Turning Fear Into Freedom Meet Speaker and Best-Selling Author Lisa Bevere
As a self-proclaimed popular, party girl, one would’ve never suspected the brokenness inside this beauty because she masked it so well. After losing her eye to cancer and having a glass one put in at just five years old, Lisa Bevere would never have thought she would have a career on the public stage as an international speaker. On top of that, this mother to four boys never thought her audience would be women. After all, she didn’t even like women, she thought they were fake, gossipy and she never had the needed role model. But God had a plan for this fearless little girl to be an authentic mouthpiece to help others experience true freedom. Risen sat down with this best-selling author and true to her nature, a raw and transparent conversation transpired about fears, family and the power of being a friend.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in Del Mar, California
Risen Magazine: You were raised Catholic so what did the dynamics of your childhood look like?
Lisa Bevere: My parents were divorced when I was 12 and then they remarried [each other] when I was 14 years old, and then they divorced again. So at about 21 years of age I actually probably hit my lowest point. I was at the University of Arizona and I had done everything I thought that would make me feel happy. I was popular, I was nominated for Homecoming Queen, and I kept thinking, “If I get a boyfriend that is in law school, then I’ll feel happy. If I get pinned, or if I’m in a certain sorority, then I’ll be happy.” One by one I got all of those things and instead of making me feel happy on any level, it made me feel more and more empty. One of the boyfriends that I thought would make me happy was very controlling. He was constantly making comments about my weight and it sent me into a downward spiral of a pretty major eating disorder. To the place where I actually thought, “If I can be 83 pounds, then I’ll feel good about myself.”
Now, looking back, I’m just under 5’7”, I remember thinking that [weight] was the last time I remember feeling free. It was pre-puberty so that must’ve been where I got that number [83lbs] from. I was addicted to diuretics and laxatives and over-exercising and abusive food patterns. I was put in the hospital and I of course didn’t tell them why my body was shutting down, or why I couldn’t have any digestive functions. I had destroyed myself physically, I had destroyed myself in my own eyes morally, and I had done everything I said I wasn’t going to do. I thought rebelling would make me feel free and it actually only made me feel more and more captive. I drove home that summer from the University of Arizona back to Indiana, and I was alone in my car, and I remember thinking, “I have become that person I despise. I have become empty. I have become shallow. I have thought that if you can’t show me a good time, then I don’t want to be with you. Everything I tried to avoid in high school, I had actually become.” I remember praying and saying, “God, if you are really real, then You need to show Yourself to me.”
I had been sleeping around and was promiscuous and I had a fling with a rugby player and I was concerned that I had herpes. He told me he had it and I got tested and asked God to intervene and heal me. I never tested positive for it. I sat there in my car after I left the clinic, and wept. I said [to God], “I don’t know how to give You my life. I don’t know how to find my way to You.”
It was within two-weeks time from that to when John [now husband] invited me to a Bible study picnic. I went to this picnic and it was incredibly awkward. It was horrible music – I only went for the free food – but that night I heard for the first time about the love of God. It completely stole my heart. My first date with John I was born-again, filled with the Holy Spirit, and healed. John told me Jesus came to “save me” and I asked what that meant and he said, “to make you whole – spirit, soul and body.” He had no idea how broken I was because I was projecting a completely different image than what he had in front of him. I felt this warmth come into my body and untie all the knots that had been in my stomach since I was about 15 years old. It was the beginning of wholeness for me. I had not read my Bible. I was not raised to read the Bible. It was a holy book that was on the shelf, that you carried for your first communion, but you didn’t read it. So I began to devour the Bible. It was not just a reading of the Bible, it was a mapping of my soul, divine destiny, and purpose. I began to read ferociously and said, “Wait a minute? Is all of this true? Why did I never know any of this?” I knew then I was called into the ministry, but had absolutely no idea what that meant. John and I got married a-year-and-a-half later, we were 23 and 22 [respectively] and we began to really press into God.
I began to read ferociously and said, “Wait a minute? Is all of this true? Why did I never know any of this?”
RM: Was it easy for you to immediately live out your faith, or were there fears of your past?
LB: For me a turning point came on New Years Eve in 1987. I began to pray a prayer asking God, “I want You to come into my life and excavate it. Anything that is displeasing or holds me back from You, I want it out of my life.” Two weeks later I said, “I did not mean to say excavate, I meant to say landscape, or accessorize. [Laughter] What just happened?! All this yucky stuff, dead bones, and everything ugly is coming out on the table and I don’t like it.” It was terrifying, but I think it was God waiting for that permission.
A passion for me is freedom; but, if you say you want freedom, then God will have to make you face your fears. Whenever God brings a promise from heaven to earth, the first thing that stands in that way is fear. This is why when the angels come they always say, “Fear not.” Whenever God introduces something in our lives the first thing He will say is, “Fear not.” He usually brings something that is at once our greatest hope and our biggest nightmare. Think of Mary, “Fear not…” you are going to be an unwed mother, but it’s okay because you are carrying the Messiah. He has to enlarge the capacity of our life where fear is confronted so that something that is the seed of the impossible can be planted in our life.
