“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!
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then sacrifices his money to recuperate his health.” –Dalai Lama
One of my greatest joys in leaving the tech industry was terminating my email account at Oracle. That was another leash I did not mind removing. As a marketing manager, I performed most of my job through email. I managed independent software vendors (ISVs) who ran their software on Oracle systems. These ISVs were all over the world, so emails were flying into my inbox 24 hours a day. I had the weekends to breathe, but as time zones go, Saturday mornings would see emails from Asia, and Sunday evenings, they started flying in from Europe. It was relentless and required constant attention to avoid getting in the hot seat with an important partner.
I love email and what it enables. But I hate it more than I love it. My brain was not made to operate in this way. Even without my tech job, I can’t seem to avoid using email. But I did find a way to keep myself from being enslaved to it. Working at Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) has made all the difference in the world. In my interview, I was told,
“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
Are you kidding me? How can a company survive in today’s information-driven economy without email? A Freakonomics podcast titled “Should America Be Run By … Trader Joe’s?”(1) hinted that they are doing quite well without email, and much more, that grocery store chains accept as modus operandi. I believe TJ’s is on to something.
Most of us would agree that society would be better off slowing down and incorporating more rest. Much of the chaos and societal ills we see in the world today can be attributed to our being overloaded. Dr. Richard Swenson nailed it in his 2004 best-selling book about the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits, “Margin”(2). To take away that space is like reading a book without margins. You won’t get very far. That is what is happening today; we are exceeding our limits.
Email is a classic margin-eater. It not only devours our free time, but also creates a continuous 24/7 flow of information that can spew data like a fire hose on full force with nobody holding the nozzle. A small amount may hit the target, but most is wasted water, causing grief and exhaustion for all involved. We all have experienced how email has transcended into our personal lives and at work. Even a vacation can create a backlog of emails that is enough to make you wish that you never left.
Yet, we must acknowledge that email is a way of life today. There is no getting around it if you want to accomplish something that involves more than just yourself. Approximately 333 billion emails are sent every day. That’s 3.5 million emails per second!(3) Email is the preferred method of communication in almost all situations.
An interesting (and humorous) read about how email has impacted the mainstream business world is Dan Lyons’ “Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Start-Up Bubble.” Dan describes how HubSpot, a Boston start-up, was positioning its product as a means of reducing email spam:
“Our spam is not spam. In fact it is the opposite of spam. It’s anti-spam. It’s a shield against spam – a spam condom.”
Just under forty years ago, none of us were doing email at work. It had not been invented. Looking back now, it was wonderful. Email first found its way into my work environment in the mid-1980s as I launched my high technology career at ROLM Corporation. We worked hard at ROLM without email. Yet when I left the office to come home, I was truly done. My work stayed at the office.
Then IBM purchased ROLM in 1984 and we were introduced to IBM’s PROFS (Professional Office System), which was IBM’s first email system. Most of us viewed PROFS as a joke. It simply relayed information from IBM corporate, which had minimal impact on my day-to-day duties. It was like reading Morse code intended for the navy when you were in the army. I could go weeks at a time without checking my inbox and often made fun of those (mostly management) who seemed to spend an inordinate amount of their day doing it.
By the time I left Oracle 25 years later, about two-thirds of my day was spent navigating email. The volume was suffocating. Even in meetings, I was only half-listening as I browsed my “urgent” messages. Like the Israelites crossing the desert in the Bible, email became a cloud that followed me home and on my vacations. Improvements to the cell phone networks soon delivered email exchanges to my phone. Holy cow, I could send emails while sitting on the KT22 chairlift at Squaw Valley surveying my next ski run down (“Hey Mark, is my tax return ready yet?”).
Transitioning to Trader Joe’s
Leaving Oracle and my email inbox behind was great, but Marla and I still needed to find health insurance for our family. COBRA(4) is expensive! As we explored options, I decided to go into our local Trader Joe’s to complete a job application. No appointment was necessary. The application was quick—it only asked for my high school education.
