“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” -John Kabat-Zinn
When Heaven comes calling, I expect to be there, and am counting on being able to surf. That vision has transformed my walk here on earth. Surfing in Heaven is my ultimate goal.
As a lifelong surfer, my world has been a series of waves rolling through life at varying intervals. Each wave is unique as it parades in a band of swells toward my beach of choice on any given day. Surfing, for me, has been all about the ride. One good ride can easily highlight my day or even my week. There is something extraordinary and exhilerating about paddling into a swell created deep in the ocean and riding its natural energy into the shore.
I often daydream of the perfect wave as I sit, testing my patience during the lull between sets. I fantasize that it will be my best ride ever, beyond epic. That vision keeps me searching the horizon for an early sign that it might be coming. When it does, I want to be ready! It will be a dream come true.
Growing up at the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960s was an idyllic environment for a surfer grom like me. We were 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. He was one of the few who returned home unharmed from WWII and found a surfing lifestyle at Malibu while benefiting from the GI Bill. He had me out on his Dave Sweet surfboard riding waves at San Onofre earlier than I can recall. My time surfing with Dad on the weekends at San Onofre most influenced my early years of life. As I grew into adulthood, I realized that I was at my very best in the water on my surfboard. It became my identity. I am forever thankful for that special time in the water with dad.
The surfing culture I grew up with soon clashed with my adult career when I relocated to Silicon Valley in 1990 to become a cog in the high technology revolution, which was taking off like an Elon Musk rocket ship. The opportunities were endless, but so was the work! I found myself embedded in the innovation capital of the world, where there was no longer enough margin in my day to hang out at the beach and wait for waves. Life was full.
From floppy disks to flash memory over the next quarter-century, I found myself in a marketing career at Sun Microsystems and Oracle Corporation that paid me well to drive the network computing revolution for the emerging worldwide web. We even called ourselves “the dot in dot com” at Sun. Flying high in jet planes around the world, I was in a constant struggle to balance the demands of my career with the needs of my health and the joy of raising our young family, including my beautiful bride Marla (of more than 30 years) and two wonderful children (Marisa and Matthew).
Surfing became my escape from the incessant “real-time” processing of Silicon Valley. Like the pressure release valve at the San Onofre Nuclear power plant, the ocean set me free from the stress of my career while providing a connection point for my kids to join in, allowing me to pass my dads baton on to them. As this inner battle of work/life balance consumed me, I launched “Surfing for Balance in Silicon Valley” in 2014 to blog about my passion for keeping it all above water. That blog eventually led me to write this book, Surfing in Heaven, to offer what I have learned to a wider audience.
Surfing in Heaven is both a metaphor and a vision for how I invest my time and energy each day. It shifted my focus from the wave I was riding to the ultimate ride as a Christian to my eternal destination in Heaven. As I poured myself into the blog about my struggles to find balance, I kept coming back to the Bible and what God’s Word says about Heaven. Jesus often spoke about storing up treasures in Heaven rather than investing in what we have here on earth (1). Like the sharp sound of cymbals in a symphony, this rang out loud and true for me. By prayerfully starting each day with my eternal future in mind, I found myself able to navigate the many perilous waves I was riding. Heaven became a game-changer.
As the waves kept coming at me with increasingly shortened intervals, I was able to gain a radically new perspective on how I invested my time and energy. The chaos of the storm settled. It was like going back to the 1960s and surfing without a leash. My life became untethered from earthly expectations as I focused on my eternal future and what I had to learn along the way. The pressures of daily life were lifted. Laying the groundwork each day for my life to come in Heaven provided peace of mind. I was stoked!
My goal is to finish this life strong. When it ends, I believe I will go surfing, in Heaven. Surely the God who created the Heavens and the earth (2) could arrange for a bit of recreation up there. What awaits us in Heaven will be far greater than what our imagination can explore (3).
Waxing up a surfboard is an important, but often-overlooked component of surfing that helps to chronicle this time of preparation for the life to come. When I am going out to surf at Steamer Lane in a large northwest winter swell on a cold January day (Steamers at its best!), waxing up is a strategic time to get ready before paddling out. This process starts by closely reviewing the elements (surf, tide, wind, crowd, and currents) to determine my tactic for paddling out. Next, I select the appropriate style of wax (by water temperature) and thoroughly rub it onto the top of my board until it is covered from nose to tail. Finally, I firmly attach my leash and am ready to launch into the icy northern California water.
When I began surfing in the1960s, waxing up was much more involved. For one, longboards required a lot more wax. Without surf leashes, waxing up was critical to hanging on to your surfboard. Parowax (called “paraffin”) was the only choice for wax and was a far cry from today’s sticky surf wax. Paraffin was hard as a rock, so you first had to soften it up in the sun to avoid shaving off the wax that was already there. Then you would dip your board into the ocean to harden the surface wax while roughing it up with wet sand. Applying the paraffin required serious elbow grease, being careful to cover the nose (for hanging five), the tail (for cranking bottom turns), and the rails by the nose (for turtle diving big waves as you paddled out). Extra wax was needed there.
I would then walk the top of my board a few times with bare feet at the edge of the shore to get some of the wax onto the bottom of my feet (there were no booties back then) while rubbing in more wet sand to rough the surface one final time. I carried an extra bar in my trunks, as you had to repeat the process a time or two if you were out for a long surf session—especially if you lost your board to the beach (the ride in would slicken the wax). Suffice it to say, paraffin was better suited for candle-making!
Like properly waxing up for a good surfing session, I believe in this life, we are laying the groundwork for our life to come in Heaven. In a sense, it’s our dress rehearsal. We are waxing up for our eternal ride home. This is not our home; Heaven is our final destination. Our life here is very short (4), but what we do while we are here really does matter (5). Big time. Jesus emphasized this to His disciples at the last supper just before His death when He told them He was preparing a mansion for each one of them in Heaven (6). He is doing the same for each one of us.
I hope you can embrace my journey while catching a few waves with me along the way. When you kick out of your final wave, I pray that you will see that Jesus Christ is whom He said he is.
Time to get out your wax and prepare for the ride of your life!
“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” -James 4:14b (NIV)
American evangelist Billy Graham (1918-2018) was asked what the biggest surprise in his life had been. He quickly replied, “The brevity of life. Almost before we know it, the years have passed, and life is almost over.”(1)
My life has flown by. It seems like just yesterday I was out surfing San Onofre with Dad on my Corky Carroll “Super Mini” surfboard. Before I know it, heaven will soon be calling! In the meantime, I try and put my trust in God to help me navigate the peaks and valleys on the road ahead. Finishing strong in God’s eyes is my goal. I am preparing for a life with him forever in heaven.
A surfer who rides a wave to its proper completion with a successful kick-out has a similar anticipation of finishing strong. The kick-out enables you to surf your way out of the wave with a true sense of completion to the ride you were on, leaving you in control of your destiny for your next ride. The kickout transitions you from the wave you were riding to paddling back out. It is not a simple maneuver in surfing. Especially if you are riding a longboard.(2)
Before the advent of the surf leash (and subsequent shortboard revolution) in the late 1960s(3), knowing how to kick-out was a fundamental requirement for serious surfing. You could judge a surfer’s ability solely by the effectiveness of their kick-outs. The better the kick-out, the better a surfer they are (almost without exception). The more skilled surfers had figured out that a good kick-out got you more waves, as you were quickly back out into the lineup.
Kicking out is nearly a lost art in surfing today. I rarely see a surfer cleanly exit the wave they are riding to go over the lip with momentum in the right direction for a quick paddle back out (while checking for any waves coming).
