Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sterling Mei: (32) The Great Wall of China

no walls around the human spirit, 

So many times in life I think we limit our own abilities with our doubt. While it is good to be prudent, we at times carry the worries of what could be upon our shoulders and listen to them as they whisper corruption in our ears. How far could we go if we stepped forward every day with the acknowledgment that we are the created beloved of the God of the universe?
A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step
Since my grade-school days and my first glimpse of a photograph of the Great Wall of China, I imagined myself standing on the top of that brick wall. 

I thought of the skilled and exhausted hands that placed those brick in the scorching sun and punishing winds of those mountains. It seemed to be such an impossible task to build a wall that stretched so far and stood so tall. 

I wondered about the vision of the Emperors that commanded the building. It had never before been accomplished, never had been, and likely never again will be. 

At the base of the Great Wall, outside of Beijing, China
Somehow in this incredible walk of life... I found myself with my wife at the base of this great wall, just outside of Beijing, China in the Winter of 2012. We had been on our own epic quest to adopt our third child, our second daughter. 

It was epic in that we had no idea how many detours, flights, and pursuits we would be required to chase on the day we first filed our paperwork six years earlier. Indeed we stood at the base of this wall different people than we were when we took our first tentative step.

At the base of the wall outside of Beijing.

The beginning of a journey requires only a willingness to  step away from where we are. We must be willing to part with what we know and find an awareness of the ground beneath the steps of our boots. 

It can be scary to say good-bye to the boring and mundane... but this is a necessary step to reaching beyond what we have to grasp that of which we dream.

Wherever you find yourself, I implore you to look to the horizen. Tell me what you see and ask yourself if you will find what you need should you reach that line of sky and earth. 

On this cold, blustery day we set out on a mission. We would reach the highest point of The Great Wall of China.

Our time was limited... as is typical of life. The bus would be leaving at the appointed time, and the climb was at the extreme limit of our ability. The air was thin and the answer was immediate and clear. 

Yes... we would reach the top. No matter what.

Within a day we would hold our new daughter in our arms. Today was about placing our feet on the stones of history. Men and women have accomplished incredible things in this world. What would our contributions be? 

At least for this day... we simply wished to pay respect to those who had passed before us and to simply stand in awe of the creation of our God.

And so we began our ascent. It began with smooth pavement and a crowd of people.
The air was crisp and the wind was cutting. Already we understood that this would be a painful journey, but childhood dreams demanded that we press forward with enthusiasm.

We bundled coats, scarves, and gloves tight. 
We kissed. 
We began climbing. 

How can I describe our experience? We felt like forbidden travelers evading guardians of old as we pressed our legs up those rocks that had been cut so long ago. We were aware that the protectors of ancient Beijing had patrolled these steps and cut down invaders with arrows and spears. It was like looking back in time as our eyes feasted on the horizon.

Along the way we encountered structures of brick and stone that must have sheltered the soldiers as they defended their city. We envisioned fires burning and decorated generals directing their troops in times of peril. 

My mind turned to introspection and I realized that somehow I was now evaluating my own walk in life. Where did I start? What were my goals? Who was I ? Where did I intend to be?

Was I guarding my heart? What were the watchtowers of my own soul? I looked across the span of the dusty room and my eyes locked on an answer.

“You have to find something that you love enough to be able to take risks, 
jump over the hurdles and break through the brick walls 
that are always going to be placed in front of you. 
If you don't have that kind of feeling for what it is you are doing, 
you'll stop at the first giant hurdle.” 
-George Lucas

In the horizon of our lives, what is it that frames our vision? What is it that is worth protecting? How vigilant are we in guarding the core of what is important? Do we realize our vantage point... how far does our vision pierce the distance? 

My wife stood in the silhouette and my breath caught in my throat. Yes... she is my epic journey. My commitment to her... my promise to God... my oath to forever. All this has brought us to this point. 

This convergence of childhood dreams, youthful promises, and lifelong goals.

It is all held in the vision of the God who created us to be... to be greater than the mere circumstance of our mundane lives. We are challenged to climb mountains.

I remember this point in our climb... looking across a chasm to a gazebo that seemed to silently observe the landscape. It seemed so serene, so strong, so isolated. 

I was struck by the contrast of the graffiti on the stone that was placed with such care, overlooking the power of the mountains that were raised up with violence... that held back invaders... and became the stronghold of the city. What was unimportant to some, was the stumbling block of others, and even so... became the salvation to the wise. 

What we choose to see can change who we become. We are not really so controlled by our circumstance. 

Undeniable beauty. Immense power. I am aware of the smallness of myself. I am in awe as I imagine myself as a chinese slave carrying rock up endless paths and laying brick after brick. I shudder at the power and vision of the Emperors who believed such an insurmountable task was possible. 

I wonder to myself... what I am capable of accomplishing? Am I to be swallowed up by the vastness, or am I to be empowered by the vision?

