Four years ago, in November 2007, my daughter gave me a precious gift.

My father had passed away at the end of that September.  Immediately after returning from his funeral, Phil and I had to move into my mother’s very small home with our two kids (then 1 and 4) because our house had suffered some damage.  The repair would be time-consuming and costly and render the house unlivable for the next two months.  It was clear to me that in order for us to recover financially, I would have to go back to work after having left when Jay was born.  I had hoped to begin pursuing a writing career then (2007), but that dream would end up waiting two more years.

My mother and father had been divorced for many years, so while she was sad, especially for me, it was not the same as the oppressive grief enveloping me.  The kids were too young to fully comprehend and while Phil understood and was also grieving, he was pulled back into that thing that doesn’t wait for people to “get over it” — life and work.

So even though I was surrounded by people crammed into this tight space, I felt like I was living inside of a black bubble that nobody could penetrate.  The best part of the day was bedtime, when I could shut everything off for a while.

After a few weeks of this, we decided to take the kids and rent a house in the mountains for a long weekend.  We needed to spread out and also give my beleaguered mother a break from our two energetic toddlers (not to mention my constant sadness).

Somewhere on the drive up, Jay had a diaper explosion of epic proportions, such that when we arrived, we had to strip him, put him in the bath, wash the

Em and Jay, ages 4 and 1, while we were living at my mother's

clothes and the car seat cover and hose down the car seat frame.  The next day, Michigan lost their football game.  That may seem like a small thing, but since my father and I bonded over football, it made me even more depressed.  I slept by myself in the cold basement because the slightest human sound (snoring, kids tossing and turning), kept me wide awake.  So much for rest and respite.

The last day of our stay, I took Em to a little paved trail at the center of the house’s subdivision.  This trail surrounded a small man-made pond.  (Native Coloradans would call it a lake, but as a Michigander, I knew better.)

Em said, “Mommy, I want to go down to the beach and look for seashells.”

Me: “We’re not going to find any seashells here, Em.”

Em: “Why not?

Me:  “Because we’re in the mountains, honey, so there won’t be any seashells here.  Plus, this is a man-made lake, so there probably isn’t anything living in it that wasn’t put there on purpose by the people who made the lake.”

All she heard was “mwa mwa mwa mwa mwa,” like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons.  She was unrelenting.  “Please, Mommy!  I know we’ll find shells there if we just go look.  Please, please, PLEASE!”

I did not want to walk down to the lake, only to spend an hour looking for non-existent shells.  At four years old, Em did not take disappointment well and I could see an irrational outburst in my future.  But I swallowed everything I wanted to say about how nothing could live in this tiny pond at 9000 feet, that Colorado hadn’t seen any ocean since the Cretaceous period, and that even if there had been fossils here at some point, they’d be long gone after the excavation and building of the subdivision.  Off we went to the rocky “beach.”

Within one minute, Em came running to me with a small, gray shell in her hand.  A shell that had clearly had an aquatic creature living in it in the recent past.  I could not process what I was seeing.  I dropped to my knees and started sifting through the rocks and sure enough, there were shells.  Everywhere.  Hundreds of them.  Soon, the two of us were running around the beach, laughing and collecting as many shells as we could.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that event lifted a tiny bit of pressure from my heart and marked the beginning of my recovery.  Grief can take you to very dark places.  I’ve said before that you don’t ever “get over it,” but you can incorporate the loss and enjoy life again.  That day, my daughter and her sheer force of “belief” reminded me that life is a miracle and meant to be lived.

We’ve kept those shells and they seem to move around the house.  They’ve been inside the glove compartment of the car, in Em’s room on her dresser, in Jay’s closet, in a little Tibetan prayer altar I have on my dresser, on the kitchen counter.  It’s as if they turn up in different places so we can rediscover them and replay that beautiful moment over in our memories.

Now, I am sure there are scientists out there who could give me a perfectly grounded and logical explanation for those shells – what they are, why they live in that pond, etc.  If you are that person, please save yourself the time.

Because the fact that the shells exist is not the miracle.  The miracle is that we found them.

Do you believe in miracles?


Categories: Autumn, College Football, Family, Spirituality, Travel · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



  1. Oh, Julie, thank you for this, today. It’s nearly a year since my Mum died, and getting closer to a year since my Dad died, and I’ve been grieving a lot today. What a gift this blog post is to me. Thank you for this ray of sunlight, and for the joy of seashells, and the joyous belief of children.

    • Wow – losing your mom and dad within a year of each other. I cannot even imagine that, and I am so sorry for your losses. The fact that you were touched by this blog post makes it worth having written it! I’ll be thinking of you and sending healing thoughts your way.

