The Best Life Stories

View as Slideshow

Grand-Prize Winner: Homeward Bound

Grand-Prize Winner: Homeward Bound

By Jim Ruland, San Diego, CA

When I was in the Navy, I drank like a sailor. When I got out of the Navy, I drank like a sailor. You could say I went overboard. Swam with sharks and chased mermaids. Spent all my clams in the octopus's garden. The deeps and the darks suited me fine. Closing time came; I looked around. I was all alone in Davy Jones's lockup. Looked for a way out, but there was no ship in the bottle. Just more bottles, and every one an ocean. Took a long time before I settled on the bottom. But look! A boat on the horizon. A life raft with my wife and daughter in it. "You're here," they cheered. "Take us ashore!" "I'm just a drunken sailor," I said. My wife reeled me in. "No, you're the captain." I looked to the stars and plotted our course for home.

THE JUDGES SAID: Jim Ruland's story sails along on clever metaphors, but on a deeper level, it's a moving look at one man's desolation and the renewal he found in his family's faith and love. It's a tale you'll want to read twice — and share.

Chase the Day

Chase the Day

By Audrey Hagar, Los Angeles, CA

I was my own worst fortune-teller. The future just meant more disappointment. Childhood trauma was my excuse to stay closed and overly cautious. Why invite more shame and pain? Then I met Chase. The pound called her unadoptable. They said years of physical and mental abuse prevented her from being "normal." She would be better off dead. We took her home. Maybe I saw myself in this dog. At first she snarled and tried to bite us. I understood that need to put up a tough front. But then Chase became open, happy, and fearless. She didn't bear grudges against humans. She explored her new world and wrestled her new dog friends. She didn't dwell on the past as permission to avoid adventure. Chase, as usual, perches on my back as I type this story about a creature who now embraces the future without looking over her shoulder.

THE JUDGES SAID: Sometimes our best teachers come with four paws and a tail. By rescuing Chase, by taking a chance, Audrey Hagar changed her life and left the past behind.

A Meaningless Diagnosis

A Meaningless Diagnosis

By Brian Mayer, Antelope, CA

Most would not smile in my position. I sat across from the psychiatrist, holding my wife's hand as our two-year-old son played inattentively in the background. "The severity of your son's autism will likely prevent him from ever being independent. It is very possible that he will never speak or have friends. The comorbidity of mental retardation will compound these challenges." The psychiatrist paused and examined our expressions. My wife clenched my hand a little tighter, but she, too, smiled because we knew firsthand that the diagnosis was meaningless: When I was three, a psychologist told my parents the same thing about me.

THE JUDGES SAID: This story had us on the edge of our seats — until the very last sentence, which blew us all away.

Content continues below ad

All These Things Plus One

All These Things Plus One

By Nicole Malato, Toms River, NJ

I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, and a sister. I am an aunt, a niece, a cousin, and a friend. I'm an HR manager and a Mary Kay consultant. I'm an experienced bridesmaid. I was the head of my church youth group. I'm an MBA graduate. I am not a great dancer; I'm a klutz. I'm one who helps others, and I'm a Roman Catholic. I'm a country music fan and a BlackBerry junkie. I am blessed with amazing family and friends. I am strong. I am an allergy sufferer. I am one who loves to laugh. I am afraid of heights. I'm a Jersey girl, with an honorary Pennsylvania girl membership. I'm a fan of the smell of sunblock, cigars, and roses. I am a scatterbrain. And I am one more thing. I am a breast cancer patient. And someday, I will be a breast cancer survivor.

THE JUDGES SAID: Every patient is so much more than her diagnosis, but sometimes we lose sight of that. Go, go, Nicole!



By JJ Keith, Los Angeles, CA

"No. Not ape. That's a monkey." She's two and a half, and the one thing she knows for sure is that the rhesus monkey at the zoo is an ape. Maybe she'd get away misidentifying primates if she had a different mom. I whisper, "I have a degree in physical anthropology, and I'm telling you that's a monkey. He has a tail. Apes don't have tails." I look around, relieved that no one heard me debating with a toddler. She pats me on the shoulder and condescends beyond her years, "No, Mom. That's a monkey." I've met my match, or rather, I made her. I'm on the other side of myself now. I spent the first 30 years of my life correcting people, and now I'll spend the next 30 being corrected. I deserve it, but my poor husband. He didn't ask for two of me.

THE JUDGES SAID: Here's an irresistible case of like mother, like daughter. Or should we say, Monkey see, monkey do? Regardless, we had a ball reading it!

