life lessonsYou never know what you can learn from people who are quite unlike yourself. I’ve learned incredibly valuable life lessons from prostitutes. And witches and convicted felons. I’m pretty much the polar opposite of some of the people I interview for articles or chapters in books. But I love the invitation to listen and learn. Life’s library is always open for students who want to gain and apply wisdom.

Back in the spring of 1994, my magazine editor assigned me to cover a story in the Philippines. In Manila, I interviewed a woman who was helping prostitutes change careers. Many of these young women were tricked into turning tricks. Untold numbers were simply teens in outlying villages whose parents said “yes” to recruiters who promised their daughters good jobs in the city. Unfortunately, this type of human trafficking is far too common in our world.

Look in the Back Alley

Mariel*, a Filipino prostitute, was starting to sell Tupperware® and proudly wanted to show me where she, her husband and young children lived. One sweltering afternoon, Mariel* led me along the dank back alley to her family’s home—a maze of carefully placed cardboard boxes secured with chicken wire netting.

Cardboard and chicken wire? Seriously? I stooped to almost a crawl to wedge inside the tunnel leading to a “two-story” living area. This family of four sheltered in a throwaway box mansion between dumpsters and other squatters’ similar corrugated carton homes.

I didn’t have a camera or a cellphone on me to snap a photo of this almost unbelievable sight, but I hope the unforgettable scene never leaves my memory.

You see, Mariel, in her lowly state, shared priceless gifts with me. Through my encounter in her piecemeal home, I added more to my life lessons: humility and gratitude.

Look in the Mirror

A few years back, I interviewed Kay who travels 1,500 miles a month visiting legal Nevada brothels to befriend the women in adult entertainment. Kay eats with the women, chats with them and prays with them.

The 75-year-old grandmother is protective of her girls and shares a strong admonition to those outside the brothel subculture. “To those of you who would judge or criticize our friends in the brothels—don’t,” she advises. “If you want to judge or criticize, start by looking in the mirror.”

Kay’s words are reminiscent of Jesus inviting the pious finger pointers to cast the first stone at the woman caught in adultery. More life lessons from prostitutes: stop judging others.

Look in the Mess

I find it fascinating that Jesus’ ancestry includes at least two sex workers in his King of Kings’ lineage. One was twice-widowed Tamar and the other, Rahab, a career prostitute. Rahab became Jesus’ great-great-great-grandmother. Jesus typically esteemed prostitutes above the self-righteous of the day. He also modeled that while God does not condone sex outside of marriage, he does not cast aside the guilty.

Author Ann Voskamp in her The Greatest Gift book, highlights the backstory on Rahab from ancient Jericho (Joshua 2). Ann writes:

Men lined up at her inn, wanting a place to lie down—and a piece of her. In a town with no Sabbaths, no lines of
God’s Word ever read, no prophets with a message of a coming visitation from heaven, she’s one woman alone with
the grime of too many nights on her hands, the weight of too many wounds on her heart—a woman who looks up in
her godless mess and sees the tenderness of God.

In a place of faithfulness and doubtfulness and godlessness, God gives God. The God who can reveal Himself
wherever, whenever, to whomever; the God who is never limited by lack or restricted to the expected; the God who
is no respecter of persons but the relentless rescuer of prodigals; the God who gives the gift of faith in the places
you’d most doubt. That is always the secret to the abundant life: to believe that God is where you doubt He can be.

Ann’s words remind me of another life lesson: God brings tenderness to our doubts and messes. He is even in the menagerie of cardboard boxes that some call home sweet home.

Where do you need merciful God to be for you these days?

* Name changed