With surf leashes ruling the lineups today, it is more common to see a surfer end a ride by simply diving or jumping off their board into the white water without concern for losing their surfboard. It works, but it would be more likely to score points in a diving competition than in a surfing contest. The term “kook cord” (for the surf leash) can be attributed partly to those types of kick-outs. The style and finesse of surfing are completely lost.
Competing in the San Onofre Surfing Contest in the 1960s taught me the proper technique of the kick-out. The judges rewarded surfers who could properly execute a clean and controlled kick-out. Kicking out at the right place and time of a ride demonstrated good judgment while controlling your board to exit the wave cleanly. Extra points could be attained for a high degree of difficulty when exiting with your board from a wave which was closing out or breaking in a critical section. Kicking out was your final act to demonstrate your surfing abilities to the judges. A missed kick-out could involve a time-consuming swim back to the beach and paddle back out. At San Onofre, that would usually spell disaster for your chances to advance to the next round.
Kicking Out in Life
Finishing strong in the life we have been given here on earth means seeking God to the very end.(4) That is God’s idea of a successful kick-out. He wants to see a life well lived, denying self, and trusting in Him. When we get to the end of this ride on earth, the love of Christ that awaits us will surpass all knowledge. We are truly unable to form a mental image of how good it will be. So, we carry on in this life, longing to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” at heaven’s gate.
I was working at Trader Joe’s on May 9th of 2020 when a fellow crew member told me that a 26-year-old surfer had been fatally attacked by a shark while surfing at Sand Dollar Beach, just south of Manresa State Beach (near Santa Cruz). My son Matthew and I surf at Sand Dollar, and I knew he had been there the day before. I immediately called Matt’s cell phone. It went to voicemail. I then called his work. After what felt like an eternity on hold, he picked up the phone and greeted me. So grateful.
The victim was a local Santa Cruz surfer and shaper, Ben Kelly. Thinking it was my son, even if just for a minute, gave me insight into the unimaginable pain that Ben’s family and friends were going through.
I soon learned more about Ben and was deeply touched by his story. Ben was a seasoned surfer and board shaper who started his own surfboard company in Santa Cruz (Ben Kelly Surfboards). He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Vanguard University in Southern California, where he was awarded the McNaughton Award, its highest honor for business and management students. He had recently celebrated his third wedding anniversary with his wife, Katie, whom he met at Vanguard.
Ben was stoked about the life God had given him. He was active in the Capitola Village Business Improvement Association, Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, and Calvary Chapel in Capitola. At one point he was selling surfboards to support missionary work he was involved with in Africa.
The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors declared that May 21 (Ben’s birthday) would be “Ben Kelly Day.” The proclamation stated:
“Ben practiced his belief that surfing was so much more than just catching waves — it was about the people he met and the continuous grand adventures that made it fun while blessing others along the way.”
Walking the Talk
I had never met Ben, and only came upon his story through surfing. Yet, he rose for me as the modern day equivalent of “the greatest generation”(6). Ben’s love of Jesus was front and center in the life he was living. He had that surfer’s “stoke” about him, which some called his good vibes, but those close to him knew it was fed by his faith.
Ben did not just talk about his faith; he exemplified it through his character. In the words of a close friend, “Ben lived the way Christ wanted us to live.” His opening line on his LinkedIn account boldly demonstrated this (“About”):
“Hello my name is Ben Kelly. Some of my life passions include: a love for my Savior Jesus Christ …”
Ben was not hiding whom he believed would save him on his day of reckoning.(7) He finished strong. In the book of Matthew, Jesus spoke about the importance of doing God’s will to reveal His love and presence in the world:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
―Matthew 7:21 (NIV)
Jesus called us to embrace the words of Scripture, so they are central to our day-to-day living. He said true wisdom is all about actions of love, mercy, and peace(8). It is not enough to say “Lord, Lord.”
Ben Kelly has both inspired and challenged me in this respect. Though he never saw it coming, Ben Kelly kicked out of this life with full control over his destiny. He had hope in a God who created the heavens and the earth. He wanted to live his life honoring God, knowing his rewards would be in heaven. His future was secure, and his kick-out was perfect. I believe God gave him a ten!
Ben has motivated me to finish strong. I look forward to the day I can paddle out with him.
This is the last chapter of this book!
The process of writing Surfing in Heaven over the past year has been transformational for me. My views on life have been altered, and as you can surely tell, I am looking forward to heaven. There is a song that captures this feeling best for me called “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”, written by Helen Howarth Lemmel in 1918. It states that, “when you turn your eyes upon Jesus, the things of the earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
Please contact me with any comment or questions that this book may have triggered (at: surfingforbalance.com). I would love to speak with you.
Source: Just as I Am: Autobiography of Billy Graham by Billy Graham
Longboards are generally considered to be surfboards over nine feet long. The difference in navigating a successful kick-out is dramatic. For example, dad rode a 10’9″ Bob Simmons Plywood Foam surfboard (called a “Foam Sandwich”) at Malibu in the late 1940s (see: surfingforbalance.com). To effectively kick-out on that board, dad learned the technique of dragging a foot over the side of the board to act as a rudder (as you would with a paddle on a kayak). It didn’t just turn out of the wave on its own.
Philippians 3:14 (TLB):
“I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us.”
Matthew 25:23 (NIV):
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
One tribute read at Ben’s memorial service stated: “The most memorable thing about Ben was his unashamed, unrelenting passion for his faith and his relationship with Jesus. I don’t say this to somehow selfishly reassure myself or others that he’s passed on to Heaven. I don’t have to wonder whether he knew Jesus, or whether his faith was secure. It was. Everybody knew it. He truly lived his faith out. In nearly every conversation I ever had with him, he tied God and the redeeming love of Jesus into it.”
James 3:17-18 (NIV):
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”
“Be faithful, and leave the results to God.”
In between surf sessions, I love to run.
The physical joy and mental relief that running has provided me over the years are immeasurable. When I look back at the peaks and valleys of my Silicon Valley tech career, running was often my saving grace. A good run either in the early morning at Rancho San Antonio or on the Baylands trails at lunch (from work) provided me a sanctuary from the relentless pace of my job. Lacing up for a run released my mind from immediate concerns to the inner focus of pushing my physical limits while soaking in the fresh air, warm sun (or sun rise!), and brilliance of nature around me. I almost always came away feeling rejuvenated.
On random runs that I could never predict, a deep sense of inner consciousness envelops me like a thick fog. Even though I am running, my body slows down, allowing me to tap into my soul. It is magic. Some call it the runner’s high. For me, it is different. I am completely removed from the run and not totally aware of my surroundings. There is a special connection between my spirit and nature. I come out from the cloud secure in who I am and confident in God’s plan for me. I learn through it who I am. It brings me great peace. Glancing at my watch at the run’s completion, I acknowledge the stats, but recognize that something much more important took place. It feeds my soul.
I caught the bug to run in the late 1970s just after college when the running boom in the U.S. was hitting full stride. My first organized race was the Dana Point Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day (a 10K) in 1979. I will never forget that race. My roommate Brad Sarvak and I had the race leaders in view for the first few miles. We had no idea what we were doing. My former high school track coach, John Blair (1), led the lead pack on his mini motorcycle as we heard the mile splits being called out at a pace that made it clear that we were in deep trouble. And then it hit.
The last three miles are cemented in my memory as the most excruciating three miles of my running career. No matter how much I backed off, the pain increased. I didn’t throw up, but I sure wanted to. I remember Coach Blair asking me later why I didn’t run on the team in high school. I don’t remember what I said, but it had to be something like, “Because it hurts.” I never had that problem with surfing.
