When I was at JMU and in InterVarsity, there were certain names you were pretty much guaranteed to hear mentioned often. Lizzie was one of them. I knew she was super involved in IV during her time at JMU a few years before me, and several of my older friends knew her well. She had left a lasting legacy even after she graduated, and even though I didn't know her when I was a student, I felt like I did.
One year, I attended IV's Women's Conference and Lizzie was a speaker. As I heard her share her story, I was in awe of her bravery and humility. She spoke openly, honestly, and vulnerably, and I felt like I knew her so much more, even though I still had never met her or even said hi to her. That's what I love about people sharing their stories-- they could be a total stranger, but when they open their heart and their life through the words they pour out before you, it's like an instant connection and the beginning of a friendship all at once. It's incredible.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to fill in at my church in a temporary role. I started in August, right when Hope's newest class of Praxis residents began their 10-month internship. I had heard through the grapevine who the four new interns were, and I knew Lizzie was one of them. I finally would get to be friends with her! YAY! (My embarrassing but true thoughts...)
At the first all-staff meeting, I was finally introduced to Lizzie and we instantly connected over all the mutual things and people we had in common from JMU. It was like we were already longtime friends and it was awesome.
Over the few months we both worked at Hope, Lizzie and I had countless conversations over Chipotle and Starbucks and at work when we probably should have been focused about so many things we both were passionate about-- my Story Seeker project, our testimonies, our backgrounds and experiences with community and IV and small groups, life around our church, international missions and nonprofits...etc.
She lights up every room she walks into with her bright smile and her warm personality. She is beautifully humble, so genuine, and an incredible friend. Even as we met for coffee yesterday, she was telling me a definition she loved about the word humble-- that you know someone is truly humble by how much they ask about you instead of talking about themselves. As she was sharing that with me, I kept thinking how true that is of her.
She is constantly dreaming of ways things could be even better or taken to the next or deeper level, and I love that about her. After our monthly young adults gathering wraps up, she always finds me and has new ideas and thoughts to share with me that make me so excited about the community we get to be a part of building.
Lizzie and I have met at this tiny little Starbucks near Hope quite a few times now, and we have laughed together, cried together (well...I cried while she said the perfect things and helped me through a whirlwind), worked together (I'm so excited to help her with a small part of her new nonprofit IAMercy), and grown together too. I haven't even truly known Lizzie more than a few months, but I absolutely consider her a close and dear friend, and I think that speaks volumes to how open, welcoming and loving she is. She will crack you up, remember things you told her in the past, care about you deeply, make you smile, and show you Jesus endlessly.
In every conversation we've had, I've seen Lizzie light up when she talks about Hope, and about InterVarsity, and about IAMercy and the Saint Boys her friend Seth is living with in Nairobi now, and I've realized that what I just love about her is how her heart truly beats for community. She loves it, lives it, breathes it, and has dedicated her life to building it, and it's such an awesome thing to witness.
Hearing Lizzie's story in that tiny Starbucks one afternoon and then sharing mine with her was one of my favorite times. I don't think I'll ever stop being amazed by how the Lord works and how He has used this Story Seeker project in ways I never imagined. I remember as we were sitting there and pouring our hearts out with the honest truth about our stories that we both adamantly agreed to this one big idea-- when we keep things secret and keep things hidden and quiet, we give them power over us. But, when we name things, when we call them what they are and we speak them out loud and share them with people, we can break free from their chains and shatter their control over us to live freely in forgiveness and in Jesus.
Sharing Lizzie's story with you today (the first time she's sharing it publicly in writing instead of through speaking) is an honor. I can't wait for you to get a glimpse into her life and her heart.
Here's Lizzie's story
Lizzie Keegan was born and raised in the heart of DC and went to James Madison University for undergrad. While at JMU, God used InterVarsity to take Lizzie's faith from a basic belief in God to a real vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. Lizzie went directly on staff with InterVarsity after graduating from JMU in 2009. She was on InterVarsity staff for 5 years, 4 of which were spent at Roanoke College in Virginia. Lizzie now serves as a Praxis Resident with the Spiritual Formation department at Hope Church in Richmond, VA. Some of Lizzie's favorite things are: laughing, TV shows, cities, sports, and most importantly, Jesus.
“Who has influenced you the most?”
Most of the time I am asked this, I lie. This go-to icebreaker question has one clear true answer for me -- though I rarely say it. My father. It is too complicated. Too personal. Too painful. Too beautiful. My dad, and my relationship with him, has influenced me more than any other person I have ever met. The 28 years of my not very long life have been shaped by the influence of this man’s life and death.
Before I can tell some of the story of my relationship with my dad, I must say this: if he were alive today, he would be supportive of me telling this story -- painful though it was for both of us. I know that he would agree because he told me so; in some of our last conversations together, my dad affirmed the idea of us sharing our story so that God might use it to bring hope for healing and redemption to others. But let me not get ahead of myself.
