“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
— Winston Churchill
I was at Trader Joe’s when a fellow Mountain View Masters (MVM) swimmer dropped in on my cash register and blurted out,
“Hi Mike, did you know that Jerry passed away on Father’s Day?”
This confused me, as I was having trouble figuring out who she was with all the coverings on (I don’t recognize swimmers with their clothes on!). My dad (Kona Jack) had also died on Father’s Day …
As I began to scan her groceries I shot back,
“Jerry? Jerry who??”
By the time all was paid and bagged I realized it was our dear friend Jerry Rodder. There was no funeral or obituary or much of any swimming going on, so word did not really get out. Jerry’s departure hit me hard. He was an amazing man who had a sense of humor about life I am really going to miss. He reminded me a great deal of my dad. They both loved Trader Joe’s.
Jerry and his wife Jill were part of a 5am swimming group I somehow brushed shoulders with for ten or so years at Eagle Park pool (note, they were waiting at the gate at 4:45am; even on those icy cold dark mornings of winter). Jerry and Jill had been around MVM forever. They even wrote the original bylaws for MVM, when Jerry told me they would jump the fence and swim 10,000 meters before anyone else arrived. The early bird got the worm in their house.
It was always a big motivation for me to get there for the 5am workout knowing Jerry would already be in the pool. Since Jerry was twenty five years my senior, this got my attention. The swim workout at that hour was not my favorite thing. It was hard to get going… But the 6am shower after with Jerry set the tone for a good day.
We took long and leisurely showers after the workout, which Jerry joked that we would drain the city of Mountain View of all their hot water. He would still be showering, as we were shaving and getting dressed for work, walking over to me (dripping wet naked) to tell me that he couldn’t remember the last time he shaved; and that he was going to go home and take a nap.
Each day Jerry would bring a joke to the pool to share among us guys. His jokes were not always clean (most were not) and they definitely were off color at times, but they were always funny. Jerry delivered these jokes as if he were on Broadway, casually pausing to drop the punch line with impeccable timing. He would even bring me a printed copy of “the good ones” so I could send them off to my dad in Hawaii (which I often did – and he loved them!). I had very little in common with Jerry other than our love of swimming, but our morning laughs in the shower were something I cherished.
I never knew much about Jerry’s life until I unexpectedly received an invitation to his home. He had pencil sketched the time and address on a small scrap of paper, handing it to me after our shower. “Come on by” was all he said.
My wife Marla and I had no idea what to expect when we showed up at Jerry and Jill’s house in Los Altos, which was a story in itself. The interior of the house had no walls separating the rooms. What?! It was one big room that was decorated like a museum. The museum pieces were displayed in groups and were quite varied and unique. There was a Swiss army knife that was as tall as me (in the “knives” section); there were out of the ordinary clocks (in the “clocks” section). One wall was adorned with seventeen U.S. Patents with Jerry’s name on them. He never talked about that.
A plaque with a newspaper clipping from the San Jose Mercury News (circa 1964) showed Jerry next to the machine he had invented. I asked him what it was, and he chuckled, telling me that it could measure the weight of a speck of dust to within .0000001% accuracy (or something like that). “Oh”, was the only response I could muster. Needless to say, this was a side of Jerry Rodder I did not know beyond his jokes in the shower.
We wandered outside to Jerry’s expansive vegetable and fruit garden and entered a large greenhouse that was adorned with award-winning Orchids – dozens of them that were stunning in their brilliant colors and ornamental shapes. Jerry explained he competed in local Orchid contests where he often won 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes. He had invented a magic “alcohol-based” fertilizer that caused just about anything to grow to record levels. We had been savoring mouth-watering tomatoes and melons that Jerry brought to the swim club for years, and now I knew why. He joked with me that the Environmental Protection Agency would shut him down if they had any idea what he put in it.
Just as we were getting thirsty for a drink or bite to eat (not a scrap of food or drink was to be found), Jerry told us all to sit down so he could play his piano recital. Huh?
As he sat down at his magnificent Steinway grand piano and played the first set of notes, I instantly knew we were in for a treat. Jerry played variations of Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and more for 45 minutes straight without reading a note. Marla and I sat in stunned silence as we drank in the wondrous melodies watching his fingers float over the keys. Upon completion, Jill promptly brought out fresh-baked cake along with sweet melons from Jerry’s garden. It was an exquisite unforgettable evening!
Jerry was a very unique and colorful individual who covered more ground in a lifetime than a Winston Churchill memoir. He was a husband, father, grandfather, scientist, inventor, chemist, horticulturist, swimmer, concert pianist, and comedian; and I barely knew him, first meeting him in his late seventies. I believe Jerry was a genius.
The last time I saw Jerry was at his house a few months before the pandemic hit after his 90th birthday. He was no longer swimming and had help at home to keep good food on the table since Jill had departed two years earlier. We had a brief conversation about Trader Joe’s and how he loved going there to do his shopping. I bid him farewell, never thinking that was it.
I miss Jerry.
I miss his jokes and his ability to make fun of whatever and whoever was in the news. Jerry kept his wit right up to the end. He loved swimming. He is the only person I know who could get me laughing at 5am. He loved his music and most of all he loved his wife Jill. It was hard for him when she left first.
The world is a little more serious of a place without Jerry Rodder.
God bless you, my friend!
I found this short clip on the web about Jerry and Jill:
Fri Mar 23, 2018, 8:38 am:
- More sad news, Jill Rodder, wife of Jerry Rodder (Jerry’s Grow) passed away last evening. They were a great couple, Jerry grew them and Jill prepped them for display. Jerry’s magic fertilizer was the best on the market and he grew the finest orchid plants I have ever seen anywhere. Jill shone the leaves and cleaned the husks so that every orchid displayed was a glistening specimen. Jerry still has plants but at a more manageable level now. The Cymbidium hybrid named in Jill’s honor is a beauty and was her joy when it bloomed each Spring. Those of us who know and love Jerry, one of the smartest and most technically accomplished people I have ever known, will surely be there to offer him love and support at this difficult time. Hopefully any orchid wannabes will not seek to exploit Jill’s death for self-aggrandizement at any forthcoming orchid shows………
** Resources **
Bonnie Tsui is an accomplished author, writer, and swimmer who immerses you into a wonderful analysis and tribute to the sport of swimming with a sort of memoir of her life blended in. If you like to swim (or just be in the water) you will drink this up! If you don’t swim, this book very well may get you in the water. It is very well written and Bonnie covers all aspects of the sport, including some fascinating historical insights.
