“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.
“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.
“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”
There’s a topic that is so important to me, and to the writing of this blog, so now is the time to address it. Something I cherish and marvel at:
By speaking of Heaven, I am assuming a belief in God, as documented in the Holy Bible. Without God, we have no Heaven. The Bible is God’s true word about the meaning of life and the responsibility of human beings to their Creator.
In the book of Matthew (7:13-14 NIV), Jesus calls out our need to take the narrow road to life, versus the broad road that leads to destruction:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
We’re talking serious business here.
The narrow road is having a belief in Jesus Christ as your savior. This requires us to prepare now (today!) in order to enter Heaven, as we really don’t know when our road comes to an end (see “Begin with the End in Mind”).
Avoiding the fire and brimstone discussion, I do want to be clear that Heaven is not the default destination for us. If we don’t make a decision to follow the Bible (the narrow road), it is very specific that Heaven is not where we end up. Heaven is the narrow road, and “only a few find it.” That catches my attention!
I was 35 years into my life before I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and began to study the Bible. My Christian walk has been one of growth and wonder and great joy around the plan God has been unveiling for my life since then. He has not changed who I am as much as He has changed who I want to become. That does not mean life has been without its storms, they have definitely come, in spite of my faith (see “New Beginnings”). But having God to turn to and prayer to guide me during those times has made all the difference in the world.
It all makes perfect sense to me now, but that was not the case in my younger days. And through the years of raising our family here in Silicon Valley while struggling to maintain a career and working hard to stay healthy and balanced, I found rest through my faith in God. Jesus sums it up in Matthew 11:28:30:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yolk is easy and my burden is light.”
Tides of Evidence
As a surfer, I look no further than the miracle of the tides to back up my claim that the Bible speaks God’s true word. For most of my life, I have watched and studied the tidal flow at my favorite surfing spots. Aside from the size of the swell, nothing impacts the quality of the waves as much as the tide. It varies by location what is best (high tide, low tide, incoming, outgoing), but the tides have an amazing impact on what the surf will be like and how long it will stay that way. For example, Steamer Lane on a northwest swell in January is always best when you have an incoming tide, especially if you are coming off a “minus” low tide. On the other hand, at San Onofre, low tide involves a serious rock dance getting in and out of the water. But the waves are consistently worth it!
71% of our planet Earth is covered in water across 5 oceans (the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific, and Southern). Earth just happens to be the only known planet (or moon) to have bodies of liquid water on its surface. Earth is also the only planet that has a single moon that just happens to be by far the largest moon (relative to Earth’s size) of any other moon in our solar system. If the moon were just slightly larger/smaller, or a little closer/further in distance from Earth; none of this works, and surfing on Earth is not an option. Nor is life, if you want to broaden this discussion to the moon’s impact on the Earth’s orbital axis. Our moon is the perfect size and the perfect distance away to enable all this to work perfectly.
When I am able to spend an entire day on the beach, one of my favorite pastimes is to simply watch the ebb and flow of the tide in and out. It is truly remarkable. For me to believe this all happened by chance is more concerning than believing it was scripted to happen by a magnificent creator. I can’t reconcile in my mind how something so outrageously precise could take place any other way?
Eric Metaxes sums it up well in his book “Miracles”:
“Is there any escaping the conclusion that the existence of life on planet Earth, or life of any kind anywhere, is an astonishing, incomprehensible miracle?”
Steps to Faith
If you need help in understanding how to receive Jesus Christ as your savior, there are two simple steps you can take.
First, one should have a basic understanding of the Bible. The Old Testament is part one of the Bible, which is about God and his relationship with man, including many prophesies of the coming of Jesus Christ as the chosen messiah. The New Testament of the Bible is about the grace of Jesus:
God the Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth from heaven, lived a perfect human life, died on the cross in our place for our sins, was buried, resurrected three days later, returned to His glorified body to God His Father in heaven, and will come again.
A second step is to find a quiet place with a Bible where you can say a prayer to admit to God (and yourself) that you have ignored Him and have tried to control your life, and to tell Him that you believe that Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross for your sins.
You don’t have a lot to lose if you bet on the narrow path. Life with Jesus is good, no matter how bad your circumstances are. I don’t know how people get through the difficult times without Him.
I’m betting on having my Opening Day in Paradise!
