21. Marathon Faith

“Be faithful, and leave the results to God.”
-Amish Proverb

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 meditate and 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 in the late 1970s 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. The Corona del Mar High School track coach, John Blair (1), led us on his mini motorcycle as the mile times were 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 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 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 topped it all off.

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 time while introducing me to DMSO (2) as our go-to cure for virtually any running injury, which helped to keep 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 bythe wall” . . . Those last three miles of that first Dana Point Turkey Trot came right back to me—times two!

Before long, I was addicted to carb-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!

The Pace
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 blow up. A successful marathon requires 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. That is much harder than it sounds by the time you reach mile 20.

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 decided I was having a good day. Ha. I stopped for a cup of water at mile 20 before the bridge leading to the finish 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. I was a physical wreck for several days after that race. The experience completely humbled me. I learned that the marathon requires a certain amount of caution and planning. 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. 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. 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, where 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 was trained to improve my clients’ capacity and set a pace they can maintain for the long-term view of their 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, 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 would assert 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!”)

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. 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 (8).

As C.S. Lewis once said:

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.

————-Footnotes——–

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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)
  4. 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).
  5. 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!’
  6. 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—
  7. 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.”
  8. If you are a bit skeptical, I understand! I am the first to admit that the Bible can be pretty difficult to understand. Especially parts of the Old Testament. I have compiled a short list of books that might help. Click on “contact Mike” on surfingforbalance.com

23. Stop and Smell the Roses

“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; we had our challenges. It was mostly around money. We didn’t have much! Our parents grew up during the depression and knew how to get by on nothing.

Today, my kids tell me that stress is in their DNA. It is unavoidable. I get stressed just thinking about their worries. 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 I 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 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)

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 lives. I discovered the sitting practice in my training to become a New Ventures West “Integral Coach” (7). Our instructor Steve March 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 Steve 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 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.

“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-plus 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 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 to turn the board toward shore. 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 my laughing out loud 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, 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 to see that no waves were coming, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding sea 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 the 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 to me. 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?

  1. Sitting is a simple skill that involves focusing your mind on the present.
  2. Sitting is a practice of observing and discovering our true nature in the here and now.
  3. Sitting is like exercising a muscle you’ve never worked out before. It takes consistent practice to get comfortable.
  4. You do not have to believe anything to do sitting – it does not exclude any religion.

How to “Sit”:

  1. Find a quiet and private place where you can be comfortable and free from distractions.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. Bring your awareness to your breath.  Do not change your breathing; begin to observe it without controlling its pace or intensity. Simply breathe naturally.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute to become aware of where you are. Then get up gradually.
  9. 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.

————-Footnotes——–

  1. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of U.S. teens fear a shooting could happen at their school, and most parents share their concerns, 2018.
    Source: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/18/a-majority-of-u-s-teens-fear-a-shooting-could-happen-at-their-school-and-most-parents-share-their-concern/
  2. Gender Dysphoria in Young People: A Model of Chronic Stress, 2021.
    Source: https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/520361
  3. According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), Suicide is currently the second most common cause of death among college students in the U.S., 2021.
    Source: https://www.verywellmind.com/suicide-rates-overstated-in-people-with-depression-2330503
    Rosiek A, Rosiek-Kryszewska A, Leksowski Ł, Leksowski K., Chronic stress and suicidal thinking among medical students, 2016.
  4. See Chapter 14: Slow Down
    https://surfingforbalance.com/2022/03/23/14-slow-down/
  5. See Chapter 25: Marathon Faith (TBP)
  6. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness
  7. 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.

9. Peace of Mind

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.”
-John 16:33 (NIV)

Quitting the Corona del Mar High School basketball team my junior year is one regret in life that has lingered. I showed up late for a Saturday practice (the surf had been good!), and coach Tandy Gillis made sure that I would not want to do that again. And I didn’t. At the end of practice, I sheepishly told him I was quitting. Enough already. I was seventeen years old and didn’t need a basketball coach telling me what to do.

Or so I thought.

Coach Gillis was a bit of an icon in the basketball world. I appreciate that much more now than I did then. He was an All-American at The University of California at Berkeley (Cal), where he had played under coach Pete Newell, who coached Cal to the 1959 NCAA championship. Rumor had it that Tandy held Jerry West to his lowest offensive point total in his college basketball career at West Virginia University. And if you don’t know Jerry West, he was good enough to have the logo of the NBA modeled after him. Tandy’s Cal Bears beat Jerry’s West Virginia team in the finals 71-70 that year!

Coach Gillis was all about defense. He could teach it like Einstein could teach physics. It was quite simple. He taught us to play an extraordinarily tight man-to-man defense by following two principles:

#1: “Crawl inside their jockstrap,” as he used to say, and deny every pass possible.

#2: Protect the baseline as if it were Fort Knox; Don’t let anyone with the ball go by.

Conceding on either point resulted in sprinting the lines up and down the court until you were ready to barf.

Coach Wooden
Paradoxically, another basketball coach emerged later in my life, Coach John Wooden of the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team.

Growing up as a basketball fan in SoCal meant you had to be aware of what the Wizard of Westwood (as Coach Wooden was known) was doing on the basketball court at UCLA. For me, it started when I stayed up late with Dad to watch the KTLA Channel 5 replays of those UCLA games in the mid-1960s. I could not wait for the “Oh MYs” from announcer Dick Enberg as UCLA ran endlessly up and down the court, scoring at will, always ending up on the winning side. Dad would tell you that I usually fell asleep by halftime as the replays started at 11:00p.m.

The Wooden-coached UCLA Bruins won ten NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships (March Madness) over a period of twelve years (1964-1975), including seven in a row (1967-1973), and had four undefeated seasons (1964, 1967,1972, 1973).

However, I will never forget one loss in 1968 when the Houston Cougars and Elvin Hayes ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak in what was billed as “the game of the century” at the Houston Astrodome.[i] I cried like a baby at the end of that game.