“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
― Lily Tomlin
Life moves quickly today. We can do so much in little time. It is exciting for a Type-A person like myself who loves to be efficient and blast through the to-do list. I can check the surf, tide tables, traffic on Highway 17, and view a live camera of Steamers Lane — all with a finger tap or two on my iPhone; while I am shopping for my grocery list at Trader Joe’s!
It’s fantastic. But like the groceries, it comes at a cost.
Dr. Richard Swenson puts it this way:
“… The world has witnessed almost continuous change, but never before with such levels of speed, suddenness, complexity, intensity, information, communication, media, money, mobility, technology, weaponry, and interconnectedness.“
(Let’s add “stress” to that list …)
The most important thing I have learned in my coaching profession is the need to slow down.
It is difficult to coach a client who is traveling through life at today’s pace. It’s similar to diagnosing car trouble with no dashboard to tell you what is happening under the hood. The speed and intensity of life seem to require that we lose touch with our inner being (we are too busy for that). I often prescribe meditation to help my clients Stop and Smell The Roses. It is amazing what our mind, body, and heart can tell us if we take the time to listen.
A close friend told me a story underscoring how the speed of life today is impacting our youth. His son hit a rough patch in life after high school and developed a serious alcohol/drug habit. It was not pretty, but he got himself into a long-term rehab center and is now doing great. With a dozen or so other young adults, the leader asked what they thought led to their addiction. It was their deep internal need to slow down. Each one of them agreed, life was moving too fast and they could no longer cope, so they began to deal with it by taking alcohol or drugs. I can sure relate to that. My coping mechanism just happens to be exercise.
For me, slowing down was what put me on the path to become a New Ventures West certified coach. After twenty-five years in Silicon Valley riding the Express train, I had been laid off from my job at the age of sixty-two. The train had stopped, so I got off and explored my options. It was like Surfing Without a Leash. Suddenly I was empowered to experience the freedom of who I was deep inside without being tied down to a career. Although painful at first, this new awakening brought about a sense of joy not felt in years. It is now my passion to coach others who struggle to slow down, and discover what is going on “under their hood”.
Surfing for Balance
Growing up at the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960s was an ideal environment for a young grom like me. We had a tight-knit community of friends who gathered daily at the beach, constantly anticipating the next big south swell. Best of all, my dad was a surfer from Malibu in the 1940s, and it was my time surfing with him on the weekends at San Onofre that most influenced my views on keeping work and life balance. As I grew into adulthood I began to realize that I felt at my very best when I was in the water on my surfboard. It became my identity.
When I first transferred to Silicon Valley in 1990 I wondered what everyone did when they weren’t working. It soon became apparent that when you were working for a computer company in the innovation capital of the world there was not a lot of time to hang out at the beach. The opportunities were endless, but so was the work! I found myself continuously fighting a battle to stay healthy and balanced.
Although it took a couple years to get used to the cold water (thank you, O’Neill wetsuits!), surfing soon became my relief valve from the hectic pace. I launched “Surfing for Balance in Silicon Valley” in 2014 to begin blogging about my struggle to stay afloat as a way to apply my voice to the work-life integration challenge in Silicon Valley.
Writing about the nonstop juggling act between work, family and self began to parallel my training for a triathlon. I was constantly balancing my time to make sure each event got its allotted time. I soon created the Circle of Life as a tool to provide my own emergency warning system when one area got out of whack (work, family, or self). A story from my early career with ROLM is an example when my work was taking over.
I Have Become That Man!
ROLM was a dream company to start a career, and they were led by one of Silicon Valley’s great pioneers, Ken Oshman, who established “Great Place To Work” (GPW) as a corporate goal at ROLM in the early 1970s. I was later managing a global product development team with Siemens ROLM in 1990 when this story takes place.
Our product teams were split between the U.S. and Germany, requiring me to fly to Munich quarterly to help coordinate development activities. Waiting at San Francisco International Airport to board my flight to Munich, I was strategically positioned next to the only power outlet in sight for my laptop. Typing out urgent last-minute emails to my team, I likely had veins popping out of my forehead as I raced against to call to begin boarding.
An older businessman suddenly approached me, clearly wanting to chat. Probably in his 60s with grey hair, he wore a smart suit and tie and patiently waited for me to pause from my furious pace. When I finally looked up he blurted out that I reminded him of whom he had been twenty years before. Then he paused, as if that needed to sink in.
He said he was stopping by to tell me to relax, to slow down; “Stop and smell the roses,” he said. He then assured me it all would be waiting for me when I landed in Munich. He said all this in a very relaxed and purposeful manner, looking me straight in the eye. He finished with,
“You’ll see when you’re my age, that it really doesn’t matter.”
I was aghast he had the audacity to tell me this when he had no idea who I was, who I worked for, or where I was going and why. Yet I had an immediate sense that he was absolutely right. I remember his words playing back to me over that long flight. I never saw him again. I believe he was an angel sent to help me slow down. Many years after that incident, I have become that man!
Thirty-five years into my life and launching my career in high technology, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Since then I have been on a walk of continual growth in understanding the plan God has for my life, realizing I am not actually the one in control.
Maybe I am losing some who do not believe the Bible, and I fully understand. Many in the surfing community are not followers of Jesus. Stick with me, as we all wonder at times about the truth of scripture.
As a life-long surfer who grew up without a church background, I became a student of Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) to better understand God’s word. BSF soon led me on a path to knowing God through my eternal destiny: heaven. Belief in the glorious wonder of what God has waiting for us has been a lightning bolt of change for me in my faith. In anticipation of heaven, I have found the perseverance to handle today’s challenges, and hope for what tomorrow brings. As crazy as it sounds, I believe we could be Surfing in Heaven when we get there!
