“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.”
“Those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” ― Isaiah 49:23
Let’s cut to the chase. I write this book to assure you that your future is secure! God and His Word remain utterly trustworthy. Nothing else can match the Bible (including Google) for finding the truth. The world needs Jesus now more than ever—it needs His words now more than ever. I am not sure there has ever been a more critical time to be reading the best-selling book of all time (i.e., the Bible).
The Bible is unequivocal about our future. Sickness and death are not the end of our story. There is a place called heaven that will be better than anything we can imagine here on Earth. The Bible is clear that heaven will be beyond anything our imagination can create.
There is one big problem. We must acknowledge the presence of evil. According to the Bible, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one .”(1) Satan has been present in our world from the very beginning. (2) The apostle Peter described Satan as “a hungry, roaring lion, looking for some victim to deceive and tear apart.” (3) Just turn on the evening news, and you will see fresh evidence. Every night. I can’t even answer my phone or respond to an email for fear that someone may be trying to deceive me. We are increasingly under attack from all directions.
This is a direct result of the Bible losing relevance in society today. The Bible has been moved to second fiddle. It is no longer playing the leading role in guiding humanity’s choices, and the results are telling. As an example, I am reading a book right now (non-fiction) where the protagonist describes the Bible as “archaic, old, and meaningless in modern society.”
Without God and His deep wisdom as an anchor, we interpret life with only human insight, leaving us hanging by a thread.
My goal with this book is to change that trajectory by injecting the promise of heaven into the world, especially to those closest to me. Heaven derails Satan’s goal of destroying our future. The whole reason God sent Jesus to Earth was to conquer death and to assure us about heaven, which includes victory over death. (4)
We spoil Satan’s plan for our demise by keeping our eyes fixed on heaven. The evil one does not want us to believe there is a heaven. He does not want us to read the truth of scripture. Heaven gives us the hope that the evil one wants to destroy. Heaven gives us security about where we are going. Heaven will be a world without Satan; it will be nirvana.
I recently had a discussion with a customer at Trader Joe’s that gave me a taste of how far we have strayed from God’s word. One of the things I enjoy about being in the store is that you gain a pulse on your community.
“We are going to let them decide …”
A young lady came to my line at the cash register with a shopping cart of groceries. She was pregnant and clearly ready to have the baby any day (or hour!). I struck up a conversation about how she was doing as I was scanning in the groceries. I enjoy talking to expectant parents to relive the wonderful memories of our two children being born. I asked her the usual questions: When are you due? What hospital? First child? How are you feeling? It all went smoothly until I asked,
“Do you know if it is a boy or girl?”.
She paused, as I continued to scan the groceries. Then she looked up at me and responded,
“Well, we are going to let them decide.”
I continued bagging her groceries while trying to figure out what she meant. Then it hit me: She would not identify the sex of their baby by the fact that it came out as a boy or a girl. She would let them decide!
Oh my. How sad.
I quickly finished bagging the groceries and sent her on her way with good wishes for the delivery. But it was hard for me to reconcile what just happened. I have thought about it many times since.
I stand behind the Bible as my only source of truth. Our life is a sacred gift from God, and the Bible answers how we should use it.
Satan is trying to drag us into the abyss. His goal is to see us lose hope, telling us that the Bible is outdated and irrelevant. Heaven is the last thing he wants us to think about. Heaven destroys his plan for us. It’s his worst nightmare.
I do believe something unrivaled awaits me in heaven. The very best we may have experienced here on Earth cannot possibly measure up to what God has planned. (5) Experiencing a sunset at the beach, a wildflower in the mountains, or a pelican riding the draft of a breaking wave; are just appetizers for what God has in store for us in heaven. It will be a place of complete sensory delight and breathtaking splendor with personal joy in relationships that is beyond our grasp.
The evil one won’t take away my hope! My future is secure in Jesus Christ.
Let me know how I can pray for you. (6)
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ― John 16:33
1 John 5:19 (NIV):
“We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”
Genesis 3:1 (NIV):
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
1Peter 5:8 (TLB):
”Be careful—watch out for attacks from Satan, your great enemy. He prowls around like a hungry, roaring lion, looking for some victim to tear apart.”
1John 3:8 (NIV): “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
Revelation 21:4 (NIV): “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.”
In the late 1940s when Dad surfed Malibu with his small band of friends who were lucky enough to have returned home from World War II (2), he told me he never went surfing in the winter. They did not have wetsuits then, so it was too cold to paddle out! Anyone who knew Dad would vouch for his hostility toward cold water (or weather for that matter). After fleeing the cold winters of Newport Beach to move to Kona in the 1980s, he would even tell us the winters in Kona were getting cold. He would ask for house slippers and sweatshirts for Christmas to stay warm.
