victim to deceive and tear apart.” (3) Just turn on the evening news, and you will see fresh evidence. Every night. I can’t even answer my phone or respond to an email for fear that someone may be trying to deceive me. We are increasingly under attack from all directions.
This is a direct result of the Bible losing relevance in society today. The Bible has been moved to second fiddle. It is no longer playing the leading role in guiding humanity’s choices, and the results are telling. As an example, I am reading a book right now (non-fiction) where the protagonist describes the Bible as “archaic, old, and meaningless in modern society.”
Without God and His deep wisdom as an anchor, we interpret life with only human insight, leaving us hanging by a thread.
My goal with this book is to change that trajectory by injecting the promise of heaven into the world, especially to those closest to me. Heaven derails Satan’s goal of destroying our future. The whole reason God sent Jesus to Earth was to conquer death and to assure us about heaven, which includes victory over death. (4)
We spoil Satan’s plan for our demise by keeping our eyes fixed on heaven. The evil one does not want us to believe there is a heaven. He does not want us to read the truth of scripture. Heaven gives us the hope that the evil one wants to destroy. Heaven gives us security about where we are going. Heaven will be a world without Satan; it will be nirvana.
I recently had a discussion with a customer at Trader Joe’s that gave me a taste of how far we have strayed from God’s word. One of the things I enjoy about being in the store is that you gain a pulse on your community.
“We are going to let them decide …” A young lady came to my line at the cash register with a shopping cart of groceries. She was pregnant and clearly ready to have the baby any day (or hour!). I struck up a conversation about how she was doing as I was scanning in the groceries. I enjoy talking to expectant parents to relive the wonderful memories of our two children being born. I asked her the usual questions: When are you due? What hospital? First child? How are you feeling? It all went smoothly until I asked,
“Do you know if it is a boy or girl?”.
She paused, as I continued to scan the groceries. Then she looked up at me and responded,
“Well, we are going to let them decide.”
I continued bagging her groceries while trying to figure out what she meant. Then it hit me: She would not identify the sex of their baby by the fact that it came out as a boy or a girl. She would let them decide!
Oh my. How sad.
I quickly finished bagging the groceries and sent her on her way with good wishes for the delivery. But it was hard for me to reconcile what just happened. I have thought about it many times since.
Fighting Evil I stand behind the Bible as my only source of truth. Our life is a sacred gift from God, and the Bible answers how we should use it.
Satan is trying to drag us into the abyss. His goal is to see us lose hope, telling us that the Bible is outdated and irrelevant. Heaven is the last thing he wants us to think about. Heaven destroys his plan for us. It’s his worst nightmare.
I do believe something unrivaled awaits me in heaven. The very best we may have experienced here on Earth cannot possibly measure up to what God has planned. (5) Experiencing a sunset at the beach, a wildflower in the mountains, or a pelican riding the draft of a breaking wave; are just appetizers for what God has awaiting us in heaven. It will be a place of complete sensory delight and breathtaking splendor with personal joy in relationships that is beyond our grasp.
The evil one won’t take away my hope! My future is secure in Jesus Christ.
Let me know how I can pray for you. (6)
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ― John 16:33
1 John 5:19 (NIV):
“We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”
Genesis 3:1 (NIV):
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
1Peter 5:8 (TLB):
”Be careful—watch out for attacks from Satan, your great enemy. He prowls around like a hungry, roaring lion, looking for some victim to tear apart.”
1John 3:8 (NIV): “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
Revelation 21:4 (NIV): “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
In the late 1940s when Dad surfed Malibu with his small band of friends who were lucky enough to have returned home from World War II (2), he told me he never went surfing in the winter. They did not have wetsuits then, so it was too cold to paddle out! Anyone who knew Dad would vouch for his hostility toward cold weather (or water). After he retired to Hawaii in the 80s, he would even ask for house slippers and sweatshirts for Christmas to stay warm.
Dad described standing on the beach at Malibu on a cold winter day, watching near-perfect waves rolling in without a single surfer in the water. That image has stuck with me. I fantasize about what it would have been like to paddle out in my toasty O’Neill wetsuit to have Malibu to myself back then. Just thinking about it gets me stoked.
It would have been a surfer’s paradise.
For me, heaven brings that surfing paradise into sight. I can envision waves better than Malibu peeling off perfectly without a soul in the water. I am giddy with anticipation to paddle out. Getting a clearer picture of my future in heaven has completely changed my perspective on life. For a God who moves mountains (3), waves in the world hereafter seem to be within reach.
Indescribable The Bible paints a picture of heaven beyond anything ever seen or heard on earth. What God has waiting for us is hard to grasp (4). “Indescribable” is the phrase used by those who claim to have been to heaven through near-death experiences. Being at home with God, creator of the universe, is beyond anything words can express.
My fascination with this idea has been running wild in my mind for years. I have contemplated what heaven will be like. When it’s all said and done with this life I have been given on earth, heaven is all that matters. In my zeal to envision what awaits me, a sketch came together of how my odyssey will go. It flowed naturally and feels right. In the words of Rebecca Ruter Springer (5),
“I submit this imperfect sketch of a most perfect vision.”
Rewards In Jesus’ final hours with His disciples before His death, He told them He was preparing a mansion for each one of them in heaven (6), and that they would have great rewards waiting for them when they got there (7). I believe my mansion in heaven will be near a beach, and my rewards will include surfing. That seems like an easy one for a God who created it all (8). To put it from a surfer’s perspective, if Kelly Slater (11-time world champion surfer) can create a near-perfect 6-foot barreling wave in a desert in California’s Central Valley (kswaveco.com), could not our great God fulfill the promise of heaven with something even better? I am betting on it and looking forward to getting wet as soon as I get there! Grab your wax; I am excited in anticipation that you will be with me for the ride.
My portrayal undoubtedly will fall far short of the experience heaven will offer. Nothing in our human experience can reach the divine joy and beauty awaiting us there. I pray that this gives you hope and the will to accept God’s gift to ensure you will paddle out with me.
So, here we go!
Jesus’ final dying words to the thief who was hanging on the cross next to Him provides the perfect opening:
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
My Imperfect Sketch My time comes. The angels arrive to take me. Without thought, I float up and away from my physical body. I look down on my family as I assimilate a complete timeline of my life. Vivid images of home, family, friends, relatives, and so much more pass through me as I soak in the experiences they provided. Moving up and away faster than light, childhood memories I had forgotten come back as vividly as the day they happened. Each recollection is like a giant Kodachrome slideshow of my life. Tranquility envelops me as I see each slide in its perfect place. I am at peace and joyful. It is right with my soul. I am grateful for God’s hand in every part of it.
