Today I want to tell you a story I’ve never told anyone. A story I wasn’t ready to tell anyone…until now.

This is no ordinary selfie. This was one of those full-circle moments that I will never forget.

This pic was right before I left Ohio on Monday. Riley wanted to jump on the trampoline and talk one more time before I left…and of course I couldn’t say no to that request! (Let’s be honest, I didn’t say no to ANY requests that day…cause I’m a sucker😜)

I only had about 10 more minutes, so we jumped for about 2 minutes and she showed me some of her tricks…and then we spent the rest of the time laying on the trampoline, laughing hysterically (as we tend to do) and taking turns saying all the reasons we were happy or grateful that day.

That’s something we used to do all the time when I lived there. Sounds like fun, right??

But if I’m being honest, it all started out of absolute desperation.

See, I had this journal that said, “There are so many beautiful reasons to be happy.”

But I was at a time in my life when “happy” was not the goal. As dramatic as it may sound, simply staying alive was the goal.

I was fighting my way out of a deep, dark depression, and most days I felt like I was losing the fight. I was looking for anything I could hold onto…any reason I could find to stay alive.

I pulled out this journal one day, as I sat in my bedroom alone, and as my body shook and tears streamed down my face, I made the decision to fill the pages of this book with reasons to stay alive.

On the first page, I wrote this:

There are so many reasons to be alive. So many beautiful reasons to stay alive. To smile. To laugh. To breathe deep.

So many reasons to stop and savor the moment. To be present. To just be.

There are more reasons than you could ever count. Yet if you don’t stop to notice these things, they are easy to miss.

So stop. Notice. Breathe. Enjoy. Savor. Stay alive.

And when you forget all the beautiful reasons why, these pages are here to remind you.

On the second day, as I was writing in my journal (and the only things I could come up with for the day were… “Because scrambled eggs are delicious,” and “Because sleep is a glorious thing,” and “Because I have time to be bored.”)…

I heard a knock on my door and a sweet 7-year-old voice saying, “Can I come in?”

I smiled and opened the door, and Riley plopped down on my bed.

“Whatcha doing, Mar Bear?”

I froze for a second. I can’t tell a 7-year-old that I’m writing in a journal in an attempt to convince myself to stay alive…

I looked at the front of the journal: “There are so many beautiful reasons to be happy.”

I half-smiled. “I’m writing down allllll the reasons I can think of to be happy today.”

Her face lit up. “Can I write some with you? We can do it together!”

So we laid on my bed, listening to the Trolls soundtrack😜 and passed this little journal back and forth, taking turns writing one reason we are happy.

I won’t lie…I had to search. My heart raced. What if I couldn’t come up with anything? What if I couldn’t find a single reason to be happy today? I have a sweet 7-year-old girl sitting beside me, watching me.

As she wrote hers and passed it to me, I found a reason: “Because I get to hang out with Riley.”

We spent 3 hours that day writing in our journal. We laughed so much, and we talked about life and love and happiness and the future.

I hadn’t felt hope like that in a long, LONG time.

My focus had changed. My goal had changed.

What started just the day before as a meager attempt to find some reason to stay alive, had become a book full of reasons to be HAPPY…reasons to LOVE life…reasons to LAUGH…reasons to let my guard down…reasons to be in the moment.

But most of all, reasons to have HOPE.

That night, I texted Sommer, who was upstairs getting ready for bed. I said, “Hey, are you asleep? I need to give you something.”

A few minutes later, she was standing at my door. I opened the door, and without saying a word, I held out my shaking hand. In it were my last 2 knives. The pain and pressure of life had built up to the point where the only way I knew to deal with it was to hurt myself. The only way I could relieve that pressure was by dragging a blade across my skin. That was my strategy for staying alive until that day.

But that night, I made the decision that I was NOT going to lose this fight. I was tired of fighting just to stay alive. I wanted more. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to laugh freely. I wanted to live.

THAT is the power of hope.

Riley may never understand the impact she had on me in the 3 months I lived with her family.

I began to look forward to those little knocks on my door. Chad (Riley’s dad) often told her not to bother me or to give me space, but there was never a single day I was bothered by those knocks.

Some days we colored or painted our nails and talked about our reasons to be happy. Some days we sat on the couch and wrote in our journal.

But we never ran out of reasons.

So Monday as Riley and I laid on the trampoline, taking turns saying all the reasons we could think of to be happy that day, I couldn’t help but smile.

Because these days, my life is filled with beautiful reasons to be happy.

I’ve WON that battle, and I’ve moved on to winning the next one. I’m no longer fighting just to stay alive. I’m happy. I laugh freely. I’m ALIVE.

And that is a gift.

I wake up in the morning, filled with gratitude because I *GET* to be alive today.

I smile just because I CAN.

I laugh at the simplest things, just because laughing is my favorite.

And if Riley Tucker wants to jump on the trampoline and talk about all the reasons we have to be happy today, then that’s where you will find me.

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