HOMECOMING: Liz, it’s such a joy to speak with you, and we’ll dive right in. In our September/October issue, we celebrate women who have inspired, loved, taught and empowered us. Has there been a woman like that in your life?
LIZ: Yes, it would be a woman who adopted me, as it were, when I came to know the Lord 31 years ago. Doris is old enough to be my mother, and so she became a mother to me. The fun thing is, her last name is Foster, so she always said she was my “Foster mother.”
My own mother died when I was 23, so at 27, I was really feeling the loss of her. Doris loved me, blessed me and honored me in so many ways. I was welcome at her house; I’d usually call first, but I could just walk in — I was family. On her shelves were all the classic Christian books, as well as a Bible in every translation. I would share whatever was on my heart and eventually end up at her bookshelf, pulling things down to borrow or to read there. It meant so much just to have somewhere where somebody said, “I love you … you’re welcome.” It was huge.
I think sometimes we make hospitality this enormous, capital “H” word … you know, you have to have the house all perfect, and you have to have the perfect meal. I’ve been known to cater things with more than eight people! (laughs) But nobody comes to your house for the food or how clean it is — they come to be at home with you, in your home, and Doris really taught me a lot about that. She has also been a great mom and wife and was very involved in the church, so she really modeled how to do the Christian life in a way that honored God and showered love on the people around her.
HOMECOMING: That’s really beautiful. ... what a blessing to have her in your life. OK, moving on to your work ... Are writing and teaching just God-given gifts that naturally came to you, or have you had to work hard to develop them?
LIZ: I do think, honestly, that the skills of writing and teaching are God’s gifts to us from the beginning, and that He draws them out of us. We surely should never take credit for it — that, I guarantee you. But then, when He gives a gift, He does expect us to use it, which is clear from Scripture, and it’s such a blessing to do that. As a child, all I wanted to write were stories and, indeed, that’s what I wrote — I still have all those Marble composition notebooks. I wrote novels, perfectly awful Nancy Drew-style novels, very poorly done, but I was 10 years old. So I think for a child of 10 or 12 to even want to curl up in a chair and write a book … that’s all I wanted to do—be a writer.
The speaking came later. I did drama all through high school and college and a little community theater, so the stage was always a place I felt comfortable. But it really wasn’t until I came to know Christ that all the pieces kind of fell into place. I began to share my testimony, initially, and then to teach, then to speak at smaller events, then to put whole messages together to use at retreats. These things all grew very slowly, as did radio — I used to do a lot of radio.
God is good — He pulls together all the pieces … it’s like a mosaic, in the sense that each piece doesn’t say anything—the triangles, the squares—but when God brings it all together, you go “OK. I get it. That makes sense!”
HOMECOMING:You have shared this before, but for our readers who may not know, would you share how you were inspired to write the “Bad Girls” series?
LIZ: Sure! I was at a conference in Michigan with a wonderful Bible teacher named Elizabeth George. She got up to speak and said, “I’m writing a book about women in the Bible, and of course, I’m only going to be writing about the good ones.” And it was like a lightning bolt hit me — I jumped up when it was my turn, and I said, “Perfect! Then I’m going to write a book called Bad Girls of the Bible!” It just slipped out of my mouth, and a thousand women exploded in laughter. I thought, “Wow, Lord, is that you?”
It made so much sense to me for me to write it because I was a former bad girl. It’s our tendency to just go, “Oh, those bad women…” I didn’t look at them that way; really, I looked at them more as sisters—somebody I could learn something from. Now, with many of them, it’s what not to do; the tales are cautionary, and the only thing you’ll learn is, “Don’t go there.” But we see also, from many of them, what God does for bad girls, and He offers them grace. We have stories like Rahab and the woman at the well—beautiful stories of grace. They give us such hope, because these women are definitely sinners — it’s made very clear.
HOMECOMING:But of course, we’re all sinners, even the “good girls”…
LIZ: Oh, absolutely! And that is the big message from the series. I know so many Christian sisters who have a really hard time with that. It’s like, “How dare you call me bad?” And I think, “I don’t, but here’s what the Word says.” And what Jesus says is that no one is good except God alone. So if no one is good except God alone, then all of us have a certain amount of badness in us. Some of us are really ostentatious with our badness, and it’s very apparent, but some of us are very subversive about our badness; we keep it well-hidden.
