Fathers make a difference. When they go missing, suffering is inflicted upon the family which then bleeds out into the community in so many ways. Children also make a difference in the lives of their fathers. Science has even revealed that fatherhood actually changes a man’s brain when he is an active caretaker. Neurons make new connections and hormones increase emotional and cognitive abilities.
But what happens when a man who looks forward to having a child discovers his fatherhood will not go as planned? He wants to protect his family but instead experiences utter helplessness in the face of a disability? For those who turn their helplessness and fear over to God, they discover strength beyond anything they previously experienced. In Randy Hain’s latest book, Special Children, Blessed Fathers: Encouragement for Fathers of Children with Special Needs, fathers of special needs children share stories of becoming new creations through their children.
Chad Judice is one of those men. In some ways, he was extreme. Having a handicapped child did not just scare him, he once identified it as his worst fear.
Chad had a beautiful wife, a teaching job he loved at a Catholic school, and a healthy son, Ephraim. When he and Ashley were expecting a second child in the fall of 2008, they received shocking news.
An ultrasound showed that their son had the birth defect spina bifida. “Would you like to terminate the pregnancy?” the doctor asked. Ashley and Chad share in the very moving documentary, Eli’s Reach: From Fear to Faith, that instead of ending Eli’s life, he gave them a life beyond anything they ever imagined.
“The doctor told us that our son might have learning disabilities and be paralyzed from the waist down, unable to ever walk,” Chad said. “Ashley is a nurse who cares for newborns in her hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, but this news left her cold with fear at the suffering our child would face.”
One day before class, Chad shared the news that his unborn son had spina bifida. “I didn’t want it to happen, but I broke down and couldn’t continue,” he said.
The class went silent. Then, a girl began praying, “Our Father, who art in Heaven….” Everyone joined in. To Chad’s surprise, the voices of some of the boys who never seemed to take prayer seriously rang out loud and clear. “Heck, getting high-school students to a place of heartfelt prayer was something of a miracle by itself,” Chad said, “but such was the compelling nature of Eli’s story even then.”
Eli was born on Feb. 17, 2009. He did have spina bifida, but the opening in his spine, which doctors had warned us might be as big as softball, was just the size of a fifty cent piece. His surgeries went well, and he was home in less than a month.
Living with Eli became an adventure of dying to self and loving beyond their imaginations. Seizures and surgeries were part of the journey but so has been an outpouring of conversions and miracles. Chad shared in the documentary how his desperate prayer to Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos miraculously shrank a cyst in such a dramatic fashion that it left a neurosurgeon of forty years’ experience with no explanation other than to consider it a miracle.
Feeling that Eli’s story reached beyond their family, Chad began writing it down. When it was finished, he showed it to a friend. The friend brought it to a local publisher, Acadian House and said: “You’ve got to read this!” The publisher, Trent Angers of Acadian House Publishing, brought the manuscript home. His wife recognized Chad’s name and read it.
“Twenty minutes later, she came to me in tears and said you’ve got to read this.” ____ said. He picked it up planning to read a page or two but became so captivated; he could not put it down. “This is one of the books that I was put on this earth to publish,” he said.
After Waiting for Eli: A Father’s Journey from Fear to Faith was published, it seemed the story was only beginning. As people read the book and Chad shared the story before audiences, hearts were softened and minds opened to God and to the sacredness of life.
“Some pregnant mothers — four or five that I know of — have been moved to reject abortion,” Chad said. A man in prison wrote Chad that he was moved to tears, another man prayed the Our Father for the first time in 30 years after learning of Eli’s story. The reactions were so profound and so many, that Chad wrote a second book, Eli’s Reach: On the Value of Human Life and the Power of Prayer
Physically, Eli has accomplished more than doctors predicted such as walking with assistance and swimming across a pool on his own. But the biggest miracle, according to Chad, is how God has touched people through Eli.
“We all go through our own suffering,” Chad said. “We all want to know that it’s going to be okay but we want to know how to go about being okay.” For Chad, when he was feeling lost, he knew there was no one else who could help him but God. With an assist from Eli, God changed everything.
The documentary is a glimpse into the life of Eli and his family. It is also a glimpse into the mind of God as we see witness that life is not about perfection, it is about love. And that is the real message that changes a Father’s life.
To invite Chad as a speaker contact him at: (337 – 962-3134) Visit his website www.chadjudice.com.