“God created the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the waves for our enjoyment. Surfing is just my way of worshipping Him.“
Eric Metaxas is a New York Times #1 bestselling author and is one of my favorite Christian writers. He has written seven books that I recommend: Martin Luther, If You Can Keep It, Bonhoeffer, Miracles, Seven Women, Seven Men, and Amazing Grace. Miracles is a collection of short stories which will definitely catch your attention as well as inspire you about what is possible.
Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton
If you don’t know about Bethany Hamilton you are in for a treat! This book is her story, which is about her life as a 13-year old competitive surfer when she lost her arm in a shark attack. It was made into a movie which I also highly recommend (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt were excellent as her parents). Her story and faith as she rose back to the top of the world surfing tour is one not to miss. A great read for your young adult kids also, as her bravery and grit were truly inspiring.
(This is a repeat, but really a good start if you are questioning the authenticity of the Bible)
This book was made into a movie in 2017, and I recommend both if you have any questions about the historical reliability of the New Testament, and/or claims made by Jesus Christ. Lee Strobel was a self-proclaimed atheist when he began investigating the Biblical claims about Christ after his wife’s conversion. As an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Lee pulled together all the facts about Jesus as if he were going to trial. Prompted by the results of his investigation, he became a Christian on November 8, 1981.
”You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.
What is your life? It is a mist that appears for a little while.
Then it disappears.”
When I first heard about Steve Jobs death I was working Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco (October 5, 2011). I had walked up to the Apple Store near Union Square to buy a couple of iPod’s for our booth giveaways and found the store shrouded in candles with employees walking around like zombies, unwilling to accept the news. It was as if the store needed to stop operations and pause to reflect. But the iPhone 4s had just been announced a day earlier and they were selling like hot cakes, with swarms of people showing up like bees to honey. Jobs was clearly one of the most instrumental leaders in the history of Silicon Valley.
Walter Isaacson’s biography “Steve Jobs” was released just a few weeks after, and I immediately picked up a copy and dove into the account of his life. Jobs and I were born within a month of each other, so I was more than curious to hear his story and especially to better understand his genius. In the words of Isaacson,
“Steve Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology.“
I devoured the book and was fascinated with how his career paralleled the growth of Silicon Valley as the personal computer (PC) was invented and the Internet economy was born. But there was an element of Steve Jobs personality that made me quite sad and deeply stirred my passion around the work/life balance theme. At times, Jobs could be described as a sociopathic monster in his handling of people. His unruly antics were well documented in Isaacson’s biography, along with several movies, which followed. I think most would agree, he reached the top of the mountain, but that it came at a serious price to many who were with him.
Just looking at a short list of products Steve Jobs produced in his career at Apple is quite extraordinary. What he was able to accomplish in 56 short years on this planet was nothing short of astonishing.
Apple I, 1976—Macintosh, 1984—iMac, 1998—iPod, 2001—iTunes, 2003—iPhone, 2007— iPad, 2010 …
But I have to ask, was as it worth it? At what price success? Did he build a life of eternal significance?
I really don’t know. Only God can answer those questions.
What I have discovered is that everything we do here in this life on earth matters.
Heaven really can’t wait, and this post is about helping us to understand why.
As good as we know Heaven will be (see: Begin with the End in Mind & Opening Day in Paradise), there is one significant point that is missing in this discussion: Heaven does not begin when you die, it begins right now, today. To put it in Silicon Valley vernacular, it is happening in real-time as you read this.
Every day we live on this earth is impacting our life in Heaven for eternity.
Folks, this is BIG.
I lived most of my Christian life without truly grasping it.
If your aim is to build a life of eternal significance, this is a momentous point.
According to research, we can spend up to 90,000 hours at work in our lifetime. In Silicon Valley, that is a conservative estimate (based on a 40-hour work week – ha!). Does it matter how we spend that time? After all, we do need to earn a living and provide for the family. What does it matter how we go about doing that and why should we really care?
Jesus made it clear in Matthew 16:27 that there is a direct connection between what you do in this life and the life you spend in Heaven:
“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”
Just to be blatant, lets review that again:
“… and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”
As it turns out, this promise is not an isolated incident; there are other examples in the Bible of Jesus telling us what we are doing here on earth really matters once we get to Heaven:
- Luke 6:23: “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”
- Matthew 19:21: “You will have a treasure in heaven.”
- Luke 14:14: “You will be blessed… for you shall be repaid at the resurrection.”
- Matthew 5:12: “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…”
God is keeping track of us as we live out our life here on earth.
