Some names have been changed (denoted by an asterisk) due to the sensitive nature of this topic. For the same reason, photos of the subject have been removed.

      God has sent me on a mission. I have some great news for you. God has sent me to restore and release something. And that something is you. I am here to give you back your heart and set you free. I am furious at the Enemy who did this to you, and I will fight against him. Let me comfort you.
      As Ellen* reads this, her heart, the one she desperately tries to keep together, falls apart. She lies on the couch, while the man she married sleeps in their bedroom. For eight months, Ellen hasn't felt her husband's loving touch. For eight months, she has felt ignored, wishing he would look at her as she thought a newlywed husband should look at his wife. For eight months, Ellen has had to compete with the one thing that steals her husband's attention, energy, and affection: pornography.

***
      At the age of two, Ellen became a victim of sexual abuse by her 10-year-old neighbor. Although the specifics are vague, she remembers her mother walking into the basement and telling the boy to leave immediately. She later confirmed the details with her mother.
      That moment defined the first 24 years of Ellen's life. It made her feel disgusting, an identity she took on as a child. She felt useless and unintelligent, a lie that eventually convinced her that she’d live a life on the streets because she deserved nothing more.
      “That really set a trajectory for attention and need,” Ellen explains. “It also created this sense that I wasn't as intelligent as my other siblings, which is completely not true. But that’s what I started believing at a very young age, that my intellect wasn’t at the same level as other children. So even at that age, it was kind of like, ‘Well, my body was useful.’ Even at that time, these lies were hitting.”
      By sixth grade, Ellen began receiving a lot of attention from boys her age. Her body gave her power, she realized, and she could use that for control. Throughout middle and high school, her life revolved around the string of boyfriends she maintained. When she entered college, her focus shifted to finding her future husband.
      Ellen moved from Ohio to Kentucky for school. Because her parents had met in college, Ellen subconsciously created an expectation that she, too, needed to find her spouse there. Thus, her focus never really revolved around academics.
      And then, when tragedy struck, any ounce of drive to do well in school completely vanished. During the spring break of her sophomore year, she received a call that her best friend from high school had been killed in a car accident. The depression that Ellen had successfully suppressed throughout middle school, high school, and the beginning of college suddenly flared to a completely new level.
      Simply put, Ellen stopped caring. Furious at God for taking away her best friend, she skipped the mandatory chapel services, stopped attending classes, and eventually ended up leaving the school altogether to attend the London College of Fashion to pursue her dream of fashion.
      “That’s always been the theme: to always run,” Ellen says. “Just run away. Just go overseas over the summer. Look like you’re doing something cool. But really, I find now that that was a way to lift out of depression when there was something exciting or a new event and that kind of thing. That would kind of lift my chemicals and become a high that would lift me out. But, of course, that doesn’t sustain. So once I got over there, a week or even days after I flew overseas, I would drop severely into depression.”
      Although Ellen left for London to run away from the depression that plagued her, she also left with a ring on her finger. She had successfully found someone who met her basic criteria for a future husband. They met at school. He was attracted to her and she to him. And they had already slept together, which pretty much sealed their fate in her mind. They could make it work, she figured.
      But after a couple semesters in London, Ellen returned home to Ohio for spring break and noticed her fiancé behaving strangely. Rather than the excitement she expected to receive after being away for six months, all Ellen felt was distance.
      I’ve been gone, she rationalized, and he’s finishing up his senior year of college. “Is there another girl?” she asked him. But he denied it.
      She ran through a list of questions—Is it me? Did I do something wrong? Are you upset with me?—all of which he denied. Then, she asked, “Is it pornography?”
      Yes, it was.
      “He was really ashamed, but I already thought it was too late [to cancel the wedding] because we bought invitations for $800,” Ellen says. “And they hadn’t even gone out yet, but just because they had been purchased, I felt like I couldn’t do that to my parents. So, for $800, I really sold myself.”
      That summer, in 2006, Ellen got married. What was supposed to be a day of celebration consisted of weeping and an inability to vocalize the turmoil within her. As she and her dad walked up the stairs to begin the descent down the aisle, Ellen had a fleeting thought. What if I don’t do this? But the inertia of her depression, trauma, and guilt of having sex with him before marriage kept her feet moving down that aisle.
      “I have since gone back and thought about that first step and asked Christ to come into that moment,” Ellen recounts. “I would look at my dad, and I would say, ‘Dad, please get me out of here,’ and he’d say, ‘Okay, honey.’ And he would run me out to the front. He’d get me in a car and help to just drive me out of there. And even in that, it has been such a freeing and healing experience to know that, yes, I would’ve been cared for. Someone would’ve fought for me.”

