16. Opening Day in Paradise

“The serious business of heaven is joy.”
-CS Lewis

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My dear friend Phil Nicholson used to invite my son and I to join him and his son at the opening day game for the San Francisco 49ers at the now-defunct Candlestick Park. Keep in mind that all other games of the season were second fiddle to opening day. This game was like no other.

The 49ers (and fans) went well beyond the standard football fare on opening day, signifying renewed hope for making it to yet another Super Bowl. Everyone was hyped to cheer the 49ers to victory. It was like going back out on the golf course after a long period of not playing. The memories of those bad shots had been neatly sliced from your brain. A 49er loss on opening day was unthinkable. We looked forward to this game with a special appreciation for the experience we knew to come.

The pre-game tailgate barbecues at Candlestick commenced just after daybreak and were more elaborate than ever, with everyone dressed head to toe in scarlet and gold. The 49er logo was visible everywhere; on cars, tables, banners, flags, chairs, ice chests, napkins, mugs, wine glasses, tattoos, clothes, and more! The air was electric with optimism and excitement as we fired up our Coleman barbecue and pulled the root beer off the ice for the boys. Wandering around the tailgate fixings was like peeking in on an open-air Thanksgiving extravaganza. Roars from the crowd inside the stadium started to mix with the barbecue smoke to create a surreal feeling of something magical about to happen. The 49er energy was palpable.

We caught our first view of the field after crowding through the cement tunnel feeling like sardines in a can. As the darkness turned to light, we surveyed the players warming up on the field in their bleached clean uniforms with brilliant 49er helmets. It was a thing of beauty. We paused to soak it in before moving on to our seats amongst the horde of 49er faithful.

The pre-game ceremony signaled that this was not just another football game. Dignitaries were announced. The U.S. military was honored. Retired 49er players were paraded onto the field. History was celebrated. Opening day was unique; it was a new beginning.

It all climaxed in an unfurling of a ginormous American flag covering the entire field as we roared our national anthem with hats placed over our hearts. Four Blue Angel jets swept in for a fly-by at the climax of “the home of the free and the land of the brave”. I was overwhelmed with patriotic fervor that dampened my eyes as the crowd of sixty thousand cheered in praise of the symbolism of our freedom. The 49er players then exploded from the black tunnel to storm onto the field amongst a storm of more fireworks and patriotic screaming. I was already hoarse, and the game had not even started!

Bring on more root beer—it’s game time!

What if God gives us earthly pleasures like this to provide a sampling of the experiences that awaits us in heaven? To stand in Candlestick Park and feel the intense emotion of that crowd as the Blue Angels flew by could be a prelude to exactly that. The Bible describes hearing the voices of hundreds of thousands of angels worshipping God in heaven (1). It is hard to imagine it being any better than that 49er crowd, but the Bible tells us that what God has in store for us is beyond our wildest dreams. This life with God will satiate every desire we have. Our joy will be exponentially amplified. It is what we were created for. We will finally be home. I envision having my dream day in the lineup at San Onofre with best friends and family joining in. Maybe Roy Lambertson’s description of me “hanging ten and giving a “hang loose” hand signal in the tube” is not so far off after all.

I have read more books about heaven than I want to admit to in attempting to understand what awaits us there. The Bible presents that “its brilliance was like a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal” (2). Yet the real emphasis of heaven is not about heaven’s beauty, but on joy. This joy will overwhelm us to the point that we forget our troubles here on earth. In heaven, everything will be new (3). Earthly pleasures like the opening day festivities of the 49ers game are simply a foretaste of the heavenly joys that await us there. As amazing as that day was, our “opening day” in heaven will make it seem like a day at the DMV.

Seriously.

Opening Day in Heaven

In the Bible, Jesus Christ is the sole authority on the topic of heaven. He is the only person in the history of humanity who came from heaven to live on earth and tell us about what awaited us there. Jesus had a lot to say about heaven. In the book of Matthew alone, He spoke of heaven more than any other person in the Bible. His message was straightforward: Fix your eyes not on the earthly treasures around you, but on the riches that await you in heaven (4). In His short three-year ministry on earth, Jesus was like an army recruit who had memorized the soldier’s creed. He never wavered on that message.

One could argue that God’s purpose in sending Jesus to earth was to tell the world about heaven. Whether or not you believe Jesus is who He said He was (the Son of God), it is fascinating to look closely at what He said about heaven. If we narrow down to His final three days on earth, Jesus was clear as an ear-piercing bell on two things about heaven.

