(The southern California wildfires burning at Malibu.)
If your mood has been anything like mine recently, you, too, have gone dark on social media. I haven't felt particularly social, to be honest. With the Tree of Life massacre, the California fires burning dangerously close to my parents, and the Thousand Oaks bar shooting, there's just been too much tragedy swirling around my head. I know Thousand Oaks. It's a few miles from where I grew up. I know Squirrel Hill. That synagogue is a half mile from where I live now. I know Malibu and the twisting, dried canyons that are on fire. My father taught me how to drive on those roads. He and my mom are packed and ready to evacuate, they tell me, because the fire is raging their way. I feel powerless. Voiceless. Hopeless.
And that's when they caught my eye. Four green, vinyl frogs with jiggly legs and googly eyes, sitting on my desk. What on earth? I asked myself. Beneath the frogs on a prescription slip from Joe's office was his handwriting: "Friends of the Bowser and Shay Families." Huh? I wondered, puzzled. I searched my computer for that phrase and suddenly, my husband's message to me started to come into focus.
A woman named Arline Bee started handing out the frogs several years ago after her church was badly damaged by a storm. With no place for Sunday services, the congregants had to share a fellowship hall with Sunday schoolers, and their teacher asked everyone in attendance what they thought the letters F.R.O.G. stood for. "Where the heck is she going with this?" Arline thought to herself as people started calling out their answers. The teacher then pointed heavenward, and on her index finger was a little green frog with big eyes and spindly legs. "F.R.O.G. stands for Fully Rely on God, and that's what we need to do, especially now," she said. Arline was captivated. Perhaps other folks would be inspired by these frogs, too.
Arline has handed out thousands and thousands of little green frogs to people all over the world. How did four of them find their way onto my desk? One of my husband's patients gave them to him and shared a touching story.
Harry Bowser received his frog five years ago on the eve of a very serious heart operation. He was so convinced he was going to die, Harry stayed up all night writing goodbye letters to the people he loved. How on earth am I going to say goodbye to my wife, Karon? Harry thought to himself. Just then, Harry felt a hand on his shoulder. He was startled, and scared. No one was in the room with him. A voice then said, "Ask Keith." Who was Keith? Harry wondered. He awakened Karon and shared his story. The two discussed what had happened and ultimately drifted off to asleep. A phone call early the next morning startled them. It was their minister calling, asking to pay a visit and to pray with the Bowers before Harry's operation. The minister's name was Keith Solomon.
"F.R.O.G., Harry," the minister told him, smiling as he visited later that day. "Fully Rely On God." And with that, the minister placed a frog into Harry's hand and wished him a speedy recovery.
Harry survived his operation and started taking his frog with him wherever he went. He bought a box of his own frogs and handed them out to other people who seemed to be struggling. And, in true F.R.O.G. fashion, Harry's faith in God was to be tested – and proven – again.
When the Bowser's church friends heard Harry's wife was suffering from kidney failure, they started praying for her. But instead of getting better, Karon Bowser's condition worsened. She was on the transplant list, yes, but it didn't seem a new kidney would come soon enough. She'd have to go on dialysis. And living on dialysis is a tough way to live.
One morning before church, as Karon sat in the last row and Harry stood behind her, his hand on her shoulder, Harry slipped his other hand in his pocket and found his frog. "Dear Lord," he started to pray, when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Harry turned around and saw his friend Jim Shay. "I need to talk with you and Karon," Jim said. "But the service is just about to begin," Harry said. "Can't it wait?" Harry looked towards the altar and saw the minister approaching them. Whatever Jim had to tell them, the minister was in on.
(Jim Shay and Karon Bowser.)
Jim proceeded to tell the Bowsers that he'd been getting tested at Allegheny General Hospital for more than a year to see if he could be an organ donor. He explained that AGH had a program that would bump Karon's name to the top of the transplant list if he donated a kidney in her name. "But that won't happen," Jim told the couple. Harry was baffled. "Because during all my testing," Jim continued, "they found Karon and I are a direct match." The Bowsers were speechless, and in tears. "If you would accept it, I would like to donate one of my kidneys to you."
On November second, a week ago last Friday, Karon and Jim underwent their kidney transplantation. Jim's home recovering, but Karon is back in the hospital with what she hopes is just a minor infection. Their families started a fundraising page to share their story of love and to help cover the costs of their recovery (they're only asking for $3,000, God bless them).
I'm reminded that no matter how much life can hurt, regardless of the detours we stumble upon or the countless ways we can be disappointed by each other, there is always hope. It comes in the form of a little green frog whose silly smile and big eyes tell me to believe. After all, to fully rely on God means trusting that He knows what he's doing. New growth blooms after a wildfire. People rebuild after tragedy. Hearts heal after horror. And we end up being stronger for surviving them.
I have four little frogs to give away. On second thought, make that three. Walking around with a special reminder of God's love in my pocket feels right and just.... in a world that so often feels like it is not.