***
      Lying on the couch, Ellen desperately searches for something—anything—that can help her with the pain, the chronic depression, and the self-deprecating lies. She sees a book that her sister has been trying to get her to read for the last several months. A book Ellen dismissed as “Christian propaganda.” But tonight, she picks up the book by John and Stasi Eldridge, titled Captivating, and flips through the first few pages.

God has sent me on a mission. I have some great news for you. God has sent me to restore and release something. And that something is you. I am here to give you back your heart and set you free. I am furious at the Enemy who did this to you, and I will fight against him. Let me comfort you.
      As she continues reading, her eyes flood with tears as the turmoil from the last 24 years becomes palpable.

For, dear one, I will bestow beauty upon you where you have known only devastation. Joy, in the places of your deep sorrow. And I will robe your heart in thankful praise in exchange for your resignation and despair.
      “And there, I met Christ for the first time,” Ellen says. “And He said, ‘Honey, I hate what has been happening to you. I’m going to fight for you. Come here, I will hold you. And I will give you love. And I will give you beauty where you’ve only known pain.’”
      And with the smallest bit of energy Ellen could muster, she whispered, “Yes.”
      Although her “yes” may have been weak, it was all God needed.

***
      Following the wedding, the distance Ellen experienced from her husband continued. They moved to California shortly after and for the next eight months, as Ellen hit even lower and lower levels of depression, the distance between them just got bigger.
      “I was just so confused by all of it because if it was [another woman], I would’ve said, ‘No, I’m done,’” Ellen explains. “But it was pornography and [that’s] confusing for women.”
      When Ellen found porn on her computer for the first time, she confronted him. He responded with shame and embarrassment, so she thought, okay, well, that’s taken care of. But when it came up a second time, she had to look elsewhere.
      “Finally, I told my sister and she said that my brother-in-law has never done that and he won’t and he doesn’t believe in that. And that’s not what marriage is,” Ellen says. Her sister raised an alarming question that Ellen hesitated to answer. Is pornography okay in a marriage?
      When it came up a third time, Ellen desperately reached out to her aunt and uncle, who were marriage counselors in Orange County, California.
      “And then, finally, when it happened another time, I was so devastated, I called my aunt and uncle,” Ellen recalls. “And they said, ‘You need to decide what you need to do. And he needs to decide between his real life and his fantasy life.’ And that was such an interesting way to put it. That helped a lot.”
      Each time Ellen confided in someone, she became more aware that what went on in her marriage wasn’t, in fact, normal. But each time she found it on the computer again, Ellen would hit a new low, feeling hopeless and out of control.
      Yet, just as God had promised to Ellen on that couch, even if she couldn’t find the strength to do it, He would fight for her.

***
      Ellen opens the book Captivating, thinking she’ll just flip through the first couple of pages. But she can’t stop. As she turns the page, she sees the original text of the passage she has just read. It comes from Isaiah chapter 61, verses 1-3.

      The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

      She keeps reading to the end of the chapter. Verse 7 jumps out at her as if the words are dancing off the page.

      Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.

      Rejoicing isn’t familiar to Ellen. Throughout the last 24 years, depression has followed her wherever she flees. And for the last eight months, she suffered, battling the monsters of shame and disgrace in her marriage. But, tonight, on this particular evening, as she reads, Ellen can’t help but feel just a little bit of hope.