My sense of time disappears as my faithful Grandma Oa appears before me. Oh my! She is so young and beautiful, with her smile beaming at me. I am delighted to see her younger than I knew her.
“I am so glad to welcome you, Mike,” she says. “Everyone is so excited to see you!”
I know why without asking. Grandma faithfully prayed for me for many years. Tears of joy come to my eyes as I hug her. It goes beyond words to let her know how miraculous it is to see her again. We tightly embrace, feeling the love of God between us. Words are exchanged without talking. It’s as if we know each other’s thoughts before we think them. Our communication is perfect. There is no misunderstanding. Everything is right.
She leads me down a long path of the most beautiful grass I have ever seen–a brilliant shade of green that rivals the fairways at Pebble Beach. It feels like velvet under my feet as we walk together. A wondrous variety of plants and flowers surround us, so bright and colorful that I want to stop and inspect each one. They are perfect and appear freshly-bloomed. Everything is pure and clean as if bathed in an afternoon shower. Tall, majestic trees tower above us with hanging branches like weeping willows laden with flowers of every variety and color imaginable. Beyond the trees, I see orchards of ripe fruit-bearing trees with a translucent river meandering through. Waterfalls roar in the distance from lush mountains capped with white snow. Small birds in the trees are singing joyous songs of heaven’s praise. They drench me with their melodies from above like a mountain thunderstorm. It is breathtaking. The music embraces my soul as I behold an overwhelming feeling of harmony with nature (9). I have never felt more alive in my life.
I want to stop and explore the depth of what I am experiencing, but we continue walking, almost floating among this stunning scenery. I marvel at the perfection; a master gardener is in charge. We reach a rushing creek with water as clear as crystal running over brilliant stones of gold, silver, jasper, emerald, and pearl—even more stones than I can identify. It’s as if a pirate’s treasure chest has poured into the stream’s bed. Beautiful soft music soothes my spirit as we wade along the creek. It is a most breathtaking scene. Time is irrelevant. I could walk here forever.
The sky above is overflowing with brilliant colors, brighter than a noonday sun. Yet, I see no sun. A golden radiance fills the atmosphere like the afterglow of a brilliant sunset , although more intense. Grandma and I are not talking, yet our communication is complete. She knows what I am feeling. “It is well, Mike,” she reassures me. It is well.
Our path opens onto a massive beach with sand like freshly fallen snow. I pause to contemplate how it could be. The sand is warm and sneaks between my toes to nuzzle and comfort me. The air is soft and balmy, giving me energy and vitality. A light breeze feathers my face. I want to lie down and soak all this in, as I would in my youth on a hot day at Big Corona State Beach, where I grew up.
As we cross the sand with freshly-laid footprints, I see a structure that reminds me of the surf shack I’ve known so well at the San Onofre Surfing Club. Its design is perfect, with beautiful wooden surfboards lined across the side and a large white cross on top of a humble wooden steeple. I feel myself being drawn to it as we walk.
Approaching the structure, I see it is made from living trees that resemble palm trees growing in the sand. Their leaves naturally cover the roof, allowing the right amount of light inside. Dazzling multicolored flowers like Hawaiian leis grow from the tree limbs and branches. They are intricately woven around the steeple and roof. The air is full of sweet smells like gardenias, which engulf me as I am lured inside.
Euphoria overwhelms me as a hoard of family and friends are there to welcome me. It is the finest homecoming party ever! One by one, they greet and embrace me in mutual joy and wonder of shared experiences. Words cannot describe my feelings. I see mom; how glorious she looks! Her smile and laugh knock me over with emotions. We embrace as never before. Then Grandpa Cannon, Aunt Kathryn. Grandma Mary and Grandpa John wrap me in their arms! It’s as if they all have been friends forever. Then Aunt Sallye and Aunt Norma, my delight is breathtaking. Friends from our church, our former pastor Doug Goins, and even a classmate who passed away in junior high school, Scott Lusher. Holy cow!
Then I see the coach himself, John Wooden. Oh my! He looks at me with that Coach Wooden sparkle in his eye and says, once again,
“The most important thing in the world is family and love.”
Everyone is jubilant. The feeling of love consumes me. We gather in the delight of it all for longer than I know as more people continue to arrive. Even our dogs Riley and Redwood playfully push their way through the many people to nuzzle me with cold, wet noses, tails wagging with zeal for a scratch. I immediately roll onto the ground to grab them in playful hugs. Nothing could be better. I hear the words singing in my soul,
“His love endures forever.” (9)
Time stands still. Nobody is rushed or in a hurry to leave. I have lived my whole life for this. It is really heaven!
Beyond our gathering, I notice the ocean beyond with perfect eight-foot tubes curling in. Whoa!
I move in that direction, savoring the warmth of the sand on my toes. Nearing the water’s edge, I see three surfboards lying in the sand. I am overwhelmed by the scene before me. Angels are singing my praises to God.
I look up to see Dad next to his Bob Simmons surfboard. We embrace. Joyful tears run down my cheeks. He is healthy and robust with a tan as dark as a native Hawaiian. I am so glad to see him. Without speaking, he tells me he is sorry. Words cannot express my wonder and joy. There are no longer any barriers between us. It all makes sense now.
Next to Dad is my uncle Charles, his face painted like a Māori warrior, looking as if he is right off the mission fields of New Zealand, strong and full of energy. His board must be twelve feet long of the most beautiful, laminated woods I have ever seen. It is polished to a shiny gloss and looks like a surfboard Duke Kahanamoku would gloat over. He tells me that Dad taught him to surf and then calls out to me in his Māori tongue:
“Me haere ki te ngaru Mike!”.
I somehow know he said, “Let’s go surfing, Mike!”
Dad hands me the third surfboard and I am aghast to see my Hobie Corky Carroll “Super Mini” model that he bought me at the Hobie Surf Shop in San Clemente in 1968. What? It’s as new as the day we picked it up, with the exact blue, yellow, and green acid splash color design. The bright colors radiate between the pure white foam. This thing would glow in the dark! Picking it up, I realize it is lighter than any surfboard I have ever held. I can’t wait to catch my first wave on it. It is ready to go. I call back to them,
“Cowabunga dudes, let’s go surfing!”
Surfing in heaven? You must be kidding me!
It is a dream come true.