And eventually (when we get to Heaven), He will reward us for how well we’ve lived our life on earth.
To avoid confusion, I need to mention that this “rewards” thing is not about doing good works on earth, in order to get to Heaven. The Bible is very explicit that getting to Heaven is strictly an act of faith, not an act of works. Paul makes this point quite powerfully throughout the book of Romans (see Romans 3:21-26), and one of the more renowned verses in all of the Bible, which even shows up on the bottom of my In-N-Out vanilla shake cup, states this quite clearly:
Jesus tells us about these rewards waiting in Heaven multiple times, in various contexts. In my years of studying the Bible, I have learned to pay very close attention to anything Jesus tells us repeatedly. This is undoubtedly one of them. And yet it seems to be one of the most overlooked aspects of Christian life. In my experience, this is not something that gets much attention or discussion in church either. But it carries eternal value for us, beyond the mist that disappears.
There are numerous books written on this subject. One of my favorites is Bruce Wilkinson’s “A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever”, which really hits this topic head on. It’s a small book and a very quick read.
Wilkinson opens the book to explain the positioning between our beliefs (faith) versus our works (behavior):
“The teachings of Jesus show us that there are two keys to determine everything about your eternity. The first key is your belief. This key unlocks the door to eternal life and determines where you will spend eternity. The second key is your behavior. It unlocks the door to reward and determines how you will spend eternity.”
It’s this second key (your behavior on earth) that I am referring to here. Jesus is telling us that our behavior on earth will result in “rewards” or “treasures” in Heaven. For eternity.
The Greek root of “rewards” is “misthos”, which translates to “wages”.
In essence, Jesus is telling us we are going to get paid for our time here on earth and that it will have eternal value. It’s almost as if we have a savings account for our good behavior on earth that will pay out when we get to Heaven. And Jesus is the one who will sign the check.
Wilkinson explains further the impact this should have on us now:
“…by the time you’re done reading [“A Life God Rewards”], you’ll approach daily life in a dramatically different way. Simple decisions, such as how you spend your time and money, will become opportunities of great promise. And you will begin to live with an unshakable certainty that everything you do today matters forever… the harvest you produce will directly impact your experience in eternity.”
We could have a lengthy discussion on what those rewards (wages) might look like in Heaven. What I do know about Jesus, I feel pretty confident the rewards will be worth the effort, so I’ll leave that discussion for a future post.
But regarding our desired behavior here on earth, Jesus addressed that quite often throughout the Bible. Probably the most famous talk he gave on this subject is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The first ten verses (called the Beatitudes) tell us a lot about the behavior Jesus values (Matthew 5:1-10):
1Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them.
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I find it intriguing that “the kingdom of Heaven” frames this section of Jesus’ speech. I think Jesus was making a point.
And no surprise, which topic Jesus mentions next in verse 12?
“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”…
These words rock the life we are living today here in Silicon Valley. Jesus is telling us we need a transformation of our character to right the ship here on earth. Radical change is required to live this. To put it in surfing terms, conducting your life that way today requires paddling against the incoming tide. Everything around us is telling us to go the other way. In the words of Matthew 16:26:
“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
In the final few paragraphs of Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs (Chapter 42; “Legacy: The Brightest Heaven of Invention”), Jobs reflected on death,
“I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God. For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye. But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch. Click! And you’re gone. Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”
For me, I’ll take the on-off switch.
Our life truly is a mist that appears for a little while, and then quickly fades (James 14:4). I want Heaven to be proud of my life here on earth when I get there. I believe the work each of us is doing in our life here on earth is helping to construct the kingdom of Heaven. Nothing is ever lost (or wasted) with God. Everything we do on earth will build on our eternal life we spend in Heaven with God. Every second really does matter.
In his book “The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says”, Chip Ingram frames it this way, with a picture of a dot connected to a line:
“When you get a clear picture of your future, it will change your perspective of your trials and struggles today. Its like the analogy used by C.S. Lewis. All of eternity can be compared to a continuous line that has no beginning and no end, and all of human history is like a tiny dot on that line. And inside the dot of human history there is a microscopic dot that represents all of your life here on this earth. So, the question I want to ask you is, are you living for the dot or for the line?”
Playing Maximus in the movie “Gladiator”, Russell Crowe summed it up well by saying:
“What you do in this life echo’s through eternity”
Christian Leaders on Eternal Rewards:
- Charles R. Swindoll:
“…He promises a reward. And we can be sure He will keep His promise.”