Start of the Dana Point Turkey Trot circa 1979. Brad and I were at the front!
The Dana Point Turkey Trot soon became an annual tradition. As much as I labored in the effort, something kept pulling me back each year. Part of it was testing my endurance to find out how hard I could push the pace. I always felt high as a kite after the race for enduring the suffering. Another draw was the post-race party, which got pretty lively in the pre-celebration atmosphere of Thanksgiving (the draft beer helped!). Eating my fill of turkey and pumpkin pie later that day seemed to make it all worthwhile.
I soon found myself running 10k races almost every weekend with my good friend, Ed Mantini. Ed was an Alberto Salazar look-alike, who seemed to run almost as fast. He challenged me each week to lower my 10K time while introducing me to DMSO (2) as our go-to cure for virtually any running injury we came across. DMSO was key to keeping our weekly mileage consistently high. My running friends today kid me about DMSO, but I still swear by it.
I soon signed up for my first marathon, the “Leatherneck Marathon,” at the El Toro Marine Base in Orange County. I distinctly remember hitting the 20-mile mark and thinking, Oh, this is what they meant by “the wall” . . . Those last three miles of that first Dana Point Turkey Trot came right back to me—times two! Nothing in running can compare to those last six miles of your first marathon. It was pure agony.
Before long, I was addicted to the carbo-loading diet and the high-mileage training that the marathon required. I decided it was time to try and qualify for the renowned Boston Marathon, which required a fast marathon (sub-2:50) to get in (3). Anyone who has run Boston would agree that the excitement, energy, and goodwill surrounding that event are unmatched in marathon circles. Bill Rogers, who won Boston four times (1975, 1978-1980), said it well:
“…The marathon is the king of sports. And certainly, Boston is the king of marathons.”
Rogers wrote the book on “Marathoning” back then (4), while he was also winning the New York City Marathon four times in a row (1976-1979). His success propelled me, and his book became my training bible. I soon learned how to navigate the 26.2-mile beast and began chiseling down my finishing times to finally attain my goal. Thank you, Bill!
Meeting Bill Rodgers after the 1995 Boston Marathon was a dream come true!
Looking back, I see distinct parallels between the marathon and my life here on earth. As I cross the twenty-mile mark for my final 10K in life, I can sense the challenges ahead. My pace is slowing, yet my focus on finishing strong is still there. These are the most important miles of my life. In marathoning jargon, my race has just begun!
A successful marathon requires careful planning to achieve a steady pace that matches an intended (and realistic) finishing time. If I went out too fast those first 20 miles, eventually, I would crash and burn. The goal is to keep within that pacing range for the entire 26.2 miles. By the time you reach mile 20, it becomes a grueling effort of concentration and physical stamina to stay on the intended pace.
At the 1994 California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento, I learned this pacing principle the hard way. The first 20 miles flew by, nearly 30 seconds per mile faster than my targeted pace. I was flying high and decided I was having one of those dream days. Ha. I stopped for a cup of water at mile 20 before the bridge leading to the finish line at the state capitol, and that was it. I was done running. I walked all the way to mile 25 when a good friend, Paul Fick, kicked my butt (literally) to make sure I shuffled it in with him for the home stretch. I could not lift my feet above the ground. That wall seemed insurmountable! At one point, a guy called out to me from his porch as I hobbled by:
“Dude, you’ll need a new pair of shoes before you finish if you keep that up!”
I did not think that was funny at the time (now I do!). I was a physical wreck for several days after that race. The experience completely humbled me. I learned a hard lesson that day that the marathon requires a certain amount of caution and strategic planning to achieve your goal, beyond the physical training. To go out and run with your gut can lead to disaster.
This pacing principle carries over into life. Our life is not a sprint. Yet, most of us today will admit to going too fast much of the time, especially during those early years. Even our kids realize this. Technology is stealing our margins and enabling us to do more than our bodies (and brains) were designed for. Like the marathon, if we don’t slow down, eventually, we will crash. I’ve seen it many times over in my tech career. Like a bonk in the marathon, it is not a pretty sight.
One version of this was told by former Google CIO Douglas C. Merrill in his book, “Getting Organized in the Google Era.” Douglas was in charge of taking Google public with their IPO in 2004, when he admitted to overworking and not taking care of his physical needs. He was too busy for that. Despite all the warning signs his body was giving him, it was not until the day Google rang the bell on Wall Street after their IPO that Douglas realized he had crashed. As he told the story in his book, he was getting into a cab on Wall Street with two female colleagues when they looked at him in horror, “as if my eyes were bleeding.” One of them immediately handed him her compact mirror, and he saw that the blood vessels in his eyes had burst and were, in fact, bleeding! In his words, “it was a miracle my brain did not burst.” He took an extended leave from Google after that.
As a life coach, my goal is to improve my clients’ capacity and set a pace they can maintain for the long-term view of life. It is mostly about easing up on commitments to allow the body time to rest and recover. I found out myself how difficult that can be. Getting “downsized” was not exactly how I would have planned it, but I now look back and view that time as a gift from God. My pace may be slower now, but I have confidence in the race plan to finish strong.
The Finish Line
The goal of the marathon is to finish, which requires a singular focus on the finish line. Nothing else matters. All the rewards of your training are waiting for you at mile 26.2. The euphoria of crossing that line is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into getting there. I liken it to running as if you are a racehorse with blinders on. To look at or think about anything beyond the finish is simply a distraction that can cause you to lose concentration and potentially crash. Crossing the finish line turns the whole event into a joyful celebration. As my wife and most other women would attest with childbirth, in the end, the prize cancels out the extreme suffering you endured to get there. The victory parade begins, no matter how much you hurt.
I had never felt more joy and satisfaction at the end of a marathon than when my son Matthew and I embraced at the end of the 2016 St. George Marathon (his first!). The tears were flowing. It was a wondrous moment as we bear-hugged each other, drenched in the sweat and pain of our efforts. We savored the victory together. Marathons don’t get any better than that.
War Heroes at the 2016 St. George Marathon (“Finished!”)
The Bible tells us that our finish line in heaven will be even better than that! What awaits us at the finish line of life will be beyond anything we can experience here on earth. My heart’s desire is to cross that finish line strong in this life and hear the words,
“Well done good and faithful servant!” (5)
That euphoria of crossing the finish line into heaven is something I can only wonder about. It will exceed what our minds can only imagine. (6) God has mapped out an eternal destination that defies logic as we understand it. Heaven has turned the tide in my life here on earth towards eternity. My focus now is solely on that finish line banner. I want to spend every day I have left in preparation for the day when I can cross that line into heaven. I plan to be waxed up and ready to go surfing when my day finally comes.
You may be asking how I can be so sure of this. How can we know that we will go to heaven when we die? For me, it boils down to faith. Marathon Faith. Jesus paid the price for our salvation. By simply accepting the free gift of his death on the cross, it is a sure thing. It is that easy. (7)
The Bible is very clear about heaven. There are hundreds of references to what it will be like. The Book of Revelation paints a particularly stunning description at the end of the Bible when heaven and earth come together as one. (8) Heaven is as clear a finish line at the end of life as the 26.2-mile banner is to the marathoner. I have my horse blinders on and refuse to think about any other option. Heaven is the finish line that matters. I am planning to come in running strong. It’s getting closer every day. Don’t miss it; come join me. (9)
As C.S. Lewis once said:
“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.
