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About the Author
As a survivor of domestic abuse, Autumn has shared her story of overcoming abuse and finding God's purpose for her life in many media outlets including the New Yorker, Christianity Today, TLC, the 700 Club, the Washington Post, Religion News Service, the Dallas Morning News, and the Blaze. In addition to her latest book, Gangster Prayer, Autumn has authored Appointed and I Am Rahab. She and her husband, Eddie, have four beautiful children and live in Dallas, Texas.
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I AM RAHAB
If I turn up dead, look at him first," I said in a shaky whisper. I sat completely still, glaring emotionless down at the mint chocolate chip ice cream I attempted to enjoy, not knowing how my sister would take the sentence.
She froze, her spoon halfway to her mouth. I finished my breath. The carbon dioxide released in my exhalation felt small in comparison to the weight of stress obliterated when I uttered those words. I'd been carrying suffocating stress for nearly six years. Finally, the secret was out. I had finally gathered the courage and voiced my greatest fear.
For several seconds, my older sister, Heather, scrambled for the right words to counter such a horrifying declaration. "What?" she asked.
I couldn't look at her. The strategic positioning of the chocolate chips in my ice cream entranced me. I kept my attention on them long enough to breathe out the heavy words once more. I repeated them louder and clearer this time, "If I turn up dead, look at him first." The words fell easier from my mouth. I looked around to see if anyone else had heard me.
Although my heart was still beating and I was breathing, I felt that my soul had died. My outward appearance reflected my inner state of mind. I had shut off my emotions a year earlier when the daily abuse I encountered hurt so much both emotionally and physically. Honestly, the pain felt so acute, I didn't care if he did kill me. Maybe I even wanted it. God knows I thought of killing myself. I envisioned it many times because I imagined the end would at least bring finality to my suffering.
I had lived the last six years in an abusive relationship, from dating to marriage. My circumstances had been, in part, a repercussion of my own choices. Before I was married, I had done everything I could to rebel against God. My lifestyle had been one of sin. Lying, sexual immorality, and manipulation had all been normal behaviors for me. I had allowed myself to be subjected to a man whose first and primary attraction to me was purely lust. When the lust had been satisfied, his desire turned to control. My sin had propelled me into a living hell I helped create.
My once bubbly, vivacious personality had changed dramatically under the control of a man who dominated me day in and day out. I had become a robot. I was behaving mindlessly, brainwashed by the harsh orders and crippling fear of a man whom I claimed to love. I was his puppet, forbidden to wear certain clothing without his permission and censored in my speech. I might as well have been in a cult. I was a silent walking billboard for abuse.
But on a spring day in Indiana, the pressure of my silence, held for so many years as a false sense of protection, erupted like a volcano. And for the first time ever, I gave my silence a voice and shared my concern about my then husband.
My sister sat there, shocked. She was quiet for a moment and then replied again, "What? What are you talking about?" My two previous announcements gave me courage, something I had lacked for almost six years. It shattered the dirt-smothered ceiling of my emotional grave, and I finally began to tell my sister of the horror I was living in. Even though the threat of my own death fell out of my mouth, its admission seemed to somehow give me life.
By the time I finished speaking, the scoops of ice cream had turned to spoonfuls of soup. The despair in my heart, though, had also begun to melt away at the surrender of my oppressive secret. I knew my sister wasn't the answer to my abusive marriage, but I tasted hope in sharing with her; something about it fueled the idea of freedom. I'd been emotionally deceased, physically violated, socially cast out, and spiritually dry. My uninhibited outpour awoke something in me, and I wanted more.
One night, shortly after that ice cream date with my sister, I could not sleep. I was convinced that my husband was going to kill me. As I lay in bed plotting to kill myself, I realized how scared of death I was and that I could no longer take my life. During those moments in the dark, I heard the Spirit of the living God whisper to me, "Do you remember me?" I sat up at full attention, knowing God was speaking. With my father as a pastor, I had been raised in the church and had heard about God my whole life. I had committed my life to him, but that night I heard his voice in a new way. It wasn't harsh. It wasn't angry with me, as I believed God was. The voice was loving. Somehow this one, gentle, probing question brought me hope. It was so soft but authoritative. It knew me; it knew where I was. The power of his whisper drew me out of bed.
I walked to the other room and in anger fought the righteousness pursuing me. I didn't want it. I was mad at it, but I needed it. I felt it had left me when I needed it most. Yet in the height of the consequences of deliberate sin, God intervened. He met me there. Right there. The anger gave way to surrender as the voice of Almighty God continued to penetrate my emotionally sick soul. I cried out, "God, I don't believe in you! I haven't seen any miracles. I've heard the stories, but where is this God of the Bible? Even though I don't believe, if you are the God you say you are, you better speak now." All I knew was that if God didn't end this, I would.