Ha. This should be fun!
Next thing I knew I was sitting on a milk crate in the back of the store. Amelia (the Captain of the store) asked me a question about when I was available to work. Our discussion went something like this:
“I think you’re a good fit for Trader Joe’s. When would you be available to work?”
“That is complicated for me. Could I send you an email on the days and times?”
“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.“
Mike [extending my hand to shake]:
“When can I start?”
Those words were music to my ears. Without a thought, I decided to give it a try. I am coming up on my fifth year at the store and have loved every day of it. When I punch out at the end of my shift, I am content to know that I worked hard to get the job done and can go home satisfied (and tired). Whatever is left behind gets picked up by the next shift. I’m working harder and resting more than I have in a long time. On payday, a TJ’s Mate hand delivers my paycheck with a sincere thank you. It may be missing a digit or two from my tech days, but the culture at TJ’s has won me over. As a life coach, I now understand the value of smiling and laughing all day. This is what I envision work in heaven to be like!
Here are my top ten reasons I like working at TJ’s:
1. “We don’t do email…”
When I enter the store, I turn off my phone. No email. If we need to communicate, we go face-to-face or ring bells. It is refreshing. I have more margin.
2. We’re on a ship.
We’re all at sea on a ship in the South Pacific at TJ’s. Our jobs are crystal clear to keep our boat on course. One Captain (button aloha shirt), a couple of Mates (different aloha shirts), and the rest of the Crew Members (“Crew Member” T-shirts) communicate by ringing bells that allow us to be “armed to the teeth” to react to our customers’ needs on a moment’s notice.
3. Variety is the spice of life.
Each shift is divided into eight blocks (for each hour). Each block designates a different job in the store for that hour. At the top of every hour, we all switch jobs. In one shift, I work many different jobs to keep the store stocked, organized, clean, and profitable. It sounds simple (and it is), but it makes my day fly by hand-over-fist, and helps me learn the entire store operation.
Meetings (called “huddles”) are 5-minute stand-up gatherings in the back galley to communicate important news about keeping things “ship shape” in the store. No muss, no fuss. Quick and simple instructions with some good food and grog to sample, and then all hands back on deck to help wow our customers.
5. Fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs. Every day I get fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs from my fellow crew members at TJ’s, even at the end of a shift when they leave. This surprised me at first. If I were to exhibit this behavior at Oracle, I might end up at the HR office. The first couple of shifts I experienced this, I thought these folks were leaving the company! It does wonders for morale.
6. Happy people.
Employees at TJ’s are happy, which makes the customers happy. I am happy to work there. It’s “hunky-dory.”
7. Everyone plays. When I started at TJ’s, I wondered why they hired me. Then I saw others they hired, and I wondered why they hired them! It took me a while to understand their strategy. It’s like AYSO (American Youth Soccer). Everyone plays at TJ’s. They employ people with special needs who work right alongside the rest of us. It gives those individuals a great sense of pride to be a part of the TJ’s crew, and the benefits to all, overall, are huge.
Many of my co-workers are my young adult children’s age. They are fun, energetic, and full of interesting insights on life. Most of them have other jobs or school or both. They are all “gung-ho” to make a future. They talk to me like I am one of them. At T’Js, I am.
It’s a kick.
9. Hard (physical) work. Trader Joe’s business model is all about very high volume to attain very low prices. I soon discovered the considerable amount of physical labor involved in accomplishing that. Like the pyramids in Egypt, it all happens one block at a time. The physical effort to move all that product in the back door and out the front door every day is significant. I walk an average of 4 miles and lift an untold amount of weight every day in the store. I have never felt better. I’m getting paid to go to the gym.
10. Just be you. TJ’s tells you they hired you because of who you are, not who they want you to be. So, the word on deck is to “be yourself.” For those who know me, that is dangerous! I wear shorts and my Hoka’s to work every day. And I love dressing up for the holidays.