I think the sooner we can own up to whatever our sin is, our biggest struggle … we can give it to God and say, “Ok, God, this is my biggest stumbling block.” And He says, “It is no stumbling block to me.”
HOMECOMING: So true. Tell us about the impact you have seen from the Bad Girls series … do any particular reader comments or stories stand out?
LIZ: Yes, a couple of years ago, I got a letter from a 21-year-old woman. She grew up in a Christian home, went to Christian school, did everything right — then she started down a wrong road. And as it so often happens, one thing led to another. A boyfriend who maybe wasn’t the best choice led to other bad choices. She found herself going down the wrong path and didn’t seem to have any brakes, and she said, “Then I found your book. It’s like when you wrote it, God was giving to you the exact wording that would stop me in my tracks.” What I thought to write back to her was, “You were 9 when I wrote it.” When I wrote Bad Girls of the Bible, I couldn’t possibly know what she would need to read, but God already knew the direction her path would take, He already knew the exact words that she would need to hear, and He knew exactly how He was going to put that book in her hands on a day when her heart was open to hearing His voice.
So, it’s all God. We write books and do our very best … we pray and we research, and we pray and we write … but it’s all God. The Holy Spirit breathes those words into your heart so you can breathe them onto the page, so He can use them in the life of somebody else.
HOMECOMING: We're also excited about your book, The Girl’s Still Got It. What drew you so strongly to Ruth’s story?
LIZ: As a book of the Bible, Ruth has a complete story arc, and the novelist in me just “oohs” and “aahs” over the way Ruth is put together. It’s not just the story of Ruth and Naomi and Boaz, but the bigger story of God wooing Israel back into His embrace. And then, of course, the even bigger story about God’s redemption for humankind. It’s a story that’s rich, because it works on so many levels.
So, even if it were just that, I’d be excited. But then the story itself … the unusual aspect of a daughter-in-law following her mother-in-law, even after the young man who served as the glue between them is gone. A lot of young women might move on, remarry, do something else and leave the mother-in-law, but that’s not Ruth. But even bigger than the commitment to Naomi is when she says, “Your God will be my God.” She turns her back on Moab and her gods and moved forward in newness of life.
So I came at it in two ways. First, I did all the biblical research. Then I wrote two Scottish historical novels based on Ruth, Here Burns My Candle and Mine Is the Night. While I wrote those novels, I continued to research Ruth and to fall in love with the story. So then I wrote the nonfiction book, The Girl’s Still Got It, and got to do what I love to do — go verse by verse and take the story apart. Ruth is a “good girl of the Bible,” but not perfect — not with that background. That’s still part of who she is, and yet God chose her.
HOMECOMING: Since you so often write for and about women … so many women are insecure about their looks, their abilities or simply how they are thought of by others. With the wounding in your background, it would have been understandable for you to deal with insecurity, yet you speak in front of thousands of women who love hearing your teaching. What advice would you give women who may be too insecure or shy to pursue their dreams or the giftings God has given them?
LIZ: I would say the vast majority of women struggle with a sense of who they are, and maybe even Christian women more than your average woman on the street … having a sense of her own worth, of her beauty, her value. Why that is, I’m not sure, because the Word is so loving to us. God loves us, and that’s there over and over again. The things that usually trip up a woman aren’t even discussed in the Bible; when you read about the women of the Bible, what did they look like? Their looks are almost never described.
The book of Ruth is a great example. She’s probably about 25 years of age — we put that together based on the average age for a woman to be betrothed to marry, and she and her first husband were together for 10 years. That is the total sum of what we know about her. We have no idea of the color of her hair, the shape of her body, her dress size or tunic size.
The few women in the Bible who are described as beautiful … their beauty factors into the stories, and often negatively. It was because Sarah was beautiful that Abraham got in trouble, for example. Then we look at Rachel, who is fair of face and form. And yet it is Leah who gives birth to the son who is in the lineage of King David and, of course, Jesus.