I think of Elijah and the still quiet voice of God on the side of the mountain. 

I pause and I am certain that I can hear it now. 

God speaks to me through his creation. He speaks to me through the relationships in my life. He speaks to me every moment I chose to open my eyes.

We crest the first mountain and we now can see our destination. The air is thin. The wind is relentless. Our faces are stung, our lips are dry, our legs are burning, our lungs feel raw, and our hearts are pounding. Sweat runs from our foreheads and freezes on our cheeks. 

We were once climbing with a crowd, and now we find ourselves nearly alone. The view is indescribable. We find ourselves alone with the birds of the air... and we climb on.

To get through the hardest journey
we need take only one step at a time,
but we must keep on stepping
~Chinese Proverb

I begin to run forward and I find myself now encouraging Kellie to follow. The going is tougher than we imagined, and our only companions are a few young German university students. We leapfrog them with our forward progress. They seem surprised that these middle-aged Americans can keep up.

 Our acknowledgement turns to a silent competition that drives us all to the top. 

Kellie and I pause for a picture as we stand on the highest elevation of the Great Wall of China. We have reached the summit. We have breathlessly found the top. It was worth it beyond our expectation. The feeling of accomplishment was overwhelming and the view was beyond imagination. Although we were exhausted, thirsty, and suffering... we did not want to leave that place. 


A stone sentry station stood at the summit with a small rock hewn vertical climb to a look out point. It was straight up and had no hand-rails. A fall here would be unfortunate. But we had climbed so far... I wasn't about to miss the top. 

I passed by the German students and I began a crouched ascent. I had to remove my gloves and dig my fingertips into the cracks of the ancient brick. I climbed knowing that a slip would be devastating. And yet... I reached the top and pulled myself over the ledge. 

I was alone at the highest point of the Great Wall of China. There was no-one to photograph my accomplishment. I thought of my friend, Kayci Roh and laughed... no doubt if he were here, he would have beaten me to the top. 

I turned my camera around and took a photograph of myself. This would be a moment I would remember for the length of my time on this earth.

            Do not fear going forward slowly; fear only to stand still. 
           ~Chinese Proverb

And so now we had to begin our descent. Time was rapidly expiring. We were with a group, but none of them tackled the climb. We were alone and at risk of missing our ride back to civilization. This was a concern since we had no idea how to get back to our hotel, didn't speak the language, and were on the far side of the globe. 

Somehow this all just made it all the more fun! 

My right knee had begun to swell and would no longer bend. I had to sort of shift and hobble down the hand-cut rock staircase. The steps are were not uniform... some would have a drop of only an inch or two, while others would fall off a good meter. 

Kellie now became my cheerleader as my knee refused to bend and the pain intensified. Each step was excuciating, and yet there was no other way down. The pain glazed over into a haze as I concentrated on my breath and kept my eyes on the horizon. 

I thought of my new daughter that I would soon hold in my arms. I thought of our families future. I thought of how our vision has to overcome the difficulty of our present circumstance. 

I feared that I was doing permanent damage to my leg... and I realized that it didn't matter. I was climbing the Great Wall of China. I was gaining a daughter. I was following the path that required me to abandon comfort for an adventure. Should this relegate me to a cane or a chair... it would be a badge of honor. We kept placing one foot in front of the other. 

Others had paid a much higher price than me. I now gave thanks for the pain that provided me perspective.

Along the way we had to pause to catch a breath and to again admire this once in a lifetime view. I imagined hordes of invaders cresting the ridges... and sentries lighting beacons to warn of needed preparations. Life is full of passion, sacrifice, and commitment. What will my legacy become? What legacy can you and I share together?

Sometimes it is good for us to encounter momentary discomfort on our journey. The pause causes us to look around and become aware of the things that bless our days. I stopped with a swollen knee and I was able to capture this incredible picture of the love of my life. 

If you find yourself feeling alone on the great wall of your journey... take stock of what matters most to you. What are your goals... where is your vision? Are you focused on the step, or can you see the power of your journey?

“Listen to the mustn'ts, child. 

Listen to the don'ts. 

Listen to the shouldn'ts, 

the impossibles,

 the won'ts.

 Listen to the never haves, 

then listen close to me... 

Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

My daughter Sterling just turned 2 years old 13 minutes ago. She was the purpose of my journey. This lifelong goal that first caught my attention as a child in grade school was fulfilled as I found my daughter. 

You may not know the plans that God has for you... but I assure you that if you are willing to step away from you comfortable and safe place to follow the path He has laid out for you...

you will not only fulfill your dreams... you will find blessings and perspectives that forever blow your mind and change your life.

Happy 2nd Birthday
Sterling Mei Shepherd,
our precious daughter.

Mountains are no barrier.

1 comment:

  1. Chad,
    As usual you cause me to pause and reflect. You have a powerful insight that others can only dream of. Thank you for sharing. If this were to get published, I would definitely buy it!
    Michelle Dove