Coach John Blair, a Los Angeles Times Millennium Hall of Fame inductee, was a true innovator in the Corona del Mar High School (CdMHS) running community. Aside from coaching cross country and track at CdMHS for 18 years (1965-1982), Coach Blair pioneered ideas for road running events before 10K, and 5K road races came into being. He started the now famous Corona del Mar Scenic 5k (41 years and running), the “Around the Back Bay in May” race, and also launched the “Newport Beach Runners Association,” which helped inspire the Orange County running boom in the 1970s. He was always out in front on his motorcycle, ensuring the leaders did not miss a turn.
Topically applied dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) was a miracle cure for nagging running injuries for Ed and me back in the 1980s. I still use it to this day and swear by its ability to cure an injury. I’ve had more than one miracle cure from it!
After the 1979 Boston Marathon, officials lowered the qualifying time from 3:00 to 2:50 for men under 40 years of age.
Source: Boston Marathon – The History of the World’s Premier Running Event, by Tom Derderian (Preface)
Marathoning by Bill Rogers (published in 1982). Bill Rogers won the Boston Marathon four times (1975, 1978-1980) and the New York City Marathon four times (1976-1979).
Matthew 25:23 (NIV): “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
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—
Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin and as Lord of your life? If you have not, would you pray right now? You can pray aloud to Him with words from your heart, or you might want to pray this prayer: Father, I have sinned. I have not obeyed your Word. I have tried to run my own life. I have ignored you and your will for me. I have tried to decide for myself what is right and wrong. I am lost unless you save me. Thank you for sending your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to pay for my sin and guilt. Thank you for raising Him from the dead and giving Him authority over my life. I receive Him as my Savior and Lord. I receive your gift of eternal life in Christ. I will turn from my sinful life to serve you. You are my Creator and Redeemer. Continue your prayer by telling God what you are thinking and feeling.
Revelation 21:1-4 (NIV): “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
If you are a still a bit skeptical, I understand. I was there also! The Bible can be difficult to understand; especially parts of the Old Testament. I have compiled a short list of books that might help you gain a better understanding. Click on “contact Mike” on surfingforbalance.com and I will send it to you.
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Mark Twain
Like the marathon, life can have its challenges after you hit mile 20. That last stretch can hurt!
My 1970s vintage Infinity surfboard now requires a little extra resin and fiberglass between surf sessions. It still rides fine, but it does take a bit more nurturing to keep it afloat after all those years of surfing. My body and my running career has followed a similar path.
It’s naptime for the dog when the ding repair kit comes out.
With all of the miles I have pounded out over the years running marathons, ultra-marathons, and triathlons, I have to confess that my body began to show some wear and tear once I hit my fifties. These days, I know how to doctor things up with a bit of resin and fiberglass (aka DMSO) to keep going, but I’d be lying to say that those miles don’t hurt my body more than they used to. I’m a lot smarter about how to prepare, and I keep my focus on just getting to the starting line and letting the rest take care of itself. You know what they say . . . “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
In 2007 I ran a half marathon that was somewhat prophetic in this respect. Here’s the story exactly as it unfolded.
Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey Bay
On a seasonably crisp October morning in Monterey, I was approaching mile 11 in the Big Sur Half Marathon when my view on life after fifty was jolted. Big Sur is a relatively fast half marathon for time (it does not have the hills, as its name might imply), and it is extremely well-organized for a race of its size (~5,000 runners).
I had run a hard first ten miles and was struggling to regain my focus for the final three, while ignoring the red flares my body was sending me to slow down. I had turned fifty earlier in the year and was intent on proving that I could still run a fast time. Ha!
Oblivious to the serene setting of sailboats moored in quiet coves as we ran along the bike trail in Pacific Grove, I pulled up to a tall and lanky runner who had been in my sights for a couple of miles. He was running hard, so I latched on to his side to keep pace and regain some composure for a strong finish. My time goal was in sight, and I figured this guy could help pull me in. We had covered a half mile or so side-by-side when he suddenly blurted out to me:
“How old are you?”
Wait, what? I’m struggling for oxygen, and this guy asks me my age? This was not a time to be conversing. We were both breathing hard and near the end of our ropes. If I had the grit to initiate anything (and I didn’t), I might have babbled out a one-way, “good job” or “hang tough.”
But, “How old are you?” just hit me wrong.
As we bumped shoulders coming off the bike trail onto the street at Cannery Row for a long stretch of open pavement, I glanced at him. He appeared to be sizing me up, maybe thinking I was a threat in his age division? Finally, I found it in myself to respond, mostly out of the angst of having to say anything at this point of the race:
“Fifty! How old are YOU?”
“Fifty-nine,” was his immediate reply as we both continued to push the pace on the open street. I was glimpsing the finish line banner less than a mile ahead and decided to put on a final kick to get in. As he slowly faded behind me, I was hit with what seemed like a cannon shot from behind:
“A lotta shit between fifty and fifty-nine!”.
He spoke the words with such purpose and conviction that it rattled me. I found myself in a dither as I crossed the finish line, suddenly oblivious of the time I had worked so hard for. Why the heck did he have to say that, and what on earth did he mean?
I stumbled through the finishing chute with the masses of sweaty bodies looking like a lost soldier who had just been hit by mortar fire. As I claimed my platter of free food, none of which looked appealing, I scanned around to ask him what that was all about. He had vanished, and I never saw him again.
I mentioned the exchange to my fellow warriors at the finish line party, and we all laughed as we guzzled down our hard-earned post-race rewards while listening to the rock band powered by people riding exercise bicycles. Big Sur always has a fantastic finish-line party, and we were, of course, oblivious to the road which lay ahead.
Not a clue [yet] what this guy meant.
Fast-forward nine years to age fifty-nine, I knew exactly what he meant!
“A lotta shit . . .” pretty well sums it up. Mine started with knee pain, and progressed from there to my back going out on the day before I had signed up to run an ultra marathon. I recovered from that to encounter rotator cuff surgery, which I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. The list goes on.
That story has become legendary among my running friends as we kid each other about the various ailments we experience while pushing our bodies to untold extremes in various sporting escapades. The running joke (pun intended) when one of us is injured is to say:
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then sacrifices his money to recuperate his health.” –Dalai Lama
One of my greatest joys in leaving the tech industry was terminating my email account at Oracle. That was another leash I did not mind removing. As a marketing manager, I performed most of my job through email. I managed independent software vendors (ISVs) who ran their software on Oracle systems. These ISVs were all over the world, so emails were flying into my inbox 24 hours a day. I had the weekends to breathe, but as time zones go, Saturday mornings would see emails from Asia, and Sunday evenings, they started flying in from Europe. It was relentless and required constant attention to avoid getting in the hot seat with an important partner.
I love email and what it enables. But I hate it more than I love it. My brain was not made to operate in this way. Even without my tech job, I can’t seem to avoid using email. But I did find a way to keep myself from being enslaved to it. Working at Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) has made all the difference in the world. In my interview, I was told,
“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
Are you kidding me? How can a company survive in today’s information-driven economy without email? A Freakonomics podcast titled “Should America Be Run By … Trader Joe’s?”(1) hinted that they are doing quite well without email, and much more, that grocery store chains accept as modus operandi. I believe TJ’s is on to something.
Most of us would agree that society would be better off slowing down and incorporating more rest. Much of the chaos and societal ills we see in the world today can be attributed to our being overloaded. Dr. Richard Swenson nailed it in his 2004 best-selling book about the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits, “Margin”(2). To take away that space is like reading a book without margins. You won’t get very far. That is what is happening today; we are exceeding our limits.
Email is a classic margin-eater. It not only devours our free time, but also creates a continuous 24/7 flow of information that can spew 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 grief and exhaustion for all involved. We all have experienced how email has transcended into our personal lives and at work. Even a vacation can create a backlog of emails that is enough to make you wish that you never left.
