23. Stop and Smell the Roses

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


We planted a red rose bush in our front yard when my dear mom passed away in January 2007. Anyone who knew Char was aware of her passion for the color red. That rose bush has been in full bloom on her birthday every year since. It has been a remarkable reminder to me of her spirit. Yet often, I zoom in or out of our driveway, too hurried to take notice of the latest bloom, let alone pause for a few seconds to savor the fragrant aroma. I am too stressed out for that.

Stressing Out
Growing up in Corona del Mar in the 1960s, I don’t think the word “stress” was in my vocabulary. Don’t get me wrong; we had our challenges. It was mostly around money. We didn’t have much! Our parents grew up during the depression and knew how to get by on nothing.

Today, my kids tell me that stress is in their DNA. It is unavoidable. I get stressed just thinking about their worries. I think we all would agree that stress is a byproduct of living in today’s world. So much seems to be out of whack. In surfing terms, life can be gnarly!

One only needs to look at our children in the school system today to see the depth of our predicament. Their challenges are earthshaking compared to what I faced at that age. How is it that grammar school students have to worry about a mass shooting at their school? (1) Middle school students today are questioning their gender identity. (2) College students are increasingly turning to suicide (3). We have a high school in our backyard that has a suicide rate that is four times higher than the national average. That is not something anyone wants to discuss, including the media.

I meet many parents and teachers from this high school at Trader Joe’s, and everything I see tells me they are doing a great job with these kids. But that does not remove the burden. The anxiety associated with living in today’s world is literally killing us.

We need a way to cope. “Slowing Down” (4) is a part of it, and having “Marathon Faith” (5) can surely help the long-term view.

But I need to get through today!

Sitting
A valuable tool for dealing with our burdensome world is learning to pay attention to the moment you are in. “Being present” is a nonjudgmental phrase allowing yourself to experience the here and now. Another common term is mindfulness, which Wikipedia defines as “The awareness that can emerge from paying attention to the present moment. (6)

We miss so much about ourselves in a day because of our desire for forward motion. As human beings, we are constantly striving to improve and get ahead in life. But amid our forward progress, we tend to miss what we feel in our innermost being.

“Sitting” is a simple form of being present that I often recommend to my coaching clients as a practice for learning to pause in the midst of their hectic lives. I discovered the sitting practice in my training to become a New Ventures West “Integral Coach” (7). Our instructor Steve March requested that we spend thirty minutes every day sitting for the entire year of our training. Thirty minutes a day seemed far-fetched to me. I quickly did the math to tell Steve he was crazy if he thought I had a surplus of 182 hours this year to sit!

Fast-forward one year. Sitting had become a personal highlight of the training class for me. I worked up to thirty minutes a day in quiet and found that time to be transformative in developing myself as a human being who could help others find themselves. Sitting allowed me the freedom to connect with my spiritual center while feeding my soul in the stillness. I cannot recommend it enough, even if it is for just five minutes a day.

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

Today I practice a daily ritual of sitting in the early morning for fifteen-plus minutes. I make a cup of green tea and then retreat into my sanctuary in the dark quiet of dawn. This time spent alone in perfect peace calms my heart for whatever God has in store for me that day. I have always felt that prayer should be a two-way conversation with God. Sitting provides me the margin to listen to what God might have to say. I come out of these sessions feeling refreshed and encouraged, with a sense of purpose around the upcoming day. The days when I have to miss my sitting practice are the days I feel the most out-of-tune with the world around me.

Sitting in the Surf
Depending on the interval and size of the waves, sitting can be a critical skill for surfing. It isn’t easy to properly position the surfboard for an incoming wave if you cannot effectively sit upright while doing the eggbeater with your legs to turn the board toward shore. I am always amused when we take a first-timer out to learn how to surf, only to realize how difficult it is for them to simply sit upright on the board in the water. I must contain my laughing out loud as they continually tip over, trying to find equilibrium on the board. Learning to sit on a surfboard can be a humbling experience.