“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”…
Matthew 5:12 (NIV)
** Resources **
What a story!
Julius Achon is my hero.
This book is an inspirational true story of how Julius went from being a 14-year old Ugandan boy soldier during the terrible Idi Amin era to an Olympic runner and then found his calling with an African children’s charity. I could not put it down!
The author of this book (John Brant) wrote my other favorite running book, Duel in the Sun. Brant is a longtime writer-at-large for Runner’s World and knows how to write about running.
A unique recommend on my part, but this book ties into my piece on Steve Jobs (Heaven Can’t Wait). It is the coming-of-age memoir of Lisa Brennan-Jobs, who was Steve Jobs’ first child, although he was not always willing to admit that. This was a well written and candid insight into the anxieties of a child who comes into the world as an inconvenience to her success-focused father.
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
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!
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.”
“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.
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.
** 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.
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”
Like the marathon, life can have its challenges as you enter the second half.
A good comparison is my 1970s vintage Infinity surfboard. It now requires extra resin and fiberglass between surf sessions to keep going. It still rides fine, just takes a bit more nurturing.
With all of the running miles I have pounded out over the years, I have to confess that my body is starting to show some wear and tear. I’ve had to put my fair share of resin and fiberglass (and DMSO!) on to keep things going. In 2005 I ran a half marathon that was somewhat prophetic in this respect. Here’s the story exactly as it happened.
On a seasonably cool October Monterey morning in 2005 I was approaching mile “11” in the Big Sur Half Marathon when my view on life after 50 was about to be jolted. Big Sur is a relatively fast half marathon for time (it does not have the hills its name might imply), and it is extremely well organized for a race of its size. I had run a relatively fast first 10 miles and was struggling to regain my focus for the final push while simultaneously ignoring the red flares my body was sending to SLOW DOWN. I had turned 50 earlier in the year and was intent on proving that I could still run fast. Ha.
Oblivious to the serene setting of sailboats moored along quiet coves on the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, I pulled up to a tall and lanky runner who had been in my sight for the past mile or so. He was running well, so I latched on to his side to keep pace with him to try and regain some composure for a strong finish. We had covered a half mile or so side-by-side when he suddenly blurted out to me:
“How old are you?”.
Wait, WHAT !!??…
I’m struggling for oxygen, and this guy is asking me my age?
Clearly, this was not a time to be conversing. We were both breathing hard and pretty well spent. If I had the grit to initiate anything (and I didn’t), I might have squeezed out a one-way, “good job”, or “nice work”, or “hang tough”.
But “How old are you?” just hit me wrong …
I took time to respond as we bumped shoulders while moving onto the street at Cannery Row for a long straight stretch on the open pavement. He appeared to be sizing me up; maybe thinking that I was a threat in his age division? Finally, I found it in myself to respond, mostly out of the angst of having to say anything at this point of the race:
“How old are YOU!?”.
“59”, came his immediate reply.
And nothing else, as we both continued to push hard to keep the pace.
I was glimpsing the finish line banner less than a mile ahead, so I decided to put on a final kick to get in. As he faded 25 yards or so behind me, I was suddenly hit with what seemed like a cannon shot from the back:
“A Lotta Shit Between 50 and 59!!!”.
As my mom would say, “How rude!!” He said it with such purpose and conviction that it really hit me. I found myself pondering it as I crossed the finish line, suddenly unaware of the time that I had worked so hard for. Why the heck did he have to say that? What did he mean? Was he mad at me? Who is this guy!? …
I wandered through the finishing chute with the masses looking like a lost zombie without any sign of him as I looked around. I mentioned it to my friends at the finish line party and we all had a good laugh as we slurped down our hard earned post-race rewards while listening to the rock band that is powered by people riding exercise bicycles. Big Sur throws a fantastic finish line party!
But we really didn’t think much about the true meaning of “A Lotta Shit …”.
Fast-forward nine years to age 59, and I knew exactly!
LOL. “A lotta shit…” pretty well sums it up.
That story has become legendary among my running community as we kid each other about the various ailments we experience as we continue to push our bodies to untold extremes in various sporting escapades. The joke on the track when someone is injured is simply to say:
Well, you know, “A Lotta Shit! …”
“Be faithful, and leave the results to God.”
In between surf sessions, I love to run.
The physical joy and mental relief running has provided me over the years is immeasurable. Going out on a run provides the perfect sanctuary. My Silicon Valley career was built around those early morning runs in Rancho San Antonio and noontime runs on the Baylands Trails around San Francisco Bay. It is during those runs that I am able to be alone to let my mind go from immediate concerns to discover the deep inner joy of pushing my physical limits while soaking in the fresh air and nature around me. Running has deeply enriched my life!
I caught the marathon bug in the late 1970s when the running boom was hitting full stride. I started running a couple of marathons a year while slowly shaving down my times to qualify for the renowned Boston Marathon, where my running idol Bill Rodgers was racking up the victories. Running Boston is the ultimate prize for the “average Joe” marathoner. You feel like a rock star for all 26.2 miles.
Most runners would probably agree that the marathon is the ultimate challenge in running. Imagine hitting each of your legs with a hammer for every one of the 55,000 footsteps it takes to cover 26.2 miles. By the time you reach the 20-mile point (in my view, “halfway”), a bear jumps onto your back to add to the experience. The triumphant joy and subsequent relief you feel upon finally crossing that finish line is indescribable. It can cause me to ball like a baby. Nothing compares to it.
Our life is a marathon.
I see two important similarities between life here on earth and the marathon. First is speed. If you go out too fast, eventually you will blow up. I will bet on it. One must maintain a steady pace that matches an intended (and realistic) finishing time, or else… The goal is to keep that pace for the entire 26.2 miles, which is harder than it sounds. My worst example of this was the 1994 California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento where I ran the first 20 miles nearly 30 seconds per mile faster than my targeted pace. I decided I was having a good day.