What Coach Wooden was doing was unprecedented in the sports world, and I could not help but be caught up in trying to understand it. Something was quite different about how this man approached the game. Amidst the myriad of UCLA victories, he inspired his players to find their very best within themselves while being as cool as a cucumber watching them do it from the bench.

Even during the tensest moments of a game when his team appeared rattled, he would let them play on without calling a time out. After the game, he was always very humble, giving credit to those around him before himself. Most unique of all, Coach Wooden never spoke about “winning.” His focus was on helping each player become the best they possibly could be on the court. He emphasized the importance of practice, telling his players that the games would go well if they practiced well. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Wooden’s unrivaled success was a puzzle I felt compelled to piece together to see if I could apply it to my life. Fast forward 20 years to Silicon Valley in 1992, and I was starting to see the picture. As soon as our two children, Marisa and Matthew, were old enough to play organized basketball, I entered the coaching ranks, determined to make amends for my regret of quitting Coach Gillis’ team in high school. It was there that the pieces came together, as I modeled my coaching around Coach Wooden’s now-famous “Pyramid of Success,”[ii] which summarized the building blocks required for success, both on the court and off.

Hard work was at its core, no getting around that with Coach Wooden. Once you had done the hard work, Wooden emphasized patience (“good things take time”), along with faith (“through prayer”) to be at your best when your best is needed. All this resulted in peace of mind that you could rest in the knowledge that you gave it your best effort. Coach Wooden would add, “You are the only one who truly can judge that!” Soon, I had every player on the team memorizing these pyramid blocks and reciting Wooden quotes during critical moments in a game or practice. The kids were terrific in embracing it, and of course, the parents loved taking the emphasis off winning.


When I read Coach Wooden’s first book, They Call Me Coach; I discovered a crown jewel that had been missing in my puzzle. In discussing his beliefs on success, Coach Wooden quoted straight from the Bible:

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33, NIV).

Right there, in Chapter 13, Wooden spilled the story of his Christian faith and how basketball was of minor importance in comparison to belief in our Lord Jesus Christ. Coach Wooden carried a metal cross of Jesus in his pocket through all those many games at UCLA so he could hold on to it and be comforted by his Savior when things got difficult. He said he would rub the cross for comfort to the point that it had been worn down on the corners over the years.

Oh MY!

This was the missing piece I had been looking for; it fit perfectly. It was so simple, yet so true. The mere idea of attaining peace of mind through faith in the cross in pursuit of success would be a theme that rang true for me in my career for the next two decades in Silicon Valley. I bought several metal crosses as reminders. Most remarkable of all was that Coach Wooden practiced what he preached. His players all looked up to him for his principles and commitment to his faith. He lived it! That set John Wooden apart and helped him see the level of success he achieved at UCLA.

Meeting Dick Enberg and exchanging stories of those late-night KTLA broadcasts of UCLA basketball games.

The most challenging job of my career was as a field sales manager at Siemens (1993-94), with a $6 million annual sales quota of telecommunications systems. I managed ten sales representatives who fought daily battles for sales territories, new accounts, quota alignment, customer satisfaction, and that very elusive Purchase Order to win a deal against the competition. My Circle of Life centered on work and not much else. I was struggling to find peace of mind at the end of the day, whether I was achieving my sales quota or not. Each day I went home to my family battle-weary, struggling to find success in the midst of it all.

In a panic to find help, I decided to type a letter to Coach Wooden and ask for resources to apply his principles around the Pyramid of Success. It was a long shot; I was hoping someone in his office might respond. Within one week, I had a hand-written letter in a hand-written envelope to me from Coach Wooden himself.

Huh?

He opened by thanking me for taking the time to write:

“Your words of commendation were very kind and deeply appreciated. Many thanks for taking the time to express yourself.”

Coach Wooden was truly demonstrating the principles he was teaching! I soon created a leadership model for my sales team around the Pyramid of Success. We overachieved our sales quota two years in a row while improving customer satisfaction ratings. The puzzle was complete.

“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” -Coach Wooden

As a coach, father, and follower of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I have found Coach Wooden’s philosophy to be an excellent way to model the values our holy Bible teaches, both to children on the basketball court, as well as to adults in the business world. It enabled me to go home at the end of the day with a sense of contentment that regardless of how the day had gone, I gave it my best and had peace of mind in knowing that it now rested in God’s hands.[I]


“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
-Coach John Wooden

Footnotes:

[i] Wooden authored and co-authored seventeen books before his death in 2010 at the age of 99. I have listed a couple of my favorites below. A google search on “John Wooden” will bring up many more. They all model the values and beliefs of this remarkable man.

  • “Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization” (2005) by John Wooden and Steve Jamison. Wooden’s strategies for competitive greatness translated into a leadership principles book for business or sports. A Wall Street Journal and L.A. Times bestseller.
  • “Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life” (2005) by John Wooden and Jay Carty. A translation of Wooden’s philosophy with the Pyramid of Success into a self-help handbook based upon each of the pyramid blocks.
  • “They Call Me Coach” (1988) by John Wooden
    This was his first book and a personal favorite. It describes his humble upbringing on a small farm in Indiana and how his relationship with his father impacted him. It also is the only one of his books that covers the UCLA basketball teams in quite a bit of detail, which I appreciated, having watched so many of those games.

[i] The UCLA Bruins were #1 rated in the country and had won 47 games in a row, including the NCAA Division I championships in 1964, 1965, and 1967. Houston was #2 in the country and led by Elvin Hayes, who scored 39 points (he could not miss!). A footnote is that UCLA’s star, Lew Alcindor (Kareen Abdul-Jabbar), had the worst game of his college career (making 4 of 18 shots), suffering from a severe eye injury the previous week (he sat out the two previous games). Two months later, UCLA destroyed Houston 101-69 on route to their fourth NCAA Championship.

