This morning, I headed down to the pond and caught a frog.
I'd never have seen her if she hadn't leaped from the wooden bridge. But when she landed amongst the rocks and ferns, I trapped her with the girls' butterfly net. She was big and made no sound, so I assumed her female, an orangey-brown wood frog with a white underbelly. I couldn't wait to tell the girls, so I wedged the stick with the net between the boards of the bridge so she couldn't escape and I hurried back up to the house.
When we got there the net was empty. My captive had escaped.
It had jumped like mad when I first caught her. I assumed once the initial fear passed, she'd calm down–aren't frogs content staying even in slowly warming water? Well, a net isn't water. And seeing water just below, she must have finally seen it and discovered where freedom was.
"Ah, I'm sorry, girls" I said. "That's disappointing."
"It's okay," Ellie said. She's wanted to catch a big frog for months. Always my gracious Elianna.
"Maybe it got through the boards," Charlotte said, showing me how the stick could fit between them.
"I think you're right," I sighed. "We'll just have to wait and try again."
The past few days I taught at the Oregon Christian Writers conference coaching novelists in revision. I wanted to inspire them to write over the long term, so I tried to share how stilling and seeking the water is all we need to get free. But I always question whether I should have spent more time on practical tips and trends.
It's true: desperation usually makes a bad cologne and writers conferences can stink. But turned in the right direction by staff and speakers–masterfully done by Jim Rubart and Cec Murphey this year–the aroma's greatly improved.
I've met so many writers and as a rule, we tend to strain against the stories holding us captive. I talk a lot about how revision is letting our stories still us so we can reach the end and experience the transformation.
I imagine that frog catching a glint of morning light on the water below, and finally understanding she could simply squeeze through the boards to head down.
Desperate for freedom, the water's call turned her in the right direction.
Life offers continual opportunities for revision.
"I kneel down to toss in the laundry. I set the dial to extra dirty. I stay on my knees and watch the water run into the washer, watch it splash against the circular glass of the washing machine’s front door, hear its gurgling fall. Down it flows. Down, always down, water runs, always looking for yet lower and lower places to flow. I watch water run and spiritual water must flow like this…always seeking always the lowest places—and the washtub begins to rock. I must go lower. I tell myself this, watching water run. That whenever I am parched and dry, I must go lower with the water, and I must kneel low in thanks.
The river of joy flows down to the lowest places.”
-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts
I've forgotten this insight many times. But today a frog has helped.
Writing well requires the revision to turn our desperation in the right direction and go lower. We all forget, so we need reminders to still and seek the water.
We searched the pond but couldn't find her and we turned to pursue our daily business–me to my computer and the girls to enjoying the lazy last weeks of summer. But even up at the house, I'm down at the pond today, turning this lesson of the frog over in my mind, the freedom she figured out. When desperation for freedom turns to straining, stop. Seek the water and simply go down.
To all my new writer friends, you whose books need this too, think of the frog and her freedom won in stilling. I pray you find your way down to the water…