- Jonathan Edwards:
“There are many mansions in God’s house because heave is intended for various degrees of honor and blessedness.”
- Charles H. Spurgeon:
“Seek secrecy for your good deeds.”
- Theodore H. Epp:
“God is eager to reward us and does everything possible to help us lay up rewards.”
- John MacArthur Jr.:
“There will be varying degrees of reward in heaven. That shouldn’t surprise us: There are varying degrees of giftedness even here on earth.”
- John Wesley:
“God will reward everyone according to his works.”
- R.C. Sproul:
“If a person has been faithful in many things through many years, then he will be acknowledged by His Master, who will say to him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… there are at least twenty-five occasions where the New Testament clearly teaches that we will be granted rewards according to our works.”
- Billy Graham:
“… and the work we have done must stand the ultimate test; final exams come at the Judgment Seat of Christ when we receive our rewards.”
- Martin Luther:
“Therefore, he who does good works and guards himself against sin, God will reward.”
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
If you want to understand the man behind the Apple I & II, Mac, iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, Apple stores and a lot more, this book is a page burner for you. And it provides a nice backdrop on the history of Silicon Valley during the internet boom years, which continue to this day.
“A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever” by Bruce Wilkinson
Wilkinson 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!
“The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says” by Chip Ingram
Chip Ingram is a pastor of over 25 years in Los Gatos, California, and has written twelve books at last count. He is an easy to understand communicator about truth of the Bible. His premise with this book is to outline what God actually wants us to know and understand about Heaven, and to show how Heaven actually should be impacting our lives today.
“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!
“Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
God was setting an important example for us when he rested after six days of work in the opening book of the Bible. Work is a critical element to life here on Earth, as well the life we will live in Heaven (Matthew 25:23). Even after creating man, God immediately put him to work in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15).
I would like to propose a new perspective on how to approach the challenge of balancing work with the rest of our life, by contemplating our death.
While I am passionate about the need for balance in work and life, I’ll be the first to admit that there is no quick fix to the many challenges we all face today in this area. There are plenty of books, articles and videos telling us how to solve it. Here’s a “top 15” list I compiled just in case you want the quick fix:
- Set boundaries with email
- Ask for support
- Get organized
- Concentrate on one thing at a time (get present)
- Make time for loved ones
- Schedule everything
- Let go of perfectionism
- Work smarter, not longer
- Don’t compromise on your sleep
- Set life goals
- Learn how to say “no”
- Make relaxation and breaks a priority
- Exercise and meditate
- My 2nd favorite: Hire a personal coach
- And my favorite (it really works): Unplug!
Check out my Circle of Life quiz, which provides a quick view of the current state in balancing your life:
This work/life balance thing is a very tough nut to crack in our non-stop 24/7 economy that is being driven by a mobile device that seems to travel everywhere with us. Rebecca Zucker writes in a recent Harvard Business Review article titled: “How to Achieve Work/Life Balance”:
“… I now work as an executive coach, and work-life balance is an issue that my clients frequently grapple with, as they face the new work demands that come with technological advances. For example, one client in San Francisco who works for a fast-growing tech company shared that she gets up at 4am to work. She has anxiety about the possibility of missing an e-mail at midnight. “Is this normal?” she asked.“
I don’t think it’s “normal”, but I do know it is happening more and more as an increasing number of us are now sleeping with these little mobile “devils”, beyond just getting us up at 4am to keep up. Fortune magazine recently reported that 71% of us sleep with their own smartphones either on a nightstand or in their bed!
At times I wish I could beam my family back to the 1960’s when I was growing up in Corona del Mar spending summers on the beach without a thought in the world, other than what was going on right then in front of me. It did create some challenges with surfing however, as we actually had to go to the beach to look at the waves to see if it was worth going out. Today you simply push a button on your iPhone – and magically the tides, wind, swell and even a video appear for that day; that moment… What!?
When my wife and I started our high tech careers at ROLM there was no Internet, no cell phones, no voice mail, and no way of carrying your “days work” around in your pocket. When we left work, we were done for the day. The only thing waiting the next day when one arrived to work [possibly] was a pink slip or two. Not the pink slip that dismissed you from your job, but a pink form someone filled in when a phone call came in for you while you were out of the office. The workday started when you arrived at the facility.
I worked hard and had days when I worked late, or when I would come in on a Saturday to get caught up. But when I was not at work I was focused on my life outside of work, whether that was family, friends, fitness, or just relaxing and watching the surf to see if I could anticipate a swell on the rise.