Dad described standing on the beach at Malibu on a cold winter day, watching near-perfect waves rolling in without a single surfer in the water. That image has stuck with me. I fantasize about what it would have been like to paddle out in my toasty O’Neill wetsuit to have Malibu to myself back then. Just thinking about it gets me stoked.
It would have been a surfer’s paradise.
For me, heaven brings that surfing paradise into sight. I can envision waves better than Malibu peeling off perfectly without a soul in the water. I am giddy with anticipation to paddle out. Getting a clearer picture of my future in heaven has completely changed my perspective on life. For a God who moves mountains (3), waves in the world hereafter seem to be within reach.
Rewards in Heaven
In Jesus’ final hours with His disciples before His death, He told them He was preparing a mansion for each one of them in heaven (6), and that they would have great rewards waiting for them when they got there (7). I believe my mansion in heaven will be near a beach, and my rewards will include surfing. That seems like an easy one for a God who created it all (8). To put it from a surfer’s perspective, if Kelly Slater (11-time world champion surfer) can create a near-perfect 6-foot barreling wave in a desert in California’s Central Valley (kswaveco.com), could not our great God fulfill the promise of heaven with something even better? I am betting on it and looking forward to getting wet as soon as I get there! Grab your wax; I am excited in anticipation that you will be with me for the ride.
My portrayal undoubtedly will fall far short of the experience heaven will offer. Nothing in our human experience can reach the divine joy and beauty awaiting us there. I pray that this gives you hope and the will to accept God’s gift to ensure you will be there to paddle out with me.
Jesus’ final dying words to the thief who was hanging on the cross next to Him provides the perfect opening:
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
My Imperfect Sketch
My fascination with this idea has been running wild in my mind for years. In my zeal to envision what awaits me, a sketch came together of how my odyssey will go. It flowed naturally and feels right. In the words of Rebecca Ruter Springer (5),
“I submit this imperfect sketch of a most perfect vision.”
My time has come.
The angels arrive to bring me home. Without thought, I float up and away from my physical body, looking down on my family as I assimilate a complete timeline of my life on earth. Vivid images of home, family, friends, relatives, and so much more flow through me as I soak in the experiences they provided. Moving up and away faster than light can travel, childhood memories I had forgotten come back as vividly as the day they happened. Each recollection is like a giant Kodachrome slideshow. Tranquility envelops me as I see each moment in its perfect place. I am at peace and joyful. It is right with my soul. I am grateful for God’s hand in every part of it.
My sense of time disappears as my faithful Grandma Oa appears before me. Oh my! She is so young and beautiful, with her smile beaming at me. I am delighted to see her younger than I knew her.
“I am so glad to welcome you, Mike,” she says. “Everyone is very excited to see you!”
I know why without asking. Grandma faithfully prayed for me for many years. Tears of joy come to my eyes as I hug her. It goes beyond words to let her know how miraculous it is to see her again. We tightly embrace, feeling the love of God between us. Words are exchanged without talking. It’s as if we know each other’s thoughts before we think them. Our communication is perfect. There is no misunderstanding. Everything is right.
She leads me down a long path of the most beautiful grass I have ever seen–a brilliant shade of green that rivals the fairways at Pebble Beach. It feels like velvet under my feet as we walk together. A wondrous variety of plants and flowers surround us, so bright and colorful that I want to stop and inspect each one. They are perfect and appear freshly-bloomed. Everything is pure and clean as if bathed in an afternoon shower. Tall, majestic trees tower above us with hanging branches like weeping willows laden with flowers of every variety and color imaginable. Beyond the trees, I see orchards of ripe fruit-bearing trees with a translucent river meandering through. Waterfalls roar in the distance from lush mountains capped with white snow. Small birds in the trees are singing joyous songs of heaven’s praise. They drench me with their melodies from above like a mountain thunderstorm. It is breathtaking. The music embraces my soul as I behold an overwhelming feeling of harmony with nature (9). I have never felt more alive in my life.
I want to stop and explore the depth of what I am experiencing, but we continue walking, almost floating among this stunning scenery. I marvel at the perfection; a master gardener is in charge. We reach a rushing creek with water as clear as crystal running over brilliant stones of gold, silver, jasper, emerald, and pearl—even more stones than I can identify. It’s as if a pirate’s treasure chest has poured into the stream’s bed. Beautiful soft music soothes my spirit as we wade along the creek. It is a most breathtaking scene. Time is irrelevant. I could walk here forever.
The sky above is overflowing with brilliant colors, brighter than a noonday sun. Yet, I see no sun. A golden radiance fills the atmosphere like the afterglow of a brilliant sunset , although more intense. Grandma and I are not talking, yet our communication is complete. She knows what I am feeling. “It is well, Mike,” she reassures me. It is well.
Our path opens onto a massive beach with sand like freshly fallen snow. I pause to contemplate how it could be. The sand is warm and sneaks between my toes to nuzzle and comfort me. The air is soft and balmy, giving me energy and vitality. A light breeze feathers my face. I want to lie down and soak all this in, as I would in my youth on a hot day at Big Corona State Beach, where I grew up.