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
-Bronnie Ware (1)
While the world’s first microprocessor (2) was catalyzing the personal computer revolution in Silicon Valley, the sport of surfing was forever changed by the invention of the surf leash. I was a sophomore in high school when I first saw a surf leash in action while surfing at Swami’s Beach in Encinitas. I was stupefied! Tying your foot to your surfboard with a rubber cord virtually eliminated all repercussions of wiping out on a wave. It seemed criminal to me. Yet it quickly became a de facto standard for surfers, helping drive a significant transformation of the sport over the next decade. Most in the water today have never surfed without a leash.
Before the leash, surfing not only mandated good swimming and paddling skills, but also required a more cautious approach to the wave you were riding. If you fell and lost your board, the backlash could include a long swim in (after some cussing and swearing), paddling back out against incoming waves, and potentially an afternoon in your garage doing ding repair (if rocks or other surfboards got involved). Growing up surfing in the 60s included a lot of swimming, paddling, and ding repair. It was how we learned!
Pat O’Neill, son of acclaimed wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill, is generally acknowledged for inventing the modern surf leash in 1971.(3) In those days, a lost board at Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz meant almost certain death on the rocks, so it is easy to understand his motivation. The surf leash is also how Jack O’Neill lost his left eye. The early versions were made from a coiled surgical cord that would shoot the board back like a bullet after a wipeout. Ouch! I imagine Jack shouldered his share of, “You’ll shoot your eye out” jokes with that one. (4)
An early version of the surf leash poked out Jack O’Neill’s eye!
The surf leash helped spawn an avant-garde generation of shortboard surfers fashioning a new style of surfing that required minimal foot movement on the board and maximum body language above the waist. Suddenly, the hot surfers were wiggling like a hula-hooper to slash and tear up and down the face of the wave on boards that were barely any taller than they were. There was no penalty for trying something beyond your ability, as you could immediately try it again. The result was a dramatic shiftin what became possible on a wave.
Like Intel’s first microprocessor, the surf leash had its skeptics. For those of us who had grown up surfing longboards without a leash in the 60s, this major innovation to the sport was not all good news. If you liked to freely walk up and down the board while riding a wave, strapping on the leash was analogous to attaching a chain and ball to your leg. Mobility on the board was limited, as there was a tendency to tangle with the cord and/or step on the cord with your bare feet if you did move.
The leash also negated the thrill of trying not to fall while riding a more challenging section of a wave. There were no serious consequences to falling, so why not try something crazy? Kicking out of a wave was a technically advanced skill before the leash (with longboards). With the leash, a swan dive was now just as effective in exiting a wave. I likened it to the safety net for the flying trapeze artists at the circus. The success of any given move did not look so formidable once you realized they weren’t going to die if they fell.
We quickly labeled it the “kook cord,” and agreed among our inner circle not to use it. Most troublesome was the increase in crowds that developed, as nobody had to swim in for their board if they fell. It brought out people at breaks who had no right to be surfing there. Getting outmatched by a wave and paying the price with a swim to shore and paddle back out was not only good tutoring, but also great for those in the lineup waiting for the next set. At a place like San Onofre, it could take thirty minutes for someone who had lost their board to reappear into the lineup.
My daughter Marisa navigating the rock dance with her leash at San Onofre.
However, it soon became apparent that I would lose quickly in the game of improving my surfing if I went without it. That caught my attention. Of course, I wanted to be the best surfer in the water, and there was no denying that the leash gave you more time to ride waves. As soon as I noticed someone pass me by with a new maneuver, I caved in and sheepishly strapped the shackle onto my ankle.
