It was a warm stretch in late October in the northland of Minnesota—a time when we’re so lucky to sleep with windows open and the warm days and calm evenings feel like borrowed time. Knowing what is to come—all too soon—makes these unseasonable fall evenings very precious.
Perhaps it was the stress of putting a fourth book to press, or just the day-to-day issues of a down economy or the health concerns of our oldest, special needs adult daughter; but for some reason, through the fall, insomnia was my late-night challenge. And it brought a surprising new friend into my life—a Great Horned Owl.
The first night, or more accurately, early morning hours when I heard the whoooo-whoooo-whoooo—who-who-who-who—whoooo-whoooo-whoooo, I knew immediately it was an owl, of course, but which kind of owl? I didn’t know enough about owls to answer. The next day I got busy online, listening to audio files of various owl calls: the screech of a common barn owl, the rising cadence of the spotted owl, and finally the match to my late night companion—The Great Horned Owl.
Soon thereafter, at oh-dark-thirty, he was back. Listening closely there was no doubt. This was indeed a Great Horned Owl, the exact match to what I had discovered in my research online. Awake, but not yet up, I listened. And wondered. Why, after 17 years in this house on Lake Minnetonka, did we get so lucky to have this new, rare creature settle here? Had he been here all this time, and I just hadn’t heard? Can’t be. We don’t have air conditioning and the windows are wide open six months of the year, so it seemed his arrival was new. More importantly, now that he was here, would he stay or was he just passing through?
It was a question that would have to wait through the winter. When temperatures dropped, the windows closed up tight. Nightly sounds of nature gave way to the furnace as it cycled on and off. Though I appreciated the gas fireplace during early morning quiet time on dark winter days, the blower-fan was noisy as it took the winter’s edge away. No outdoor sounds in the bleak midwinter could break through.
Finally, one warm March morning, with the windows open for a little fresh air—there he was again: Mr. Great Horned Owl. I wondered if he’d been here all winter. Do owls migrate or settle in for the duration? Had he taken up residence in the clump of hundred-year-old cottonwoods just outside our bedroom window? Or maybe he picked the single huge oak tree on the south side of our place? Come to think of it, I never did catch a single mouse in the traps this winter. That’s unusual for this old house. Now I know why.
My new friend reminded me of a few things I’ve meditated and prayed on lately. That I would remember Psalm 46 when I’m busy and life gets hectic. “Be still and know that I am God.” Oh, that I would remember that! And listen for His still, small voice.
No doubt the owl continued his call throughout the winter. I just didn’t hear it with the windows and doors closed up and the seasonal hum of the furnace providing nighttime white noise. How many times has God called to me inviting, engaging, and reaching out? Had I closed the door so tight that I couldn’t hear his voice? Did I allow the hectic pace of life to become white noise that drowned him out?
Perhaps I was so warm and comfortable I dared not venture into the space where I know his voice is more audible. Places where I’m needed but they’re not as warm and cozy as my home. Places like the homeless shelter downtown, or packaging food for Feed My Starving Children, or shopping for food shelf grocery donations. All things I’ve done before, for which I know there is a continuing, constant need. Somehow, I had been too busy lately. Maybe busy is like being closed up tight for winter.
Can I settle and hear the call in nature as wonderful (and regular) opportunities to listen to God? Is my Lord and Savior there inviting, urging every day, but I only hear on the days I’m awake and open to his voice?
Today I will throw open the windows in my relationship with God, basking in the joy of Eternal Spring’s surprising calls. I might even take my coffee outdoors in the dark—even if it is cold and uncomfortable. Perhaps that is part of what I need. For I, too, will open up today—physically and spiritually, emotionally and financially. I will enjoy the renewal of God’s gift of grace, love and forgiveness that returns to me daily like the gift of each sunrise, a breath of fresh air each new day, here and now. I will listen to his voice. Like the call of the Great Horned Owl it might simply remind: I am here. I am.
K.J. Houtman is the author and publisher of Fish On Kids Books—chapter books for kids who enjoy fishing, camping and hunting. If you’d like to enjoy more of Houtman’s work, visit the Fish On Kids Books site at: http://fishonkidsbooks.com/ChapterBooksKidsFishHunt.html.