I stopped for a cup of water at mile 20 and that was it. I was done … until about mile 25, when a friend (Paul Fick) encouraged me to shuffle it in for the home stretch. I think I had two bears on my back! At one point a guy called out to me from the balcony of his home:
“Dude, You’re going to 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. The experience completely humbled me.
This pacing principle also applies to life. Life is not a sprint; but more of a marathon. However, most today will admit to going too fast. Even kids realize this. Technology is stealing any margins we have had 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 crash. I’ve seen it many times over my career, and often it is not a pretty sight.
One well-documented version of this was a story 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. In spite of all the warning signs his body was giving him (intense headaches, vertigo, not sleeping well, and losing 35 pounds), 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 his eyes were bleeding”. One of them immediately handed him her compact mirror, and the blood vessels in his eyes actually had burst and his eyes were in fact bleeding! In his words, “it was a miracle my brain did not burst.” Needless to say, he took an extended leave from Google after that.
As a professional life coach, my passion is to improve the capacity of my client to integrate work and life, while adjusting to a pace they can maintain for the long-term view. It is mostly about slowing down. I found out myself just how difficult that can be when I was riding my own express-train-to-success. I see now that there is no slowing that train down; I had to get off! Getting “downsized” was not exactly how I would have planned it, but I now look back and view that as a gift from God. (see “Taking off the leash in life” for that story).
The Finish Line
Second is our focus on the all-important finish line. The marathon requires a singular focus on the finish line banner. Nothing else can matter. All the rewards of your efforts are waiting for you there. The euphoria of crossing that line is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into it. You need to run as if you are a racehorse with blinders on. To look at or think about anything beyond is simply a distraction that can cause you to lose concentration and potentially crash. Gabriela Andersen-Schiess’ (Switzerland) staggering finish in the inaugural Women’s Marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles exemplifies this extraordinary effort: click “Watch on YouTube”
I have never felt more joy and love at the end of the marathon than I did when my son Matthew and I embraced at the finish 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 of our efforts. We savored the victory together. Marathon’s don’t get any better than that.
“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”
What awaits me at the finish line of life will be way beyond anything I can experience here on earth. My heart’s desire is to cross that finish line in this life and hear, “Well done good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23 NIV). I wrote about it in Opening Day in Paradise. That triumph of crossing the finish line into heaven is something I can only wonder about. In the words of Randy Alcorn, author of the book titled “Heaven”:
“The day I die will be the best day I ever lived.”
How can I know this?
It just boils down to faith. Marathon Faith.
I view it as a sure thing. The Bible is very clear on Heaven, it is mentioned over 500 times. The book of Revelation paints a particularly stunning description at the end of the Bible when heaven and earth come together as one. Heaven is as clear a finish line at the end of life as the 26.2-mile banner is to the marathoner. I refuse to think about any other option. I have my horse blinders on. Heaven is the finish line that really matters. Life here on earth is simply a dress rehearsal for the production that will go on forever in heaven.
If you are a bit skeptical, I have compiled a short list of books (Books on Heaven-v4), which might help. They are written by people who claim to have visited heaven and received a glimpse of what God has in store for us. They are fascinating reads, regardless of your views on the Bible. I recommend reading them as fictional novels (versus non-fiction), and think you will find that they offer hope and intrigue of what lies beyond our conscious life here on earth. It is a mystery that these experiences happen to people. The Bible is our only source of truth. For me, these stories are fun to read and allow my imagination to run on what will it be like to cross that finish line.
Prior to the 1984 summer Olympics in L.A., there was no women’s marathon in the Olympics. Long distance endurance events were determined to be too strenuous for women (see: The Fight To Establish The Women’s Race). I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles and witnessed Joan Benoit’s (U.S.A.) shocking victory as she literally blew by us at mile 13, demonstrating that racehorse-with-blinders focus and determination (pictures I took below). Benoit and Grete Waitz were the top two women marathoner’s in the world coming into the Olympic marathon in L.A. They had even traded world record times in the London and Boston marathons in 1983 (one day apart!).
Benoit surprised everyone by making her move at the 3-mile mark near the first of five designated water stations (as I remember it, she bypassed that water stop to gain ground on the pack). Grete Waitz (Norway; silver metal; 1:26 behind) felt certain she would catch Benoit before re-entering the Coliseum as the temperatures in L.A. were approaching 80 degrees. Waitz was a five-time New York City Marathon champion at the time and had won every marathon she had entered up to that day.
A timeline leading up to the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon demonstrates how remarkable Benoit’s achievement was, including her shocking win at the Olympic Trials Marathon, just 17 days after arthroscopic surgery on her knee:
- April 17, 1983: Grete Waitz sets the world record at the London Marathon in 2:25:28
- April 18, 1983: Joan Benoit sets a new world record at the Boston Marathon in 2:22:43 (+1 day)
- April 25, 1984: Joan Benoit underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee (“unable to run”)
- May 12, 1984: Joan Benoit wins the women’s Olympic Trials marathon in 2:31:04 (+17 days)
- August 5, 1984: Joan Benoit wins the inaugural women’s Olympic Marathon in 2:24:52
Gabriela Andersen-Schiess ran for her home country Switzerland, even though she was living in Sun Valley, Idaho (as a ski instructor) where she continues to lead an active lifestyle today. She finished the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon in 37th place out of 44 finishers (2:48:42) and admitted to missing the 5th (final) water station. She suffered from heat exhaustion and dehydration but was not hospitalized. Gabriela won her two previous marathons coming into the Olympic Marathon (just two months apart):
- Twin Cities Marathon (October 2, 1983 – 2nd running)
- California International Marathon (December 4, 1983 – inaugural)
Joan Benoit held the fastest time for an American woman in the marathon for 32 years after winning the 1985 Chicago Marathon in 2:21:21. Her world record in the 1983 Boston Marathon was the fastest time by an American woman at that race for 28 years. On the 40th anniversary of her first Boston Marathon win, Joan ran the 2019 Boston Marathon (with her daughter Anna) in 3:04:00, finishing first in the female 60-64 age group by nearly nine minutes.