Evolving Farmer

Evolving Farmer

By Julia Boyce, Foster, RI

I didn't decide to become a farmer; it sort of just happened. When my husband brought home Cowie, a young steer, I made it clear that I wasn't sure I could eat an animal we had raised, let alone one with a name. We never did eat Cowie, but he was the start of our transition to farmers. We began raising meats for ourselves. The "local, all-natural" market wasn't big back then, but friends were begging to buy meats from us. We soon built our own butcher shop. We now raise all-natural beef, lamb, and poultry. We also process meats for other local farmers. When people ask me how I can eat something that was once in my backyard, the answer is easy. I want to know what's in my family's food and that the animal had a nice life. We don't name them anymore, though.

THE JUDGES SAID: We don't always pay enough attention to what we're putting on our plates and in our mouths, but Julia Boyce does. Her story makes sustainability something we can easily relate to.

Content continues below ad

Angry Mother

Angry Mother

By Karen Dahl, New York, NY

I work so hard to control the imprint on their innocent souls because I know that their bodies may be tiny, but their brains are sucking in every moment, every word, every gesture. I can't depend on anyone else to do this work for me. It's too important. I know (theoretically) I can't do it perfectly, not without help. So I go to therapy to exorcise my demons, my frustrations, my anxiety. Forty-five minutes is not enough. So I take breaks: dinner with a girlfriend, skipping bath time. I work, sometimes, as much for the break as for the need to excel, accomplish, engage. I tell myself that this work, mothering, is more important than all the things a career could provide. At least while they're small. All of this to prevent my own children from becoming what I know I already am: an angry mother.

THE JUDGES SAID: It takes courage to be as honest as Karen Dahl. It takes strength to admit to one's faults. And it takes a hero to be a good mother. We're betting she's a great one.

Sorry, Mom

Sorry, Mom

By Meghan Thompson, Ferndale, WA

I should have 2.5 children, a mortgage, and a dog. At least that's what my mother says. Instead, I've chosen a month-to-month lease on a perfectly temporary apartment. My "mortgage payments" go much further than most; instead of a white picket fence, they pay for Dublin, Rome, Istanbul, and any other unfenced yard I may find. I entertain first dates with boys of all shapes and sizes, second dates with the men who survive the first. Third dates, they're few and far between. I've settled into a lifestyle of not settling. Of striving to live each day as though it's my last. To live for a week, a month, a year, a lifetime as a worldwide tourist, a pupil of the human condition, an observer of life, love, and loss. I'm not a complete failure though. I do have a dog.

THE JUDGES SAID: We loved this free-spirited woman who has chosen to live on her own terms. We reveled in her wanderlust, her sense of wonder, and her sense of humor.



By Katharine Hanschu, Harrison, AR

Grandpa was a man of integrity. He was a rancher who loved his family fiercely and passed down simple yet important life lessons. My dad tells a story about helping his dad tediously wash borrowed farm equipment before they returned it to a neighbor. "Why are we cleaning this?" he asked. "It was dirty when we got it. Always return something a little better than you found it," was Grandpa's reply. A week after Grandpa's funeral, I helped my dad vacuum, wash, and refuel a car he had borrowed from a friend. After accepting the vehicle, the friend leaned over to me and remarked, "Whenever I loan something to your dad, I know it will come back in even better shape." And that is my grandpa's legacy. He left the world just a little better than he found it. I hope I can do the same.

THE JUDGES SAID: We wish we could have met Katharine Hanschu's grandpa. But in a way, we have. We're happy to honor this rancher's simple but profound legacy.

Content continues below ad

I've Got Dirt: Memoirs of Your Housekeeper

I've Got Dirt: Memoirs of Your Housekeeper

By Chely Roach, Overland, MO

As your housekeeper, I know infinitely more about you than you do me. I know what you read, what you eat, what hides under your bed. I know if you're OCD or if you cram your clutter into three poorly hidden clothes baskets the day I come. I know if you attend church or believe you're a pagan goddess. I know your politics, your birth control, and that you take antidepressants. I know if your kids are kindhearted or if they're Eddie Haskell-type jerks by how they speak to me when you're not around. I know I am a safe avenue to vent about your husband's lack of intimacy, the neighbor's affair, your parent's favoritism of your sister. I know to you I am "just a housekeeper," but I don't mind. In you, I have received an honorary degree in sociology. In exchange, you receive my discretion.

THE JUDGES SAID: Uh-oh. We're hiding everything. Seriously, this was a fascinating look at a discreet pro's life.