As we cross the sand with freshly-laid footprints, I see a structure that reminds me of the surf shack I’ve known so well at the San Onofre Surfing Club. Its design is perfect, with beautiful wooden surfboards lined across the side and a large white cross on top of a humble wooden steeple. I feel myself being drawn to it as we walk.
Approaching the structure, I see it is made from living trees that resemble palm trees growing in the sand. Their leaves naturally cover the roof, allowing the right amount of light inside. Dazzling multicolored flowers like Hawaiian leis grow from the tree limbs and branches. They are intricately woven around the steeple and roof. The air is full of sweet smells like gardenias, which engulf me as I am lured inside.
Euphoria overwhelms me as a hoard of family and friends are there to welcome me. It is the finest homecoming party ever! One by one, they greet and embrace me in mutual joy and wonder of shared experiences. Words cannot describe my feelings. I see mom; how glorious she looks! Her smile and laugh knock me over with emotions. We embrace as never before. Then Grandpa Cannon, Aunt Kathryn. Grandma Mary and Grandpa John wrap me in their arms! It’s as if they all have been friends forever. Then Aunt Sallye and Aunt Norma, my delight is breathtaking. Friends from our church, our former pastor Doug Goins, and even a classmate who passed away in junior high school, Scott Lusher. Holy cow!
Then I see the coach himself, John Wooden. Oh my! He looks at me with that Coach Wooden sparkle in his eye and says, once again,
“The most important thing in the world is family and love.”
Everyone is jubilant. The feeling of love consumes me. We gather in the delight of it all for longer than I know as more people continue to arrive. Even our dogs Riley and Redwood playfully push their way through the many people to nuzzle me with cold, wet noses, tails wagging with zeal for a scratch. I immediately roll onto the ground to grab them in playful hugs. Nothing could be better. I hear the words singing in my soul,
“His love endures forever.” (9)
Time stands still. Nobody is rushed or in a hurry to leave. I have lived my whole life for this. It is really heaven!
Surfing in Heaven
Beyond our gathering, I notice the ocean beyond with perfect eight-foot tubes curling in. Whoa!
I move in that direction, savoring the warmth of the sand on my toes. Nearing the water’s edge, I see three surfboards lying in the sand. I am overwhelmed by the scene before me. Angels are singing my praises to God.
I look up to see Dad next to his Bob Simmons surfboard. We embrace. Joyful tears run down my cheeks. He is healthy and robust with a tan as dark as a native Hawaiian. I am so glad to see him. Without speaking, he tells me he is sorry. Words cannot express my wonder and joy. There are no longer any barriers between us. It all makes sense now.
Next to Dad is my uncle Charles, his face painted like a Māori warrior, looking as if he is right off the mission fields of New Zealand, strong and full of energy. His board must be twelve feet long of the most beautiful, laminated woods I have ever seen. It is polished to a shiny gloss and looks like a surfboard Duke Kahanamoku would gloat over. He tells me that Dad taught him to surf and then calls out to me in his Māori tongue:
“Me haere ki te ngaru Mike!”.
I somehow know he said, “Let’s go surfing, Mike!”
Dad hands me the third surfboard and I am aghast to see my Hobie Corky Carroll “Super Mini” model that he bought me at the Hobie Surf Shop in San Clemente in 1968. What? It’s as new as the day we picked it up, with the exact blue, yellow, and green acid splash color design. The bright colors radiate between the pure white foam. This thing would glow in the dark! Picking it up, I realize it is lighter than any surfboard I have ever held. I can’t wait to catch my first wave on it. It is ready to go. I call back to them,
“Cowabunga dudes, let’s go surfing!”
Surfing in heaven? You must be kidding me!
It is a dream come true.
Gazing out, I see a long strand of glittering ivory-white sand extending to the horizon with perfect waves rolling in like clockwork on both sides of the strand; right-facing waves on the left and left-facing waves on the right. I watch the waves on both sides, stupefied. Unbelievably clean barrels are peeling off in succession for as far as I can see. The wave is a flawless combination of a point-break shoulder with a reef-break curl. I could not imagine a more ideal surfing spot. It is too good to be true.
“Lefts or rights?” I call out to them as we pick up our boards. In saying that, I quickly realize that we can go either way—there is no such thing as a goofy foot in heaven. I laugh out loud.
Stepping into the water, its clarity immediately catches me as it washes over my legs. As I wade out, I see a bright, multicolored coral reef with a myriad of neon-colored fish hoovering over the rocks under the crystal-clear water. I pause to comprehend it all while pinching my arm to remind myself that this is not a dream. I am going surfing in heaven.