Grete Waitz won 13 out of 20 Marathons she entered, including nine NYC Marathons, two London Marathons, and five World Cross Country Championships. She completed her last marathon (New York City Marathon) in 1992 with her friend Fred Lebow, in celebration of his 60th birthday, after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Waitz also died of cancer on April 19, 2011, at the age of 57.
Duel in the Sun: Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley, and America’s Greatest Marathon by John Brant
This book covers the agony and ecstasy of the marathon race in excruciating detail. John Brant chronicles the 1982 Boston Marathon from start to finish where American’s Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley fought it out side-by-side in one of the most epic marathon battles of all time. The first half of the book covers their struggles of getting to the starting line, and the second half reviews how each of their lives was permanently impacted by their extreme efforts on that hot and muggy Patriots Day in 1982.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight
Plain and simple, this book is a fantastic read about how Phil Knight founded and launched Nike into one of the world’s most recognized brands. But inside that story are a lot of wonderful details about how the Eugene became TrackTown USA in the 1960s, soon after Phil ran for the University of Oregon under the tutelage of Bob Bowerman, who became Phil’s business partner. Bowerman in my mind is the hero of the story and gets my vote as the single person most responsible for inspiring the 1970s running boom.
A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever by Bruce Wilkinson
The Bible teaches that everything I do in my life here on this earth is impacting my life in Heaven for eternity. Bruce Wilkinson wrote a wonderful book on this topic. He connects the dots between what you are doing today and what you will experience after you die. It is a quick read and guaranteed to get you thinking more about how what you do today really matters. Forever!
I wrote more on this topic in Heaven Can’t Wait.
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then sacrifices his money to recuperate his health” Dalai Lama
I’ll be the first to admit, I need more rest!
In this 24/7 “always-on” world, the concept of joyfully being (not doing) has largely been lost. The technology revolution promising to integrate our life and work is doing the opposite. So I am going to take a shot at email here; it is killing me! Don’t get me wrong; I love email and what it enables. But I hate it more than love it.
Unfortunately, I can’t live without email but am finished being enslaved to it. Working at Trader Joe’s (TJs) is just the place to do that. In my interview, I was told,
“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
Wait, are you kidding me!? How can a company survive in today’s information-driven economy without email? If you listen to the Freakonomics podcast, “Should America Be Run by … Trader Joe’s?”, you will get some insight they are doing quite well without it. They also don’t do branded products, sales, social media advertising, rewards programs, loyalty cards, self-checkouts, wide aisles, big parking lots, and more. They’re on to something.
Most people agree today that society would be better off slowing down and incorporating more rest. Much of the chaos and societal ills seen in the world today are a result of our being overloaded. Best-selling author Richard A. Swenson termed it a lack of “margin”, which he defined as the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits. Try reading a book without margins, you won’t get very far.
Time spent in email has devoured our margins and created a continuous 24/7 flow of information, an overload that spews data like a fire hose on full force with nobody holding the nozzle. A small amount may hit the target, but most is wasted water causing a great deal of grief and exhaustion. God forbid I take a vacation, as the backlog of emails waiting when I return is enough to make me wish I never left. This might partly explain why 52 percent of American employees reported having unused vacation days at the end of the year in 2017 (Project: Time Off).
I acknowledge email is a way of life both at work and home. There is no getting around it if you want to accomplish something that involves more than just yourself. Almost 3.7 billion email users send a whopping 269 billion emails each day (The Radicati Group, Inc.). Email is the preferred method of communications (and marketing) in almost all situations. An interesting (and funny!) read about how email has entered the mainstream business world is Dan Lyons’, “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble”. In it, Dan describes how HubSpot, a Boston start-up selling email spam, was positioning their product:
“Our spam is not spam. In fact it is the opposite of spam. It’s anti-spam. It’s a shield against spam – a spam condom.”
Just under 30 years ago, none of us were doing email at work or home because it did not exist. Email found its way into the work environment in the mid-1980s as I was launching my high technology career with ROLM Corporation. We worked hard at ROLM, but without email, I left my work at the office when I came home, truly done. When IBM purchased ROLM in 1984 we were introduced to IBM PROFS (Professional Office System), the first corporate email system to my knowledge at that time.
Most of us viewed PROFS as a joke. It served to simply relay information from IBM corporate which had no impact on my day-to-day duties. It was like reading Morse code intended for the navy when you were in the army. I could go weeks at a time without checking my inbox and often made fun of those (mostly management) who seemed to spend an inordinate amount of their day doing it.
By the time I left Oracle 25 years later, I would estimate that over 2/3 of my day was spent navigating my email. Even in meetings, I was only half listening as I browsed my “urgent” emails. And like the Israelites crossing the desert in the Bible, email seemed to be a cloud that followed me home and came with me on my vacations. Improvements to the cell phone and cellular networks made email exchanges easy, regardless of where you were. Now I could do email when I was in line at the grocery store!
Contrast this with the picture below, which reminds me of my summers growing up in Corona del Mar in the 1960s at the beach. Entire days hanging out with friends, lying in the warm sand to heat you up after a long swim in the ocean, are vivid memories. As soon as we got too hot in the sand we would go back into the water to cool off. Repeat. Over and over until it was time to go home.
There was no need to know about everything or be in touch with everyone. It was easier to be present and enjoy life for what it was at that very moment. Insert a cell phone into the hands of either of these two guys and it destroys the image. How could you be enjoying the hot sand after a cool swim while watching the waves if you were sending or reading an email? You could of course, but you will agree it would not be the same.
Enter Trader Joe’s. As my wife and I anticipated our COBRA health insurance plan ending, we began to look at options. Trader Joe’s offers a full benefits package for 30 hours a week on the clock. I filled out a simple job application and walked it down to our local TJs for an interview. No appointment necessary.
In the interview, Amelia [Captain of the store] asked me a question about when I was available to work. Our discussion went something like this:
“I think you’re a good fit for Trader Joe’s. When would you be available to work?”