Yet, we must acknowledge that email is a way of life today. There is no getting around it if you want to accomplish something that involves more than just yourself. Approximately 333 billion emails are sent every day. That’s 3.5 million emails per second!(3) Email is the preferred method of communication in almost all situations.
An interesting (and humorous) read about how email has impacted the mainstream business world is Dan Lyons’ “Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Start-Up Bubble.” Dan describes how HubSpot, a Boston start-up, was positioning its product as a means of reducing email spam:
“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 forty years ago, none of us were doing email at work. It had not been invented. Looking back now, it was wonderful. Email first found its way into my work environment in the mid-1980s as I launched my high technology career at ROLM Corporation. We worked hard at ROLM without email. Yet when I left the office to come home, I was truly done. My work stayed at the office.
Then IBM purchased ROLM in 1984 and we were introduced to IBM’s PROFS (Professional Office System), which was IBM’s first email system. Most of us viewed PROFS as a joke. It simply relayed information from IBM corporate, which had minimal 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, about two-thirds of my day was spent navigating email. The volume was suffocating. Even in meetings, I was only half-listening as I browsed my “urgent” messages. Like the Israelites crossing the desert in the Bible, email became a cloud that followed me home and on my vacations. Improvements to the cell phone networks soon delivered email exchanges to my phone. Holy cow, I could send emails while sitting on the KT22 chairlift at Squaw Valley surveying my next ski run down (“Hey Mark, is my tax return ready yet?”).
Transitioning to Trader Joe’s
Leaving Oracle and my email inbox behind was great, but Marla and I still needed to find health insurance for our family. COBRA(4) is expensive! As we explored options, I decided to go into our local Trader Joe’s to complete a job application. No appointment was necessary. The application was quick—it only asked for my high school education.
Ha. This should be fun!
Next thing I knew I was sitting on a milk crate in the back of the store. Amelia (the 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?”
Those words were music to my ears. Without a thought, I decided to give it a try. I am coming up on my fifth year at the store and have loved every day of it. When I punch out at the end of my shift, I am content to know that I worked hard to get the job done and can go home satisfied (and tired). Whatever is left behind gets picked up by the next shift. I’m working harder and resting more than I have in a long time. On payday, a TJ’s Mate hand delivers my paycheck with a sincere thank you. It may be missing a digit or two from my tech days, but the culture at TJ’s has won me over. As a life coach, I now understand the value of smiling and laughing all day. This is what I envision work in heaven to be like!
Here are my top ten reasons I like working at TJ’s:
1. “We don’t do email…”
When I enter the store, I turn off my phone. No email. If we need to communicate, we go face-to-face or ring bells. It is refreshing. I have more margin.
2. We’re on a ship.
We’re all at sea on a ship in the South Pacific at TJ’s. Our jobs are crystal clear to keep our boat on course. One Captain (button aloha shirt), a couple of Mates (different aloha shirts), and the rest of the Crew Members (“Crew Member” T-shirts) communicate by ringing bells that allow us to be “armed to the teeth” to react to our customers’ needs on a moment’s notice.
3. Variety is the spice of life.
Each shift is divided into eight blocks (for each hour). Each block designates a different job in the store for that hour. At the top of every hour, we all switch jobs. In one shift, I work many different jobs to keep the store stocked, organized, clean, and profitable. It sounds simple (and it is), but it makes my day fly by hand-over-fist, and helps me learn the entire store operation.
Meetings (called “huddles”) are 5-minute stand-up gatherings in the back galley to communicate important news about keeping things “ship shape” in the store. 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 wow our customers.
5. Fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs. Every day I get fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs from my fellow crew members at TJ’s, even at the end of a shift when they leave. This surprised me at first. If I were to exhibit this behavior at Oracle, I might end up at the HR office. The first couple of shifts I experienced this, I thought these folks were leaving the company! It does wonders for morale.
6. Happy people.
Employees at TJ’s are happy, which makes the customers happy. I am happy to work there. It’s “hunky-dory.”
7. Everyone plays. When I started at TJ’s, I wondered why they hired me. Then I saw others they hired, and I wondered why they hired them! It took me a while to understand their strategy. It’s like AYSO (American Youth Soccer). Everyone plays at TJ’s. They employ people with special needs who work right alongside the rest of us. It gives those individuals a great sense of pride to be a part of the TJ’s crew, and the benefits to all, overall, are huge.
Many of my co-workers are my young adult children’s age. They are fun, energetic, and full of interesting insights on life. Most of them have other jobs or school or both. They are all “gung-ho” to make a future. They talk to me like I am one of them. At T’Js, I am.
It’s a kick.
9. Hard (physical) work. Trader Joe’s business model is all about very high volume to attain very low prices. I soon discovered the considerable amount of physical labor involved in accomplishing that. Like the pyramids in Egypt, it all happens one block at a time. The physical effort to move all that product in the back door and out the front door every day is significant. I walk an average of 4 miles and lift an untold amount of weight every day in the store. I have never felt better. I’m getting paid to go to the gym.
10. Just be you. TJ’s 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 wear shorts and my Hoka’s to work every day. And I love dressing up for the holidays.
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
-Bronnie Ware (1)
While the world’s first microprocessor (2) was catalyzing the personal computer revolution in Silicon Valley, the sport of surfing was forever changed by the invention of the surf leash. I was a sophomore in high school when I first saw a surf leash in action while surfing at Swami’s Beach in Encinitas. I was stupefied! Tying your foot to your surfboard with a rubber cord virtually eliminated all repercussions of wiping out on a wave. It seemed criminal to me. Yet it quickly became a de facto standard for surfers, helping drive a significant transformation of the sport over the next decade. Most in the water today have never surfed without a leash.
Before the leash, surfing not only mandated good swimming and paddling skills, but also required a more cautious approach to the wave you were riding. If you fell and lost your board, the backlash could include a long swim in (after some cussing and swearing), paddling back out against incoming waves, and potentially an afternoon in your garage doing ding repair (if rocks or other surfboards got involved). Growing up surfing in the 60s included a lot of swimming, paddling, and ding repair. It was how we learned!
Pat O’Neill, son of acclaimed wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill, is generally acknowledged for inventing the modern surf leash in 1971.(3) In those days, a lost board at Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz meant almost certain death on the rocks, so it is easy to understand his motivation. The surf leash is also how Jack O’Neill lost his left eye. The early versions were made from a coiled surgical cord that would shoot the board back like a bullet after a wipeout. Ouch! I imagine Jack shouldered his share of, “You’ll shoot your eye out” jokes with that one. (4)
An early version of the surf leash poked out Jack O’Neill’s eye!
The surf leash helped spawn an avant-garde generation of shortboard surfers fashioning a new style of surfing that required minimal foot movement on the board and maximum body language above the waist. Suddenly, the hot surfers were wiggling like a hula-hooper to slash and tear up and down the face of the wave on boards that were barely any taller than they were. There was no penalty for trying something beyond your ability, as you could immediately try it again. The result was a dramatic shiftin what became possible on a wave.
Like Intel’s first microprocessor, the surf leash had its skeptics. For those of us who had grown up surfing longboards without a leash in the 60s, this major innovation to the sport was not all good news. If you liked to freely walk up and down the board while riding a wave, strapping on the leash was analogous to attaching a chain and ball to your leg. Mobility on the board was limited, as there was a tendency to tangle with the cord and/or step on the cord with your bare feet if you did move.
The leash also negated the thrill of trying not to fall while riding a more challenging section of a wave. There were no serious consequences to falling, so why not try something crazy? Kicking out of a wave was a technically advanced skill before the leash (with longboards). With the leash, a swan dive was now just as effective in exiting a wave. I likened it to the safety net for the flying trapeze artists at the circus. The success of any given move did not look so formidable once you realized they weren’t going to die if they fell.