When wave and crowd conditions allow, I still do sometimes paddle out without a leash. A sense of freedom and excitement immediately washes over me. It’s like removing the seat belt and rolling down the windows in my car on a bluebird day. Caution is in the air, but I feel free as a bird. Nostalgia sets in. This is how surfing was meant to be. There is an excitement of risk in trying to “hang five,” knowing I could lose contact with my board by falling. I can move up and down the board without hindrance or fear of getting tangled. My surfboard becomes a part of me that I hold onto at all costs. The stoke of a long ride without a leash takes on greater joy, lifting me to kick out with a howl. My soul is awakened in the triumph. It takes me back to my roots and reminds me how the ocean has been a part of my growing and learning as a human being. One day I will look back and realize that each fall and subsequent swim to shore was a part of God’s plan for my life.
Taking off the Leash in Life
After 25 years in several high-tech sales and marketing jobs in Silicon Valley (Chapter 12, New Beginnings), I took a year off to complete a rigorous training program with twenty other classmates to become a New Ventures West Integral Coach® (a life coach). At our graduation, we each had a moment to express what those twelve months meant to us. My summation of the twelve months was that it taught me how to surf without a leash. Unleashing from the security of my high-tech job (and paycheck) had provided me the freedom to live a life truer to myself as opposed to the life the world expected of me. I had discovered that ridingthe Silicon Valley Express train had me so wound up on a daily basis that I had lost track of who I was. I didn’t have time for that!
A big part of learning to be a life coach was learning how to be present. For me, that meant slowing down. A lot.
Amid my busyness, I saw my life passing me by. I was checking off all the boxes to earn a living, support my family, and care for my health. Yet, in that struggle, I had lost touch with who I was. The New Ventures West coaching program provided me the opportunity to paddle out without my leash. A new awareness began to wash over me. It was refreshing and new!
What I had experienced was clarified in a book I read, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing by Bronnie Ware. It is a memoir about Bronnie’s journey to self-discovery, which led her to care for the needs of the dying. Her life was transformed by that experience of tending to those who were in their final days on this earth. I admired Bronnie’s honesty about too many years doing unfulfilling work and how she was able to break that mold to live the life she felt she was called to. It is a simple retelling of how one can learn to listen carefully to our internal compass.
That twelve-month break from the Silicon Valley juggernaut allowed me to experience the liberation of who I was. It was not easy; I fell a lot and still do. Yet learning to enjoy the swim and gaining strength from the paddle back out sharpened my understanding of who I was inside. I learned to listen deeply to what God’s plan for my life is. It is a marvelous and life-changing experience that continues to evolve as I move forward today.
After graduating from New Ventures West, I left my high technology job behind and found a second career at Trader Joe’s.
“The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing” by Bronnie Ware Here is a quick recap of the “Top Five Regrets”:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
2. The world’s first microprocessor (a complete central processing unit on a single chip) was introduced by Intel in March of 1971 (Intel 4044). This eventually led to the development of the personal computer (PC).
4. In the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, Ralphie’s request to get an official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot air rifle for Christmas is countered by his mother (and Santa Claus) with, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”.
“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 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.”
When I think of slowing down, I am reminded of surfing trips in the 80s to Punta Pequeña in Baja California with good friends John Chick, Eddie Means, John Park, and Peter Vanderburg. As my career was ramping up, those trips taught me to take my foot off the gas pedal and listen within.
Punta Pequeña is a dream of a surfing destination—especially if you catch a solid south swell. It is the kind of surfing spot I imagine in heaven, composed of a near-perfectly sculpted series of right points that corral south swells as good as anywhere on the California coast.
It was as if Michelangelo himself had carved out the shallow volcanic rock shelf for a regular foot surfer riding a yellow Hanifin Bananafin longboard. I could not wipe the smile off my face the entire time we were there. The quality of the wave and the length of the ride was unequaled in my book. It is rumored that you can ride over one kilometer on a really big day. Best of all, we were removed entirely from the SoCal mainstream surfing scene. A crowd of surfers in the water was not something we had concern over.
However, we did have concerns about getting there, which made it all the more appealing. Punta Pequeña was a thousand miles from nowhere, in one of the more remote and inaccessible regions of Baja California. The real McCoy started after a two-day adventure on the rugged-but-paved Baja Mexico Highway 1, which for safety reasons, we never drove at night.
