17. Heaven Can’t Wait

“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 in the city while enjoying the fresh air, when I was stopped cold at a fortress of candles on the sidewalk surrounding the 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.

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Steve Jobs and the iPhone 11 Pro
(image by unsplash.com)

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)
  • Macintosh, 1984
  • iMac, 1998
  • iPod, 2001
  • iTunes, 2003
  • iPhone, 2007
  • iPad, 2010

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 is also not about winners and losers. We are already in heaven, for crying out loud. 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!

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.” 

—-Footnotes—-

  1. Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. Simon and Schuster: 2011.
  2. 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
  3. Jesus came to tell us that everything we do in this life really matters once we get to heaven:
    1. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Luke 6:23, NIV)
    2. “You will have a treasure in heaven,” (Matthew 19:21, NIV).
    3. “You will be blessed… for you shall be repaid at the resurrection,” (Luke 14:14, NIV).
    4. “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven …” (Matthew 5:12, NIV).
  4. Gettysburg College study: One third of your life is spent at work
    https://www.gettysburg.edu/news/stories?id=79db7b34-630c-4f49-ad32-4ab9ea48e72b
  5. “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).
  6. “…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).
  7. 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).
  8. Ingram, Chip. The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says. Baker Books: 2016.
  9. Luke 13:30; Mark 10:31; Matthew 27:64; Matthew 20:16 (all NIV)
  10. 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.”

Photo credits on unsplash.com:

16. Opening Day in Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously.

Opening Day in Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t wait to paddle out.


Footnotes:

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

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

15. Begin with The End in Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would my opening day in heaven be like?


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

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

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

From Roy Lamberston (unedited):

62-year-old surfer wins Mavericks Surf Contest 

By MARK LANDLER 1:46 PM ET

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

[iii] Revelation Chapter 21

14. Slow Down

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

Slowing down in Baja California at Punta Pequeña.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thirst for that same level of contentedness today.

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

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

That’s fantastic!

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

Dr. Richard Swenson, the author of best-selling book Margin, puts it this way:

“The world has witnessed almost continuous change, but never before with such levels of speed, suddenness, complexity, intensity, information, communication, media, money, mobility, technology, weaponry, and interconnectedness.“[i]

Let’s add “stress” to that list.

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

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

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

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

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

After high school, his son hit a rough patch in life and developed a serious alcohol/drug habit. It was not pretty, but he got himself into a long-term rehab center and is now doing fantastic. While in the rehab center, he told a story about a small group discussion he had with a dozen or so other young adults in the same situation. The leader asked each of them in the group what they thought had led to their addiction. Each one of them agreed that it was their deep internal need to slow down. Life was moving too fast, and they could no longer cope, so they began to take alcohol or drugs to help them deal with it.

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

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

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

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

A valuable tool for dealing with stress is learning to pay attention to this very moment. “Being present” is a phrase for nonjudgmentally allowing yourself to experience the here and now. Another common term is mindfulness, or bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. The awareness that can emerge from paying attention to the present moment can be life-altering. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes a day, it can make a world of difference. There is plenty to read from a wealth of books on this subject. Two of my favorites are mentioned below.[ii]

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

What if the next five minutes are all you have?

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

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

It struck in me an insatiable desire to learn more.

Punta Pequeña Nothingness

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

[ii] Books on meditation:
Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body
by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson
There are more books than I can count, extolling the many wonders of meditation. I liked this book because Daniel and Richard sifted through the morass of clinical research to boil out the truth about what meditation can do for us and how to get the most out of it. I had the opportunity to meet Daniel Goleman at a promotion event for this book and can assure you he is legit.

Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore
This is a beautifully written account of how to care for our innermost being. Having a firm belief that our soul is what we take with us to heaven in the life hereafter, I found this to be a refreshing view on making the most of my life here on earth in preparation for our eternal home in heaven. I completely agree with Mr. Moore’s assertion that our “loss of soul” is a significant problem facing us today, resulting in many societal ills. The primary takeaway underscored the profound value of quiet time and meditating on a daily basis. According to Mr. Moore, we care for the soul by living life in a way that our inner sense of who we are flourishes.

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

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

13. The 2X4

“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 team. 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 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.

Roger Williams

I had met with Roger in October of 2013 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. Despite it all, he agreed to meet with me in his majestic office amidst the giant Redwoods at Mount Hermon to address specific questions I had regarding my future. I sensed that God was calling me to a ministry around a balanced life in Silicon Valley 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 to him was,

“Roger, 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.

My 2X4

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. But was that God? 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 presentations to their executive staff over a couple of months. It had been all-consuming and appeared to be a perfect fit. 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 did not finish 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.

Hanging 11

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. 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 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

  1. [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.

    Our family would spend a week each year with Roger and his team at the Mount Hermon family camp at Lake Tahoe. Most memorable of those trips were the summer evenings we spent singing worship music and taking communion on the shore’s edge of Lake Tahoe. Watching the sunset paint brilliant colors onto the surrounding lake and mountains, our family sang praises to God for the beauty of his creation. The love and joy Roger always showed us left an indelible impression on me. 

    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)
Lakeside dance party at the Mount Hermon family camp at Lake Tahoe (Circa 2002)

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

12. New Beginnings

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”.
–Mark Twain

As much as I had been anticipating it, I was seriously wounded when the words finally came. After 25 years of continuous employment in Silicon Valley, the layoff bullet I had been dodging for so many years finally caught me in January of 2017. The official explanation was “corporate downsizing.” The ensuing farewell email went out that day with the title, “new beginnings.” (1)

New beginnings, for sure!

