With the clang of his morning alarm, Eddie Ellis slowly sits up, turns off the alarm, and swings his feet to the edge of the bed. Not rising, but slowly falling to his knees, he reaches for his slippers, strategically placed under the bed just out of reach. Upon finding them, he remains on his knees in prayer for his family, for those hurting souls heavy on his heart, and for the needs of the day. Slowly rising, he begins his day void of sight, but full of the grace of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On the one hand, Eddie Ellis is a Golden Glove boxer who personally met Mohammed Ali, a stage 4 cancer survivor, and the previous owner of two successful plumbing businesses in central Florida. On the other hand, he is legally blind. Choosing to embrace joy in the midst of his blindness rather than to question the sovereignty of God, Eddie continues to meet the plumbing needs of personal friends and family, and does not let his physical limitations hinder his ability to be a blessing.
The Forging of a Fighter
Ed Ellis Plumbing, a successful plumbing company based in central Florida, operated successfully for a number of years, growing profit with each consecutive fiscal year. “The first year of my business shocked me as we made over $100K,” said Eddie. “I was thankful for what I had made, but I wanted more. The love of money took over me. My priorities got turned around, and I made the pursuit of riches the entire focus of my life. I had sixteen guys working for me, a brand new large home, a beautiful wife, a bright future in the boxing ring, and a successful business. One day on a whim, I bought a brand new T-top convertible for my wife and a new pick-up truck for me. You have to realize that I was just a poor boy who loved to box and who had an Alabama moonshiner for a father. My whole life was wrapped around boxing and the pursuit of money.”
About the time that Eddie had reached a semblance of financial security and amateur boxing success, he became confident in his own ability to provide for himself and build his empire. “I was lying in bed one night and began to revel in my success,” said Eddie. “I get ashamed and emotional as I think about it. God had shown me such love and mercy and I couldn’t see past my own pride. I turned to my wife and said ‘Look what I’ve done.’ Those words echo in my ears as if I had said them yesterday. About fifteen minutes after I had uttered those blasphemous words, I got the call every business owner dreads. There was a fire in my store.”
The day prior to the fire, Eddie had received a drop shipment of $140K worth of faucets and plumbing supplies. Unfortunately, they maintained only $10K worth of insurance, and they lost everything.
“The fire got me turned around again to the Lord,” Eddie said. “I fully admitted that I was hard-headed and weak, but through the experience, I learned that the Lord uses us when we are at our weakest.”
After the fire, Eddie rebuilt the company, making it strong and profitable. In the midst of the rebuild, Eddie was diagnosed with malt lymphoma in May 1999. Sure that the Lord would take care of him, he continued to build his plumbing business. “The Lord blessed us,” said Eddie. “We had our priorities right this time.”
Other personal changes began to take place in Eddie’s heart, and recognizing both the physical and familial sacrifices he was making for the pursuit of boxing, he made the choice to turn his athletic drive away from the ring and towards marathon running.
The Blow that Changed the Story
“A thorn was given me in the flesh… But [God] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content… For when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:7-10).
Eddie was a successful plumber, a prize fighter, a marathon runner, and a man that fell in love with a girl with beautiful green eyes. They had children and built their family around biblical principles. Eddie’s story was one of success; he always found a way to provide for his family and put aside a little extra for a rainy day. He was a popular amateur boxer who was never knocked out and rarely lost a match. He ran marathons in record time. He built his own American Dream through a talent for plumbing. He had a cancer scare, but God brought him through unscathed.
If Eddie’s story ended here, he would be numbered among countless American men and women who have worked hard and made their fortune. But Eddie’s story doesn’t end there.
In 2004, the cancer came back with a vengeance, as mantle cell lymphoma, and Eddie was given two years to live.
“Since I had already received so much chemo and radiation during my first bout with cancer, the doctors initially refused to give me more, but this boxer’s body wouldn’t quit,” said Eddie as he recounted the terrifying process of facing cancer a second time. “Finally the Lord led us to a doctor who agreed to give me another round of radiation, and once again, my cancer was under control. I was in and out of cancer treatments for several years, but God continued to sustain me.”
Eddie kept working plumbing jobs and running marathons as he was able, but was greatly weakened through the chemo and radiation process. The blow that would forever change the Ellis’ lives happened on April 30, 2008 while Eddie was on a normal job.
“I remember the day vividly,” said Eddie. “I went up into a client’s attic and did the job, but realized that I was sweating and weak. Earlier that morning, I had been to the hospital for the removal of my pic line. I remember that I had felt odd and I asked Debbie to pray. I knew something was wrong. Up in that hot attic, I kept telling myself to push through the weakness, employing all the boxing tricks to finish the fight. I completed the job, climbed down, and blacked out. That’s the last thing I remember. I had fallen off the ladder.”
