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.”

Peace of Mind

Prologue (4.3)

“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

I love basketball.

I don’t have many regrets in life, but quitting the Corona del Mar High School basketball team my junior year is one that has stuck with me through the years. I showed up late for a Saturday practice (in my wetsuit of course…), and coach Tandy Gillis made sure I would not want to do that again. And I didn’t. At the end of practice I sheepishly told him I was done. Quitting the team. Enough already. I was 17 years old and didn’t need some basketball coach telling me what to do.

CdM_Class_1973

Coach Gillis was a bit of an icon, which of course I appreciate much more now than I did then. Tandy played basketball for the University of California, and rumor had it that he 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 was an All American at Cal, where he had played under coach Pete Newell, who coached Cal to win the 1959 NCAA championship. In fact, Tandy’s Cal Bears beat Jerry West’s West Virginia team in the finals 71-70 that year.

nba-logo

Gillis knew how to coach defense like Einstein knew how to teach physics. It was quite simple really. He taught us how to play an extremely tight man-to-man defense by “crawling inside their jock strap” as he used to say, and denying every pass possible. If you ever conceded the baseline to an opponent with the ball, it was going to be a long practice for you. That was about it.

1972 CdM Varsity Basketball Team (Tandy Gillis on far right)

UCLA Basketball
Growing up as a basketball fan in SoCal in the 60’s and 70’s meant you had to be a fan of what John Wooden was doing with his UCLA men’s basketball team. Dad had attended UCLA on the GI bill following the war, and quickly began to follow what the Wizard of Westwood (as he became known) was doing on the basketball court. They truly were a sports dynasty of unequal at that time. I have fond memories of dad allowing me to stay up to watch the KTLA channel 5 replays of those games at 11pm with Dick Endberg announcing. I could not wait for the “Oh MY’s” from Endberg, as UCLA ran endlessly up and down the court scoring at will, and seemed to always end up on the winning side. Truth be known, dad would clarify here that I fell asleep by halftime of most of those games.

The Wooden-coached UCLA Bruins went on an absolute rampage to win 10 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships over a period of 12 years (1964-1975), including 7 in a row (1967-1973), and 4 seasons undefeated (1964, 1967,1972, 1973), and even had an amazing 88-game win streak. I cried the day they lost that streak to Elvin Hayes and the #2 Houston Cougars in what was billed as the game of the century at the Houston Astrodome with over 52,000 in attendance. I don’t want to get started on that story, other than to mention that UCLA’s star,  Lew Alcindor (Kareen Abdul-Jabbar), had the worst game of his college career, playing with a patch over one eye due to an injury… Clearly, what Coach Wooden was doing was unprecedented in the sports world and had grabbed everyone’s attention.

mike and dick endberg

20 years later I had the opportunity to meet Dick Endberg in person and exchange stories of those late night KTLA channel 5 broadcasts.

Something was quite different about Coach John Wooden.

Amidst the many, many UCLA victories, coach Wooden had the ability to inspire people in his wonderful qualities as a person, and I was surely one who was caught up in the magic of what he was accomplishing. In all circumstances Coach Wooden was an extremely humble man, always giving the credit for those around him before himself. As a coach, I found it incredible that he never spoke to his teams about winning. His focus was in helping each of them become the best that they possibly could be. He liked to emphasize the importance of practice, and that if you practiced well, the games would take care of themselves. He was cool as a cucumber during the tensest moments of the game, often refusing to be the first to call a timeout to get his team settled down.
I could carry on at length, but there are many books written which tell that story [see “Resources” below for some suggestions].

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
John Wooden

One could not help but wonder what was behind all the success those UCLA teams were having. It was puzzling to me, and I felt a strong yearning to learn more about this man’s inner philosophy and whether I could apply his lessons to life, as well as to coaching basketball.

Fast-Forward 20 years to Silicon Valley.

They Call Me Coach
As soon as our two children were old enough to play basketball, I could not wait to enter the coaching ranks to pass on all the valuable skills I had learned as a CdM High School Sea King. As painful as it was to carry the regret of being a quitter in a sport I enjoyed so much, I was determined to make amends through coaching. God works in amazing ways, and He has allowed me to use that experience as an opportunity to influence other players at the high school level that were contemplating the same decision to quit. Believe me, I give a strong testimony against it, and have had some success at keeping them on the team.

marisa & Mike Go Team!

Reciting a block of the pyramid with YMCA little hoopsters (“CONFIDENCE!”)

