Confessions of a Harlot

Laughing and full of anticipation, we climb into their silver minivan, pushing car seats around to make room for our two adult bodies. The hour ride to the restaurant is filled with the chatter of old friends catching up: how business is going, developmental stages of kids, relationships built and relationships severed.

And that’s when he says it, just kind of casually, talking about a young lady with whom we were all well acquainted:

“Yeah, her brother-in-law doesn’t trust her with men. Says she has the ‘spirit of a harlot.’”

The words hit me like a sucker punch.

But I swallow down the rage I want to spew in his face and calmly challenge, “What is that supposed to mean?”

He details deeds done and favors given. He tries to be discreet, but my experience fills in all the gaps that propriety leaves out. I don’t know if it is the sultry air in the van, or the hills and turns through which we keep weaving, or if it’s something else, but all of a sudden I’m shaking and about to puke.

We pull up to a stop light on the edge of town, and I have heard enough. With a voice a bit unsteadier than I’d like, thinking of this young lady and the newness of the path she has been trying to walk, I declare:

“If she has the ‘spirit of a harlot,’ then so do I.”

No one says anything for a minute. My husband throws me a glance, but I don’t look back at him. Our friends in the front seats shift uncomfortably. I sound like a caged animal with a wound re-opened and the shock of my words comes only because of the raw honesty they contain. I mean, what elder’s wife tosses out a statement like that with such passion? Don’t I know there are times and places for these kind of confessions, but for crying out loud, not on the way to Panera Bread?

Finally he answers, grace on his lips this time, “Yeah, well, I know what you mean. I don’t like it either.”

Looking back now, I think I probably could have said it a little more sweetly.

But the Gospel of a God who makes friends with sinners just tears through my lips sometimes with a violence I can hardly control.  It’s hard to treat scandalous Grace glibly when it’s such a personal matter.

Because it has been many years and miles, but don’t let my well-manicured appearance fool you. Yes, I ride on the arm of a church leader. Yes, I have seven kids in tow when I go to Wal-Mart. Yes, we home-school and milk goats and make our own bread.

But those things define me less than where I’ve been.

I’ve known the coarse life of a harlot. The virginity lost in a swarthy public bathroom. The touch of strangers in places too intimate to mention. The rooms lit only by candles, full of palpable smoke, suggestive graffiti, and guitar riffs of Darkness.

Oh, how I remember the Darkness.

And I’ve known favors done for power and the backseats of many cars and church vans. I’ve carried illegal substances into youth group and taught my little sister the ropes of survival in the night. And if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, at the ripe old age of 13, I would have squinted my eyes as a challenge, raised my eyebrows, and haughtily said, “A prostitute.” And then watched your face to see the reaction.

This is the identity I have known, for I chose it.

I have no excuse, as many do, of absentee parents or early molestation. My upper-middle class life, in church every Sunday and Wednesday from the week after I was born, it taught me of a loving God and kissing Mama’s face goodnight and playing backyard catch with Dad. I made the grades at school and was a first draft pick in popularity kickball. I prayed a sinner’s prayer and signed a True Love Waits commitment card.

But what is it about the Darkness that draws us?

I didn’t know that a little taste of second-grade touching and a few rounds of spin-the-bottle would make me an addict so fast. I guess the Darknesss can do that. It calls to our own Darkness and makes promises in the name of pleasure and power.

What I didn’t know at 13 was that there was a greater Power. The power of Love.

I finally met Him at 16, already scarred and angry, sick of fighting and lying and hiding.

It was then that the One who had been with me in the bathroom and with me in the backseat and with me all the wild nights and empty mornings, it was then that His Love broke through.

And this harlot let down her hair and cried on His feet, the feet which bore the scars of her shame.

In the years after that, a slow healing took place.

Wounds grew together ever so gradually, sealing my self-infliction with time and the warmth of Love. Often, the bleeding ache of all I had done weighed heavily on me with guilt, perpetuated by haunting, illicit dreams.

And this, I believe, is where the young lady we discussed that evening in the minivan was.

Maybe it was my own past welling up inside me that compelled me to answer for this girl. Maybe it was the cheerleader within, rooting for the underdog.

Or maybe it was Jesus, the One who has a thing for the shady, broken and used.

Maybe it was the healing voice of Light dispelling Darkness.