After 900 or so miles of slugging it out on the pot-hole-ridden asphalt segment, a clandestine Baja-dusty dirt road appeared out of nowhere to lead us onto the final exam for our driving odyssey. Sixty miles of ungraded rocky, dusty, and at times, washboard dirt and sand led directly west to the sleepy fishing village of San Juanico on the Pacific Ocean.
Unless you were driving an army tank, this section of rocky, dusty, washboard road was never a given, even if you had made it before. It was a full-on assault that included removing parts of your car if they got in the way. To this day, I lay claim to one of the greatest driving achievements in modern surfing history with my 1983 VW Diesel Rabbit. Although it cost us “mucho dinero” to pay some local ranchers to tow us through the quick sand, and in spite of almost losing all of our silver fillings on the washboard, we somehow made it to the beach. When my dust-ridden Rabbit with a mere twelve inches of ground clearance pulled onto the bluff at Punta Pequeña, the other surfers looked at us as if we had just landed the Eagle Lunar Landing Module. It had been a new car when we left, but it aged 20 years on that trip!
Once camp was established, life at Punta Pequeña settled into a singular focus on surfing. Everything we did was in preparation for that next session in the water. If the surf dropped, we had plenty to keep us busy; but hardly ten minutes went by without a glance at the waves to see if conditions were changing.
If you weren’t out surfing, you were sitting in a beach chair drinking beer, scientifically analyzing the tide and wind conditions as the sun lazed across the powder blue Baja sky. The only responsible duty was rotating the twenty cases of beer into the four ice chests to ensure we had cold brew for the entire trip. It was not as easy as it sounds! Extended games of Bocci ball down the vast, endless beach were the usual diversion in the afternoon if the surf had blown out. But we could only wander a mile or so away for fear the beer would run out, and we suffer dehydration before making it back to base camp. That could impact the next surfing session.
Looking back on those trips today, I realize that my ability to slow down was about the absolute freedom I experienced from being so wholly removed from civilized interruptions in my life. There were zero connections to the outside world. My physical body was at peace. It was similar to what backpackers experience on an extended trip into the wilderness. We were unencumbered and free, which bonded us with our surroundings. The vast nothingness of the environment soothed my soul in a way I can only dream about today. I could sit in my beach chair and gaze down upon the endless spit of land as far as the eye could see. It was beautiful beyond words. Those trips fed my soul in ways only God can explain.
I thirst for that same level of contentedness today.
Going Too Fast
Fast forward to Silicon Valley forty years later: The world is moving too fast. Our vision of the “leisure society” has been reduced to rubble by the explosive growth of computers. The chasm from the slow pace of Punta Pequeña life in the 80s is looking like the grand canyon. We are losing our ability to set aside time to be in peace and rest our souls. Busyness has consumed our lives, and information technology is bombarding us with an incessant need to be distracted by our devices instead of focusing in the present moment. Deep down, we know it is too much for our human psyche to make sense of.
There is a dichotomy here. I love doing so much in so little time with the technology we have today; I’d be lying to tell you otherwise. I have an iPhone and I use it constantly. I can check the surf, tide tables, traffic conditions, and view a live camera of Steamer Lane, all with a finger tap on my phone while I’m shopping from my electronic grocery list at Trader Joe’s.
Like the groceries, it comes at a cost; but unlike the groceries, it’s costing us our lives.
Dr. Richard Swenson, the author of best-selling book Margin, puts it this way:
“The world has witnessed almost continuous change, but never before with such levels of speed, suddenness, complexity, intensity, information, communication, media, money, mobility, technology, weaponry, and interconnectedness.“[i]
Let’s add “stress” to that list.
Unfortunately, our children are the innocent victims of this onslaught. We have all heard the stories because it is happening to our kids. Understandably, they are having issues coping with the complexity and speed of life today. The statistics are staggering. They headline the news every day. Stress, anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, ADHD, obesity, learning disabilities, social skills, and even death from suicide have been linked to the overload our children face today.
