A few nights ago, a large owl made its presence known outside my daughter’s window.

The gentle “ooo-ooo” – less of a “hoot” as is traditionally expected, more of a staccato pulsing of the throat – was deafening. It surrounded the house and filled the dark night air of our neighborhood.

Interesting how something so beautiful and mysterious – an owl – that any other time would be welcomed for observation and enjoyment is suddenly detested when the “ooo-ooo” draws you out of sleep and back to the waking world.

I remember my maternal grandmother loving owls. I actually grew up associating the wise winged creatures with everything that defined and described my grandmother. The smell of her house, the sound of her voice, the furnace blowing dust up from the basement with the exterior door that never closed.

Owls represented a part of me that has long slipped away. Granny passed away several years ago, and I was too far away to be truly present when she died. The house is gone, where the ceramic owls made their roost.

The house that my grandfather built with his bare hands.
The house where my uncle rebuilt Camaros.
The house where we had Christmas Eve every year for as long as I could remember.
The owls mark a place that is bittersweet, beautiful, and painful.

We are in constant need of various forms of "owls." They are key to our formation.

These images, incarnating the paradox of pain and purpose, anchor us to reality in the midst of trying seasons. It is soul work to draw them to mind, because to imagine their soft comfort is to turn them over and see the sharp, rough edges as well.

In the many seasons of life, we need those beautiful and painful memories to remind us that life – even and sometimes especially life with God – is an eternal both/and.

In the seasons when our bodies are changing…

In the seasons where God is moving in ways we don’t understand…

In seasons where we’re being called to move towards things that we really love and are passionate about despite the fact that they may not cover our expenses…

In seasons where our marriage is evolving…

In seasons where we are surprised by insights into who we really are at the core…

We need the images that mark the meeting of our good and our grief. We need to hear beautiful sounds and be reminded of graces far past, if only long enough to remember how much we miss them.

Then, standing in between, we hear the owls. In that moment, we know we can do no other than to love and live for the God who is both/and – past, present, future, and the stories yet to be written.

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