Gazing out, I see a long strand of glittering ivory-white sand extending to the horizon with perfect waves rolling in like clockwork on both sides of the strand; right-facing waves on the left and left-facing waves on the right. I watch the waves on both sides, stupefied. Unbelievably clean barrels are peeling off in succession for as far as I can see. The wave is a flawless combination of a point-break shoulder with a reef-break curl. I could not imagine a more ideal surfing spot. It is too good to be true.
“Lefts or rights?” I call out to them as we pick up our boards. In saying that, I quickly realize that we can go either way—there is no such thing as a goofy foot in heaven. I laugh out loud.
Stepping into the water, its clarity immediately catches me as it washes over my legs. As I wade out, I see a bright, multicolored coral reef with a myriad of neon-colored fish hoovering over the rocks under the crystal-clear water. I pause to comprehend it all while pinching my arm to remind myself that this is not a dream. I am going surfing in heaven.
The three of us are a picture of God’s provision as we beam smiles of joy in anticipation of what we know is coming. “Yeehaw!” I call out as the first wave rolls over me with a sweet smell and flavor. Its taste refreshes me as my body rinses completely dry like water off a duck’s back. Huh? Paddling over my next wave, I am sprayed by a feathering lip that trails a spectacular rainbow of colors in its wake.
Looking down, I notice I’m wearing my yellow “Hang Ten” surf trunks from my grammar school days in Corona del Mar. I chuckle, thinking how much I love them.
We quickly stroke around the breaking sections with Uncle Charles leading the way. I joke to Uncle Charles and Dad as we crest over yet another feathering lip,
“Only in heaven would I let that one go by!”
The white water explodes in brilliant white light as each wave breaks, as if light-emitting plankton are creating the light of day in the foam. The contrast with the exceptionally clear water is literally out of this world, like painting daylight onto a nocturnal night sky. I gasp at the beauty of it all before me and give the glory to God:
“His love endures forever.” (10)
Paddling beyond the impact zone, I can see no end to the strand of bleached white sand, with waves breaking on the horizon as far as I can see. Only when I decide to sit on my board to pause and take it all in does it hit me that everything in heaven is interrelated. It blows my mind.
Below me is an extraordinary collection of colored plants, fish, and rock emitting light rays as bright as daylight. It reminds me of a coral reef in Hawaii, but so much more intense and vivid. I can’t take my eyes off it. Dad and Charles are laughing as they see the grin on my face.
Dad calls out, “It’s as if the earth was a black-and-white movie, Michael.”
I can’t resist diving off my board into the depth of the rejuvenating water. Astonished, I can see perfectly and continue to breathe and talk underwater. “This is crazy!” I shout. Fish of unimaginable varieties and colors swim up to me as if they are a part of the homecoming party. I swim to the surface to tell Charles and Dad about my discovery.
They call back, “Welcome to heaven, Mike!”
Sitting on my board, I can see this is a surfing photographer’s dream, yet taking pictures no longer matters. The golden glory of the sky is powerful without any heat or sense that I could get sunburned. Clouds of unimaginable variety streak the stratosphere like a Matisse painting with colors I have never seen. I am at total peace to know I am home. I lift my voice to praise God for it. Heaven is way more than I had imagined.
Time is lost, but irrelevant. There are no boundaries around how long I have been out. The ocean and I are one.
“His love endures forever.” (10)
I look up to see Dad crossing a beautiful deep blue breaking wave that is well overhead and feathering a rainbow of vivid color behind him. He drags his foot off the tail of his Simmons Foam Sandwich to make a sweeping bottom turn and lets out a loud hoot as he sails by me, drawing a straight line across the face of the crystalline water. It is a sight to behold. My dad, ripping across an eight-foot wall on a 1940s vintage balsa surfboard. I howl at him, “Yeehaw!”
Behind him, seven blazing-white pelicans with gold-tipped wings appear in perfect formation, gliding just above the lip of the next wave. They are telling me “this is my wave!” Swiveling my board around in eager anticipation, I push off, and suddenly am flying down the smooth face of a double overhead peak. The pelicans sweep into view, marking that my time to surf in heaven has come.
I stand up and realize my balance is solid, and my feet are gripping my board, as if with booties. There’s no fear of falling. I howl praises to God,
“How great thou art, Lord!”
Screaming across the towering face of the wave feels like I am racing downhill from the top of a snow-covered mountain on skis. The brilliance of the sea life underwater lights my path as I lean right and carve a long, effortless bottom turn. My speed thrusts forward like the afterburners on a jet plane as I stare down the thick lip of the wave ahead, wondering if I will make it.
I begin carving up and down the wave in total confidence of my abilities when seven pure white dolphins propel into my wave from behind as if waiting for me. They cruise in formation leading the way like an escort of military fighter jets. They are guardian angels, magnificent in size and beautiful. In and out of the wave together, they gaze at me and know my every move. The symmetry and elegance of their surfing prowess are beyond words. I follow them turn for turn as we ride along the shore of the strand. They laugh, and I laugh. We make more turns than I can count. We share the perfect harmony in God’s eternal creation.
The wave transforms into a soft Steamer Lane-style shoulder as I jet out ahead of the break to carve a roundhouse cutback that makes a complete half-circle around the dolphins, back toward the curl. My trail is marked in the brilliant white light of the foam. The dolphin’s launch into the air in perfect formation as I fly by their glimmering hulks.
Cranking a floater off the white-water lip turns me back into the building face as the dolphins shepherd me into the next section of the wave. The sand is glimmering in the shore break as I streak by faster than ever before on a surfboard, catching a glimpse of dad watching from the shack in his beach chair. He beams a broad smile as I consider how many times he watched me over my life.
The Green Room Then it happens. In an instant, everything around me turns a glorious shade of green as the double overhead curl completely covers me, as if the wave is closing out. I center myself into the barrel of the wave, perfectly balanced as I ride inside a tunnel of green water. As I speed ahead, all fear washes away. It is my destiny to be here. My physical and spiritual body have become one with the energy of the wave. Joy overwhelms me as I realize this wave is beyond anything I have ever experienced on earth. It’s as if I am in slow motion, almost floating, as the surge of the wave carries me deeper into a brilliant cloud of green spray. A bright light leads me forward as I am humbled by God’s everlasting love. I sense every atom in my being. It is nirvana. I have never felt better. Thank you, God! Why did I doubt? Words cannot describe my connection to The Creator of it all. Like Moses at the burning bush, I am standing on holy ground. (11)
“His love endures forever.” (10)
Unaware of how long I am in there, I am next airborne, launching out of the green room as if I were shot from a circus cannon on my board. I hear the wave exploding behind me as I land softly onto the shoulder and look around to understand it all. The back spray showers me with warm rain drops. An ear-to-ear grin is frozen on my face. I can’t digest what just happened. My soul is at peace. My joy is complete.