“That is complicated for me. Could I send you an email on the days and times?”
“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.“
- Mike [extending my hand to shake]:
“When can I start?”
What the !?!?
Deciding to give it a try and see if that is really the case, I am now five months in and am loving it. At the end of the day I feel completely content to know that I worked hard to get the job done and can go home satisfied. I’m working harder and resting more than I have in a long time. No email.
Here’s 10 things I like about working at Trader Joe’s:
1. “We don’t do email.”
We rest more.
2. We’re on a ship.
We’re all at sea on a ship in the South Pacific at TJs. Our jobs are crystal clear. One Captain (aloha shirt), a couple Mates (different aloha shirt), and Crew Members (hibiscus T-shirts) communicate by ringing bells that allow us to be “armed to the teeth” to react to our customer needs on a moments notice.
3. Variety is the spice of life.
Every eight-hour shift is divided into eight blocks – each one designating a different job on the ship for that hour. In one eight-hour shift, I can perform every job in the store, from cashier to stocking to carts to loading bananas to cleaning the floor, and more. It sounds simple (and it is), but it makes my day fly by and has helped me learn the entire operation of the store. Brilliant.
Meetings (called “huddles”) are very short stand-up gatherings in the back galley to communicate important news and to keep things “ship shape”. No muss, no fuss. Quick and simple instructions with some good food and grog to sample, and then all-hands back on deck to help customers.
5. Fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs.
Every day I get fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs from my fellow sailors. This really surprised me at first. If I were to go hugging people at Oracle I might end up at the HR office! Even better, every two weeks my paycheck is personally handed to me, with a handshake, and a look-you-in-the-eyes “job well done” comment. Pretty simple. Now I’m fist bumping, handshaking, and hugging back.
6. Happy people.
Employees at TJs are happy. Which makes the customers happy. It’s “hunky-dory”. I am happy to work there.
7. Personal goodbyes.
I used to sneak out of the office at the end of a day hoping nobody noticed. When you leave TJs you go around the store and say a personal goodbye to those you are leaving behind. Add in a fist bump, handshake, or hug. Kid you not, the first couple nights I saw this I thought these folks were leaving the company!
Many of my co-workers are my children’s age. They are fun, energetic, and full of interesting insights on life. Most of them have other jobs or school or both and are all “gung ho” to make a future. They talk to me like I am one of them. At TJs I am. LOL. It’s a kick.
9. Fantastic food with a family discount.
My entire family gets the employee discount when shopping at any TJs. The prices are already crazy low, so this really helps. And there’s always time on the ship for a cup of joe or a snack from the Demo bar to keep things on an even keel during your shift.
10. Just be you.
TJ tells you they hired you because of who you are, not who they want you to be. So the word on deck is to “be yourself”. For those who know me, that is dangerous! I’m even wearing my shorts and Hoka’s to work every day.
Margin the Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits by Richard A. Swenson
Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons
Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Like the microprocessor in Silicon Valley, the sport of surfing was forever changed by the invention of the surf leash. The simple idea of tying your foot to your surfboard with a rubber cord eliminated any repercussions of wiping out on a wave and losing your board. The ripple effect of this was a fundamental reshaping of the sport over the next decade.
Before the leash, surfing not only mandated good swimming and paddling skills, but it required a more conservative approach to the wave you were riding. If you fell and lost your board into the beach, the consequences included a swim in to the beach, a more difficult paddle back out (against incoming waves), and maybe a couple hours in your garage doing ding repair if rocks or another person’s board got involved. Surfing in the 60’s included a lot of swimming, paddling, and ding repair.
According to Corky Carroll in his article “Humble beginnings of surf leash”, Pat O’Neill, son of famous wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill, is generally acknowledged for inventing the modern surf leash in 1971. A lost board at Steamer’s Lane meant almost certain death on the rocks, so it is easy to see how that came about. Interestingly, the surf leash is how Jack O’Neill lost his left eye, as the early versions were made from a surgical cord that would shoot the board back faster than you wanted after a wipeout. Ouch!
With the invention of the leash, short boards quickly evolved (from long boards) as a new slash-and-tear style of surfing emerged that required minimal foot movement on the surfboard. Suddenly there was no penalty for trying something beyond your abilities on a wave as the surf leash began a revolution of what was possible while riding a wave. It was analogous to the safety net of the flying trapeze artists.
For those of us who had grown up surfing without a leash, this new invention was not all good news. My friends and I called it the “kook cord”. Most troublesome was the increase in crowds, as nobody had to swim in for their board when they fell. It was as if the entire skateboarding community suddenly was able to surf and never lost their board when they wiped out. It also brought people out at breaks they had no right to be surfing, giving them a false sense of security on waves they would normally not even try and catch. Paddling out even became a challenge if you were navigating through the kelp.
Today, when conditions allow, I love to leave the leash behind. I immediately feel a sense of freedom and relief from the safety belt effect of having this plastic cord tied to my leg. This is how I learned, how it seems surfing should be. There is an exciting sense of risk and danger in trying a difficult move (like “hanging five”), knowing you could lose your board to the beach if you fall. It gives me the freedom to move up and down the board without hindrance or danger of getting tangled on the cord. My surfboard becomes a part of me that I will hang on to at all costs if I do fall or go through a big wave. The exhilaration (“stoke”) of a good long ride without a leash takes on greater joy, often kicking out with a brief howl to awaken my soul. It takes me back to my roots of who I am as a surfer and reminds me how the ocean has been a part of my growth as a human being. Through that process I have become a stronger and better surfer, it’s a wonderful thing. It’s about life; learning and developing as we take our spills each day.
Taking off the leash in life
After 25 years in the high tech industry in Silicon Valley, I took a one-year sabbatical to become a certified New Ventures West Integral Coach®, or in more common terms, a Professional Life Coach. Those 12 months were all about taking off my leash and learning to live daringly without the Oracle security blanket. If you read Hit over the head by a 2×4, you know that I had been riding the Silicon Valley Express train that had me so wound up on a daily basis, that I lost track of who I was. I didn’t have time for that!