I had been through the corporate downsizing exercise more times than I wanted to count. Once the dot com bubble burst in 2000, layoffs at Sun Microsystems had become a drumbeat that never seemed to end. (2) I am reminded of a Gary Larson The Far Side comic where one deer says to the other (who has a bulls-eye on his chest):

Bummer of a birthmark, Hal!”

Every six months, we were paraded in front of management for a closed-door session to see whose turn it was to pack their boxes and leave. It was as if we were lined up for a firing squad and didn’t know whose gun had the bullet. The layoff meetings had become so commonplace that one manager actually read me the official “You’re fired” script in a closed-door session, only to pause, and then tell me he was kidding!

What!?

At least I knew how it was going to feel when I finally did get the gun with the bullet. Thinking it over after, I was sorry I hadn’t fallen to the floor and feigned a heart attack!

All hoodwinking aside, it was my turn to hear the official news from my boss. I waited for the pause, but he was not kidding. Leaving the meeting left me feeling as if I had a bold “L” tattooed across my forehead (“Loser” or “Laid off,” take your pick). As the official script read, it had nothing to do with my performance, age, or even my regular use of the corporate gym. I had finally woken up in the wrong job with the wrong product at the wrong time. I shuddered at the thought of not having a job to go to tomorrow. It was another “green flash” moment. The world stopped turning as I walked down the hall back to my office.

At 62 years of age, it was time to go job hunting. I decided to write about it as a means of coping with the ordeal. According to the outplacement firm Oracle Corporation provided to ease my transition, this was good therapy. (3)

Hired at Sun Microsystems: April 1, 1999
Laid off at Oracle Corporation: January 19, 2017

The goodbyes of that final day were memorable and many. I usually started my day in the cafeteria, where Mary, Julia, and several other faithful servers had become an important part of my work routine. Although there are no free meals at Oracle, I would miss those folks.

I dropped in on those few on my team who were left behind to defend the fort. There were lots of hugs and a few tears. Ricarda stopped by my office with her cheery “Buenos Dias!” to empty my trash as I was packing my final box. Knowing my limited Spanish, she understood immediately when I motioned the cutthroat sign to her. I handed her one of my plants, and she showed great compassion.

My good friend Steve Sarvate and I snuck out to our private court for a final round of tennis on the Oracle clock. He lost his entire team in the layoff (including his manager), but somehow survived. (4) As I bid farewell to the Club Oracle recreation center staff, I was reminded how my officemates could not understand how I found time to go to the gym each day. I would reply that I could not understand how they could not! It made an incredible difference in my productivity and attitude at work.

Tennis partners on the Oracle clock

As I was walking out to the parking lot with my boxes, the looks I got from those left behind brought back fresh memories of the times I had been in their shoes. The sense of guilt over why you dodged the bullet was disconcerting. My work did not disappear; they would soon be bearing the burden of picking up the pieces.

It was an emotionally draining day. Despite trying to be present amid the farewells, I could not help but wonder about my future. A Silicon Valley marketing job would not be easy to land if you were unemployed at my age, no matter how good you were. I’d been told I should try a little Grecian Formula on my hair and maybe a pair of cool-looking eyeglasses.

OK.

The drive home was a bit more upbeat. Windows rolled down with the sunroof open, there was a feeling of release creeping in on me. The breakup with Larry Ellison was not something I would lose sleep over. I was sensing that this could be good. Maybe even great!

The family and I decided to head straight to the theater for an early showing of the Disney movie Moana, which turned out to be the perfect anecdote to the day. It opened with a short film called Inner Workings, which immediately spoke to me. It followed Paul’s internal organs (brain, heart, lungs, stomach, etc.), a man living in 1980s California, as he awakened on a typical day of work with dozens of other employees sitting at desks entering data into their computers.

They were moving in monotonous unison while his brain took notice of the dreary routine of his life and came to realize that this cycle would eventually lead to his death as a sad, miserable, lonely man. No surprise that Paul looked to be my age. Ha! It was as if God was suddenly waking my internal organs into a new life, I was stepping off the Silicon Valley treadmill for the first time in years. It was refreshing. Best of all, I could now paddle out at Steamer Lane mid-day during the week.

Yeehaw!

Life carried on, even though my job had stopped. In so many ways, nothing changed (including the bills!). For 25 years, I had gone to work. I was lost with nowhere to go. It was clear that I needed a plan. Having my calendar wide open was not the good thing it used to be. I quickly realized the importance of keeping myself busy to stay in a healthy state of mind. Surely, I could land on my feet. All those years of fighting the good battle in the valley of infinite silicon did teach me a thing or two. Work/life balance had been my creed, but I also knew how to handle combat. I was not afraid of digging into a fox hole for a frontline battle to find work.

There were days of melancholy. I lacked purpose and realized my job had been how I measured my value. It was humbling. I wanted to make some changes there. Like Paul in the movie Inner Workings, my perspective had changed, and I was afraid of what might lay ahead. It was as if I had been on an express train for 25 years blowing by all of the stops with complete focus on the destination. Suddenly the train had stopped, and I got off. It was unfamiliar territory for me.

