7 Lessons I Learned From Dancing With a Zebra

Never go dancing with a Zebra.
Never go dancing with a zebra. (Flickr )

A few years ago, my wife and I took another couple with us on a short tour of Africa. I realize that is an oxymoron, placing short tour and Africa together. But we tried.

This was our friends' first trip abroad and, naturally, they wanted to experience as much of Africa as they could. After enjoying the wildebeest migration in southern Kenya for several days, we were now 1,300 miles south enjoying a wonderful afternoon tea at a lovely colonial style hotel on the banks of the Zambezi River at Victoria Falls.

During tea, a small group of eight or 10 zebras slowly grazed their way across the large manicured lawn that led past the classic Olympic swimming pool, down to the river. It was a beautiful scene with the little, new zebras following their mothers on the green grass with the river in the background. It was a Kodak moment.

Our friend Stephanie decided we should all get photos with the zebras in the background. We left our table on the veranda and stood on the lawn and proceeded to click away. I had been to Africa many times and was not particularly interested in a photo with zebras, so I waited until last. That was my first mistake.

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I did not realize then that zebras are celebrities, especially the ones that visit exclusive hotels at Victoria Falls. And like celebrities everywhere, they tire quickly of the paparazzi. As I stood on the lawn with my back to the little herd, my wife let out a gasp and I turned to see that the zebra matriarch had had enough of the cameras and the clicking and the tourists and was now running toward me with her head down and canted slightly to the side, her mouth open, lips pulled back and showing some magnificent white teeth. 

I immediately had a flashback to the winter evening I gone out to the barn to throw a blanket on my daughter's horse. As I was reaching under the gelding's belly to secure the strap he gave me a little nip on my "love handle" to thank me. It hurt like fire and I was black and blue for a month.

I was going to have none of that with this zebra! I threw a stiff arm block to her head and successfully deflected her aim and saved my skin from her teeth.

Whew, that was close. I was glad that was over. That was my second mistake.

But this zebra was more than a one-trick pony. She also had hooves. As she spun away from my old football maneuver, she planted one hoof squarely on my left leg above my knee. Let me tell you: that will leave a mark. It will also propel you backward rapidly. I desperately tried to maintain my balance for several steps, my feet stuttering and my arms flailing but ended up rather ungraciously on that lovely manicured lawn. 

My wife and my friends, after quickly determining that I was still alive and nothing was broken, (my ego notwithstanding); crumpled to ground, howling hysterically and holding their sides with laughter. It was great entertainment for the hotel guests and staff. To assuage my thoroughly bruised self-esteem, I briefly thought I could pass it off as part of the hotel's tourist package, much like the Shootout at the OK Corral in Old Tombstone, but no one was buying it.

 Lessons Learned:

1. Don't trust your friends and family to empathize with your pain.

2. Don't expect strangers to empathize with your pain.

3. Don't annoy the animals.

OK, seriously:

4. In life, remember that challenges, problems or crises can arise suddenly and without warning. Life is unpredictable and things happen. It may be from other people, economic circumstances beyond your control, health issues, business climate reversals or any number of things. James tells not to be surprised by trials or tests. Trials are a part of the package called life.

5. In those moments, God can bring to mind answers to the threat, even to tying together components from different sources, such as football and horses, to affect a solution. The Spirit will bring things from our past experiences, from our knowledge of the Word, even from the Throne of God. We need to be receptive. We need to have repository in our mind and spirit for Him to draw from. But trust Him, He can work beyond our experience and bring a word from heaven if necessary. Listen. You will hear.

6.  Don't relax before the test is over. Remain vigilant. There may be another shot coming.

7. Lastly, don't think more highly of yourself than you ought. In the words of Paul, somewhat out of context here, but if you were embarrassed or even humiliated in some circumstance, regardless of who, how, why or where it came from—let it go. Don't carry it around like some badge of shame or pain. Get Up. Few will remember your bad day. Fewer still will empathize with your pain. God does, and He cares. Give it to Him. Get up. Go On. He is the God of second chances.

Gary Carnahan earned his bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in biblical studies at a Pentecostal Bible College. He spent the next 10 years helping build a mechanical contracting company to 800 employees and earned his MBA before launching and running his own firm for 30 years. At the same time, he traveled the world teaching and speaking in churches and at missions events. Today he coaches business and organization leaders at home and abroad. You can reach him at 602.402.9340 or gary.carnahan@cox.net.

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