Kelli Woodford hopes never to recover from the Mighty Mercy she has been shown.  Although her life is now filled with more diapers than she’d like to count, she carves out to write about finding God in the simple and the frustrating at Chronicles of Grace (

[photo: TerryJohnston, Creative Commons]

  • Shelly Miller

    Kelli, your words are beautifully redemptive, as always. Thank you for sharing this deep, intimate side of who you are. It’s good to see your words in this place.

    • kelli woodford

      Yes, it’s not always easy to face the light with the “deep, intimate side.” But if it breathes redemption and you caught a whiff . . . well, then it’s worth it. :)

  • Ashley Haupt

    Wow Kelli. Thank you for putting yourself on the altar for a fragrant offering of praise and grace. Through this post, you spoke up for more than just one hurting girl in need of grace. May we all have a heart as passionate and merciful as yours and God’s.

    • kelli woodford

      Thanks, Ashley. I am convinced that everybody’s got a story.
      Some just don’t wear theirs on their sleeve.
      But, like you said, the hurt is still very real. And the grace is very potent.

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  • Paula

    That is super sweet! It’s when God shows us mercy in our most miserable state that we are able to have compassion on others. For we know we are nothing but total losers, but He accepts us as we are and calls us His own, and we are changed. And we see people through the eyes of love and mercy and forgiveness and hope. because we were once there too and God had mercy on us. Thank you Kelli for the raw & honest!

    • kelli woodford

      Oh, girl. Yes. To the losers and the messes and the One who calls Himself “Compassion.”
      Thanks for reading, Paula.

  • ro elliott

    Kelli…this is beautiful and raw…and i too am so thankful for the healing voice of Light that does dispells the darkness. Oh what a gift to those you and your husband pastor…love…all this grace and mercy that you know and will freely give to those you minister to. blessings and grace to you~

    • kelli woodford

      Ro, your words are just right, “freely give” — because we’ve freely received.
      Thanks for being here.

  • Nikki

    Kelli, you live and breathe holy, ordinary, amazing grace. Such redemption in your voice. Pure glory. We’re all wretched and still He lavishes…

    so thankful you found His face. May we never look away…

    • kelli woodford

      Indeed, Nikki, to whom else shall we go . . . ?
      Blessed by your words, friend.

  • Danelle

    I read your words here Kelli and I find my breath again only at the end of this story. Graceless comments can trigger some pretty angry thoughts and sometimes be paired with some angry words from me as well.
    So, when you commented last week on the truth that is found in the dark woods of the fairytale instead of the dance at the end? Ok. Sweet friend now I understand. You’ve lived a similar early journey. And I appreciate so much your raw honesty as you navigate through this part of your grace filled story. The part where your Prince is dancing you through Walmart. Yes? Never perfect but Light where darkness once drew us in to the chains.
    I love you Kelli. This story, your truths spilled so beautifully, filled my heart.
    ***Oh. And I absolutely love Panera Bread. A favorite. :)

    • kelli woodford

      Yeah, funny how that comment from last week connected with you as you read this. I think our experiences really do “follow” us around like that. They give us unique perspective.
      Thanks for your understanding. And for your kind words.
      (Oh, and we’ll set a Panera date the next time I’m in Georgia, ok? :) )

  • Guest

    I was

  • Angie

    I read this and was completely torn up inside. I, too, was a harlot and the Lord’s grace and mercy are so tangible that it has completely transformed my heart. My love will always be women who are obsessed with love, who give themselves to get love, and whether that term is “sex addict” or “love addict” is not important. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing words that so many of us relate to. May the Lord continue to bless what you are doing!

    • kelli woodford

      Thanks for revealing a bit of yourself here, Angie. You said that well, “women who are obsessed with love, who give themselves to get love.”
      So comforting to come to the One who *is* Love. And now we can love because He first loved us.
      Glad you came by.

  • Maria Perrine

    I am in awe of you and your bravery to share this. And I think what a warrior you’ve become, and how right that is. He uses everything for His purposes, He wastes nothing. How amazing that is.
    Thank you for sharing.

    • kelli woodford

      Kind words, Maria. And so true. All glory to our God, the One who transforms disaster into promise. And “purpose,” like you said.

  • Anna K.

    Thank you for being so courageous and transparent and sharing your story. I am truly inspired and moved by your vulnerability. I know you have encouraged others who face the darkness and have given them hope.

    • kelli woodford

      Yes, friend. To be the fragrance of hope, we must break open and let the scent permeate.
      Thank you for reading.