The good news was that I had sufficient daily margin to enjoy a rich time of prayer and meditation, every day. I sensed that God had plans for my passion around work/life balance; it was exciting to think about what might unfold. I knew this time away from the daily routine of work was a gift and I wanted to use it wisely. I studied John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success for encouragement. At the very pinnacle were the two words I committed to stand by:
– Faith (Through prayer.)
– Patience (Good things take time.)

As I faithfully waited on God, I recited a prayer each morning by Saint Ignagius Loyola. (5) Its simplicity and purpose was just what I needed to start each day:

“Lord Jesus Christ.
All that I have and cherish, you have given me.

I surrender it all to be guided by your will.
Your grace and your love are enough for me.
Give me these Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more.
Amen.”


Footnotes:

  1. Email sent to my co-workers at Oracle on January 19, 2017 (3:51 pm):

    Subject: new beginnings

    I will be leaving Sun/Oracle effective today — time for new beginnings!
    It has been my very great pleasure to work with you all.
    THANK YOU — especially to Vijay Tatkar, who has been my inspirational & loyal leader these past few years.
    I look forward to staying in touch with you going forward.


    Mike Mulkey

  2. When Oracle Corporation purchased Sun in 2009 (for $7.4 Billion), it was another scramble to justify your existence to the new CEO, Larry Ellison. We were all on the chopping block. I was an Alliance Manager for a strategic partnership Sun had with Intel Corporation at the time. The first meeting with the then-President of Oracle Safra Catz did not go well. She began the meeting by dropping the strategic partnership agreement between Sun and Intel on the table and asking, “What is this shit?”

  3. One of my inspirations to write this book was author William Finnegan, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Barbarian Days at about my same age. Barbarian Days was his story of a life-long obsession with surfing after a long career as a well-known author of international journalism. In his words, “I was reluctant to come out of the closet as a surfer because of how I would be perceived as a writer.” Barbarian Days is a remarkable collection of surf stories from his escapades of traveling worldwide from the 1960s up to the present day. What makes his book so remarkable is that it is very well written. Finnegan debunks that myth that surfers are not good writers with a detailed analysis of every surf spot he sees (including San Onofre) in a way that makes it attractive to even a non-surfing audience. Thus, the Pulitzer Prize. Of course, he’s now my hero.

  4. Steve Sarvate lasted another two years at Oracle before getting laid off himself. He sold his home in Sunnyvale and moved to an apartment in San Francisco. Once the pandemic hit, we had a couple of zoom calls to check in on each other. He passed away of a heart attack in 2021 on a tennis court in the city while waiting for a game. Steve read all of my blogs on surfingforbalance.com, and I rest in the comfort that he knew (and often debated with me) the truth of Jesus Christ.

  5. Saint Ignatius Loyola was a sixteenth-century Spanish Catholic priest who founded the religious order of The Society of Jesus (The Jesuits).

11. Lessons for The Grandchildren

“Mike, it all boils down to preparation, details and work, work, work . . . Everything the man says makes so much sense that I can’t believe so few coaches have followed his philosophy. I suspect because it involves too much work.”

–Kona Jack, reflecting on Coach John Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success”

Surfing Malibu circa 1949 on a Simmons Foam Sandwich
(photo by Doc Ball)

If there ever were a perfect sunset, Dad (A.K.A. “Kona Jack”) surely would have seen it over his 27 years at the Keauhou Kona Surf and Racquet Club on the big island of Hawaii. It was a nightly ritual for him to collect with neighbors on the shore’s edge to stare down the sun as it dipped into the royal blue Pacific Ocean. As the glazed orange ball reached its final glimmer, all eyes were peeled for a “green flash” at the horizon’s edge as a final tribute to the day. With the curtain closing and the skies darkening above, Dad would always have a conclusive comment to abruptly move everyone out of their reverie so he could go about his evening:

“Ah, another day in paradise!”

Dad passed on the night of a full “Strawberry moon” in 2016 on Father’s Day (1). I was on my bicycle en route to work at Oracle when the call from my sister Terry came in. In a flash, the world stopped turning. It was monumental. Life would never be the same. I had known it was coming, but could not fathom the feelings that surfaced.

Dad was a man’s man, and I lucked out by being his boy. Life with Dad just happened. We didn’t talk things out. We mostly just hung out doing things guys do together, primarily around sports and exercise. He taught me most of what I know about surfing, skiing, and tennis. I don’t mean that he instructed me; that definitely was not Dad. He was about being together and doing whatever it was we were doing; not much needed to be said. Later in life, I realized what I had learned from him. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. He taught me how to truly relax and enjoy life. That was my most valuable lesson from him.

I am looking forward to heaven. That is also a nice way of saying that I look forward to dying; that’s OK with me. My faith is firm in the truth of a glorious life in heaven awaiting us for eternity. Keep reading; we will soon be surfing in heaven!

The Bible is crystal clear on the joy and peace that await those who place their faith in Jesus. I don’t know if that includes Dad. I communicated to him how simple it would be to accept Jesus into his heart. On my last visit with him in Kona I was able to share my Christian faith. We watched a video together to get him thinking about heaven. He did not say much, but appeared receptive to what I was saying. It rests in God’s hands.

I often dream about being reunited with Dad in the prime of his life in heaven. It would be a wonderous homecoming. I imagine, of course, he is going to say,

“Michael, let’s go surfing!”.

Until then, I hope that I can have as much of an influence on people as Dad did on his friends and family. Somehow, Dad seemed to rub off on everyone, including people he would seemingly completely ignore. Everyone who knew Dad would agree that he left a mark that won’t soon be forgotten.