Since we’re not beaming back to the 60’s anytime soon, lets agree there seems to be no stopping this lightening bolt of progress. Dr. Richard A. Swenson, M.D. summed it up well in his book Margin when he asked:
“If we are enjoying so much progress, why is everyone so worn out?“
So let’s pause on all that progress for a moment and talk about what happens at “the end”. You know, when we die.
Steven Covey, in his best selling book: “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, was the first to gain widespread attention with “Begin with the end in mind” (Habit #2)”. Covey asks us to question whether we are approaching life in a manner that reflects our values and beliefs. To make his point, he included a very insightful exercise that impacted me immensely. He asks you to find a place where you can be alone and uninterrupted to visualize attending your own funeral – three years from now. Covey then asks you to write the speech of four people who were important in your life and who will speak at your funeral: a family member, a close friend, a co-worker, and a member of your church or community. What do you want them to say about your life?
Here is a reprint of it (Covey_End-In-Mind_Exercise) to try it out. I have used this as a self-reflection exercise in my coaching. It powerfully demonstrates how you are prioritizing your time, and helps to seriously re-examine your priorities. As the old adage goes, you never do hear anyone say from their deathbed that they wished they had worked more. In her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, Bronnie Ware cites the number two regret (of five) as: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”.
Suddenly, another thought creeps into my head. Suppose I die. The odds are about 100% that eventually that will happen. And people then [hopefully] say nice things about me at my funeral.
Being a Christian, Heaven is a given after life on Earth. But, what does that really mean? What will it be like? What will my body be like? Will I know anyone? Will I still be able to surf? There are a thousand other questions I could ask. If I am going to be in Heaven for an eternity, I’d like to know a little more.
As mentioned earlier (About surfing and my Christian faith), I did not become a Christian until I my mid-thirties. Prior to that, I had a real fear of death. It was something I called “permanent lights-out”. This thought of complete nothingness would envelop me. It was my biggest fear. By far.
John Lennon’s “Imagine” (1971) has a few verses that speak to this way of thinking. It is a beautiful song. But pay attention to what it really is saying.
“Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people — living for today”
He’s talking about permanent LIGHTS OUT!
Most research tells us roughly seven-in-ten Americans say they actually do believe in Heaven — defined as a place “where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded.” Most of us really do want to go to Heaven, and I believe God desires for us to use our imagination to anticipate the beauty and wonder and joy of what awaits us there. In Matthew 6:19-21, God commands us to set our hearts and minds on heaven above. Jesus was consistently very clear about that in the Bible:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
When Jesus met with his disciples for their last meal together before his death, he did not use the time to review the strategic plan on how to move his ministry forward after He’s gone. That’s what I probably would have done. But instead, Jesus speaks about Heaven, and gives them a picture of hope around the place he is preparing for each of them:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:1-3
Chip Ingram makes the following comment about this in his book “The Real Heaven”:
“Jesus knew that a crystal clear view of eternity and of their future home in Heaven would sustain them through the most difficult of times. When life would get hard and when persecution would come, the hope of Heaven would motivate them to persevere.”
When I became a Christian no one handed me a brochure on Heaven. It remained a mystery not discussed much in church or Bible studies. I wanted to know more and thus began a wonderful study for me. It all started with the Bible.
I will see you in paradise
A disclaimer here:
I am not a professional theologian, pastor or trained biblical scholar. These writings are based on my research solely and do involve some conjecture on my part. I am not the expert, but I do reference a few books (including the Bible) for those who want to learn more.
While I have studied the Bible and attended church fairly consistently over the past 30 years, I did not have a very clear picture of Heaven. It had always been present in discussions about life after death, but I never felt I had much of a grasp on what it was.
The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of Heaven (622 times according to Google), and hands-down, Jesus speaks of Heaven more than any other.
Another useful resource on Heaven is Randy Alcorn’s book appropriately called “Heaven”. Alcorn has spent over 25 years researching what the Bible says about it, and he attempts to answer some challenging questions, such as understanding the difference between the present Heaven (where Christians go when they die) and the ultimate, eternal Heaven (where God will dwell with his people on the New Earth). I don’t want to get to that level, but highly recommend it.
I also have referenced my notes and materials from Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). BSF is an international Christian interdenominational structured Bible study (begun in 1959) I have been participating in for the past 12 years. BSF is a wonderful program for anyone wanting to learn more about the Bible.