I then opened up an old Bible, and my eyes rested on this promise to those who put their faith in God: "With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation" (Psalm 91:16). When my eyes met that line, I crumbled in surrender on the floor. There was no church hipster worship leader singing the latest praise song and no majestic light show programmed with a fog machine to set a certain atmosphere. There was no tattooed preacher sharing about Jesus and no one to impress. It was just me before the Lord, raw and sinful and at the end of myself. And right there, I found Jesus. I met my Creator. Sin had gotten me there, but grace would carry me forward.
A MESS LIKE ME
With this newfound depth of revelation with God, I started searching Scripture for someone to whom I could relate. My hunger for the Word of God was insatiable. I was consumed, and many characters caught my attention. I reread about Mary, the mother of Jesus, wondering if I could relate to her. The Bible says she was "highly favored" (Luke 1:28 NIV), and I stopped there. I didn't feel highly favored. I felt more like a total screw up. Don't get me wrong. I gave Mary crazy respect, but this girl couldn't relate.
I kept reading, trying to find comfort in the context of familiarity. I then looked to Esther. She was a Jew living in exile in the land of her enemies, but in a way only God could orchestrate, she became queen of the Persian Empire. Because of her role as queen and accessibility to the king, she was able to later make an appeal on behalf of her people. She saved the Jews from a pending genocide issued by the king. Though her story was amazing, I wasn't there quite yet.
Mary and Esther were examples of what I desperately wanted to become, but I wasn't even on the same hemisphere. Instead, these ladies represented the way I held other women in my mind. The ones acing their Bible drills in Sunday school. The ones saving themselves for marriage and wearing purity rings. As much as I wished, I just wasn't like them.
For a time, Eve felt relatable. Her sin caused the downfall of the human race. Yes, such devastation and wreckage was more familiar. The Lord knows I was experiencing the severe backlash of my own sin. Familiarity struck me again when I later found Jezebel. She was steeped in the depths of sin with her idol worship. I worshipped my husband as a god. He, not the true God, had become my everything. I worshipped his every move and bowed to his human altar. Jezebel was consumed by her evil desires and did not turn to the Lord. She used her influence for destruction and died a gruesome death as Israel's most wicked queen. It was a sobering story. I didn't want my own idol worship to destroy my life or the lives of those I loved.
The utter fallen humanity of Eve and Jezebel felt relatable. And the gravity of their decisions could not be ignored. But I knew there was more — there must be. I was determined to become something greater than my current self, like a Mary or Esther, even though my beginning looked a bit more like Eve or Jezebel. I wanted to shatter the bonds of my past and of other people's expectations. I was desperate to be someone new, to do things new, and to point others to this unshakeable hope I knew was mine.
In spite of my circumstances and past sin, I began to believe that I could be different. Because of God's grace and mercy, I could participate in God's story and help others change their lives. The idea of it swelled inside me. But where was my poster child of hope in Scripture? Hello! Hadn't others royally screwed up their lives as I had done but still discovered the hope and promise of a changed life through God's supernatural works?
And then I found my girl! The hero God placed in Scripture to speak to me. The one I could relate to, strive to be like, and from whom I could draw hope. I discovered Rahab, the harlot in the second chapter of Joshua. I couldn't read the story fast enough as I gleaned every piece of strength I could.
Rahab was an Amorite who lived in Jericho, a city God had promised to the Israelites. Her life was immersed in sin and the worship of pagan gods. Even her very name reflected this idolatry. The name Rahab gives respect to Ra, the chief god of the Egyptians, the sun god. She captured my attention with the very first verse: "Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. 'Go, look over the land,' he said, 'especially Jericho.' So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there" (Joshua 2:1 NIV).
I read furiously. Rahab came face to face with two men whose lives and faith differed from her own. Their presence pointed to the impending destruction of her city and its people.
Endangering her very own life, she made a choice to hide the spies and protected them even further when Jericho's king questioned her about their whereabouts. The king sought to kill them, but she risked her life to protect them. Once the king's men left the city to pursue the spies, she went back to the spies' hiding place, and I caught a glimpse of her heart in the words she spoke to them.
She knew what was about to go down. And she acknowledged it was the Lord who was giving them the city of Jericho. Stories of the Lord's great acts swirled around her, like the miraculous parting of the Red Sea and the killing of two enemy kings. She knew the threat was serious. She knew the Lord would allow the Israelites to defeat Jericho.
And she went on to make this bold request: "Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you" (Joshua 2:12 NIV). The spies passionately agreed.
Later, when the day came for Jericho to be destroyed, the spies kept their promise. Rahab and her family were kept safe and spared from death, while her city was completely destroyed, and every person and animal in it was put to death by the sword.
A daring decision, influenced because of her receptivity, faith, and risk, saved her and changed everything. It changed her life. It changed the life of her immediate family. It changed her job and position. It even changed the lives of the Israelite spies. And it would alter a family lineage to come.