I will admit, I am not naturally inclined to just sit on my board in the water, waiting for a wave. I get a bit anxious during a long lull between sets. If there is a wave anywhere on the beach, I am likely to paddle after it. Isn’t that the point of surfing—to catch waves? Yet, as I have grown in years, I am learning to appreciate that time seated on my board. It can be a rewarding meditative experience. In my stillness, I sense the presence of God amid His amazing creation around me.

Recently, my son Matthew and I were out at Pleasure Point (Santa Cruz) at sunset, and I experienced sitting on my board in a special way. I paddled into a space where no other surfers were around me. As I scanned the horizon to see that no waves were coming, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding sea as the sun began its disappearing act below a thin line of clouds on the horizon. The streaked cirrus clouds above me began to light up with bright orange and yellow behind the darkening blue sky.

An endless bathtub of dark magenta-colored salt water carried me into another world as I listened to sea otters cracking open their fresh seafood dinner in the distance. The lull synthesized my sense of peace and tranquility as if I was floating above it all. A seal quietly popped his head above water to greet me, just a few feet away, as if on cue. I settled into my sitting pose to soak in the unfolding experience as if I were watching a movie all around me. I did not have to be anyone. I only had to be. God was speaking to me. I was all ears.

I began to enjoy the lull and hoped it would last. I wanted to grab onto this moment and keep it forever! I had stopped to smell the roses, and it was heavenly.

“Peace” – Sitting tandem with Mark Magiera; San Onofre, July 18, 1991

—————————-

What Is Sitting?

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

How to “Sit”:

  1. Find a quiet and private place where you can be comfortable and free from distractions.
  2. Sit in an upright posture with a straight back in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hand’s palms down on your thighs; be relaxed yet dignified.
  3. With your eyes open, let your gaze rest comfortably as you look slightly downward about six feet in front of you (you can close your eyes if there is a visual distraction).
  4. Take a few deep breaths, and feel the contact points between your body and the chair or floor. Notice the sensations associated with sitting–feelings of pressure, warmth, tingling, vibration, etc.
  5. Bring your awareness to your breath.  Do not change your breathing; begin to observe it without controlling its pace or intensity. Simply breathe naturally.
  6. Focus your attention on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly.
  7. If your mind wanders with thoughts, sensations, or emotions, gently let them come in and then release them with an exhale. Return your focus to your breath.
  8. As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute to become aware of where you are. Then get up gradually.
  9. Do this for 4-5 minutes at a time to start, and then gradually increase the time as you get more comfortable. Be patient with yourself. Like any new skill, it will take practice.

————-Footnotes——–

  1. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of U.S. teens fear a shooting could happen at their school, and most parents share their concerns, 2018.
    Source: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/18/a-majority-of-u-s-teens-fear-a-shooting-could-happen-at-their-school-and-most-parents-share-their-concern/
  2. Gender Dysphoria in Young People: A Model of Chronic Stress, 2021.
    Source: https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/520361
  3. According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), Suicide is currently the second most common cause of death among college students in the U.S., 2021.
    Source: https://www.verywellmind.com/suicide-rates-overstated-in-people-with-depression-2330503
    Rosiek A, Rosiek-Kryszewska A, Leksowski Ł, Leksowski K., Chronic stress and suicidal thinking among medical students, 2016.
  4. See Chapter 14: Slow Down
    https://surfingforbalance.com/2022/03/23/14-slow-down/
  5. See Chapter 25: Marathon Faith (TBP)
  6. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness
  7. The focus of “Integral” Coaching (a New Ventures West trademark) is not as much about being more effective or accomplished in the world (the “what” and the “how” of life), although that often will come about.  The intent is to assess the individual and design a program that provides freedom in their being; in “who” they are in the world. I call this “developing the individual.” This process is unique to each person I coach and typically takes a minimum of 3-6 months (meeting bi-weekly) to get deeply connected to the “Integral” Coaching approach. The outcome of this process is for the client to achieve long-term excellence with an ability to self-correct along the way to stay on track for whom they want to be in life.