First was that He is preparing a specific place for us in heaven (5). When we finally do get there, Jesus will have our home all built and ready to move in. Some translations use the word “mansion.” I like that picture. As soon as it is ready, Jesus told the disciples He would come to take them there. Maybe my mansion will have an outdoor shower to rinse the sand off from surfing!

Image credit by Gordon Johnson of Pixaby
The Last Supper
(image by Gordon Johnson – Pixaby)

When Jesus said this, He was meeting with His disciples for their final meal together (known as The Last Supper). He was giving the twelve disciples their final marching orders. In three days, He would be crucified on the cross.

To place some context around this, picture the 49er players assembled in the locker room at halftime of the Super Bowl, preparing for the most important 60 minutes of their season. Imagine that you are the head coach, and you have announced that you are retiring after this final game. This is your last chance to address the players. What would you say to them? Surely a strategy discussion about how to win the game is in order. A few comments about key plays they need to make. Probably remind them that this is your last game. That would motivate them.

The words Jesus spoke were nothing short of astounding considering the circumstances. The disciples would be carrying the torch forward to spread Christianity to all of planet earth. Not one of the millions of Christian churches worldwide had been built yet. This was ground zero for Christianity. Once Jesus died, the future of Christianity rested on these twelve men.

Yet Jesus did not use the time to review the blueprint on how to advance Christianity after He was gone. He did not explain how they should position His departure. Instead, He left the football field entirely and simply told them He was preparing a place for them in heaven. He gave the disciples a vision of hope for their future.

In hindsight, it seems to have been a compelling play call (6).

The second noteworthy thing that Jesus said during His final hours was to declare that heaven would be paradise:

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

In almost the very last words Jesus spoke before His death on the cross, He declared that heaven would be a perfect place. Jesus spoke these words to a dying thief who was hanging on a cross next to him.  As the thief accepted that Jesus was who He said He was, the thief was assured by Jesus that he would be joining him there. In paradise. Imagine how the thief felt to hear that from Jesus!

Jesus is crystal clear that what awaits us in heaven is a real, physical place that will be a Shangri-La compared to what we know here on earth. A paradise for me has a connotation around surfing, with warm water, perfect waves, a white sandy beach, and of course, palm trees full of coconuts to keep me nourished. Why not? My heavenly vision may seem outlandish, but only because we consider it from our earthly perspective. What awaits us there is beyond what we can imagine. It will be a utopia!

Jesus had the foresight to see that giving the disciples a clear view of their future home in heaven would provide them the strength to endure the difficult times ahead. The promise of paradise was the perfect motivator to get them to persevere. Amid all the muck we see around us in the world today, it is exactly what we need as well.

The final score of the 49ers game will not matter when we get to heaven. An opening day win is an earthly treasure. In heaven, we will be perfect in every way; physically, morally, and in our knowledge. We will have new bodies free from the pain, death, and decay of this present world (7). And yet, amazingly, we will be the person we are today. Our memories of who we are, what we have done, and who we knew in our life on earth will not fade. The Bible assures us that Jesus will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious one (8). It will all be paradise in the end.

I can’t wait to paddle out.


Footnotes:

  1. Revelation 5:11-12 (NIV):
    “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand.”
  2. Revelation 21:10-11 (NIV):
    “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.”
  3. Revelation 21:5 (NIV):
    “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
  4. Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV):
    “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.”
  5. John 14:1-3 (TLB):
    “Let not your heart be troubled. You are trusting God, now trust in me. There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly.”
  6. Christianity is the largest religious group in the world, and in 2020 there were about 2.6 billion adherents globally. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_religious_groups)
  7. I have lived long enough to realize that suffering in this life is inevitable. The Bible does not claim our avoiding it once we become a Christian. And yet, despite our troubles, the Bible teaches that all of it will be forgotten in heaven. Having this great certainty gives me the courage to face the valleys ahead.

    “He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4 TLB).
  8. Philippians 3:20-21 (NIV)
    “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

15. Begin with The End in Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would my opening day in heaven be like?


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

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

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

From Roy Lamberston (unedited):

62-year-old surfer wins Mavericks Surf Contest 

By MARK LANDLER 1:46 PM ET

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

[iii] Revelation Chapter 21

14. Slow Down

“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
-Lily Tomlin

Slowing down in Baja California at Punta Pequeña.