One of my favorite verses on Heaven in the Bible is this one, where Jesus refers to Heaven as “paradise”, in almost the last words he spoke on Earth before his death. He said this to a dying thief who was being crucified next to him on the cross. As the thief accepted Christ as his Lord and Master he was assured of his place in Heaven.
So just exactly what is this “paradise” that awaits us that Jesus is referring to? According to Jesus, they were going to be there “today”! As I have studied Heaven, it has given me great purpose for my life here on Earth. The Bible is crystal clear about what awaits us by accepting Jesus as our Lord and savior. Heaven is a real, physical place Christians know to be the final destination, where we will enjoy life with God for eternity.
Chapter 21 of the book of Revelation in the Bible represents heaven as a place where there is no more sin, death or sorrow. Heaven will have indescribable beauty beyond our wildest imagination from what we know here on Earth. We will rejoice with those we knew in life on Earth when we are in Heaven. We will be home with God with a sense of peace and joy that everything is as it should be. In Heaven we will have real physical bodies, will eat and drink and wear clothes like we do here on Earth. In Heaven we will be able to do physical things just like we do here on Earth today. Like having a tasty barbecue with your good friends on the beach.
As Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he made a point to eat with them and asked them to touch him and see that he was a physical being (Luke 24:36-43). He even prepared a breakfast fish barbecue on the beach for his disciples to demonstrate to them that he was himself (John 21:1-15). I know this is hard to imagine for us here on Earth. Nobody of course understands the mystery of how God works all his miracles, but the Bible is very clear on all of it.
From all the reading I have done, a life way better than we can imagine awaits us in Heaven. The very best we may have experienced here on Earth will surely pale in comparison to what God has planned.
Here is a quote from Randy Alcorn’s Heaven to frame this picture:
“All of our lives we’ve been dreaming of the New Earth. Whenever we see beauty in water, wind, flower, deer, man, woman, or child, we catch a glimpse of Heaven. Just like the Garden of Eden, the New Earth will be a place of sensory delight, breathtaking beauty, satisfying relationships, and personal joy.”
While Heaven and Earth appear to be separated today, according to the Bible, in end times when Jesus returns to Earth, Heaven will come here onto a new Earth for eternity. The New Jerusalem comes down to the renewed Earth and there the redeemed will spend eternity with God on the renewed Earth. Revelation 21 contains a surprisingly detailed description of what this “New Jerusalem” will look like.
I purposely am avoiding further detail, and recommend Randy Alcorn’s Heaven if you want to learn more. But it is fun to use one’s imagination to provide an image of this wonderful world yet to come.
While all this is interesting, I found myself still wanting to know more about Heaven. I wanted to debunk this belief about Heaven being boring or anything we might get tired of. I even have one friend who half jokingly described it as a non-stop church service singing “Holy-Holy-Holy” … for eternity?
Gary Larson spoke to that well in his many comics on Heaven.
Stay tuned for my next post: “Opening day in paradise”.
This book was made into a movie in 2017, and I highly recommend both if you have any questions around the historical reliability of the New Testament, and/or claims made by Jesus Christ. Lee Strobel was a self-proclaimed atheist when he began investigating the Biblical claims about Christ after his wife’s conversion. As an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Lee pulled together all the facts about Jesus as if he were going to trial. Prompted by the results of his investigation, he became a Christian on November 8, 1981.
Heaven by Randy Alcorn
I’ve made my case for this book in the above post. Simply wonderful.
In the words of Stu Weber (stated on the front cover):
“Other than the Bible itself, this may well be the single most life-changing book you’ll ever read.”
“Next to love, balance is the most important thing.”
– Coach John Wooden
To me that it’s the simple things in life that can make the biggest difference.
This story starts with a bit of an epiphany I had one night while in graduate school at Golden Gate University in Los Angeles.
As I was launching my career in high technology with ROLM, it became apparent that my Sports Management degree was only going to take me so far. After successfully navigating the transition from tennis club into telecommunications, I enrolled into a Masters degree program at Golden Gate University to both learn about the industry and open opportunities for advancement in my career. Over the course of what seemed at the time like an eternity (eight or so years of night school), I completed a Masters Degree in Telecommunications Management.
One of those evenings in class as I was sipping a hot chocolate to wake up after a long day at work, I discovered something that was to stick with me for the remainder of my career in high-tech.
