Ellie’s story below is taken from her video that is part of a series Redeemer Presbyterian Church created called “New Birth Portraits.” Ellie was an active member of Redeemer for many years and recently went home to be with the Lord. Her story is a beautiful example of how the gospel transforms lives.
Ellie served as a deaconess, as a leader of divorce recovery groups, a member of a number of fellowships and Bible studies, and a friend to many, many people. She recently died shortly after being diagnosed with lung cancer. The longer video version of her story can be found here.
I grew up in the hills of Connecticut. I’m descended from Timothy Edwards, the father of Jonathan Edwards, and my mother is descended from Thomas Hooker. I was descended from all these Puritans, but the gospel had not touched my family.
As a teenager I was interested in men early, and used sex unwisely to make relationships work that were never meant to work. One relationship bled into marriage, but that didn’t work either. When it ended, I decided to go to art school.
I got two years of opera school under my belt, and then I flew to New York.
When I got to New York, my interest in having men in my life did not quit. I reconnected with a man I had known at college, and he and I began to see more of one another. We ended up getting married. Very warm, very funny, delightful man. He had a fatal flaw, which was he didn’t really particularly care about earning a living for his family. I complained about not being able to meet our bills, and sought comfort in the company of other people.
When I was in the show “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” I had one of the big songs—one of the big moments in the show—a song called Marieke. For a long time, while things were good in my marriage, I would always sing that song to my husband, but at some point, an illicit romance began to take over in my life. I switched from singing to my husband to singing to this new person in my life. My husband happened to come to that performance, and he knew I was not singing to him. Ultimately, we separated.
I think that the only time I ever felt beautiful, like myself, likable, nice, something valuable, was when I really had the passion of a man.
I was an addict for this kind of passion. I tried a whole lot of things, different therapy modalities. I don’t know what all the names of them are, but I definitely tried a lot of therapies. I did the 12 step program. I did crystals. I did meditation. I did hypnosis. I did two kinds of Buddhism.
The truth of the matter was, none of those things ever got to the place down deep inside of me, where there was this emptiness. I had no word for it. It had been that man, then the next man, the ski instructor, then there was a man that I’d been working with. He was having his way with me on the weekends. But, he did take me to Redeemer. I went to Redeemer with him a few times, and then he kind of dumped me. I cried for two whole years, all the while going to Redeemer. I kept going. I began to hear the word, and I think that the turning point for me was, “This thing you’re feeling down inside of you, that you can’t get to, has a name, and that name is sin.”
I think that the turning point for me was, ‘This thing you’re feeling down inside of you, that you can’t get to, has a name, and that name is sin.’
I was going to a Bible study, and one day, the wife of the leader sat me down and she said, “I want to ask you where you are now about your faith in Jesus. Do you think that Jesus died for you?” I think I answered, “Yes,” to all those sort of fundamental questions. She said, “Well, then you’re a Christian.” Within two months, I no longer had any interest in seeing men. I didn’t have the need for that fix. That thing that had driven my life from the time I was 18 or 19 was gone.
I can’t tell you exactly when I first heard the story of the woman at the well. It’s from the book of John, chapter four. Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman, but it’s probably my number one favorite. He talks to her about living water. He said, “Well, I’ll tell you about that if you’ll go get your husband.” She says, very smartly, “I have no husband.” Then, he says something so shocking. He says, “That is right. You have had five.” Well, that speaks to me because it’s as if Jesus had said to me, “You’ve had five or whatever. You’ve had many. You have not had any real husband.” The woman said, “I know the Messiah called the Christ is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then, Jesus declared, “I, who speak to you, am he…”
That was my experience. Jesus said, “I, who speak to you, am he.”
He spoke to me and accepted me.