There may be no better example of the eternal, transcendent capacity of an open human heart than the Miller family and its newest member, Simon Wimmer.
Brought together through tragedy, chance and a world-renowned exchange program, Kris, Joe and Simon have enjoyed a year of magical living.
Still reeling from the recent death of their beautiful daughter Laura, Kris opened Facebook one night last August and saw a post that caught her eye.
AFS needed a host family for a student with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes gluten intolerance. Laura had suffered from celiac disease.
“I really feel like Laura had a hand in this whole experience,” Kris said.
Kris talked to Joe and they agreed to apply to become host parents. “We thought it would be unfortunate for someone to miss out on such an opportunity because of a food allergy,” she said.
Enter Simon, a gregarious 15-year old Austrian with an appetite for adventure and an appreciation of family.
“Kris and Joe have been amazing, obviously,” said Simon.
Together, the three of them have traveled the country, toasted the 90th birthday of Kris’ mom, and enjoyed life’s simpler pleasures, like home-cooked family meals.
It helps, of course, that Simon is game for just about anything. Though he really does not enjoy running, he joined his high school cross country team.
“I didn’t even know what cross country was,” he said. “I didn’t know it was running. If I had known I would have said, ‘umm, no. No thank you.'”
But, once committed, he saw the season through and, according to Kris, who cheered him on, he competed well.
“I don’t regret it at all,” Simon said. “I still hate running, but it was great and I met a lot of people.”
Simon told Kris and Joe that he intended to go out for the tennis team. They asked him if he had ever played tennis before. He had not. So, they signed him up for tennis lessons over the winter and he made the JV team. Last night, Simon played in his first tournament. He and his partner won 8-0.
Thanks to Kris and Joe, Simon can count among his American experiences: skiing in Colorado, deer hunting “Up North”, sight-seeing in Chicago, wake boarding in Florida, spring breaking in Mexico and, coming up, fishing in Canada.
To prepare for prom, Kris is taking Simon to dance lessons. Though he won’t be able to drink it, Simon helped Joe brew a batch of beer.
When the time came for family pictures during a recent reunion, Kris and Joe gathered theirs — daughter Lisa Schindhelm, son-in-law Dan Schindhelm, grandson Emmett Schindhelm and, with his right arm slung around Joe’s shoulder, Simon.
It’s a priceless family photo.
This is Laura and Bailey. “In my heart, I know Laura had a hand in sending Simon to us to help us heal,” said Kris.