By Erik Zeidler, Bronx, NY

The venom worked fast. I felt my body giving up. Still conscious for the moment, I felt betrayed. Snakebites are supposed to take hours to kill you, but only minutes passed until my heart stopped. The next two days were condensed into a few moments of vague recollection. From a distant chamber of my mind, I heard the echo of my savior's voice calling, "Kids from the Bronx don't die in the woods in Kansas!" I could hear the rhythmic beats of the chopper's blades, beating as faintly as my heart, which had been suddenly shocked back to life. I awoke to the warm touch of my mother's hand, appropriately present on the day of my rebirth. I was blind from hypoxia, but I could see my future clearly. I cannot deny my passion. Though they nearly killed me, I have dedicated my life to the study of snakes.

THE JUDGES SAID: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, or perhaps it gives you a lifelong calling. Here's a great tale of resilience, curiosity, and maybe a bit of kismet.

"EB!"ing a Mommy

"EB!"ing a Mommy

By Courtney Roth, Pontchatoula, LA

My name is Courtney Roth. The birth of my son, Tripp, changed my life. He was born with a rare genetic skin condition called epidermolysis bullosa [EB]. His skin is missing the anchors that hold it together, meaning any type of friction causes his skin to blister — inside and out. He was not supposed to live to be a year old and is now two years and counting. He lives in bandages and in pain, has a feeding tube, a breathing tube, and has lost his eyesight. Tripp has never spoken a word, yet he has touched countless lives around the world by his will to fight through this disease. My little boy is my hero and has taught me more in two years than I've learned my entire life. I know God has big things in store for him... whether it's here or in heaven.

THE JUDGES SAID: It's not hard to see why Courtney Roth's story got 46,962 votes online! Hers is a portrait of extraordinary perseverance and grace in the face of challenges most of us never encounter.

Editor's Note: We are very saddened to report that Courtney's son, Tripp, passed away on January 14. To learn more about Courtney and Tripp, please see her blog: "EB"ing a Mommy. To donate toward a cure for EB, please visit or

Become more interesting every week!

Get our Read Up newsletter

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you the newsletter each week, and we may also send you occasional special offers from Reader's Digest. For more information please read our privacy policy.

34 thoughts on “The Best Life Stories

  1. I have my Life’s story, and want to tell the world, but don’t now were to get

    Anton from LavalCanada.

  2. Courtney is a strong and wonderful mom. It was sad to see little tripp go, but he’s flying with angels and with hope..

  3. Jim Ruland could have said:  “I sink – – therefore i swam.”

  4. I think Courtney needs to quit being an attention whore. This child is suffering- needlessly. And you people pat her on the back like she’s a hero. It’s sick.  How is this story “touching” people? Ridiculous. Seriously.

  5. mom is always great!I think I should share more time with my mather.
    From china!

  6. mom is always great!I think I should share more time with my mather.
    From china!

  7. This is the most honest and inspiring thing I’ve read in a long time, perhaps because I’m grappling with this same issue. Thanks for articulating it so beautifully, Karen.

  8. I do not like the pro life religous message courtney tries to send thru her son especially on her site.  This child suffered needlessly. Also, she cheated or rather had someone else cheat for her. I dont think Jesus would appreciate that.

  9. I would like to read more about EB through Tripp`s and Courtney`s life

  10. Thank you for helping to spread awareness of this horrible disorder. I’ve followed Courtney’s blog for a couple of years and I can’t even begin to express how much they have impacted my life. They are my heroes. RIP, sweet boy. You are missed.

  11. Courtney’s faith and willingness to share her heart and her son’s journey has changed my life and that of thousands of others.  Her sweet baby boy is finally pain-free in heaven, but he will live on through his amazing mother.  Thank you for sharing her story, RD– next up, an article on EB.  It’s time to cure this horrible disease so others don’t have to suffer like Tripp did!

  12. I am somewhat confused by the winner here. Not to be negative but I honestly don’t see how a man with a drinking problem beat out several of the other people. I don’t see anything particularly inspiring or astounding about his story. I found other stories much more deserving. I’m rather disappointed readers digest.

  13. Thank you Reader’s Digest for featuring Courtney and Tripp in your magazine and online.  You are bringing awareness to Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) and the more people that know the more chances we have to find its cure so children and patients, like Tripp, won’t have to suffer anymore. Thank you.

  14. Courtney and Tripp have touched so many people’s lives and hearts. Thank you Readers Digest for helping to share their story as it is truly amazing. I too would love to see a full article spreading awareness of EB and sharing the lives of Tripp and other children who have and are suffering. I know after reading Courtney’s blog “EBing a Mommy”, and watching Tripp grow with this horrible disease has been life changing for me. Seeing the love they shared and the faith and strength has inspired me in ways that I cannot explain. Help Courtney and the other EB parents spread awareness. A cure must be found!

