In her best-selling series of Bad Girls of the Bible books, workbooks, and videos, Liz Curtis Higgs breathes new life into ancient tales about the most infamous—and intriguing—women in scriptural history, from Jezebel to Mary Magdalene. Biblically sound and cutting-edge fresh, these popular titles have helped more than one million women around the world experience God’s grace anew.
Her best-selling historical novels, which transport the stories of Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Dinah, Ruth, and Naomi to eighteenth-century Scotland, also have invited readers to view these familiar characters in a new light.
Liz is the author of nearly 30 books, with more than 3 million copies in print. Her popular nonfiction books include Bad Girls of the Bible, Really Bad Girls of the Bible, Unveiling Mary Magdalene, Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible, Rise and Shine, and Embrace Grace.
Liz is married to Bill Higgs, Ph.D., who serves as Director of Operations for her speaking and writing office. Liz and Bill enjoy their old Kentucky home, a nineteenth-century farmhouse in Louisville, and are the proud (and relieved!) parents of two college grads, Matthew and Lillian.
Liz was traveling through the area and stopped by our offices. I had never met Liz before and honestly, I didn't really know what to expect. What I met was a genuine follow of Christ. Or, in other words, a sinner/saint. Liz is not perfect. She has a "past." But more importantly, she is a child of a Great King. She stands as a testimony of God's grace and mercy.
Thankfully, Liz is now a friend. No, she's a sister. For that I am thankful.
John: How is Jack, your cat? (In case you, reader, didn't know this, Liz is a lover of her cat, Jack.)
Liz: Jack the cat is wonderful. Jack the cat has a story.
John: Oh, does he really?
Liz: Oh, yes. Well, when cats adopt you they always come for a reason. I was doing a book called Mine is the Night. The book, by the way, is based on the Book of Ruth but set in 18th century Scotland. The hero was going to be strong just as the Bible says Boaz is. In the Bible that means a man of warfare, a man of battle. But I wanted him softened by something, and I decided he would have a cat! I was all prepared to do a Facebook bit where I said to people, "Send me pictures of your cat, and I'll choose one to be Jack's, the hero, Jack's cat." Before I could, literally the day I was going to start the contest, a cat walked into our house.
John: Oh, so you didn't go seeking him?
Liz: I did not.
John: He came seeking you.
Liz: My husband is not a cat person. My husband walked in with this cat in his arms and turned to my daughter and I—we're total cat people—and said, "Have you ever seen this guy before? Because he's hanging around the back door like he wants to come in." We took one look at him and said, "Hello!"
I have him on my website. He's so handsome. He really is. He's just a very handsome cat. I knew right away he was Jack's cat and therefore, his name really ought to just be Jack. So we have Jack the hero, but we also have Jack the cat. He is described verbatim in the book. I just used him as my example. It's just fun.
John: I love it.
Liz: Jack has been with us ever since, and he's the best cat I've ever had. Don't tell Big Cat, Tiger or Mac—cats of the past.
John: Liz, you write fiction, non-fiction, children's literature, you're a speaker, you're a Bible study teacher, a Bible study leader, and you have DVDs out. You wrote a column for Today's Christian Woman for how many years?
Liz: I think it was right at ten years for them.
John: You're a mom. You're a wife.
Liz: I am, and I sing alto in the choir (laughing). I do! When they let me.
John: How does a mom with a couple of young kids at her feet, or a single parent dad who's in the midst of life, a business leader not look at you and think, "Look at everything that she's doing. She must have everything all together and everything seems to be always falling apart for me." What do you say to that person, Liz?
Liz: Well, first of all, things always look like they're falling apart from where I'm sitting too. I feel like I'm juggling so many balls in the air, and some of them do slip out of my hands.
I think the hardest thing for us to deal with, whatever we're doing, whatever our situation, whether our kids are younger, older or we don't have them, there's always the fear I haven't done enough or I haven't done it well enough. Those are the two big challenges for me: I haven't done enough or haven't done it well enough. This is when we rest. We just have to rest in, "I did everything I could with all the hours I was awake, and now I'm going to trust God with this and keep going."