The Hodads will have to hear about this one! The green room is much more than I could ever have imagined. I want to go back in, but the wave keeps me accelerating forward.
The dolphins take another jump in unison as they kick out from the back of the wave while I try and reflect on what just happened. I hear the praises of their work from above:
“Angels, from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth” (12)
Gliding across the shoulder onto open water like a water skier on Lake Tahoe, I leave the breaking section of the wave behind at full speed, as if I am kicking out. Yet my speed continues as I crank another turn on the glassy open water. I see mom watching from the shack with her patented Charlene smile, looking like she is at Malibu in the 1950s. I make my final cut back on flat water toward shore that carries me onto the warm white sand as the cool crystal water rushes up the beach.
I feel more at home than ever before. All my worries, anxieties, and concerns are lost. Finally, I can rest. This is where I belong. Hallelujah to our Lord of creation!
I ponder how the reality of heaven changes everything. This is the life that God planned. Oh, how my life on earth would have changed if I had seen the glory of what God had waiting for me. I am overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, and love for a God who could provide such perfection. I want to go and shout the truth to every surfer I know.
Colossians 3:2 (TLB) becomes my mantra:
“Let heaven fill your thoughts; don’t spend your time worrying about things down here.”
Matthew 21:21 (NIV):
“Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.”
Revelation 22:21-25 (NIV):
“And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.”
Author of: “Intra Muros, My Dream of Heaven,” 1898. Rebecca Ruter Springer captured a unique atmosphere of life in heaven like no other book I have come across. Published 120 years ago, she writes of an experience she had of going to heaven while seriously ill in a care home in Kentville, Illinois.
John 14:2 (KJV):
“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
Genesis 1:1 (NIV):
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. ”
Job 12:7-10 (NIV):
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all mankind.
Psalm 136 (NIV):
“His love endures forever.”(Repeated 26 times in Psalm 136)
Exodus 3:1-5 (NIV):
“Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” ”
“Contact Mike” at surfingforbalance.com if you want to know more about heaven or if you would like a list of books I recommend on heaven.
Will there be seas in heaven?
Revelation 21 (the second-to-the last chapter in the Bible) describes how Jesus sets up his kingdom of heaven on the New Earth and calls it the “New Jerusalem.” This New Jerusalem is where believers will spend eternity with God in their resurrected bodies. In essence, heaven returns to earth with Jesus as our King.
This chapter contains a detailed description of what this “New Jerusalem” will look like, including this statement about the absence of a sea:
“and there was no longer any sea on the new earth.” – Revelation 21:1 (NIV)
Throughout Scripture, the “sea” is symbolic of chaos and disorder, which will be absent in the New Jerusalem. Many Bible scholars believe this is the meaning of Revelation 21:1; the turbulence of our present age on earth will no longer be present in the New Jerusalem. We will be at peace in heaven.
Even if we assume this statement means that all saltwater seas are removed from the earth in New Jerusalem, it does not necessarily mean that all large bodies of water and beaches are gone. For example, the book of Revelation speaks of a great river flowing right through the New Jerusalem:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.” – Revelation 22:1-2a (NIV)
Surely that river has a source and a destination which ends in a large body of water. Perhaps there will be lakes like we have on earth today. Larger lakes act as freshwater oceans on the New Earth. The Great Lakes region of North America is an example. As we have today, the opportunity for waves to ride on a surfboard seems feasible.
In his book Heaven, Randy Alcorn makes an additional argument for having large bodies of water in heaven:
“Another reason I believe the New Earth will have large bodies of water is that, as I argue in chapter 39, the same animals that inhabit our current planet will inhabit the New Earth. Most animal species live underwater, not on land, and most of those live in the ocean. (It would certainly be no problem for God to refashion such creatures to live in freshwater.).”
“Be faithful, and leave the results to God.”
In between surf sessions, I love to run.
The physical joy and mental relief that running has provided me over the years are immeasurable. When I look back at the peaks and valleys of my Silicon Valley tech career, the early morning runs in Rancho San Antonio and mid-day runs on the Baylands Trails were my saving grace. Lacing up for a run releases my mind from immediate concerns to the deep inner joy of pushing my physical limits while soaking in the fresh air, warm sun, and brilliance of nature, all rejuvenating me!
Running provides a sanctuary where my faith can be strengthened. I prefer to run the backcountry trails into the hills, stopping at the highest point of the run to soak in the artistry of God’s creation while taking time to pray. I feel closer to God up there, by myself, gazing down on the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley below. It feeds my soul.
I caught the bug to run in the late 1970s just after college when the running boom in the U.S. was hitting full stride. My first organized race was the Dana Point Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day (a 10K) in 1979. I will never forget that race. My roommate Brad Sarvak and I had the race leaders in view for the first few miles. We had no idea what we were doing. My former high school track coach, John Blair (1), led the lead pack on his mini motorcycle as we heard the mile splits being called out at a pace that made it clear that we were in deep trouble. And then it hit.
The last three miles are cemented in my memory as the most excruciating three miles of my running career. No matter how much I backed off, the pain increased. I didn’t throw up, but I sure wanted to. I remember Coach Blair asking me later why I didn’t run on the team in high school. I don’t remember what I said, but it had to be something like, “Because it hurts.” I never had that problem with surfing.
Start of the Dana Point Turkey Trot circa 1979. Brad and I were at the front!
The Dana Point Turkey Trot soon became an annual tradition. As much as I labored in the effort, something kept pulling me back each year. Part of it was testing my endurance to find out how hard I could push the pace. I always felt high as a kite after the race for enduring the suffering. Another draw was the post-race party, which got pretty lively in the pre-celebration atmosphere of Thanksgiving (the draft beer helped!). Eating my fill of turkey and pumpkin pie later that day seemed to make it all worthwhile.
I soon found myself running 10k races almost every weekend with my good friend, Ed Mantini. Ed was an Alberto Salazar look-alike, who seemed to run almost as fast. He challenged me each week to lower my 10K time while introducing me to DMSO (2) as our go-to cure for virtually any running injury we came across. DMSO was key to keeping our weekly mileage consistently high.
The Marathon Before long, I signed up for my first marathon, the “Leatherneck Marathon,” at the El Toro Marine Base in Orange County. I distinctly remember hitting the 20-mile mark and thinking, Oh, this is what they meant by “the wall” . . . Those last three miles of that first Dana Point Turkey Trot came right back to me—times two! Nothing in running can compare to those last six miles of the marathon.
