How People

Elizabeth has become my teacher, and I am learning to think about life, faith, and relationships in a whole new way. I have come to see the world as divided into “Why People” and “How People.” Why People cannot be at peace until they answer the question of why their suffering has befallen them. They look backward and ask, “Why me?” How People, on the other hand, ask, “How can I move forward?” Having been dealt their hand in life, their focus shifts to how they can find whatever healing and wholeness is possible.

You will meet many inspiring How People in I Am in Here. We have shared three of them from the book with you here in this section: Cheryl, Al and Junior and Judy.

We would like you to share your How People stories with us. Tell us about the people you know who have faced a big challenge with grace and determination. Please use the form below and attach a photo, if you have one, so we can share your story.* For more stories, visit our blog and be inspired. Together we are building a quiet revolution of hope.

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Al and Junior
Judy and Alex

When I worked on Wall Street, I commuted through the World Trade Center and often passed a severely disabled man in a wheelchair sitting out in front of the South Tower, running his business. He had a large, wooden tray perched in front of him filled with gum, candy, and umbrellas. A white cardboard sign which hung off the front of the tray read, “Don’t feel sorry for me. Buy something!”

Rain, shine, and biting cold, Al would be sitting there, often accompanied by his longtime friend and business partner Junior. I got to know Al and Junior over the years as I bought many Hershey bars and packs of Juicy Fruit gum. On some occasions, if the sun was shining and I wasn’t late, I tried to talk a bit with Al, although he had great difficulty speaking. But we kept at it, having ever-longer conversations.

I learned that Al had cerebral palsy and although his body was a gnarled mess, his mind was sharp as a tack. He and Junior had met thirty years earlier on the mean streets of Newark, New Jersey, when fifteen-year-old Junior had tried to steal a candy bar off Al’s cart. They now lived together at a local YWCA, where Junior took care of Al’s extensive physical needs and Al helped Junior, who was mentally disabled. They were How People for each other.

Here was an elderly, Jewish, ninety-pounds-soaking-wet, handicapped man who somehow found a simple but strong, young, black man, and they had been taking care of each other for almost three decades. God works in mysterious ways.

I am blessed with a small handful of special friends who have helped me in my faith journey. Cheryl and I have been friends since we were eight years old. In the course of our almost forty years of friendship, sometimes we haven’t spoken for months. Then she senses that I need her, such as when my dad died and when the kids were first diagnosed with autism, and she calls me. There is something that connects us beyond this world. She smiles when I call her my angel.

One story from our childhood sums it up well. We were playing badminton once when the birdie landed on the roof of their one-story ranch. It was our only birdie, so Cheryl found a ladder and I climbed up. When I hit it down to her, she hit it back up to me, and roof badminton was born. We played it whenever we had a chance, with no parents were in sight.

Our friendship over the years has been a roof badminton game over time and space. She has been there for me when I have been on the ground, and I have tried to be there for her when she was grounded. Today, Cheryl and I have email and cell phones to help us hit the birdie back and forth. It’s not quite the same as all-night talks at our sleepover parties, but it gets us through the tough times. Recently she made me cry by sending a photo of the two of us in a frame that reads, “We will be an encouragement to each other. Romans 15:32.” It sits on my desk and reminds me that we are not alone in our journey.

Shortly after a special visit together, Cheryl was in a car accident. She was driving safely down the road when a random event happened: a car in the next lane slid over and knocked her into the median. A few days later, she called to tell me that she was a little shaken up but didn’t appear to have any serious injuries. Then the pain came.
Despite being a nurse, she had a hard time getting some of the doctors to believe that she had an injury and was in pain. It reminds me of the plight of so many women with chronic fatigue syndrome whose symptoms are often dismissed as psychosomatic. She could not sit and could only stand for short periods of time. She spent most of each day in bed.
I asked her what she did all day long. Did she read books or watch television? She responded, “No, I mostly just try to quiet my mind.” Then with a laugh she added, “I can kneel without much pain, so I guess that God wants me to do some praying as well.”