It was the first day of a Telecommunications 101 class, and the instructor walked into the room to begin. He proceeded to pass out something completely unrelated to the class syllabus. He called it the Circle of Life.
This caught my attention.
I sat back trying to understand why he was talking about “life” beyond telecommunications. Yet as he spoke, I realized that he was quite serious about this and in fact it made good sense.
“If you are able to keep your life in balance, you will inevitably be a much happier and healthier person”.
What a novel thought. So simple, yet so true!
Best of all, he backed up his claim with a quiz he proceeded to pass out to test us on just how well we were doing in the area of life balance right now. We had immediate feedback on the life we were living. For me, it stuck.
Then he moved on to the class syllabus for Telecommunications 101 and I went back to my hot chocolate.
I’d like to tell you that my life changed that very moment as I reviewed the results of my Circle of Life quiz and began thinking about the areas where I wanted to focus to achieve better balance in my life. But in truth, that handout went into my class binder and did not come back out for many years later.
In fact, a marriage, two kids, and two jobs later.
When it finally did surface, I was working for Sun Microsystems in Menlo Park in 1999, riding the high-tech Silicon Valley bubble. I leveraged my telecommunications skills to join Sun’s new and emerging “Netra” division, and they were selling servers like In-n-Out sells hamburgers. We couldn’t build them fast enough.
As the story went, Scott McNealy provided a $1 billion credit line to a senior executive at Sun by the name of Neil Knox to bring a family of telecommunications grade servers (Netra product line) to market for Sun — FAST. These early days working for Neil and his Netra product team in Menlo Park were high-flying and very fun times. Sun had been labeled “the dot in dot-com”. They had invented Java. Scott had even coined the term, “The network is the computer”, and that was BEFORE we had the internet. It just didn’t get any better than this as far as I was concerned from a professional standpoint.
During this very hectic time at work, I received the highly coveted acceptance letter from Ironman Hawaii announcing my lottery number had come up, and I was accepted to compete in the 1999 Ironman Hawaii Triathlon.
Whoa…! How I would possibly find time to do the necessary training without losing my job or my family!?
Fast-forward four months down this path and things seemed to be working out Ok. Or, so I thought…
Then my wife said something to me, which really captured my attention.
We were discussing making family time a priority on weekends when she suddenly blurted out,
“If you put as much time into your family as you do into training for this triathlon, we would have no issues…!”
Now mind you, I am pretty good about that balancing act between work, family and play. But that one really stuck.
Enter the Circle of Life.
Clearly my life was revolving around my job and my triathlon training, and not much else, other than the necessary sleeping & eating to keep it all going. Family had taken a back seat. Once I pulled out the Circle of Life and mapped it out – it was clear as the light of day to me. And worst of all, I had been in a cloud of denial about seeing it.
Thank God my wife brought me to my senses.
This is a discussion much larger than just triathlon training, but it helps make the point to use this example. Just like the three events of a triathlon (swim, bike, run), I needed to equally balance the time and energy I was spending in each area of my life (Work, Family, Self) in order to come out with the best overall performance. But I also needed time to rest and have some inner quiet time (in the words of Dr. Richard Swenson, margin), to feed my soul and attain an optimum performance in the triathlon.
And most importantly, this was about not sacrificing my family. I truly believe that the family is the key to our future. There is a saying that:
“If things go well with the family, life is worth living; when the family falters, life falls apart.”
Whether it was work, sport, or maybe something else, keeping my family a priority is something that would be important to me for the rest of my life, as well as something I would model for my children.
I had to make some changes – right away.
Here is a 5 page document called the “Circle of Life” quiz (pdf file).
It is best if printed so you can fill it in and keep it with you.
Give it a try!
It has helped me several times get order back into my life. As my instructor stated in that Telecommunications 101 class many years ago,
“If you are able to keep your life in balance, you will inevitably be a much happier and healthier person”.
He was right. I have experienced both sides, and I can tell you that a balanced life not only feels good, but it just plain works!
** Resources **
What Color Is Your Parachute? 2016: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard N. Bolles
Amazingly, Richard Bolles has been updating this book since 1975, when it was first written. In spite of the dramatic changes in the job market today – driven largely by the emergence of the Internet and social media tools like Linked-In, his principals pierce time and are life changing if properly applied. Most importantly, he does something that many of these job seeking books miss. Richard makes a strong case for taking a thorough inventory of who you are, before embarking on your job search. In other words, what color is your parachute.