Here’s a simple example. I received an email last week from a security service I subscribe to called LifeLock. The subject was “Data Breach Notification,” urging me to change my passwords as a preventative measure. OK. I went into my password manager program (on my iPhone) to find out that I had entered 263passwords! That stressed me out (and still does). I don’t think we can begin to understand the toll that stress takes.
My parents both smoked cigarettes as they came into adulthood. It was cool to have a cigarette back then, and they had no good reason not to smoke. Then they got addicted. Nobody had studied the link between smoking tobacco and deaths from things like lung cancer or emphysema. My mom died of emphysema at age 76. Those studies are out now. But for mom, it was too late.
Forty years later, I am sure that similar studies are forthcoming on the deadly effects of the technology overload we are being subjected to today. Our brains are not equipped to handle the barrage of information and radio frequency (FR) exposure coming at them. It’s too much. The negative impact on our health is clear!
This story is just one example from a close friend of mine:
After high school, his son hit a rough patch in life and developed a serious alcohol/drug habit. It was not pretty, but he got himself into a long-term rehab center and is now doing fantastic. While in the rehab center, he told a story about a small group discussion he had with a dozen or so other young adults in the same situation. The leader asked each of them in the group what they thought had led to their addiction. Each one of them agreed that it was their deep internal need to slow down. Life was moving too fast, and they could no longer cope, so they began to take alcohol or drugs to help them deal with it.
If I were to boil down my twelve months of New Ventures West coaching training to the most important thing I learned, it would be the need for us all to slow down. If one genuinely wants to have freedom in their being to discover and pursue who they are in the world, slowing down is a mandatory first step.
I had the opportunity to slow down when I was laid off from my job. It was a bit like Punta Pequeña; suddenly, I had time just “to be”. That experience led me to step off the Silicon Valley express train to make a significant transition in my career. I began to feel the freedom one experiences when listening to your heart. It was like going surfing without a leash. I felt empowered to experience the freedom of whom I was deep inside without being tethered to earthly expectations. Although I was quite scared that I would quickly fall and lose my way, this new awakening brought about a sense of joy not felt in years.
As I began to coach clients, I quickly learned that a key to my success was getting them to slow down. Coaching a client traveling through life at today’s “normal” speed is like trying to diagnose car trouble with no dashboard to display the metrics. You might as well be throwing darts blind folded—you have no idea what the underlying issues are. The speed and intensity of life today seem to require that we lose touch with our inner-self. We are too busy to look at our dashboard.
Meditation is an excellent first step for starting to slow down. It is amazing what our mind, body, and heart can tell us if we can slow down enough to listen. We tend to see the world in a physical sense. If I look OK, I must be OK. Coaching brought me to realize that there is an equally-important spiritual side to our being. The soul requires every bit as much attention and care as our physical bodies do. Meditation tends to our needs in our spiritual bodies. Even the Bible contains over sixty references that tell us to meditate. [iiii]
A valuable tool for dealing with stress is learning to pay attention to this very moment. “Being present” is a phrase for nonjudgmentally allowing yourself to experience the here and now. Another common term is mindfulness, or bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. The awareness that can emerge from paying attention to the present moment can be life-altering. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes a day, it can make a world of difference. There is plenty to read from a wealth of books on this subject. Two of my favorites are mentioned below.[ii]
Looking to Heaven
Steven Curtis Chapman was on to something when he released the hit song “Next 5 Minutes” in 1999. The song talks about living the next five minutes as if they were your last five minutes; truly living in the moment.
What if the next five minutes are all you have?
I did a great deal of contemplation about my life following the layoff from Oracle and subsequent one-year sabbatical to become a life coach. There was no question about the 2×4 hitting me square on the head; I could feel God at work. Yet, I found my mind often drifting to my mortality. Mom and dad were now gone, so I was next, right? It was kind of difficult to avoid that one. In one sense, that motivated me to get my act together for that “second mountain” I had to climb (in the words of David Brooks’ from his book, The Second Mountain). But in another sense, it made me wonder about what was next. I was closer to that part of my life than I wanted to admit.
