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Staring in the Eyes of a Zebra: Encouragement in Desert Wandering

I sat across another zebra, and for the first time, I knew someone truly understood me. 

In the 1940’s Dr. Theodore Woodward coined the term “zebra” for any rare medical condition. I first shared the notion of a medical zebra in the article, Confession of a Zebra.  Until this moment, I had never met someone who shares my same rare illness. The eyes of this woman, who understood me, penetrated my desert heart and helped me find strength in God.

Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis affects one per 100,000 people.[1]  It is lonely to possess a rare disease. Daily, I battle emotional isolation. No one around me understands the random paralysis, fluctuating weakness, daily pain, and embarrassing impaired cognitive functioning.

Mutual friends introduced me to Nancy. We formed an online friendship and texted and spoke on the phone. While Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis is a new diagnosis for me, she has learned to live with it for years. You could imagine my delight when I discovered she had a meeting near where I lived. We scheduled an afternoon together before her return flight home to Texas.  

I savored a rare moment to spent face time with her. As she spoke, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast our lives. Nancy’s diagnosis of Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis occurred at age of six. There was no need for extensive genetic testing since her father and her sister already possessed this rare neuromuscular disease. Her daughter and nephew also have this rare genetic disorder.

On the other hand, my diagnosis occurred at the age of forty, based on my extensive journaling of symptoms and the adverse effect of certain foods, exercise, stress, etc. She grew up with the rare condition and assimilated well into adulthood. While my diagnosis as an adult turned my world upside down. 

“Like Dorothy, who woke up in Oz. I desperately clicked my red heels hoping to return to my previous life.” ~April Dawn White

The morning after our meeting, I read these words “Jonathan went to David [in the desert] and helped him find strength in God” (1 Samuel 23:16). David was a man on the run, hiding out from the insane King Saul. Jonathan, Saul’s son and David’s best friend came to him in the desert to provide encouragement and strength in God. Nancy was the Jonathan to my David. She met me in my desert place and provided my weary heart with encouragement and strength in God.

We are relational people, not created to live in isolation. This was on Paul’s mind when he wrote, “that you and I be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:12).

“God doesn’t call us to fix other people’s problems but to walk with them. ~April Dawn White”

God doesn’t call us to fix other people’s problems but to walk with them.

So often, we want to fix other people’s problems. If their problems are too big, we feel overwhelmed by their need. God doesn’t call us to fix other people’s problems but to walk with them. Notice, Jonathan did not remove David from the desert; rather he spent time with him there and provided strength in God.

Are you in a desert place? God sees you and He cares for you. Seek refuge in Him and find comfort in the words penned by David (perhaps when he was in the desert), “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7).

Have you been through the desert? I challenge you to reach out to someone in a desert place. Be a Jonathan to someone’s David. Provide strength and encouragement in the Lord during a weary season.

~April Dawn White

© 2016, 2021 April Dawn White, All rights reserved


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