Before long, I was addicted to carbo-loading and the high-mileage training that the marathon required. I decided it was time to try and qualify for the renowned Boston Marathon, which required a fast marathon (sub-2:50) to get in (3). Anyone who has run Boston would agree that the excitement, energy, and goodwill surrounding that event are unmatched in marathon circles. Bill Rogers, who won Boston four times (1975, 1978-1980), said it well:
“…The marathon is the king of sports. And certainly, Boston is the king of marathons.”
Rogers wrote the book on “Marathoning” back then (4), while he was also winning the New York City Marathon four times in a row (1976-1979). His success propelled me, and his book became my training bible. I soon learned how to navigate the 26.2-mile beast and began chiseling down my finishing times to finally attain my goal. Thank you, Bill!
Meeting Bill Rodgers after the 1995 Boston Marathon was a dream come true!
Looking back, I see distinct parallels between the marathon and my life here on earth. As I cross the twenty-mile mark for my final 10K in life, I can sense the challenges ahead. My pace is slowing, yet my focus on finishing strong is still there. These are the most important miles of my life. In marathoning jargon, my race has just begun!
If I went out too fast those first 20 miles, eventually, I would crash and burn. A successful marathon requires careful planning to achieve a steady pace that matches an intended (and realistic) finishing time. The goal is to keep within that pacing range for the entire 26.2 miles. By the time you reach mile 20, it becomes a grueling effort of concentration and physical stamina to stay on the intended pace.
At the 1994 California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento, I learned this pacing principle the hard way. The first 20 miles flew by, nearly 30 seconds per mile faster than my targeted pace. I was flying high and decided I was having one of those dream days. Ha. I stopped for a cup of water at mile 20 before the bridge leading to the finish line at the state capitol, and that was it. I was done running. I walked all the way to mile 25 when a good friend, Paul Fick, kicked my butt (literally) to make sure I shuffled it in with him for the home stretch. I could not lift my feet above the ground. That wall seemed insurmountable! At one point, a guy called out to me from his porch as I hobbled by:
“Dude, you’ll need a new pair of shoes before you finish if you keep that up!”
I did not think that was funny at the time (now I do!). I was a physical wreck for several days after that race. The experience completely humbled me. I learned a hard lesson that day that the marathon requires a certain amount of caution and strategic planning to achieve your goal, beyond the physical training. To go out and run with your gut can lead to disaster.
This pacing principle carries over into life. Our life is not a sprint. Yet, most of us today will admit to going too fast much of the time, especially during those early years. Even our kids realize this. Technology is stealing our margins and enabling us to do more than our bodies (and brains) were designed for. Like the marathon, if we don’t slow down, eventually, we will crash. I’ve seen it many times over in my tech career. Like a bonk in the marathon, it is not a pretty sight.
One version of this was told by former Google CIO Douglas C. Merrill in his book, “Getting Organized in the Google Era.” Douglas was in charge of taking Google public with their IPO in 2004, when he admitted to overworking and not taking care of his physical needs. He was too busy for that. Despite all the warning signs his body was giving him, it was not until the day Google rang the bell on Wall Street after their IPO that Douglas realized he had crashed. As he told the story in his book, he was getting into a cab on Wall Street with two female colleagues when they looked at him in horror, “as if my eyes were bleeding.” One of them immediately handed him her compact mirror, and he saw that the blood vessels in his eyes had burst and were, in fact, bleeding! In his words, “it was a miracle my brain did not burst.” He took an extended leave from Google after that.
As a life coach, I’ve been trained to improve my clients’ capacity and set a pace they can maintain for the long-term view of life. It is mostly about easing up on commitments to allow the body time to rest and recover. I found out myself how difficult that can be. Getting “downsized” was not exactly how I would have planned it, but I now look back and view that time as a gift from God. My pace may be slower now, but I have confidence in the race plan to finish strong.
The Finish Line The goal of the marathon is to finish, which requires a singular focus on the finish line. Nothing else matters. All the rewards of your training are waiting for you at mile 26.2. The euphoria of crossing that line is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into getting there. I liken it to running as if you are a racehorse with blinders on. To look at or think about anything beyond the finish is simply a distraction that can cause you to lose concentration and potentially crash. Crossing the finish line turns the whole event into a joyful celebration. As my wife and most other women would attest with childbirth, in the end, the prize cancels out the extreme suffering you endured to get there. The victory parade begins, no matter how much you hurt.
I had never felt more joy and satisfaction at the end of a marathon than when my son Matthew and I embraced at the end of the 2016 St. George Marathon (his first!). The tears were flowing. It was a wondrous moment as we bear-hugged each other, drenched in the sweat and pain of our efforts. We savored the victory together. Marathons don’t get any better than that.
War Heroes at the 2016 St. George Marathon (“Finished!”)
The Bible tells us that our finish line in heaven will be even better than that! What awaits us at the finish line of life will be beyond anything we can experience here on earth. My heart’s desire is to cross that finish line strong in this life and hear the words,
“Well done good and faithful servant!” (5)
That euphoria of crossing the finish line into heaven is something I can only wonder about. It will exceed what our minds can only imagine. (6) God has mapped out an eternal destination that defies logic as we understand it. Heaven has turned the tide in my life here on earth towards eternity. My focus now is solely on that finish line banner. I want to spend every day I have left in preparation for the day when I can cross that line into heaven. I plan to be waxed up and ready to go surfing when my day finally comes.
Marathon Faith You may be asking how I can be so sure of this. How can we know that we will go to heaven when we die? For me, it boils down to faith. Marathon Faith. Jesus paid the price for our salvation. By simply accepting the free gift of his death on the cross, it is a sure thing. It is that easy.
The Bible is very clear about heaven. There are hundreds of references to what it will be like. The Book of Revelation paints a particularly stunning description at the end of the Bible when heaven and earth come together as one. (7) Heaven is as clear a finish line at the end of life as the 26.2-mile banner is to the marathoner. I have my horse blinders on and refuse to think about any other option. Heaven is the finish line that matters. I am planning to come in running strong. It’s getting closer every day. Don’t miss it; come join me. (8)
As C.S. Lewis once said:
“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.
Coach John Blair, a Los Angeles Times Millennium Hall of Fame inductee, was a true innovator in the Corona del Mar High School (CdMHS) running community. Aside from coaching cross country and track at CdMHS for 18 years (1965-1982), Coach Blair pioneered ideas for road running events before 10K, and 5K road races came into being. He started the now famous Corona del Mar Scenic 5k (41 years and running), the “Around the Back Bay in May” race, and also launched the “Newport Beach Runners Association,” which helped inspire the Orange County running boom in the 1970s. He was always out in front on his motorcycle, ensuring the leaders did not miss a turn.