I was working for IBM as a Sales Training Instructor when I read John Wooden’s first book, They Call Me Coach, hoping I could leverage his model for success to inspire trainee sales representatives to achieve their sales targets. Buried in the middle of the book in Chapter 13, I was struck by another epiphany.

As Coach Wooden was discussing his beliefs on success and how he tried to coach his players about being the best they could be, he quoted a verse from the Bible, Matthew 6:33:

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Right there, Coach Wooden told the story of his faith, and how basketball was of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. In Coach Wooden’s view, there was only one kind of life that truly wins; one that places faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Only then could true peace of mind take place.

Wooden carried on to explain how he had carried a metal cross of Jesus Christ in his pocket through all those many games over the years so he could hold on to it and be comforted by his Savior when things got tense in the game. He held the cross in his hand and would rub it for comfort — to the point that it had been worn down on the corners over the years.

Oh MY.

I was a new Christian at that time, and that really hit home with me. It was so simple, yet so very honest, and so true! It made a great deal of sense to someone who was just starting off in their career, and it would continue to ring true over the next two decades chasing that model of “success”.

Most remarkable of all was that Coach Wooden felt strongly that he had to practice what he preached in order for his teachings to be effective. His players all looked up to him for his principles and for his commitment to his faith. He really lived it! And I believe that is what set John Wooden apart from all others and enabled him to see the level of success he achieved.

Achieve Quota!
At the time I had this revelation with Coach Wooden, I had just been promoted to a Sales Manager position for the IBM branch sales office in Santa Clara selling telecommunications systems to our installed base accounts. To this day I have never held a more challenging and demanding job. I hold all sales people in the highest regard as a result. It took me to the limit – and then some…

In the late 1980’s IBM regarded their sales force as the most important ingredient to their success. New-hire sales reps were in a sense brainwashed through an intensive 18-week sales training program. They hit the streets running and were expected to deliver on quota immediately. So as a Sales Manager, the pressure cooker was on the fire, and I was fighting on a daily basis for territory, accounts, quota, and that most elusive Purchase Order to bring home the bacon.

But that fine balance between the work (which never seemed to stop) and my life outside the office was immediately in jeopardy. Hard work not withstanding; I was working my tail off! But I struggled with a perspective, which would allow me to both inspire my team to success, as well as give me a sense that I could rest at the end of the day knowing I had done my best to meet the day’s challenges.

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

Pyramid of Success
The Pyramid of Success was another jewel I discovered in They Call Me Coach, a model of which has been on the wall in my office ever since. Coach Wooden described how he struggled with the definition of the word “success”, and what it truly meant. This led him on a sojourn over a 15-year period to create a block pyramid, which summarized the building blocks required for success, both on the court and off. It is easy to summarize. Hard work was definitely at the core of it. No getting around the hard work with Coach Wooden. But once you had done that, it came down to patience (“good things take time”), along with faith through prayer to turn it over to God. All this resulted in “peace of mind” that you can rest in the fact that you have done all the right things, now is the time to rest in God’s plan for the outcome. Never a thought about winning. Just making sure it was your best effort. And of course, as Coach Wooden liked to say: “you are the only one who truly can judge that!”.

2010-pyramidofsuccessx800

Here was a model that said you did not have to win to succeed! I quickly adopted it for the children’s basketball teams I was coaching (they all had to memorize each of the 15 blocks), as well as incorporated it into the mentoring of our sales team at IBM.

I got so excited about discovering the Pyramid of Success that I even typed out a letter to Coach Wooden, asking for additional resources that I could use in our sales training classes. I figured he had someone sorting his mail that could send me some information. Amazingly, within a week of sending the letter, I had a hand-written response from Coach Wooden with details of the resources I could call on. 
He was truly modeling the principle’s he was teaching.

Letter_from_John_wooden2
As a coach, father, and believer in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I have found the pyramid of success to be a wonderful 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 has enabled me to go home at the end of the day over the years with a sense of satisfaction that regardless of the outcome, I gave it my best effort.

Wooden authored and co-authored 17 books before his death in 2010 at the age of 99, and I have listed a couple of my favorites below. But an Amazon search on “John Wooden” will bring up many more. They all model the values and beliefs of this amazing man.

**Resources**

“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 blocks of the pyramid.

They Call Me Coach (1988) by John Wooden
This was his first, and my personal favorite, as 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 which covers the UCLA basketball teams in quite a bit of detail, which I appreciated, having watched so many of those games.