When I think of slowing down, I am reminded of surfing trips in the 80s to Punta Pequeña in Baja California with good friends John Chick, Eddie Means, John Park, and Peter Vanderburg. As my career was ramping up, those trips taught me to take my foot off the gas pedal and listen within.

Punta Pequeña is a dream of a surfing destination—especially if you catch a solid south swell. It is the kind of surfing spot I imagine in heaven, composed of a near-perfectly sculpted series of right points that corral south swells as good as anywhere on the California coast.

It was as if Michelangelo himself had carved out the shallow volcanic rock shelf for a regular foot surfer riding a yellow Hanifin Bananafin longboard. I could not wipe the smile off my face the entire time we were there. The quality of the wave and the length of the ride was unequaled in my book. It is rumored that you can ride over one kilometer on a really big day. Best of all, we were removed entirely from the SoCal mainstream surfing scene. A crowd of surfers in the water was not something we had concern over.

However, we did have concerns about getting there, which made it all the more appealing. Punta Pequeña was a thousand miles from nowhere, in one of the more remote and inaccessible regions of Baja California. The real McCoy started after a two-day adventure on the rugged-but-paved Baja Mexico Highway 1, which for safety reasons, we never drove at night.

After 900 or so miles of slugging it out on the pot-hole-ridden asphalt segment, a clandestine Baja-dusty dirt road appeared out of nowhere to lead us onto the final exam for our driving odyssey. Sixty miles of ungraded rocky, dusty, and at times, washboard dirt and sand led directly west to the sleepy fishing village of San Juanico on the Pacific Ocean.

Unless you were driving an army tank, this part was never a given, even if you had made it before. It was a full-on assault that included removing parts of your car if they got in the way. To this day, I lay claim to one of the greatest driving achievements in modern surfing history with my 1983 VW Diesel Rabbit. John Park and I almost lost our silver fillings on the washboard and ended up passing out mucho dinero to the local ranchers to tow us through the quicksand section. When we pulled onto the bluff at Punta Pequeña in the Rabbit with a mere twelve inches of ground clearance, the other surfers looked at us like we had just landed Apollo 13. It had been a new car when we left, but it aged 20 years on that trip!

Eddie and John christening the 60 miles ahead to San Juanico (“dónde está la playa?”)

Once camp was established, life at Punta Pequeña settled into a singular focus on surfing. Everything we did was in preparation for that next session in the water. If the surf dropped, we had plenty to keep us busy; but hardly ten minutes went by without a glance at the waves to see if conditions were changing.

If you weren’t out surfing, you were sitting in a beach chair drinking beer, scientifically analyzing the tide and wind conditions as the sun lazed across the powder blue Baja sky. The only responsible duty was rotating the twenty cases of beer into the four ice chests to ensure we had cold brew for the entire trip. It was not as easy as it sounds! Extended games of Bocci ball down the vast, endless beach were the usual diversion in the afternoon if the surf had blown out. But we could only wander a mile or so away for fear the beer would run out, and we suffer dehydration before making it back to base camp. That could impact the next surfing session.

Looking back on those trips today, I realize that my ability to slow down was about the absolute freedom I experienced from being so wholly removed from civilized interruptions in my life. There were zero connections to the outside world. My physical body was at peace. It was similar to what backpackers experience on an extended trip into the wilderness. We were unencumbered and free, which bonded us with our surroundings. The vast nothingness of the environment soothed my soul in a way I can only dream about today. I could sit in my beach chair and gaze down upon the endless spit of land as far as the eye could see. It was beautiful beyond words. Those trips fed my soul in ways only God can explain.

I thirst for that same level of contentedness today.

Going Too Fast
Fast forward to Silicon Valley forty years later: The world is moving too fast. Our vision of the “leisure society” has been reduced to rubble by the explosive growth of computers. The chasm from the slow pace of Punta Pequeña life in the 80s is looking like the grand canyon. We are losing our ability to set aside time to be in peace and rest our souls. Busyness has consumed our lives, and information technology is bombarding us with an incessant need to be distracted by our devices instead of focusing in the present moment. Deep down, we know it is too much for our human psyche to make sense of.