Topically applied dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) was a miracle cure for nagging running injuries for Ed and me back in the 1980s. I still use it to this day and swear by its ability to cure an injury. I’ve had more than one miracle cure from it!
After the 1979 Boston Marathon, officials lowered the qualifying time from 3:00 to 2:50 for men under 40 years of age.
Source: Boston Marathon – The History of the World’s Premier Running Event, by Tom Derderian (Preface)
Marathoning by Bill Rogers (published in 1982). Bill Rogers won the Boston Marathon four times (1975, 1978-1980) and the New York City Marathon four times (1976-1979).
Matthew 25:23 (NIV): “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)
However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—
Revelation 21:1-4 (NIV): “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
If you are a bit skeptical, I understand! The Bible can be difficult to understand; especially parts of the Old Testament. I have compiled a short list of books that might help you gain a better understanding. Click on “contact Mike” on surfingforbalance.com and I will send it to you.
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Psalm 46:10 (NIV)
We planted a red rose bush in our front yard when my dear mom passed away in January 2007. Anyone who knew Char was aware of her passion for the color red. That rose bush has been in full bloom on her birthday every year since. It has been a remarkable reminder to me of her spirit. Yet often, I zoom in or out of our driveway, too hurried to take notice of the latest bloom, let alone pause for a few seconds to savor the fragrant aroma. I am too stressed out for that.
Stressing Out Growing up in Corona del Mar in the 1960s, I don’t think the word “stress” was in my vocabulary. Don’t get me wrong; I had my challenges. It was mostly around money. Our family never seemed to have much. My parents grew up during the depression and knew how to get by on almost nothing. Dad was especially good at this. I can remember my grandmother (mom’s side) visiting from Utah and exclaiming that there were no groceries in the house!
Today, my kids tell me that stress is in their DNA. It is unavoidable. I get stressed just thinking about their stress. I think we all would agree that stress is a byproduct of living in today’s world. So much seems to be out of whack. In surfing terms, life can be gnarly!
One only needs to look at our children in the school system today to see the depth of our predicament. Their challenges are earthshaking compared to what we faced at that age. How is it that grammar school students have to worry about a mass shooting at their school? (1) Middle school students today are questioning their gender identity! (2) College students are increasingly turning to suicide (3). We have a high school in our backyard that has a suicide rate that is four times higher than the national average. That is not something anyone wants to discuss, including the media.
I meet many parents and teachers from this high school while working at Trader Joe’s, and everything I see tells me they are doing a great job with these kids. But that does not remove the burden. The anxiety associated with living in today’s world is literally killing us.
We need a way to cope. “Slowing Down” (4) is a part of it, and having “Marathon Faith” (5) can surely help the long-term view.
But I need to get through today!
Sitting A valuable tool for dealing with our burdensome world is learning to pay attention to the moment you are in. “Being present” is a nonjudgmental phrase allowing yourself to experience the here and now. Another common term is mindfulness, which Wikipedia defines as “The awareness that can emerge from paying attention to the present moment(6). It’s about being in control of your life.
We miss so much about ourselves in a day because of our desire for forward motion. As human beings, we are constantly striving to improve and get ahead in life. But amid our forward progress, we tend to miss what we feel in our innermost being.
“Sitting” is a simple form of being present that I often recommend to my coaching clients as a practice for learning to pause in the midst of their hectic and chaotic lives. I discovered the sitting practice in my training to become a New Ventures West “Integral Coach” (7). Our instructor requested that we spend thirty minutes every day sitting for the entire year of our training. Thirty minutes a day seemed far-fetched to me. I quickly did the math to tell the instructor that he was crazy if he thought I had a surplus of 182 hours this year to sit!
Fast-forward one year. Sitting had become a personal highlight of the training class for me. I worked up to thirty minutes a day in quiet solitude and found that time to be transformative in developing myself as a human being who could help others find themselves. Sitting allowed me the freedom to connect with my spiritual center while feeding my soul in the stillness. I cannot recommend it enough (even if it is for just five minutes a day to start out).
“How wonderful it is to have a moment in time where we don’t have to be anyone.” – Anonymous
Today I practice a daily ritual of sitting in the early morning for fifteen to twenty minutes. I make a cup of green tea and then retreat into my “sanctuary” in the dark quiet of dawn. This time spent alone in perfect peace calms my heart for whatever God has in store for me that day. I have always felt that prayer should be a two-way conversation with God. Sitting provides me the margin to listen to what God might have to say. I come out of these sessions feeling refreshed and encouraged, with a sense of purpose around the upcoming day. The days when I have to miss my sitting practice (which are rare), are the days I feel the most out-of-tune with the world around me.
Sitting in the Surf Depending on the interval and size of the waves, sitting can be a critical skill for surfing. It isn’t easy to properly position the surfboard for an incoming wave if you cannot effectively sit upright while doing the eggbeater with your legs. I am always amused when we take a first-timer out to learn how to surf, only to realize how difficult it is for them to simply sit upright on the board in the water. I must contain inner laughter as they continually tip over, trying to find equilibrium on the board. Learning to sit on a surfboard can be a humbling experience.
I will admit, I am not naturally inclined to just sit on my board in the water, waiting for a wave. I get a bit anxious during a long lull between sets. If there is a wave anywhere on the beach, I am likely to paddle after it. Isn’t that the point of surfing—to catch waves? Yet, as I have grown in years and matured, I am learning to appreciate that time seated on my board. It can be a rewarding meditative experience. In my stillness, I sense the presence of God amid His amazing creation around me.
Recently, my son Matthew and I were out at Pleasure Point (Santa Cruz) at sunset, and I experienced sitting on my board in a special way. I paddled into a space where no other surfers were around me. As I scanned the horizon for waves, I was able to appreciate the beauty around me as the sun began its disappearing act below a thin line of clouds on the horizon. The streaked cirrus clouds above me began to light up with bright orange and yellow behind a darkening blue sky. An endless bathtub of dark magenta-colored salt water carried me into another world as I listened to sea otters cracking open their fresh seafood dinner in the distance. The lull synthesized my sense of peace and tranquility as if I was floating above it all. A seal quietly popped his head above water to greet me, just a few feet away, as if on cue. I settled into my sitting pose to soak in the unfolding experience as if I were watching a movie all around me. I did not have to be anyone. I only had to be. God was speaking. I was all ears.
