Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp.
I rubbed my eyes and squinted at the floor. Was a piece of bark squeaking in my general direction? Or was my imagination getting the best of me again?
Mentally, I ran through a list of probable causes. I had just arrived at my condo in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My two-leg flight had only lasted seven hours, so I wasn’t overly jet lagged. I’d slept well the night before, so it couldn’t be a lack of sleep. I don’t touch psychedelic drugs, so my eyes and ears were not deceiving me. Thus, there had to be another explanation for the detritus on my floor that was attempting to communicate with me.
Granted, my condo is prone to flooding. My back patio sits just a couple inches lower than the floor inside the condo, and lies underneath some palm trees. When fronds block the patio drain, and I’m not there to sweep them away, the patio fills up with rainwater, which eventually seeps underneath my back door and inundates my house.
Upon arrival, I opened my front door and was once again greeted by signs of a recent flood. So, I began to clean, which is exactly what I love doing after a day of travel. While sweeping the living room floor, I kept hearing chirping from the corner. Finally, I spotted the piece of bark that was causing such a ruckus. As my broom approached it, it squeaked and hopped away.
That piece of debris was, in fact, the tiniest frog I had ever seen. No bigger than a large fly, she could still hop over a foot in the air. Her adorable, tiny feet and her big, inquisitive, fearful black eyes left me no choice but to immediately fall in love with this diminutive creature. I named her Rosie the Ribbeter.
Rosie hopped toward my bathroom and took refuge in the bottom of my wooden bathroom door, which had been damaged by water from the most recent flood and had separated at the bottom, creating what turned out to be a desirable habitation for such a Lilliputian amphibian.
Time passed, and I settled in. I didn’t see Rosie for a couple days, and hoped that she had found her way back out to freedom via the tiny crack under my front door. One night, around four in the morning, I groggily stumbled from my bed to the bathroom. I opened the door and turned on the light. Immediately, I heard the loudest shrieking, far more piercing than the chirping from a couple days before, and saw a tiny creature jumping around. It was Rosie. She had apparently applied for permanent residency in the bottom of my door. Based on her screeches, I surmised that I had injured her in moving the door. She quickly hopped back to cover. I stopped moving the bathroom door.
From that point on, I knew I had to rescue her. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how.
I started leaving little puddles of water on the floor, in hopes that she could stay alive long enough to find her way to daylight. Several times a day, she would venture out of her door-fort, and I’d spot her, either in the shower or behind the toilet. Whenever I got as close as two or three feet, she would quickly hop out of my reach. Rosie was no slouch. If she ever got the chance to enter the Amphibian Olympics, I have no doubt that she would hop away with several gold medals, or gilded beetles, or whatever it is that they give out for trophies at such events.
All along, I of course knew that I was trying to help her. Regrettably, I don’t speak Frog, and I had a hard time communicating my intentions. She undoubtedly saw me as a giant and a threat. Whenever I tried to guide her toward the living room, and ultimately toward the freedom beyond the front door, she would retreat to safety.
After a week of this, I knew time was running out for Rosie. She needed food, and needed it fast. I wasn’t about to introduce live insects into my home, and obviously, Rosie couldn’t live in my condo forever; after I left, she would surely starve or die of thirst.
If only there was a way for me to show Rosie that I was trying to save her, not harm her. If only I could speak Frog.
I covered the bathroom floor with a bunch of Mason jars, lying on their sides, full of leaves, sticks, and grass. I put a little water in each, hoping to mimic her natural habitat enough that she might hop into one, and I might be able to take her to safety.
On the daily, I grew more and more attached to this tiny frog. It goes without saying that this year has been one of hurt and suffering for so many, and all of my hopes of any good remaining in this broken world were pinned on somehow helping this poor, innocent frog make it to safety.
One day, ten days into Rosie’s stay, she disappeared. I didn’t see her for almost 48 hours. I prayed that she had escaped, but feared the worst. I didn’t want to move the bathroom door for fear of injuring her, or worse yet, discovering that she was no longer alive.
At 2 AM on a stormy night, my heart melted as I walked into the bathroom and saw Rosie sitting in the middle of the rug. When she spotted me, she hopped directly to the rim of one of the Mason jars. As I approached, the unthinkable happened. She hopped in! Quickly, I covered the jar with a lid.
Rosie, to her credit, didn’t freak out. It was almost as if she knew that she was safe and was on her way to a better place, where she could live out her days happily gorging on all the insects her little heart desired.
I opened my front door. Those subtropical summer rains beat down in the darkness outside as I walked a mile and a half down empty streets to a place where Google Maps told me I would find a small river named Río Pitillal. Throughout the journey, when we passed under the light of a streetlight, Rosie looked up at me from the jar with those big, black, trusting eyes. Dogs barked. Birds chirped. Rosie, unfazed, kept returning my gaze.
Finally, we arrived. I found a marshy area near the bank of the river. I set the Mason jar down, expecting Rosie to immediately hop out. There were bugs to eat and puddles to splash in, after all.
Instead, she stayed where she was, looking up at me with those unforgettable eyes. So, though not a fan of littering, I left the jar in a tuft of grass near a large puddle. Perhaps Rosie, after enjoying a long, exciting day of feasting on insects, could retreat to the safety of the jar that had been her home for the last mile and a half. Tears welled up, and I started to cry as I bid her farewell.
As I walked back to my condo, soaking wet, I thought about all that Rosie had taught me. I thought about the fact that sometimes stories still do have happy endings. I felt a sense of self-accomplishment for having saved a tiny, helpless creature that surely would have died without me, and wondered if this was how God must feel toward us.
Then, like a thunderbolt in the night, it hit me. Everything I thought I knew about God and the magnitude of his sacrifice was wrong.
Yes, I had gone out of my way to save a frog, and had patted myself on the back for it. Ultimately, though, it had cost me nothing but a little time and a Mason jar.
God, though, didn’t just put out a tiny terrarium for us. He didn’t just try to guide us to the front door as best he could. He didn’t just take a few hours out of his night to walk through the rain to save us, and then say, “It is finished.”
Instead, the King became a tiny frog. Helpless. Powerless. Fragile. Alone.
God gave up everything that divinity entails, because he knew that the only way to save a frog was to become one.
He became like us, so that we could be like him. He lived among us. Taught us. Healed us. Forgave us. He learned to speak Frog.
Not only that, but the story didn’t end as well for Jesus as it did for Rosie. God couldn’t just wave a wand and magically make our sins, our flaws, and the depravity of our hearts disappear. For the wages of sin is death, and the King knew that for justice to be upheld, he must take upon himself the punishment that we deserved. Just as the prophets foretold, though God became a frog, the frogs knew him not. We misunderstood his intentions, much like Rosie misunderstood mine. He was rejected, abandoned, and murdered by the ones he came to save.
Little did we self-important, sanctimonious frogs know that he was the Son of God, the one that even death could not constrain.
This is the Incarnation. A cold night in Bethlehem. A barn. A trough. Some farm animals. The King of everything became a tiny frog so that one day soon, we frogs can spend an eternity with Him on the banks of a river of life that never runs dry, an eternity where we can know as we are known.
So, my fellow frogs, let us hop with hope. Hope for the day when wrongs are made right, when broken hearts are healed, when death and pain are swallowed up in life forever.
And, the next time I’m in Puerto Vallarta, I might just mosey on back to Río Pitillal, look for a Mason jar and a pair of big black eyes, and say hello to an old friend who has taught me so much about what being a frog is all about.
This piece was originally published by Spectrum Magazine (www.spectrummagazine.org).