Following are a few of the areas from Dad’s legacy that his grandchildren should take note of. I like to think of it as passing the baton to Marisa, Matthew, Brennan, and Hayley. These are all quite simple—not anything that would surprise those who knew Dad. But the combination of them together is what sets Dad apart. He lived each one of them to the fullest.

“Six lessons for the grandchildren,” from Kona Jack:

1 – Keep your sense of humor.

This may be the single most important of all!

Dad was hysterical with his many dry and humorous comments that always seemed to come when you least expected it. He had a fantastic wit and was not afraid to use it on anyone. Most importantly, it didn’t wane at all as he launched into some challenging times in his eighties. Dad was a walking comedy act that I appreciate now more than ever.

On my last trip to Kona (before he passed), I had come to assist him after he took a severe spill walking down the hill from the KTA market with a full bag of groceries (in his flip-flops!). He was quite bandaged up head to toe and not moving too well when I arrived. His first comment to me was:

“I’ve lost my swagger, Michael.”

I couldn’t have said it any better.

His first request was to drive into town for a haircut at his regular barber. I had been there many times. As we approached the barbershop, Dad shuffled slowly in as a customer held the door open and patiently waited for him to get by. The guy was looking at him and his bandages with obvious curiosity and sympathy (along with everyone else) when suddenly, out of nowhere, Dad looked up at him and blurted out,

“You should see the OTHER guy!”

The man holding the door was pausing to process what the heck Dad was talking about when it hit me as I was taking a seat. I was laughing so hard that I almost started to cry. Dad just shuffled up to the barber chair and sat down as if nothing had happened. The barber knew him well and took it in stride as he began dressing him for his haircut.

Dad was not a letter writer, but he was famous for his sticky notes on stuff he would send you in the mail. Often, they were written on a card or piece of paper that he would reuse. Here’s one he wrote on an article he sent me:

“Hey, it’s not all wine and roses over here! This can be a very tough life, especially if you’re in your late, late eighties. I messed up cutting these articles out of the paper, but I’m sure you’ll get the drift.
Dad”


Another sticky note on a rather lengthy New Yorker article he sent me about Apple and the upcoming iWatch:

“ Mike – I don’t want to over burden you with too much shop talk, but thought this might be of interest. It’s a little long and drawn, but does have its highlights, and it’s a good inside look into Apple’s modus operandi. In any event, you’re stuck with it!
P.S. For your appreciation of my sending it, you can give me an Apple watch for Father’s Day.”

This one was written on a copy of the Santa Monica High School alumni newsletter, which included some photographs of his classmates:

“Mike: I have enclosed 2 Xerox’s from the recent Viking news, which is a quarterly published for SMHS alumni. One is a recent picture of Charlie French, which I thought you would like to see. The other caught my eye because I knew everyone involved from my Malibu days. Dave Rochlen is the founder of Jams, and Peter Cole and Buzzy Trent were famous big wave riders (Buzzy looks like he had a couple of 20 footers break on him).”

And looking at the picture of Buzzy, I had to agree!

2 — Sleep trumps diet.

Sneaking in a nap just hours before the wedding bells ring!

A key to Dad’s long and physically active life was his ability to sleep anywhere at any time. He regularly took two naps a day and never (that I remember) had a hard time getting a full night’s sleep. I will never forget one incident on the day Marla and I got married. I came into the bedroom to get the tuxedo on and found him flat on his back, taking a nap. I thought he was kidding at first, but with his hearing aids out, I could hardly wake him up!

Dad’s sleep habits also seemed to counterbalance his daily nutritional habits, which were not healthy by any standard. He should have written a book on how to live a long and healthy life while eating and drinking anything you want.

My favorite story was the trip we took back to Kona from Queens Medical Center in Honolulu after surgery to install a stent in one artery. The surgeon had ordered him on a low-fat, low-sodium diet and told him not to lift anything over ten pounds for two weeks. He repeated the last one three times! We were driving back to Dad’s place from the Kona airport when he had me stop at one of his favorite restaurants along the way (“Michael, pull over here!”). I was not surprised when he ordered a giant schooner of draft beer and a large plate of french fries. Of course, he salted the fries heavily and covered them with ketchup.

Picking my words carefully, when I mentioned that the schooner probably weighed over ten pounds (deciding to ignore the rest), he looked at me like I had gone mad. I will never forget that gaze as he held the giant glass mug with both hands visibly shaking as he lifted it to his lips. It was as if I had threatened to turn off his air!

And, of course, there was Dad’s infamous grocery list. Here’s one he gave Marisa for her trip to KTA one day:

– Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream, Ranch-style Doritos, Eye of the Hawk beer, Laughing Cow cheese, Frosted Flakes, Half n Half, Snickers bar.

On a thank you note he sent Terry, he outlined what would likely happen to him if money were no object in Kona:

“Terry, I want you to know that I had a big time blowing away your gift certificate at Drysdale’s: 1 beer, 3 Rob Roy’s, 1 Stinger on the rocks, and the Shrimp basket.
So thanks a lot. I hope I can repay you if you make it over in December.”


Surely, he slept better than ever that night!

3 — Keep life simple.

Dad’s bathroom towel rack was draped with one pair of swim trunks for each day of the week

Everyone who knew Dad was envious of how he had simplified his life. He had boiled his world down to the bare essentials. He should have won an environmental achievement award for having the lowest carbon footprint in the state of Hawaii. We all have a lot to learn from him in this area.