15. Begin with The End in Mind

“The day I die will be the best day I ever lived.”
-Randy Alcorn (author of Heaven)

I recently lost a very dear friend and running partner to a mountain climbing accident.[i] Roy Lambertson’s abrupt departure left a painful void in my life. Seeing the news about the devastating accident while scanning my email during a break at work completely stymied me. I was frozen in place, trying to contemplate this unthinkable tragedy.

It can’t be. But it was. Roy was gone. Our running community would never be the same without him. It was an agonizing pill for me to swallow. I sat hunched over like a stone statue for longer than I can remember as I contemplated this new reality to try and make sense of it. As Roy said himself, Life is not fair. Nothing reinforced Roy’s words more than his premature departure.

Death is a difficult topic for all of us, no matter the circumstances. Nobody wants to stare it in the face. I used to be scared to death of dying (pun intended). It was a real phobia that I called “lights out,” meaning that life was over, and nothing came after it. I can remember thinking of the lights going off and never coming back on when I was alone in my bedroom as a young kid. It was the end of the book with no more pages to read. No memories, no nothing. Just contemplating that thought gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Becoming a Christian did not suddenly remove that “lights out” fear. It wasn’t as if I could just hit the delete button on my computer and remove that thought once I accepted Jesus into my life. It hung around for a while. As I studied the Bible and started to pray regularly, God slowly began to unfold His plan for my life.

Through that process, over several years, the lights began to come on, although it was more of a dimmer switch effect. Very slowly, the light washed out the darkness in my room. Understanding that death was simply a door I must go through to begin my eternal life in heaven was an awakening. That door was the beginning of my immortal life to come. I came to see how the day I die will really be the best day of my life!

This idea of “beginning with the end in mind” has dramatically changed how I live my life today. Allow me to explain.

Let’s say that you went to the doctor for an annual check-up and they told you that you had a terminal illness with one year to live. Beyond the obvious, what changes would you make in your life? How would your thoughts and actions be impacted? Would you live that final year more authentic to yourself? Are there items you would check off your bucket list?

New York Times best-selling author Lori Gottlieb wrote in her book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, about a client who had this exact script played out in her life with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Against her family’s wishes, she decided to fulfill a life-long dream of going to work at Trader Joe’s during that final year of her life. A job at Trader Joe’s had been on top of her bucket list. That hit my sweet spot.

The more profound question this discussion pries into is whether you are living your life in a manner that truly reflects your values and beliefs? Steven Covey offered another approach to this in his best-selling book: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  In Habit #2, “Begin With the End in Mind,” Covey asked his readers to do a visualization exercise where they attended their own funeral and wrote the speech of four people who would speak about their life. What do you want them to say? This goes beyond checking off the bucket list. How would they describe you as a person? Is it in tune with how you are living?

This storyline is an excellent self-reflection exercise for my coaching clients; it can strike home like a lightning bolt to the true inner-self. It prompts you to immediately ask whether the things you are writing (about what they would say at your funeral) are a reflection of who you want to be. A simple conversation at the coffee station at work can take on significant meaning once you consider that person is speaking at your funeral. It powerfully demonstrates how you view your life and gets you to rethink your priorities. 

You get a reinvigorated perspective on your life by contemplating your death.

The next question, however, is even weightier.
Suppose you do die. The odds are about 100%.
Then what?

I am planning for that to be the best day of my life. I’m going surfing! In heaven.

Let’s delve into how I believe that could happen. I want to start by first acknowledging that God’s promise of heaven and the wonder of what awaits us there are beyond what our minds can imagine.[ii] He has mapped out an eternal destination that defies logic as we understand it today in our earthly, physical existence. What God has arranged is beyond us. It is a mystery of God’s design for us even to try and understand heaven.