The three of us are a picture of God’s provision as we beam smiles of joy in anticipation of what we know is coming. “Yeehaw!” I call out as the first wave rolls over me with a sweet smell and flavor. Its taste refreshes me as my body rinses completely dry like water off a duck’s back. Huh? Paddling over my next wave, I am sprayed by a feathering lip that trails a spectacular rainbow of colors in its wake.
Looking down, I notice I’m wearing my yellow “Hang Ten” surf trunks from my grammar school days in Corona del Mar. I chuckle, thinking how much I love them.
We quickly stroke around the breaking sections with Uncle Charles leading the way. I joke to Uncle Charles and Dad as we crest over yet another feathering lip,
“Only in heaven would I let that one go by!”
The white water explodes in brilliant white light as each wave breaks, as if light-emitting plankton are creating the light of day in the foam. The contrast with the exceptionally clear water is literally out of this world, like painting daylight onto a nocturnal night sky. I gasp at the beauty of it all before me and give the glory to God:
“His love endures forever.” (10)
Paddling beyond the impact zone, I can see no end to the strand of bleached white sand, with waves breaking on the horizon as far as I can see. Only when I decide to sit on my board to pause and take it all in does it hit me that everything in heaven is interrelated. It blows my mind.
Below me is an extraordinary collection of colored plants, fish, and rock emitting light rays as bright as daylight. It reminds me of a coral reef in Hawaii, but so much more intense and vivid. I can’t take my eyes off it. Dad and Charles are laughing as they see the grin on my face.
Dad calls out, “It’s as if the earth was a black-and-white movie, Michael.”
I can’t resist diving off my board into the depth of the rejuvenating water. Astonished, I can see perfectly and continue to breathe and talk underwater. “This is crazy!” I shout. Fish of unimaginable varieties and colors swim up to me as if they are a part of the homecoming party. I swim to the surface to tell Charles and Dad about my discovery.
They call back, “Welcome to heaven, Mike!”
Sitting on my board, I can see this is a surfing photographer’s dream, yet taking pictures no longer matters. The golden glory of the sky is powerful without any heat or sense that I could get sunburned. Clouds of unimaginable variety streak the stratosphere like a Matisse painting with colors I have never seen. I am at total peace to know I am home. I lift my voice to praise God for it. Heaven is way more than I had imagined.
Time is lost, but irrelevant. There are no boundaries around how long I have been out. The ocean and I are one.
“His love endures forever.” (10)
I look up to see Dad crossing a beautiful deep blue breaking wave that is well overhead and feathering a rainbow of vivid color behind him. He drags his foot off the tail of his Simmons Foam Sandwich to make a sweeping bottom turn and lets out a loud hoot as he sails by me, drawing a straight line across the face of the crystalline water. It is a sight to behold. My dad, ripping across an eight-foot wall on a 1940s vintage balsa surfboard. I howl at him, “Yeehaw!”
Behind him, seven blazing-white pelicans with gold-tipped wings appear in perfect formation, gliding just above the lip of the next wave. They are telling me “this is my wave!” Swiveling my board around in eager anticipation, I push off, and suddenly am flying down the smooth face of a double overhead wall of brilliant clear water. The pelicans sweep into view, marking that my time to surf in heaven has come.
I stand up and realize my balance is solid, and my feet are gripping my board, as if with booties. There’s no fear of falling. I howl praises to God,
“How great thou art, Lord!”
Screaming across the towering face of the wave feels like I am racing downhill from the top of a snow-covered mountain on skis. The brilliance of the sea life underwater lights my path as I lean right and carve a long, effortless bottom turn. My speed thrusts forward like the afterburners on a jet plane as I stare down the thick lip of the wave ahead, knowing I will make it.
I begin carving up and down the wave in total confidence of my abilities when seven pure white dolphins propel into my wave from behind, as if waiting for me. They cruise in formation leading the way like an escort of military fighter jets. They are guardian angels, magnificent in size and beautiful. In and out of the wave together, they gaze at me and know my every move. The symmetry and elegance of their surfing prowess are beyond words. I follow them turn for turn as we ride along the shore of the strand. They laugh, and I laugh. We make more turns than I can count. We share the perfect harmony in God’s eternal creation.
The wave transforms into a soft Steamer Lane-style shoulder as I jet out ahead of the break to carve a roundhouse cutback that makes a complete half-circle around the dolphins, back toward the curl. My trail is marked in the brilliant white light of the foam. The dolphin’s launch into the air in perfect formation as I fly by their glimmering hulks.
Cranking a floater off the white-water lip turns me back into the building face as the dolphins shepherd me into the next section of the wave as my momentum jets forward. The sand is glimmering in the shore break as I streak by faster than ever before on a surfboard, catching a glimpse of dad watching from the shack in his beach chair. He beams a broad smile as I consider how many times he watched me over my life.
