Friday, October 11, 2013

Meeting Chris Niles- In Person

Right now I am on a train which I believe is heading to Pennsylvania.  If you know me in person or have been following this blog then you understand why I say I "believe" it is heading to PA- getting to where I need to go is not my strong suit. Anyway, I am almost too excited to even type this post, but this story is so amazing that I am going to go ahead and tell the whole thing from the beginning and explain what I am doing on a train attempting to get from New York to PA.

I love meeting new people.  I love meeting new people in interesting ways.  I just got off one of my trains and the whole hour and a half ride I was sitting next to an awesome guy named Mike.  He had been on the train for over 12 hours when I sat down next to him, and yet he looked straight at me and in the most friendly and engaging way asked me about my cane- he made my day.  I love when people are blunt yet tactful and aren't afraid to ask what everyone else is thinking.  We chatted for quite a while and he was just such a great conversationalist and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him and he made me feel as if he enjoyed hearing about me.  But I can tell you this: though he did not harp or complain, Mike has had quite a year- a very tough year to be exact.  It seems as if I am being connected with people from all walks of life who have this thread in common. I'm not saying meeting Mike was a divine act, but I am also not willing to say it was pure coincidence either.  I gave him the web address to this blog site because I want to have some way for us to connect again in the hopes that one day I will get a message from Mike saying that things are going well for him now.  Mike, if you are somehow reading this please know we are pulling for you!  You will be in my thoughts and hang in there.  Please, for what it's worth I pray you would read through some of my story and find some hope or some peace in it.  Don't worry- I don't plan on writing a blog post six months from now about how I am taking a train out to Boston to meet Mike and his wife.  But hey, you never know.  Speaking of which...

Six months ago I was in the middle of my health decline.  It was when the doctors appointments had become normal, the rounds of medications were in full force, and the pain had become a regular part of my life.  I was accustomed to not sleeping through the night, and had come up with ways to distract myself from the pain and tiredness when sleep would not come my way.  I discovered this word game on my phone called Ruzzle.  It's kinda like Boggle, and you can play friends or you can opt to be matched up against anyone from around the world.  I was always getting matched up from people from all over, and I found this one person who was a pretty even match with me and so we kept requesting games with one another.  One normal sleepless night I went to finish my end of the round with this person and I noticed that he was up at the same time doing his round.  Curious, I sent him a message through the game and asked him what time zone he was in.  Thats how I found out he lived in PA.  That's how I found out he was Chris Niles.

Chris shared his story with me and it goes something like this:  Over two years ago he was an active 34 year old man with a wife and two sons.  He was very into Ju Jitzu, hunting, football- anything really, just an all out active guy with a ton of friends and a great life.  One day he went out in his back yard to chop down a dead tree that was a safety hazard for his sons...but the tree ended coming down on top of him.

Right on top of him.

Chris is paralyzed from his waist down.  He is in a wheelchair.  The thing is, if you saw him and talked to him only from the waist up you never in a million years have any clue he was paralyzed- he is so stinkin normal it's crazy.  That's the thing about Chris and that's what I love so much about him...that's what everybody loves about him.  He didn't change.  I could go on and on about what he and his family went through, but I would't do it justice so instead I am pleading with you to watch his video that I will link you to at the end of this post.  In 2012 Chris was awarded the YMCA 2012 Salute to Courage Award and they made a mini documentary video all about him and it is yourself a favor and watch it.

Chris has become a very close friend of mine over the past six months.  I can't remember the last time a 24 hour period has gone by where I haven't talked to him.  While vastly different, there are things about injury and illness that you cannot understand unless you are in them yourself.  There are things I can say to Chris that I know he just "gets."  I can be up at 2am and not have to explain why- he knows why.  I don't have to explain certain medications or the effect they have on the body.  On the flip side I can be completely normal with him if I want to and he understands when I don't want to be sick with him.  Even outside of that stuff he is just a really great, fun guy and I love just chatting and laughing with him.  He is just a really good friend of mine.

And then there is his wife, Jennifer.  Talk about feeling a connection- we have one.  I didn't get to know her that well until these last few months and now I love her like a sister.  I miss her and I haven't even met her yet.  She is the one I can go to when I am hurting or scared and I know I will get a safe space and someone who will carry me.  I texted her a few weeks ago when Jeff was getting stressed out and within ten minutes I got a call from her and she just talked me through it.  She has been through the other side of hell.  She knows what this is like from the spouse's side and she is so open with me about it and offers such insight and love.  I know that if anything ever happens to me, she will be there for my family...and as a mother, that means everything to me.

I love Jesus, and I believe in the Holy Spirit and in the miraculous...but I am not a "feather-in-the-wind" kind of person.  I believe in real power, not whimsical flighty stuff you find every day.  And let me tell you, I did not meet Chris and Jen by accident.  There is no coincident large enough to have worked something of this proportion.  I am an immensely private person...I have told you this before.  There are only a VERY small handful of people that I care for deep in my heart.  The fact that these random people from Pennsylvania happened to cross paths with me and become one of them...well, that's beyond me.

And now, six months TO THE DAY that I first "met" Chris, I am taking a train out to meet him in person.  I am excited beyond words.  And I am also excited to tell you that Chris has agreed to do a video interview with me for next weeks blog post.   I have known some dark moments in my life- but they cannot compare in the slightest to the joys I know.

I met Chris because I was up that night.  I was up that night because I was sick.  If it takes being sick for opportunities to come my way that would not have otherwise come- then I welcome it with open arms.  I may not have seen them coming, but God did and I am more than willing to open my eyes and see things the way He sees them.  To see all the things that ARE because I am sick, not all of the things that AREN'T because I am sick.  And I am forever grateful to have met Chris Niles.

***I command you to watch Chris' video, lol  Here is the link:  

On the train!!!


  1. Beautiful story. Beautifully put. From a Beautiful girl. Love the spirit God has placed inside you. Kelly

  2. Wait till you meet him....he and Jen are great. I had the pleasure of being one of Chris SCI nurses when he was first injured. And still see him from time to time...and he is a great guy. Jen is super cool two...Tell him and Jen Lonna's says hi...he'll probably say I was rough on him,but he knows I did it out of love!!! Have fun ....

  3. This is beautiful! Your stories and connection are amazing! Enjoy meeting a wonderful family!

  4. Hi Ashley. This is Mike from the train. It was a pleasure to meet you on the train. I must admit, I was a bit surprised to find myself immortalized in your blog, the very next morning, even. :)

    I'm looking forward to your blog post this week to hear about how your visit with Chris went.

    1. Oh my goodness, you've got to be kidding me!! I have to admit, I never expected to hear from you again, this is amazing! I am truly thrilled you contacted me Mike, thank you- it is so wonderful to hear from you. It was such a pleasure talking to you, I had to share that with my small blog world :) I hope you tune in tomorrow, there will be a crazy photo explosion and an interview with Chris...had I reached a new level of crazy and asked for a picture with you, then you'd be on there too, lol.

      Gosh it's good to hear from you.

    2. I also sent you an email to an email address I found for you in one of your blog entries.