If you're a perfectionist—and I most assuredly am—it's very difficult because you're never going to be finished with a task. You're never going to be fully happy. I've never turned a book in where I've said, "Yup, nailed it," ever, ever. I'm always so anxious for the first draft to come back to me so I can write the second draft. Then I think at the end of the second draft, "It's better, but it's still not right." I'm always really grateful when I get it back again from another set of editors and I get to write the third draft. Eventually, you know, they just come take them away and they won't let you have them anymore.
John: It's time to turn it in.
Liz: Exactly, so that's the rest piece. You finally have to rest in this: "I did the best I could, and it was God's work anyway. If God is working through me, then I think He is at peace with this as well." So many times we deal with a nagging voice. Maybe it's just me, but I know that nagging voice. I know it's never God. God is not a nag. He will convict by the power of the Holy Spirit. He'll convict us when we need to go a different direction, when it's time to have ears to hear and eyes to see and do something different. But conviction is healthy. That's the Holy Spirit drawing you to God.
The other voice is condemnation drawing you away from God, telling you you're not good enough, not finished enough, do better, this is terrible, all those kinds of messages. You're not a good enough father, you're not a good enough wife, and your husband deserves someone better than you. All that kind of condemnation is never from God.
That leaves one other option: It's from the enemy of our souls. I think when we can hear the difference between conviction and condemnation, we can take the conviction as the gift that it is. It's a gift. God wants to change us. He loves us so much He wants to change us. As for the condemnation, you need to send the one dishing out those lies back where he came from, because it's untruth and we don't need any more untruth pouring into our ears. That's one thing I try to do is to discern the voice.
John: Earlier today, you shared a short testimony about how you came to know the Lord. How did you move from that experience of saying, "Okay, Jesus and me together," to now, "I have a voice and I need to start sharing my life experiences with others”?
Liz: The truth is you start sharing them immediately with the people around you. You're already moving from experiencing it yourself to sharing it with other people, because it's the most natural thing to do. If you see a movie you love, you are texting people before you leave the theater. If you read a book you love, you want everybody to hear about it. You jump online and leave a review, whatever your deal is.
It is our nature when we have good news, any kind of good news, to tell people. When you get the best news in town, you tell people.
The only reason we stop telling is because we hit some resistance, or we begin to become self-conscious about it, or people treat us a little differently and we're not sure we like that. We begin to grow quiet about the Lord. I know sometimes people will say, "I have a quiet faith," but I don't think we're called to be quiet.
You have to find a way, and God will certainly show you, to share your faith in a way that is congruent with who you are. I mean, I'm loud and carry on and I'll stop complete strangers. I've had situations where I've gone into a restaurant alone, but I strike up such a conversation with the people in front of me that when the waiter comes over he expects to seat me with the people. He's sure I'm with them. Because it's just my nature to talk to anybody, anywhere; but that is not everybody's thing.
Quiet people find other ways. Sometimes they become writers. Ann Voskamp is a most extraordinary writer, and that is how her gift happens, that's how her sharing happens—on the page. Other people are incredible servants, they are doers behind the scenes, but their actions speak more loudly than my words would ever speak because it's done with such grace and such humility.
We all do have ways to do it, but I don't think doing nothing is one of the options. I think we all have to find a way to walk Christ out among the people around us.
John: Liz, is there anything left on your bucket list?
Liz: Oh, what a great question. I used to want to jump out of an airplane, you know, with a parachute attached. I've decided that, even with the parachute, it would be such an ugly thing to watch, that we're not going to be seeing that one in my lifetime (laughs). So, no jumping out of a parachute.
There are many places in this world I long to go. As it happens, because I write historical novels set in Scotland, I just keep going back to Scotland. The truth is, I would love to get to Italy. I've never been there, I'm anxious to go. I mean I'd love to go anywhere. I'd love to go to Russia. I'd love to go to India, very high on the list. I've never even been to Ireland, and it's 20 miles across the Irish Sea from the coast of Scotland. So there are many places. My bucket list is full of travel.
In our family, travel is what we do for each other. When the kids graduated from school, we never gave them stuff. We took them on a trip. That was the deal for graduating—a trip anywhere they wanted to go. It's so fun, because then you're making memories as well as expanding your understanding of the world and seeing what a small part of the world this country is. We kind of think we are big. We are big, but we're not the only game in town. It's so healthy to go outside our shores. Humbling, really.