[ii] Coach John Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success” can be found at: https://www.thewoodeneffect.com/pyramid-of-success/

1. Malibu and “The Greatest Generation”

“Surfing is the deceptively simple act of riding a breaking ocean wave on a surfboard.  In reality, as a fundamental physical feat, surfing on a wave is a phenomenal conjunction of forces; the mathematics of it are profoundly complex. However, as an expression of the essential relationship between man and nature, surfing is unique in its clarity. And as a metaphor for life and just about anything life throws at us, it is unparalleled. Life is a wave. Albert Einstein even said so.”

Drew Kampion, Stoked! A History of Surf Culture

Lunch time at Santa Monica’s Incline Beach, circa 1958

My earliest memories of the beach date back to the late 1950s when our family would go to Incline Beach in Santa Monica. We lived just up the hill on 22nd Street until I was almost five years old. I don’t remember much around those early years, but the picture below of my sister Terry and me in the back of our 1947 Plymouth Woody captures a glimpse. I do remember looking very forward to our trips to the beach to play in the ocean and sand.

The beach was a place of complete freedom—open space to roam and recreation in the purest sense of the word. There were very few rules—mostly around water safety—and lots of ways to spend your time, unencumbered by the usual restrictions at home. Life became a very simple event, focused on playing in the ocean, warming up and drying off in the sand, and then eating and drinking whatever Mom and Dad happened to throw into the car that day (which was not much, if it was just Dad!).

The Greatest Generation, a book written by Tom Brokaw, is about those who grew up in the United States during the Great Depression, and then went on to win a global war that cost 60 million lives.  In the opening chapter, Brokaw declared:

I think this is the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”

Both my father, Jack Mulkey, and father-in-law, John D’Zurko, were a part of this fraternity, born into the false sense of prosperity of the 1920s, raised through the depression in the 1930s, and sent overseas to fight for global freedom in World War II in the 1940s. They were humble Americans who did not ask for a pat on the back for what they had accomplished for us all. Both were bound by common values of loyalty to their country, selfless service, and a desire to preserve world order.

When my son Matthew turned 16, I looked long and hard at him to try and conceptualize the decisions and experiences Dad had at that age. Imagine writing this letter to your widowed mother about vanishing from your home to fight in a world war [1]:

Dear Mom:

I have joined the navy with Todd. I just couldn’t turn down an opportunity like this to join with a good friend the same age as I am. We are leaving for San Diego this morning. I know you want me to make good and this is the only way I will ever do it, don’t worry about me I am in the best hands in the world. I will probably be home in about 21 days because I will be in quarantine for 3 weeks (looks like I’ll miss UCLA’s opening game with T.C.U.). I will write first chance I get don’t worry about me.

P.S. I am now 17, so any body that you talk to or asks you I am 17 and you signed for me, this will help very much.

P.S. You can get Sam to do the work around the house he’s a pretty good gardener and would be glad to work around the house.

[1] Unedited letter written by my father, Jack Mulkey.

Navy Days

Dad’s home life in the 1930s had its hardships beyond the Great Depression. At age 13, he lost his father to Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), leaving him to grow up fast as the only man in the house (older sister Sallye was a big help). Three years later after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Dad and his good friend Todd Bernarding enlisted in the U.S. Navy (a month shy of his sixteenth birthday).

Both lied about their age (you had to be seventeen to join), signed each other’s enlistment forms, and the next thing Dad knew, he was headed to the U.S. Naval Training Station in San Diego for two weeks of basic training. Amazingly, no ID was required through the entire process. As Dad would tell it, “At that point of the war, we were simply throwing bodies at the problem in the Pacific.”

After surviving basic training his life was dramatically altered in a mind-boggling way. He was first shipped to the Naval Air Radio School in Alameda, California for a month to get schooled in Morse code.  Then back to San Diego (Naval Air Station North Island) for a week of skeet shooting under the command of Lieutenant Robert Stack, who starred in the television series The Untouchables.

Once he had mastered the art of hitting a moving clay target, he traveled back to San Francisco for his official ship assignment as an Aviation Radioman Petty Officer 3rd Class sailor. Suddenly, he was with 2,000 others on the 488’ Dutch Freighter Bloemfontein, cruising out of San Francisco Bay to Noumea, New Caledonia, an island 900 miles off the east coast of Australia. He was below deck seasick for the entire two-week journey! Somewhere in there his sixteenth birthday came and went.

Flight crews ready to launch off the USS Saratoga (Dad is 2nd from right in the 2nd row)

From Noumea, Dad climbed aboard the monstrous aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, which had by chance been in San Diego harbor at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Before he knew what had hit him, he was flying off the Saratoga’s deck in a two-man Douglas SBD Dauntless aircraft on submarine patrol missions while manning the trigger of a twin 30-caliber machine gun. His initial flight at sea was the first time he had flown in an airplane. Ever.

Here is an excerpt from a handwritten note [2] Dad sent me describing his experiences:

As I remember I went to radio school for about 1 month, mainly to learn Morse code.  Then went to gunnery school for a week on North Island [San Diego] where I shot 1,000 rounds of skeet.  Really sore shoulder!  That’s where my deafness started. When I finally got on the Saratoga & started flying there was a radio silence & no contact was allowed between plane & ship. So much for radio school. I think I flew about every other day. This was for submarine patrol to guard the fleet (at like 4 hours a flight).  You just hoped you had a good navigator for a pilot. With no ship to plane contact, and the fact that you were well out of sight of the fleet most of the time, if you missed the fleet on return ‘that was all she wrote.’

When I first got on the Saratoga we were the only main line carrier afloat. The rest were all in dry dock being repaired.  So we would try to let the Japanese see us and [then] take off, hoping they would think we had more than one carrier available. That was ok with me.

It is hard to comprehend what would go through his head in all this. Surely it was a bit of a blur. He told me about shipmates whose aircraft never did find their way back to the Saratoga. At the battle of Rabaul in the Caroline Islands (covered by Times and Newsweek), their planes would have just enough gas to sputter back onto the carrier deck. Ironically, that area where those battles took place (Truk Lagoon) is now a major tourist attraction for scuba diving among the many shipwrecks left behind.