My greatest fear was getting up in front of the public and speaking. I have an artificial eye because I had to have my eye removed when I was five. I never did anything publically, I hid. When I was in high school I took speech and over-prepared and got up in front of the class, looked up and one of the boys in the back of the classroom mouthed to me, “Cyclops.” And I froze. I ran out of the class and went to the guidance counselor and said, “I can’t do this. I’m handicapped.” And you know what? He agreed. He said, “You’re right. You are handicapped; this is too hard for you.” Because of this at fifteen years old, I got out of speech and I got out of typing, the two things I do [now most.] God was like, “That’s okay, we’ll give you a break because you are going to be typing your own books, or editing your husband’s books for the rest of your life.”
This is what I learned from that experience; people will always agree with you that you have limitations, but God will not. God loves to push the limits on our life so that we live limitless. It’s not a cruelty thing, it’s that He hears our longing for freedom and freedom is always on the other side of fear.
RM: The name calling must’ve been challenging, especially since the reason you have an artificial eye is because you battled cancer. Correct?
LB: Yes. I had retinoblastoma, so I’m a cancer survivor and doctors took my eye out. I was checked every six months until I was about 18 years old.
Whenever God introduces something in our lives the first thing He will say is, “Fear not.” He has to enlarge the capacity of our life where fear is confronted so that something that is the seed of the impossible can be planted in our life.
RM: What role did that play in conquering fear and developing your character?
LB: It’s interesting, because my friends will say, “You talk about your eye like it just fell out on the floor. You talk about it really casually and it must’ve been traumatic for a five-year-old to have their eye taken out and given six months to live.” So, recently I have been thinking about this and I actually found this picture of me going off a high dive right before I was diagnosed. I didn’t even really know how to swim, but I was fearless. I jumped off a ten-foot high diving board, with an inner tube, because I was so excited about jumping. I think there was something about that experience that awoke something fearless in me. I went through having my eye removed within a month of that time, and because of it, [the high dive jump] I had already experienced the thrill of being fearless. I remember when I got to the end of the board and I looked down, it looked so much higher. I started to back off and a college student came up and said, “You can’t climb back down, it’s too dangerous. You are seeing through the water. Don’t be afraid, just jump off.” I ran off the end, and then of course he jumped in after me to make sure I didn’t drown. I think God loves to position people to face what they fear, because then it awakens that joy and power of [being] fearless.
RM: You were married, proceeded to have four kids, and then ended up writing your first book. What prompted this decision and at the time did you think it would turn into the successful ministry career you have today?
LB: I was 34 and nursing my Arden [youngest son]. I thought it was going to be one book and I did it under protest. Kind of what happened was that John had written books and I had always edited his books. I was always in the meetings and the publisher just looked at me one day and said, “There is a book in you and if you write it, we’ll publish it.” I started laughing, “You have mistaken my ability to edit my husband, for writing on my own.” Isn’t that every woman’s dream to reword their husband? “Honey, that is good, but you should say it this way…” [Laughter] Every woman is anointed to edit their husband. It’s one thing for me to pinch or poke at my husband’s clay, it’s another thing for me to dig it up out of my own backyard. I said, “No.” And they asked me to pray about it.
My husband told the publisher to meet with me alone and that I would need pushing on this. I then got called into a meeting and the publisher asked me to write. I said, “I’m sorry, but I think some Christian women are so fake.” I was brutal. They said, “You should write it.” When I wrote Out of Control and Loving It, I talked about my husband locking me in the garage, I took a hammer to the grill, I broke a window, I talked about everything nobody talked about back in 1996. [At that time] it was not cool to be authentic, it was not cool to be open. However, so many women connected with it that it was number five at a time when all paperbacks were one category, men and women [combined]. I thought, “Is this a joke?” Because I just thought it was the sleep-deprived ranting of a breastfeeding mother. The authenticity made a real strong connection with women who were struggling with some issues like anger, fear and control.
The publisher wanted more and I said, “What? No, I’m empty.” There were a lot of concepts in the book so they said, “What if you focus on each one and unpack it?” I thought, “I could do that.” So then I did The True Measure of a Woman (1997) and that had a chapter in it called, “You Are Not What You Weigh,” and that topic exploded. Then they said, “Can you take that topic and do a book?” [You Are Not What You Weigh (1998)]. They kept wanting more and anger was a huge issue so I did Be Angry, but Don’t Blow It! (2000). After that I did, Kissed the Girls and Made Them Cry (2002), and that was a real turning point for me. If I had not been transparent before, then I was naked now. I then did, Fight Like a Girl (2006), Nurture (2008), Lioness Arising (2010) and Girls with Swords (2013).