John: From Bad Girls of the Bible to Really Bad Girls of the Bible to Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible, those books have certainly done well. Why do you think there is such an affinity towards identifying with those "bad girls"? When people look at Rahab or they look at any character in the Bible, they see themselves so well. Why is that?
Liz: It's interesting, because every once in a while I'll take a little heat for focusing on the bad girls. I always say first of all I didn't put them there. They were already in the Word. All I did was bunch them up together. I did that I think because we do tend to gloss over the bad.
At least in the "women of the Bible" books that I've seen, they tend to focus on the good girls. You know, Esther Lydia, Priscilla. I thought, "Well, the Lord has put these bad girls in the Bible for a reason." Of course I'm a former bad girl, so I'm coming from that very personal place of saying, "What does God want me to see in these women's lives?"
I have to say this. In Bad Girls of the Bible, and for that matter in the other books as well, I found a bit of myself in all of them. You have to cut away the cultural differences. We eat different foods, we wear different clothes, we live in different kinds of houses and have different transportation than they did two or three thousand years ago. But the bottom-line stuff is the same whether it's lust or greed or whatever—any kind of sin you want to come up with. Pride is always the basic one. That hasn't changed at all. Human nature is the same as always.
When we identify something about that bad girl that resonates with us, then we read her story with a different eye and we see how things turn out for her. It didn't turn out too well for Jezebel, who turned her back on the one true God and worshiped her daddy's god, Baal. It didn't turn out well at all. Shoved out a window, trampled by horses, eaten by dogs, such that there was nothing left that identified her even as woman, let alone as Jezebel. This is God's statement on what happens when you turn your back on Him permanently, when you have no interest in Him, when you shut Him out completely.
She's a cautionary tale, but one worth looking at because it not only shows the big picture Jezebel, killing off the prophets, but her story in the Bible shows the small domestic scene with her husband, which for many of us who are strong-willed women will look really familiar. She kind of takes over: "I'll get you the vineyard. I'll take care of it. Give me your seal. I'll write the letter. I'll take care of it." Those of us who, as we used to say back in the day, like to wear the pants in the family—that's a funny phrase, isn't it?—we can learn from Jezebel. We can see the ugliness on the page and go, "I don't want to go there."
I think there is something to be learned from all of them. Of course our favorite ones are the ones who are redeemed. Those are the ones that really give us hope. Those are the ones that prove you can't go too far. God's arm is not short. He's going to reach you. Those are the stories I tend to speak about from the platform.
I'll touch on the other women, but hope is the main thing we offer our readers, our audiences, our friends. Hope! So the stories of the "Rahabs," and the woman at the well, and the sinful women of Luke 7 … incredible story. She never even speaks. She's kind of a little cage-rattler that one, because she never speaks, she never asks His forgiveness, she never prays the sinner's prayer, she never confesses her sin. Wow!
Does it count? It must, because Jesus says twice, "You are forgiven." It's repeated twice, just in case, just to make sure. Then He says, "Your faith has saved you." Wow. I thought Jesus saved her. Yeah, He did. Her faith in Him saved her. "Go in peace." I love that story. "Go in peace."
To my knowledge, that's what everybody in the world wants: peace. We take some pretty convoluted paths to get there. Jesus says, "My peace I give to you." He's the one who is all about peace.
I love the women of the Bible, and I do especially love the bad girls. I won't ever be writing a book called Good Girls of the Bible. I'm asked a lot to do that. But the stumbling block for me is the Bible says in Jesus's own words, "No one is good except God alone." It's the truth.
I mean even if I do a good thing, it wasn't Liz. It was God kindly doing a good thing through me. It's His righteousness, not mine. I just can't go down that road of finding all the good qualities in these women, unless I just pointed every one back to God. I could do that. Bad girls and I, we still have a little more ground to tread. I haven't done them all yet.
John: There's more to come?
Liz: Well, probably nothing called Bad Girls of the Bible in any shape, slightly, really, mostly, somewhat (laughs). I think we're done. There are still more women I want to write about. There's some that I've tucked in my pocket, thinking, "Someday." They're jumping out of my pocket now one by one. It's really fun.