On the day I took dad to Los Angeles airport for his move to Kona from Newport Beach (Park Newport apartments), I came to the shocking realization that he was serious about simplifying. He told me he had sold everything for the move, including his car. When he got into my car with a single (small!) suitcase for his flight and nothing else, it hit me.

Huh?

“Dad, where’s your stuff? Did you ship it?”

His quick reply:

“This is it, Michael. I got rid of everything.”

And he stayed that way. Dad never succumbed to a life of possessions and complexity. Including never again owning a car. His unit #29 at the Keauhou Surf & Racquet Club was a perfect example of that. A couple of $3.99 plastic Wal-Mart chairs around a $4.99 plastic Wal-Mart table was the only furniture he needed. He didn’t seem to mind that we all had to stand around to talk with him when we visited. I think he liked that you would never stay long if you didn’t have somewhere to sit. I tried to buy him a Lazy Boy chair several times to help him get his feet up.

“If I want to lay down, I’ll just go out to the pool!” he quickly shot back.

Good point.

Dad’s fantastic ability to keep life simple and avoid the stress attached to the things we accumulate was genuinely something to be admired. Here’s another note he wrote us on the back of his race number for the Keahou 5K run, effectively reusing the race number as a notecard:

“Hi Gang: I picked up my race booty, which consisted of two T-shirts in addition to the race shirt (I may not leave much money, but I’ll leave a lot of T-shirts,) a twelve dollar gift certificate at Drysdales (that’s 3 Rob Roy’s), and a medallion on a blue ribbon…. The weather has been great. Highs in lo 80’s; lo’s in high 60’s with afternoon clouds and no vog. The snow bunnies are real happy!”

And yes, he did leave us lots of T-shirts.

4 – Exercise for life!

Still playing solid tennis well into his eighties!

One quality that most influenced me was Dad’s example with consistent exercise throughout his entire life. This was one of the few areas where he did offer advice as we were growing up. Dad believed exercise was a true fountain of youth, whether it was his tennis, surfing, skiing, or even jumping rope in the living room. And he was living proof that it worked!

This note on the back of a reused Christmas card says it all:

Life here goes on! Following is my current schedule:
– Monday: work 9-12:30. Tennis 3-5.
– Tuesday: Bike to the village. Coffee at the Pub. Work out at the club and a run. Bike back to the pool.
– Wednesday: Tennis 2-4.
– Thursday: same as Tuesday
– Friday: same as Monday
– Saturday: same as Tuesday and Thursday
– Sunday: rest it up at pool. Tennis 3-5.
Of course there are variations, but not many. I’m sure you get the idea!
Love, Jack”

5 — Enjoy life.

Never one to miss an ice cold beer after a round of tennis.

Everyone who knew Dad agreed that he set the stage for enjoying life. Whether it was a brilliant Kona sunset, cold beer, or a well-played football game on TV, he enjoyed it to the fullest and let everyone around him know. It was a fun quality of his that I miss a great deal. Dad never let work distract him from taking pleasure in life and kept a keen eye on those who did the same. No question that a part of this has propelled me into the work/life balance coaching arena.

Here’s an insightful comment he made about Bob Simmons, a fellow Malibu surfing pioneer, in a note to me about a recent surf auction of a Simmons surfboard for $40,000:

“This is the same board I’m riding in the Malibu photo. I’m not sure how many of these Simmons made, but don’t think it could be more than 5 or so. I can only remember seeing one other that was owned by Jim Arness. Bob was anything but a grinder when it came to making boards and never let work interfere with his surfing. There seems to be a lot of money out there for old surf collectibles. I may be sitting on a fortune!”

Dad was not a complainer. Later in life, when the speed bumps (as he called them) started showing up, he would still find pleasure in the midst of it. Don’t get me wrong; he let you know if he didn’t like something or if something had not gone well. He never dwelled on it and soon was making light of it after.

When we made a trip back to Queens Medical Center in Honolulu for his bladder cancer surgery, he had to carry a catheter bag with him along the way. I could not believe how he kept his spirits up and maintained a sense of humor about it all. I was cringing at the sight of him carrying the catheter bag when we came to airport security and he (of course!) got pulled aside for the complete shakedown treatment by the TSA agents. He kept looking at me with an “are you kidding me” look on his face as they patted him down.

“I need a beer Michael,” was his first comment as he rejoined me. I’ll never forget that beer. He took a long draw from the cold, wet mug, and belted out:

“Ahhhhh, that’s a good one, Michael.”

I was looking at him and wondering how he possibly could be enjoying a beer right now? Yet he savored it as if it was going to be his last!

6 — It’s OK to be sentimental.

West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona, Hawaii

The family all knew about Dad’s goodbyes. They were painful for those of us who were trying to leave from a visit with him. I dreaded it every trip, as he always fell apart and started to cry when it was time to say goodbye. My last trip over was the worst of all. It was as if he knew he would not see me again, finally just telling me to leave.

The point I think he would make for the grandkids is not to hold your emotions in, but to let them out. I wish I could be more like that. Here are a couple more of his sticky notes as evidence.

This one is regarding a blog I had written about my San Onofre experience with him growing up:

“Mike, this is pretty good. I must confess your re-capitulation of a trip to SanO brought tears to my eyes. I’ve out-grown my motion sickness, but it doesn’t look like I’ll ever outgrow my sentimentality, which I for sure inherited from my father.”