***
      After the third time Ellen found porn, she decided to separate from her husband for two weeks. It got to a point where being physically next to him was simply too painful for her to bear. So she moved out and lived in an apartment her boss owned, situated above the high-end women’s boutique Ellen worked at.
      After two weeks, she moved back in, desperately hoping that the time away prompted her husband to make a permanent change. In September 2007, just two months after moving back in, the couple packed their bags and moved to Washington D.C.
      “A part of that was to outrun all of the pain we had just suffered and to have a fresh start,” Ellen explains. “But I also told him at that point, ‘If this happens again, I’m going to have to go.’”
      By January 2008, Ellen found herself face-to-face with pornography again. Her heart broke, knowing what she needed to do but unable to find the strength to do it. Through heaving sobs, Ellen called her dad.
      “I ended up calling my dad and just said, ‘Dad, this is what’s happened. What should I do?’” Ellen recalls. “And he said, ‘Honey, what did you tell him last time?’ And I said, ‘That I would have to come home.’ And he said, ‘Then, it’s time to come home.’”
      As Ellen brother drove the eight hours from Washington D.C. to Ohio, Ellen cried the whole time. Face swollen from the tears, she collapsed into her parents’ arms upon arriving home. She could barely look people in the eyes. She rarely left the house. But being home proved to be exactly what she needed.
      Her parents encouraged her to seek counseling. Although she hesitated, the counselor she found ended up walking Ellen through the next four years. Through her counselor’s help, Ellen was diagnosed with Dysthymia, a chronic low-grade depression, which helped her identify what she had been battling all along. She began addressing the trauma she experienced as a child, the depression she fled from but couldn’t escape, and the lies of inadequacy that seeped into her identity during her marriage. Slowly but surely, Ellen took the first steps towards healing.
      Then, in March 2008, two months after moving home, Ellen's parents invited her to go to Mali, West Africa with them to visit the women’s and children’s hospital they helped develop. Her father was a surgeon and had spent most of his adult life going on medical missions trips to Africa. When they asked her if she wanted to come, she responded with a resounding “Yes!”
      “So I went to Africa and it was so freeing. It was like I was back in childhood,” Ellen says. “And at that point, the Lord started showing me women’s issues across the globe.”
      Working at the hospital, Ellen observed how malnutrition prevented pregnant mothers’ hips from fully developing, causing their babies to die in the birth canal. She heard about the cruelty of female genital mutilation and saw just how much pain the women of Mali had to endure.
      “Just hearing about these things—not quite learning about it yet—but just realizing such pain that the women had there,” Ellen remembers. “And, at the same time, seeing such beauty. They would wear these gorgeous colors. They looked like queens with their heads wrapped in this fabulous fabric. And, you know, the terrain is dirt and desert—it was sub-Saharan Africa in Mali—so they were really like the flowers of the nation because of their beauty.”
      Ellen returned home inspired. She met women who suffered incredible pain yet exuded strength and beauty she didn’t think possible. It was as if God used those 14 days to show Ellen, through these women, His plans for her.
      After her trip to Mali, Ellen enrolled at Ohio State University (OSU) to finally finish her education. She moved into a townhouse with three roommates, which they dubbed “The Hope House.” They often prayed together, laughed hysterically, confided in each other, and cried with one another. That house and the people in it represent a season of deep healing and growth in Ellen's life. A treasured time she keeps close to her heart even now.
      But when it came time to pick a major at OSU, Ellen assumed she would either choose communications or fashion, the two routes she had gone with before. But as she prayed about it, she felt like the Lord prompted her to focus on women’s studies, a major that almost seemed like the opposite of fashion in her mind. Although very confused, Ellen obeyed.
      “So I took a women’s history course and, oh my gosh, I just fell in love with it,” Ellen says. “Everything I was learning. The oppression from day one for women. And it got to this point that [the professor] talked about Christ and His time, and she said, ‘Christ was the first man to show overt care and love and dignity for women.’ And I don’t even know if she was a believer but that just built my faith so much.”
      Between Ellen's two years at OSU, she returned to Mali to further investigate the women’s issues she became aware of on her first trip. In her research, she found a group based out of Washington D.C., called Amani Africa, a sewing and training program for marginalized women in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Liberia. Ellen emailed them, introduced herself, and shared about her desire to help women through fashion.

I am here to give you back your heart and set you free. I am furious at the Enemy who did this to you, and I will fight against him. Let me comfort you.
      Ellen began to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to her from that lonely night on the couch, when all she could see at the time was hopeless desperation.
      In the fall of 2008, Ellen filed for divorce. Although she cried as hard as she did driving home from Washington D.C. to Ohio nine months prior, Ellen experienced freedom for the first time in awhile.
      “So what we did was we celebrated for a whole week,” Ellen says. “My sister said that [King] David would grieve for a long time, but then the Lord would say, ‘And now, it’s time to celebrate.’ It was as if the Lord renewed my mind with that. So, everyday, I did something extravagant and fun. Salsa dancing or going out to dinner or drinks. Whatever it was just to allow celebration to come back into my life because depression had marked my entire life up until this point.”

***
      Ellen puts down the book Captivating. She opens her Bible and continues reading the rest of the chapter in Isaiah. As she moves from verse 7 to verse 8 and onto verse 9, the small surge of hope begins to grow. When she reads verses 10 and 11, she stops and repeats the verses slowly.

      I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

      Her heart sinks as she reads about the bridegroom and the bride. Would she ever experience being clothed in garments of salvation and arrayed in a robe of righteousness? Would she ever be a bride who adorns herself with jewels? She didn’t know.