For more than a year, she traveled from doctor to doctor, much like we have done in our autism journey. No one could put a name to it. No one could help relieve her pain. And in all that time of lying in bed in pain, I never heard her complain once. Not once. She told me that God was slowing her down. She needed this time to be silent. To listen for that still, small voice.

Finally Cheryl found a doctor who gave her suffering a name: pudendal neuralgia. Basically, a nerve in her backside was being pinched by a fibrous mass. People are often misdiagnosed for years and don’t like to speak about it because they are embarrassed by its symptoms. Pudendal neuralgia is rare, and it resigns most to a lifetime of pain.
But Cheryl will not be discouraged. Her life is filled with a strict therapy schedule and lots of prayer. She says she knows God is healing her. In the midst of her days of quieting her mind, she prays for Elizabeth. I know because she sends me text messages to tell me.

That is a How Person: someone who reaches beyond her own suffering to care about someone else’s.

Autism moms are obsessed with understanding the unique needs of their kids. For years a group of us posted our questions and answers on an invitation-only site aptly called “Dr. Moms.” The site was run by the top Dr. Mom, Judy, who works day and night trying to understand the needs of her beautiful son, Alex, who is severely affected by autism.

Judy has searched the world for answers to the dietary and immune issues that are common among those diagnosed with autism. After success with Alex, she convinced many of us to try the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. The elimination of refined sugar, grains, and starch helps relieve the painful intestinal distress suffered by many of our kids. It worked well for Elizabeth.

Another common trait associated with autism is an overly active immune system which never shuts down, not even when its job of fighting off a cold or flu is done. It is always hyped up in full fighting mode, so much so that the immune system begins attacking itself, causing inflammation from the intestines to the brain. This constant internal fire is thought by medical experts to cause some of the odd “autistic behaviors.”

After studying the research and discussing it with her doctor, Judy decided to try a controversial and counterintuitive therapy of introducing porcine whipworms, a tiny worm commonly found in pigs, into her son’s intestine. Before you retch at the thought, hear the science.

For millions of years, humans lived symbiotically with parasites in our intestines. These parasites have been stamped out in most parts of the Western world because, in some circumstances, they cause anemia and protein deficiency. But researchers have now discovered that in areas of Africa and Asia where the worms still live within the population, there are virtually no cases of asthma, allergies, and other inflammatory disorders. Autism is also unknown there.
Scientists believe these worms help regulate the immune system to protect against these conditions. Leaping forward, some doctors are now researching and treating patients with these “good” parasites for conditions such a Crohn’s disease, colitis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, allergies, and—drum roll, please—autism.

Relentless Judy found a way to get the pig whipworms from a German company which imported them from Thailand. The worms worked wonders for Alex, but replacing them every two weeks was prohibitively expensive, so Judy struck out to find an affordable alternative. She did additional research and found that hookworms can survive in the human body for decades and produce many of the same benefits.

Unfortunately, hookworms are not available in the United States, but that didn’t stop Judy. She flew across the country with her parents, two sons, and family physician and drove in the middle of the night to Tijuana, Mexico to get these worms for her family. The drug wars were raging, and they heard gunfire in the distance as they tried to find their destination. Just as they were about to turn back for San Diego, Judy saw the hotel’s neon sign.

Eight weeks after adding the hookworms, Alex demonstrated his first academic skill ever. Despite the best efforts of a decade of special education, Alex had never been able to identify a shape or a letter. On that beautiful morning, his teacher came downstairs and showed Judy a piece of paper with nouns written in one column and verbs in the other. For the first time, Alex showed the world that he could read by correctly sorting words. Two and a half years later, with the hookworms doing their magic, he is progressing through Hooked on Phonics at the age of seventeen. Alex is doubly hooked.

Lesson 1: It’s never too late for our children.

Lesson 2: Educational and medical interventions go hand-in-hand.

Judy’s relentless quest for healing worms qualifies her as a How Person.

*Due to the volume of stories we receive, some stories may not be posted and we reserve the right to edit submissions for length.