The Green Room
Then it happens. In an instant, everything around me turns a glorious shade of green as the double overhead curl completely covers me, as if the wave is closing out. I center myself into the barrel of the wave, perfectly balanced as I ride inside a tunnel of green water. As I speed ahead, all fear washes away. It is my destiny to be here. My physical and spiritual body have become one with the energy of the wave. Joy overwhelms me as I realize this wave is beyond anything I have ever experienced on earth. It’s as if I am in slow motion, almost floating, as the surge of the wave carries me deeper into a brilliant cloud of green spray. A bright light leads me forward as I am humbled by God’s everlasting love. I sense every atom in my being. It is nirvana. I have never felt better. Thank you, God! Why did I doubt? Words cannot describe my connection to The Creator of it all. Like Moses at the burning bush, I am standing on holy ground. (11)
“His love endures forever.” (10)
Unaware of how long I am in there, I am next airborne, launching out of the green room as if I were shot from a circus cannon on my board. I hear the wave exploding behind me as I land softly onto the shoulder and look around to understand it all. The back spray showers me with warm rain drops. An ear-to-ear grin is frozen on my face. I can’t digest what just happened. My soul is at peace. My joy is complete.
The Hodads will have to hear about this one! The green room is much more than I could ever have imagined. I want to go back in, but the wave keeps me accelerating forward.
The dolphins take another jump in unison as they kick out from the back of the wave while I try and reflect on it all. I hear the praises of their work from above:
“Angels, from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth” (12)
Gliding across the shoulder onto open water like a water skier on Lake Tahoe, I leave the breaking section of the wave behind at full speed, as if I am kicking out. Yet my speed continues as I crank another turn on the glassy open water. I see mom watching from the shack with her patented Charlene smile, looking like she is at Malibu in the 1950s. I make my final cut back on flat water toward shore that carries me onto the warm white sand as the cool crystal water rushes up the beach.
I feel more at home than ever before. All my worries, anxieties, and concerns are lost. Finally, I can rest. This is where I belong. Hallelujah to our Lord of creation!
I ponder how the reality of heaven changes everything. This is the life that God planned. Oh, how my life on earth would have changed if I had seen the glory of what God had waiting for me. I am overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, and love for a God who could provide such perfection. I want to go and shout the truth to every surfer I know.
Colossians 3:2 (TLB) becomes my mantra:
“Let heaven fill your thoughts; don’t spend your time worrying about things down here.”
Matthew 21:21 (NIV):
“Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.”
Revelation 22:21-25 (NIV):
“And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.”
Author of: “Intra Muros, My Dream of Heaven,” 1898. Rebecca Ruter Springer captured a unique atmosphere of life in heaven like no other book I have come across. Published 120 years ago, she writes of an experience she had of going to heaven while seriously ill in a care home in Kentville, Illinois.
John 14:2 (KJV):
“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
Genesis 1:1 (NIV):
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. ”
Job 12:7-10 (NIV):
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all mankind.
Psalm 136 (NIV):
“His love endures forever.”(Repeated 26 times in Psalm 136)
Exodus 3:1-5 (NIV):
“Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” ”
“Contact Mike” at surfingforbalance.com if you want to know more about heaven or if you would like a list of books I recommend on heaven.
Will there be seas in heaven?
Revelation 21 (the second-to-the last chapter in the Bible) describes how Jesus sets up his kingdom of heaven on the New Earth and calls it the “New Jerusalem.” This New Jerusalem is where believers will spend eternity with God in their resurrected bodies. In essence, heaven returns to earth with Jesus as our King.
This chapter contains a detailed description of what this “New Jerusalem” will look like, including this statement about the absence of a sea:
“and there was no longer any sea on the new earth.” – Revelation 21:1 (NIV)
Throughout Scripture, the “sea” is symbolic of chaos and disorder, which will be absent in the New Jerusalem. Many Bible scholars believe this is the meaning of Revelation 21:1; the turbulence of our present age on earth will no longer be present in the New Jerusalem. We will be at peace in heaven.
Even if we assume this statement means that all saltwater seas are removed from the earth in New Jerusalem, it does not necessarily mean that all large bodies of water and beaches are gone. For example, the book of Revelation speaks of a great river flowing right through the New Jerusalem:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.” – Revelation 22:1-2a (NIV)
Surely that river has a source and a destination which ends in a large body of water. Perhaps there will be lakes like we have on earth today. Larger lakes act as freshwater oceans on the New Earth. The Great Lakes region of North America is an example. As we have today, the opportunity for waves to ride on a surfboard seems feasible.
In his book Heaven, Randy Alcorn makes an additional argument for having large bodies of water in heaven:
“Another reason I believe the New Earth will have large bodies of water is that, as I argue in chapter 39, the same animals that inhabit our current planet will inhabit the New Earth. Most animal species live underwater, not on land, and most of those live in the ocean. (It would certainly be no problem for God to refashion such creatures to live in freshwater.).”
“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!”.