I do remember the day that I said, “Alright God, if You want me to write I’ll write, if You want me to go, I’ll go. I just need to know that You have my kids in your hands.” I was looking in the mirror at myself and I just looked ridiculous. I was like a poser; a nursing mother pretending to be a businesswoman. I remember I heard God say, “You are not who you see.” He said, “You are somebody nobody sees. I am going to allow what is on your inside to overtake your life. I made you fearless and you are going to have to go back to the way I created you. This day your life changes.” I think there are people that don’t understand that we can make a determination in our heart that changes our life, even when we don’t know what that direction is. For me, [it was] the determination that my life was no longer my own, that I’ve been bought with a price, and want my children to inherit God’s promises and not my fears; it’s no longer about me. I am going to be misunderstood, misjudged, and make mistakes, but it’s not going to be because I didn’t step out or because I missed my opportunity.
RM: Speaking of your most recent book, Girls with Swords, you talk about women being targets and how they have a choice to end up being a hero. With raising four boys, why such a passion for young women?
LB: Seriously, I had no interest in women and I was super excited when I had all boys. But here is what happened, God told me how much He loved women. Every time I birthed a boy I was so happy that I wouldn’t have to deal with female drama. I felt like God called me to minister to women and I said, “No, anybody but women. I don’t think like one, I don’t act like one, yes, I look like one, but that is really as far as it goes.” [Laughter] The pushback was constant. I tried making deals with God like, “If you want me to minister to women, then You are going to have to send me a mentor.” God said nothing.
Eight years into my marriage, I am still looking for a female mentor to put me under her wing and tell me how to be a wife, and how to be a mother, and no one was appearing. I was pregnant with my Alec [third child] and I heard God say, “I want you to minister to women. Are you going to obey me?” I said, “You never sent me a mentor. This is not the deal.” And He said, “I want you to be that woman.” I said, “What?! I don’t know how to be that woman.” He said, “Yes you do. Everything you wish another woman would have been to you, you begin to be – work it backwards. I’m not interested in mentors; I’m interested in mothers. Mothers will lay down life to bring forth life. Mothers want more for their children than they ever had for themselves.” I sat down and I wrote out this woman. I drew her in words. I wrote that when I saw her. She would believe the best in me, she would say, enjoy this. She would teach me how to laugh at my future. She would teach me how to love my husband, she would teach me how to train my children – I sat down and just worked it backwards. I think God said, “Lisa, you don’t like women, but what you don’t like about women is never what I authored women to be. So go ahead and write the story of My daughters.”
God loves to push the limits on our life so that we live limitless. It’s not a cruelty thing, it’s that He hears our longing for freedom and freedom is always on the other side of fear.
RM: You’ve been ministering to women ever since. I heard you even had an interesting encounter with a prominent female on an airplane. Would you mind sharing who you met and how Pope Francis was involved?
LB: I was on an airplane flying from Atlanta to Los Angeles. I happened to look over and Maria Shriver was in the same row as me; she was in the aisle and I was by the window across from her. The Holy Spirit told me to go over and say something to her, and I actually don’t totally remember what I said. I got up to go to the bathroom and I bent down and put my hand on her leg, and I know that I said, “Thank you. I know you’ve had a really rough couple of years.” She had lost both of her parents and then all the drama surrounding her husband Arnold Schwarzenegger, “So thank you for pouring out of your place of pain to add value to women.” She just looked at me. And I continued to say, “I’m praying for you.” The Holy Spirt told me, “Don’t tell her your name, don’t tell her you are a Christian author, don’t make any withdrawal, only make a deposit.” I just sat down and didn’t look at her, or bother her again. We had no contact after that.
Then I was preaching at MegaFest and a woman came up to me who I guess has been friends with Maria for 35 years, and said, “I need to introduce you to Maria Shriver. I need you to be friends with her.” I said, “Well, I’ve actually spoken to her, but I’ve never met her.” I told her that I spoke to Maria one time on the plane and she said, “That was you?” She said, “Maria said, that was a real moment in her life.” A couple weeks later I received a request asking when Pope Francis comes [to the U.S. on tour] would I do one of the days of devotion – Maria did 14 days of devotion – and so I got to write 1,000 words on something about faith. I did an openly life-changing message and talked about how our kids will either inherit God’s promises or our fears and then Maria posted it. More recently, I was contacted again and was asked to write a prayer for Maria’s sixtieth birthday. So I crafted a prayer for her.
RM: All this interaction because you were being obedient to what you thought God asked you to do.
LB: Yes, and also because I think people forget that everybody needs to feel valued – not worshipped, not fans, but befriended. I am not saying that I am friends with Maria, I don’t have her phone number, but I was a friend in that moment. I watched her, she was incredibly kind to everybody on the airplane. I watched how she interacted with the flight attendants and the people around her and she was gracious and kind. I think people are looking for that and [to bring it full circle] I think we can be that woman. We can be that woman that we wish somebody would be to us. I think people are so busy getting others to add value to their lives that they forget to add value to others and it’s incredibly powerful when we do that.