There is a dichotomy here. I love doing so much in so little time with the technology we have today; I’d be lying to tell you otherwise. I have an iPhone and I use it constantly. I can check the surf, tide tables, traffic conditions, and view a live camera of Steamer Lane, all with a finger tap on my phone while I’m shopping from my electronic grocery list at Trader Joe’s.

That’s fantastic!

Like the groceries, it comes at a cost; but unlike the groceries, it’s costing us our lives.

Dr. Richard Swenson, the author of best-selling book Margin, 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.“[i]

Let’s add “stress” to that list.

Unfortunately, our children are the innocent victims of this onslaught. We have all heard the stories because it is happening to our kids. Understandably, they are having issues coping with the complexity and speed of life today. The statistics are staggering. They headline the news every day. Stress, anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, ADHD, obesity, learning disabilities, social skills, and even death from suicide have been linked to the overload our children face today.

Here’s a simple example. I received an email last week from a security service I subscribe to called LifeLock. The subject was “Data Breach Notification,” urging me to change my passwords as a preventative measure.  OK.  I went into my password manager program (on my iPhone) to find out that I had entered 263 passwords! That stressed me out (and still does). I don’t think we can begin to understand the toll that stress takes.

My parents both smoked cigarettes as they came into adulthood. It was cool to have a cigarette back then, and they had no good reason not to smoke. Then they got addicted. Nobody had studied the link between smoking tobacco and deaths from things like lung cancer or emphysema. My mom died of emphysema at age 76. Those studies are out now. But for mom, it was too late.

Forty years later, I am sure that similar studies are forthcoming on the deadly effects of the technology overload we are being subjected to today. Our brains are not equipped to handle the barrage of information and radio frequency (FR) exposure coming at them. It’s too much. The negative impact on our health is clear!

This story is just one example from a close friend of mine:

After high school, his son hit a rough patch in life 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 fantastic. While in the rehab center, he told a story about a small group discussion he had with a dozen or so other young adults in the same situation. The leader asked each of them in the group what they thought had led to their addiction. Each one of them agreed that it was their deep internal need to slow down. Life was moving too fast, and they could no longer cope, so they began to take alcohol or drugs to help them deal with it.

If I were to boil down my twelve months of New Ventures West coaching training to the most important thing I learned, it would be the need for us all to slow down. If one genuinely wants to have freedom in their being to discover and pursue who they are in the world, slowing down is a mandatory first step.

I had the opportunity to slow down when I was laid off from my job. It was a bit like Punta Pequeña; suddenly, I had time just “to be”. That experience led me to step off the Silicon Valley express train to make a significant transition in my career. I began to feel the freedom one experiences when listening to your heart. It was like going surfing without a leash. I felt empowered to experience the freedom of whom I was deep inside without being tethered to earthly expectations. Although I was quite scared that I would quickly fall and lose my way, this new awakening brought about a sense of joy not felt in years.

As I began to coach clients, I quickly learned that a key to my success was getting them to slow down. Coaching a client traveling through life at today’s “normal” speed is like trying to diagnose car trouble with no dashboard to display the metrics. You might as well be throwing darts at an invisible target—you have no idea what the underlying issues are. The speed and intensity of life today seem to require that we lose touch with our inner-self. We are too busy to look at our dashboard.

Being Present
Meditation is an excellent first step for starting to slow down. It is amazing what our mind, body, and heart can tell us if we can slow down enough to listen. We tend to see the world in a physical sense. If I look OK, I must be OK. Coaching brought me to realize that there is an equally-important spiritual side to our being. The soul requires every bit as much attention and care as our physical bodies do. Meditation tends to our needs in our spiritual bodies. Even the Bible contains over sixty references that tell us to meditate. [iiii]

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, or bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. 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 on this subject. Two of my favorites are mentioned below.[ii]

Looking to Heaven
Steven Curtis Chapman was on to something when he released the hit song “Next 5 Minutes” in 1999. The song talks about living the next five minutes as if they were your last five minutes; truly living in the moment.

What if the next five minutes are all you have?

I did a great deal of contemplation about my life following the layoff from Oracle and subsequent one-year sabbatical to become a life coach. There was no question about the 2×4 hitting me square on the head; I could feel God at work. Yet, I found my mind often drifting to my mortality. Mom and dad were now gone, so I was next, right? It was kind of difficult to avoid that one. In one sense, that motivated me to get my act together for that “second mountain” I had to climb (in the words of David Brooks’ from his book, The Second Mountain). But in another sense, it made me wonder about what was next. I was closer to that part of my life than I wanted to admit.