And there it was — the kind of story I wanted for my life.
A life entrenched in the depths of sin didn't remain wrecked. Rahab didn't remain a prostitute living in the city walls of Jericho; she dwelled with the Israelites as one of them. She would go on to marry Salmon, one of the two spies she sheltered, and bear a son named Boaz. According to Matthew 1:5, Jesus would be born from this family line. God placed Jesus in a harlot's bloodline. A pagan-worshipping prostitute was ordained to be part of the royal genealogy of Jesus, the Son of the living God. God himself approved a move no legalist would approve of. Which told me this: there was room for me.
I exhaled deeply over the life-altering chapters of Rahab's story, just as I had done that day staring down at mint green chocolate chip ice cream. Her story didn't end just because she lived a lifestyle of sin. God chose her with greater things in mind long before she was born. Greater than she could have ever known when she hid two spies under drying flax stalks on her roof. Even though she may have thought she was choosing to risk her life for God, God chose her for the risk, knowing what she was capable of. He knew his purposes would prevail, and true risk was nullified.
Because I was able to put myself in her story, hope filled my heart and invigorated me. I saw myself in her. I was Rahab, just in a different time and culture. She was a mess. I was too. I never sold my body for money, but I did manipulate people for position. I didn't live in the pagan city of Jericho, but I did live in the bondage of a marriage devoid of God. Her sin, her living position, her imposed identity, and even the time of year she helped the spies resonated with me. But I got the other side of her too: her risk, her faith, the hope bursting forth at the end of her story, and her placement by God in the bloodline of Jesus. All these things were preaching to me. Hope was kindling the fire of my courage. And the narrative in my head shifted.
God chose Rahab. God also chose me.
THE HEART OF A HARLOT
Harlot to hero. I considered both of the titles. I wonder how the descriptions sit with you. Maybe you relate entirely. Because like me, when you look in the mirror, you don't see Mary or Esther. No, you see Rahab staring back. You may not be a prostitute or in a godless relationship you helped create, but you resonate with the way sin defined so much of her life. Or maybe you don't think you relate to Rahab at all. You've sinned. Sure. But it doesn't feel as bad as the lifestyle Rahab lived.
While studying the Bible, I found Rahab isn't relatable to just me. You may be able to relate more than you think. When Rahab is talked about, you will see "harlot" attached to her name. In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, the word for harlot is zanah, which refers to fornication, including the specific instances of a woman who sells her body for sexual uses. In the Greek language of the New Testament, the term harlot is porne. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? It should, since this is the root word from which we get the word pornography.
The term used to label Rahab captures more than what you may initially think. Hang with me here while I geek out on you. Both the Old and New Testament words for harlot can refer to idolatry. Hello! Idolatry is when something or someone has a greater hold on our lives than God. Or we worship anything other than the one true God. In other words, the term harlot expands across the boundaries of physical activity to encompass the heart.
The book of Jeremiah gives us further support. Here, the same term used to describe Rahab is used in relation to the nations of Israel and Judah:
[T]he LORD said to me, "Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she went out and committed adultery." (3:6–8 NIV)
In this instance, the word harlot refers to the nation's unfaithfulness to God. Same word with multiple meanings. As this blunt passage shows, there's more to Rahab's sinful life than just the literal selling of her body for money. Don't discredit your connection to Rahab too quickly until you consider the comprehensive meaning of harlotry to include idolatry. God's use of the same word to describe Rahab's harlotry or Israel's and Judah's unfaithfulness reflects this truth: they're basically the same thing.
The Bible says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). You and me. Now it's easier to see how the "harlot" can be us, isn't it? In the context of unfaithfulness or idolatry, the message of Rahab just got a lot more relatable.
The culture we live in is saturated with idolatry. If Satan can get us to worship anything other than the one true God, he can take our life and use it for his destructive purposes. Satan can also discount the glory of God and tempt us to add him to a list of gods we worship. God becomes just another god to many. He sits on the same priority shelf with cars, houses, perfectionism, self, money, followers, dreams, social media, relationships, kids, etc. But he then ceases to be worshipped as he deserves, and we become the harlot without even realizing it. I know this is heavy, but in order to move from harlot to hero, we must confront idolatry.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "I Am Rahab"
Copyright © 2018 Autumn Miles.
Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Prayer for My Readers,
1. I AM RAHAB,
2. I AM AUTUMN,
3. I AM NOT ONE SEASON,
4. I AM LISTENING,
5. I AM RISK,
6. I AM FLAWED,
7. I AM SACRIFICE,
8. I AM GOD'S INSIDE MAN,
9. I AM A CHANGED WORLD,
10. I AM ON TIME,
11. I AM INTEGRITY,
12. I AM A CONQUEROR,
13. I AM NEW,