We quickly labeled it the “kook cord,” and agreed among our inner circle not to use it. Most troublesome was the increase in crowds that developed, as nobody had to swim in for their board if they fell. It brought out people at breaks who had no right to be surfing there. Getting outmatched by a wave and paying the price with a swim to shore and paddle back out was not only good tutoring, but also great for those in the lineup waiting for the next set. At a place like San Onofre, it could take thirty minutes for someone who had lost their board to reappear into the lineup.
My daughter Marisa navigating the rock dance with her leash at San Onofre.
However, it soon became apparent that I would lose quickly in the game of improving my surfing if I went without it. That caught my attention. Of course, I wanted to be the best surfer in the water, and there was no denying that the leash gave you more time to ride waves. As soon as I noticed someone pass me by with a new maneuver, I caved in and sheepishly strapped the shackle onto my ankle.
When wave and crowd conditions allow, I still do sometimes paddle out without a leash. A sense of freedom and excitement immediately washes over me. It’s like removing the seat belt and rolling down the windows in my car on a bluebird day. Caution is in the air, but I feel free as a bird. Nostalgia sets in. This is how surfing was meant to be. There is an excitement of risk in trying to “hang five,” knowing I could lose contact with my board by falling. I can move up and down the board without hindrance or fear of getting tangled. My surfboard becomes a part of me that I hold onto at all costs. The stoke of a long ride without a leash takes on greater joy, lifting me to kick out with a howl. My soul is awakened in the triumph. It takes me back to my roots and reminds me how the ocean has been a part of my growing and learning as a human being. One day I will look back and realize that each fall and subsequent swim to shore was a part of God’s plan for my life.
Taking off the Leash in Life
After 25 years in several high-tech sales and marketing jobs in Silicon Valley (Chapter 12, New Beginnings), I took a year off to complete a rigorous training program with twenty other classmates to become a New Ventures West Integral Coach® (a life coach). At our graduation, we each had a moment to express what those twelve months meant to us. My summation of the twelve months was that it taught me how to surf without a leash. Unleashing from the security of my high-tech job (and paycheck) had provided me the freedom to live a life truer to myself as opposed to the life the world expected of me. I had discovered that ridingthe Silicon Valley Express train had me so wound up on a daily basis that I had lost track of who I was. I didn’t have time for that!
A big part of learning to be a life coach was learning how to be present. For me, that meant slowing down. A lot.
Amid my busyness, I saw my life passing me by. I was checking off all the boxes to earn a living, support my family, and care for my health. Yet, in that struggle, I had lost touch with who I was. The New Ventures West coaching program provided me the opportunity to paddle out without my leash. A new awareness began to wash over me. It was refreshing and new!
What I had experienced was clarified in a book I read, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing by Bronnie Ware. It is a memoir about Bronnie’s journey to self-discovery, which led her to care for the needs of the dying. Her life was transformed by that experience of tending to those who were in their final days on this earth. I admired Bronnie’s 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. It is a simple retelling of how one can learn to listen carefully to our internal compass.
That twelve-month break from the Silicon Valley juggernaut allowed me to experience the liberation of who I was. It was not easy; I fell a lot and still do. Yet learning to enjoy the swim and gaining strength from the paddle back out sharpened my understanding of who I was inside. I learned to listen deeply to what God’s plan for my life is. It is a marvelous and life-changing experience that continues to evolve as I move forward today.
After graduating from New Ventures West, I left my high technology job behind and found a second career at Trader Joe’s.
“The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing” by Bronnie Ware Here is a quick recap of the “Top Five Regrets”:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
2. The world’s first microprocessor (a complete central processing unit on a single chip) was introduced by Intel in March of 1971 (Intel 4044). This eventually led to the development of the personal computer (PC).
4. In the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, Ralphie’s request to get an official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot air rifle for Christmas is countered by his mother (and Santa Claus) with, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”.
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” -Mark Twain
When I first heard about Steve Jobs’ death, I was in the midst of my marketing gig at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco (October 5, 2011). It was our annual pilgrimage to shut down Howard Street, bring in the America’s Cup sailboats, and paint San Francisco Oracle red. We needed a couple of iPods for our booth giveaways, so I escaped the madness of the Moscone Center to walk a few blocks in the warm fall daylight to the Apple store near Union Square. I was navigating rush-hour pedestrians in the city while enjoying the fresh air, when I was stopped cold at a fortress of candles on the sidewalk surrounding the Apple store entrance. Steve Jobs had just died.
Employees and customers were wandering around like zombies, ruminating over the shocking news. It was as if the store needed to cease operations and digest the depth of it all. I even found myself in a state of denial. The suddenness of his passing hit hard. The iPhone 4s had been announced just a day earlier as swarms of techies were buzzing in like bees to honey for a taste of Apple’s latest innovation. And yet the incongruity was that the architect of it all had vanished. No one could quite grasp it.
Without question, Steve Jobs was one of the most remarkable leaders in the history of Silicon Valley. Suddenly, he was gone at the premature age of fifty-six. It was a sonic boom throughout the industry. Silicon Valley was experiencing a Loma Prieta aftershock like never before. We all had to rethink our world without Steve Jobs.
Walter Isaacson’s enthralling biography Steve Jobs was released just a few weeks later. For me, it was a page burner to delve into Isaacson’s account of his life. Jobs and I were born just a month apart, so I was more than curious to hear his story and better understand his genius. In the words of Isaacson, Jobs was the “ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination.”(1)He combined artistic creativity with technological innovation to upend the computer industry forever.
Steve Jobs was known to “think differently.” His inventions completely transformed computer design and the user interface. To place his impact into a surfing context would be to compare the influence Bob Simmons had on lightweight surfboard design in the 1940s.(2) Simmons was the first to introduce lightweight foam and fiberglass into surfboard design. Prior to that, everyone was riding 100-pound redwood planks. Nobody at that time could have predicted the shortboard revolution that followed as a result of Simmons’ ingenuity. Surfing was changed forever.
I was fascinated with how Steve Jobs’ career paralleled the explosive growth of Silicon Valley following the invention of the personal computer (PC). The story of his emergence from the Los Altos garage to co-founding Apple Computers was like reading a Stephen Ambrose war epic on how the battle of Silicon Valley was won. Even his high school days captivated me, including the pranks he orchestrated (I could relate!). Yet, for all those days I spent surfing in high school, Steve was fiddling with computers in his garage, preparing to change the world.
As I devoured Isaacson’s narrative, there was an element of Steve Jobs’ personality that made me uncomfortable and deeply stirred my concern for who he was at the core. At times, Jobs could be a sociopathic monster in his handling of people who seemed to get in the way of where he was trying to go. His unruly antics were well-documented. Some of the stories of him thrashing his people who did not deliver on his expectations were horrific. I think most would agree that he reached the top of the mountain, but it came at an agonizing price to many who worked alongside him. It was a fascinating character study.
Yet, his list of accomplishments were unequaled. A short list of new product introductions in thirty years at Apple speaks to his genius:
Apple I, 1976 (Apple II, 1977)
Despite all this, as I read Isaacson’s account, I could not help but wonder: Was it worth it? At what price did Steve Jobs attain this level of notoriety? How might God judge him? After reading the coming-of-age memoir of Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Small Fry), who was Steve Jobs’ first child, the legacy of his behavior began to show through. Although he was not always willing to admit that she was his daughter, her view of life with him provided insight into the anxieties of coming into the world as an inconvenience to her success-obsessed father. It was a provocative read for all of us to see the stardom Jobs achieved through the eyes of a child.