Since I am a Christian, did I really believe that paradise awaited me?[iii] What did the Bible have to say about heaven? And what about all those near-death experience (NDE) trips to heaven that people have written so many books about—Are those valid? I even wondered if I would be able to go surfing in heaven!?

It struck in me an insatiable desire to learn more.

Punta Pequeña Nothingness

[i] https://www.amazon.com/Margin-Restoring-Emotional-Financial-Overloaded/dp/1576836827

[ii] Books on meditation:
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. I liked this book because Daniel and Richard sifted through the morass of clinical research to boil out the truth about what meditation can 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.

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 making 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 significant problem facing us today, resulting in many societal ills. The primary takeaway underscored the profound value of quiet time and meditating 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.

[iii] “Jesus answered him [on the cross], “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:43

[iii] https://biblereasons.com/meditation/

9. Peace of Mind

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

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

Or so I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Oh MY!

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

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

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

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

Huh?

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

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

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

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

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


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

Footnotes:

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

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

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

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

See You In Heaven Redwood

Redwood getting his leash fitted for the tandem board

If there were a bright spot in this pandemic, it was my relationship with our “fox-red” Labrador retriever, Redwood. “Red” (as we called him) was pretty much the center of attention every day as we took him on walks, watched him eat and sleep (and snore!), stroked his beautiful fur, and loved upon his amazing ability to live in the present. At three and a half years of age, he had enough puppy-energy to give us all a run for our money each day as we waded through the depths of isolation at home. Redwood was my saving grace!

Last Monday, Redwood had his usual routine with dad in the morning taking a walk before breakfast, hunting down a sock or two in our bedroom, enjoying an afternoon snooze in the sun, and had his evening walk with mom followed by dinner. He then proceeded to curl up in our bathroom for another nap and never woke up. What a shock to all of us to lose our dear pup!

Will we see Redwood in Heaven?

As we attempt to move on with a gaping hole in our hearts, I am constantly reminded of the selfless love that Redwood showed us in his very short life. God’s qualities were so evident in who Redwood was every day, that I have a hard time believing I will not see him in heaven.

There is much the Bible says about how important animals are to God’s eternal Kingdom. I believe that once the curse of sin and suffering is removed from this Earth (Revelation 21:4), animals will be there to enjoy it with us (Isaiah 11:6-9).

When God created man and placed him in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:7-8), He had already created lots of animals to be with him (Genesis 1:20-25). When God put an end to all people on Earth with the flood (except for Noah and his family), He saved a lot more animals on the ark than people (Genesis 6:17-21). Jesus was born in a manger surrounded by animals (Luke 2:12-16), and when He returns to establish life on the renewed Earth (Eden restored) in Revelation 22, surely animals will be a part of it. Redwood’s life has reminded me how important our animals will be to that paradise Jesus spoke to just before His death on the cross (Luke 23:39-43).

Here’s a short (3:45) video in celebration of the wonderful life that Redwood lived.

The Spirit of Char

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

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

Char marching proudly to Hoag Hospital for a shift on Halloween

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

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

507 Marguerite Avenue became party central in our high school days

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

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

“Goodbye Char”

The Spirit of Char

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

** Author’s Note **

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

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

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

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

The Power of Prayer

“When we work, we work, but when we pray, God works.”
Bill Hybels

To a young surf grom growing up just a few blocks from the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960’s (see Corona del Mar and Growing Up), Bruce Brown’s epic surf movie “The Endless Summer” had a deep-rooted effect on me. Brown had done the unthinkable at that time, poetically documenting every surfer’s ultimate dream on film, in an around-the-world quest to find the perfect wave. And find it they did, at Cape St. Francis in South Africa! I was eleven years old when it came out in 1966, and by the time I entered high school, our surfing sojourns across the border into Baja helped keep my childhood dream alive.

Bruce Brown’s “The Endless Summer” set the surfing world on fire in 1966

I don’t remember ever actually praying to God for surf back then. It just didn’t occur to me to call on God for waves. We might sacrifice a surfboard or two down at Big Corona to wake up the surf gods during a long drought, but prayer was not really a thought.

However, there was one prayer around this quest for the perfect wave that stuck with me — for life. It was the first time I can remember actually calling on God for help. It made such an impression on me that I can remember it as if it happened yesterday, but in fact, it was almost 50 years ago.