Since I am a Christian, did I really believe that paradise awaited me?[iii] What did the Bible have to say about heaven? And what about all those near-death experience (NDE) trips to heaven that people have written so many books about—Are those valid? I even wondered if I would be able to go surfing in heaven!?
It struck in me an insatiable desire to learn more.
[ii] Books on meditation: – Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson There are more books than I can count, extolling the many wonders of meditation. I liked this book because Daniel and Richard sifted through the morass of clinical research to boil out the truth about what meditation can do for us and how to get the most out of it. I had the opportunity to meet Daniel Goleman at a promotion event for this book and can assure you he is legit.
– Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore This is a beautifully written account of how to care for our innermost being. Having a firm belief that our soul is what we take with us to heaven in the life hereafter, I found this to be a refreshing view on making the most of my life here on earth in preparation for our eternal home in heaven. I completely agree with Mr. Moore’s assertion that our “loss of soul” is a significant problem facing us today, resulting in many societal ills. The primary takeaway underscored the profound value of quiet time and meditating on a daily basis. According to Mr. Moore, we care for the soul by living life in a way that our inner sense of who we are flourishes.
[iii]“Jesus answered him [on the cross], “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” -Proverbs 19:21
My faith and patience were acutely tested following my layoff from Oracle. I was putting in more hours in the job search than I had my job at Oracle, only to be consistently told I did not make the cut. This resulted in many questions that seemed to hang in the air and go nowhere. Of course, my age was at the top of the list. A cloud of doubt was setting in. It was like a long lull off the end of the jetty in CdM that never seemed to end. I refused to paddle in. Surely one last set was coming. But the sun was going down and I was getting cold.
In the midst of it all, I reflected on a meeting I had a couple years back with a close friend, Roger Williams,[i] who was always so positive and confident in how God is at work in our trials. Roger was the President and CEO of the Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He walked through life here on earth with the exhilaration of his salvation as if he were walking on the precipice of heaven. He truly glowed as a living example of how the Scriptures can guide and transform you. Nothing speaks louder to me than a life like Roger’s that has been transformed by what God offers.
I had met with Roger while he was in the midst of an arduous struggle with cancer. He continued teaching and providing visionary leadership at Mount Hermon during his battle. I sensed a calling from God and knew Roger could help guide me. Although it was a challenging time for him with his declining health, we spent over two and-a-half hours that evening. Roger spoke with intensity and delight that I can’t quite do justice with words. It was as if our meeting had been ordained by God.
My direct question was, “how had you known that it was God calling when you gave up your successful business career and beautiful home to go into ministry?”
Roger did not hesitate; his response was crystal clear. He told me that God had quite simply hit him over the head with a 2×4 when his calling arrived. It was obvious. There was no mistaking it. “You will know for sure when it happens to you,” he told me.
And after hearing the specifics of his story around his calling to serve, I had to agree. A 2×4 had hit him! I left that meeting with a great sense of relief and drove over the summit on Highway 17, thankful for such lucid advice from such a dear friend.
Suddenly, Roger’s wisdom rang out to me; there was no mistaking the 2×4. The cloud of doubt was lifting; it was all suddenly quite clear. I began to see that I had been hit multiple times!
My layoff from Oracle hit me with the power of a steel 2×4. It shook my foundation. In pursuing the job search and taking classes from the outplacement firm, I sensed that my heart was not fully in the work I was seeking. The fear of unemployment was driving me. The bills were still coming in and I needed to work!
Then two more 2×4s descended onto my head that finally rang my bell. God was calling.
The first was a job opportunity I pursued at a data storage company in downtown Mountain View, PureStorage. The stars had finally aligned, and I felt like this was the job for me. I had twelve interviews and two extensive presentations to their executive staff over a couple of months. It had been all-consuming and appeared to be a perfect fit. I had good inside contacts and from everything I could see, they liked me. They targeted the Oracle database customers as a new opportunity and needed a seasoned marketing professional to navigate Oracle’s myriad of product teams, organizations, and technology. I could even walk to the office from home.
