Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Growing with Eli
Our Journey into Light and Life
By Chad Judice
Acadian House Publishing, 2018
157 pages, $17.95 (hardcover)
To order: www.acadianhouse.com.
When Chad Judice came out with his first book Waiting for Eli: A Father’s Journey from Fear to Faith, the moving story of he and wife Ashley’s second son born with spina bifida, the problems they faced, the miracles they received, and the day-by-day struggles and victories they experienced touched countless hearts. In fact, little Eli showed strikingly how children with needs can be surprising evangelizers.
Then came Eli’s Reach: On the Value of Human Life and the Power of Prayer to continue the story. Now the third book of Judice’s trilogy is fresh off the press — Growing with Eli: Our Journey into Life and Light.
And what a very moving, heartwarming, triumphant story it is, even for readers not familiar with the first two books. In fact, it may spur newcomers on to learn about the beginnings of the story of the Lafayette, Louisiana family.
In Growing with Eli, dad Judice gives us more than a series of snapshots of how Eli, he and wife Ashley, and their two other sons are doing.
“Living with Eli has been an adventure,” writes Judice. He takes us into those adventures, whether they be ups or downs. At the same time, as the subtitle so rightly tells us, Judice tells us about his own struggles, like wrestling with his employment, coming to terms with Natural Family Planning, and growing in his faith.
Many can identify with those struggles on the personal or family level. And they can be bolstered, supported, and urged on looking at the lives of Eli, his dad, mom, and family. That’s another reason why this story is so uplifting. Judice gives us that reason when he tells us early on:
“Our boy is doing well — better than doctors ever expected. Most important, he’s a happy child with a beautiful smile and a twinkle in his eye. I think of Eli as God’s special gift to my family. And as I share about him, Eli’s story softens hearts and brings people to a greater appreciation of the beauty and sacredness of life.”
This truth begins right on the front cover when all we have to do is take one look at the photo of father and son.
Seeing this photo makes us appreciate all the more when Judice says: “As Eli continues to grow, so do I. Our stories are intertwined; our lives move forward together.”
There’s a second major story paralleling young Eli’s. Judice explains it this way: “At the same time my faith in God has grown by leaps and bounds as I have plumbed the depth and breadth of the Catholic religion” making amazing discoveries that include “the meaning of a truly sacramental marriage, the Church’s teachings on Natural Family Planning, and the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the great intercessor.”
For one, the diagnosis in 2008 before Eli was born brought him to his knees and turn to Mary’s intercession and the Rosary — which he continues to pray daily.
Along the way of faith growing, Judice shares a major insight which many places should take to heart and seriously consider concerning NFP. In hindsight, from the impersonal introduction lacking to the point of not stirring the interest of practically anyone there, leads him in the book to eventually make four very clear and powerful suggestions how to really present NFP in such a situation and way that would set couples’ hearts on fire to swiftly accept its truths. “These four selling points could have opened” closed minds and hearts, he explains.
At least at the time he didn’t give up but turned to EWTN and Scott Hahn to learn more about NFP.
Then when Eli had to undergo an unexpected serious operation, rather than sink into a dark night of the soul, Judice finds the right person to reach out to for solace and support. The same during Ashley’s health problems in her third pregnancy, and who the family turned to for help — and received it.
Several heart-warming stories crop up at just the right moment, too. How beautiful the simple recollections of the love and charity of one so young as Eli’s brother Ephraim, six at the time, helping his younger brother Eli. The incidents show how a special needs child at the same time helps others no matter their age to grow in spirit and selflessness.
We can see that love in the beautiful family shots included in the book. One captures the moment Eli receives his first Holy Communion from Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a friend.
Whether what’s depicted in the photos and the stories of family life, God has a way of erasing doubts at critical moments in Judice’s life. He takes us through the struggles he had about his job — whether to continue as a high school theology teacher or turn to another career he was drawn to.
Among other things he shares a few simple bits of unexpected correspondence that surprised him and helped make the choice. They came along at the right moment — God’s timing — as did a rather unusual incident involving a fender-bender type of accident when he was wondering if entering the Catholic Church was the right decision. It confirmed he was on the right track with his faith.
“Call it a sign, a little miracle, or a divine appointment — but don’t call it a coincidence,” Judice concludes. “I, for one, no longer believe in coincidences.”
That applies to the very first moment he and his wife immediately made a pro-life decision before Eli was born. “It was the realization of Eli’s condition in utero that propelled Ashley and me to actively cooperate with the faith, hope and love we needed in order to hold up under the substantial challenges which we were presented,” he writes. “Thankfully, we found our way by the grace of God.”
“Truly, Eli has taught us how to live in the present moment, to see and appreciate the blessings that are right in front of us,” Judice realizes.
The story of Eli and his family has touched many lives thus far. Growing with Eli can and should continue affecting and inspiring many more about “the beauty and sacredness of life.”