In 1970 I was fifteen years old and heading into summer vacation after my freshman year at Corona del Mar High School. Surfing buddies John Park, Craig Barrett and Danny Moore had come up with a plan for finding that elusive wave deep in mainland Mexico. The furthest I had ventured on previous surfing trips was K181, which was an hour or so south of Ensenada (181 kilometers south of the border at Tijuana). These guys had come up with a new twist to our summer trek into Baja. Their idea was to go all the way to Mazatlan, over 1,000 miles south of the border into mainland Mexico! The four of us simply told our parents we were “going to Mexico for a couple weeks”. Baja and Mazatlan are both in Mexico, right? Without cell phones, the Internet, or any other means of staying in touch, we ventured ahead without considering the risks.

1970 surfing safari from Corona del Mar to Mazatlan (3 days and ~1,300 miles)

Next I know we are stuffing Craig’s orange 1964 Chevy van with supplies. We had enough canned food to feed an army, 8-track tapes of “Santana” and “Deju Vu” (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), large speakers we stole from Johnny’s sister’s bedroom for the back of the van, two beach chairs for back seats so we could remove the van seats for more storage, tools, duct tape (our most valuable asset!), water, Paraffin wax, camping supplies, Johnny’s father’s 8mm movie camera, and a first aid kit (Band-Aids, Bactine and some Tincture Benzoin in case it was something serious). The four boards on top included two Hobie Super-Mini’s (picture of mine), which were the prized possessions of Johnny and me.

Next stop Mazatlan! Or, so we thought…

This was clearly an extreme outing for me. Parallels to my dad joining WWII at that age aside (see “Malibu and The Greatest Generation”), I felt like I was blasting off for the moon as we shoved off from CdM, with just a few people aware of our intended destination. Whatever we lacked in experience we surely made up for in our zeal to search for perfect waves on a deserted beach in Mazatlan. The whole thing could best be summed up by my favorite word, at that time: totally “bitchen”.

Not even to the Mexican border yet before Craig’s van starting showing signs of trouble. What!?… We pulled over to a gas station to send a mechanic under the hood only to find out that it was two and a half quarts low on oil. LOL. Minor oversight.

Shortly after, that we hit our second snag at the border crossing in Tecate. I remember well a sign as one approached the guard at the gate that said: “No Long Hairs Allowed”. Are you kidding me?! They weren’t. “Go home amigo!” Our dreams almost ruined, we reviewed our map and decided to target the next border crossing to the east at Mexicali – a mere two-hour drive away. This time we did some strategic planning and went into a gas station bathroom before the border to doctor up our hair with bobby pins, water and a lot of finesse. It was then that Johnny and I thought we saw Raquel Welch, but that story is a bit of a diversion…

Sure enough, we sailed right through the border with our clean-cut all-American look! We felt as though nothing could stop us now as we barreled into the Mexican desert with the sun setting and Carlos Santana singing “Black Magic Women” to four teenagers who felt like they had just hit the jackpot in Las Vegas.

1972 photo of the border crossing at Mexicali

A third snag (feeling as though we were snake bit) suddenly appeared in the form of a Mexican Federale at a Turista checkpoint station just as we were relaxing after the great escape from the Mexicali border guards. Checkpoints were something we were used to in Baja, as they often just wanted to terrorize you with a couple questions and check your glove compartment for marijuana. Usually with a machine gun in hand. But this guy was different. He was quite serious and telling us in very few words to “Vete a casa” (go home!). Holy COW, he’s not kidding! Apparently, this thing called a “Turista” sticker had to be on our car to travel into mainland Mexico from the U.S. Of course, this was news to us. In an instant, our dreams of a “Mexican Endless Summer” were coming to an abrupt and terrible end.

This Turista sticker was required to travel into mainland Mexico by automobile

The Mexican Miracle

The four of us regrouped in Craig’s van. I can remember a few tears being shed, as this indignant Federale appeared to be enjoying sending these rich white boys from the U.S. with their long hair back home. Then out of the blue, Johnny blurts out that we should pray to God. I remember thinking that was the stupidest idea in the world. How the heck was a prayer going to help? We were done! This guy was not budging, and we definitely did not have a Turista sticker. I was already wondering what we’d do with all the canned food…

As it was, we were desperate and willing to try anything, so the next thing I know the four of us are bowing our heads and praying in the car for a miracle to happen. I can’t remember the specifics. I don’t think we prayed that this guy would die or anything. I believe it was something holy, like “God, please help us, we want to surf the perfect wave in Mazatlan”… I do remember the outcome quite clearly. Out of nowhere, we came up with this hair-brained idea of waving a $20 bill in front of this guy to see if he was willing to take a bribe to let us go.   Pretty risky stuff, seeing how he was the one wearing the badge and gun, and all we really had going for us was enough gas in the tank to get back across the border before we got in any more trouble.