That being understood, heaven has been a watershed for me. It has turned the tide in my life on how I view my death. Understanding God’s promises around heaven in the Bible gave me a clear vision of where I was going when I die. My focus now is to spend my remaining time on earth preparing for that day when I can paddle out in heaven. Priorities have changed. The work-life balance conundrum is resolved. This life is simply a dress rehearsal to prepare me for that eternal ride home. I intend to make sure my surfboard is fully waxed up when I get there.

I realize many may question the truth and accuracy of what the Bible says. That is OK! My journey started in the same place. Come along for the ride and hear me out.

Surfing in heaven is a game-changer. Think of it as a long tube ride that gives you a renewed perspective on your life. You will exit that barrel a different person. The back spray will lighten your load like nothing you have ever encountered. When you finally do kick out, you will know where you are headed.

How I Got Here
It behooves me to include in this discussion on heaven a brief explanation of how I became a Christian. Of course, this all started there.

Thirty-three years into life, while launching my technology career at ROLM in the late 1980s, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior and began to study the Bible. Since making that decision, I have been on a walk of continual growth and wonder about God’s plan for my life. The most meaningful change for me was accepting God’s control over my life. Although I fight the urge to grab the steering wheel every day, I am slowly learning how it all is ultimately in His hands. 

I pray every day to have a clearer vision of God’s plan for me. That does not mean life has been without its storms. At times, my faith has wavered. Yet, having God to turn to has made all the difference in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

This journey started when I woke up one Sunday morning in 1988 and went to church. It was that simple. God did not make it really clear to me why I was going. I had no idea what I was in for; I just felt prompted to go. My Baja surfing partner, John Park, went to church regularly, so I showed up on his doorstep at the appointed time on Sunday morning in a suit and tie.

I will never forget Johnny opening the door and bursting into laughter when he saw my formal attire. In Newport Beach, an aloha shirt, shorts, and flip-flops were more appropriate. Seeing his reaction, I was embarrassed beyond words, yet I managed to pull it together and go anyway. I’d be lying to say it all fell into place from there. It was actually quite uncomfortable at first, especially singing songs I did not know and reading Bible verses I had never heard. It was a gradual process over several years. I was blessed beyond description to have Godly men and women to lead me by example through it all.

Maybe I am losing some of you who view the Bible as out-of-touch with today’s world. I completely understand; I was right there with you. I had zero understanding of what I was in for when I decided to follow Jesus. Yet, I fret in wonder about where I would be today had I not taken that first step.

Two years later God brought Marla into my life, and we were newly married and moving to Silicon Valley in 1990 to work at ROLM. We became active in church and Bible studies in Palo Alto (Peninsula Bible Church). Marla introduced me to Bible Study Fellowship (BSF), which became the key to the safe of deep treasures that awaited me within the Bible. BSF is a remarkable worldwide organization that led me on an enthralling path of self-discovery to draw close to God’s Word and His plan for our salvation.

As I grew in my knowledge of the truths of Scripture, heaven became a topic of great interest. I could never seem to quench my thirst to learn more about it. Belief in the spectacular wonder of what God has waiting for us was a thunderclap of awakening in my faith. Whenever the word “heaven” appeared, my interest was aroused to dig deeper.

While Christians accept heaven as a part of our journey of faith, my experience was that they don’t often spend time talking about or studying it. It was clear that heaven was the end-goal for all Christians, yet it remained a mystery, not discussed in-depth in sermons or Bible studies. Heaven seemed to be the crucial point to understanding the Bible from my view. God placed a deep-rooted desire in my heart to get the word out about this world to come and what it will be like living there.

Surfing in Heaven
The idea of Surfing in Heaven first came to me amidst the billowy Sierra Nevada alpine clouds covering Lake Tahoe in 2004. Our family was attending a Mount Hermon family camp at Zephyr Cove (south shore), and René Schlaepfer (pastor at Twin Lakes Church in Santa Cruz) led us in a five-day series on the topic of heaven.

