In college I volunteered at a youth conference in New Mexico. It wasn’t much of a sacrifice—a free trip to Taosand a week of skiing and hot chocolate. One night after a Q&A session, a youth pastor attending the conference asked if I wanted to grab some coffee, “I really respect your opinions on ministry,” he said, “Let’s go talk more about what God is doing in your life.”
I hopped in his car that evening, excited, thinking that this might lead to a future job opportunity. When he took me to an intimately–lit restaurant instead of Starbucks, I should have seen a red flag or two. At dinner he asked me about my views on politics, on the church, on the bible. As we drove home I looked out the car window at the mountains and felt proud of the attention I was receiving—proud that someone in leadership wanted to hear from me. It never occurred to me to ask what his wife was doing that night or where his children were. When we pulled in front of the hotel he put his hand on my thigh, “I really respect you, Aubrey.”
Although nothing happened, I felt stupid for getting into his car. I felt ridiculous for my naivety and even more embarrassed that I liked this man’s attention. I felt weak and ashamed. I bolted out of his car, ran back to my hotel room, and cried in the bathroom for an hour.
I shared that story a few years ago at a conference in New York City. I was one of two women at my table and as soon as we had a break I suggested we escape the testosterone and grab some coffee and yummy cheeses at Zabar’s. (I really wanted to reenact some Meg Ryan moments from You’ve Got Mail but I didn’t tell her that.)
As we walked back to the conference and talked about our plans for returning home, she began to tear up. “Is everything okay?” I asked.
We sat on a bench near our subway station and through tears she told me that my story had caused a traumatic memory of her own to resurface. When she was seventeen years old, her boss at the restaurant where she worked would take her into his office, lock the door, and pay her to perform sexual acts. “I should have walked away, told my parents, done something,” she told me, “But part of me liked the power and the attention. And now I feel like a prostitute and I know God will never do anything in my life because of it.”
Nevermind that this man used his position of power to manipulate her. Nevermind that he should have been arrested for abusing an underage girl. Her shame was overwhelming and in some ways she would always see herself as the girl behind those office doors.
 Rahab the Prostitute
The book of Joshua contains a short story about a woman named Rahab. She was living in the city of Jerichoin Canaan when Joshua, the leader of God’s people, sent two spies on a reconnaissance mission to her city. Somehow the spies arrived at Rahab’s house and the king of Jericho demanded that she hand them over.
Rahab faced a life-altering decision. She could turn over the Israelite spies and probably receive a reward and leverage the opportunity to elevate her status in society. Or she could risk her life and the lives of her family by protecting the spies. Rahab made the more difficult choice; she told the king’s messengers that the spies came and left and then she sent the king’s men on a wild goose- chase. Meanwhile, the spies were hiding on the roof of her house.
We don’t know much about Rahab. We’re told that she was a Canaanite prostitute, though some historians think she was an innkeeper. (I think that may be an attempt to answer the problem of why two of Joshua’s spies were at a prostitute’s house, but that’s a tangent.)
Here is a woman in a culture where women were considered second-class citizens, at best, and not only that, she is a prostitute. Her body, heart, and soul are broken in ways that are difficult for us to understand. She has also most likely grown up without much knowledge of the God of the Israelites—raised as a polytheist. This is not a woman most of us would expect God to use. But the Scripture records her making a very profound statement about God: “The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below.” (Joshua 2:11)
Because of Rahab’s faithful obedience—even though it meant risking her life— the spies were able to report back to Joshua. The Israelites took over the city of Jerichoand turned the tide of history. God spared the life of Rahab and her family, and she lived in the Promised Land the rest of her life. 
Rahab is known throughout scripture for her faith and obedience. In the book of Hebrews she is the only woman mentioned by name as a hero of faith. Matthew reports that Rahab became the great-great-grandmother of King David, and the great (to the 28th or so power) grandmother of Jesus. God gave her dignity and purpose and transformed her life from prostitute to hero in the line of Christ. 
Beauty from Ashes
Because Rahab has such a triumphant story, it has bothered me that the New Testament authors of Hebrews and James continue to refer to her as “the prostitute.”
“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies,
was not killed with those who were disobedient.”—Hebrews 11:31
“In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?”—
James 2:25
I want her to be designated “Rahab, the faithful” or “Rahab, the transformed.” I want her to be dubbed with a new title based on the work God has done in her life.
However, I think to do so would belittle her beauty-from-ashes story.
At a meeting an addict introduces herself as Jane the alcoholic/the sex addict/the anorexic. There is power in admitting that she is powerless. In the same way, Rahab’s story is more redemptive when we know her dark shadows. Her story reveals that God’s grace is available to all—no matter our upbringing, gender, ethnicity, or our shameful past—no matter where we’ve been hiding.  In fact, the entire gospel is summed up in the words, “Rahab the prostitute was considered righteous.” 
God used the last person we’d expect—a prostitute. However, this shouldn’t surprise us; throughout scripture God uses the most unexpected and broken of us to do His will. My friend was wrong. It doesn’t matter what has been done to us or what we’ve done to ourselves. God loves to use the powerless.
The point is not that God used a prostitute. The point is that we are all prostitutes. We all have locked doors behind which we keep our shameful mistakes or bathrooms where we have cried secret tears. The point is that God kicks open those doors and floods the room with His light. He finds us hiding in the dark corner, cradles us, and carries us out. In Jesus, you are no longer just the girl behind locked doors. You are that girl, rescued. That girl, renewed. That girl, shameless.
Photos by Hadessa Photography
By the way, my friend from NYC went home and got some Christian counseling. She is now in ministry, mentoring young women with similar stories. As for the youth pastor in New Mexico, I heard he spent the following years working on his issues and healing his marriage. He and his wife are still together and working at a church. 
As for me, I know who I am and who you are in Christ—strong and shameless. 
That’s beauty from ashes, baby.  

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