The first month of the year always represents a season of new beginnings. Whether or not we actually make tracks through real snow, we feel refreshed and ready to face new challenges. Are you ready?
This month, author and speaker Liz Curtis Higgs leads the way for us. She’s the author of twenty-four books, with three million copies in print, including her nonfiction bestseller, Bad Girls of the Bible, and her fiction bestseller, Thorn in My Heart. An award-winning speaker, Liz has addressed 1,500 audiences in all fifty states and eight foreign countries. She’s a columnist for Today’s Christian Woman with her popular feature, “Women in the Word,” and more than 3,500 churches nationwide are using her video Bible study series, Loved by God.
Higgs makes her home in Louisville, Kentucky, with her husband, two teenagers, and too many cats. Her informative website can be accessed at www.LizCurtisHiggs.com.
Welcome to CWO, Liz! I heard you just returned from a trip to Scotland!
I did indeed, in mid-September. And a glorious trip it was…my ninth! This time I went there to (1) add the finishing touches to my next book, a nonfiction armchair travel guide to Galloway called My Heart’s in the Lowlands: Ten Days in Bonny Scotland. And (2) to do preliminary research for my next trilogy of historical novels set in Edinburgh and the Borders in 1745-46. I also had the joy of speaking at a Christian women’s outreach event in a rather unusual venue—an old movie theatre!
How exciting! How did you become so interested in Scotland?
It started two dozen years ago with a love for Scottish folk music and calendars featuring Scottish scenery on my walls. When my husband and I spent our 10th anniversary in Scotland in 1996, my love affair with all things Caledonian began in earnest.
I address the “Why Scotland?” question in the opening pages of My Heart’s in the Lowlands. Just for fun, here’s an excerpt…
The verdant, rolling hills remind me of places I’ve lived—eastern Pennsylvania and central Kentucky in particular—yet the angle of the sun falling across the Lowland moors is uniquely Scottish. That slanted light works a kind of magic on me. The misty air softens my complexion. Sleep comes easily. Contentment seeps into my bones. I bite into a freshly baked oatcake, covered with a generous slice of sharp Galloway cheese, then sip milk-laced tea, hot enough to numb my lips, and I’m within walking distance of heaven.
—From My Heart’s in the Lowlands, WaterBrook Press, February 2007
Oh, you make me want to travel to that beautiful place. I remember reading about your real-life adventure visiting the Isle of Arran as you researched for Grace in Thine Eyes. What was the highlight of that trip?
Because Arran is a small island with one coastal road, you can easily circle it in a day of driving. Along the way I kept running into the same people—at tearooms, in gift shops, at the post office. It was so funny! I met two couples there at two different B&Bs, and we’ve kept in touch ever since, exchanging emails and so forth. I visited with both of them on my last trip to Galloway, two years after we met. Amazing, eh? Arran is a very friendly place where time really does seem to stand still.
Do you always research on location for your historical novels?
Absolutely, and I did the same for my two contemporary novels as well. It helps me immeasurably when I walk the village streets where my characters walked, when I breathe the same scented air and gaze at a landscape Jamie, Leana, and Rose might have admired. I also interview people at the drop of a hat, capturing their comments on a small, digital tape recorder. And I spend lots of time in libraries, graveyards, and museums, poking about for the sort of historical details you can’t find anywhere else. Plus digital photos and antiquarian books… oh, I go wild with those!
Are you having a contest for readers to win a trip to bonny Scotland in 2007?
Aye! My publisher, WaterBrook Press, is sponsoring a contest to win a nine-day trip for two to Scotland. You’ll find details on my Web site and on theirs as well. Very exciting! The deadline for postcard entries is April 30. I’m planning on sponsoring my own wee contest as well, though on a much smaller scale. Again, details on my Web site come January 1.
We’ll have to all enter your contest!
After two decades of speaking at conferences all over the world, what do you see as the greatest need women have today?
There may be women living guilt-free lives, but I’ve yet to meet one! All of us seem to harbor some measure of regret over past failures and mistakes—whether big or small, whether they happened ten years ago, ten months ago, or ten minutes ago. Because of our guilt, we beat ourselves up constantly and convince ourselves we are not worthy of God’s love (or anyone else’s), and that we are undeserving of his grace.
I’m on a mission to help women see that God’s unconditional love expressed through his mercy is not based on our performance, on our goodness, on our worthiness, but on HIS atoning sacrifice, on HIS goodness, on HIS worthiness. Grace is simply a gift. We can’t add to it or subtract from it, and we dare not refuse it when we need it so desperately.
How do you try to reach women’s needs through your books?
My goal is to speak directly to a woman’s heart, addressing her deepest fears, her hidden hurts, her secret longings, her unspoken needs. To do that, I begin by confessing on the page my own fears, hurts, longings, and needs—not to mention my sins!—then show my reader how God meets us where we are.
Do you think God can minister to women through fiction as well as nonfiction? In what ways?
I truly do, or I could never justify the time it takes to write a novel (far longer than to write nonfiction!).
Stories engage our imagination and speak to our emotional center. We invest more of ourselves in a novel, partnering with the author to create in our minds a time and place peopled with characters who seem very real indeed. When they hurt, we hurt; when they struggle, we struggle with them; when they rejoice, we do, too. In the process, we learn something about ourselves and about our Lord.