This change in lifestyle was dramatic for me and my family. In my New Ventures West coaching class, it became clear that I had to grow and develop myself before I could become proficient at coaching others. We were taught about “island hopping”, which is the natural progression of humans to constantly strive to get ahead in life by building a bigger and faster boat to get you to the next island of your dreams. A Tony Robbins term for this is “CANI” (constant and never-ending improvement). It’s what Silicon Valley is all about. I’ll always remember the picture drawn on the whiteboard in our class of a stick figure man on the left ==> a body of water in the middle ==> and an island on the right, with the comment: “Constantly trying to get life to turn out in the future.” There’s no time to be present. God forbid we stop and smell the roses. We just look ahead to the next island and start designing the next boat to get there. Faster. And life is passing us by.
That 12-month break from the Silicon Valley Express train allowed me to remove my leash to experience the freedom and joy of who I really am. I’d be lying if I told you it was easy. I fall a lot these days, but am learning to enjoy the swim and gaining strength from the experience, knowing that I am growing along the way. I feel a sense of freedom I have not felt in years. I am learning to listen deeply and let life teach me where I want to go. It is a marvelous thing. My coaching is all about helping you to take your leash off and give it a try. It can be a life-changing experience. Here are a few testimonials from my clients who have been brave enough to take the plunge.
Bronnie Ware took off her leash and learned to live a life around who she found herself to truly be. This book is a memoir about her journey, which led her to care for the needs of the dying. What was most interesting to me was how her life was transformed by that experience of tending to those who were in their final days on this earth. The top five regrets were interesting, but what I admired in Bronnie’s story was her honesty about too many years doing unfulfilling work and how she was able to break that mold to live the life she felt she was called to. This is not a Christian pilgrimage, but a simple retelling of how one can learn to listen carefully to our internal compass in life.
Here is a quick recap of the “Top Five Regrets” verbatim off her website (in case you were curious):
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.
“The serious business of Heaven is joy.” CS Lewis
I have a dear friend who for several years invited my son and I to join him and his son to Opening Day of the San Francisco 49ers season at the now defunct Candlestick Park. It was always a memorable day, which my son and I looked forward to with special appreciation of the experience we knew to come. On opening day there is a special feeling of electricity in the air, full of optimism and excitement for the season ahead for the 49ers. The pre-game tailgate BBQ’s seemed to start a little earlier than usual and were more elaborate than ever, with everyone dressed in 49er garb head to toe. Once you got into the stadium it seemed as though scarlet and gold were everywhere and the entire pre-game ceremony signaled that this was not just another football game. It climaxed in an unveiling of the American flag (covering the entire field), with fireworks and rockets going off (“and the rockets red glare”) and the Blue Angels hitting their afterburners over the stadium as we finished singing our national anthem (“the home of the free and the land of the brave”).
Bring on the Root Beer, its GAME ON!
As amazing as the day was, I truly believe our “opening day” in paradise (Heaven) will make that 49er game seem like a day at the library in comparison.
I’ve often wondered what my own “opening day” in Heaven will be like, and maybe some of you do too. If we plan to spend an eternity in Heaven, perhaps it is important we have a good idea of what we’re getting in to. Having an accurate picture of what it is going to be like in Heaven could (and should!) dramatically reshape our view of our life here on earth. In other words, “begin with the end in mind“.
Let’s take a walk down that path and see if you agree.
Randy Alcorn speaks to the power of what awaits us in Heaven:
“The day I die will be the best day I ever lived.”
The very second we enter Heaven our world will be transformed into indescribable beauty and peace from what we know here on Earth. What we see will exceed our wildest imagination following our life on earth. To quote from my Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) notes on Heaven:
“God’s new creation will provide a sense of familiarity, yet we will experience something altogether new and awesome as the blinders of our sin nature are removed... To an infinite measure, the tangible experience Heaven is and will be beyond human articulation.”
Chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation have the most striking descriptions of Heaven in the Bible. Heaven will be illuminated with the brilliant and constant light of God, removing all darkness of evil and suffering. We will experience new colors we could hardly dream of, streams of water as clear as crystal, flowers and trees and mountains more beautiful than anything we have seen here on Earth. Best of all, there will be a joyous reunion with friends and family who preceded us in our death on earth. We will feel a sense of infinite love and peace and comfort that will tell us we have finally found our true home. Our thoughts of life back on earth will quickly fade away as we rejoice to the wonder of it all.
To quote my BSF notes on Revelation 21:3-5:
This life with God will satisfy every sense of loneliness and alienation ever experienced by a human heart. It will exponentially intensify every joy. All of us were made for this!
The Bible is the sole authority on Heaven. Aside from Jesus, who speaks of Heaven more than anyone else in the Bible, there are a few other important mentions of people entering or seeing Heaven and telling us what they saw. Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5) had visions of Heaven that overwhelmed them. John says he saw the “throne of Heaven” in Revelation 4, and described in great detail the “Holy City, New Jerusalem” in Revelation 21. In 2 Corinthians (12:4) the Apostle Paul tells about a friend who was “caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.” And in Acts 7, Stephen was stoned to death after his speech to the Sanhedrin, in which he claimed to “see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).
Clearly Heaven is not a topic in the Bible to be taken lightly.
There are an abundance of books available today about people’s journey to Heaven and back after a near death experience, possibly offering a glimpse of what God has in store for us. A few of these stories have recently been released as movies: “90 minutes in Heaven”; “Heaven is for Real” and “Miracles from Heaven”. Most of these books are very interesting reads, but how does one validate their authenticity? Here is a list: Books on Heaven-v3-8, to provide a sampling of how many have made the effort to document their story by publishing a book (those I have read I marked with an asterisk). It is God’s mystery that these experiences happen to people, and I want to qualify them by reiterating that the Bible is our only source of truth on the subject. These stories are fun to read, and provide me a taste of heaven, allowing my imagination to run on what will it be like for me?