In the mid-80s, Dad had taken a three-week solo trip to Australia in which the airline (Quantis) lost his luggage on the flight over. We were surprised to find a detailed daily journal he kept from that trip where he periodically lamented over the loss and its impact on his emotions. His final entry in the journal:

“Checked with Qantas about my suitcase and no luck. Someone else is wearing my snappy clothes and it pisses me off to no end!

And finally, a birthday card (not reused) he sent me shortly after college (early ‘80s):

“Hi Mike – They do roll around awfully fast don’t they. I hope you have or had a real good one! This is one birthday that always sneaks up on me. I am watching the U of U – San Jose St. basketball game from Utah and couldn’t help but have a flash-back to your graduation. You can be real proud of what you accomplished then, and what you have accomplished since. To put it mildly, you have done quite well; and I’m a very proud father.

Utah seems to have one of their better teams and I cant look at Tarkanian without thinking of Woody [our tax accountant – who did in fact look like him!].
“Fresno State has a 26 to 11 lead and the Utah coach is having kittens!
Love, Grandpa Jack”


Footnotes:

  1. All told, dad’s life was a bit of a fairy tale. The “strawberry moon” on the day of his passing is the nickname for June’s full moon, which coincides with the summer solstice. According to AccuWeather.com, the last time these two phenomena coincided was back in 1967, and it won’t happen again until 2062. I would venture to guess that it has been even longer since it fell on Father’s Day.

    Dad passed away just four months shy of his 90th birthday. He had just spent Father’s Day with his daughter Terry, and her husband, Bob Hankenson. They went out for his favorite meal of fish and chips and his favorite cocktail, a Rob Roy served “up with a twist.” To top it off, sitting on the table in his dining room was the day’s crossword puzzle in the Honolulu Advertiser with every box filled in!

10. HODADS

“Don’t give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you.”
– Coach John Wooden

When my wife Marla asked me what I wanted for my 50th birthday (many moons ago), my immediate thought was not to give up on my lifelong dream of filming a surfing movie. Ever since the evaporation of our “Mexican Miracle” video in Mazatlán (in 1972), I had continued to envision starring with my best surfing buddies in a surfing movie.

I immediately moved into action. My birthday is in January, so Steamer Lane was a logical spot to film it. The lane is the place to be when the rain-soaked Pacific storms bring thick and powerfully consistent surf into Monterey Bay that time of year. It is also an ideal venue for filming from the cliffs above, where you can easily perch and capture the surfers as they go by.

On my last three birthdays at Steamer Lane, I rode big waves that never seemed to end. I was like a kid coming into a candy shop—giddy with anticipation of what was to come! The call went out to a few close friends I knew would be stoked to join in. We booked a cottage at Seascape Resort in Aptos (jacuzzi required!) for the birthday weekend and began searching for a cinematographer. I asked each of the megastar surfers to bring their big wave quiver, a CD of their favorite surf tunes from the 60s, and photographs to document their surfing history. I took the project a bit more seriously, anthologizing a 25-page term paper with photos and footnotes galore. That document turned out to be the genesis of my blog on surfingforbalance.com (in 2014). And that led to this book!

Hodads (L to R): Jack Schott, John Park, John Davis, Mike Mulkey

The surfing celebrities to join in were:

  • John Davis[i] – John was my one and only Silicon Valley high-tech surfing bro at Sun Microsystems. Ten years my senior, John and his wife Deb built their dream surf chalet on 38th Street in Santa Cruz with a quiver room for surfboards and a hot outdoor shower with a bench seat to help extract the wetsuit. I am eternally indebted to them for that shower; it is the only way I can get out of my wetsuit on a cold winter day at Pleasure Point.  
  • Mark Magiera – I grew up with Mark in CdM (since 3rd grade), crossed ski tracks in Utah, and then lived together after college in CdM. We shared many surfing safaris over the years, including a trip to Hollister Ranch that Mark invited me on in the late 1960s. We camped in Brian Blumer’s VW bus on the bluff at “Lefts and Rights,” which was about as good as it got!  Unfortunately, Mark had a conflict and missed our weekend of filming.
  • John Park – As the founder of Clear Spirit Surfboards, John frequented San Onofre with my dad and me back in the late 1960s when surfing was all we thought about (well, almost).  Johnny led me on surfing adventures in Baja back in the seventies and eighties and was a member of the infamous “Mexican Miracle” trip to Mazatlán in 1972.
  • Jack Schott – Jack was another former roommate who shared many epic days with me surfing, as well as being my loyal tennis partner. Jack was the best surfer I knew and always seemed to stay out longer and catch more waves than I did, despite having ten years on me.  He came down with a horrible cold on HODADS weekend, sitting out one day, and then borrowing a 7mm deep-dive wetsuit to get in for some action the second day. He still out-surfed us! Jack continues to surf today (at 77).
  • Gary Irving[ii] – Gary was a rare find as a local Santa Cruz artist/photographer who joined in as a cinematographer and producer. He was an answer to my prayers. Gary immediately understood what we were trying to accomplish and proceeded to invest untold hours into the final production, giving it the vital spark it needed.  Considering the lack of surf that weekend, Gary did a spectacular job producing what will be remembered as the surf movie to end all surf movies (pun intended).

Despite many objections from the peanut gallery, I held firm on naming our movie “HODADS,” a term to describe a surfer without much skill. When you bring together five surfers whose combined ages cover some 270 years, it would be serious HODAD surfing, whether we wanted to admit it or not. The title stuck.