I began to enjoy the lull and hoped it would last. I wanted to grab onto this moment and keep it forever! I had stopped to smell the roses, and it was heavenly.
“Peace” – Sitting tandem with Mark Magiera; San Onofre, July 18, 1991
What Is Sitting?
Sitting is a simple skill that involves focusing your mind on the present.
Sitting is a practice of observing and discovering our true nature in the here and now.
Sitting is like exercising a muscle you’ve never worked out before. It takes consistent practice to get comfortable.
You do not have to believe anything to do sitting – it does not exclude any religion.
How to “Sit”:
Find a quiet and private place where you can be comfortable and free from distractions.
Sit in an upright posture with a straight back in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hand’s palms down on your thighs; be relaxed yet dignified.
With your eyes open, let your gaze rest comfortably as you look slightly downward about six feet in front of you (you can close your eyes if there is a visual distraction).
Take a few deep breaths, and feel the contact points between your body and the chair or floor. Notice the sensations associated with sitting–feelings of pressure, warmth, tingling, vibration, etc.
Bring your awareness to your breath. Do not change your breathing; begin to observe it without controlling its pace or intensity. Simply breathe naturally.
Focus your attention on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly.
If your mind wanders with thoughts, sensations, or emotions, gently let them come in and then release them with an exhale. Return your focus to your breath.
As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute to become aware of where you are. Then get up gradually.
Do this for 4-5 minutes at a time to start, and then gradually increase the time as you get more comfortable. Be patient with yourself. Like any new skill, it will take practice.
The focus of “Integral” Coaching (a New Ventures West trademark) is not as much about being more effective or accomplished in the world (the “what” and the “how” of life), although that often will come about. The intent is to assess the individual and design a program that provides freedom in their being; in “who” they are in the world. I call this “developing the individual.” This process is unique to each person I coach and typically takes a minimum of 3-6 months (meeting bi-weekly) to get deeply connected to the “Integral” Coaching approach. The outcome of this process is for the client to achieve long-term excellence with an ability to self-correct along the way to stay on track for whom they want to be in life.
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Mark Twain
Like the marathon, life can have its challenges after you hit mile 20. That last stretch can hurt!
My 1970s vintage Infinity surfboard now requires a little extra resin and fiberglass between surf sessions. It still rides fine, but it does take a bit more nurturing to keep it afloat after all those years of surfing. My body and my running career has followed a similar path.
It’s naptime for the dog when the ding repair kit comes out.
With all of the miles I have pounded out over the years running marathons, ultra-marathons, and triathlons, I have to confess that my body began to show some wear and tear once I hit my fifties. These days, I know how to doctor things up with a bit of resin and fiberglass (aka DMSO) to keep going, but I’d be lying to say that those miles don’t hurt my body more than they used to. I’m a lot smarter about how to prepare, and I keep my focus on just getting to the starting line and letting the rest take care of itself. You know what they say . . . “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
In 2007 I ran a half marathon that was somewhat prophetic in this respect. Here’s the story exactly as it unfolded.
On a seasonably crisp October morning in Monterey, I was approaching mile 11 in the Big Sur Half Marathon when my view on life after fifty was jolted. Big Sur is a relatively fast half marathon for time (it does not have the hills, as its name might imply), and it is extremely well-organized for a race of its size (~5,000 runners).
I had run a hard first ten miles and was struggling to regain my focus for the final three, while ignoring the red flares my body was sending me to slow down. I had turned fifty earlier in the year and was intent on proving that I could still run a fast time. Ha!
Oblivious to the serene setting of sailboats moored in quiet coves as we ran along the bike trail in Pacific Grove, I pulled up to a tall and lanky runner who had been in my sights for a couple of miles. He was running hard, so I latched on to his side to keep pace and regain some composure for a strong finish. My time goal was in sight, and I figured this guy could help pull me in. We had covered a half mile or so side-by-side when he suddenly blurted out to me:
“How old are you?”
Wait, what? I’m struggling for oxygen, and this guy asks me my age? This was not a time to be conversing. We were both breathing hard and near the end of our ropes. If I had the grit to initiate anything (and I didn’t), I might have babbled out a one-way, “good job” or “hang tough.”
But, “How old are you?” just hit me wrong.
As we bumped shoulders coming off the bike trail onto the street at Cannery Row for a long stretch of open pavement, I glanced at him. He appeared to be sizing me up, maybe thinking I was a threat in his age division? Finally, I found it in myself to respond, mostly out of the angst of having to say anything at this point of the race:
“Fifty! How old are YOU?”
“Fifty-nine,” was his immediate reply as we both continued to push the pace on the open street. I was glimpsing the finish line banner less than a mile ahead and decided to put on a final kick to get in. As he slowly faded behind me, I was hit with what seemed like a cannon shot from behind:
“A lotta shit between fifty and fifty-nine!”.
He spoke the words with such purpose and conviction that it rattled me. I found myself in a dither as I crossed the finish line, suddenly oblivious of the time I had worked so hard for. Why the heck did he have to say that, and what on earth did he mean?
I stumbled through the finishing chute with the masses of sweaty bodies looking like a lost soldier who had just been hit by mortar fire. As I claimed my platter of free food, none of which looked appealing, I scanned around to ask him what that was all about. He had vanished, and I never saw him again.
I mentioned the exchange to my fellow warriors at the finish line party, and we all laughed as we guzzled down our hard-earned post-race rewards while listening to the rock band powered by people riding exercise bicycles. Big Sur always has a fantastic finish-line party, and we were, of course, oblivious to the road which lay ahead.
Not a clue [yet] what this guy meant.
Fast-forward nine years to age fifty-nine, I knew exactly what he meant!
“A lotta shit . . .” pretty well sums it up. Mine started with knee pain, and progressed from there to my back going out on the day before I had signed up to run an ultra marathon. I recovered from that to encounter rotator cuff surgery, which I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. The list goes on.
That story has become legendary among my running friends as we kid each other about the various ailments we experience while pushing our bodies to untold extremes in various sporting escapades. The running joke (pun intended) when one of us is injured is to say:
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then sacrifices his money to recuperate his health.” –Dalai Lama
One of my greatest joys in leaving the tech industry was terminating my email account at Oracle. That was another leash I did not mind removing. As a marketing manager, I performed most of my job through email. I managed independent software vendors (ISVs) who ran their software on Oracle systems. These ISVs were all over the world, so emails were flying into my inbox 24 hours a day. I had the weekends to breathe, but as time zones go, Saturday mornings would see emails from Asia, and Sunday evenings, they started flying in from Europe. It was relentless and required constant attention to avoid getting in the hot seat with an important partner.