  15. Well said Christie Zink! This would be a great opportunity to raise awareness through readers digest! EB is a very sad disease, that no child should have to live with! Readers digest please help us spread the word of EB I have followed tripp’s story for 2 years I watched him get worse an worse from a distance.. I can only imagine how courtney feels, as well as hundreds of other parents & children fighting this cruel disease. Courtney you are mom of the year in my book! XOXO

  16. Little Tripp has left a footprint on my heart. I wait for the day when I get to meet him beyond the clouds where there is no pain.

    You, Courtney are my hero! I only hope I can come close to comparing you to you as a mother, whose unconditional love for her child radiates through the entire society who knows your story! 

  17. Little Tripp has left a footprint on my heart. I wait for the day when I get to meet him beyond the clouds where there is no pain.

    You, Courtney are my hero! I only hope I can come close to comparing you to you as a mother, whose unconditional love for her child radiates through the entire society who knows your story! 

  18. What wonderful awareness of how selfless Courtney’s love is for Tripp.  I only wish you would have shared a picture of sweet Tripp as well.  

  19. What wonderful awareness of how selfless Courtney’s love is for Tripp.  I only wish you would have shared a picture of sweet Tripp as well.  

  20. Someone proposed an article about EB on Tripp´s memory…That would be wonderful!!!… and why not in the International issues, all the people who do not live in the United States would be so grateful!
    Muchas gracias Reader´s digest

  21. We are SO proud of you Courtney! Thank you for sharing your life, and most of all, Tripp with us! He has touched to many lives like you said! But so have YOU! Your strength & courage has been such an inspiration to so many parents! You & Tripp have showed people what True Unconditional Love really is! Thank you again for everything! We will continue to keep you in our prayers, continue to spread the word about Tripp, & do everything possible to spread awareness of EB!

    Fly high Heaven’s Little Drummer Boy!
    Tripp’s Troops Softball Team

  22. I have followed her story from the beginning and for her to be a young mother she is wise beyond her years. She has been such an inspiration to me and every one she has touched with her story. I am so grateful she shared her story and i will never forget her or little Tripp.

  23. I have followed her story from the beginning and for her to be a young mother she is wise beyond her years. She has been such an inspiration to me and every one she has touched with her story. I am so grateful she shared her story and i will never forget her or little Tripp.

  24. I have followed her story from the beginning and for her to be a young mother she is wise beyond her years. She has been such an inspiration to me and every one she has touched with her story. I am so grateful she shared her story and i will never forget her or little Tripp.

  25. Thank you Reader’s Digest for sharing this inspiring mom’s story.  Courtney is certainly an extraordinary woman and she has inspired many.  Tripp has touched countless lives in ways that cannot even be described.  I think it would be wonderful for Reader’s Digest to honor Tripp’s memory by helping to spread awareness in his honor.  With your readership, you can reach millions with an article on EB, what it is and the beautiful children it affects.  No child should have to suffer this way.  We need a cure for this horrible disorder and it starts with awareness.
    Thank you!
    Christie from Minnesota

  26. I have followed Courtney and Tripp’s story for over a year now. She is an amazing mother and Tripp was an angel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Some people like to travel by train because 
it combines the slowness of a car with the cramped public exposure of 
an airplane.

Dennis Miller

I think my pilot was a little inexperienced. We were sitting on the runway, and he said, “OK, folks, we’re gonna be taking off in a just few—whoa! Here we go.”

Kevin Nealon

“I can’t wait until your vacation is over.” 
—Everyone following you on Instagram


A man knocked on my door and asked for a donation toward the local swimming pool. So I gave him a glass of water.

Comedian Greg Davies

Funny Jokes

Just found the worst page in the entire dictionary. What I saw was disgraceful, disgusting, dishonest, and disingenuous.


Funny Jokes

Client: We need you to log in to the YouTube and make all our company videos viral.


Funny Jokes

My cat just walked up to the paper shredder and said, “Teach me 
everything you know.”


Funny Jokes

“Just because you can’t dance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dance.” 

@yoyoha (Josh Hara)

Funny Jokes

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned 60 and that’s the law.

—Jerry Seinfeld

Funny Jokes

Q: What do you call an Amish guy with his hand in a horse’s mouth?

A: A mechanic.

Reader's Digest Survey

Click on the image above to take our survey