That’s the unique aspect of Christian fiction, I think, and also the greatest challenge: to write a compelling story with a life-changing message, and yet not make it read like a sermon. Just as I do with my nonfiction, I dig deep into my soul when I write fiction. Much tears and gnashing of teeth! But I can’t expect my readers to experience the books at an emotional level if I don’t go there first.
You call yourself a “Former Bad Girl.” Is that what led you into writing Bad Girls of the Bible?
I am indeed an FBG, which gives me the credentials to write about those Bad Girls of old! I’ve always been fascinated with stories about women, and especially our sisters in Scripture. Perhaps because I spent a decade immersed in a sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, I found it easier to identify with some of the wild women of the Bible when I first became a Christian.
Pushy Jezebel? Oh, I get that. Manipulative Delilah? Yup, that looks familiar. On-the-prowl Potiphar’s Wife? Been there. Such stories are included in the Bible for a good reason–so we can learn from them, even if it’s what not to do! Of course, the stories of the redeemed women remain our favorites: the Woman at the Well, the Adulteress, the Sinful Woman of Luke 7, whose many sins were forgiven. They point the way to grace for us all.
When did you first experience the forgiven life?
I was a radio DJ when I moved to Louisville in 1981—single and miserable, getting high and/or drunk many nights, and dragging home one stranger or another. (Sorry, just the ugly truth of it!) By the time a husband-and-wife team came to work at my radio station that fall, I’d hit bottom. They must have sensed that immediately, because as new Christians, they reached out to me. They welcomed me into their home and shared their faith with me. They literally hugged me into the Kingdom, gathering me in their arms and telling me, “God loves you, Liz. God believes in you. God has a plan for you.” Wow. Talk about GOOD NEWS! Finally, I acknowledged Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in February 1982… oh, happy day!
What an amazing personal testimony of God’s grace. Now, you have a new book out, Embrace Grace. Can you tell us a little about it?
With joy and abandon! In some way, all the 25 books I’ve written to date feature GRACE at the heart of them; Embrace Grace simply puts that important topic front and center. It’s sized like a gift book, with a lovely cover, and the style is very personal and easy to digest, even as it probes the deepest corners of our hearts. Chapter by chapter, we follow a pathway to grace, guided by honest comments from women seeking the forgiveness only God can provide. Writing this book was pure joy because it felt like a three-way conversation between the Lord, a dear reader, and me.
When someone says, “I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself,” how do you respond?
We all understand that very human need to “feel” forgiven. Here’s the good news: Scripture does not require us to forgive ourselves! Instead, the Lord tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9 ). When we are at our weakest—aware of our shortcomings, ashamed of our sins—God reminds us that we are already forgiven, that every sin we will ever commit has been paid for on the cross. We simply don’t have the capacity to forgive ourselves…but God does. And has!
If, as your book says, the forgiven life begins with an embrace, who hugs first?
The Lord, of course! The verse that really knocked me back on my heels was this one: “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (2 Tim 1:9). When Eve first sinned, God was not surprised, shocked, or disappointed. He was READY with grace. What a comforting thought! His loving arms have been around us all along. We simply need to acknowledge that reality and sink into his embrace.
Yours is not the only voice heard from Embrace Grace. How did you include your readers?
Since Bad Girls of the Bible was published in 1999, I’ve received literally thousands of letters from readers. I answer them all, of course, and keep every one safely filed away. I combed through them before writing Embrace Grace, looking for a phrase here, a sentence there that I thought spoke for ALL of us. And so their words are woven throughout the book, being very careful not to reveal anyone’s identity. Whenever I read aloud passages from Embrace Grace at booksignings, I watch heads nod in agreement. These heartfelt comments ring true because they are. I’m so blessed to have kind, responsive readers who share their life experiences with me.
What are you looking forward to in the new year, 2007?
I’ll be speaking at two dozen women’s conferences around the country and writing when I’m home. I’m eager to finish my next nonfiction book, Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible, publishing in September 2007, and even more eager to start writing my next historical novel, Here Burns My Candle, publishing in March 2008. Both my children will be in college come September (sniff! empty nest!), which means my husband will begin to travel with me and finally get to meet the readers I’ve been telling him about for years!
Do you have any closing advice for us women who are trying to find time to grow spiritually while also juggling all the demands placed on us?
Say no whenever you gracefully can. Most of us (including me) say yes too quickly and too often, then find ourselves physically exhausted and spiritually drained. Just say no. It’s okay… really! In doing so, you are saying yes to those you love most.
Find every way possible to weave God’s Word throughout each day—in the books you read, the conversations you have, the music you listen to. Biblical knowledge and spiritual maturity don’t just happen. We have to invest our time wisely. Hard, hard, hard, I know, when we have jobs and families and friends and SO many priorities! The Lord knows all this and loves you completely. Rest in his embrace and know that being a Christian is all about what He has done, and not what you have done. That’s real grace!
Thank you so much for sharing your heart with all of us here at CWO. We wish you the best year ever!
My pleasure, dear sisters! Come visit me anytime at www.LizCurtisHiggs.com
Liz was our cover girl for Janaury: