A cafeteria Catholic, his disabled son, and a deep conversion have added up to a testimony that has caught fire and transformed lives. Abortions have been prevented, people have been lifted from despair, and faith in God has been renewed and even ignited for the first time. Chad Judice has published two books about the spiritual journey with his son Eli yet, until now he has not told the whole story—a story of life, love, addiction, moral relativism, and finally, freedom.
It all began with a simple question. “Coach Judice, what is your greatest fear?” Chad pondered the question. It was the spring of 2005, the end of four years of teaching and coaching basketball at Cathedral-Carmel Catholic School in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he led his team to back-to-back state championships. He would be moving to a new job at St. Thomas Moore High School and had offered his seventh and eighth grade students a chance to ask him questions at the end of the last day.
After a moment’s consideration, Chad answered. “My greatest fear would be to have a child with a mental or physical handicap.” As a perfectionist, Chad did not think he had the patience for a disabled child. He had a healthy six-month-old son, Ephraim, at the time.
Eli Touches Hearts
Four years later, in September of 2009, Chad and his wife Ashley, who worked as a neonatal nurse, were expecting their second child. During a routine ultrasound, they learned that their baby was a boy and that a part of his brain—the cerebellum—was missing. Spina bifida was the dreaded diagnosis. It meant the baby’s legs would be paralyzed and perhaps there would be other disabilities. Chad flashed back to that student’s question four years earlier. His worst fear had come true.
As Chad and Ashley struggled to accept the shattering news, friends, family, students and colleagues became a big part of the story, which included an outpouring of prayers and an awakening to the beauty of all life. And faith. Students and others struggling with their own pain or faith in God found powerful inspiration in Chad’s story. Audiences were hungry for his message and invitations to speak poured in.
Interview with Chad
During a phone interview, Chad said that the day of Eli’s diagnosis was the first day of the rest of his life. “I could have faced this alone, but instead, I chose to let God carry me,” he said. “I had always tried to dictate my life on my terms, but now I surrendered to the will of God and to begin to try to understand His will, not mine.”
There were little miracles along the way so that Eli’s disability was less severe than had been predicted. After his birth, Eli’s beautiful presence and Chad’s witness continued to ignite hearts. He wrote the book, Waiting for Eli: A Father’s Journey from Fear to Faith, which has sold 10,000 copies. So many people were writing to tell Chad that his story was “life changing” that he followed up with a second book, Eli’s Reach: On the Value of Human Life and the Power of Prayer.
Now, Chad is ready to tell another more personal story. “I often tell people, I was not always the man I am today,” he said. “It is my sincere prayer that by sharing this story, other men will be inspired to recognize the need for a Savior and allow Jesus Christ to transform them.”
Chad explained that before Eli, his faith and values were shallow. “My manhood was defined by what I could do, how successful I was,” he said. His shallowness surfaced after the announcement of the first pregnancy. The initial news that he was going to be a father brought him to tears—but not the kind a father could be proud of. The world had a stronghold on him. Physical fitness, personal freedom, control over his life… fatherhood could interfere with those things.
“I was in awe at Ashley’s ability to bond with our unborn child while I felt afraid of the impending responsibility,” he said. Chad pointed to his lack of a prayer life as leading to a lack of self-control. “This allowed me to make choices that led me to the slavery of sin,” he said. Physical intimacy in his marriage became less frequent, while the health club he frequented tempted him with physically fit, attractive women. He convinced himself that looking but not touching was within the bonds of his marriage commitment. Compliments from women inflated his ego and increased his dissatisfaction with Ashley. Then, he fell into pornography on the Internet to fill the void in his life. “In my mind I could control it, but in reality it was beginning to control me,” he said. “As it says in John 8:34, ‘I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.’”
But at the birth of his beautiful, healthy son Ephraim, Chad fell deeply in love with both his child and God. “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” he said. “If I loved my son this much, how much more does God the Father love me?” His epiphany was short lived, however. God soon faded back into the background.
“My heart was not open to understanding what God wanted so all I focused on was re-establishing intimacy in our marriage,” he said. Being post-partum and breastfeeding, plus Ashley’s struggle to lose the “baby fat” led Chad away from his wife and back into pornography. “I was abusing the greatest gift in marriage he had given us,” he said.
At his high school teaching job, Chad had made friends with the head of the campus ministry program and was asked to become a part of it. He also became a part of a faith-based men’s group that met monthly for dinner. Through the influence of these Christ-filled men and a recognition that he needed a personal relationship with God, Chad confessed his pornography addiction in the sacrament of Confession. He began reading Scripture and praying when temptation struck and was able to quit completely.
“I knew God had forgiven me, but I had yet to forgive myself. Most importantly I never asked Ashley for forgiveness, figuring that what she never knew would never hurt her,“ he said. Then, one rainy afternoon, he walked into the house and saw a look of pain on Ashley’s face. Looking through old history file on the computer, she had discovered the sites he had visited. “This was the lowest moment in my life,” he said. “I confessed to Ashley what I had confessed to God over a year earlier. It was so liberating. I could finally forgive myself and that allowed me to accept the miracle of her forgiveness.”
“Without the accountability of the men’s group and the voice of God’s presence within me,” said Chad, “it would have been easy for me to portray myself as a victim of circumstance. But viewed through a spiritual perspective, it is exposed for what it is—an irrational lie.”
A Deeper Faith
But then, the men’s group pushed Chad further than he wanted to go. Chad had shared with one friend that he was not sure if he was ready for a second child. He had admitted to shallow reasons for hesitating. “When you took your vows to your wife, did you lie?” the friend asked. Chad was furious and felt betrayed by the friend first and then the group that had joined in. “I was angry that they were judging me—but they weren’t; they were loving me.”
Shortly thereafter, Chad said he decided to trust in God with a new life. Ashley became pregnant. Chad’s faith, however, was still on the surface. “This short prayer at Mass the weekend before receiving Eli’s diagnosis of spina–bifida illustrates this point,” he said, “ ‘God, I know the baby is going to be healthy, because you know what I can and cannot handle’.”
God and prayer began to rule his life and he embraced it all whether convenient or not. That soon included rejecting contraception to be in union with the Church. “…humility awakened within me a need to surrender the one last obstacle keeping Jesus from being at the center of my marriage, artificial contraception,” he said.
The journey to Natural Family Planning, according to Chad, was a journey of discovering “who am I and who is God?” He describes the transformation in his marriage as dramatic as the transformation of Eli in their lives.
By relying on God, Chad said he finally came to understand what it means to be a man. “Jesus Christ is the ultimate man’s man. He gave until it hurt and served until the moment He took his last breadth. His actions defined the true meaning of love.”
Chad said his friendship with Jesus has given him the self knowledge that it was never about Jesus conforming to Chad’s desires but about him being conformed into whom God created him to be.
Chad and Ashley are joyfully expecting a third son in July of 2014. His name is Ezra Matthew Judice.
To invite Chad as a speaker go to: http://chadjudice.com
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