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Waking Up Blind: Interview with Jim Ellis

Apr 14, 2016

Have you ever wondered if tomorrow included an event which would change your life forever? I go to sleep sometimes wondering, “What if something is about to happen which will change everything?”

Today, you’re going to hear from someone who experienced one of those tomorrows. His name is Jim Ellis. I met Jim several years ago at the church where I’m the teaching pastor. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed spending time with him after services and connecting over similar passions. I wanted to interview Jim, so he could share his story and you can watch what I’m seeing on a regular basis in his response to a recent crisis in his life. The view is pretty tremendous.

Jim Ellis

Who is Jim Ellis?

Savage: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do for work? What is your family like? 

Ellis: I’m your basic average guy who grew up in what used to be West Phoenix (now, mid-town). I’m a husband to my wife, Paula, for the past 26 years and father to the best two kids in the world, John (7th Grade at St. Simon and Jude) and Audrey (Sophomore at Sunnyslope HS). Each of us are expressive through either the visual, written or performing arts. I’ve always been a ‘seeker’ of sorts – experiencing many avenues of life and have made about every mistake possible. Learning about Jesus Christ has been a mixture of Roman Catholic parental teaching and the kindness and influence of childhood neighbors, college friends and others. You could say that I am more conservative than my liberal friends and more liberal than my conservative friends. My personal goal is to extend the accepting and inclusive love of Christ to whoever’s path I cross.

The Morning That Changed Jim’s Life

Savage: We’ve attended the same church for several years. Recently, you entered into a pretty major life crisis. Tell us what happened with your eye.

Ellis: On March 1, 2016 I woke up to find that I was essentially blind in my left eye. As a lifelong visual artist, photographer, visual learner and general fan of eye-sight, I was literally blindsided by the change. In layman’s terms, I had a stroke to the optic nerve in the left eye for reasons that doctors don’t totally understand.

Savage: What is the current diagnosis for your condition and what’s next for your treatment?

Ellis: Technically the event was an Acute Ischemic Ocular Neuropathy caused by idiopathic intracranial hypertension. I have progressed from family physician to optometrist to ophthalmologist to neuro-ophthalmologist to a neurologist at Barrow Neurological Institute. MRI and MRA tests have indicated the ‘possibility’ of a blood clot or thinning of some veins in an area within my brain. I don’t really know the specifics. The next step in early May will be a lumbar puncture (spinal tap- insert a “This is..” joke here) to check the spinal fluid pressure in my spine and cranium. A venogram will follow to locate or rule out any blood clots. A stent or stents may be inserted into the vein(s) and depending on the spinal pressure a shunt may be inserted to alleviate a build-up of fluid. Basically, it’s a piece of cake!

Responding to Losing Your Sight

Savage: I cannot imagine what it’s like to lose vision like that. Can you let us into your inner world a bit? What has it been like navigating all of this? 

Ellis: As a ‘wanna-be’ photographer, former visual artist and a 24/7 online computer fiend, it has been weird. I can see through my right eye and the top 1/4th of the left. The brain is amazing in how it can adjust. An older set of prescription eye glasses have gotten me through most normal activities.

Savage:  This interview series began by exploring the subject of fear with my guests. What does the voice of fear sound like for you in the midst of this crisis? 

Ellis: You know, I’m a funny guy. Frankly, I’ve been through a LOT of hard times and troubling dark circumstances. Some of my own making – others have been ‘gifted’ to me along the way. It is my belief that God (through his son, Jesus Christ) has forgiven me for my failures, indiscretions, inability to achieve whatever level this world has dictated and has comforted me through many seasons of self-hate and low spirit. It’s the gift of grace and love that is ever present – and available to all of us no matter who we are or where we’ve been that is what is important. That is my real ‘focus’.

maneyescloseddreamstime

Savage: What helped you become courageous in the face of fear?

Ellis: Ha! I can imagine that in the depths of our thoughts or dark of night we are all, if we are honest, somewhat insecure. Brave? Hardly, I’ve been running all of my life. My ‘walk with the Lord’ has been mostly pedestrian The change has been a gradual maturity which has come along with me kicking and fighting the entire time. Nothing prior to this over-night blindness has ever suddenly changed me from the kind of guy that I have been. The promises and love of Christ has been consistent throughout my life. Experience and maturity has shown me that God loves me.

Savage: What are your biggest lessons from this life crisis so far?

Ellis: It surprises me that I have had an odd peace about the whole ordeal. I chose to embrace an optimistic ‘point of view’. In reflection and prayer, the thought was given to me that my life, my experiences circumstances and reactions to them would be observed by others. My simple life could an opportunity to show how great God is regardless of who I am.

Savage: You mentioned that you watched some friends navigate a serious health crisis in a way that inspired and challenged you. Can you share more about that?

Ellis: Sure, a friend recently died from cancer. She and her family demonstrated an amazing level of grace, faith, maturity and joy in the Lord as they weathered her health issues. When the changes in my health happened, I thought of my friends and the approach that they took in dealing with their circumstances and decided to choose an attitude of trust, faith and take a positive ‘outlook’. ‘Let go, let God’. ‘Trust and obey for there’s no other way’… I’ve never been good with or faced with totally doing that. Those buzz phrases always seemed fake or forced. Cliché churchy catch-phrases aside, and for whatever reason, this time I feel relaxed and at peace. In this situation those concepts seem surprisingly natural and on point. Philippians 4:7 (NIV) reads, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That verse has hit home in ways that I have never previously encountered. In a small way it seems that I can appreciate the peace that my friends may have lived.

Jim’s Perspective For Others

Savage: There are people reading this interview who are either in the middle of or about to enter to a life crisis. What can you share with them to encourage them as they navigate their current challenge?

Ellis: As a boy and when I sought to interrupt my father’s busy day he would ask me a question. “Will it (what I was asking) matter in fifty years?” Puzzled, I asked him what he meant. In clarification he reminded me to focus on the things that will really matter in fifty years and prioritize and do the best that I (we) can with the things that won’t. 

I may be the biggest sinner in any given room but I have been forgiven, regardless of myself. I am (we are) free.

“Amazing Grace how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me…

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now, I see.”

Identifying with often quoted scripture or lyrics to a favorite hymn is an encouraging feeling. Wisdom would remind us that gaining insight is far more important than retaining our visual sense. 

Jim, thanks so much for your honesty and transparency!

If you’d like to connect with Jim personally, you can reach out to him via email at ellisjames@yahoo.com. He’s an open book and loves meeting new people of all backgrounds.

I pray that you, like me, will open your eyes differently tomorrow morning in light of reading Jim’s story.

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