Steve Jobs did not appear concerned about God. The treasures in heaven did not appear to be on his radar. He experienced acclaim beyond what anyone could have imagined in his quest to deliver products that changed the world.
As Apple became the world’s first company to record a market capitalization of $1 trillion in 2018, much of the credit surely goes to Steve Jobs. According to our world’s definition of success, he did come out on top.
Yet, I would like to propose that there is another side to that coin. What if we evaluate a person’s life with a different standard? What if everything we do here in this life on planet earth has an eternal value? Would that change the way we all view our life today?
Jesus came to tell us that everything we do in this life really matters once we get to heaven.(3) As good as we know heaven will be, there is one significant point that is missing in that 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. Heaven can’t wait!
Everything We Do in This Life Matters
If your aim is to build a life of enduring significance, this is a momentous point. I lived most of my life without truly grasping it. Having a vision of my future in heaven has rearranged my priorities and clarified my sense of identity. Eternity is motivating me to take this life very seriously. There is a spiritual battle going on today in our world where eternal issues are at stake.The temptation of the evil one is to lure us into complacency to think that it does not matter how you live this life. That is a lie—don’t believe it. What happens in Las Vegas does not truly stay in Las Vegas!
Every day we live on this earth is impacting our life in heaven forever.
According to research, we can spend up to 90,000 hours at work in our lifetime.(4) In Silicon Valley, that is a grossly conservative estimate based on a 40-hour work week (Ha!). Does it matter how we spend that time? The race I had been running was to do whatever it took in those 90,000 hours to maximize my income so I could hopefully cash out early and start enjoying life. The winners were the ones crossing that line first.
Jesus has a different take. He made it clear that there is a direct connection between what you do in those 90,000 hours and the life you spend in paradise.
“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,” (Matthew 16:27, NIV, emphasis mine).
When we get to heaven, Jesus is telling us that we will be repaid according to how we have lived our life on earth. Even though we are in heaven, and our joy is complete, we will have rewards waiting for us when we arrive. This promise is not an isolated incident in the Bible. There are many examples of Jesus telling us that what we are doing here on earth really matters once we get to Heaven. It is a recurring theme in the New Testament:
“Yes, leap for joy! For you will have a great reward awaiting you in heaven,” (Luke 6:23,TLB, emphasis mine).
“If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven,” (Matthew 19:21, TLB, emphasis mine).
“Be very glad! for a tremendous reward awaits you up in heaven,” (Matthew 5:12, TLB, emphasis mine).
Statements like “leap for joy” and “be very glad” are signs that this topic gets special attention from God. He is keeping track of us as we live our life here on earth. Eventually (when we cross over into heaven), He will reward us for how well we’ve done.
This is not about doing good works on earth in order to get to heaven. The Bible is explicit about that. Going to Heaven is strictly an act of faith—not an act of works. The apostle Paul makes this point quite powerfully throughout the book of Romans in the New Testament.(5) 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:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16, NIV).
It is important to note that this discussion is also not about winners and losers. If we are already in heaven, everyone will be a winner! But Jesus is clear that there will be recompense waiting when we get there.
Several books have been written on this topic. One of my favorites is Bruce Wilkinson’s A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever, which hits it head on. It’s a small book and a quick read.
Wilkinson explains that our beliefs (faith) are what unlock the door to our eternal life in heaven. If we believe that Jesus is who He said He is, we will get to heaven. That is what Wilkinson calls having faith. However, our behaviors are what unlock the door to rewards and determine how we will spend eternity. It is our behavior on earth that will impact the rewards we receive when we get to heaven. And by the way, that part lasts forever. I will admit that when I look at how fast my life here on earth has flown by, this forever part has garnered my attention!
Rewards in Heaven
So, what will these rewards in heaven be? What might they look like?
The Greek root of the word rewards is misthos, which translates to “wages.” Jesus appears to be telling us that we are going to get paid for our time here on earth, and that it will have unending value in heaven. 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.
In spite of my studies in this area, I am far from speculating what those heavenly rewards could mean. Knowing what I do about Jesus, I feel pretty confident they will be specific to each person and well worth the effort. I like the view American Pastor John MacArthur, Jr. has on it:
“There will be varying degrees of reward in heaven. That shouldn’t surprise us: There are varying degrees of giftedness even here on earth.”
This is having an impact on me now. I am envisioning that a secluded surfing spot with warm water and perfect waves just might be a possibility in heaven. Why not?
As for the behavior God is looking for, Jesus was always on message. It boiled down to one word: love.(6) It seems so simple. It is what the world needs a lot more of today.
The Impact on Silicon Valley
These words rock the life we are living here in Silicon Valley. Jesus came to tell us there is something much greater awaiting in heaven. To put it in surfing terminology, we must learn to paddle against the incoming tide. When I am out at Steamer Lane on a big day the constant push of powerful swells coming toward shore requires constant paddling just to maintain my position in the lineup. Everything around me is going the other way.
In the final few paragraphs of Isaacson’s book (Chapter 42; Legacy: The Brightest Heaven of Invention), Steve Jobs reflected on his 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.”
Our life truly is a mist that appears briefly, and then quickly fades.(7) I want heaven to be proud of the life I lived here on earth. There will be no penalties—we will be in heaven. Yet, the work each of us is doing in our life here on earth is helping to construct that mansion that God is building for us in heaven. Nothing is ever lost or wasted with God. Everything we do on earth will build on the everlasting life we spend in heaven. Every day really does matter.
In his book The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says (8), Chip Ingram frames this point with a picture of a dot connected to a line:
Your entire life history on planet earth is represented by a dot, and your eternal life in heaven is represented by a continuous line that has no end. So, the question to ask yourself is whether you are living for the dot or for the line?
I would have to admit that I have lived the majority of my life for the dot. It’s a ton of work to paddle against those currents when the world around me is going the other way. I live a constant battle to stay aligned with the instruction Jesus gives us:
“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26, NIV)
Steve Jobs built an empire that left him on top of the mountain in Silicon Valley. It is hard to argue with the success he achieved. He maximized the dot. You might even think of the $5 billion Apple campus in Cupertino (AKA, “the spaceship”) as an iconic symbol of maximizing that dot. It is even visible from outer space!
Apple Park in Cupertino (2.8 million square feet of floor space and 1-mile in circumference) (image by unsplash.com)
And yet, Jesus came into this world to redefine true greatness. In His kingdom, the least are seen as the greatest. The meek inherit the earth. The servant outshines the ruler. The first end up last and the last are first.(9) Jesus is telling us to focus on the line with no end. Those treasures will last for an eternity.
Heaven can’t wait. It is happening right now.
Playing Maximus in the movie “Gladiator,” Russell Crowe summed it up well:
“What you do in this life echoes through eternity.”
Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. Simon and Schuster: 2011.
Bob Simmons was the “mad scientist” who pioneered lightweight surfboard design in the 1940s in southern California and is often credited as the father of the modern surfboard. As a Cal Tech graduate who worked as a mathematician at Douglas Aircraft, he radically changed surfboard design more than anyone else before or since him. As stated on the Surfing Heritage & Culture Center website, “Bob Simmons was the first person to consciously and purposefully apply hydrodynamic theory to create dynamic lift in surfboards; the first one to use fiberglass and resin to strengthen lighter weight boards; and the first one to actually define a surfboard and describe how it works.” Tragically, Simmons died while surfing Windansea Beach in Lo Jolla on a big day in 1954 at the age of thirty five.