After somehow surviving his service on the USS Saratoga, Dad was assigned to a Carrier Aircraft Service Unit (CASU) by his request. These ships were highly strategic to turning the tide against Japan in the Pacific by providing a mobile organization to keep U.S. Navy planes in the air. Dad was stationed at several locations on the west coast of the U.S., including San Nicolas Island (75 miles off the coast of Los Angeles).

CASU Unit on San Nicholas Island, circa 1944 (Dad on far right)

At the time the war ended (VJ-Day on August 15, 1945) Dad’s CASU was in transit to Adak Island in Alaska, which he suspected was preparation for an invasion of Japan. They spent a month in Adak before returning to San Francisco to celebrate the end of the war.

He received his Honorable Discharge (C1766958) on November 18, 1945, three years following his enlistment, and just after turning nineteen. Like others so lucky to return home, Dad took advantage of the G.I. Bill to test out of high school and enroll in college while living “high off the hog,” as he described it, on $20 per week compensation from the U.S. government. 

The G.I. Bill covered him for two years at Santa Monica City College and two years at UCLA. Below is a picture of dad taken at Ciros Night Club on Sunset Boulevard (circa 1944), which was the place to be seen during that era in Los Angeles.

Dad (left) in a scene right out of a Humphrey Bogart movie

Malibu

Following the war, Dad became part of a select few individuals who were pioneering the sport of surfing in Southern California. Malibu was the place to be for post-WWII era surfers when summertime south swells swept up the coast for a long day in the water while the heat of the white sand beach awaited to warm you back up.  It had to seem too good to be true after all he had been through.

Charley French and Dad lugging two Simmons concave’s up from the beach at Palos Verdes

As Charley French told me the story of making these two boards pictured above, he and dad went to General Veneer Manufacturing in L.A. to purchase the balsa wood which they then glued together into large planks. They hauled them over to Bob Simmons’ house and watched as he shaped them into the concave surfboards. Dad and Charley then took the finished boards home to be glassed and sanded in the backyard, ready for the trip to Palos Verdes (above).

As the world recovered from the ravages of WWII, these early trailblazers of surfing at Malibu had an ideal setting for the birth of a craze that would quickly sweep across the globe. Surfrider Beach at Malibu had the ideal weather, a long stretch of fine white sand, and waves as clean and perfectly breaking as one could find along the Southern California coast.

A spirit and camaraderie developed among these early surfers which boiled life down to its most simple elements. Many called this the birth of the surf culture, a new way of life outside the usual societal boundaries in Southern California at that time. Dad never spoke of it that way. They just survived a world war, many of them in a direct line of fire. It was the freedom they had fought for, and they were going to make sure they enjoyed it.

As progress would have it, this unique setting did not last long. With the popularity of the Hollywood movie production Gidget (along with several others that followed), thousands were soon flocking to Surfrider Beach at Malibu to test their skills at the new emerging sport. In 1959 our family moved 55 miles down Pacific Coast Highway to a sleepy beach-side community, Corona del Mar (CdM). Mom and Dad found a quaint beach house just four blocks from Big Corona State Beach. It even had a shower in the garage to wash the sand off. It was a dream come true!

The beach soon became my home base. It was where my friends and I always seemed to end up when we had free time. It was ground zero for the path my life took until graduating from Corona del Mar High School in 1973.

Three generations in front of the plane Dad flew off the deck of the USS Saratoga.

_________________

Footnotes:

  1. “Dear Mom” letter:

2. This handwritten note was unedited.

3. The picture on the cover of surfingforbalance.com is the only picture I have of my dad, Jack B Mulkey, surfing. It was taken at Malibu circa 1949 by Doc Ball. Doc was an early pioneer in surfing photography and was one of the leaders in establishing surfing on the west coast. He helped organize the Palos Verdes Surf Club, where dad often surfed in the late 40s and early 50s. Here is the original photo:

JackMulkey_malibu1948_600x288

Dad is riding a 10’9″ Bob Simmons Plywood Foam surfboard (called a “Foam Sandwich”). This surfboard was a major breakthrough from the Redwood Planks they had been riding, which could weigh in over 100 pounds.  An exact replica of this surfboard sold for $40,000 at the Hawaiian Islands Vintage Surf Auction in 2009.  Dad did not even know this picture was taken but ran across it in a photo album at a party at Doc Ball’s house. As he told me the story, a friend yelled out to him, “Hey Mulkey, check this out; your picture is in here!”.

Mark Brown Digital Arts did the wonderful recoloring work.

Surfing in Heaven (Part I)

Let heaven fill your thoughts; don’t spend your time worrying about things down here.”    Colossians 3:2 (TLB)

Surfing in Heaven. Outrageous thought!
Or not…?

Call it Marathon Faith, but I believe my place in heaven will include surfing. Jesus says that He is preparing a place for me in heaven (John 14:2), and that I have great rewards waiting for me there (Matthew 5:12). Surely the God who created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) could arrange for a little surfing when heaven comes down to earth (Revelation 21:1-4). I believe what awaits us in heaven is far greater than we are willing to let our imaginations explore. In his book “Heaven”, Randy Alcorn points out, “We cannot anticipate or desire what we cannot imagine.” Our experience in heaven could be personalized to each one of us. Me? I’m looking forward to getting wet!

For years I’ve contemplated what my own experience in Heaven will be like (see: Opening Day in Paradise). God somehow placed it on my heart to describe my vision of surfing in heaven. I dream my children will read it at my funeral so everyone can feel good about where I am and what I’m doing. This image will fall far short of the reality of spending eternity with God. Nothing in our human world on earth can describe the divine joy and beauty that awaits us. Jesus’ dying words on the cross (to the thief) give us a glimpse:

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

My “Opening Day in Paradise” Vision

Floating over my life; I see my home, family, friends, relatives … I look down on it all like a giant board puzzle that is finally complete. Great peace envelops me as each piece fits perfectly into place. As if I am watching a movie of my life, I smile. Passing so quickly, my time has come and it is right with my soul. My whole being is filled with thanksgiving for the life I have lived and the love of God that has guided me. I comprehend the perfect completeness of it all when my dear Grandma Oa appears. Oh MY! She is so beautiful – so very young and vibrant.