Each day René was building the story of our eternal home as he guided us through the scriptures on the reality of what it would be like. He was the first person I heard to describe heaven as an actual physical place where we would spend eternity with God doing many, if not all, of the things we do here on earth. He never veered off Scripture as he described a world that could never exceed the delight of our imagination in what it promises. I remember him telling us to let our imaginations run on what this new world would be like:

“Ask God to help you think accurately and inspirationally of the new heaven and the new earth that awaits! “

As I was gazing out the windows onto Lake Tahoe’s brilliant deep blue waters amidst the granite peaks surrounding, a ray of light broke through a large cloud to illuminate an inspirational thought. Could there be surfing when I get to heaven? My gears were suddenly churning. Why not? An ocean with waves and sandy beaches seemed to fit perfectly with what René was describing.

I was stoked as I fantasized about what that could mean. With my eyes fixed on the ray of light on Lake Tahoe’s massive body of water, a manifestation of heavenly surfing appeared in my head. It was as if I was watching a huge set of perfectly-shaped waves rolling in at Zephyr Cove as I gaped beyond the window onto Lake Tahoe.

René’s detailed descriptions of the new world to come allowed me to envision how surfing could very much be a part of my experience when I get there. The perfect wave I had been searching for was coming into view! I was frantically scribbling graffiti notes into my Palm Pilot, trying to catch every word as René moved through the final book of the Bible,[iii] describing how heaven will come down to reside on a “renewed” earth as its final resting place.

Staring out over the grandeur of Lake Tahoe’s mountainous setting, it was hard to comprehend what God might do to renew such a magnificently beautiful lake. Projecting that restoration onto the earth’s many bodies of water was beyond my imagination. Surfing seemed to make absolute sense on our renewed earth.

The more I discovered, the more I needed to know. What would my body be like? How big would the waves be? Will there be sand and rocks? How about sea life and plants? What temperature would the water be? Salt water or fresh water? Was a giant wave machine in lake Tahoe out of the question? Would I surf with my dad? The questions were endless. If I was going to heaven for an eternity, I had to know more.

What would my opening day in heaven be like?


Epilogue on Roy Lambertson:
Among his many talents, Roy Lambertson was a wonderfully gifted writer. Sometimes he liked to combine writing with his witty humor. I miss those clever emails he would send to us, soliciting interest in joining him on a run. More often than not, the runs ended up being a lot more than we bargained for. Roy knew how to surprise you when you least expected it. 

On “April Fools” day in 2018, he sent out an email with a purported story from the New York Times (Mark Landler) about me winning the Mavericks Big Wave Contest. It looked like the real thing. I’m not sure what prompted him to do that. I am guessing that he simply decided a good joke was due. God bless him; when I read it, I felt as if I had actually done it!

I include it below as both a tribute to Roy and a vision of how good I think we could have it while surfing in Heaven. Thanks for the inspiration, Roy. I am now working on my headstands.

From Roy Lamberston (unedited):

62-year-old surfer wins Mavericks Surf Contest 

By MARK LANDLER 1:46 PM ET

Against all odds, a 62-year-old man has pulled off the unimaginable:  Winning the Mavericks Surf Contest in Half Moon Bay, California.  Due to the fickle nature of West Coast surf, the contest had to be delayed to its latest date ever, March 30th.  But Mother Nature did not disappoint in the end — an incoming storm system brought in huge swells that produced monster waves topping 45 feet in height.  And the oldest competitor ever to qualify for the contest, riding a hand-shaped 11-foot balsawood longboard, bested the young professional surfers to emerge from the waves victorious.

