Thrive

Last updated: June 27, 2024

A Book by Shirley MacLaine

Liz Haley grew up in Ohio in the Russian Orthodox Church. Until her teenage years, the services were in Russian, and she didn’t have knowledge of Jesus outside of the rote prayers and hymns of the services. Her family didn’t talk about Jesus outside of church, and she didn’t know what questions to ask to go deeper. Liz felt called to ministry when she was in the ninth grade, but, at that time, she didn’t really understand what that meant.

Liz moved to Atlanta in her late 20s. It was then that she really started to wonder at the role God played in her life. She looked around for churches, but nothing connected with her. Meanwhile, she was working for a Fortune 500 company, and someone at work handed her a book by Shirley MacLaine. The book was about McLaine’s journeys in New Age spirituality. It left Liz with a curiosity about God, but this curiosity took her in a direction she didn’t necessarily intend to go. “I ended up stumbling into the New Age movement and hung out there for about eight years,” she says. 

Liz then moved to Florida, where the New Age movement was not as easy to find as it was in Atlanta. Nevertheless, she found like-minded people to connect with and felt led to do hands-on healing. “In the state of Florida, in order to put hands on anybody, you have to be certified in something,” Liz says. So she decided on massage therapy as the avenue through which she would use her hands – and New Age practices – to be a channel of healing. 

An Inferno 

It was 1995. Liz was ten days away from starting massage therapy school in Miami. Then something happened that derailed her plans. “I had this desire, a burning desire, to read the Bible,” says Liz. “Never in my life had I opened it at all.” 

The desire followed her everywhere. She walked into the bookstore of a Baptist church and was given a Bible. When she went home and started to read it, a strong sense of oppression grew within her. “Things started to happen, physically. Internally it felt like there was an inferno. It was burning. I couldn’t get rid of it. I ran, I did whatever I could to try to shake this thing, and it wouldn’t. And it got greater and greater and greater.”

One evening, at home alone in her bedroom, she saw a physical presence at the foot of her bed. First, he looked identical to Jesus. But in a blink, he turned into Satan and said, “I can be whoever you want me to be.” Liz was scared to death as she realized the presence had been Satan the whole time. “He showed me how beyond crafty he is at disguising himself,” she says. 

The next day, Liz “hightailed it” to the Baptist church where she’d gotten the Bible. No one there knew how to handle her when she opened up about her situation. “It felt like there were two entities in my body fighting against each other. I could physically feel it,” says Liz. She became suicidal. As a last effort, she went to a women’s Bible study hosted at the church. After it ended, she looked around, wondering who she could talk to. Liz was drawn to a woman by the piano with white hair and approached her. 

“You Switched Teams”

The woman listened without judgment as Liz shared what was happening to her. She then told the Bible study leader what Liz had shared. The leader came over and said to Liz, “Can you hang on for a couple of weeks? Just hang on.” Within those two weeks, she checked on Liz and said, “I have someone I need you to meet. Come back to this Bible study.” So Liz returned and, after it ended, a lady who’d once rescued people from cults was brought over to Liz.

They sat knee to knee, facing each other. The lady asked Liz a series of questions, and Liz answered them honestly. “And her eyes kept getting bigger and bigger,” says Liz. The lady then said to her,”You have absolutely no idea how close to Satan you truly are, just by doing what you did. And even though it was with good intentions, you switched teams.”

Liz wondered aloud how this had happened. She didn’t want to be on “that team.” She hadn’t signed up for that. She had done Reiki; she had touched crystals. Yet she had done these things in the vein of wanting to help people.

“Well a door was open, and the enemy came charging through,” the woman said to Liz. “I don’t know if I can help you or not. I’ve got to step out of the room.”

The Renouncing

She left the room for about 10 minutes to pray by herself. She came back and said to Liz, “For the last two weeks, I’ve been praying with the elders in my church about whether I should help you or not. When I sat down here 15 minutes ago with you, I didn’t know if I could, and to be quite frank, I didn’t want to. But I will, and you will be my last person for life to save.” 

So the lady, along with two other women from the Bible study, did a “renouncing.” The lady was speaking in tongues, and Liz was sobbing, not understanding what was going on. Liz opened her eyes at one point and saw a gray cloud exiting her body. It began to register with her “how far in” she had been. When the prayers were over, the lady said to Liz, “You will never understand the miracle that happened today, until you get to heaven.” 

If you ask Liz about the books she was reading and the things she was doing during her years in the New Age movement, she won’t have much to tell. When the cloud was exiting her body during the renouncing prayer, everything went with it. After that, “everything that I had done, every book that I read, has been erased from my mind.” 