“90 Minutes in Heaven” was the first book I read. It is the story of Don Piper, a Texas pastor who died in a horrific car crash. Piper wrote a powerful account of what was to be his 90 minutes in Heaven. It impacted me so deeply I made my wife and kids read it as soon as I was finished. It was the first time I had read anything with such detail about the experiences. It gave me goose bumps. Piper admitted that words truly could not do the experience justice, and in fact it took him years before publically speaking about the experience. In his words, “I considered it a sacred secret.”
Several books immediately followed. I found it fascinating and encouraging to read stories of people who had come back from Heaven to tell how incredibly wonderful it had been and how the experience had changed their life forever. All of them spoke about experiencing a love that far exceeded anything they had ever known on earth, and none of them said they wanted to come back to Earth after getting a taste of it.
Not all of these books are written by Christian authors, which I find even more interesting to hear people tell their experiences without bringing the Scriptures into the discussion.
One of these is “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife”, written by Eben Alexander, a Jewish faculty member at Harvard Medical School. Alexander writes about his near death experience while in a meningitis-induced coma in 2008. He used his vast experience as a neurosurgeon (he performed thousands of brain surgeries) to scientifically prove that he could not have dreamed the experience he had going to Heaven while in the coma.
“Life after Life“ was another, published in 1975 by Raymond Moody, who was credited with coining the term “Near Death Experience” (NDE). In this book, Moody started a revolution in attitudes about the life after physical death. He accounted for more than 100 case studies of people who experienced “clinical death” and were subsequently revived. In an interview, Moody shared his personal conclusions about his research into NDEs:
“I don’t mind saying that after talking with over a thousand people who have had these experiences, and having experienced many times some of the really baffling and unusual features of these experiences, it has given me great confidence that there is a life after death. As a matter of fact, I must confess to you in all honesty, I have absolutely no doubt, on the basis of what my patients have told me, that they did get a glimpse of the beyond.”
One book in particular really caught me.
I came across it when our family was on vacation in Portland, Oregon at Powell’s bookstore, which claims to be the largest independent bookstore in the world. Powell’s is the kind of place where you can just pick your favorite subject, go find that section of books, and spend an entire day going through the selection, including many books you will not find on Amazon. So after doing my due diligence on “surfing”, I wandered over to a section on “Heaven” and was overwhelmed by the number of books.
Here I found one book that I just could not put down, “When Will The Heaven Begin” by Ally Breedlove. Ally wrote this book about her brother, Ben Breedlove, who had lived his entire life on the precipice of death/Heaven due to a heart condition he was born with. Ben died at the age of 18 on Christmas evening after experiencing a remarkable day with his entire family.
In this book, Ally referenced a video “This is my story”, which Ben had posted on Youtube to tell his story prior to his passing on Christmas day. I immediately called my family over and we watched in amazement on the cold cement floor in Powell’s. Ben tells his story with flip cards, of how he had been waiting for Heaven to begin. His sister Ally discovered the video while rummaging through his stuff on Christmas night. Go watch that video now, and you will see what I mean (~7 minutes). No matter what your beliefs are on Heaven, Ben’s story is one to behold. As a vibrant 19-year old boy with a full life, including a girlfriend and loving family, Ben realized what was awaiting him in Heaven was much better than the life he had here on earth. He decided to leave his family a video to comfort them in case he did go there.
These stories paint a striking and consistent picture of Heaven as a physical place of indescribable beauty where our bodies are transformed into our perfect selves. Any suffering we experience here, no matter how intense, is completely cancelled out by the love that awaits us in Heaven. Those who have tasted it say they no longer fear death, as Ben Breedlove showed, they would rather be there than anywhere else.
Interestingly, each person’s experience of Heaven seems to be different, as if God had individually prepared a place for each one of them (see John 14:1-3). They all pondered why God had chosen them to have the experience, and what to do with it after returning to earth. Most who have written books believe that God gave them these experiences to spread the joy and hope for what awaits us in Heaven.
Randy Alcorn summarizes it well in his book “Heaven”:
“The most ordinary moment on the New Earth [Heaven] will be greater than the most perfect moments in this life – those experiences you wanted to bottle or hang on to but couldn’t. It can get better, far better, than this – and it will.” Life on the New Earth will be like sitting in front of the fire with family and friends, basking in the warmth, laughing uproariously, dreaming of the adventures to come – and then going out and living those adventures together. With no fear that it will ever end or that tragedy will descend like a dark cloud. With no fear that dreams will be shattered or relationships broken.”
For those who have placed their trust in God, an amazing new place awaits us.
As I continue along my path in Silicon Valley, Roger Williams’ words of wisdom have echoed in my heart about changing the way I live today – for Heaven.
Here’s a video of Roger speaking those very words to a Mount Hermon family camp (01:14):
“It’s not the end – it’s … the beginning.”
We need to think about Heaven now, and it will dramatically impact the life we are living here today on Earth.
We’ll talk more about that in my next post: “Heaven Can’t Wait”.
Books on “Heaven” – compiled by Mike Mulkey:
I want to qualify this list by noting that I have not read all these books (I marked those I have read with an asterisk). The Bible is the ultimate authority on Heaven, and we should never second-guess it in that respect. But these books provide some enjoyable reading on the joy and love and promise of what awaits us in Heaven.
by Roger Williams
If you know of and/or visit Mount Hermon in the Santa Cruz mountains, this book is a must read. One of my “2X4” incidents was when Roger Williams’ book “Hearing from Heaven” (published posthumously), showed up on our kitchen counter unannounced late one evening following Roger’s early departure from life here on earth. The short story is that I had been teaching a class to the young adults from our church that night, and came home feeling incapable of teaching the next session, which was to be on the topic of “Heaven”. I was just thinking over how truly inadequate I felt for this assignment when I walked into the kitchen late that night and suddenly saw this book on the counter staring me in the face (Hearing from Heaven!). I knew nothing of Roger writing this book; not to speak for the fact that he was now living there! I almost fell to my knees. I had no idea what to make of it, or where it even came from?!
Needless to say I did teach the class and of course it went very well. Thank you Roger!