“I have come to get you, Mike. Everyone is so excited to see you!”

I know why. She so faithfully prayed for me all those years. Tears of joy come to my eyes as I give her a big hug and tell her how truly miraculous it is to see her again. A wondrous moment that goes beyond words as we tightly embrace.

In an instant, she is leading me down a long path of the most beautiful grass I have ever seen. It is velvet under my feet. Surrounded by an amazing variety of plants and flowers so brilliant and bright, I want to stop and inspect each one. They are perfect as if freshly bloomed just moments before our arrival. All appears pure and clean like an afternoon shower. Each leaf is rich in color and glossy in texture. Each flower perfectly formed, radiating color from each blossom. Some familiar to me, but most my eyes have never seen. Above us are tall majestic trees with drooping branches laden with exquisite white flowers of every variety imaginable. I hear majestic waterfalls in the distance and hundreds of birds in the trees singing joyous songs of heavens praise. It is breathtaking! My soul is held in awe as I soak it all in.

The most beautiful path in the forest on earth will not touch the magnificence of heaven

The scene unfolds before me like a flower opening in slow motion on film. I want to stop and ponder the depth of what I am experiencing; but we continue walking, almost floating down this narrow grass path that exceeds even the best fairway grass at Pebble Beach. I find myself wondering how it could be so perfect, as if a master gardener is tending to it all. We come to a rushing creek fed by a waterfall I can now see in the distance. The water is clear as crystal running over brilliant stones of gold, silver, jasper, emeralds, and pearls – more stones than I can possibly identify; a pirate’s chest of treasures poured out into the bed of the stream. I hear musical sounds beyond the trees as the water flows by. They are beautiful soft melodies that are soothing to my spirit as we walk. It is the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

I look up to see a sky abounding with brilliant new colors. There is no sun, and yet there is a golden glow all around me, like the afterglow of a beautiful Hawaiian sunset, except much brighter and more striking than I have ever witnessed on earth. Grandma and I are not talking, and yet there is communication between us that is perfect. She tells me she knows what I am feeling. “It is well”, she says.

The sky was like a watching a northern lights show with brilliant new colors I had never seen

We come upon a large beach with sand as white as freshly laid snow. It has a softness and warmth that soothes my bare feet and sneaks between my toes to nuzzle and comfort me. I could walk forever! The air is soft and balmy, yet not warm or humid. It is invigorating, giving me energy and vitality. There is a light breeze against my face, comforting on my skin. I want to lie down on the sand and just soak all this in like I would in my youth on a hot day at Big Corona.

As we cross the satin white sand with freshly laid tracks I look up and see a surf shack, similar to the one I’ve known so well at San Onofre. Its architecture is strangely different with surfboards lined across the side and a large white cross on top of what appears to be a humble wooden steeple. I feel myself being drawn to it as we walk. There are people inside.

The surf shack at San Onofre; a haven of memories over the years

Coming closer, the foundation poles to the shack are live palm trees that are growing in the sand with vibrant green palm leaves at the top covering the roof. Brightly colored flowers like Hawaiian leis are growing across the roof of the shack woven into the palm leaves. It stands like a Hawaiian cathedral full of hues and sweet smells engulfing me as I am lured inside.

Happiness overwhelms me as I am suddenly surrounded by a large group of family and friends there to welcome me to heaven. It’s the best homecoming party ever! One by one they come up to greet and embrace me, telling me how wondrous it is to be together. Words cannot describe the joy I feel. I see mom; how glorious she looks! Her smile almost knocks me over. We embrace as never before. Then Grandpa Cannon, Aunt Kathryn. Marla’s mom and dad, John and Mary, come up to greet me! Then Aunt Sallye and Aunt Norma; the delight is breathtaking. Even friends from my past: our pastor Doug Goins, and a classmate who passed away in Junior High School, Scott Lusher, are there. Then I see John Wooden, the coach himself! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! He looks at me with that Coach Wooden sparkle in his eye and says,

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts Mike.”

Oh MY! Everyone is so very happy and content; the feeling of love consumes me. We talk and hug and love upon each other for longer than I know as more people from my past embrace me. They all seem to know each other. Each person tells me they have been waiting and looking forward to our reunion. Even our dog Riley pushes his way through the crowd to nuzzle me with his wet nose, showing that patented smile of his as he looks up with his tail vigorously wagging. I reach down and give him a bear hug.

Time seems to stand still. Nobody is in a hurry to go. There is a sense of this all being right, and I have lived my whole life for it. This is truly heaven on earth!

Beyond it all, I begin to take notice of my surroundings and see what appears to be an ocean off in the distance with indescribably beautiful waves rolling in. What!!? I start moving in that direction, noticing the magical sand again on my feet. I see two people waiting for me with three surfboards on the shores edge. The music becomes more distinct as I approach the surf; it seems to be coming from the waves. It sounds like an exquisite classical orchestra combined with the vocals of 1,000 angels which create a harmony of music and praise that seem perfectly matched for the scene of nature before me. I am in awe of overwhelming glory of it all. The heavens are truly singing!

Then I see dad, next to his Simmons Foam Sandwich! I race up to him to embrace for what seems like forever. We just hold each other as joyful tears are running down my cheeks. Without speaking, he tells me that he is sorry. I seem to know that he accepted Jesus as his savior the night we watched the video together (This is my story). Words cannot express my wonder. The communication between us is perfect. There are no barriers.