Michael Mulkey, 62, walked away from the beach with a trophy and $20,000 in prize money, as proof that he had seriously schooled the young bucks.  Mulkey was incredulous: “Are you kidding me?  At my age, just showing up at the starting line is an achievement.”  But no one doubted that the former software industry executive deserved the prize.  He distinguished himself by catching what many thought was one of the largest waves of the day, a nearly 50-foot monster that most surfers would find to be the stuff of nightmares.  Mulkey was up on his board in a flash and reached speeds of at least 40 MPH flying down the nearly vertical face.  As the wave curled and, despite its monstrous size, became tubular, the crowd feared that all was lost as Mulkey disappeared behind the leading edge.  But a cheer erupted ten seconds later as they caught sight of him emerging from the collapsing tube in fine form, hanging ten and giving a “hang loose” hand signal.  As the wave ran out into turbulent white foam, he offered up a headstand on the board.

Mulkey was nearly a complete unknown in the surfing world until this season, though he has been “kicking ass and taking names” in running races for over four decades, according to amateur athletes.   He is expected to win his division in next month’s Boston Marathon.  “Mike is an inspiring guy,” noted longtime friend Lewis Deetz.  “He can paddle through anything.  And he even got me to run a marathon once.  Boy, that was a mistake.”  Mulkey has not gone completely unnoticed by high-profile surfers though.  Legendary wave rider Laird Hamilton commented, “I knew Mike had it in him.  He taught me everything I know, not just about surfing, but about life.”  And “Soul Surfer” Bethany Hamilton joked, “I’d give my other arm to surf as well as Mike!”    

Mulkey has proven to be something of a Maverick himself, a prankster with a penchant for noisemakers and fireworks.  The tabloids are now linking the sexagenarian romantically to both actress Charlize Theron and mixed-martial arts champion Ronda Rousey.  But longtime acquaintances note that he has in fact been happily married for over 25 years.  

When asked to comment on whether he can keep up with the Kenyans at Boston in a few weeks, Mulkey replied, “You are killing me.”  But some sports pundits feel that an overall first-place finish is not out of the question for the surprising late bloomer.


[i] See my blog “That’s not fair …” on surfingforbalance.com/blog

[ii] 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV):
“However, as it is written: What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him.”

[iii] Revelation Chapter 21

9. Peace of Mind

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

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

Or so I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Oh MY!

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

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

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

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

Huh?

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

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

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

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

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


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

Footnotes:

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

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

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

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

8. Spirit of Char

“Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.”
-Frank Sinatra

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

The first thirteen years of my life were a fairytale. My mother Charlene (everyone called her “Char”) was, for me, the perfect mom. Char was a living example of the power of the soul. Her spirit carries me forward each day. Anyone who knew Char would tell you what a tremendous life force she was.

Then one day, out of the blue, I heard these words from mom:

“Your dad has asked for a divorce.”

I will never forget that day. She had been asking me to sit down for a talk for several days, but I kept avoiding it. I was in the living room with my good friend Kevin Leitch when she came in and let it out. I didn’t react. I don’t remember thinking anything. The first words out of my mouth were,

“Will I still be able to go to San Onofre with him?”

I’m not sure when I comprehended the scope of what was happening. San Onofre was all I had to hang on to at that point, so it became my focus, and I stuffed the rest deep inside. Their divorce continued to reign down repercussions on my world for years. Life would never be the same.

While Dad greatly influenced my surfing and athletic side, Mom was the essence of who I am. Even her twin brother (Charles Lloyd) was a bit like looking in the mirror for me. Their mother (Oa Cannon) had as significant an influence on my life as anyone. I got their DNA.

When I look back at Mom’s life, I am amazed at what she accomplished. She always kept her perk and cheer, despite many challenges. Everyone admired Char’s grit and determination. She was a very hard worker, determined not to depend on anyone.

Mom was ill-prepared for life without Jack following the divorce. She didn’t drive, for starters, and had never balanced a checkbook. I will never forget that first driving lesson when she asked me which pedal was the “gas” and which was the “brake” (not kidding!). Her plunge into independent living was akin to planning an ascent atop Mount Everest without a guidebook. Her achievements were herculean.