I love email and what it enables. But I hate it more than I love it. My brain was not made to operate in this way. Even without my tech job, I can’t seem to avoid using email. But I did find a way to keep myself from being enslaved to it. Working at Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) has made all the difference in the world. In my interview, I was told,
“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
Are you kidding me? How can a company survive in today’s information-driven economy without email? A Freakonomics podcast titled “Should America Be Run By … Trader Joe’s?”(1) hinted that they are doing quite well without email, and much more, that grocery store chains accept as modus operandi. I believe TJ’s is on to something.
Most of us would agree that society would be better off slowing down and incorporating more rest. Much of the chaos and societal ills we see in the world today can be attributed to our being overloaded. Dr. Richard Swenson nailed it in his 2004 best-selling book about the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits, “Margin”(2). To take away that space is like reading a book without margins. You won’t get very far. That is what is happening today; we are exceeding our limits.
Email is a classic margin-eater. It not only devours our free time, but also creates a continuous 24/7 flow of information that can spew 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 grief and exhaustion for all involved. We all have experienced how email has transcended into our personal lives and at work. Even a vacation can create a backlog of emails that is enough to make you wish that you never left.
Yet, we must acknowledge that email is a way of life today. There is no getting around it if you want to accomplish something that involves more than just yourself. Approximately 333 billion emails are sent every day. That’s 3.5 million emails per second!(3) Email is the preferred method of communication in almost all situations.
An interesting (and humorous) read about how email has impacted the mainstream business world is Dan Lyons’ “Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Start-Up Bubble.” Dan describes how HubSpot, a Boston start-up, was positioning its product as a means of reducing email spam:
“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 forty years ago, none of us were doing email at work. It had not been invented. Looking back now, it was wonderful. Email first found its way into my work environment in the mid-1980s as I launched my high technology career at ROLM Corporation. We worked hard at ROLM without email. Yet when I left the office to come home, I was truly done. My work stayed at the office.
Then IBM purchased ROLM in 1984 and we were introduced to IBM’s PROFS (Professional Office System), which was IBM’s first email system. Most of us viewed PROFS as a joke. It simply relayed information from IBM corporate, which had minimal 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, about two-thirds of my day was spent navigating email. The volume was suffocating. Even in meetings, I was only half-listening as I browsed my “urgent” messages. Like the Israelites crossing the desert in the Bible, email became a cloud that followed me home and on my vacations. Improvements to the cell phone networks soon delivered email exchanges to my phone. Holy cow, I could send emails while sitting on the KT22 chairlift at Squaw Valley surveying my next ski run down (“Hey Mark, is my tax return ready yet?”).
Transitioning to Trader Joe’s
Leaving Oracle and my email inbox behind was great, but Marla and I still needed to find health insurance for our family. COBRA(4) is expensive! As we explored options, I decided to go into our local Trader Joe’s to complete a job application. No appointment was necessary. The application was quick—it only asked for my high school education.
Ha. This should be fun!
Next thing I knew I was sitting on a milk crate in the back of the store. Amelia (the Captain of the store) asked me a question about when I was available to work. Our discussion went something like this:
“I think you’re a good fit for Trader Joe’s. When would you be available to work?”
“That is complicated for me. Could I send you an email on the days and times?”
“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.“
Mike [extending my hand to shake]:
“When can I start?”
Those words were music to my ears. Without a thought, I decided to give it a try. I am coming up on my fifth year at the store and have loved every day of it. When I punch out at the end of my shift, I am content to know that I worked hard to get the job done and can go home satisfied (and tired). Whatever is left behind gets picked up by the next shift. I’m working harder and resting more than I have in a long time. On payday, a TJ’s Mate hand delivers my paycheck with a sincere thank you. It may be missing a digit or two from my tech days, but the culture at TJ’s has won me over. As a life coach, I now understand the value of smiling and laughing all day. This is what I envision work in heaven to be like!
Here are my top ten reasons I like working at TJ’s:
1. “We don’t do email…”
When I enter the store, I turn off my phone. No email. If we need to communicate, we go face-to-face or ring bells. It is refreshing. I have more margin.
2. We’re on a ship.
We’re all at sea on a ship in the South Pacific at TJ’s. Our jobs are crystal clear to keep our boat on course. One Captain (button aloha shirt), a couple of Mates (different aloha shirts), and the rest of the Crew Members (“Crew Member” T-shirts) communicate by ringing bells that allow us to be “armed to the teeth” to react to our customers’ needs on a moment’s notice.
3. Variety is the spice of life.
Each shift is divided into eight blocks (for each hour). Each block designates a different job in the store for that hour. At the top of every hour, we all switch jobs. In one shift, I work many different jobs to keep the store stocked, organized, clean, and profitable. It sounds simple (and it is), but it makes my day fly by hand-over-fist, and helps me learn the entire store operation.
Meetings (called “huddles”) are 5-minute stand-up gatherings in the back galley to communicate important news about keeping things “ship shape” in the store. 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 wow our customers.
5. Fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs. Every day I get fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs from my fellow crew members at TJ’s, even at the end of a shift when they leave. This surprised me at first. If I were to exhibit this behavior at Oracle, I might end up at the HR office. The first couple of shifts I experienced this, I thought these folks were leaving the company! It does wonders for morale.
6. Happy people.
Employees at TJ’s are happy, which makes the customers happy. I am happy to work there. It’s “hunky-dory.”
7. Everyone plays. When I started at TJ’s, I wondered why they hired me. Then I saw others they hired, and I wondered why they hired them! It took me a while to understand their strategy. It’s like AYSO (American Youth Soccer). Everyone plays at TJ’s. They employ people with special needs who work right alongside the rest of us. It gives those individuals a great sense of pride to be a part of the TJ’s crew, and the benefits to all, overall, are huge.
Many of my co-workers are my young adult children’s age. They are fun, energetic, and full of interesting insights on life. Most of them have other jobs or school or both. They are all “gung-ho” to make a future. They talk to me like I am one of them. At T’Js, I am.
It’s a kick.
9. Hard (physical) work. Trader Joe’s business model is all about very high volume to attain very low prices. I soon discovered the considerable amount of physical labor involved in accomplishing that. Like the pyramids in Egypt, it all happens one block at a time. The physical effort to move all that product in the back door and out the front door every day is significant. I walk an average of 4 miles and lift an untold amount of weight every day in the store. I have never felt better. I’m getting paid to go to the gym.
10. Just be you. TJ’s 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 wear shorts and my Hoka’s to work every day. And I love dressing up for the holidays.