“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the Earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.” -Abraham Lincoln
One of my favorite parts of our many trips to Baja over the years was spending an entire day on the beach watching the ebb and flow of the tide. There is nothing like it for absolute rest and relaxation. San Felipe, Mexico is one of the more glorious spots for this leisurely activity. It has one of the most significant tidal flows in the world, which can expose up to a kilometer of bare sand at low tide due in part to the Colorado River delta to the north.
We would take our beach chairs out to the water’s edge at the bottom of the low tide and then sit and soak in the warm Baja sun as the ripples of the incoming tide slowly crept back in. The goal was to test the elements of nature to see how long we could stay seated in our beach chairs until the incoming waves finally pushed us over. Of course, the cold beer helped us stay hydrated amid this taxing ordeal.
The tidal chart for surfers
For most of my life, I have studied the tides at my favorite surf spots in search of good waves to ride. Aside from the size of the incoming swell, nothing impacts the quality of the surf as much as the tide. The tidal charts (or tide tables) act as a surfer’s compass for locating good surf.
To briefly explain, there are four tidal flows every twenty-four hours (two “high” tides and two “low” tides) due to the rotation of the Earth. These four tidal conditions can have a startling impact on the quality of the waves. For example, Steamer Lane (Santa Cruz) in winter is often best when the tide is coming back in following a “low” tide. Even better if that incoming tide follows a “minus” low tide, which is when the low tide dips below 0.0 feet (like the example above at 8:27 am, -0.4 ft.).
However, at San Onofre (San Clemente), it is all about the south swells that sweep up the coast in the summer at a high tide. Classic San Onofre peaks roll in at Old Man’s that allow you to go left or right on either the incoming or outgoing side of that high tide (from 2 pm to 6 pm above).
The Miracle of the Tides
One of the innumerable examples God has given us to authenticate the wonder of his creation is the daily rhythm of our tides. It is astonishing to contemplate how it all works. Our tides are a demonstration of the miracle of God’s intelligent creation.
With 71% of planet Earth covered in water, we know that high and low tides are caused by the gravitational pull between the Earth and the moon. Yet, this becomes insanely complex when you consider the impact of a rotating planet, gravity, the pull of the sun, the effect of weather, and the orchestration of tidal flows around our seven continents.
Considering our moon alone makes it hard to argue against a miracle. Earth is the only planet in our solar system that has a single moon that happens to be the largest moon by far (relative to Earth’s size). Our moon is the perfect size and distance from Earth (and the sun) to enable the tidal flow to work.
Eric Metaxes sums it up well in his book Miracles:
“The moon’s considerable gravity gives our oceans their ebbing and flowing tides. If the moon were slightly bigger, it would cause our tides to be much more extreme since a larger moon would exert that much more gravitational pull. With one-hundred-foot tides, there could be no coastal cities or towns or villages. If the moon were slightly smaller and had less gravitational pull, the tides would be insufficient to cleanse coastal seawater and replenish its nutrients. If the moon were any size other than its size, life as we know it wouldn’t exist.”(1)
As Abraham Lincoln acknowledged, it all points a finger to God.
If you ask a Christian to provide evidence beyond the tides that there is a God (and, thereby, heaven), they will likely point you to Jesus and the miraculous powers he demonstrated in his brief life on Earth. That could include the substantiation of his resurrection from the dead. They might also argue that the Old Testament prophets told of his coming hundreds of years before his birth. They could even point to the proof of lives that have been dramatically changed by Jesus. To me, that is the most powerful of all—to see how Jesus can change a human heart. I’ve got a friend whose life has been changed enormously by getting to know who Jesus is. He went from jail to Jesus and has never looked back!
I want to address a different kind of evidence that does not get attention. There is an abundance of published books available today about people who claim to have experienced a journey to heaven and back, possibly offering a glimpse of what God has in store for us.
Clearly, we are stepping outside the Bible by looking at these stories. I have read most books published on this subject.(2) Some of my favorites I have read multiple times. A few popular books have been released as major motion pictures. There are several of these books that I don’t recommend. Only God can truly judge the authenticity of what these people have written about heaven.
I view these stories as fiction, like reading a novel where you can let your mind go about what might be possible. In each one, the author is adamant they did catch a glimpse of heaven. There is no way to authenticate these experiences, although many of them do not stray far from what Scripture says about heaven. They all speak to a world beyond our most incredulous thoughts of what heaven might be like. In almost every story, the author felt such an overwhelming sense of love and peace and joy (and more!) in heaven, that they did not want to return to their Earthly home. What they experienced was far more significant. They were home, and they wanted to stay there.
I want to review a couple of these stories to open our eyes to what might be possible. Let your imagination run with this. The point is to envision what eternity might be like.
