Eli Judice, in his Pre-K class at St. Pius, was born with spina bifida. Eli is the inspiration for a new book
authored by his father Chad Judice that chronicles how powerfully his birth and life have impacted people.
Little Eli Judice’s reach extends far further than the length of his tender arms.
It’s a crisp Saturday afternoon in December in Lafayette. Posters promoting Chad Judice’s new book, Eli’s Reach, are displayed on the windows of Acadiana Religious Bookstore. Inside, supporters line up for a signed copy of the second offering from the St. Thomas More teacher and author who chronicled his journey from fear to faith when his family faced a spina bifida diagnosis for its unborn child more than three years earlier.
After much prayer, Eli was, indeed, born with spina bifida. But the grim predictions of his condition have been disproved again and again. This second book is, at first blush, the story of how widely and deeply the first book — Waiting for Eli — touched the lives of others. As Chad signs books with his children by his side (or scampering around the bookstore as any two young boys would when confined too long), it’s clear that the connection made by this book is about far more than words on a page.
Teary-eyed women embrace Chad. Many say but a few words about being a friend of “so and so” who asked for prayer and Chad immediately recalls their story. It’s clear he remembers them all. Prays for them all. (Chad dedicated the new book to children with special needs and their parents.)
But it is little Eli who brings wide smiles to the faces of every person who walks in the bookstore.
Sitting in his wheelchair, he dutifully holds a pen with the help of his grandmother or Chad as he signs books. He seems to relish the celebrity.
“Buy my book,” he told a group of people heading into the bookstore as he arrived that day.
He and big brother Ephraim play in the open space of the bookstore and every so often you can hear Eli singing in a little voice as clear as a bell “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
“I call him a ball of love,” Chad says on a break from signing books.
Sure, he has his moments like any 3-year-old. But Chad is in awe of his son.
“He’s the happiest kid I’ve met, and he makes me appreciate everything I ever took for granted. Our time here is so short. I have a new value for all of life. It’s the greatest gift God gave all of us,” Chad says.
And it’s one Chad is determined to share with the world. As Waiting for Eli became a book, Chad began speaking to groups about the miraculous story of his son (to date he has spoken as far as New Jersey and Connecticut and to more than 50 groups). From the first bleak news that their child, should they choose not to abort, would never walk and would face physical and developmental challenges of great proportions to Chad’s relentless prayers and rallying effort for others to join him, Chad’s presentations are at their essence a message that is pro-life. He makes no qualms about this. In Eli’s Reach, there are stories of women who planned to have an abortion but changed their minds after hearing the presentation. What is perhaps more extraordinary are the stories in the book (and others told by Chad that weren’t included in the book) of ordinary people who were touched in incredible ways. Like the inmate who prayed for the first time in 30 years. Or the high school girl with renewed faith as she faced friends with cancer. Or the waitress with a special needs child who the Judice family ministered to.
“The best part of this is ministering to other people in similar situations. Some are ahead of us or at the same point, and we can minister to each other and pray,” Chad says.
This ministering and praying with strangers is something that seems to come naturally to Chad. He is, by accounts of others and clearly when he speaks, a passionate person. His wife, Ashley, is a private person. This experience has been a different one for her in some ways. An NICU nurse on some days, and a mom on all days, Ashley is the one who keeps things on track in the Judice home.
“I’m just being a mom,” she says sitting next to the family’s Christmas tree.
When I arrived to talk to her, she stood in the kitchen browning chicken with an apron on. Her mother played with Eli and Ephraim. Eli walks using a device and braces. At school, he uses a wheel chair to ensure his safety as he continues therapy for walking with the braces. It’s a victory of epic proportions for the Judice family for the child to be attending Pre-K, they say. His intelligence level is at or above average.
“I want him to be able to be his best and reach his full potential,” Ashley says.
And she prays for health. Always for health. But, there are no prayers to change Eli in the way some might think. The Judices have done more than accept their son. They celebrate him.
“I wouldn’t be the father I am to Ephraim if it wasn’t for Eli,” Chad says frankly. “Eli has a purpose.”
Before Eli’s birth, Chad began a sort of spiritual conversion. Once he learned of Eli’s condition, he continued to pray and seek God in a new way.
“It’s a journey,” he says.
And one that certainly doesn’t end with the final chapter of Eli’s Reach that chronicles a miraculous healing on Easter weekend after doctor’s found a cyst that threatened Eli’s life. (According to the Judices, the doctor, in all of his year’s of practicing, had never seen such results.) Eli’s reach began from the first ultrasound that showed something was amiss.
“As soon as we found out ... it changed my world,” Ashley says.
And while the change began first in the hearts of Ashley and Chad, it is something that has spread with each new person who connects with Eli’s story.
Little Eli Judice has become a symbol of hope in a way that is nothing short of miraculous.
Eli’s Reach can be found at:
Barnes & Noble
Books Along the Teche (New Iberia)
Albertsons (on Johnston)