I think because of the centuries of religious art and, more recently all the movies based on Bible stories, we have images of these women. But they’re not in the Bible — they’re just not there! It’s their character God cares about. I always say when we come to the end of our days on Earth, nobody is going to be standing at the graveside saying, “Bless her — she kept a size 8 her whole life.” (laughs) What we’re impressed about with people is who they loved and how they did it.
And yet, as women, we waste a phenomenal amount of time on looking good on the outside and minimal time on developing character on the inside. There are many things that God asks us to do, but “be gorgeous” isn’t one of them. We need to look at the right place — the Word instead of the world—about what beauty is, and then be willing to go counterculture, to go in that direction. Now, please don’t hear me saying no makeup, frumpy clothes — I’m not saying that. I’m talking about how we spend our money and time and being mindful of how that compares to our spirituality, which is ten times more beautiful.
As to where my confidence comes from … it certainly doesn’t come from the flesh! I’ve used this line for years — I’m a big, beautiful woman in a narrow, nervous world. So already, I’m off the chain, I don’t fit the mold. And I’m 59—too old. So it’s easy to say that I’m not stacking up to the current … whatever that is, and I don’t even think about it, except to have some fun with it. The fun I have with it in front of an audience is mostly to put them at ease, so they can see that since I’m fine with it, they can be fine with it, too. I’m just very grateful that somehow, I figured out that God loves us just as we are, and I decided to believe Him!
HOMECOMING: Yes, and so many need to hear that. Moving on to your Scottish novels ... what is the inspiration behind them?
LIZ: While Scottish historical fiction sounds insane for me, the truth is that the Lord planted that seed deep in my heart. I’d loved Scotland for years before I ever went there. And I’ve always loved historical novels — I love the history they teach me, wrapped around the lives of people. It’s more interesting than just studying a history book, which is generally full of battles and dates, money and commerce.
I’m much more interested in knowing how people lived … What did it look like? How did they cook a meal? What did they wear to bed? I have come to love research, and in fact, the real problem is not going so overboard on research you never get the book written. That’s a big challenge for me! My editor will say, “How’s the book coming?” And I always have to be honest and say, “Well, the research is coming great!” And she says, “No, I’m talking about how many words have you actually written?”
But it is my process — I research and research and research, and then the day comes when I’ve collected more than enough and I’m ready to start writing. Then it’s all at my fingertips — I’ve done the work and there it is.
HOMECOMING: Well, your method surely seems to be working! OK, tell us about your newest book, The Women of Christmas (releasing October 2013). What inspired you and what do you think readers will take away from it?
LIZ: You know, it’s been really fun. I came about The Women of Christmas a little differently. Oftentimes, I write a book and then develop a speaking message from the book. But in this case, I prepared a new series of messages on Elizabeth and Mary and was so taken with the stories that I shared from the platform and watching the audiences respond to them, that I went ahead wrote a series for my Bible study blog.
Well, that grew and grew, until it became the book, The Women of Christmas. This is a story we all think we know backward and forward, but the truth is that what we know about the Christmas story is greatly shaped by every Biblical movie we’ve ever seen, books we’ve read and every Christmas pageant we’ve ever been part of, with the bathrobes and the whole bit. We’re often just thinking about the baby in the manger, and that’s pretty exciting, but how He got there and what happened afterward—it’s all part of the Christmas story.
The angelic appearances are really something, for example. Angels show up, first one, then another, then in a dream, then the whole heavenly host! And the Holy Spirit appears, again and again, filling up Elizabeth and filling up the son in her womb, and filling up Mary, who bursts into song. I just hadn’t thought about all of that. So verse by verse, phrase by phrase, word by word … through the story we go with Elizabeth, Mary and Anna. It was a delight to write … so special to discover that story afresh. Always the bottom line, always the goal, is Jesus. But when we get to see Him through the eyes of three women who all experience Him in some way, hopefully our eyes are opened a little more.
HOMECOMING: Sounds great … we can’t wait to read it! Thank you so much for speaking with us, Liz, and we look forward to hearing more from you in the future!
LIZ: Thank you!
For more information about Liz, visit LizCurtisHiggs.com!