For me, each story has been a page-burner to find out what kind of experience the author had and how it impacted the life they were now living on Earth. All of them were dramatically changed as a result of their experience. It was as if they were allowed to see “the end” and start over with a renewed perspective. The experience turned their bucket list upside down. Reading each personal account has changed me. It is God’s mystery that these experiences happen to a select few.
90 Minutes in Heaven(3)was the first book (also a movie) that I stumbled across during a family vacation at the beach. It is the story of Don Piper, a Texas pastor, who died in a horrific car crash on January 18, 1989. Paramedics immediately arrived on the scene, found no pulse, and declared him dead. Piper wrote a powerful account of the next 90 minutes he spent in heaven before returning to Earth.
His description of heaven impacted me so profoundly that I immediately had Marla and our two kids read it while we were all together on vacation. It was the first time I had read anything with such incredible detail about the experience in heaven. It gave me goosebumps as the author described a “welcoming party” of people he had known and loved on Earth, including his grandfather, great-grandmother, and high school classmates.
Piper admitted that words could not do justice to the experience. It took him years before he spoke in public about the experience. In his words, “I considered it a sacred secret.”
That story started a passion in me to find more. I found it fascinating and encouraging to read stories of people who had these experiences that changed them forever. All of them spoke about experiencing a love far exceeding anything they had ever known. It was as if they had tasted the truth of their real purpose in life.
A personal favorite is Intra Muros,(3) written by Rebecca Springer in 1898. Rebecca captured a unique atmosphere of life in heaven like no other book I have come across. Published 120 years ago, Springer writes of an experience she had of going to heaven while seriously ill in a care home in Kentville, Illinois.
The author describes in detail the experiences she was given over an extensive period before her return. She never quantifies how long she was there, but I would liken it to 90 days in heaven rather than 90 minutes. In her book, she describes her inability to chronicle the depth and wonder of the experience (unedited):
“I am painfully aware of the fact that I can never paint for others the scenes as they appeared to me during those wonderful days. If I can only dimly show the close linking of the two lives – the mortal with the divine – as they then appeared to me, I may be able to partly tear the veil from the death we so dread and show it to be only an open door into a new and beautiful phase of the life we now live.”
Especially captivating to me was her description later in the book of immersing her body into the water in heaven. Finally, I had an account of people getting wet in heaven! Rebecca constructed an inconceivable image of what it would be like to experience heavenly water and waves. Here is one excerpt where she describes the movement of the waves:
“… as they came and went in ceaseless motion, caught up this sparkling sand and carried it on their crests, like the phosphorescence we sometimes see in the wake of a vessel in mid-ocean.”
This boggled my mind as I imagined how surfing in heaven could go well beyond what reverie my imagination could fabricate. She described the water “in both temperature and density, [as] almost identical with the air.” When going under the water, she quickly realized with a laugh that nothing had changed,
“I could not only breathe, but laugh and talk, see and hear, as naturally under the water as above it.”
And best of all, no toweling off after exiting the water:
“… the moment the air struck my face and hair I realized that I would need no towel or brush. My flesh, my hair, and even my beautiful garments, were soft and dry before as before the water touched them.”
This book sits on my bedstand, and I often read a page at night to let the words sink into my soul before falling asleep. It is a treasure.
Not all of these books are written by Christian authors. I find it even more interesting to hear people voice their experiences without including their knowledge of the Bible. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife(4)is one example.Eben Alexander, a Jewish faculty member at Harvard Medical School, writes about his near-death experience in a meningitis-induced coma for seven days in 2008. He was so enthralled by the incident that he used his vast experience as a neurosurgeon to scientifically prove he could not have dreamed of the experience he had going to heaven.
He set out to validate that what happened to him over those seven days was not merely a fabrication of the brain. He concluded that, “… the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness; the human experience continues beyond the grave.” Alexander claimed that the place he went to was so real that it made the life we are living here on Earth like a dream in comparison.
One last book I’ll mention I found when our family was on vacation in Portland, Oregon, spending most of the day at Powell’s bookstore (the largest independent bookstore in the world). At Powell’s you can pick your favorite subject and lose an entire day going through the selection, including many books not available online. After doing my due diligence in the “surfing” section, I wandered over to a section on “heaven” and was overwhelmed by the books to choose from.
“When Will The Heaven Begin?”
I soon was tearing through a book that I could not put down, When Will the Heaven Begin?: This Is Ben Breedlove’s Story by Ally Breedlove.(5) Ally wrote this book about her older brother, Ben Breedlove, who had lived his entire life on the precipice of death due to a heart condition he was born with. Ben died at eighteen on Christmas evening after enjoying a remarkable day with his entire family. He knew exactly where he was going.
In this book, Ally speaks to a video Ben had posted on Youtube to chronicle his attraction to heaven. I gathered my family to watch the video in stunned amazement on the cold cement floor in Powell’s. Ben tells his story with flip cards, of how he had been waiting for heaven to begin. On four separate occasions, Ben experienced a cardiac arrest and sampled heaven’s perfect peace.