Thus began Liz’s path into ministry. Christianity became alive to her. Though a religious Christian from birth, it was only after the renouncing prayers that Liz realized she could have a personal relationship with Jesus, which completed her journey to the faith. 

I Have Set You Apart

Liz, through the Baptist church, went on a mission trip to Russia for two weeks. She applied to become a missionary for Campus Crusade for Christ in Russia, but, just shy of raising all the money, she was prevented due to a bill limiting Christian activity in the country. 

Liz wondered what she should be doing and, meanwhile, began getting hit with unexpected difficulties. “I went through 17 months of intense loss, one thing after another where I couldn’t get my feet on the ground,” she says. She lost very close family members. Then she lost a job she’d had for 10 years. She almost lost her home to foreclosure. She was diagnosed with bilateral pulmonary embolism and given less than a 10% chance to make it through the evening. One day, in the midst of this dark time, she was driving across a railroad track and felt as if someone was sitting next to her. She heard the words, “I have set you apart.”

Liz now believes that these 17 months of extreme grief were her training. They allowed her to discern her calling to walk with people in the most raw points of their lives, and they allowed her to relate to others who are grieving. “Had I not gone through those 17 months of intense loss, I never would have had the compassion to even sit in front of somebody and listen to their story. No way.”

The Holy Spirit in Acute Care

With a clear sense of calling, Liz consulted with folks in her church about entering the ministry. As a result of these conversations, she looked into Asbury Seminary. Her college graduation was decades behind her, so passing entrance exams wasn’t feasible. But according to Liz, a miracle happened – the Seminary provided her the opportunity to pass nine credit hours of courses in lieu of taking entrance exams. “It’s like God moved a mountain,” says Liz. 

As Liz continued to work full-time, she spent 10 years taking courses at the Seminary in Orlando part-time. She graduated in 2021 with her M.A. in Pastoral Counseling and an eye on hospice chaplaincy. As part of her degree, Liz had completed two internships at an inpatient unit through Clinical Pastoral Education. 

Liz recalls many miracles of the Holy Spirit showing up at the hospital during her internships. Once, she prayed for a woman in acute care who was nonverbal. This woman was not reconciled with either of her children, and her children were not on speaking terms with each other. Liz talked with the woman from the edge of her hospital bed and prayed with her nonetheless. The woman became responsive and sobbed as she prayed quietly along with Liz. During Liz’s eight visits with her and her children, miraculous reconciliations took place between each of the family members before the woman passed. 

Yet another lady with advanced cancer didn’t want to see anybody during her final days. Yet she agreed to let Liz come into her hospital room. She spent two and a half hours talking to Liz. The next day, Liz found her laughing and full of joy.

As You Go, Make Disciples

Liz would call these encounters “sacred moments.” Near the end of her M.A. in Pastoral Counseling, the puzzle pieces from all of her courses came together, and her biggest takeaway was creating, recognizing and maximizing sacred moments. “It instilled in me a great desire to help people move from pain to peace,” she says. 

As Liz waits on God, she walks through every door and does whatever comes her way. She leads Bible studies and has been a guest preacher, and people open up to her wherever she goes. For Liz, the important thing is being available to the people God puts on her path. “I don’t have to have a plan. What I have to do is surrender to God’s plan, you know, and just do it one person at a time.” 

One of these people was a woman who came to her Bible study for weeks but rarely spoke. Her facial expressions and body language indicated she was troubled. About four weeks into the Bible study, she stayed after class and spoke to Liz. “It took four weeks to create a place where she felt safe to talk, and it became a sacred moment,” Liz says. 

The woman opened up about feeling angry, abandoned and exhausted from being the sole caretaker of her parents and then being asked to care for her brother and nephew. “She finally had a space where she could voice her emotions and be secure knowing she was not being judged,” says Liz, who met with her two more times then provided her with community resources. A couple months later, Liz saw the woman and found her looking much more peaceful. She had reconciled with her family and found care for her brother. 

Regardless of her career path, Liz knows her calling is to be present and walk with people in their grief. “What I’m finding is, just being – the ministry of being – is so underrated,” she says. Because of the encounters God has put along her path, Liz has a special perspective of the Great Commission. “The Bible says, ‘Go and make disciples,’ but that’s not my experience,” says Liz. “My experience is, ‘As you go, make disciples.’ And I think if you peel it all the way back, that is the true meaning of that statement, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”

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