My early childhood was pretty wonderful, though quite different from many of my friends, as I grew up in the heart of Washington, DC. I spent my summer days at the National Zoo and at museums rather than at the pool or the park like most of my suburban friends. My dad taught me how to take public transportation by myself by the time I was 12 years old. My dad and I were quite close when I was a young girl -- we both loved singing, traditions, theater, ballet, art galleries, dancing, and Christmas. His love and tenderness as a father of a little girl developed me into a sentimental and in-touch-with-my-emotions woman. His intense love of culture and learning was passed on to me and I am proud to be like him in that way.
The intimacy of our young daughter-father relationship gave way into some very messy years. In my early teenage years, our relationship was broken in seemingly irreparable ways -- primarily due to his sin and issues, which he took out on me in ways that a father should never treat his daughter. After about a year of this offense, he stopped and our relationship turned from deeply painful to distantly tolerant. For ten years, we lived in this forced relationship. Polite greetings, continued shared common interests, frequent arguments, and the occasional moment that flashed back to the intimacy and love of my early life. My heart turned embittered towards him. I had no avenue to process what had been done or how I had been changed by it, so I began to live a self-protective and independent emotional life. My main goal was for people to not notice the depth of pain in my soul. For the most part, I succeeded. To be honest, I have no idea what happened in my dad’s heart and mind during the 10 or so years that we interacted this way.
When I was 21, Jesus began to show me some of the deep wounds that I was hiding. I had covered bullet wounds with a bandaid but after many years, the need for healing became apparent. Through a long process of community providing love, counselors providing answers, and Jesus providing healing -- my heart and soul were changed to the core. My whole self, which had been so deeply wounded and betrayed, was able to love and trust again. I was able to turn to Jesus alone for my protection and security. To give this amazingly transformational time of my life just one paragraph feels trite. I could write for days about the deep and supernatural work Jesus did in redeeming and restoring my broken soul.
In the process of healing, I reached a God-given moment of forgiveness. I have heard it said that forgiving someone who has deeply wronged you is a daily decision to forgive, but I also believe that Jesus, in His providence, gives special grace in the form of instant freedom from hate and anger. On October 3rd, 2009, Jesus gave me new eyes towards my dad. In one life-changing night, He showed me the way that He views my dad and my perspective of him was forever altered. God put it on my heart to confront my dad -- but not confront, rather to speak words of forgiveness to him and ask for a true and reconciled relationship. The day after Thanksgiving that same year, I sat on a park bench with my dad on a chilly DC day and shared everything. I told him the ways he had hurt me, the ways it had impacted my life, and the deep desires I had to have a right relationship with him. At the end of our conversation, I left things in his hands -- if he wanted to move forward with a reconciled relationship, it was up to him to let me know. That day, I drove back to North Carolina, where I lived at the time, and I did not hear from him for over three weeks.
When my dad eventually called, I truly did not know what to expect but he told me he wanted to have lunch with me. So my first day back in DC for the Christmas holiday, he and I went to lunch near our house. I will spare you the details of the whole conversation -- because honestly it is a blur. I have one of the most detailed memories of anyone I know, but yet this conversation remains elusive to me. All I know is that on that day, in that booth, I looked across at Joe Keegan -- the real man, the man who he wanted to be, the man Jesus was making him into -- as he apologized for everything, laid out his desire for us to have a right relationship again, and prayed for God’s hand in our relationship going forward.
Little did I know, on that most important of days, that I would only have a year and a half left with him. The man from that day forward influenced me more than the tender father or the abusive father or the distant father. For the short time we had, I saw my dad become a man of humility as he learned how to love his daughter rightly. I saw a man struggle to open his heart to me. I saw a man desperately wanting to right the wrongs of our past but continually remembering to trust that Jesus was the one changing both of us.
June 15th, 2011. The night of The Phone Call No One Wants To Get. Dad had a stroke, the worst the doctors had ever seen, and he was not going to make it through the night. On that day, the cloud of grief descended -- a cloud, that though it wanes in moments of joy, laughter, and new life, is always there.
His influence was over. Joy, pain, distance, forgiveness, reconciliation, renewal, healing. It all ended and so abruptly. But I did not know what he had planned. A man intrigued by death and the afterlife, he had written his own funeral many years in advance. Every moment, every song, every verse was hand-selected to show us - to remind us - that my dad knew who he was in Jesus even when he struggled to live it and believe it.
My dad’s influence on me culminated in what was the most painful moment of my life to date. As the funeral service came to a close, we sang a hymn. An unusual and not-often-sung hymn about heaven. It is a song I knew well, as it was a favorite of his. My entire life had been spent with him singing this song at random and reminding me that we would sing this at his funeral one day. And indeed, we did. We sang of his new home, his new self, his new life of worship. This...this song, this moment, this pain -- it changed me most of all.