***
      In 2009, while at OSU, Ellen frequented a coffee shop, where she would study, finish homework, or write in her journal after her counseling sessions. On one particular afternoon, she began talking to a barista named Peter*.
      “I had heard of him before. My pastor had told me about him,” Ellen explains. “So I said, ‘Oh, hey, were you also involved in a campus church at OSU?’ and he said, ‘Yeah!’ So we just traded some stories, and he was super nice.”
      He began spending his 10-minute breaks and 30-minute lunches with Ellen. They exchanged stories and got to know each other. And immediately, she found herself attracted to the depth and quality she saw in him. Ellen decided to ask him out on a date. He hesitatingly said, “Yes.”
      “For me, I wasn’t really looking [to date] at all,” Peter explains. “I didn’t really want a girlfriend. I just wasn’t in that mode.”
      But after the first date, they went on a second date. And a third. And over time, Ellen began opening up about her life, her previous marriage, her depression, and God’s healing through it all. Peter's reaction shocked even him.
      “I’ll be totally frank. My thought before her would’ve been, ‘You’ve been married. Damaged goods,’” Peter confesses. “I never thought I would be married to someone who has been divorced before or who had any baggage like that. So the fact that those fears went away was really a shock.”
      Rather than running away, Peter's eyes opened to the woman in front of him. He saw beauty despite her pain and a story of redemption being written in her life. Soon after Ellen shared her story with Peter, he began to pursue her.
      “In that moment, there became an ownership in it, where I thought, ‘Gosh, this is her story, and I want to be a part of that. I want to journey with her in that,’” Peter explains. “I don’t think, at that point, I was ready to marry her, but it definitely meant I was on that journey with her.”
      Seven months later, on February 6, 2012, Peter proposed to Ellen. Photos of the last seven months lined the steps of her stairwell as rose petals scattered amongst the tea candles. Peter led her to the top of the stairs, where he knelt down on one knee and asked Ellen to be his wife.
      Ellen said, “Yes.”
      During their six-month engagement, however, Ellen had to let go of any shame and lie that she didn’t deserve this a second time. This is what it meant to feel like a bride. This is what a marriage ordained by God looked like. This is what it meant to be loved by her betrothed.
      Finally, on July 22, 2012, Peter and Ellen married. As a symbol of pure celebration, Ellen wore a floor-length gold sequined dress. A bride adorned with jewels. And a day that symbolized new life and rebirth.

***
      In October 2010, seven months after Ellen introduced herself via email to Amani Africa, an email popped up from them in her inbox. The organization wanted to know if she would be interested in producing a fashion show in Liberia, to tell the women, through fashion, that it was safe for them to rebuild their lives after a 14-year civil war.
      “I couldn’t believe it!” Ellen remembers. “I felt like God knew me in that moment. It was so perfect…all my loves together.”
      Ellen jumped at the opportunity. But she quickly found herself overwhelmed with tasks. Being more of a creative director than a technical designer, Ellen drowned in the responsibilities of creating an entire collection from scratch.
      “Then, my older brother said, ‘Did you know there’s a Project Runway designer who’s from Liberia?’” Ellen explains. “And I didn’t know that, so I reached out to everyone on her contact page and just said, ‘Would she be willing to donate one dress?’ And her agent said, ‘No. She would want to do the whole collection.’ So it turns out, she’s the most generous, beautiful, loving, and faithful person.”
      That designer, born in Monrovia, Liberia, competed in the fifth season of Bravo TV’s hit show “Project Runway” and ultimately finished the season as the first runner-up. She ended up creating 29 pieces for free.
      Ellen spent three months in Liberia to help get the fashion show started. With her help, Amani Africa hosted two fashion shows during that time: one in the jungles of Yekepa and one in Monrovia, the capital.
      Then, in 2013, Peter's best friend’s wife, Sarah*, approached Ellen about creating a fashion show to raise awareness on human trafficking. Students at OSU were itching to start something to help that particular cause, so Sarah asked if Ellen would be interested in helping.
      Ellen said, “Yes.”
      In 2014, Ellen and Sarah co-founded UNCHAINED, a performance art fashion show to raise awareness of human trafficking and ignite abolitionists to the cause. Models showcase the same collection that was first created for Amani Africa. Every fashion show tells the narrative of one trafficked survivor, each piece representing a part of her story. Before the models walk out, it’s important they understand their role: to represent a woman in slavery. Then, just before all the models walk onstage for the final time, Ellen shares why this cause is so important to her. She tells her own story of redemption.
      Ellen clung onto Isaiah 61 like it was her lifeline. I am here to give you back your heart and set you free. It gave her hope in the midst of a hopeless situation. I am furious at the Enemy who did this to you, and I will fight against him. It gave her strength when none was to be found. Let me comfort you. And most of all, it got her to say, “Yes.”
      Little did she know that that lifeline would be the very anthem of why she does UNCHAINED. Like her own story, she hopes to see women freed from the bondage of slavery, living out a life of unapologetic hope, even if their yes’s are small at first.