Waiting for you

At the beginning of this year, I made a list of 22 things I wanted to do in 2022.

This wasn’t my typical list of goals that I would have to work hard to achieve. They weren’t meant to stretch me or make me a better person.

To be honest, I was in a pretty deep funk, and I was just trying to find some small motivation to do something other than lay on the couch and watch Netflix while eating chocolate chip cookies.

The past year had been intense and full of challenges that seemed to require my constant attention. A lot of aspects of my life were changing, and I wasn’t exactly loving my new situation. In the midst of all of this, I was struggling to find ways to enjoy life. I had focused so much energy and attention on my kids and my family and my work for so long that I couldn’t even remember the things I liked to do. Things that made me feel like me.

So I made a list:

… learn to make creamed honey,

… brew kombucha and

…. learn the names of all of my succulents.

…. Try yoga, read 12 books, join a group at church.

There was one item on the list that stood out because it felt a little out of my control.

Photograph an owl.





I love taking photos of interesting creatures. I’ve been able to capture eagles and sandhill cranes and pelicans, and even a few owls. To photograph the first three birds I mentioned, I know that if I’m willing to drive a certain distance at the right time of year, I will be able to find a flock in migration.

But owls are far more elusive.

Their nocturnal nature alone makes them very difficult to photograph. Owls are most active at night when it’s nearly impossible to get a good photo. They also are extremely difficult to see even during the day. Their feathers camouflage into the trees where they typically perch on a high branch or nest in a hollowed-out hole. The best time to possibly spot an owl is in winter when the trees are bare. Once they are covered in leaves, it becomes even more difficult.




One of the reasons I had found myself in such a funk was because of an ongoing foot issue that made it difficult for me to walk. For more than a year, I wasn’t able to walk more than a short distance without significant pain in both of my feet.

For decades, I have walked nearly every day. I love to explore nature and look for wildlife. I walk to get a creative boost. I walk to spend time with my husband, my children or a friend. I walk when I’m sad and need a dopamine boost. I walk to watch the sunrise or the sunset. I walk to take photos. I walk to connect with God.

Not being able to walk had taken from me a source of joy, a spark for my creativity and my coping mechanism.




With my limited ability to walk, I would drive to a forest preserve where I had seen an owl before and walk slowly just to that certain spot with my head tilted back, searching for a lump at the top of a tree that might be an owl. I did this dozens of times throughout the winter and spring, lugging my massive camera lens on my shoulder. I always returned home disappointed.

One day, with my feet throbbing from pain, I hobbled over to a big rock and just sat there for a long time. I don’t normally ask God for what I would consider to be a trivial request. I figure that if I’m going to ask Him to answer a prayer, I should save it for something that really matters. But this time, I was pleading with Him.

“Please just let me see an owl.”




I can’t say for certain that the response I got was from God. But I can tell you that it was very clear.

“If you get to see an owl anytime you ask, it wouldn’t be special to you anymore. And besides, you won’t be happy. If you see an owl, you will just want to see another one tomorrow. And then the next day. You won’t ever get enough.”

Ugh, I thought. This is disappointing, but true. And then one promise was planted in my heart.

“Be patient. The owl will come to you.”




Throughout the spring, I did have a few owl encounters. I was able to photograph three owls, all from a very far distance because the owls were perched so high in trees. They also are extremely skittish, so each time, they flew away after only a few minutes.

A few months ago, the organization where I work purchased a new building. Although the facility is near a shopping mall and lots of restaurants and busy roads, it’s also on seven acres of land with a lake. Every part of the building has gorgeous views of the lake and surrounding trees. I’m often mesmerized during meetings by large birds diving into the lake to grab their lunch.

I decorated my office with owls, but it never even entered my mind that one might be living right outside the window.

I painted a chalkboard wall in my office, and, of course, I drew owls on the wall.



Last week, a few of our summer interns were hammocking under the trees next to the building when an owl landed in a tree right above them. They sent me a phone photo of the owl staring down at them. I couldn’t believe it was so close that they could take a clear photo even with a phone.

The next day, I took my camera to work with my huge 500 mm lens. I circled the lake and then headed over to the trees right next to our building.


There it was.

It calmly stared at me while I took dozens of photos. It didn’t flutter or flinch or fly away. Three hours later when I was done with work for the day, I went back out to try to see it again. It was still perched in the exact same spot.

It stared at me with its piercing yellow eyes.

While I’ve taken a few decent photos of owls before, I’ve never seen one that close. And I’ve never been able to photograph one that stayed in the same spot for so long.

After all of the hours I had spent walking through the woods on a cold winter day, I wasn’t even looking for this one. It was the middle of the day. On a fairly low branch.

“Where have you been?” I imagined it asking me. “I’ve been waiting for you.”





It’s funny that seeing a bird in a tree could bring such excitement. I shared my photos with my co-workers, which prompted people to offer name suggestions, and one friend even wrote a poem about the owl.

I get to check one more goal off my list. But obviously, the journey made it so much more than that for me.

It wasn’t about all of my searching and striving. The hours in the woods or my hurting feet. It wasn’t about how hard I tried to find an owl.

Instead, it felt like such a gift. God knew this small, unique, quirky desire in my heart. And even despite all of my striving and impatience, even though my obsession made no sense, he gave me an owl sighting that was far better and beyond anything I could have found on my own. I didn’t get to photograph this owl because of how hard I had tried.

The owl came to me.



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  1. I LOVE this post, Emily. Like you, I adore nature and walk daily for many of the same reasons you give. The encounters I’ve had with critters over the years have also felt like AMAZING gifts from God – well, maybe not mice in our Oregon house. Lol! But you’re right. They are so much more special when they’re unexpected. I had a happenstance encounter with a group of otters playing in the river in front of our house in Oregon that MADE MY YEAR in 2021! I pray your feet are better and that you’re able to get out there and walk again soon. I understand how important that is to one’s whole health. Love and hugs!

    1. Joyce, I’m so glad you can relate! Sometimes I feel like a very unique person because of how excited I get to experience nature! It really does give me such a boost, which is why I wanted so much to see an owl. Thanks for the prayers for my feet. It’s really been quite an adjustment, but it’s also forced me to find other ways to enjoy life. I’ve had my moments where it seemed like I would never get to walk for fun again, and it was pretty discouraging. I still have a lot of pain in my left foot, but I can tolerate longer walks. I’m hopeful that it will continue to improve. You’re the best! I wish we could see each other more often!

  2. So beautiful!! We are so much alike. Thank you for sharing. I absolutely love owls and all things nature. I spend most of my days outside, working in the yard, and using my eyes/ears to enjoy His beautiful creation. I am so happy God brought the owl to you. I hope your feet feel better quickly. I can also relate to this new season. Hugs!!

    1. Hi Cheryl! I’ve always thought you were the most amazing person, so I’m happy to hear that you can relate to my obsession with nature and owls. These transitions through the seasons of life really stretch us, don’t they? Hugs right back at you. I wish we could still bump into each other more often in real life! XO

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