Ally discovered the video while rummaging through his stuff on Christmas night after his passing. Watch that video now, and you will see what I mean (~7 minutes). Ben’s story is one to behold no matter what your beliefs on heaven. As a vibrant eighteen-year-old boy with a full life, including a girlfriend and loving family, Ben realized what was awaiting him in heaven was even better than the life he had here on Earth. He left the video to comfort his family in case he departed.
These stories paint a striking and consistent picture of heaven as a physical place of indescribable beauty where our bodies are transformed into perfect selves. Any suffering we experience here, no matter how intense, is completely canceled out by the love that awaits us. Those who have tasted it say they no longer fear death—they would rather be there than anywhere else.
Interestingly, each person’s experience of heaven seems to be different, as if God had individually prepared a place for each of them (6). They all pondered why God had chosen them to have the experience and what to do with it after returning to life on planet Earth. Most who have written books believe that God gave them these experiences to spread the joy and hope for what awaits us in heaven.
For those who have placed their trust in God, an amazing new place awaits us. As I continue along my path in Silicon Valley, Roger Williams’ words of wisdom at Mount Hermon Family Camp on Lake Tahoe have echoed in my heart about changing the way I live today—for heaven:
“It’s not the end— it’s … the beginning.”
I have lived long enough to realize that suffering in this life is inevitable. There is no avoiding it. Yet, despite our troubles, the Bible teaches that all of it will be forgotten in heaven.
“There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” –Revelation 21:3-5 (NIV)
Having this great certainty gives me the courage to face the valleys ahead. Ben Breedlove had his share of valleys with his heart condition. Seeing a glimpse of what awaited him gave him the courage to tell the world that he was ready to go.
We must think about heaven now; it will dramatically impact our lives here on Earth. Heaven should be our first and most important priority. It is urgent! We are built for it—it is God’s plan for our life. Staying focused on heaven can transform our life here on Earth. To think otherwise is to take a very short-term view of our existence.
“The heavens declare the glory of God.” -Psalm 19:1 (NIV)
Monitoring the incoming tide in San Felipe, Mexico (circa 1988)
Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, And How They Can Change Your Life by Eric Mataxas
“Contact Mike” at surfingforbalance.com if you would like me to send you a list of books I recommend on heaven.
90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death & Life by Don Piper
Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander
When Will the Heaven Begin?: This Is Ben Breedlove’s Story by Ally Breedlove
John 14:2-3 (TLB): “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. “
There will be a brief pause before chapter 18 as my son Matthew and I will be on a bicycle tour along the continental divide for the next month or so.
“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.”
“The serious business of heaven is joy.” -CS Lewis
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. 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 Paella extravaganza in Spain. 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 lush Bermuda grass field as we plunged into the dark cement tunnel like sardines being packed into a can. As the darkness turned to light, we caught a view of the players warming up in their bleached clean uniforms with brilliant 49er helmets. It was a thing of beauty. We paused to soak it in before being pushed by the crowd onto 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 like a cannon shot from the black tunnel to storm onto the field amongst a cloudburst 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. Ha, 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 can count 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.
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 each of 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!
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 preparing for the final game 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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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).
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.”
“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. Roy Lambertson’s abrupt departure left a painful void in my life. Seeing the news about the devastating accident while scanning my phone 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 himself once told me upon hearing that our dog had passed at three years old, 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 darkness in my room was evicted. 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 understand how the day I die really will be the best day of my life!
The 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. 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 said, heaven has been a watershed for me. It has turned the tide in my life on how I view my death. Understanding God’s word in the Bible about heaven have imparted to me a clear vision of where I am going when I die. Priorities have changed. The work-life balance conundrum is resolved. My focus now is to spend my remaining time on earth preparing for that day when I can paddle out in heaven. This life is simply a dress rehearsal to lay the groundwork 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 Coporation 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 bro, 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 — even for church! 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. We were soon married and moved to Silicon Valley in 1990 to both work at ROLM Corporation headquarters in Santa Clara. We quickly became active in church and Bible studies at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto (just as their renowned pastor Ray Stedman was retiring). Marla introduced me to Bible Study Fellowship (bsfinternational.org), which became the key to the safe of deep treasures that awaited me within the Bible. BSF is a remarkable worldwide organization that is all about discovering your purpose by knowing God through His word. BSF led me on an enthralling path of finding my identity by drawing close to God’s Word and His plan for my 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. This was the first time I had heard heaven described 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. René told 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 surrounding granite peaks, 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 that 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 right then.
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 in heaven. 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, 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 setting. 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 about me winning the Mavericks Big Wave Contest. This article 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.
Written by 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.
 See my blog “That’s not fair …” on surfingforbalance.com/blog
 See my blog: “We don’t do Email …” on surfingforbalance.com/blog
 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.”