Uncle Charles learning the Haka dance on his mission in New Zealand

Next to dad is Uncle Charles. His face is painted like a Maori warrior, and he looks as if he is right off the mission field of New Zealand, young and strong and full of energy. His board must be twelve feet long and is made of the most beautiful redwood I have ever seen. It is polished to a shiny glean and looks like the surfboard Duke Kahanamoku rode. He tells me that dad taught him to surf and then calls out to me in his Maori tongue:

“Me haere ki te ngaru Mike!”.

Without thinking I know he just told me, “let’s go surfing Mike!”.

1968 Hobie Corky Carroll “Super Mini” model surfboard (Ha – mine was 8’4”)

Dad motions for me to grab the surfboard lying on the sand. I am aghast to find my Corky Carroll Hobie Super Mini model that he bought me at the Hobie Surf Shop in San Clemente in 1968. It’s as new as it was the day we picked it up. It even has the exact acid splash design of green and blue and yellow. The white of the foam is the purest of white and the colors are bright and more intense as if there are neon lights in the fiberglass to illuminate. When I pick it up I realize it is light as a feather. There is no wax on it, but I somehow know that it is ready to go!

Surfing in heaven? You must be kidding me!!
It is a dream comes true.

(Stay tuned for Part II!)

** Authors Note **

Revelation 21 (2nd to last chapter in the bible) describes how the Son of God sets up his kingdom of heaven on earth and calls it the New Jerusalem. This New Jerusalem is where we will spend eternity with God.  Chapter 21 contains a surprisingly detailed description of what this “New Jerusalem” will look like. Revelation 21:1 states that, “and there was no longer any sea” on the new earth. This does not necessarily mean that all oceans and beaches are gone. Throughout Scripture the “sea” is symbolic of chaos and disorder, which will be missing in the New Jerusalem. Yet even if one interprets this to mean that the oceans are gone, considering that almost three fourths of the earth is covered by water today, I believe there will be large bodies of water (larger perhaps than largest lakes we have on earth today) that we may enjoy in the New Jerusalem. Surely waves to ride on a surfboard are not too far of an exaggeration from that.

** Resources **

Heaven by Randy Alcorn
In the words of Stu Weber (as stated on the front cover):

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

The Spirit of Char

Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy.
Frank Sinatra

I miss my mom! I had no idea of the void I would feel once mom passed. I relish the thought of our reunion in heaven. It will be a wondrous time. There are so many things I want to say that somehow I was too busy to tell her on earth… She was truly the perfect mother for me; always so accepting and supportive of who I was and what I wanted to do in life. I can hardly remember her ever criticizing me or telling me not to do something I wanted to do.

Char marching proudly to Hoag Hospital for a shift on Halloween

While dad greatly influenced my surfing and athletic side, it is mom and her family (grandma Oa especially) who have most influenced who I am today as a person. When I look back at mom’s life I am amazed at what she accomplished while having the odds stacked against her. She always kept her perk and cheer, in spite of the challenges she faced. Everyone admired her grit and determination to be independent and do exactly what she wanted. She was a very hard worker who was determined to pay her way and not rely on anyone. It is her spirit that carries me forward in life today. Anyone who knew Char would tell you what an amazing life force she was.

When I was 13 years old, mom had been tasked with telling me, “Jack has asked for a divorce”. The first words out of my mouth were, “will I still be able to go to San Onofre with him?”… Looking back now I realize that San Onofre was all I had to hang on to at that point. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for her. I remember many nights of her crying herself to sleep after that. She rose above the tragedy in her personal life. She created a loving home base for Terry and I at 507 Marguerite Avenue in Corona del Mar that was full of her great cooking and an open door to whoever came by. My friends all loved Char. She was always one to look at the glass half full. I have wonderful memories of our high school parties at Marguerite Avenue with mom in the center of all my friends booming Frank Sinatra songs on her concert-sized speakers.

507 Marguerite Avenue became party central in our high school days

When mom passed of emphysema on January 3rd of 2007, we laid her ashes to rest in the Pacific Ocean on a cold day in Santa Barbara, California. Pallbearers Greg Ross, John Park, Mark Magiera, Skip Lauderbaugh and Jack Schott helped our son Matthew (age 11) and I paddle her ashes out for spreading in the Pacific Ocean. It was a remarkable event, capped by a school of dolphins who joined in for the paddle back to shore.

I read the following poem at mom’s memorial service that day (January 12, 2007). I had written it at her bedside in 1997 while she was on a respirator for seven days after suffering a pulmonary stroke. Doctors had given her very little chance of making it, and told us that if she did survive, memory impairment would not allow her to live on her own again. As Char’s story goes, she lived another ten strong independent years, continuing to balance her checkbook and do all her own cooking and cleaning right up to the day she passed.

“Goodbye Char”

The Spirit of Char

A gift from the heavens, you and Charles were.
Born to a widowed mother with young Norma; it was tough on her.
The Lord blessed you with a spirit, flourishing with love.
A spirit cheerful and happy, embracing hope from above.

Your young life took a big turn, with an accident to the head.
Everyone had an opinion, but your spirit was not dead.
Carried on with great passion, determination, and will.
Yes, your spirit was alive! You would not stand still.

School was more difficult, language came back slow.
You were self-conscious about your bandage, and what you didn’t know.
Your spirit carried you forward, that was for sure.
No fear of the hurdles; your spirit led the cure.

School continued to be a challenge, but your progress was clear,
You stepped way beyond your boundaries, year after year.
Your parents had you tutored, and watched very close.
But what you wanted was freedom; to make of life the most.

Going off to Sun Valley, the Grand Canyon and more.
Time to experience a life different from before.
Then off to California; Malibu on the beach.
Your spirit caught fire, and surfing he would teach.
You fell in love, married in Las Vegas; it all happened so quick!
But it was right, your spirit told you; he was the perfect pick.

Two kids, Terry and Mike; your dreams realized and more.
The move to Corona del Mar; a perfect beach with a house you adore.
This life in California; tell the family, “Zion has moved West!”
Riding your bike to work at our school cafeteria; this was the best.