Dad (Jack B Mulkey) was a friend of Bob’s and often referred to him in his memories of surfing Malibu in the 1940s and 1950s. Dad is riding a 10’9″ Bob Simmons Plywood Foam surfboard (called a “Foam Sandwich”) on the cover of this book. That surfboard was a major breakthrough from the Redwood Planks they had been riding, which could weigh over 100 pounds. http://www.legendarysurfers.com/2016/11/bob-simmons-1919-1954.html
Jesus came to tell us that everything we do in this life really matters once we get to heaven:
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Luke 6:23, NIV)
“You will have a treasure in heaven,” (Matthew 19:21, NIV).
“You will be blessed… for you shall be repaid at the resurrection,” (Luke 14:14, NIV).
“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven …” (Matthew 5:12, NIV).
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” (Romans 10:9, NIV).
“…The Lord our God is the one and only God. And you must love him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. The second is: ‘You must love others as much as yourself.’ No other commandments are greater than these,” (Mark 12:28-31, TLB).
“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes,” (James 4:14, NIV).
Ingram, Chip. The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says. Baker Books: 2016.
Luke 13:30; Mark 10:31; Matthew 27:64; Matthew 20:16 (all NIV)
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.”
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” -Proverbs 19:21
My faith and patience were acutely tested following my layoff from Oracle. I was putting in more hours in the job search than I had my job at Oracle, only to be consistently told I did not make the cut. This resulted in many questions that seemed to hang in the air and go nowhere. Of course, my age was at the top of the list. A cloud of doubt was setting in. It was like a long lull off the end of the jetty in CdM that never seemed to end. I refused to paddle in. Surely one last set was coming. But the sun was going down and I was getting cold.
In the midst of it all, I reflected on a meeting I had a couple years back with a close friend, Roger Williams,[i] who was always so positive and confident in how God is at work in our trials. Roger was the President and CEO of the Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He walked through life here on earth with the exhilaration of his salvation as if he were walking on the precipice of heaven. He truly glowed as a living example of how the Scriptures can guide and transform you. Nothing speaks louder to me than a life like Roger’s that has been transformed by what God offers.
I had met with Roger while he was in the midst of an arduous struggle with cancer. He continued teaching and providing visionary leadership at Mount Hermon during his battle. I sensed a calling from God and knew Roger could help guide me. Although it was a challenging time for him with his declining health, we spent over two and-a-half hours that evening. Roger spoke with intensity and delight that I can’t quite do justice with words. It was as if our meeting had been ordained by God.
My direct question was, “how had you known that it was God calling when you gave up your successful business career and beautiful home to go into ministry?”
Roger did not hesitate; his response was crystal clear. He told me that God had quite simply hit him over the head with a 2×4 when his calling arrived. It was obvious. There was no mistaking it. “You will know for sure when it happens to you,” he told me.
And after hearing the specifics of his story around his calling to serve, I had to agree. A 2×4 had hit him! I left that meeting with a great sense of relief and drove over the summit on Highway 17, thankful for such lucid advice from such a dear friend.
Suddenly, Roger’s wisdom rang out to me; there was no mistaking the 2×4. The cloud of doubt was lifting; it was all suddenly quite clear. I began to see that I had been hit multiple times!
My layoff from Oracle hit me with the power of a steel 2×4. It shook my foundation. In pursuing the job search and taking classes from the outplacement firm, I sensed that my heart was not fully in the work I was seeking. The fear of unemployment was driving me. The bills were still coming in and I needed to work!
Then two more 2×4s descended onto my head that finally rang my bell. God was calling.
The first was a job opportunity I pursued at a data storage company in downtown Mountain View, PureStorage. The stars had finally aligned, and I felt like this was the job for me. I had twelve interviews and two extensive presentations to their executive staff over a couple of months. It had been all-consuming and appeared to be a perfect fit. I had good inside contacts and from everything I could see, they liked me. They targeted the Oracle database customers as a new opportunity and needed a seasoned marketing professional to navigate Oracle’s myriad of product teams, organizations, and technology. I could even walk to the office from home.
In the end, I had to call them to find out they had hired someone else. That was a Muhammad Ali shot straight to the forehead. I was on my back.
Feeling quite dazed and discouraged, a good friend set me up to meet with a senior executive from a venture capital company on Sand Hill Road who worked with Silicon Valley start-ups. Surely, he could set me straight on how to land a marketing job in this valley. We met outdoors at Philz Coffee in Palo Alto, and I will never forget the first words out of his mouth (beyond the niceties):
“You’ll never get hired in this valley.”
I gurgled my sip of coffee, almost getting it down the wrong pipe.
“Uhum. Excuse me?”
He had not even looked at the manila folder I had handed him with all my good deeds. I was utterly flabbergasted and did not know what to say. My sales pitch was gone. The wind had gone out of my sails. No waves were coming. The sun had set. I might as well paddle in.
His next sentence provided clarity, but still hung in the air like the Hindenburg poised to explode into flames:
“The average age of a CEO [start-up] in this valley is just over 30 years, and they are not going to hire you.”
That was the only time I can remember not finishing my Philz coffee. I had plenty of adrenaline running through my veins already. And the buzz lasted for days. That 2×4 settled it. Roger was right; there was no question.
Faith and Patience
With a serious dose of faith that the bills would get paid and much patience that I could wait twelve months to start, I enrolled in a 1-year training program to become a professional life coach (a New Ventures West Integral Coach). This set a path for me to transition my career from high-tech marketing to helping others navigate work/life balance challenges in Silicon Valley. It was a job made in heaven for me to go on a mission of self-discovery for my future. I was stoked!
New Ventures West (NVW) had the most advanced training curriculum available, with a seasoned faculty known for their wisdom and experience in coaching. I needed the best to effectively lead people in a discussion about balancing priorities in Silicon Valley. It felt right. I was sure God was directing me.
That year was a fantastic transformation of my self-identity as I looked deep inside to find my passage forward. I was coached myself in the class (by instructors and fellow students) to understand the experience my clients would have. That meant learning to slow down and listen with my heart about what was going on inside. It was quite uncomfortable for someone who had been riding the express train in Silicon Valley for twenty-five years. My world had been all about going faster, not slower. But I could feel it was right. I was finally on a path I could follow with my heart. It was life-changing stuff. To put it in surfing terms (as one of my classmates described it), I was learning to “Hang 11!”
Epilog on Roger Williams
[i] Roger went to his heavenly home on September 14, 2014, succumbing to cancer that he called “his insidious dance partner.” His passing came just a few days after his 21st anniversary at Mount Hermon. Praise God for the gift I was given that day to be with Roger and drink from the deep well of wisdom he offered.
While I was very sad to lose Roger as a friend and mentor here on earth, I feel closer to him than ever and rejoice in the thought of joining him in heaven. Roger was one of the first people to get me excited about heaven. He spoke of it as if he had been there. I can still hear his voice calling out to us on the shore’s edge as the sun was painting its portrait:
“Folks, we can count on God’s promise that heaven will far surpass this beauty we see now.
If you think the colors are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.
If you think the sunsets are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.
If you think this is a beautiful place to live now – wait until you see it REDEEMED in heaven!”
Roger Williams (1947-2014)
Roger’s family posthumously published a book by him that he had been working on before his passing. The book showed up on our kitchen counter one night when I had arrived home late after the family had gone to bed. I had not known about it and was stunned! I could only wonder that Roger had ensured its delivery to comfort me. That very night I had been teaching a group of young adults at our church on the topic of “Heaven” and had been questioning myself the entire drive home as to my qualifications to do so. The title of the book is:
Hearing From Heaven: A Memoir of God At Work At Mount Hermon by Roger Williams