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
Eddie was in a coma for 17 days, hanging between life and death. Debbie was told that if he regained consciousness, to not expect anything more than a vegetative state. Swollen and bruised, Eddie lay in the hospital bed, but remembers distinct voices during the coma.
“I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember Debbie whispering into my ear that I was her Braveheart. She told me to keep fighting. I remember my son’s mother-in-law telling me that I was going to be ok. I also remember my pastor asking me to take him to the baseball field, and his wife’s chiding to be serious. All these memories are part of what kept me fighting. God sent the people I needed at the lowest point in my life to pull me back from the edge and sustain me.”
Eddie woke up without sight on Mother’s Day, 2008.
“They all knew I was awake, because I blew Debbie a kiss,” said Eddie. “I didn’t know I was blind at first, and I asked for a high powered magnifying glass to help me see. Despite confusion from the optometrist, I was diagnosed as legally blind and was ordered into five weeks of rehab. Thankfully, the Lord allowed me to be released after passing the swallow test five days after I awoke. Enduring five weeks of rehab would have been difficult.”
Despite seeking medical treatment overseas in both China and India, doctors have not been able to reverse Eddie’s blindness. Although he is without his sight, Eddie continues to sing the praises of the Lord.
“The Lord has blessed us in so many ways,” said Eddie. “We should not have a home. With the disasters that have happened to us, we should have nothing. All we have is because of the grace of God. We thank the Lord for what we have. His grace is amazing.”
After the accident and the subsequent blindness, Eddie closed the doors to his professional plumbing company, but continues to work for private friends and clients. He has also continued running and has run four marathons while tethered to a partner. He does not allow his handicap to affect his ability to bless God’s people.
“We had to figure out what we were going to do after the shock of losing my eyesight. I help people for free. Last week I got up on a roof to fix a clogged drain. I save friends money. It’s my way to do what I can do to help my brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The Force that Drives Him
Married for 42 years, Eddie and Debbie Ellis are more in love today than the moment they fell in love. “Debbie is such an asset to me,” Eddie said. “I can’t read; she reads to me. She is my sight. She has been my strength from the moment we met. She is the force that drives me onward; she is the backbone of our family. Whenever I fall down, whether physically or spiritually, my wife has been there to help me up and encourage me to go on. I can’t live without her.”
One night, soon after the accident, Eddie was agonizing over his loss of eyesight.
“I was crying so hard and so long that I soaked our bed,” recounted Eddie. “Debbie grabbed me and said, ‘This isn’t about you. It’s about our Lord and Savior being glorified.’ It hit me between the eyes; it IS about Him. I tend to think it’s all about me. We all need that one person in our lives that will remind us that God is in control and that all we endure is for His glory and our good.”
Eddie and Debbie live their lives as an example to many. Uniquely attuned to trials and testing, they continuously open their home and hearts to friends, family, and neighbors that need encouragement.
Being a Braveheart
To Hollywood, Braveheart is the story of a Scottish warrior who incited a rebellion; to us at TwoTen Magazine, Braveheart is an apt description of Eddie Ellis. Eddie has found solace in the grace of God and remains a strong testament to the power of living in the shadow of the Almighty.
“To be truly successful, you have to remain balanced with the Lord,” said Eddie. “The bible says that the heart is deceitfully wicked; we have to keep His word in there. He will protect us if we seek Him. What we do with our money is key—give, help, build. You cannot out-give the Lord.”
Being a Bravheart for God is not easy. It requires sacrifice and dedication. Eddie and Debbie Ellis continually praise the Lord for His miraculous care, providential protection, and overwhelming sustenance.
“We live Romans 8:28,” said Eddie. “Everything is for our benefit; God does nothing wrong. Even if it’s a physical ailment, broken leg, or a car accident, everything is about Him and Him growing us. We need to relax and trust Him. His hands are underneath me, and He’s toting me every day. When I run, I tether to a partner, but God has me tethered for life. I can‘t get through one single day without Him. Being blind is hard, but God tells me to relax and let Him care for me. I take one day at a time. I’d love to have my eyesight back, but the most important thing is that I know someday I’ll see Him.”
By: Jessica Burchfield
Jessica Burchfield is the contract Communications Coordinator for Clearwater Christian College, a freelance writer, and a professional photographer based out of Tampa, Florida.Read More Articles by Jessica Burchfield