Your Christmas show was magnificent! Spending days to prepare.
We were so anxious to get presents; credit was not there.
That Christmas tree was outrageous, year-after-year.
You decorated it to perfection and filled it with cheer.
One year with a hundred red apples on that tree,
Each tied with an ironed red ribbon; what a sight to see.

Only now I realize all the work you went through.
Your Christmas was an incredible to-do.
Your spirit mom was Christmas, that goes without saying.
Giving us special traditions that will always keep playing. 

Life took a twist when you and dad split up.
Your challenges were many, but your spirit was not struck.
You learned to drive a car; “which pedal is the gas”?
To balance the checkbook, and make sure that school we did pass.

Your spirit was strong and your will even stronger.
Staying cheerful and happy, though your days were much longer.
Enjoying my friends and our parties, which probably never seemed to end.
Everyone looked forward to seeing Char; she was their greatest friend.

Selling our house by the beach was hard on you.
But you had your job at Hoag Hospital and some money; that was new!
You bought a mobile home, at Seacliff by the Sea.
With new orange carpet and green siding; it was now the place to be.
It had more oriental decorations than the restaurants down the street.
And a stereo with HUGE speakers, leading the neighborhood to Sinatra’s beat.

I can taste your lamb dinners, with fresh mint sauce on the top.
Roasted veggies with potatoes cooked to perfection; though you’d argue they’re not.
A special spinach salad with those fresh-baked buttermilk rolls.
All on matching orange oriental china, down to the saucers and bowls.
Then came your German chocolate cake; weighing in at ten pounds.
My friends said it was the best, even better than it sounds.

My memories of you are endless; your spirit is what stands out.
God has richly blessed me; there is no doubt.
Your life was tough, and tests were more than seem fair.
But your attitude was positive; always having a smile to share.

Now you are in heaven, rejoicing with Oa and Paul.
I really do miss you mom, and want to give you a call.
But it was time I realize; our Lord God made the call.
His plan is one of perfection; He has a plan for us all.
So I bid you farewell, while your spirit remains with me.
On to the New Jerusalem; where you now are set free.

Well done, good and faithful servant.
(Matthew 25:23 NIV)

Christmas breakfast at Char’s was an experience never to forget!

** Author’s Note **

Mom suffered a brain injury at age ten in 1936 that greatly impacted her childhood. As a means of documenting this for her grandchildren (Hayley & Brennan; Marisa & Matthew), I found this excerpt from a letter written by her mother Oa to describe mom’s injury (verbatim below):

“It was here that Charlene fell from the top of the shoot-the-slide in the City Park and received a bad concussion. The doctor thought she was not badly injured, but her teachers (who were my friends) said her attention span was very short and quite a problem. When we moved to Salt Lake the Principal called us and said there was something decidedly wrong. She would know something one day and the next day it would be gone. We had her tutored and she seemed to learn quickly, but again, it would leave her. I spent hours in the evenings trying to teach her to read.

In Salt Lake we followed the suggestion of the Principal and took her to Dr. Harrow, it didn’t take long to point out her trouble. The injury was on her main retention nerve. He said she should be operated on or she would become worse. Already her little finger on the right hand was growing crooked, also her right foot had slowed its growth. He told us it wouldn’t be a complete recovery because it had been there so long.

Paul had his appendix out, Lynne (at seven months) had to have her tonsils out, she had been ill with asthma from diseased tonsils, then this operation was about more than we could handle financially. Three days after Charlene’s surgery she had a hemorrhage, her face was so swollen you could hardly tell where her nose was, she couldn’t talk. It took a year before she could walk and talk – still there were words she wanted to say, she tried, but it just wouldn’t come out right. It was a hard experience for her and us all. She was so bad that we all agreed it was only prayer that saved her.”

STOP and Smell The Roses

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Regarding the theme of “A Lotta Shit …”, my thoughts go well beyond just the physical ailments from running. Emotional stress can be equally taxing or more. The stress of living in today’s world is intense. Using surfing terminology, life can be gnarly!

I especially see this in our kids today. How is it that grammar school students could be worrying more about a mass shooting at their school than the peer pressure of fitting in? Or that middle school students can fret about what sex they are, or what sex they should be? A recent study by the Journal of Depression and Anxiety found that  “3 out of 4 college students say they’re stressed and many report suicidal thoughts.” Suicide among all age groups is on the increase. The U.S. suicide rate has risen by 30 percent since 1999. The list goes on. The anxiety associated with living in today’s world is literally killing us. Is this surprising news? It is not when I look at the world we are living in today.


We planted a red rose bush in our front yard when my mom passed away in January of 2007. Mom absolutely LOVED the color red. That rose bush has been in full bloom every June on her birthday since. It has been remarkable. I believe God sent it as a reminder to me to STOP and smell the roses in her memory. Too often I zoom in or out of our driveway too hurried or preoccupied to take notice.

When I was growing up in Corona del Mar in the 1960s I don’t think the word “stress” was in my vocabulary. Today my kids tell me that stress is in their DNA. It is unavoidable. We could list a hundred reasons for it; it’s a byproduct of living in today’s world. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), “approximately one in five adults in the U.S. (46.6 million) experiences mental illness in a given year”. That’s 20% of us! To quote Daniel Amen M.D.,

“Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.”

Slapping more resin and fiberglass on the surface may simply be disguising the deeper issues below. So much can seem wrong, even the most optimistic person can get down from so much stress. Having Marathon Faith is helpful, but that is the long-term view. We need a way to get through today!

Being Present
Steven Curtis Chapman was on to something when he released the hit song
Next 5 Minutes” in 1999:

“I’m living the next 5 minutes
Like these are my last 5 minutes,
‘Cause I know the next 5 minutes
May be all I have”

A valuable tool for dealing with stress is learning to pay attention to this very moment. “Being present”, is a phrase for nonjudgmentally allowing yourself to experience the here and now. Another common term is mindfulness, which Wikipedia defines as,

“Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which one can develop through the practice of meditation and through other training.”