It was Craig who we put up to the task, since he was the oldest, by at least a few months. Craig was pretty nervous (we all were!) as we walked back from the car to this guys office. Craig starts scratching his face with the $20 between his fingers, afraid to just hold it out to the guy as an offer. I’m thinking, “what the heck is Craig doing?!” when suddenly the Federale lights up with a smile, and we all immediately knew it had worked! He took the bait, slapped the Turista sticker on our car, and sent us on our way. “Soul Sacrifice” from Carlos Santana blasting! As we plunge into the darkening desert sky on Mexican asphalt, I leaned back in my beach chair marveling at what a trip this was going to be. “Bitchen”.

An 8-track tape of Carlos Santana led the charge for us to Mazatlan

That prayer had a lasting effect on me. Whether or not God or the Holy Spirit had anything to do with answering it, it stuck with me that in that moment of hopelessness we could look to God for help, even if what seemed to be insurmountable odds weighed against us. I will never forget that moment.

The Power of Prayer

Prayer has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my Christian life. Not just “answered” prayers, although I do love those. But the way prayer has helped me to handle life’s many ups and downs through my dialogs with God. I have said many times, becoming a Christian did not so much change who I am as it changed who I wanted to be. Prayer has become the avenue for having that daily conversation with God as to who I want to become.

I have wonderful stories of how God has heard and acted on my prayers. Several years ago I started writing my prayers (in a Bible) to keep track of them. It has been fascinating to see God at work over the years. One prayer especially dear to me involves a men’s discipleship group I was involved in for two years through our church. The twelve men in this group grew very close as we studied, dined, and hung out together. Meeting every week to learn how to study God’s word, we always devoted time to praying for each other’s needs in life. With all of us having small kids, new marriages, and just launching our careers, there was never a shortage of things to pray for!

Fast forward eight years and we had all gathered as sort of a reunion at one of our leaders’ homes to pray for a serious recent injury. After praying for our friend’s healing, we got caught up on what was going on with everyone in the eight or so years since we had last been together. As each of the men provided an update, I was beginning to get goosebumps on the back of my neck. It was clear that God had been at work on what we had prayed so diligently for over those two years of our study. It was remarkable to see what He had done eight years later. We all became quite emotional as we realized how faithful God had been. But each admitted it had happened so gradually, and often in ways we had not expected, that we hadn’t really connected the dots to all that time in prayer together. We finished that night with a prayer of praise to God for his faithfulness.

While that is a story I love to tell, I also believe that prayer has also frustrated me at times. My inability to see how God is working in certain difficult situations has been quite perplexing. I know I’m not the only one feeling that way. Sometimes, we don’t feel God is hearing our prayers, but perhaps He does and it takes our whole lives to understand. God works all things for good (I look forward to understanding more once I get to Heaven).

I recently read a wonderful book on prayer that really helped me: “Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God” by Bill Hybels. Bill explains in very simple terms not only how to pray, but why prayers may not actually be getting a direct response from God. It has greatly impacted my prayer life to better understand this. He sums it up by emphasizing our need to focus on God, versus the mountain we are trying to move through our prayers:

“Faith comes by looking at God, not at the mountain.”

In Hybels’s words: “The heart and soul of the Christian life is learning to hear God’s voice and then developing the courage to do what he asks us to do.” This is a life-long journey, but something I am committed to. It has fit well into my coaching practice; as Hybels is saying that our prayer life is a two-way conversation. Often I am just pouring out my problems and forgetting to stop and listen and understand what He might be trying to tell me. This time of listening to God has been very precious, and I now understand is key to my understanding how God might be working in my life, especially when I don’t see a direct response to my earnest prayers.

A surfing analogy to this could be how I learned over the years to listen to the elements of tide, wind, water, and air at my favorite surf spot to gain a sense of when the surf might be at its best. Paying close attention to subtle changes in each can tell you a lot!