      • Actually, Mum died November 14, 2010 and Dad two months later, January 15, 2011. Someone I admire greatly died right in the middle of that, December 15. So I will be doing a lot of remembering in the next three months. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

  2. I do believe in miracles, and this was such a lovely, heart-touching post it made me all teary. How wonderful that your little girl could help you lift your sadness a little with her joy and wonder and belief in life, and that you’ve held onto those shells all these years.

  3. What a beautiful post, Julie. That you “found” those shells is a wonderful miracle. You found more than just shells that day didn’t you? You found a miraculous ray of hope, a ray of sunshine and light at the end of the grieving tunnel.

    I’ve heard that the first person in the family to die is the hardest. For me it was my late husband in 1991. I was left to raise the children by myself. I was the hardest thing I have ever done. To go on when he had died. Now I don’t remember when my ray of hope came but to hear this story is life affirming. Thanks for this post.

  4. Beautiful write, Julie. And, yes, I do believe in miracles. 😀

  5. What a great story. We give so much to our children and yet they give us soooo much back! I have had several occasions of what I consider “spiritual’ miracles and believe in them with all my heart – scientist be damned!

  6. Julie,

    What a wonderful story. It makes me miss the days when my boys were that age. My how time passes by. Enjoy each little moment that you can.

    I think our children are our miracles. Each and everyday that we have to spend with them are a blessing.

    Thank you for sharing Julie!

  7. First of all, how cute are your little ones? Ohmygosh, they are adorable!

    Beautiful, touching story. Sometimes it’s best when we turn everything off and just listen to the little ones. They can be much smarter than us, at times. I, too, believe in miracles and can’t help but wonder if your dad put those shells there as a gentle nudge to you.

    Gives me chills and happy tears in my eyes. Thanks for sharing such a touching story.

    • Thanks for your comment on my kiddos. I, of course, think they’re pretty special – lol! It would not surprise me if it was my dad that put those shells there somehow. Thanks!

  8. Jennifer L. Oliver

    What a wonderful story Julie! It never ceases to amaze me that how very wise and intelligent things come from those most innocent in our lives. Thank you for sharing and yes, I do believe in miracles!

  9. What a wonderful account of a difficult time, and yes I believe in miracles. It’s a miracle that we can love so deeply that it hurts to be separated. I don’t know how we get along without believing. I’ve seen God bring me through too many things not to believe. Thanks for sharing this story.

  10. What a beautiful experience! Yes, I believe in miracles. thank you so much for sharing yours. It brought tears to my eyes.

  11. Beautiful, touching post. Yes, I believe in miracles, too!

  12. I believe. I do. But no one believes like a child does. Thanks for sharing.

  13. I truly do believe in them, both big and small. Miracles happen every day!

    Thanks for sharing such a beautiful story! 🙂

  14. I believe in miracles and I miss my father terribly. He died 4 years ago and he pops into my head regularly, I hope he keeps doing it.

  15. This is a lovely story, Julie. My dad died more than 20 years ago and most days, I’m sorry to report, I don’t think about him. But your story reminded me today and I thank you for it.

  16. I want to thank all of your for your lovely and supportive comments. This is a story I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but I never imagined I would share it publicly. Now I am so glad I did!

    At the end of the day, the whole range of human experience, including grief, is universal. The fact that we relate to one another, help each other, and share our stories makes us realize that, in the great words of Kristen Lamb, we are not alone.


  17. What a precious story of miracles, and faith and family love. These are important stories to share, at the right moment.

    I too believe in miracles, big and small. i have seen to many to doubt this.

  18. I’ve got tears in my eyes, Julie. I’m grateful for your daughter’s faith and stubborness and glad you found shells and a measure of relief.

  19. Ha Ha Ha!!! …Go Long Jay!!! I can’t stop laughing…this is great…
    Oh, yes, Miracles from God are the only reasons I’m still alive…many times over…and.. I still can’t understand why.

    I do understand Football however, and being from North Carolina, I know a little about how “Michigan” rocks…both Football and Basketball…I lost my Dad in 2004.
    He hated sports, but Loved God…so we connected in the end… and believe me it was nothing shy of a reconciliation miracle from the one true Father.

    Either way…you scored BIG on this post.
    Bless You

  20. Thank you so much for this. What a beautiful blog! I believe in miracles! 🙂

  21. Such a touching post, Julie. I love the fact that science can’t explain many seemingly unbelievable occurrences. And even when they can, I side with Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

    I suspect you’ll never again look at shells the same way… Miracles keep on giving. Blessings to you and yours!

  22. Oh my goodness that shell story is making me cry. That surely was fate. X

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