The awareness that can emerge from paying attention to the present moment can be life-altering. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes a day, it can make a world of difference. There is plenty to read from a wealth of books written on this subject. A couple of my favorites are mentioned below (see “Resources”). However, when stress is overwhelming me, the Bible is one place I turn for comfort. The Book of Psalms in the Old Testament is often referred to as the book of human emotions. Every experience of man’s heart is reflected in this book. In the words of Ray Stedman:

In times of struggle and persecution, in times of deep personal distress, in times of great overflowing joy, there is nothing like the Psalms to match the experience of the heart.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Psalm 46:10

Sitting
“Sitting” is a simple form of meditation I often recommend to my coaching clients as a practice for finding rest in their hectic lives. I sit almost every day early in the morning so I can ensure my time is private and quiet. This time in solitude is often a highlight of my day. I make a cup of green tea and then retreat into my sanctuary. Sitting centers me and calms my heart for whatever God has in store. It reminds me of what is important and helps to cool any emotions that might be bubbling over on my stovetop. I come out of these sessions feeling refreshed and encouraged with a sense of purpose around the upcoming day.

Toni Packer describes sitting in The Work of This Moment”,

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, not knowing what is next and not concerned with what was or what may be next, a new mind is operating that is not connected with the conditioned past and yet perceives and understands the whole mechanism of conditioning. It is the unmasking of the self that is nothing but masks — images, memories of past experiences, fears, hopes, and the ceaseless demand to be something or become somebody.”

I discovered the sitting practice in my New Ventures West (NVW) Integral Coaching class. Our instructor Steve March requested that we spend thirty minutes a day sitting for the entire year of our training to help us learn to be present. Thirty minutes a day seemed far-fetched to me at that point of our training (“30 minutes? ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?”). I am not one to sit idly.

Amazingly, sitting became a personal highlight of my NVW training. I worked up to thirty minutes a day and found that time to be transformative in molding me as an Integral Coach™. Sitting allowed me the freedom to connect with my spiritual center while feeding my soul in my stillness. It is hard for me to hear what my soul desires if I am not still and present. I cannot recommend it enough; even if it is for just five minutes!

“How wonderful it is to have a moment in time where we don’t have to be anyone.” Anonymous

We miss so much in a day about ourselves because of our constant forward motion. As human beings, we are constantly striving to improve and get ahead in life. But in the midst of our forward progress, we tend to miss what we are feeling in our innermost being. A simple example was when I was taking a video of my father (Kona Jack) playing tennis with our two kids before he passed in 2016. I was quite intent on capturing the moment on camera, knowing how special it would be to the kids years later. In doing that, I missed the time of just enjoying it at courtside and letting deep joy sink into my soul. I can go replay the video (if I can find it), but I can’t recreate what I was feeling at the time it happened. I was too preoccupied to capture it on camera. Of course, once dad passed, I can think of many instances. He often yelled at me to “put away the camera” when I pulled it out.

Kona Jack, the resident expert on being present (“Get rid of that camera Michael!”)

Sitting in the Surf
Depending on the consistency of the swell, sitting can be a big part of surfing. It is one of the first skills one must learn to be adept at catching waves. It is something I have always struggled with. Anyone who has surfed with me knows that I am a “type-A” surfer who does not like sitting and waiting for waves. If there is a wave anywhere on the beach, I am likely to paddle after it! After all, isn’t that the point of surfing? Slowly, I am learning to appreciate the time on my surfboard when I can sit and be present. In the past, I would have labeled that time as a “lull” and possibly called it a poor surfing day if there were too many.

Just last weekend I was out surfing and found myself experiencing sitting in a new way. Nobody was in the water with me to disrupt my present state. As I scanned the horizon for an upcoming wave, I was suddenly able to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation all around me. I was sitting in an endless ocean of salt water that covers three-fourths of the Earth. A pod of dolphins playfully came by to greet me as I began to feel the cold water against my body. The air was crisp against my face. My legs were hanging free over the side of my board without a leash. Pelicans were flying in a formation on the distant horizon. A seal suddenly popped his head out 25 yards from where I was sitting to say hi. I was able to settle into my sitting pose and appreciate the unfolding of the experience around me as if it were a movie playing just for me.

This was something new for me. I did not have to be anyone. I only had to be. I began looking forward to the lull and hoping it would last. I wanted to grab on to this moment and keep it forever! I had stopped to smell the roses and their smell was sweet.

Sitting tandem with Mark Magiera; San Onofre, July 18, 1991

** Resources **
Sitting Practice Instructions (pdf handout)
This is a self-explanatory 1-page overview of how to get started with a sitting practice. It also includes links to free audio resources for a guided meditation (sitting) practice. This can be useful if you are unable to control your thoughts when doing it on your own.

Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body
by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson
There are more books than I can count extolling the many wonders of meditation. What I liked about this book is that Daniel and Richard sifted through the morass of clinical research to boil out the truth about what meditation can really do for us and how to get the most out of it. I had the opportunity to meet Daniel Goleman at a promotion event for this book and can assure you he is legit. Here is a list of books he has written, including the groundbreaking Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

Care of the Soul” by Thomas Moore
This is a beautifully written account of how to care for our innermost being. Having a firm belief that our soul is what we take with us to heaven in the life hereafter, I found this to be a refreshing view on how to make the most of my life here on earth in preparation for our eternal home in heaven. I completely agree with Mr. Moore’s assertion that our “loss of soul” is a major problem facing us today, which is resulting in many societal ills. The primary takeaway underscored the deep value of quiet time and sitting on a daily basis. According to Mr. Moore, we care for the soul by living life in a way that our inner sense of who we are flourishes.

HODADS (the movie)

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 (picture of mine), 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
I combine my time of sitting/meditation with a time of prayer in the early morning to connect with God. This book changed my views on how I should be praying. 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.

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.”