Hybels has so very many gems in this book about prayer. I strongly encourage you to read it. He sums it up:

If the request is wrong, God says, “No”.
If the timing is wrong, God says, “Slow”.
If you are wrong, God says, “Grow”.
But if the request is right, the timing is right and you are right, God says, “Go”.

In closing, here are three of my favorite verses from the Bible on prayer:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Matthew 7:7

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.”
Psalm 40:1

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Matthew 21:22

Epilogue to the Mazatlan trip:

At our 40th high school reunion a few years back, a woman approached me and claimed to remember our trip to Mazatlan in 1970. I was astonished! Apparently, her family was in Mazatlan on vacation at the time we arrived, and ran into John Park and heard the story of our surfing safari adventure. After seeing Johnny, her dad pulls her aside to say: “I can’t believe their parents allowed them to drive down here!?” And of course, she replied: “Dad, their parents don’t know.”

We never did find the perfect wave in Mazatlan. Ok, but we had lots of fun and many good stories to tell our friends on our arrival back home. We made a few wrong turns on our way, even bumping into the Sea of Cortez and thinking for an instant we were at the Pacific Ocean. There was one more mechanical breakdown of the van deep into the jungle that required another Mexican mechanic. After a long wait, it was solved when Danny Moore put water in the battery. Ha! We encountered locust swarms across the highway and many seemingly endless detour signs (“Desviación”) sending us off the paved highway for miles at a time into the jungle. Finally, three days later we arrived at the main beach in Mazatlan for our first surf session.  Turns out Craig’s van did not lock, so we had to watch it as we paddled out for our first session. The water was so unexpectedly warm (over 80 degrees!) the Paraffin wax for our surfboards was melting, making foot traction on the board quite challenging.

We saw more of these Mexican detour signs than we cared to

We set up base camp at a campground in town and proceeded to explore around Mazatlan and the surrounding area for perfect waves, to no avail. At one point we might have found our secluded beach with wave potential. We ventured out and suddenly a huge bat ray flew out of the water right next to me with a large splash. I paddled into shore faster than I ever paddled in my life! And never went back out there. That kind of stuff did not happen in Southern Cal… It really spooked me.

The fun lasted just a little over a week before getting clobbered by Montezuma’s Revenge, coincidentally just as a hurricane off the Pacific was clobbering the coast of Mexico. For me, it was the perfect storm.

A final memory of Mazatlan was getting up at night in the campground in complete darkness to pay my respects to Montezuma in a torrential downpour with the wind howling. Without seeing anything, I stepped on some kind of live creature with my bare foot. It cracked like a crab, and then crawled off injured like some kind of giant prehistoric spider. Adios amigo! I am outta here! We left the next day. All important on the way home was how great a McDonald’s burger would taste after crossing the border in San Diego.

Upon arrival back in So Cal, we discovered the film in the 8mm video camera had been exposed after opening the camera. Our Mazatlan movie was gone, and none of us had a single picture from the experience. But we were more focused on the adventure of it all than trying to document it. The memories and stories are better kept in our minds. It was a trip for the ages. And it taught me the power of a prayer.

Jack Schott carving a bumpy left at Cannon’s Beach in Mazatlan in 1964

I emailed a friend who I knew traveled to Mazatlan in those days to see if he had any photos. Though he is ten years my senior, Jack Schott is a former Surfing Magazine cover boy who to this day out surfs me every time we go (including last weekend at San Onofre). Jack told me a story about going to Mazatlan in 1964 with three friends and dragging a trailer to carry their longboards, which were big and heavy back then. Their trip ended suddenly when they were thrown into a prison in Mazatlan for lighting off fireworks from their hotel balcony. Jack claims, “It was the other guys doing that”. Ha. They barely scraped together enough money to pay their way out of the prison and flee town just as a police car was coming to get them for further damage to their hotel room.

**RESOURCES**

“Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God” by Bill Hybels
I combine my time of sitting/meditation with a time of prayer in the early morning to connect with God. This book changed my views on how I should be praying. Hybels is saying that our prayer life is a two-way conversation. Often I am just pouring out my problems and forgetting to stop and listen and understand what He might be trying to tell me. This time of listening to God has been very precious, and I now understand is key to my understanding how God might be working in my life, especially when I don’t see a direct response to my earnest prayers.