Gary filmed HODADS[iii] on the weekend of January 14th, 2005.  As luck would have it, we had a freak lull in the surf in Santa Cruz for that entire weekend. Steamer Lane was so flat that there was not a single surfer in the water on Saturday. I could not believe it! We decided to invite Gary and his camera into our Seascape cottage with unlimited pizza and beer to spend the day recording each of us recalling our glory days surfing. We had many laughs jabbing at each other as we took our turn on camera. On Sunday, Gary let us in on a secret spot in Monterey Bay that “always had surf.”  He was right!  We ended up filming a couple of decent surf sessions at that secret spot.

HODADS was a dream come true for me. It turned out better than I could have wished, largely because of the extra time we had to film each of our personal histories with surfing. Those scenes Gary filmed in our hotel room are a treasure to pass on to the next generation. It was all about being stoked with good friends, sharing precious memories, and enjoying God’s magnificent creation in the process.

In 2015 we held an informal 10-year reunion of HODADS to rekindle some of that good karma. Somehow, we ended up having lunch at the Spanish Bay Inn at Pebble Beach instead of surfing, although our boards were strapped on the roof for action. The two 70-year-olds assured me that had nothing to do with our age.

Ha.

In the end, I’ll rest peacefully in heaven knowing I finally got my surf movie.

HODADS 10-year reunion in 2015 to sign autographs and count chest hairs.
(L to R: Mark Magiera, Mike Mulkey, Jack Schott, John Davis)

Footnotes

[i] On our second day of filming, John Davis was not feeling well and not catching waves. He left suddenly and drove home shivering and feeling some chest pain. He soon was in the Emergency room at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, diagnosed with a heart attack.  He had an angiogram that day to install a stent in the blocked artery! Thankfully, he was fine and in good spirits and continues to surf today at Pleasure Point (at 77).

[ii] I lost touch with Gary Irving shortly after our movie was produced. Unbeknownst to us, later that year in 2005, Gary married actor Paul Newman’s daughter, Nell Newman. He never mentioned that one!

[iii] The full-length DVD that Gary Irving produced is available for special order through “surfingforbalance.com” (click “Contact Mike”). There is an abbreviated version of the full-length DVD available for viewing online at:

HODADS (the movie)

Part I – HODADS (the “surfing”): 10:40

Part II – HODADS (the “surf stories”): 12:50


6. Riding the Wave in Silicon Valley

“If we are enjoying so much progress, why is everyone so worn out? “
-Dr. Richard A. Swenson, M.D.

Age with wisdom can be a wonderful thing. I look back now on some of the hardest experiences in my life and realize how they helped me grow. My leap into tennis club management embodies this dynamic.

I left Utah with degree in hand and landed at the Rusty Pelican Restaurant in Newport Beach to ease my transition into responsible living. Ha! Waiting tables almost became my career. I was stuffing my safe deposit box with gold Krugerrands to manage all the cash from tips, surfing (or playing tennis) all day, and arriving at work just in time to eat. It could easily have become a lifestyle …

Somehow, I got back on plan when I was hired as general manager of the Covina Hills Racquet Club (CH) in southern California. CH was the full package club, with thirteen tennis courts, two racquetball courts, weights/aerobics room, pro shop, snack bar, jacuzzi/sauna, and an outdoor pool. I would be directing the “leisure society” with members who were spending their free time (and disposable income) at our club. Dr. Rockwood would have been proud; it was textbook.

Or so I thought.

I was immediately overwhelmed. Work/life balance went out the window, even though I was wearing tennis clothes and working on my suntan. I had a staff of twenty employees and two tenants (pro shop and snack bar) who needed constant attention. The owners (Granada Royale Hometels) expected a tennis club to be as clean and orderly as a newly arrived hotel room; inspections from the hotel staff were constant.

I soon realized CH was in a negative cash flow position with memberships declining. Then we had a pink eye outbreak in the pool. Upon inspecting the pump room, I found my maintenance man smoking pot (“Are those two connected?”).

This part was not in the textbook!

My workdays were some of the longest I have ever worked; I quickly realized that peak hours at the club were when all my friends were off work (weeknights, weekends, and holidays). I dropped off social calendars and watched my tennis game disappear. It was as if I had been thrown onto the court against Bjorn Borg and wished “good luck,” even though everyone knew it was going to be a massacre. 

Marketing for new members at Covina Hills Racquet Club (1983)

The tide began to turn when I hired our head tennis pro, Barry Friedman. CH immediately took to his style and personality as he rallied (pun intended) members into activities that raised morale and got everyone out to play. A community was awakened.

Looking back, I see two big lessons from CH:

  1. Members (people) are generally happy if they have a tennis pro (leader) who they like and who can improve their game. Barry taught me a lot in that area.
  2. Relationships matter; never overlook any one of them. It took just one letter from a disgruntled member at CH to nearly cost me my job. I survived, but vowed not to ever allow that to happen again.

When Granada Royale Hometels announced their shocking decision to close CH two years later, I took a leap of faith to join a new telecommunications company called ROLM in 1984 (where my sister Terry was working). I was hired as a customer support advisor and was responsible for driving maintenance contract revenue for ROLM’s telecommunications systems. I was like a deer in headlights. Overnight I transitioned from counting tennis balls in the pro shop to counting ports on a printed circuit board (and having to learn what a port was!).

