A friend once told me he estimated that more than 85 percent of people around the world spend their lives as underachievers. I joked with him and asked him to please help me find the other 15 percent. I don’t think our conversation was very scientific, but I’ve observed that nothing noble and splendid is achieved unless we decide that deep within us lies the possibility of passionately overcoming impossible circumstances and breaking the inertia of nothingness. That dream, plus passionate diligence, translates into higher levels of achievement. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Happiness . . . lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” People who are afflicted with poor motivational health spread the contagious affliction to others and bear within them the symptoms of discouragement and poor self-esteem. But nothing can ultimately conquer the person who desires to achieve. Every obstacle works as a weight machine in the gymnasium of life that develops the achievement muscle. The workout proves to strengthen the powers of accomplishment. 

Thomas Edison reminds us, “If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” Having laid hold of the possibility of the dream, we should mark out a direct pathway to achievement. We dare not look to the left or to the right or embrace doubts and fears that would cause us to veer from the course and become ineffectual.

On one of my earlier trips to Ethiopia, I was introduced to one of the grandest stories and most intriguing venues I had ever encountered. Before leaving the old capital city of Axum, the ancient home and palatial ruins of the Queen of Sheba, I had helped rename the main street “Denver Street” in honor of Axum’s new Colorado sister city. Then my colleagues and I flew in a small aircraft almost directly south to the very center of the country. Our destination was the ancient city of Lalibela, often referred to as the New Jerusalem of Africa. 

In the early twelfth century, a baby boy was born to the royal family of Zagwe in the province of Wollo. According to local legends, at the time of his birth, a dense cloud of bees completely surrounded the baby and mother and brought honey for him to eat. The mother declared that the bees were soldiers who would one day serve her son just as they were now bringing protection and sweet sustenance to him. The mother named him Lalibela: “the bees recognize his sovereignty.”

But Lalibela’s older brother was threatened by all the adulation and poisoned Lalibela. Yet instead of killing Lalibela, the poison put him into a coma for three days. Later, Lalibela revealed that during the coma, angels had taken him to heaven, where Jesus Christ had given him instructions to build duplicates of the eleven early churches on either side of the Jordan River. Churches on one side of the Jordan represented the earthly Jerusalem, while those on the other side represented the heavenly Jerusalem. He was to build the churches far up on the stone hillside in the province of Wollo. 

In a matter of time, Lalibela became king, and with the authority of the office, he set out to accomplish his mission. Within an unbelievably short period, King Lalibela, with the help of his royal masons, chipped away and carved out eleven, completely free-standing, monolithic structures. To the very day of my visit nearly one thousand years later, those hand-hewn stone churches were still being used for worship. 

Monolithic simply means that no cut stones were stacked one upon the other to build each church. The workers dug around the sides of the church, starting from the surface of the stone mountain that would ultimately become the roof.

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Once the entire outside of the church was carved out of one solid mountain of stone, they chiseled doors and windows into the stone walls and then carved out the entire interior—arches, domed ceilings, altar areas, side rooms, and three-dimensional carvings of the saints on the walls. And King Lalibela did this eleven times! 

The design and sheer magnitude of the task baffles all who view the project even today. Lalibela’s contemporaries couldn’t believe how fast he was able to carve out not only the churches but the stone stairways, tunnels, winding stone pathways connecting the churches, and even hidden monasteries and catacombs. Legend holds that Lalibela completed the task with the help of angels who worked by night while King Lalibela worked by day. 

Lalibela was driven by zeal and compassion. He accomplished an impossible feat that still exists today and rebukes the scoffers and naysayers of this world.

“If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves,” as well as the world around us.