In the end, I had to call them to find out they had hired someone else. That was a Muhammad Ali shot straight to the forehead. I was on my back.
Feeling quite dazed and discouraged, a good friend set me up to meet with a senior executive from a venture capital company on Sand Hill Road who worked with Silicon Valley start-ups. Surely, he could set me straight on how to land a marketing job in this valley. We met outdoors at Philz Coffee in Palo Alto, and I will never forget the first words out of his mouth (beyond the niceties):
“You’ll never get hired in this valley.”
I gurgled my sip of coffee, almost getting it down the wrong pipe.
“Uhum. Excuse me?”
He had not even looked at the manila folder I had handed him with all my good deeds. I was utterly flabbergasted and did not know what to say. My sales pitch was gone. The wind had gone out of my sails. No waves were coming. The sun had set. I might as well paddle in.
His next sentence provided clarity, but still hung in the air like the Hindenburg poised to explode into flames:
“The average age of a CEO [start-up] in this valley is just over 30 years, and they are not going to hire you.”
That was the only time I can remember not finishing my Philz coffee. I had plenty of adrenaline running through my veins already. And the buzz lasted for days. That 2×4 settled it. Roger was right; there was no question.
Faith and Patience
With a serious dose of faith that the bills would get paid and much patience that I could wait twelve months to start, I enrolled in a 1-year training program to become a professional life coach (a New Ventures West Integral Coach). This set a path for me to transition my career from high-tech marketing to helping others navigate work/life balance challenges in Silicon Valley. It was a job made in heaven for me to go on a mission of self-discovery for my future. I was stoked!
New Ventures West (NVW) had the most advanced training curriculum available, with a seasoned faculty known for their wisdom and experience in coaching. I needed the best to effectively lead people in a discussion about balancing priorities in Silicon Valley. It felt right. I was sure God was directing me.
That year was a fantastic transformation of my self-identity as I looked deep inside to find my passage forward. I was coached myself in the class (by instructors and fellow students) to understand the experience my clients would have. That meant learning to slow down and listen with my heart about what was going on inside. It was quite uncomfortable for someone who had been riding the express train in Silicon Valley for twenty-five years. My world had been all about going faster, not slower. But I could feel it was right. I was finally on a path I could follow with my heart. It was life-changing stuff. To put it in surfing terms (as one of my classmates described it), I was learning to “Hang 11!”
Epilog on Roger Williams
[i] Roger went to his heavenly home on September 14, 2014, succumbing to cancer that he called “his insidious dance partner.” His passing came just a few days after his 21st anniversary at Mount Hermon. Praise God for the gift I was given that day to be with Roger and drink from the deep well of wisdom he offered.
While I was very sad to lose Roger as a friend and mentor here on earth, I feel closer to him than ever and rejoice in the thought of joining him in heaven. Roger was one of the first people to get me excited about heaven. He spoke of it as if he had been there. I can still hear his voice calling out to us on the shore’s edge as the sun was painting its portrait:
“Folks, we can count on God’s promise that heaven will far surpass this beauty we see now.
If you think the colors are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.
If you think the sunsets are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.
If you think this is a beautiful place to live now – wait until you see it REDEEMED in heaven!”
Roger Williams (1947-2014)
Roger’s family posthumously published a book by him that he had been working on before his passing. The book showed up on our kitchen counter one night when I had arrived home late after the family had gone to bed. I had not known about it and was stunned! I could only wonder that Roger had ensured its delivery to comfort me. That very night I had been teaching a group of young adults at our church on the topic of “Heaven” and had been questioning myself the entire drive home as to my qualifications to do so. The title of the book is:
Hearing From Heaven: A Memoir of God At Work At Mount Hermon by Roger Williams