Despite many nights crying herself to sleep after the divorce (I would hear from my bedroom), she rose above the calamity and created a loving home base for my sister Terry and me. Our home was full of her upbeat attitude, delicious cooking, and an open door to all of our friends; Everyone loved Char. She always looked at the glass as half full. I have warm memories of our high school parties on Marguerite Avenue with mom in the center of the action booming Frank Sinatra songs on her concert-sized speakers. Char loved Sinatra.

507 Marguerite Avenue became party central in our high school days

On January 3, 2007, Mom passed into heaven in bed at her home in Santa Barbara, California. We had a memorial service and spread her ashes into the Pacific Ocean on January 12th. Pallbearers Greg Ross, John Park, Mark Magiera, Skip Lauderbaugh, Jack Schott, our son Matthew (age 11), and I paddled her ashes out for spreading. It was a remarkable event, capped by a school of dolphins who joined in for the paddle back to shore.

I had no idea of the void I would feel once mom was gone. She was always accepting and supportive of who I was. I can hardly remember her ever criticizing me or telling me not to do something. She provided the loving support a boy can only dream of.

I read the following poem at her memorial service. It was written at her bedside in 1997 at Hoag Hospital (where she worked for years as a breakfast chef) while she was on a respirator for seven days after suffering a pulmonary stroke. Doctors had given her little chance of surviving and told us that she would not live on her own again if she did survive. As Char’s story goes, she lived another ten years, fully independent, continuing to balance her checkbook, doing her cooking and cleaning, and enjoying her four grandchildren right up to the day she passed.

————-

The Spirit of Char

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

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

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

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

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

Two kids, Terry and Mike; dreams realized and more.
The move to Corona del Mar, and a house you adore.

Cycling to work at our school cafeteria was the best.
This life in California, you had been blessed.

Your Christmas show was magnificent! Spending days to prepare.
We were so anxious to get presents; the credit was not there.
That Christmas tree outrageous, year after year.
You decorated it to perfection and filled it with cheer.

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

Life took a twist when you and dad fell apart.
The challenges were many, but your spirit got a fresh start.

You learned to drive a car; “which pedal is the gas”?
To balance the checkbook, and make sure that in school we did pass.

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

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

I can taste your lamb dinners; it was my favorite I thought.
Roasted veggies cooked to perfection, though you’d argue they’re not.
A special spinach salad with those home-baked buttermilk rolls.
All on orange oriental china, down to the saucers and bowls.

Then came your German chocolate cake, weighing in at ten pounds.
My friends said it was the best, even better than it sounds.

My memories of you are endless; your spirit still stands out.
God has richly blessed me; there is no doubt.
Your life was tough, and tests were more than seemed fair.

But your attitude was positive; always a smile to share.

Now you are in heaven, rejoicing with Oa and Paul.
I really do miss you and want to give you a call.
So I bid you farewell, your spirit remains with me.
On to the New Jerusalem, where you are set free.

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

Goodbye mom

ENDNOTES

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

“It was here that Charlene fell from the top of the shoot-the-slide in the City Park and received a bad concussion. The doctor thought she was not badly injured, but her teachers (who were my friends) said her attention span was very short and quite a problem. When we moved to Salt Lake the Principal called us and said there was something decidedly wrong. She would know something one day and the next day it would be gone. We had her tutored and she seemed to learn quickly, but again, it would leave her. I spent hours in the evenings trying to teach her to read.
In Salt Lake we followed the suggestion of the Principal and took her to Dr. Harrow, it didn’t take long to point out her trouble. The injury was on her main retention nerve. He said she should be operated on or she would become worse. Already her little finger on the right hand was growing crooked, also her right foot had slowed its growth. He told us it wouldn’t be a complete recovery because it had been there so long.

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