Eli’s Keeper: My Son Ephraim Embodies Fatherhood

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Editor’s note: Today, we’re happy to welcome a guest article from noted author and speaker Chad Judice. As we anticipate Father’s Day, all of the dads out there are in our prayers! I highly recommend Chad’s books, Waiting for Eli: A Father’s Journey from Fear to Faith and Eli’s Reach: On the Value of Human Life and the Power of Prayer as a great gift for any father in your life. Lisa

With Father’s Day approaching this coming Sunday, my mind wanders back to an anonymous prayer I once read in a diocesan publication only a few years ago. It was such a profound statement of the situation I find myself in as father of three boys between ages of 10 and 11 months. The prayer poignantly states: One night a father overheard his son pray, “Dear God, make me the kind of man my Daddy is.” Later that night, the father prayed: God make me the kind of man my son needs me to be.”

Chad Judice's oldest son Ephraim Judice and his youngest son Ezra. Image copyright Chad Judice, used with permission

Chad Judice’s oldest son Ephraim Judice and his youngest son Ezra. Image copyright Chad Judice, used with permission

Pulling into oncoming traffic after leaving mass recently my oldest son’s comment brought that prayer to the forefront of my mind. He asked me, “Dad, why did you never write a book about me?”

Four years ago in the midst of our second pregnancy my wife and I received some crushing news. Our second child had been diagnosed with a severe birth defect known as Spina – Bifida. That diagnosis began a journey that has led our family down a path we could never have imagined. The two books I have written about Eli have gained national recognition, brought me into the realm of public speaking, and deepened my understanding and love for Catholicism. It is not unusual for us be gathered as a family in public and have a complete stranger walk up and ask, “Is that Eli?” It is natural reaction and understandable why people who have been touched spiritually by his story would ask these questions. However, I have noticed that Ephraim’s reaction is always a silent smile and selfless acknowledgement that he has once again been overlooked.

My mind raced in the silence following Ephraim’s unexpected question but was followed by a much deeper realization that I know he doesn’t understand. Ephraim is my unseen hero, the one who drives my deep desire to always meet the daily call of dying to self that his brother’s life has thrust upon our family. It is his example at the age of ten that brings this idea to such clarity for me as a husband, father, and teacher at a Catholic high school.

In November of 2009 my grandmother passed away. Ephraim was about four years old at the time and Eli was approaching nine months. My mom had been given the task of watching over her home and helping to facilitate its sale. One afternoon she was rustling through some items in my grandmother’s bathroom and cleaning it out. Ephraim had accompanied her to the house, as he was familiar with his great – grandmother and had known her well enough to develop some kind of relationship. Walking out the bathroom my mom found him kneeling in the center of the living room in prayer. Puzzled, yet pleasantly surprised, she inquired as to what he was doing? He responded, “I am praying for another Kee Kee.” The name our family so fondly called my grandmother for eighty three years of her life. This touched my mom deeply and I believe was my grandmother’s way of letting her know she was in a much better place. My mom still gets teary eyed sharing that story over four years later. It was the first of many selfless acts that are a witness to his bigger than life love that continually inspires me, but are often unseen by others.

Ephraim Judice with younger brother Eli - image copyright Chad Judice, used with permission

Ephraim Judice with younger brother Eli – image copyright Chad Judice, used with permission

Last summer we were at the beach for a family vacation. All types of accommodations have to be made for Eli to be able to enjoy some of the common things children do. Ephraim is often asked to give up things for his brother’s benefit that other children his age are not. He could resent his brother for always being asked to give a little bit more, but instead is moved to give in ways that far surpasses that. The boys were playing after lunch in our hotel room waiting for our family to return to the beach for the remainder of the afternoon. A lone chocolate chip cookie shown jutting out of an almost finished pack. Ephraim, after licking his lips and approaching the bag, grabbed it and began to lift it to his mouth. Then without hesitation held the cookie in mid – air and slowly brought it to his other hand, breaking it in half. Looking intently at my mom he said, “I better give half to Eli.” Seven year olds don’t typically have the presence of mind or the internal understanding of how profound an act like that is. The message that it sends to those who encounter it. This is one story I share when people ask me about his relationship with Eli, but the most incredible one occurred only a few months ago.

It was a quiet night in the middle of the week. Ashley and I were sitting in the living room visiting and we had just put the boys down for bed. They had been playing earlier together in their room. Ephraim never excludes his brother from activities when he has friends over despite the fact that Eli is paralyzed from the waist down and wheel chair bound as a result of his birth defect. This has never been a deterrent for Eli. He is always smiling and enjoys playing with other children, but what Ephraim said in tears that night reveals that he is keenly aware of the frustration Eli has in recognizing his personal physical limitations. We heard a ruffling of the sheets and the pitter patter of footsteps making their way down the hall. Appearing suddenly in the living room Ephraim walked in wiping tears from his eyes and running into Ashley’s arms. We assumed he had a nightmare and was in need of some comfort and reassurance. Instead, he gave that to us. I asked, “Buddy what is wrong?” He replied, “I want Eli to walk!” That comment has only been amplified by the many times since I have found Ephraim, who is now nine years old, lifting his brother from underneath his arms off of the ground to his chest. Eli’s otherwise motionless legs swing back and forth mid-air as Ephraim takes one step after another carrying him forward. His head turned slightly over his shoulder wielding a wide smile. “Look Dad! Eli is walking!”

It is these moments when I know that through faith, prayer, and perseverance that one day this vision can become reality. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 Ephraim’s daily innocence and love for his brother have taught me the true meaning of dying to self as a parent. He teaches me so much more than I will ever teach him. He is the answer to that prayer, “God make me the kind of man my sons need me to be.” I pray he understands the reason I have never written a book about him is because it’s not my story to tell, it’s his.

In 2010 award winning author and national inspirational speaker Chad Judice began sharing an incredible story of faith, hope, love and the power of prayer about Eli. The past five years it has gripped audiences in 14 states and touched hearts across the country. For the first time on screen, meet the entire Judice family as they share a heartwarming account of the “Story” behind the story. Including testimonies of those who witnessed the events unveil in the 2008 – 09 school year at St. Thomas More Catholic high school, a couple inspired to adopt a special needs child, and a bona-fide miracle on Easter Sunday 2011 at Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans that saved Eli’s Life.

Chad Judice is an award winning author and national Catholic speaker. To contact him please visit his website: www.chadjudice.com or his Facebook page.

Images and Text Copyright 2015 Chad Judice

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