AT&T had a monopoly of analog telephone service in the U.S., over what would soon become the digital transmission network of the internet. As the U.S. government mandated the breakup of this monopoly in 1982, companies like ROLM emerged to computerize the telephone and long-distance service for businesses. ROLM was investing heavily in technical training of their workforce to get a jump on this new opportunity. It was as if I was going back to college, but getting paid to do it!

Best of all, I met the love of my life Marla. She was also in a customer support role when we first met at ROLM’s Irvine, California office. An office friendship immediately developed. Marla was smart as a whip (USC graduate), beautiful, fun, easy to talk to, and liked to laugh. When I first announced my interest in her, my co-worker Al Walker snapped back,
“Mulkey, she’s got legs as long as you are!”

I won the jackpot when Marla agreed to marry me in Newport Beach in 1991. We moved north to ROLM’s headquarters in Santa Clara where we planted our roots, raised two children (Marisa and Matthew), and began to call Mountain View home, leaving behind the warm beaches of southern California.

Selling a ROLM Computerized Branch Exchange (CBX) required technical sales support. I was in the right place at the right time, and after twelve months of training classes, I was a fully seasoned ROLM systems engineer. It was an exciting time to be on the leading edge of a Silicon Valley company like ROLM.

I immediately took to ROLM’s CEO, Ken Oshman, and his philosophy of “GPW” (Great Place To Work). In-between training classes and field sales calls, I was back on the tennis courts or taking time out for a jacuzzi or steam bath at work. The ROLM campus included recreation facilities that rivaled CH; they were even featured on CBS 60 Minutes. It really was a great place to work!

Marla and I were both enjoying the excitement of our jobs at ROLM, but realized there was not much free time to go hang out at the beach. Silicon Valley was emerging as the global center of innovation for computer technology, so it seemed reasonable that work became the priority. The computer was entering our lives in ways we never could have anticipated in the 1970s. Dr. Rockwood’s leisure society was in jeopardy.

The information revolution explosion which soon followed happened so quickly that nobody had time to study the potential dangers that came with it. Alvin Toffler wrote about this in his book Future Shock (1970), arguing that that the information overload to come would overwhelm society and result in a “future shock” because of our inability to handle it all. The more I saw of Silicon Valley, the more I believed he was on to something. There was a wave coming and it was big.

The Wave
In the midst of all this, it took me five years to brave the cold water in Santa Cruz and go surfing. It was a long dry spell! Some blame was due to the work culture in Silicon Valley, but mostly it was my fear of the frigid northern California currents. New wetsuit technology from O’Neill finally got me to break the ice at Steamer Lane (“the lane”) in 1996. I quickly realized I had found an escape valve from the Silicon Valley pace, less than an hour from my doorstep in Mountain View.

This Woody Woodworth poster hung in my office for many years.

The lane on a big winter swell is not for the faint of heart. Both the leash and wetsuit were spawned there for good reason. The rock cliffs are gnarly, and the water is numbing. It is a world-class reef/point break that is thick and powerful and can rip for several hundred yards into Cowell’s beach (on a low tide). It rivals any break I have surfed in California.

Paddling out can challenge even the best surfers, as the currents are strong, the waves often too humongous to duck under, and there are four different breaks to navigate (indicators, middle-peak, the slot, the point). I like to sit at middle-peak on big days when it can top triple overhead further outside at the point; however, waiting for a wave can get spooky. Middle-peak can jack up to double overhead out of nowhere and get you diving for abalone faster than a boat anchor if you can’t get over it. The longer your board, the more difficult that can be. Middle-peak waves often move sideways as fast (or faster) than they are moving in, so positioning for the take-off can be quite tricky and involve a bit of luck.

I caught the biggest wave of my life on a winter storm-swell day at middle-peak. The sensation was completely alien. The wave unexpectedly appeared and came at me like a freight train out of a dark tunnel, whistle howling. As I paddled for it the ocean picked me up like a tsunami and began moving with me. It was as if all of Monterey Bay was caught up in this wave. I was instantly moving with the wave and rapidly dropping in, whether I wanted to or not! The wave had caught me.

I quickly got to my feet in a crouched position as I raced down the face, noticing a couple of surfers diving for the bottom off to my side. The drop was sensational, akin to jumping off a cliff. As I started a sweeping right turn, the enormity of the wave and the amount of water moving with me was exhilarating! I felt like Franz Klammer at the 1976 Olympics, racing with abandon to stay ahead of the crashing lip, ignoring all sense of form. I had never gone so fast.

Over my shoulder, I could see the wave breaking behind me in apparent slow motion. Surfers sneaking over the lip looked back down at me as I excitedly banked off the face with water spraying high into the crisp Santa Cruz air like a snowboarder coming off a half-pipe lip. My Doug Haut surfboard tracked onto the face of the wave as if it were the Santa Cruz boardwalk roller coaster, dropping and climbing as the face continued to build in front of me without any sign of letting up. The force of it allowed me to sweep further out of the section without any danger of losing momentum back into the wave. I was flying!

This went on continuously until I finally kicked out at Cowell’s beach on the inside as the wave broke in front of me. Cresting over the lip I fell off the back of my board and floated on my back to soak in the memory of what had just happened. I released a light laugh and then slowly climbed on my board and paddled back out, reliving every part of that wave. Like one good shot on a round of golf, it carried me for many, many waves after. It had been a gift from God.