John: Who do you write for? Do you write for Liz, or do you write for the people you go to church with, or do you write for the people who have read your books before? Who do you have in mind?
Liz: I have in mind Liz at 26. I came to know Jesus at 27, but I always think about Liz at 26. In other words, I make no assumptions about what people know or don't know about the Bible. I try and really spell it out. It might therefore come out as a little bit simplistic to somebody who's deep, deep, deep in the Word. But hopefully, because I also do tons of research and use about 40 English translations, there's also plenty of meat there for a believer who's been at it a while. I try to keep my language really accessible and not turn off Liz at 26.
Actually, she's not the only person I write to because we write to more than one. There is kind of this group of people. I can see them, right behind my screen. There's Liz at 26 and there's my mother-in-law. I think about who she is. She's an avid reader, 84, so an older woman. Presbyterian her whole life. There's a particular something she's going to respond to. I'm also thinking about other women of other ages and stages, married and single, deeply in the Word, new to the Word. You kind of have this little group of women and they're all peering over the screen at me. "Got something for me?" And I say, "Here, this is for you, Liz at 26, and this is for you, Mary Lee. I know that you'll really resonate with this, and this is for you."
John: Are you a reader?
Liz: Oh, yeah. This, I don't know what this will do to my credibility, but what I read is fiction. I'm a fiction reader.
John: Any authors that we know?
Liz: Well, Francine Rivers has always been my hero. She's always written boldly. Redeeming Love was bold for Christian readership. She put it all out there. Actually, I read Redeeming Love in the original. She wrote it for the general market first. Then when she came to know Christ, she got the rights back and Multnomah was able to publish it for her. There were some adjustments made in the book, but it was powerful in either form for sure.
I love fiction. I love historical fiction especially. Obviously, when I'm writing non-fiction I've got all sorts of research books around me. I love all the classics. I love Practicing His Presence, a book like that, small, powerful. Anything by C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity was really the book that spoke loudest to me as a new believer.
Actually, before I came to know Christ, when I was on that journey of the sun growing brighter and brighter, it was just overwhelming to me because I come from a family who really values education so everybody has master's degrees and are just very impressed with being educated. Which is great, obviously. But Jesus asked us to come as simple as a child.
To read Lewis, who's obviously brilliant and yet sees also the simplicity in some ways, just blew my mind. A man that’s smart thinks this is the answer? I was having a hard time arguing with him. Of course, he presents arguments so skillfully. He'll present the argument and then lay out 1 through 10, here's all the reasons why. You can't come up with 11. It's like, "I agree!" (Laughs.)
John: You twisted my arm! HA!
Liz: That's right. You have very effectively twisted my mind. You've taken this very intellectual journey and come to a very spiritual place. It's unique. Of course, I marvel that he wrote not for a Christian publisher, he wrote for the world. He did radio broadcasts for everybody.
John: What has God been teaching Liz Curtis Higgs lately?
Liz: So many things. It's hard to know where to start. One word He's pressing down so hard into me is "gratitude" and the responsibility that goes with all those gifts. I don't mean gifts as in talents; I mean just the blessings. To be really grateful and always expressing that gratitude, and never, never letting myself indulge in even a moment of, "Hey, I did a pretty good job there." We just can't go there. We can't say, "I did a pretty good job." You might say to yourself, "Wow, God. Wow, God, I had a sense of You at work there. How did I get to be a part of that? I don't know, but thank You." It's just so different.
I heard an interview with an author on NPR and I learned so much and was greatly convicted. After every sentence the unstated was, "Aren't I brilliant?" "I did this, I did this, I did this." That's what I heard behind the words. It was convicting because I thought, "Oh, my word. I've got to go back and listen to my interviews and say, 'Is that what I was also saying? Aren't I brilliant?'" So, I'm not. I know that. I think that's the one thing God is trying to make really clear to me. That if there is any good thing, it's just Him.
And Liz continues to write. To be an influence. At the time of this interview she was just finishing up her new Christmas title, The Women of Christmas.
Liz is here to stay and for that we all can be thankful.